Sunday, 22 October 2017

Book review - The Line by Keri Smith

I always love a creative challenge, so I was delighted to accept a copy of the latest book from Keri Smith to review - The Line (affiliate link). I've had a lot of fun working with one of her previous books, Wreck This Journal, and so I knew it would be the kind of thing I'd enjoy.

Book review - The Line by Keri Smith

The premise of the book is very simple. Take a pencil and start at the beginning with a line. You just go through the pages one at a time, taking your line with you.

The Line book by Keri Smith

The book starts off simply as you get used to the process, moving the pencil slowly, quickly and in different directions, following the instructions as you go. There's plenty to read as well to make you think, and the whole process is very relaxing.

The Line book review by Keri Smith

Some of the pages can be completed quickly, but as you progress further into the book you need to stop and think a little more and the tasks become more interesting. I have a little way to go with the book yet, and I'm really interested to find out where my line will take me!

I received a copy of this book to review. Amazon links are affiliate.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Personalised letters and videos from Santa with Elfi Santa

Christmas might seem a little way away yet, but it won't be long before the season is in full swing. I love the build up to Christmas, we do lots of crafting and baking along with festive days out, it's a really special family time. As a parent, it's really fun to be able to be able to add a little more magic for the children, and there are lots of ways that you can do this.

One fantastic way would be to treat your child to a letter or video direct from Santa which is completely personalised to them - and Elfi Santa have been working with Santa since 2013 to bring smiles to lots of small faces at Christmas time!

A Standard Letter from Santa via Elfi Santa currently costs just £3.99. There are 28 templates on the website that you can use to give you a start, and then each one can be edited, not just with a few details about the child - you can change the entire text of the letter. You can add extra details, for example things that your child has done well this year, write about their hobbies or particular achievements at school, or you can write the letter as a reply to one that they have sent to Santa themselves.

There are even some suggested letter templates that you can use after Christmas, and some which are aimed at adults. The letter will be printed on themed writing paper with a hand-pressed gold stamp and can be delivered anywhere in the world. You can also upgrade to the Gold Letter which offers additions such as a postcard or sticker for the door.

Elfi Santa personalised letter from Santa

To really bring the magic of Christmas alive, you can also create a personalised Santa Claus Video for your child. There are four different video templates that you can choose from, costing £12.99 or £7.99 if you choose a video for an adult. Santa will greet your child by name, and you can personalise the video in many more ways depending on the theme that you've chosen, for example you can add photographs of the child, of their house or their gift, their age, and whether they have been good or bad. You can also make a short free video for your child and there is the option of a joint video for two children.

A video from Santa would be perfect for a child that is starting to waver when it comes to Father Christmas, or perhaps a child that needs a little extra motivation to behave well in the run up to Christmas!

If you are visiting here from the US, you can find the sister website for US customers here - Elfi Santa

This is a collaborative post. Prices correct at time of publishing.

10 + things to pack for a long haul flight with children

Flying long haul with young children? It's not something that many people relish. As survivors of several long flights with little ones, I thought I'd share some things to pack that make the whole experience that bit easier. This list is intended for those with children that are past the nappies and bottles stage, but not yet able to occupy themselves independently for a whole flight.

Ten plus things to pack for a long haul flight with small children

A rucksack. We've experimented with numerous carrying options, and have had most success with a small zip up rucksack for each child. They fit easily under the seat in front allowing easy access, and a child can carry it safely around the airport.

Teddy or comforter. Far too valuable to be placed in the hold luggage, and very useful if you are hoping that your child will sleep on the plane.

Sleepwear and a spare top. I always pack sleepwear for the children in hand luggage. It means that if we arrive at night time, whether planned or unplanned, I can get the children ready for bed straightaway without having to hunt through suitcases. A spare top is always useful for any accidents, or if your luggage goes astray.

A water bottle. We take empty bottles that we can fill up once we have passed security. Just be careful when you open them for the first time on the plane as sometimes the pressure build up can cause them to leak.

Plenty of snacks. Ideal snacks don't take up much space, won't melt, are durable, won't leak, don't mind being squashed, and are filling. I like to take chewy bars, breadsticks, raisins, Cheerios and so on, and I also make up their usual packed lunch with sandwiches and so on that they can eat along with their first meal (ours are never keen on the airline food). Lollipops are also good, and children can suck on them during take off and landing if they are having trouble with their ears.

Tablets and headphones. On an long haul flight you'll likely have some kind of in-flight entertainment, and it's worth first steering children towards that, so that you can save your batteries. But it's also good to have something on hand that you know will entertain your children, so load it up with some of their favourite films and television programmes.

A notepad and pens. I'm a bit wary of taking too many pens and pencils on a plane, as they inevitably end up dropped on the floor and are difficult to retrieve. But plenty of plain paper is a must - you can encourage the children to write a holiday diary, or else there are lots of pen and paper games that you can play together. You can also add a few colouring or activity books, I have a selection that only come out for holidays. I'll also sometimes treat the children to a magazine of their choice at the airport, bonus if you can find one with a free toy!

Card games. We have a few favourite card games that we take away with us, Dobble and Top Trumps are excellent, or else just a simple pack of playing cards. These are better for older children that have the dexterity to keep hold of the cards without spilling them everywhere.

A travel pillow or cushion. Airlines will often provide these, along with a blanket, but they aren't always very comfortable. For our latest trip we've bought some neck pillows for the children that will support their heads and keep them snug.

Baby wipes and tissues. It's much easier to mop up your own spillages than to have to wait for a busy crew member to bring you some napkins! You probably won't need to cart about a whole pack of baby wipes, but it's handy to decant a few into a plastic bag just in case.

Plastic carrier bags. Always useful, for collecting rubbish, storing dirty clothes, or just corralling things together if you run out of space.

Books. When children are on to chapter books you can save a lot of space, as one book will entertain them for longer than a toddler's picture book. They are also good for waiting around at the airport for a short period, when you don't want to be unloading tablets and headphones.

What else would you pack? Add your suggestions into the comments below!

Image credit Beasty via Unsplash.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

After school clubs and downtime

As a young teenager I was very busy. Most days I would have some kind of club or activity at lunch time, after school, and then often in the evening too. I'm very glad that I had so many opportunities for activities that broadened my horizons and introduced me to new opportunities. In particular at school I was involved in musical activities - instrument lessons, orchestra, choir and so on, and I have fond memories of the shows that I performed in and the trips that I went on.

However I did always feel that my days were very full, and I remember the feeling of relief if an activity was cancelled, and the joy of some unexpected free time. My children are still young, and since they were babies I've always been reluctant to sign them up for too many clubs and classes as I know that they need time to themselves as well.

So at the moment sometimes I feel that they are woefully under scheduled compared to their playmates. They both have a swimming lesson after school once a week, and Harry has a weekly after school piano lesson. This year Harry has joined the school choir and Mia has begun a Speech and Drama club, luckily both of these clubs take place at lunchtimes and need little involvement from me.

This term Harry has also signed up for a Creative Writing club after school. I'm really glad that he's interested, and he certainly has a talent for writing, but it does mean a long day for him. Mia started an after school sports club last term and we had to stop because she was just too tired, she would come home in tears.

I really treasure the two afternoons a week when we have no activities after school and can just come home, get the children changed (often straight into their pyjamas!) and they can play together for a little while before dinner. It's one of the reasons that I'm terrible at organising playdates - I'm very protective of our free, unscheduled time after school.

Child with a piano exam certificate

As they get older they will have even more opportunities offered to them, and along with peer pressure I'm sure they are going to want to do more and more. I want to encourage them of course but I'll just try and be mindful that they aren't ending up too busy and still have plenty of time to relax!

How do you balance offering your child enriching activities, and letting them have time to just chill out at home?

Monday, 16 October 2017

How I use Trello to organise my life

I like to think I'm an organised person. I am generally on top of what needs to be done and when, and I like to work ahead of myself by writing lists and making plans to help keep things under control. I wrote a blog post recently about how I use Trello as a blogger, and I thought I'd expand on that with how I also use Trello to organise some of the other aspects of my life.

How I organise my life using Trello

Trello is an online organisational tool that uses cards, lists and boards to keep track of individual tasks and projects. I have lots of boards, some which are in regular use and some that I open less frequently. I'm always creating new boards for things that I'm working on, and I have shortcuts on my bookmarks bar for those that use most often.

The board that I open first every day is my To Do board. I use this board every evening to create my to do list for the next day. Each task is represented by a card. I have a number of tasks relating to my blog and social media that I carry out daily, and these are coded with an orange label. Daily housework tasks have a yellow label, and blog related tasks have a blue label. Anything with no label is a one off task, and I delete it when I've done it.

I have daily and weekly lists. At any one time I usually have a daily list for the current day and the following day, and a weekly list for the current week and the following week. When I've completed a recurring task I drag it across to either the next day or the next week. On a Sunday evening I'll set up the next weekly list.

I create additional lists as I need them, for example I currently have a list for things that I need to do before we go away in a few weeks, and a list of things that I'll need to schedule in for when we get back. I also have some general monthly lists for tasks that aren't urgent. Obviously my lists are personal and represent what works for me, but here's a sample!

Using Trello to organise my life - sample screen shot

You may notice that I have a counter next to the list title showing how many cards are in this list. This is a Google Chrome extension called CardCounter that I have installed, I find it really helpful. You may also notice that next to the name of the board it says 'Jain Team' rather than my name. This is because it is a shared board with my husband so that in theory I can allocate tasks to him, although in reality he doesn't pay much attention!

I also have lists elsewhere on my board for short term and long term projects, as well as crafty ideas that I want to try sometime, and lists for other things as they come up, for example ideas for the school holidays or books that I want to read.

I find it really helpful to work through my lists, and really satisfying to delete and drag away cards as I finish a task. I hope that this post has inspired you to give Trello a go, I really do find that it helps me!

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Celebrating Halloween with young children

Celebrating Halloween has definitely changed from when I was little! We had no build up to Halloween, no shops full of themed food, decorations and costumes. All that happened was on Halloween evening we shut all the curtains, and ignored the door bell if it rang. I don't ever remember dressing up myself or taking part in any kind of Halloween themed activity.

Celebrating Halloween with young children

These days you can't avoid Halloween, and it's become a really fun celebration. There are so many things that you can do with little ones, and so I thought I'd share some ideas.

Staying at home

When my children were younger we always had Halloween fun at home. I would do a few crafts with them, like toilet roll tube Halloween creatures, and we had some hand-me-down costumes that I put them in. There are lots of different ways that you can teach children how to make a monster, and they don't have to be at all scary. There are also lots of alternative Halloween ideas which don't involve leaving the house.

When the children were a bit bigger I organised a small Halloween party at home. If you want to really impress them you can find lots of Halloween decorating tips here, and the shops are full of creepy accessories. I kept the food simple with some Halloween themed cakes and biscuits but you can really go to town and there are some fab ideas for Halloween food, like these awesome witch fingers.

Food ready for a Halloween party

Going out Trick or Treating

I was always totally against the idea of taking the children out trick or treating until we moved to a new estate and saw what a big deal it was. Hundreds of children around here go out, supervised by their parents, and lots of houses make a real effort to join in. People really welcome the children with some amazing and creative decorations, and people are quite happy to ignore the houses that don't want to take part. It's always fun to dress up as much as you can, and as well as finding a great costume you can find some brilliant Halloween face painting ideas here.

Of course you do need to be careful as Halloween does have its dangers, and you can find some useful Halloween safety tips here.

Children dressed up for Halloween

Celebrating further afield

Many local attractions will have some kind of special activities going on for Halloween. The big theme parks run events that last for weeks, like Legoland Halloween, and are very popular. A few years ago we were lucky enough to be able to go to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at Disney World Resort in Florida and it was fantastic. But if you can't get that far there's bound to be a local farm or school which have something going on - even our gym is hosting a Halloween party!

Disneyworld decorated for Halloween

I hope that I've whetted your appetite for some Halloween fun this year! If you are still looking for some more inspiration, you might enjoy this A-Z of Halloween with even more craft and recipe ideas.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

A menagerie of stuffed animals

A couple of years ago for Christmas we bought Mia a doll. It was a fancy one with batteries, she sucked from a bottle and cried with real tears. We thought that she'd love it, as she's always shown motherly tendencies, but after the initial excitement she didn't show much interest.

It turned out that she would rather demonstrate her maternal instincts towards her ever increasing collection of stuffed animals. We have them stored in a drawer in her wardrobe, in a cardboard zoo themed box on her bookshelf, and alongside her in her bed. She has so many there that when I go to tuck her in at night she has often half fallen out, evicted from her own bed by a huge pile of cuddlies.

Stuffed toys in a zoo themed box

She has a stuffed toy to represent animals from across the animal kingdom, which comes in very handy on school dress up days when a particular creature is needed to supplement a costume. She has also adopted my own remaining stuffed toys, including some Beanie Babies that I collected at a time when we all thought they'd be worth something someday. I hope they won't be, because they are certainly no longer in mint condition!

Occasionally when I'm having a sort out I skim a few off that I've not seen her play with for a while and hide them in my wardrobe. Generally she's asked for them back within days. She maintains an encyclopedic knowledge of her collection, she can remember where they came from or who gave them to her, their names, and also their likes and dislikes.

It wasn't until this summer that we introduced her to Build a Bear, and I'm not quite sure how we managed to keep her away for so long. She spent some of her own pocket money on her first bear, and then she acquired a second on a more recent trip with Ram (who having seen her devotion towards the first, spoiled her with a second).

Child reading a book to her teddy bear

This new bear ('Fluffy') has become her constant companion, and in lieu of receiving the class bear to bring home she has been taking photographs of Fluffy around the house, printing them out, and writing about him in a notebook.

She has also encouraged Harry to appreciate and grow his own collection. Previously he was content with just Giraffe, now he also has his own small band of furry friends that accompany him to bed at night. Counted among their number are two large fluffy slippers, that he would rather cuddle at night than wear on his feet.

I love seeing Mia's devotion to her little animal friends, and the imaginative games that she plays with them. I'll be very sad indeed when this stage of her childhood is over, although I'm sure she'll continue to treasure them all for some time yet!
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