Sunday, 26 April 2015

Magnatiles Review // Children's Toy


This post is a review for two products:
100 piece Magnatiles translucent set (retails for approximately $120 on Amazon.com)
100 piece Stick n Stack translucent accessories set (retails for approximately $100 on Amazon.com)

I've learned that it's not very difficult to impress a 2 year old on his birthday. Really, a couple of presents to unwrap, a balloon or two, some cake with extra frosting and there you have a 2 year old's version of heaven! 

To bring the excitement to the next level, it helps when one of the presents is a fantastic gift that not only Harry, the new two-year old will love, but also everyone else in the family too!

Harry received such a present when he got a box of the Stick n Stack 100 piece accessory set. As he unwrapped this particular present, he started smiling as soon as he recognized the picture on the cover of the box. I could already see the endless possibilities running through that little boy's brain. 




The kids originally received a box of the 100 piece Magnatiles translucent set for Christmas in 2013. Emme had just turned two years old and Harry was 9 months. While the box states that the recommended age is 3+, my children have been supervised while playing with them a bit younger than age 3 and we've found no issues there. At age one, Harry was stacking the tiles together and was amazed at the magnetic qualities. At two he can now build the basic structures. My three year old daughter will build multi-level structures and with a little help from mom and dad, anything they can think of, we'll build together. 

One of the best features of the Magnatiles is that they are a toy that has completely open-ended possibilities. The box has a couple of picture suggestions (a basic cube, a pyramid), to get you started but the rest is up to your child's imagination. We use the Magnatiles on their own to build rocket ships and castles, but they can also be incorporated with all the kids' other toys. We've used our animal figurines to build a farm and stables. We've built a magnificent home for the Disney princesses to host a fancy ball at. We've built extensions onto Duplo creations and building block structures and have added extra levels to a car garage. 

As a parent, I too love Magnatiles (if that wasn't already obvious!). They are a toy that grows with your children, each time the kids play with them I can see their building skills increase. Starting with flat 2-dimensional lays and growing to 3-dimensional shapes. I can already imagine how these toys will be incorporated into future math lessons involving angles, architecture and geometry. 

They are an excellent quality product. My toddlers unintentionally drop, smash, step on, and bury the pieces, but no amount of child destruction seems to alter these durable tiles. These flat, magnetic pieces are also an easy toy to clean up and store. I keep them in their original boxes, put away in a drawer, but they could easily all be thrown into any bag or box.

The Stick n Stack set also includes 100 pieces but this set is an accessory box, used to enhance our Magnatiles set.  Since adding the Stick n Stack set to our Magnatiles set, we have constructed even more amazing creations. Both sets are compatible with one another, so the magnets in all of the tiles stick to both brands' pieces. With new pieces like arches, doorways, car bases and connectors, we now have so many more options. We are now building pickup trucks and race cars with the addition of the wheels. Our castles and homes now have a more authentic look with the addition of the windows, doors and fences. I didn't necessarily feel like we needed an upgrade from the original Magnatiles, but the Stick n Stack tiles have greatly enhanced the original set just wonderfully.


Emme works on a rocket ship 
And I can honestly say that since receiving our first set well over a year ago, the kids have played with the tiles just about every single day since, often multiple times a day, sometimes playing for hours with them. What other toy can you say gets that much use?! So while the Magnatiles sets themselves are a tad pricey ($120 + shipping for the 100 piece set puts a single tile at roughly $1.20 each), they have more than shown their worth. (And it's even better when you receive them as a gift!)

If you have been debating whether or not to buy a magnetic tile toy product, I would highly recommend the Magnatiles 100 piece as a starter set first. Don't hesitate any longer! Less than 100 pieces really isn't enough. Do you already own the Magnatiles or any other magnetic sets? What do you think of them? What are your favorite things to create using the pieces? 

Please note that all opinions are my own and in no way is this a sponsored post- I just love these toys and want to share their greatness with the world! :) 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Teepee, Twigs & Almost Two // Photo Fun



There are so many ways to define what being a parent is. Lately I feel like if you can truly understand and fully appreciate the old saying that "the days are long but the years are short", then you must be a parent! And boy does that saying apply to the toddler years! Some of these long, exhausting days feel like years but then in an instant, another year has passed. In just a few days time my youngest, my darling little boy, will be 2 years old. Seriously, how & when did this happen? I honestly cannot believe that this sweet, mischievous dote will be the same age as his sister was when we first moved to Ireland. It's incredible how quickly the time passes. 



While visiting with my sister in RI last week, we had a free morning and took advantage of the time with a quick little photo shoot for Harry. A handmade "two" banner, a vintage quilt, red fabric ties, a page ripped out of an old bird book, hand sewn felt mushrooms and several tree branches created our backdrop.


How cute are those mushrooms though? The one with the buttons! They are even more adorable in real life. Would you believe my sister made them! She is so incredibly talented and I only wish I had her sewing skills! 

I was also slightly obsessed with this bird print. We ripped it out of an old book that my dad had picked up years ago called Traveling with the Birds, A Book on Migration by Rudyerd Boulton. While I can't say much for the text, the pictures, illustrated by Walter Alois Weber,  were so vibrant and colorful. 


After we'd set up the teepee, I walked Harry down to the spot, telling him we'd made him a special surprise. His eyes shone with such delight at this new discovery, but truthfully it was the chocolate cupcake at 10am that really got the biggest smile from him!





After a couple of poses, and one million times of him asking "Please can I have my cupcake now?", we gave in to the tiny charmer. 

"Okay, I'm about to take the cover off this thing..."
"Yup, I'm really going for this now..."
"Ooooohhhhhhhmmmmmmmnnnnnnn"
"Why don't you all have cupcakes? Actually, too bad for you!"




Oh my sweet Harry, would you please just stay this age forever? His mop-top curls, the dimples on his hands, the cheesiest, happiest grin you could ever imagine, and especially the way he gives kisses and cuddles as if it's his favourite thing to do. I want to remember every precious detail of this little Harry doll, as we enjoy the last few days of him being a one year old. I've got to go give him another snuggle... ;)x

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Rhody Roundup // 5 Kid Destinations in Rhode Island

And just like that... we're back! After what was truly a wonderful 2-week trip home to visit my family in Rhode Island, we're settling back to life in Dublin. The kids are suffering from a bit of jet lag but we'll manage just fine! 

Rhode Island in April is a funny place. We arrived on the 3rd of April and there was still a good few piles of snow on the ground, albeit the black snow that's dirty and covered in the sand from the entire winter, the kids were absolutely delighted! As previously blogged, snow is such a novelty to them. Luckily the snow melted down each day we were there, due somewhat to some glorious sunshine as well as a couple of days of heavy rain. With this weird weather, we had to be creative with our daily plans. In addition to lots of visits with friends and family, we were able to stop by a few really fantastic locations throughout Rhode Island. Here are our top 5 child-friendly picks for this visit. 

Biomes Marine Biology Center 
Address: 6640 Post Road, North Kingston, RI 02852

The Skate Tank
Up close with a horseshoe crab
Never before have I seen my 3 year old so excited! She honestly ran around this entire place yelling "I'm soooooo excited right now" for the first hour we were there. With several touch pools where you can feel everything from sharks, to horseshoe crabs to skates to turtles, this place is the largest collection of New England marine life in the world. In addition to the local species, they also have several tropical fish, including a clown fish in one of our favourite tanks- a Finding Nemo themed tank!  

Locate your fave Nemo movie characters with their colorful guide
Tons of interactive activities for the kids to experience- a large sand table with shells, rocks and playthings, a rice table to simulate a beach and several picnic tables set up for hands on play with puzzles, legos and coloring stations. Plus there's an enclosed play area with every marine life figurine imaginable, sea life themed books, a light table with animal xrays, a fish rocker and so much more.

Rice + lots of marine inspired toys = fun, fun, fun!!!
The $9 admission for everyone over the age of 2 is very reasonable, considering we could've easily spent longer than the 2.5 hours that our schedule permitted. I especially appreciated that with so much to do there, it's all located within one large room so it's not an overwhelmingly huge place, like some larger aquariums can sometimes feel. This humble little place was a perfect day trip and really helped us recognize just how much life lives in the surrounding Atlantic Ocean! We can't wait to go back! 

Wrights Dairy Farm
Address: 200 Woonsocket Hill Road, North Smithfield, RI 02896

A trip home to Rhode Island is not complete without a stop here. This is a 100-year old working dairy farm with a bakery and dairy store on premise. The quality of their products is unmatched and there's no other way to describe them other than sensational! The hardest part is staring at those glass display cases, trying to decide which of the cookies, cakes, muffins, pies and specialty pastries you'll purchase. And before you leave, don't forget to grab a pint of a local favorite- their delicious coffee flavoured milk.

Every day the cows are milked from 3-5pm so time your trip for the afternoon and see just how fresh that milk really is. But if you miss that 2 hour window, there are always baby calves to see in their pens or roosters clucking around the farmyard. While this stop is in no way a day-out (you'd find it difficult to spend more than 30-45 minutes here), it cannot be missed!

Good monring little calves
Providence Children's Museum
Address: 100 South Street, Providence, RI 02903

Located in the heart of RI's capital city, this imaginative and interactive children's museum is a lovely day out- particularly for us as we wanted a rainy day activity. 

Steam rolling her way through the museum
With a huge variety of exhibitions, 3 of them really stood out for us- Water Ways, Coming to RI, and Discovery Studio. The kids could have spent the entire afternoon at the Water Ways exhibit. They were fascinated by the ice, mist, mini swirling cyclones and all the water play. Bonus was the adorable, colorful smocks they had to wear here! 


Water Ways Exhibit was nonstop excitement
The kids and I were both impressed by the Coming to Rhode Island exhibit. This area included 4 different scenarios for immigrants to the Ocean State. Each scene told the story of the child immigrants- who they left behind, when they arrived, how they traveled, what they did once in RI. Educational and fun (wooden ships, play markets) these stories also shared some of the not-so-pretty historical truths. 

Discovery Studio is an ever-changing area. The room is bright and spacious with lots of stimulating art work and crafts on the walls. The day we were there was a "Puzzle Day" with plenty of wooden jigsaws, geometric problems, shape sorters, and lots of others. 

Discovery Studio Puzzle Play
My favorite piece in the entire museum was the gigantic Light Bright board! When I saw it, I became completely nostalgic. However, the nostalgia was lost on my children and sadly I spent more time playing on this then they did. It's made me want a vintage board to share with my children and my hunt is now on! 
Make way for mommy to play too!
The $9 admission fee per person is well worth the money spent, given the expansive layout, variety of exhibits and the many enjoyable options that the museum has to offer.

Jesse M. Smith Memorial Library 
Address: 100 Tinkham Lane, Harrisville, RI 02830

This is the local library in my hometown of Burillville. After living in Boston, Chicago and now Dublin, I can safely say that I've visited a good few libraries over the years and this facility is truly a special place. The Children's Department is located on the second floor of the building and they have made this an incredibly charming and inviting space for all kids. With thousands of books, puzzles, board games, building blocks, a coloring station and a puppet show play area, there are plenty of options for keeping busy here! The children's section boasts large windows with beautiful views of the river below and plenty of comfy little nooks to curl up with a new book.

Making a home for the iguana
We visited on two separate occasions- a Tuesday morning and then a Thursday afternoon- and we were fortunate to participate in the Storytime on both days. With songs, rhymes, puppets and dancing too, this was so much more than just your regular Storytime. The librarian was friendly and engaging, and she had a couple of great hints for their handmade "Eye Spy" game too.

This bright & colorful handmade Eye Spy poster has inspired me to make our own version
I am jealous of my friends and family who have this library at their disposal and highly encourage those who aren't utilizing the local facility to get there ASAP! What a great place to educate, play and enjoy the peace and tranquility found in this small town. 

Outdoor Playgrounds
Address: Various Locations

What to do when you need to fill some time before meeting up with friends? Or when the kids are suffering from jet lag and you need them to skip their nap? Bring them to a playground! Rhode Island has playgrounds all over the state and we were lucky to stop by a few.

Globe Park in Woonsocket was a perfect pit stop after we visited the Dairy Farm. In addition to several swings, slides and more playground apparatuses, there is a pond to watch the ducks and geese. 

Hero Park located next to the Burrillville Police Station, is a new playground to the town and was constructed after a 7-year old Burrillville resident inspired the nation with his battle against leukemia. It includes two slides, a spinner, and a fun scavenger hunt too. 

The playground at the Hauser Field entrance in Pascoag offers a climbing structure and there's another playground in Harrisville, located across the street from the Jesse M. Smith library. With gorgeous views of the lake and waterfall, there are more slides and swings here too.

You can never go wrong at a playground!
For those planning a trip to RI, there are so many great seasonal locations along the coast in places like Newport and Jamestown. The beaches in RI are world class, but this particular trip wasn't a hot weather holiday so we made the most of the weather, and got outside when we could. For this visit we didn't make it to any of the lovely zoos that we might have typically gone to, but there are several zoos I'd recommend all within the southern New England area, including Roger Williams in Providence, as well as two we like in Massachusetts: Capron Zoo in Attleboro and Southwick Zoo in Mendon. 

To my family and friends in Burrillville and the surrounding towns- what child-friendly places can I put on my list for our next visit? I know that there is so much more to see and do in that little state, and I'd love to hear your recommendations in the comments section below. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Easter Recap // Holiday Memories

The cousins eating their egg hunt finds!
We were fortunate to spend Easter in Rhode Island with some of our extended family. It was a really wonderful holiday spent with some of my most favorite people in the world! I am so lucky that my cousins and aunties are all incredibly clever and love an excuse to decorate, play new games and get creative. You could say that there's creativity in our George genes!  Here are some photos to recap the memorable day...

She filled that basket quickly
We began with an egg hunt for the younger kids. With hundreds of eggs spread out all over my cousin's front and back yards, the kids were scrambling to find them all! Last Easter I held a small egg hunt for Harry & Emme but it was nothing to this scale. This year they were both at a great age to understand what they were meant to look for and they most definitely took advantage of all the candy and sweets that were supplied! 

Getting some assistance from an older cousin
Looks like that sugar rush is kicking in! 
After the egg hunt and some outdoor playtime, we moved inside to feast. This year we had a panini bar with every single possible mouth-watering sandwich fixing you could ever want. I honestly do not think that a single panini was duplicated because there were so many possible combinations! My favorite sandwich of the day had to be the crispy bacon, cranberry sauce and brie combination. Oh it was heavenly! Baked French Toast, fruit salad, potato salad and plenty more side dishes completed  the buffet. 

Once we'd finished our brunch, we played a few games. I have to point out here that I have an aunt Gayle who is an especially talented artist and crafter. Also, I think of her as a sort of "Pinterest Master" because she manages to find the most fantastic ideas on Pinterest. But she doesn't just pin things like the rest of us do- she actually creates the projects and often gives them her own creative spin!  I don't think there is a holiday that passes without something cool and interesting that she has DIYed. Two of the games she made for this Easter celebration were an egg toss with varying levels of points for the 3 sized pails, and the second was a bean bag toss with the Easter Bunny's mouth to catch the bags. My mom sewed the bean bags for the game too, so it's really a whole family affair :)

Easter Egg Toss Game
Bunny Beanbag Toss Game
She didn't stop there though- oh no! Check out this cake that she made too. As you can see from the first photograph, it looked like your typical 3-tiered cake, decorated with an adorable springtime banner and some miniature animals...
Cute cake, before the surprise center was revealed!
but the real surprise was inside- the cake was filled with Jelly Beans!! It was delicious and super cute. 

Surprise! Jelly beans on the inside.
Gayle also made the most adorable Easter centerpiece- simple but so festive! I just hope those poor marshmallow Peeps got eaten, even if they were slightly stale. I would hate to see delicious sweets go to waste ;)
A pretty & playful Easter centerpiece
I am disappointed that I didn't contribute much to this wonderful party- we'd only arrived into Rhode Island the day before Easter so I wasn't exactly in the crafting mood. However, I was quite pleased that I could bring home some of the coveted chocolate Kinder Eggs that you cannot get in the US. At one stage in the afternoon we had a mad Kinder Egg opening session and the laughs we got cracking open chocolate and building miniature cheap plastic toys- it was such fun! 

I am so grateful for my family back in Rhode Island and the special time we got to spend with everyone while visiting. I only wish we could see them all more often. Thank you to everyone who made our trip so wonderful! 

This face sums up the day- pure joy! 
To my readers- how did you spend your Easter holiday? What kind of games and traditions do you get up to? I hope you all enjoyed a very special day with those that you love!

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Rice Krispies Easter Eggs // Kids Activity and Snack


While Harry napped today, Emme and I received a special Easter delivery! And even if you don't have these adorable little bunnies to bring you a treat, you and your child can easily make them up in less than an hour. 

The super simple recipe can be found here, on the Rice Krispies' page. The only minor differences with our recipe was that we used an orange and lemon flavoured marshmallow (to my friends in the States- don't even ask about them!) so the color was a slight orange hue, and we rolled ours in some sprinkles instead of decorating with frosting. 

The possibilities with Rice Krispies really are endless! Have you checked out their webpage for ideas? The company offers hundreds of ideas and all recipes are sorted by category (Top Treats, Breakfast), ingredients (ice cream, fruit) or kids' skill level. While the original Rice Krispie treat will always be my favorite, I definitely want to try this recipe for bars that include peanut butter, chocolate and butterscotch. YUM! 

These Rice Krispies Easter eggs were fun to make with my daughter. Emme enjoyed stirring the ingredients in the bowl, molding the ingredients into their egg shapes and rolling the eggs in the sprinkles. And of course, her favorite part was EATING the sweet treats! 



What are you making for Easter dessert this year? Comment in the section below and let me know! 
Wishing you all a very happy Easter weekend! 

Foldable Cardboard Dollhouse // Travel Fun




We are getting ready to travel to Rhode Island for our Easter break. To get there we fly approximately 6.5 hours to Boston from Dublin. 6+ hours with 2 toddlers is never easy, despite the copious amounts of snacks packed & numerous new apps loaded onto the iPads. I also always try to bring a new toy for each child. Just something small and inexpensive but new because I find that usually the first time playing with a toy often ends up being the longest they show interest in it!! 

For this trip I'm trying to be slightly more organized than usual and put that tiny bit of extra effort behind the travel plans. I recently was browsing Pinterest and came across a Red Ted Art project to make a foldable cardboard dollhouse. Immediately I thought it was a perfect project to help me have that edge I need for this upcoming trip! 

Emme is currently at an age where she is slightly obsessed with all things miniature. We have tiny animals, little Sylvanian creatures, small cartoon characters, Kinder Egg sized princesses and any other figurine that she can fit in the palm of her hand.  I'm thinking that this collapsible dollhouse will compliment her collection of miniatures. We'll fill a small bag with loads of toys & this new dollhouse to occupy her at restaurants, in waiting rooms and hopefully, on airplanes and at airports too! 


For this project you will need a few common household items including two cereal boxes, glue sticks, duct tape, scissors and some paper. The creator lists easy to follow, step-by-step instructions but she does us non-artistic types one even better by providing downloadable furniture printables which are available through the Red Ted webpage. I simply printed out the two sheets of furniture drawings, cut them out and pasted them onto the walls. 

Living Room 
Bathroom 
Kitchen 
My favourite part about this dollhouse is that it all folds up into a neat, little stack. I'll tuck it away in Emme's backpack on the plane. With each room measuring 5.5" square, this dollhouse's footprint should easily fit onto the drop down table top at her seat. And while I made this house specifically for our upcoming trip, I know that Emme will have big plans to reuse it again and again!


What a tidy little package!
A doorway connects two rooms
The view from above
There are several reasons why I love this dollhouse:
1. Zero cost- all materials are common household products plus free printables
2. Simple instructions made it easy to make in about an hours time
3. Creative freedom where you want it- whether it just be choosing colored paper for the walls and using the  provided cutouts or drawing your own furniture pieces and giving it a more personal touch
4. And can I just mention that with a washing machine in the kitchen- this feels like a proper Irish home :) 

I'll update this post with Emme's reaction to the dollhouse but I think I can safely say that she will love it and it will likely keep her occupied for awhile! Do you have any secrets you care to share for travelling with toddlers? Send me your tips and tricks as we have the return leg in two weeks time too! Happy travels and happy crafting to you all and thanks again for taking the time to read Pies and Gents! xo

Update on April 3rd:
I ended up making Harry his own version of this craft, but instead of a doll's house, we'll call his a zoo. (Thanks to my Auntie Carlene for the suggestion!)

This version is slightly smaller with 4' square rooms and it has a zoo theme, featuring hand drawn giraffe and monkey exhibits, a Zoo entrance sign and directional signage too. I've added a couple of miniature plastic animals in his carry-on bag to play with. Emme caught sight of this version earlier today and was already asking to play with it so I think they'll both go over a treat!


Do Gorillas & Chimpanzees usually hang out together?!
Which way to the Wild Safari?
I couldn't BARE to have only made a dollhouse for Emme!

Viewing from a safe location!
Once again, I absolutely love this project! Simple, quick and fun! Let me know if you make any of your own versions. I would love to see them!

Update from April 14th: 
We've returned from our trip and I have to say that these two projects were a big hit! Hooray for Red Ted Art! I found that Emme's was a little large for the plane because we were in the bulkhead row which uses the tables that pop out of the arm rest and they seemed to be a wee bit smaller than I remember the drop down tables being. However, we used them in the airport too & they worked perfectly! At one stage the kids had them side by side so that the "friends had a zoo in their backyard". I love witnessing how they use their amazing little imaginations!!! 


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