The Best Toy Ever: Dirt

We are extremely grateful to have the chance to test out some amazing products and are always happy to share our favorites.  One amazing toy has topped our list for years:

Dirt! Glorious Dirt!

dirt play

Since we don’t have a backyard of our own, we are always on the hunt for a good dirt pile.  Luckily there having been some stellar pickings to choose from in our neighborhood over the years.

playing in dirt

My husband and I love watching the adventurous spirits and creativity provoked by a good old dirt pile.  We also appreciate being able to sit at a distance away and converse among ourselves for hours.

why playing in dirt is good for kids

I also like to believe that the bambini’s exposure to dirt helps to strengthen their little immune systems.

What are some of your favorite free toys?


Halloween Costumes & Imaginative Play {a Chasing Fireflies Review}

Adrian and Lucia love all aspects of playing dress up; taking on a specific character; concocting elaborate stories, and entering make-believe worlds.  I adore watching the creativity that comes along with putting on a costume.  It is truly childhood at its best.  Although we have a lot of costumes and props in our house (mostly Lucia’s), the majority have partially-disintegrated after only a few wearings.

Naturally, Halloween is a big deal for the kids.  And Lucia and Adrian study the Chasing Fireflies Wishcraft catalog as soon as it arrives each year (as mentioned in last year’s Halloween post).  We were in the midst of making costume decisions when a request to test out Chasing Fireflies Halloween costumes serendipitously appeared.   Although part of me really wanted to dress the kids as matching little gnomes (how cute would that be?!).  I absolutely LOVE Adrian and Lucia’s ultimate costume choices.

I was incredibly excited for Adrian, whose costume collection pales in comparison to his sister’s exploding tulle drawer.  He is so proud of his Ninja Warrior costume and has worn a portion of it nearly ever single day (including the gold lame belt over his regular clothes).  Since Chasing Fireflies craftsmanship is exceptional, I don’t have to worry about the costume deteriorating before October 31st.  I’m so glad that my boy can Ninja on until his little heart desires.  The costume came with a gold headband/lower facial scarf, however, this Ninja doesn’t get down with wearing things on his head.  It also came with a super blunt toy sword.  I imagine that Adrian would be ALL OVER this, but his mama doesn’t get down with that sort of stuff right now.  But who knows, that stance may change soon as my parenting philosophies often do.

Without further ado, behold the stealthy Ninja:

ninja costume

He appears, covertly, to protect endangered corners of New York City.

ninja costume boys

He is well known for his slick moves and insistence on particular footwear.

ninja costume 5 pointz

He may use his superhuman smile to leverage others.

ninja costume for boys

It is believed that forces of evil plummet in his mere presence.

ninja costume boys chasing fireflies

The Ninja’s big sister fell in love with so many of the Chasing Fireflies costume options.  Their collection for girls is truly whimsical.  Many of the Fairyesque costumes could even be worn again for a birthday or special event.  Lucia’s magnificent costume choice reflects one of her current obsessions…

Meet the Magical Unicorn who lives in the enchanted forest:

unicorn costume chasing fireflies girls

It is here that she summons her mystical powers.

unicorn girls costume

And spends much of her time searching for magical gems (a.k.a acorns) to tuck deep into her special collection (a drawer under her bed).

unicorn costume chasing fireflies

She catches the power and energy of the sun through her spiral horn, as her dazzling white coat and magnificent flowing pink tail shimmer in the light.

unicorn halloween costume

She is known throughout the woodlands for her joy-spreading spirit and ability to find magic in the every day.

unicorn costume girls

For standout quality Halloween costumes that inspire hours of imaginative play, visit the Chasing Fireflies website.

The above costumes were provided by Chasing Fireflies for review purposes.  All opinions and content in this post are my own.


The 2013 Barbie Dreamhouse {Sponsored}

Casa Marino recently had a significant toy-overhaul in preparation for something big (really big!).  Upon learning that Barbie’s new 2013 Dreamhouse would be taking residence in our home, we encouraged Lucia to gather some of her toys to donate.  As she packed up her old dollhouses with chubby figurines – they suddenly seemed appropriate for toddlers and not a girl soon entering the first grade.  And while she waited for the day that the delivery man would ring, I felt as if I understood her childhood excitement.  As a little girl, Barbie’s Dreamhouse was the sort of thing that I circled in toy catalogs – to say Lucia (and her little brother) were enamored when the gigantic package arrived is an understatement.

Since assembly (which requires time and patience!), the modern three story, 3-1/2 foot luxury Dreamhouse has not gone untouched while little people are home.  Among other amenities, Barbie’s newly renovated Dreamhouse boasts six rooms, “stainless steel” appliances, two functional pull-string elevators, lights and sound effects galore, and over 50 pieces of included accessories.

Photographer DennisStylist Cheryl JoLucia’s play is shifting and becoming more sophisticated.  She gravitates towards toys with movable parts and accessories. Lucia loves playing with the interchangeable pieces, and the design incorporates a mechanism for keeping all of the tiny elements secure.  A swirling decorative lattice is woven through every room (and shelving unit), functioning as a surface to secure interchangeable parts.  The tabletop has tiny spots to mount dining essentials and little loops for Barbie to hold accessories on her own.

Barbie Dreamhouse 2013

The included puppy and many kitchen accessories are regularly played with.  With the touch of a button, the blender has sound effects and the oven lights up.  These little details are the sort of things that my children adore.

playing with barbie Dream House 2013

To Lucia’s delight the toilet makes a flushing sound – which is perhaps her favorite element!  The bathroom is also loaded with surprises.  Barbie serenades her little guests when she enters the shower and steps on her bathmat.  Even her bathroom vanity has sound effects.

Barbie Dream House Bathroom

When I was first invited to work with Barbie, I realized how much my parenting philosophies have changed as Lucia has grown. Although I played with Barbie dolls and even saved my hand-me-down Barbie collection to pass on to my own daughter – I had very different ideals when I first gave birth to a girl.  I once imagined shielding Lucia from Barbie, and many other toys marketed to young girls. Living through each moment, and watching my baby become an incredibly imaginative girl, shifted my seemingly narrow perspective.  Barbie and her new Dreamhouse have been vehicles for cultivating highly creative play and elaborate storylines.  I have observed Lucia working out her emotions as her Barbie dolls take on characters and explore different roles within the 6-room house.  Sometimes they sound exactly like me (gasp!) and sometimes they help Lucia work out her fears in a safe context.  Barbie often looks in her vanity mirror, as her friends assure her that it’s OK to feel scared about loosing at tooth.  And while Lucia loves to dress and admire her Barbies and accessories, the dolls also spend time in the dressing room cultivating dreams.  The Barbies are currently co-authoring a novel (about magical unicorns) on their folding laptop.  I can’t wait to hear it.  Barbie’s wardrobe elevator transports garments for quick costume changes between the dressing room and bathroom, but it is also utilized by the pet dog who dispenses home cooked meals for everyone to share.

2013 Barbie Dreamhouse_edited-1

Under Lucia’s care, Barbie’s central elevator often transforms into a magical rocket ship that propels (vintage) Barbie into neighboring planets.

Barbie Dreamhouse 2013 #barbieismoving

astronaut barbie

I imagine many years of childhood dreams brewed inside this big pink house.

The Barbie Dreamhouse can be purchased at Walmart and retail stores nationwide for $184.99 (MSRP).



I was selected to participate in this sponsored campaign for One2One Network.  I received monetary compensation and the above product to facilitate this post, however all opinions stated are my own. 


To Be Five – Vindie Baby {Giveaway}

At five, Lucia is a little tornado of energy and excitement, capable of spinning, and singing all day long.  I envy her seemingly endless energy reserves.  At five, Lucia’s clean up skills still leave something to be desired.  In lieu of putting everything away, she arranges her special possessions in artistic ways.  As I work through my own frustrations of messes not fully cleaned, I am always happy to find her elaborately adorned My Little Pony shrines in unknown corners of our home.  With five-and-a half came her fist loose tooth and childhood dreams to enter the first grade with a visit from the Tooth Fairy under her belt.  She recently told her father that he is not the boss of her mind.  No one is, and I hope that she lives by those words forever.  Lately, she seems so big, yet still so little in so many ways.  I’m grateful that she still needs the comfort of her mama’s arms.  Although she has been asking much deeper questions, at five she still lives in childhood innocence.  I wish that I could protect her heart forever, yet I am proud of her courage and budding resilience – qualities that can only be earned from working things out on her own.  She is a huge personality endowed to me, and I often remind myself that my moments with her today help to form the shape of her tomorrows.

One of my favorite places to watch her is at the beach, where she is free and full of  joy.  Her arms flail wide open as she runs to the water.  I understand the freedom she feels with her feet in the sand.

vindie baby dress

vindie baby dress on the beach

vindie baby dress giveaway


Lucia is still very much into wearing dresses and costumes.  Magnificent twirl power is always a plus.  This sweet dress was sent to us from Vindie Baby, an online affordable boutique with lovely and unique garments for little girls.  Lucia has decided that this will be her first-day-of-first-grade dress.  The cotton floral bodice makes the dress comfortable and casual enough to wear to school.  And the tulle excitement makes it quite the special occasion dress.

WIN IT:  Vindie baby is kindly giving away this dress (available in sizes 2 – 5) to one lucky winner.

TO ENTER: Simply leave a comment below.

ADDITIONAL EASY ENTRY: for Vindie Baby followers on Facebook.

ADDITIONAL EASY ENTRY: for MarinoBambinos followers on Facebook.

Three entries total and please leave a separate comment for each.  A winner will be selected in one week (US only).  Best of Luck!

UPDATE: Congratulations Christine!

Vindie Baby provided me with the above dress for review purposes.  As always, all opinions and content are my own. 


Upcycled Underoos

Who remembers underoos?

upcycled underoos girls dress marino bambinos sewing

I proudly rocked them in the early 8o’s, and now Lucia P is too.

upcycled dress

I made this dress out of completely recycled materials.

sewing girls dress

The black knit skirt was made from a bathrobe that I wore while preggie with both kiddos.  The apron and ruffle sleeves were made from a skirt that I bought while living in Hawaii.  The over-sized pom-pom trim is from my mom’s vintage sewing box and the tank is straight out of the 80’s.  It is definitely stitched with memories.

upcycled girls dress

Lucia says “it’s awesome”, and insisted on styling it with my wonderbolt glasses.

underoos to girls dress

I wonder how much longer she will love my homemade creations for?

sewing girls dress (2)

It passed the twirl test. Phew.  I’m glad that I took the time to add a ruffle trim.

girls underoos dress

Love is walking hand in hand.

Love is Walking Hand In Hand Dress

And having this little peanut beside me.


Saying Yes to Summer

A lot of time has slipped away here, without personal words, and for good reason I suppose.  As I turned the calendar to welcome a new month, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad about the rapid pace at which this summer seems to be moving.  I’m committed to having plenty of unscheduled days for Lucia and Adrian to be together during the summer months.  It’s not the norm around here, but I’m certain that it is what is right for my little family.  Lucia has a few full days of camp each week, and Adrian has a few hours of drop-off classes.  And although ages 3 and 5 smooched together are certainly wild and chaotic, (and I sometimes wish for more time to breathe), I’m thankful that the majority of our summer days each week are spent together.  I want the children to learn and explore beside each other before the schedules that come along with the school-year come back into play. I want them to experience summer together.

I’ve been watching this mighty bond so closely, and it is growing deeper and richer than I ever imaged

It makes me inexplicably happy.

Summer Fun With Kids

Despite  its challenges, motherhood has definitely helped me tap into my own sense of gratitude.  My kids, like most, are inherently joy-filled, exuberant little people – always eager and open to new adventures.  So many things, albeit small, are new and exciting and viewed as gifts.

saying yes to children

When the summer began, I made a promise to myself to say “yes” more often. It’s not that I wasn’t saying it before, I just wanted to be more intentional with my “no’s”.  I’m not talking about overindulgence in treats or gifts, I simply made an effort to examine my internal response before even responding to my children.  A small chunk of time at the playground after camp or a trip to the beach despite the rain helps to shape our days and collective outlook in really positive ways.

family fun

Sometimes I can’t believe, that with the turn of the next calendar page, I’ll have a first grader and a little boy entering nursery for the first time.  I’m glad that we still have a solid chuck of summer days left, and grand imaginations to stretch as far as little feet can carry them.

Special thank you to my friend Leslie at Gwen Moss Blog, for reminding me of the importance of continuing to record the personal, in this space or elsewhere.