Friday, 20 April 2018

Entertaining children on holiday - then and now

Last weekend the children wanted to play a game together, and from the cupboard they pulled Boggle. This particular Boggle set has many many happy memories for me. When I was younger it was one of our 'go to' family games, and we played it over and over. Although most often on family holidays - all my memories are of playing it on the ferry and in tents across France.

Having recently returned from a family holiday, it set me to thinking about how differently children entertain themselves on holiday now. I'm not talking about our mad Disney or city break holidays where we are constantly out and about on the go, but the more relaxing holidays with plenty of downtime in a cottage, hotel room or by the pool.

When I was little, my Mum always prepared us a book box to take with us. In the months before the holiday she would scour charity shops and the sale shelf at the library. We travelled by car so there was no weight restriction. I remember sneaking quick peeks inside beforehand and making a note of the books that I had my eye on to read first. It was a very exciting moment when we were allowed access to the book box.

We do pack books for the children to take away with us, but only a couple, because they just don't spend as long reading as I used to. This is often of course because they usually have a much more convenient way of keeping themselves entertained - iPads.

Children on ipads in the car

Oh what we (and our parents!) would have done for this kind of entertainment on those long car journeys across France! They can individually watch movies and television shows, listen to music, play games...it's not a fail safe method of entertainment on the very long journeys, but it certainly makes things a lot easier.

Children by a hotel swimming pool reading

It's not all about the digital entertainment of course, I do pack puzzle books and magazines, and I also continue another tradition from my own childhood holidays which is making a holiday scrapbook, a great way to create a lasting memento of the holiday and somewhere to store all the little bits and pieces that they like to collect. Harry in particular can spend hours reading to himself, and Mia is starting to get to that stage too. But I must admit that although we do pack a few card games for the children it's very rare that we play them together as a family, we are definitely more about the individual pursuits.

How do your children keep themselves entertained during down time on holiday? Do you let them use digital entertainment, or is your holiday the time for a screen ban?

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

My cross stitching wish list

I'm currently really enjoying my cross stitch. Because I try to be a minimalist crafter I'm not a great hoarder of craft materials. When it comes to cross stitch, I like to buy a kit, preferably a large one that will take me a long time to work on. Then I won't even think about buying a new kit until I'm very close to finishing it. So I only have a few completed cross stitch projects, my favourite being the Moira Blackburn Three Things sampler which took me seven years to complete!

Just after Christmas I started working on the Design Works Christmas ABC Sampler (affiliate link) which is another large piece. It has a box for each letter of the alphabet plus a small one for Merry Christmas at the bottom. I decided that it would be too much to try and complete it for Christmas this year, bearing in mind I'd want it finished and framed by the end of November at the latest so that I could enjoy it on display over the Christmas period. But I'm getting on pretty well with it and I'm starting to think that maybe, just maybe, if I get a shift on, I might manage it in time! I've finished seven of the boxes already...

Design Works Christmas ABC Sampler in progress

One of the things that has been spurring me on has been a new Facebook group that I've joined for cross stitchers. It's a fast moving group, and I'm loving scrolling through and seeing some of the pieces that people are working on. It's really opened my eyes to the different designers and patterns that are out there. So I thought that I'd put together a little wish list of cross stitch patterns that I'd like to work on next!

With the first one comes a confession. As I said, I don't like to build up a stash of unfinished projects. But when I saw this design shared in the group it really called to me, and the price for a digital download was so reasonable that I made an impulse purchase and bought it. It's a gorgeous design, and although it isn't a kit like I usually buy, I have a few odds and ends of embroidery thread in my stash and I think I've got enough to cover most of it at least. I also happen to have a piece of fabric which is the exact right size. I did have to buy it quickly though because there are many many other designs from the same shop which also appealed very much, in particular I love the US National Park ones - I had to hold myself back!



A design that I've wanted to work on for a while is an antique map. There are several different ones around, but the one that has particularly caught my eye is the Janlynn Olde World Map (affiliate link). I do love maps (I already have the Cross Stitch Map (affiliate link) which will be a long term work in progress), and this piece is a good size with lots of detail and interesting areas to stitch.

Janlynn Olde World Map from Amazon


I also quite fancy stitching a family tree, the trouble is that I can't find a design that I like and I'm not sure I'm brave enough to try and make up my own. I have a few pinned on Pinterest for inspiration (you can see my board at the bottom of this post) but none that have really stuck out to me so it's an idea at the end of the queue for now.

Finally, since joining the group I've been introduced to Heaven and Earth Designs. Completing one of these seems to allow you to prove your mettle as a serious cross stitcher. They are enormous, very intricate, full coverage designs. They generally have lots of 'confetti', which means lots of individual stitches in different colours all spread out through the design. I would love to complete one, but the trouble is that they represent quite a commitment, both financially and in terms of your time. Although the patterns themselves aren't too expensive to purchase, I don't have much floss so I'd have to buy most of it from scratch. They are also often fantastical and whimsical designs which aren't really my kind of thing. So it's a case of having a good browse and finding one that I'm really in to! I must admit that these designs with cats in have caught my eye...

So I've definitely got plenty to think about for the near future! Below is my Pinterest board where I pin anything cross stitchy that catches my eye in my online travels. Now I just need to get on and actually do the stitching!


Post contains Amazon Affiliate links

Monday, 16 April 2018

Giveaway - A box of crafty goodies

Now that the children are back at school, I decided that it was time for a new giveaway! This is a crafty box filled with some unused spare bits and pieces from my stash, and some unused crafty things which I've received as part of various collaborations on my blog.

Crafty giveaway prize to win

Here's what is included:

Mini Mandala adult colouring book
Two cloth bags to decorate
Two small paper bags to decorate
Foam glittery heart
Bostik White Glu
Bostik Glu Dots
Bostik Foam Pads
Pritt Green Glue
Smash book top ten lists notepad
Mini envelopes
Wooden pegs and shapes
Washi tape
Mermaid card toppers
Various embellishments and a few other crafty bits

All you need to do to enter is fill in the Rafflecopter form below. All tasks are optional, but completing more will give you more chances of winning. Please see terms and conditions below.

Please note that winners must have a UK mailing address, and if you leave a blog comment as Anonymous please also include your name or Twitter handle so that I can moderate entries.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Giveaway Terms and conditions

The prize is a box of crafty goodies.

The giveaway will run from 12am on Monday 16th April 2018 until midnight on Sunday 22nd April 2018 as shown in the Rafflecopter form above. 

All entries must be received via Rafflecopter. All entry tasks are optional, but each one will give you extra chances of winning. The winner will be picked at random via Rafflecopter. 

The winner will be informed by e-mail when the giveaway closes, I'll also attempt contact via other social media if necessary. As soon as I have the winner's details I will post out the prize. 

If the winner does not respond to my contact within 28 days I will redraw and reallocate the prize.

Winners must have a UK mailing address. 

Good luck!

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Sewing with the children

One day last week during the Easter holidays we found ourselves with a spare day at home - a rare luxury! I asked the children what they wanted to do, and Mia announced 'sewing!' Luckily I had saved a sewing kit that she received for her birthday for just such a moment, so we took it out and started to sew together a gorgeous little felt doll. She was really patient with it, and although she wasn't able to manage it completely by herself she had a good go and we worked on it together.

Harry started to get a bit upset, and I thought it was because he wasn't getting any attention. But it turned out that the reason was that he wanted to do sewing too, and no-one ever gives him any sewing kits. So I asked what he wanted to make, and it emerged that what he really wanted to sew was a hedgehog.

We popped on to Pinterest and searched for felt hedgehogs, and found a design that he liked. After a bit of frustration I was able to help him draw up a pattern, and he designed a really sweet little hedgehog. I showed him how to make some pieces in paper first and then cut out the felt, and how the pieces fitted together to make his hedgehog. He sewed and stuffed it entirely himself, and he was so proud of himself - I think his hedgehog is lovely too! I also showed him how to sew on the buttons for his nose and eye, a very important life skill!

It was a really lovely crafty morning together, I'm going to miss them when they are back at school next week!

Children with their sewing projects

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Our Easter holidays

My children are lucky enough to enjoy a three week long Easter break from school, and after a close family bereavement at the beginning of March we were definitely ready to take a break and spend some time together as a family. As it happens, our three week holiday has fallen nicely into three different sections!

Our first week was spent at Center Parcs, Erperheide in Belgium, our third visit. We had a really lovely time, there is so much to do that it's impossible to get bored. The children have really increased in their water confidence since our last visit - we spent every morning in the swimming pool and they will both now go on all the slides. They were also brilliant in the car this year - it's a bit of a drive but we managed it without any fuss. I had lots of time to catch up with my reading (I'm currently re-reading Gone With the Wind, one of my favourite books) and my cross stitch, and we did a few extra activities at the park too.

Playing Mini Golf at Center Parcs Erperheide

For the second week, Ram's Mum came to stay with us. We had a nice week, we went to all our local haunts like the garden centre for cake, the beach a couple of times, and a walk through the village to the library. At the weekend we all went on a day trip to Brighton. We had a quick look around the shops then a walk on the pier - for the first time the children managed to win some toys in the 2p coin pusher machines which I'd never thought was possible!

The third week started with a big tidy up and clean, and then a couple of days at home to chill. We did crafting, I did some more cleaning and tidying in the garden, and the children enjoyed some Minecraft time. Then we had a busy few days catching up with friends and having play dates which will continue into the weekend, I feel like all our socialising has been crammed into the last few days of the holiday!

I do love school holidays, it's so nice not to have to do the school run, make packed lunches, take a break from the scheduled activities and make the most of a more relaxed bed time. It's also been lovely to feel the early warmth of Spring and enjoy the lighter evenings. Although I do find it all quite intensive when I'm used to being at home on my own for a lot of the day!

I hope that you've all enjoyed a lovely Easter break!

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Visiting Center Parcs in Belgium from the UK - similarities and differences

Having now spent four holidays at Center Parcs in Belgium - three at Erperheide and one at De Vossemeren - I thought I'd share a few tips for any UK visitors that are considering a visit to Center Parcs in Belgium.

If you love a Center Parcs holiday but want to try a more cost effective experience with a multicultural feel then I'd definitely recommend trying it out - there are many advantages over the UK parks! Although these tips are based on the two Belgian parks that we've visited, I'm guessing that many of these tips would also apply to families taking holidays at one of the other Center Parcs sites across continental Europe.


Booking the holiday

We've always booked online, and it's well worth checking the prices through the Center Parcs websites from different countries. We've usually found that the French site has given us the cheapest prices. This does mean that you have to make your booking in French and all correspondence will be in French, so it helps to have a smattering of the language or be confident in your use of Google translate! Make sure that you understand when the final payment will be due if you have only paid a deposit. As in the UK, Center Parcs raise their prices considerably during the school holidays. If you can find some dates when the UK schools are off but the local schools aren't, you can get a very reasonably priced school holiday break.

Driving there

We always travel to Center Parcs in Belgium by car through the Eurotunnel. Driving in continental Europe is quite straightforward but there are a few things you need to be aware of. I'm not really qualified to give advice, especially as I don't actually drive over there myself, but you can find lots of tips online. Check speed limits as they vary by country and may change according to the weather conditions and type of road. If it's your first time driving abroad I'd recommend avoiding driving at night if you can, at least until you get used to it.

You need to make sure that your car insurance will cover you and extend it if necessary (it cost us £25 for a week on our most recent trip) and make sure that you have everything in your car that you need. Check the guidelines for specific countries, including those that you will be driving through on your way. Some examples - you need to take your vehicle log book document (V5C certificate) as well as vehicle and travel insurance documents, you need reflective jackets for each passenger which are stored in the main part of the car not the boot, a warning triangle, beam deflectors and first aid kit. You can find a really useful checklist and information for different counties here - Driving in Europe checklist - and many shops will sell you a kit that contains everything you need. We found that petrol and diesel are cheaper than at home, and there are plenty of petrol stations along the way and in nearby towns.

Language

There are three main languages spoken in Belgium - Dutch, French and German - and the majority of the signage around the park is in these languages along with English. Outside the park most local signage is in Dutch. We had no problem being understood in English when communicating with anyone in the park, whether staff or guests. They usually addressed us first in English anyway, we obviously stand out!

The only times when language was a slight issue was during the kids shows which were usually performed in Dutch and German with a little bit of French and very occasional English. I speak German reasonably well so I was able to translate for the children, and the stories are quite easy to follow anyway, but some children might get frustrated if they didn't understand. We did go to a bedtime story once which was completely in Dutch, and although I can get by in Dutch I struggled  to translate well enough for the children!

Kids show at Center Parcs, Erperheide

Where are other guests from?

Judging by the cars in the car park and languages spoken, the majority of visitors are Belgian, German or Dutch with some French. Most people seem to speak Dutch or German. There are other visitors from the UK, but we've not encountered very many.

Food

The cottages are self-catered. There is a small shop on-site which is well stocked and sells pretty much everything that you'd need, but a cheaper option is one of the supermarkets, of which there are many close by. We usually look for a Lidl which sells pretty much everything that we need. Be aware that supermarkets outside the parks may be shut on a Sunday. I always take the opportunity to visit a nearby supermarket and stock up on waffles and cake that you can't buy at home, marble cake is my favourite!

Dining out

The Center Parcs we've been to don't have anywhere near the range of dining options as you can find in the UK parks. There are no chain restaurants and only a couple of restaurants on site. They do have a good selection and are reasonably priced, but it would be very samey if you are eating there every night. If you want more varied cuisine you are probably better off jumping in the car and heading to the nearest town.

Self-catering

The kitchens are well equipped with everything that you need. With one exception - there's no oven! There is just a fancy microwave and a hob, so bear that in mind when planning meals. There's a kettle and a toaster and various coffee making equipment.

Activities

The price of the activities is a lot cheaper than at the UK parks which makes a big difference to the cost of the holiday. When we've booked we have also received four 'Toppings' vouchers which you can use towards activities. We have used one voucher to reserve a particular cottage, then there is a list of activities and how many vouchers you need. As an example, in the past we have used one voucher for two children to play mini golf and two vouchers for a family game of bowling.

Currency and paying for things

The currency is the Euro. We have had no problems paying for things with credit cards, contactless payments and so on. You'll need a one or two Euro coin for the lockers and for trolleys in the supermarkets off site. Some of the activities need to be paid for in cash, for example the pony riding and some of the children's craft activities. There are cash machines on site.

Differences in the cottages

We always stay in the VIP cottages, broadly speaking the equivalent of the Executive accommodation at the UK parks. One big difference is that there is no daily cleaning, I think that your cottage will only be cleaned during your stay if you are there for longer than a week. This means that some of the amenities, like toilet rolls and dishwasher tablets, will not be replenished during your stay, so make sure to bring extras. In a VIP cottage you are provided with a kitchen pack which includes a sponge, matches and cleaning cloths but no washing up liquid, so you'll need to pack that too.  Check what is included in the level of accommodation that you've booked, for example you may need to bring your own towels. You can find some more information about the cottages here - A VIP cottage at Center Parcs Erperheide and A VIP cottage at Center Parcs De Vossemeren. One thing that we love about the VIP cottages is the daily delivery of fresh bread and rolls!

The sockets in the cottages are of course European sockets. In the bathrooms we've not found shaver or toothbrush charging sockets.

VIP accommodation at Center Parcs, Erperheide, Belgium

Other differences from the UK Center Parcs sites

We've found that there are many more activities included in the cost of your holiday, especially for children. There is a group of costumed characters, Orry and Friends, and they perform a show twice a week, as well as a Mini Disco, storytime, meet and greets and so on. The characters also run children's crafting sessions which are very reasonably priced. Twice a week there is a full evening show which is good and suitable for families (although it does finish quite late). As well as the usual swimming pool there are indoor play areas which are included and these are brilliant. For example, at Erperheide it's a massive soft play and foam ball play area, at De Vossemeren it's an amazing indoor pirate themed play area with sand, water and rope bridges. Both Erperheide and De Vossemeren have a small farm where you can walk in with the animals. It's lovely if you can visit in the spring and see all the baby animals!

Farm at Center Parcs, Erperheide

You will need coins for the lockers in the swimming pool and they can be tiny, so pack your things in a small bag or two. Children that can't swim need to wear a buoyancy aid, these are provided.

There is no Aqua Sana spa equivalent. There is a sauna which I've not used so I can't comment on it, but I do know that you aren't allowed to wear a swimming costume!

The parks seem to be a lot more open to the public than Center Parcs in the UK. I'm not certain, but I think that locals can pay to visit and use the pool and play areas. There are definitely posters advertising birthday parties for children which can't just be for guests. When you book in you will be given separate tickets which you need to use each time you enter the swimming pool and indoor play areas as well as a parking ticket to display on the dashboard. I have also heard a rumour that you can use the facilities at other Center Parcs sites during your stay, although we've not tried this ourselves!

I really love the multicultural feel of the Center Parcs in Europe, hearing all the different languages, there definitely seems to be more of a buzz and they work out a lot better value for money, it's definitely worth considering!

If you are interested in a holiday to a Center Parcs in Belgium, you may like to read some of my other posts:

Our holiday to Center Parcs De Vossemeren
VIP Accommodation at Center Parcs, De Vossemeren
First holiday to Center Parcs, Erperheide
Our second holiday to Center Parcs, Erperheide
Our third holiday to Center Parcs, Erperheide
VIP Accommodation at Center Parcs, Erperheide

If you are looking for things to do in the area you might enjoy:

Plopsa Indoor, Hasselt
The Duinengordel dune belt

I'd love to know if you found this article helpful, and please do leave a comment if you have any questions, I'm always happy to share our experiences!

Friday, 6 April 2018

Mini pot of Spring flowers craft

This month the theme for my Bostik Bloggers craft box was 'Flowers' and so with Spring on the horizon I made a little pot of colourful foam flowers to brighten up my windowill!

Mini Spring flowers craft

To make these Spring flowers you need:

A small plastic pot or cup
Sturdy wire
Foam flower shapes (or cut out your own)
Card flower shapes (or cut out your own)
Ribbon
Green tissue paper
Bostik Blu Tack
Bostik Glu Dots

To make the flower pot:

Decorate the outside of the flower pot using ribbon and cardboard flower cut outs, or any other embellishments that you have to hand. I used Bostik Glu Dots to adhere them firmly to the pot. They worked especially well for sticking down the ribbon as it can be difficult to stick ribbon with glue, the Glu Dots hold fabric items in place really well.

Using Bostik Glu Dots to decorate a flower pot

To make the flowers:

Gather together your wire and foam flower cut outs. Cut the wire to a suitable length, depending on the size of your pot and the height that you want your flowers to be. Assemble the flowers using foam flower cut outs. If you don't have any ready made flower shapes then you can easily make your own using craft foam or coloured cardbaord. The pieces are again held together with Glu Dots, great for crafting with children as they hold everything together really firmly.

Using Glu Dots to make foam flowers craft

Then attach the wire to the flowers. I found that a good way to do this was to insert the wire in between two of the foam shapes. This way it is held firmly by the Glu Dot in between. You could also use tape to attach the wire to the back of the flower.

Attaching foam flowers to wire for standing

To complete the flower pot:

Line the flower pot with a small piece of green tissue paper, then place a large blob of Blu Tack into the pot. If you don't have Blu Tack you could use florist foam, scrunched up tin foil or old play dough. Lining the cup with green tissue paper just stops it from being visible from the outside, if your pot is not see through then you don't need to use it.

Using Blu Tack to support wire and foam flowers

Push the wire flowers firmly down into the Blu Tack and arrange them neatly. Then add some more crumpled up green tissue paper to cover the base of the flower pot. You can bend the stems of the flowers to make some stand out more and to create a symmetrical arrangement. A lovely Spring display!

Spring flowers craft for children

The box of craft materials was provided to me free of charge by Bostik as part of the Tots100/Bostik Craft Bloggers Club.
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