French birthday gateau

Written by kim cotton on . Posted in all, On Attitude & Adventure, On Health & Happiness, On Love of Learning, Uncategorized

It’s not everyday one has a significant birthday. To celebrate, a French birthday gateau was ordered from extraordinary Belgium chef Didier Lannoote. 

However, when we came to collect our Chocolate Raspberry and Fresh Creme Mousse it wasn’t ready. What ensued was an amazing birthday surprise as we watched a master turn plain into wonderful in less than five minutes. Here’s how …


Despite it already looking heavenly, Belgium pastry chef Didier Lannoote has not quite finished the birthday gateau when we arrive.

French birthday caught unprepared


With only five minutes to spare his artistic hands begin to move skillfully over the smooth glaze.

French birthday cake chef hard at work 


Under pressure, a little drama breaks out in the kitchen. Boxes go flying and staff are barked at …

French birthday cake French chef stress


So we decide to look at the chandelier.

French birthday cake chandelier


But only for  a moment … as we peek back into the kitchen the gateau is taking on a life of its own.

French birthday cake preparation


And within five tiny minutes it’s voila! Bon anniversaire.

French birthday cake voila


See our products picks for a French Birthday cake.

Spirited-Mama-French-vintage-measuring-cups-image                French-vintage-kitchen-scales

French-heart-cookbook-lectern               French-vintage-dishrack


French children's chef's apron                       little-gardener- French apron




Why toy wooden boats make great gift for kids

Written by kim cotton on . Posted in all, On Attitude & Adventure, On Health & Happiness, On Love of Learning, Uncategorized

Toy wooden boats are great gifts for children. Here are our top five …

Wooden boats are the perfect decor piece for a child’s room

Toy wooden boats are sturdy, playful, grounded and add a sense of familiarity to a room – everybody loves a boat. For these reasons toy wooden boats look fantastic in a child’s room. Place a toy boat on a book shelf or bedside table and they remind us of adventure and stories of far off lands … the Wind in the Willows or the Owl and the Pussy Cat. Toy boats will hold their own beautifully as a feature piece and they will also neatly complement many other special pieces we love to add in our children’s spaces to make them feel safe and inspired such as classic books, vintage teddies or beautiful images. A good toy boats’ ocean theme can also be played up with other sea  items such as our amazing Whale grand or turtle mobiles, building a sense of respect and love of nature.


Toy wooden boats help children make sense of the world 

The power of the toy can never be under estimated. For children, a toy is a mechanism for learning – it’s how they work out for themselves how to function in the world. Toys such as wooden boats that float in the water can be used to experiment with space, time, velocity and role playing. They can be raced, carry treasures across a stream, in the bath or pool or simply amble along pushed by a current or the wind. Toy wooden boats help children use their imagination ~ they can become skippers or navigators and learn to lead or they become traders or explorers travelling in search of exotic lands, adventure and shells, like these little beauties pictured.

Spirited Mama toy boats - childs play

Toy wooden boats are eco-friendly

Our toy boats are made from sustainable beech wood grown 50km from the atelier (workshop) in a small area in Brittany, France. Each boat is handmade with love ~ from the shaping of the hull to the sewing of the sail ~ using the same methods for the past 70 years when the boatmaker Nicolas’s grandfather began Bateaux Tirot in 1946 when traditional clogs were replaced by rubber shoes after the war. 

The evolution of tradition

Our toy wooden boats are value for money

Toy wooden boats won’t end up in landfill next year. Our toy wooden boats not only look beautiful with their shiny award-winning finish, they are built to last. We say they’re  tougher than a tantrum. So when a toy wooden boat is given as a gift, you can be assured it can be used as a stimulating toy, and be placed on a shelf to add a hardy character to a room for years to come. 

Spirited Mama - happy French wooden toy sailing boats image

Toy wooden boats bring the family together

From grandfather to father to son, the Tirot family have passed down their boatmaking skills to each new generation for 70 years. Similarly, when grandparent gives his granddaughter or grandson a toy boat as a gift it becomes part of the family’s narrative, their history, a sweet reminder of the loved one who gave the gift. Our boats have been purchased as gifts for new arrivals, Christenings and other special occasions, and in some cases adults have bought them as gifts for their husbands or for themselves to remind them of a time and a place when the family were together.

Bateaux Tirot St Germain and the 200s

Special hearts French mobile giveaway

Written by kim cotton on . Posted in all, On Attitude & Adventure, On Health & Happiness, On Love of Learning, Uncategorized

Do you know of a special heart … a children’s centre, hospital or elderly nursing home that could do with some French mobile magic? 

We are donating four sets of L’Oiseau Bateau French mobiles to four organisations to create an enchanting wonderland for the special hearts who use the services … children, patients and carers, too. Each centre will receive a combination of six grand and petit mobiles valued at more than $800 for each set.

To let us know about a centre close to your heart, leave a comment on our Facebook ‘Special hearts French mobile giveaway‘ post (it’s pinned to the top of the page) with the name of centre and why you think it could do with some enchanting French mobile magic.

Please do not include private information about any individual, just 30 words max will do on the type of centre it is and how the mobiles ca brighten the experience those who attend it.

It could be a:

  • special children’s centre 
  • child care centre in a disadvantaged community
  • children’s ward in a hospital or
  • even a nursing home where seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s can benefit from the happy ambiance and sense of comfort the mobiles create (often called reminscence therapy).

If you don’t belong to Facebook then please leave a comment below and please share it with your friends or community.

Spirited Mama Moonboy French mobile


  • Judges decision is final.
  • Six mobile sets comprising grand and petit mobiles will be sent to four centres in Australia.
  • Freight will be covered by Spirited Mama.
  • Prize cannot be transferred for cash or other products of any description.
  •  Mobile ranges sent are at the discretion of Spirited Mama.
  • Feature ends 30 May 2016.
  • Any entry revealing information on an individual that breaches Australian privacy laws will need to be deleted.

Five reasons to visit France in Winter

Written by kim cotton on . Posted in all, On Attitude & Adventure, On Health & Happiness, On Love of Learning, Uncategorized

Five reasons to visit France in Winter? There are many reasons to visit France in Winter. Albeit the temperature can be chilly, France takes on a special magic in Winter … from the fairy lights of Paris to the stark vineyards of Burgundy and the majestic snow adorne Alps of the Haute Savoie. Bistros beckon with warm bourguignon, stores lure with incredible sales, and the most elegant hotels offer amazing deals. 


Le Relais Bernard Loiseau French Winter


1. France in winter is beautiful

France in Winter is beautiful, discreet and quiet. She becomes the elegant old dame and the haunting beauty. In this season of crisp mornings and dark evenings there is a sense of peace, and permission to regenerate and to reflect while being immersed in a deep rich history. It doesn’t mean the country sleeps; it’s lit by thousands of sparkling lights that make everything pretty and glowing. France in Winter – with its space and solitude – allows you to feel the country is yours, and for a moment, you become part of its tapestry  you feel like you belong.

St Germain French Winter


2. Amazing French hotels offers 

In a French winter, the crowds are less and the French hotels offer great deals. Three nights for the price of two … original room prices reduced and upgrades are given to chambres you would normally only dream about – like this gorgeous room upgrade I was given at Symphonie des Sens in the old part of Rennes, Brittany, while on business. I felt like a queen, especially after a complimentary glass of champagne. C’est perfect!


Symphonie des sens


3. The French sales that keep on giving

Imagine yourself meandering through a little medieval town after taking in the wonders of a master impressionist exhibition when you see the sign ‘soldes -30%’ in a gorgeous window display. It’s written in French but the word ‘sale’ is a universal language. And the French sales mandated by the French Government to take place across the country once in winter and once in summer – are unforgettable. You walk inside the store and the most strikingly fashionable outfits from French or international designers draw you in – not just one off pieces, but whole ensembles – the shoes, trousers, shirt, jacket, scarf … and lingerie. Silks and woollens and leathers, fine stitching, classic cuts, original styles … and being winter chances are your size is still available …  all at reduced prices. To me, it’s heaven. You take it home less the duty further reducing the price, and each time you walk out the door in your new French outfit oh la la  you are reminded of that little ancient town on that cold sunny day. This is why the French sales keep on giving. But if you can’t make them then visit our French Heart Store or join our newsletter for exclusive specials and sales.

 Sales in Annecy French Winter


4. Beautiful French ski villages

France has some of the most beautiful ski villages in the world. Snow covered churches in 12th Century villages mingle with traditional chalets, Fresh scents of wood-smoke beckon you into little farm-like bistros on piste, exhilarating runs off towering mountains or through serene pine-fringed bunny trails, traditional mountain cuisine using locally produced ingredients and hot wine served with a dash of Grand Marnier. Skiing in France is not a sport, it’s a cultural experience that will satisfy the most die-hard skier or those who are simply going along for the ride. 

Three Vallees French Winter


5. French winter food is … everything

There is nothing more satisfying during a French winter than to wade through the thick curtains at the door of a French restaurant, take off a heavy jacket and sit feeling light and warm at the dining table. The anticipation is just as exciting as the meal itself. Rich bouguignon, steak a la planche, or the divine truffle experience like Chez Bruno’s in the south of France pictured.

Chez Brunos Truffles French Winter


Quick tips for visiting France in Winter

  • Wear warm socks ~ queues will be shorter for major attractions in Paris but there is often still a wait, standing on very cold stone.
  • Pack layers – singlet or slip, long sleeve shirt, jumper, jacket, tights or pants / jeans, scarf, gloves, hat if you wish.
  • If you don’t have the right gear visit Monoprix – France’s answer to Target.
  • Search your hotels online for three night for price of two deals or ask the hotel manager for an upgrade or discount.
  • Some attractions will be closed ~ possibly around Christmas, or February so do your research first before visiting.

Renne Brittany French Winter








Handmade eco-wood sailing boats ~ meet the artisans

Written by kim cotton on . Posted in all, On Attitude & Adventure, On Health & Happiness, On Love of Learning

It’s not often you meet the makers of the toys we buy for our children. It’s even rarer to meet a crack team who are the keepers of a dying tradition of crafting slow toys. Meet Nicolas and Carine Tirot ~ the last of the artisans of handmade eco-wood French sailing boats or pond boats which are crafted using entirely French materials.

     pirited Mama Bateaux Tirot the makers image


Originally a shoemaker, Nicolas’s grandfather, Francis Tirot, began making toy boats to replace his wooden clog business just after World War II in 1946. Francis’s already tight skills were perfected and handed down to his son Eurl, who bestowed them to Nicolas.

Spirited Mama Bateaux Tirot clogg to boat image


Each boat is handmade using beech wood grown in a sustainable forest in Brittany France about 50kms from the atelier. Nicolas works each piece carefully using a combination of modern tools and a couple that still survive from his grandfather and father’s days.

Spirited Mama Bateaux Tirot atelier 5 image


Carine, Nicolas wife, sews each sail and handprints the motif to create an individual work of art.

Spirited Mama Bateaux Tirot making the sails 2 image


Artisan craftsmanship like that of the Tirot’s is highly esteemed in France. Bateaux Tirot was awarded the Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant for its quality leveraging it into the class of Hermes, Chanel and Christian Dior. The value is astounding given the long-lasting quality of each boat at a price that is affordable to all families. When sailed the boats are bouyant, beautiful and from a distance you would almost think they are real yachts and dinghies. (The real yachts are on the right yet who could tell the difference?)

Spirited Mama Bateaux Tirot saililng boat image  Spirited Mama Bateaux Tirot saililng boat image


But does the cat (or foreman) in the sawdust care? He tried to bite me when I patted him, which we took as a sign to depart the atelier to eat, drink and swap stories about our kids – another lovely French tradition.

Spirited Mama Bateaux Tirot atelier 2 image

You can see our beautiful range of handmade wooden sailing boats made by Bateaux Tirot here.

Thanks for visiting, please feel free to leave a comment on what you love about the concept of artisans and slow toys.

 Linking with gorgeous Grace.

Meet L’Oiseau Bateau ~ artisans of childhood

Written by kim cotton on . Posted in all, On Attitude & Adventure, On Health & Happiness, On Love of Learning

Twenty years ago, with a young family in tow, husband and wife team Catherine Nicol and Philippe Lemoine were selling the dreams they designed in the guise of elves and backpacks at local markets. Today as the owners of L’Oiseau Bateau (bird boat), they are sharing their dreams with the world.

 Spirited Mama Loiseau bateau creators image   

L’Oiseau Bateau is a tight team of 10 dedicated staff based in Valence close to Lyon on the south east department of Drome, France. Melody (below left) is one of the latest editions to the team while Agnes, the export manager (right)  is the reason why L’Oiseau Bateau has arrived in Australia. Nicolas  (far right) designs the promotions that make their way to the stores and websites including Spirited Mama.

Spirited Mama Loiseau Bateau team         Spirited Mama Loiseau Bateau designer 

In January 2015, Spirited Mama took her second visit to L’Oiseau Bateau to understand better the beautiful stories behind the L’Oiseau Bateau  creations and to give the team a better understanding of our French Heart Community. What started as a meeting over a traditional French lunch lasted into the evening as tours were taken of the local stores that featured the brand, meeting the staff, admiring the latest designs and well, lots of joking and laughter about ourselves and our countries. 

  Spirited Mama Loiseau Bateau lunch

And while L’Oiseau Bateau has become an international business, the artisans of childhood remain true to their vision – to inspire the imaginations of little hearts and big hearts … to make the world just that little more magical.

Spirited Mama Loisea Bateau imagination

The most beautiful toy stores in Paris

Written by kim cotton on . Posted in all, On Attitude & Adventure, On Health & Happiness, On Love of Learning, Uncategorized

The most beautiful toy stores in Paris reside in secret arcades and on famous streets which makes seeking them out as much a pleasure as it is to enter into their magical worlds. Each toy store is inspired by  timeless classic tradition and exists to delight not only young children, but the child in all of us.

Au Nain Bleu

252 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75007 Paris. Metro: Solferino

Established in 1836 Au Nain Bleu is the oldest and most regal toystore in Paris. Residing on the famous Boulevard St Germain it rests among the stars of big brand designer names so you can indulge in some intense window shopping for yourself along the way or even stop off at Les Deux Magot – the old cafe Picasso, Hemingway, Satre and de Beauvoir  used to frequent. Inside Au Nain Bleu you will find traditional toys such as our beautiful French Bateaux Tirot boats, over-sized teddy bears, retro cars, beautiful books such as the Little Prince pop up book, dress up clothes for princes and princesses and doll houses. 


Spirited Mama Au Nain Bleu image



Les FanFan

42 Rue François Miron, 75004 Paris. Metro Saint Paul

Les FanFans holds a special place in my heart because it’s here that my life was changed. Le Fanfans was the first toy store in Paris I visited a number of years ago when I was travelling with my young daughter who was about to turn six. I was seeking birthday gifts along with something special for my ever-growing number of nieces and nephews. The owner was so charming and funny that it began my journey to create Spirited Mama and the French Heart Store. Le FanFans is indeed full of tresors for infants yet it is a typical toy store stuffed with magic tricks, laughing cows, metal carousels and games. It resides in the back streets of the Le Marais – on the Seine side of Rue des Rivoli among fashionable restaurants, small art galleries, fromageries and the latest gift and craft phenomenon Petit Pan, so after some retail therapy for the little one you can treat yourself to something beautiful, too. 


Spirited Mama Le fanfans toy store Paris image



Pain D’epices

29 Passage Jouffroy, 75009 Paris. Metro: Richelieu – Drouot or Grands Boulevards

Of all the toyshops Pain D’pices is the most enchanting. It resides in 19th century passage way built of decorative metal, glass and wood. While Pain D’pices offers many European toys to customers, it specialises in the miniature doll houses from the classic Georgian home to the modern mansion. But more impressive are the fitouts – everything you could imagine has been included – hundreds of tiny copper saucepans, brooms, fruit, wine decanters, miniature cheese boards (with French cheeses of course), French pasteries, rolling pins, vintage scales and all the furniture you could ever wish for. There are also miniature boulangerie, toy shop and petrol station storefront models that children (or adults) can build. If the children in your life believe in fairies then Pain d’Epice has the evidence.


Spirited Mama Pain de Epice toy store Paris image




Si Tu Veux

68 galerie Vivienne 75002 Paris. Ph: 33 01 42 60 59 97. Metro: Bourse

The most beautiful of all toyshops in the world, Si Tu Veux is found in a charming neo-classical 19th Century arcade in Paris’ 2nd arrondissonment nestled among the most illustrious antique and designer stores and a divine bar LeGrand Filles et Fils (so that you can have a well deserved champagne after finding the arcade). Sparkling in soft fairy lights, Si Tu Veux beckons the passerby to enter into a magical world which boasts classic European toys. The owner Madeline Deny publishes a regular blog that suggests all manner of creative and inexpensive children’s activities to do with the imagination and play – great to practice your French, or be inspired by one of the denizens of toy shopping.

 Spirited Mama Si Tu Veux Toy Store Paris image


And if you don’t have the chance to visit one of these beautiful Parisian toy stores in Paris itself then visit our French Heart Store, an online store as beautiful as the boutiques of Paris, which features provincial and artisan crafted toys and children’s decor sourced from the heart of France.

Spirited Mama French Heart Store image 

You might also like Paris with kids smart travel tips


What’s on … kids at the art gallery

Written by kim cotton on . Posted in all, On Love of Learning

Little girl wearing beautiful art smockGet the kids in touch with their creative side by visiting an art gallery where they can explore, make, craft and play under the guiding hand of you, teachers and, of course, the masters.

Playing at the art gallery

The state art galleries across Australia are veritable playgrounds for kids. Most major galleries host children’s programs during the school holidays which are both educationally rewarding but also fun as they draw out interesting features on particular art forms or artists. The sessions (try to book in advance) may involve the children going on a small discovery tour around the gallery before being lead to a special craft room to paint their impression of what the artist has produced, or make craft based on a theme – this is great for the kids and it can give you some time to see a collection or take time out for a coffee at the cafe … divine!

Kids art classes at the art galleries

My daughter’s first organised art lesson was at the NSW Art Gallery. The session was based on the painting of the The visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon by Edward John Poynter. An ambitious painting for a group of children all aged under five, however the theme was patterns, and the clever teachers asked them to identify patterns and shapes on the stairs, on the columns and the ceilings. Once they’d explored the painting enough for the kids to get the general drift, they were taken to a little room all set up to go including art smocks and craft equipment. There the children designed jewellery boxes fit for the Queen of Sheba using patterns on paper and plastic gems with the help of artists and assistants. It was such a good activity that we still have the jewellery box! It houses our little craft gems now and is a wonderful memory of a lovely rich afternoon of activity. 

Sketching at the art gallery with an art pad and charcoal


If the programs are full or you’d rather do something with your children then take a small sketch pad and some charcoal and help them draw a painting they like. I do this often while we’re on holidays because it gives my little one something to do while I can enjoy the art without the “I’m bored” whispers filling my head. Find a seat and choose a fairly simple object perhaps by Cezanne, Margaret Olley or Margaret Preston – all prolific artists who created lovely still life images. Study the chosen painting a little and then encourage your child to draw its shape or outline. You’ll find adults and children peering on watching what your little artist is creating while your child engages in the moment. 

Fun at the art galleryPlaying ‘I Spy’ at the art gallery

If your child can’t sit for long try playing a more active game. Have a scout around at some of the images when you enter each new gallery section. Find objects in the paintings and ask your child to them try and discover them. Once you have talk about the objects and what they’re being used for. Then similarly, ask your child to do the same and you hunt them out. It’s a bit like an art version of ‘I Spy’. Ask them to also pick out their favourite painting and talk about why they like it – use this for the next activity at home.

More art games for home

Once you leave the gallery, don’t let the action stop. On the way home, take some images that you and your child / kids like. In fact if your little one is old enough to hold the phone/camera get them to take a few shots too. Buy some simple craft objects – gems, stars, pipe cleaners, paper flowers and other assortments and ask your child to ‘go wild’ – create something they remember from their day. You can prompt them with the pictures if you like or ask them to recall what picture they loved most at the gallery.

National art galleries with kids programs

Art Gallery of New South Wales 

Art Gallery of South Australia

Art Gallery of Western Australia

Queensland Art Gallery

Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

Matching treasures – our beautiful French art smocks and French art set


     Spirited Mama - pretty art smock with small flowers            French retro colouring box         Mots sur le sable child's art smock

Linking to the lovely withsomegrace


Sweet ways for children to learn letters and numbers

Written by kim cotton on . Posted in all, On Love of Learning

There are so many ways to help your child become familiar with letters and numbers – here are some sweet ones.

J is for Jelly crystal letters

Draw a letter on a piece of paper and then ask your child trace it in the jelly crystals. It’s helps them become familiar with the shape of letters and to recognise them too. They can then lick their finger after their letter as a little treat … before you know it they will have written War and Peace in jelly crystals (hehe).

jelly crystal writing

Children learning new languages

Written by kim cotton on . Posted in all, On Love of Learning

spirited mama - alliance francais teacher Chritelle HartIntroducing children to new languages stimulates their minds, helps problem solving skills, broadens their outlook … and it can be a lot of fun too!

Surrounded by a group of lively young children, language teacher Christelle Hart reads out from a book words and actions in French. The children are so engaged they walk up and touch the book. They laugh, show oodles of enthusiasm one minute and the next they are in quiet contemplation. It’s a beautiful thing to behold because they are not only learning a new language and parts of a country’s culture, they’re totally in the moment.

Christelle, who has been conducting French workshops for children in Sydney for about 10 years says learning a new language from an early age broadens their experience and stimulates their brains.

“It encourages them to explore different things and develops their creativity,” she says.

Five books to inspire children to love reading

Written by kim cotton on . Posted in all, On Love of Learning

Five awesome books to inspire a love of reading in your child … using authentic story lines, humour, intrigue, amazing images and most importantly, the recognition that little people adore a good story too. 

April Underhill by Bob Graham

Genre: modern fairy tale

Spirited Mama - April Underhill

This book is a gem! How could a little family of bohemian tooth fairies who live on the edge of the M42 outside of London not be? The story tells of the adventurous rite of passage for the little fairies April and her sister, Esme, who collect their first tooth. While the story draws on an age-old concept, it’s set in a totally modern context – April gets her first assignment via mobile phone; they live in the city, next to a heavy traffic zone – dad has a ponytail, mum has a tattoo. The story has great connections that any young child understands such as losing a tooth, convincing parents they’re older and using texting to communicate. It also has a great problem-solving element, which supports the idea of a fave researcher of mine that “we rely on stories to sort out the world”. The pictures are gorgeous – imagine mum semi-drying her hair and keeping her little fairies floating in the air with the dryer as she’s talking with them in the bathroom.


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