Thursday, 27 November 2014

A day out in Portsmouth

At the weekend we were invited to try out some of the visitor attractions in Portsmouth. We decided to return to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and we enjoyed our first family visit to the Spinnaker Tower.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

We started our day at the Historic Dockyard. We've visited a couple of times (you can read about one of our previous visits here) so we are pretty familiar with it and knew what we wanted to see. If you are visiting it's worth doing some advance planning, because there is a lot to do. As well as the three historic ships you can also take a Harbour Tour by boat, and there are also a number of individual museums on the site. We didn't do the Harbour Tour on this visit as the weather wasn't great, but it's a great way to see the harbour and there are always some interesting ships to see accompanied by knowledgeable commentary.

HMS Warrior

HMS Warrior Portsmouth

We began our day with a visit to the warship HMS Warrior, the first ship that you see as you enter the Historic Dockyard and which also greets you as you arrive in Portsmouth by train. She was the world's first iron-hulled and armoured warship powered by both steam and sail, although with new technology she very quickly became obsolete and has been used for various things before she was restored as a museum ship. She has been restored to how she was in 1861, and there is a lot to see across four decks. You are given a leaflet with deck plans and suggested touring route so you have plenty of help in interpreting your visit.

There are also crew and volunteers to answer questions. They were really friendly and helpful, and even offered the children the chance to have a go in a hammock, although they were far too suspicious and declined!

Family visit to HMS Warrior

HMS Victory

While our previous visits to HMS Victory have been self-guided, in the winter months the visit is by guided tour. Although we had enjoyed exploring the ship by ourselves, the tour really was fantastic as we learned a lot and our attention was drawn to things which we had previously missed.

HMS Victory Portsmouth under restoration

There is quite a lot of renovation going on to the outside of the ship, and the topmasts and rigging have been struck, but it doesn't affect what you see inside. You can explore the crew's living areas on the ship, see the place on deck where Nelson was injured at the Battle of Trafalgar and then where he died shortly afterwards. You also visit the massive hold where food, drink and supplies were stored. My favourite area of the ship is the Great Cabin, Nelson's living quarters and where he apparently spent an entire two years without leaving those few rooms!

The Mary Rose

It is the Mary Rose which fascinates Harry in particular so we spent most of our time here. The Mary Rose was a Tudor ship, built in 1510, and in service for 34 years before sinking in 1545. The new Mary Rose museum opened in May 2013. Since the Mary Rose was raised from the seabed in 1982 there has been an ongoing process of conservation. Currently you can only see the Mary Rose through windows along a corridor as she continues to dry out, which means it can be a bit difficult to get a sense of the true scale of the ship. In a few years though it is planned for the walls to be removed and you'll be able to see the ship much better. The most impressive part of the tour comes towards the end  of your tour when you board a glass lift which takes you from the top of the ship to the bottom and gives you an amazing view.

Mary Rose through a window

There are lots of exhibits spread across the three floors, based around the artefacts recovered from the wreck. Several key members of the crew are picked out, for example an Archer, the Carpenter, the Cook and the Purser, with skeletons on display alongside a reconstructed model. This is paired with fascinating information that has been gleaned from the remains, for example the geographical area in which the men were brought up and the work that they did for a living. The skeletons are displayed alongside the men's possessions, which have been remarkably well preserved and are fascinating to see. There is plenty of information to tell you all about them.

The museum is very modern and there are some interactive exhibits for children, for example little computer games that they can play and which teach them various things, both about the Mary Rose and about Tudor seafaring in general. There was a brass rubbing area which they loved, and Harry took great pride in his finished work.

Mary Rose Museum brass rubbings

National Museum of the Royal Navy

Out of all the other attractions on site we particularly enjoyed the National Museum of the Royal Navy as it is well set up for younger visitors. There are ship models to see and plenty of interactive exhibits like a short lesson in Morse code. Harry was fascinated by these biscuits which we were told about during our tour of HMS Victory, and he loved using a magnifying glass to hunt for weevils.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard with children

There is also a nice play area with a little ship for the children to play on, along with costumes and hats for dressing up fun. It's a large museum, so if you are visiting with young children it's worth concentrating on the areas that will interest them the most.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard museum

The Spinnaker Tower

Spinnaker Tower Portsmouth

When we had finished at the Historic Dockyard we headed for the Spinnaker Tower. It's a short walk away, and located in the Gunwharf Quays shopping centre. The tower is 170m in height and you can see it from all around. You ascend the tower in an internal lift, and once at the top there are three floors to visit.

It was quite a gloomy day when we visited, so I was concerned that the view wouldn't be great. Perhaps it wasn't quite as good as on a sunny day, but it was definitely worth the visit as there was still plenty to see. Most of the more interesting things to see are quite close by anyway, like the car ferries unloading and the ships moving through the harbour, so it doesn't really matter if you can't see a great distance. We could still clearly see the Isle of Wight in the distance.

Spinnaker Tower glass walkway

The highlight of a visit to the first viewing platform is a glass walkway where you can look straight down to the pavement below. Ignore the cross look on Harry's face, he was just annoyed that I was stopping his fun by making him pose for a photograph! I thought that the children would be worried about the glass floor with a huge drop beneath, but they absolutely loved it. In fact the walkway was full of children happily running about while the adults watched on nervously before venturing delicately across!

Spinnaker Tower glass walkway looking down

The second floor up is a cafe with a selection of coffee, tea and cakes, then the very top floor is open to the elements (albeit with big glass windows in front of you!) and offers the most impressive views.

Spinnaker tower view from the top

We finished our day in Portsmouth with a quick visit to the shops in Gunwharf Quays (we couldn't pass the Cadbury shop by!) and then stopped for pizza on the way home. A great day!

For more details about events, local attractions and where to stay, and a copy of the free visitor guide call the Portsmouth Visitor Information Service on 023 9282 6722 or email; details can also be found on website Follow Portsmouth on Twitter for all the latest news and events @visitportsmouth; visit the city’s Facebook page or experience Portsmouth on YouTube searching for Visit Portsmouth. 

Historic Dockyard 

Victory Gate, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth PO1 3LJ Tel: 02392 728060
The Historic Dockyard is open: Daily Apr-Oct 10am-6pm, last tickets sold at 4.30pm; Nov-March10am-5.30pm last tickets sold at 4pm

Admission: All attractions £28 adults, £26 seniors, £21 children, under 5s free, family (2+3 £78.40); single attraction tickets also available. Tickets are valid for one year with unlimited entry (some days excluded). Attractions to visit in the Dockyard include the new HMS – Hear my Story exhibition in the National Museum of the Royal Navy (marks the First World War); the Victory, HMS Warrior, Mary Rose Museum and Action Stations; they also offer harbour tours (all included in your pass)

Spinnaker Tower 

Waterfront at Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth PO1 3TT Tel: 023 9285 7520
Open daily: 10am-6pm, last admission 30mins before closing

Admission: £8.95 adults; £7.95 seniors, £6.95 3-15yrs, under 3s free

We received complimentary family admission to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and the Spinnaker Tower in exchange for this review.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Hama bead quilt style picture

Sometimes of an evening I quite fancy making something pretty with Hama beads (especially when they've been left out all over the table by the children) but I need some ideas. So I turn to my Hama bead ideas for me pinboard and I can always find something to inspire me.

Recently I pinned this gorgeous Hama bead rainbow quilt design made by Megan. It really jumped out at me as it was so bright and colourful, and so I used the basic pattern to make my own colourful picture to put in a little white frame that I picked up recently.

The frame is a very simple one (I buy frames cheaply at a local framing shop so I guess they are made with offcuts) and has no glass or backing. I just cut a piece of white card to the same size as the frame and then stuck the Hama bead design directly on to it with double sided tape. Because the design is quite large, after ironing I made sure to sandwich it between two heat proof mats for a few minutes to make sure that it didn't warp.

I've put it in the bathroom, so it can make me smile when I'm brushing my teeth! Here's my board packed full of ideas for Hama bead creations that I might like to make. There are some really creative designs out there, including lots of 3D projects that I have my eye on!

Follow Jennifer Jain's board Hama bead ideas for me on Pinterest.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Christmas Crafting and play with House of Fraser

I was recently asked by House of Fraser to choose some products from the Arts and Crafts section of their online store to try out with the children in the run up to Christmas. I chose four great products to try out with the children, and here's what we thought!

Play Doh Perfect Twist Ice Cream (£20)

Play Doh has always been very popular in this house, and Harry (5) jumped upon this set as soon as he saw it. He loves watching Play Doh videos on the internet, and this was a set that he had seen demonstrated. It took me a few minutes to set it up, but it was pretty straightforward. It won't be fitting back into the original box though, as it's quite a large set!

Play Doh perfect twist ice cream set review

There are two main parts to the set which means it's a great one for a couple of children to play with at once. There is one extruder which you use to make the ice cream shape and then a second extruder with a slicer that makes little sprinkles. All around the base and down the sides there are little moulds which you can use to make additional decorations.

The set comes with five little pots of Play Doh. Three of these are Play Doh Plus which was a new product to us. It's softer than normal Play Doh and lighter. This means that it is a lot easier for little fingers to work with and to push through the extruders. Normally I have to help the children with this bit, but with Play Doh Plus even Mia (3) was able to work them easily.

The set also comes with some lovely accessories - dinky little ice cream cones, sundae glasses and spoons. To make an ice cream you place the cone beneath the first extruder. As you pull down the lever the cone spins around slowly to make a nice smooth ice cream shape. Then you place it between the second extruder to make little sprinkles. These didn't stick to the ice cream very well but were easy enough to push into place.

Play Doh ice cream maker set

Of course if you want to use the set properly you do need to be comfortable with mixing up the colours, not a problem for the children at all so I just have to let them get on with it! The main extruder was really easy to clean as the Play Doh is kept in a removable section which folds out. The sprinkle part was a little harder to clean as it's all enclosed but when it's dried out I'm hoping it will all fall out.

The thing that I really liked about this set is the role play possibilities. While Harry was having fun actually making the ice creams, Mia was more interested in playing with the finished ice creams, putting in her order and pretending to eat them. There are all sorts of games that you could play and I thought that the little accessories were fab.

Play Doh Disney Sofia the First Tea Party Set (£11.25)

Another set which is fantastic for role play is this Play Doh set from Disney themed around Sofia the First. I chose it with Mia in mind, but I think that Harry will have just as much fun with it!

Sofia the First Play Doh set

The set comes with three tubs of Play Doh, including some lovely sparkly pink and purple. It has a large Sofia doll which is covered in little Play Doh moulds. The base of her dress is a tray which you can use with an empty Play Doh tub to make a table. She also has a teapot and teacups. The teapot is a small extruder, so you can fill it with Play Doh to push 'tea' out into the tea cups. Sofia herself is hollow inside, making a handy place to store her accessories. I must admit that I'm not so keen on the small Play Doh moulds myself as I find them difficult to use but it doesn't seem to bother the children, Harry in particular really enjoys making the different shapes. Again, because it has lots of pieces it's a set that more than one child can have fun playing with at the same time. It would make a lovely gift for a little girl!

Disney Princess Fuzzy Felt Craft Set (RRP £10.99)

I have very fond memories of Fuzzy Felt from when I was little, and because Mia loves playing with her magnetic dress up dolls I knew that she would enjoy this set. The fact that it is Disney Princess makes it even more appealing. The set contains a purple background board and over 100 felt pieces spread over four individual sheets. One sheet is in full colour and contains the princess figures (Snow White, Belle and Cinderella) in their modest underwear. Each princess has her familiar ball gown and a few accessories like gloves, tiaras and a couple of items related to their story, for example an apple for Snow White.

Disney Princess fuzzy felt

Then there are three plain coloured sheets of felt shapes in pink, blue and yellow, with further items to help you tell the stories of the princesses, like woodland creatures, castles and other characters from the stories, as well as some extra bits of clothing and accessories. These coloured sheets aren't quite as nice, it would be better if all the pieces were in full colour, but it doesn't affect the story telling potential of the set.

Disney Princess fuzzy felt

Mia wasn't so interested in acting out the stories, although that may be because she's not so familiar with the films yet (that will come as she gets older!). She did enjoy dressing up the princesses though, and creating a larger scene with me, particularly with the animals like the rabbit and the cat. It's a lovely little set and I know that we are going to have lots of play out of it.

Disney Frozen Crayola Mess Free Colour Wonder (£6.50)

I first saw a Colour Wonder Crayola colouring book at a friend's house and was completely fascinated. It's a similar concept to the magic painting books that I used to have when I was younger, but it works a lot better. I have no idea how they work, I just know that they work really well! This pack contains an 18 page colouring book which has a nice selection of images from the Disney Frozen film. Then you also have a pack of 5 marker pens. Each marker pen is a different colour (they are chosen to match the sorts of colours that you'd be using for these particular pictures - light blue, dark blue, brown, pink and peach), but magically they all look white when you take off the lid, and on ordinary paper or any other surface they make no mark.

Crayola Colour Wonder Frozen set review

Amazingly however, when you colour in the pages in the book, the paper turns the correct colour - the colour of the pen that you have drawn with! The colours are really bright too, and there is no mixing or running of colours. This makes them perfect for when you are out and about and don't want the mess usually associated with felt tip pens. It's also great for little ones that you aren't quite ready to trust with real pens yet as they leave no mark on furniture, hands or clothes and it really is a brilliant system. Although I chose the set with Mia in mind, Harry is also a big fan of the film and enjoys the colouring just as much, so it's for both of them really!

Frozen Crayola magic colouring book

We had a great time trying out all these arts and craft products, and you can find the full range online at House of Fraser.

We received these items for the purpose of this review, prices correct at time of writing.

Ladybird Tuesday - The Story of Nuclear Power

It's a rather complicated book this week. The Story of Nuclear Power is from Ladybird Series 601, all books which discuss the achievements of man. Other titles in the series include The Story of Plastics which looks very interesting (currently the cover is on display in my Ladybird wall display, I'd love to read the actual book!), The Story of Furniture and The Story of Ships. The Story of Nuclear Power was published in 1972.

Ladybird The Story of Nuclear Power book

The book begins with a discussion on the need for nuclear power for us to have heating, lighting, cooking, radio, television and so on. Then it goes back to the very beginning when man used forces for power that exist in the outer regions of the atom. Then in the twentieth century, scientists began to wonder if there was anything smaller than the atom, and discovered the much greater forces that can be released from within the centre of the atom, which is what we mean by nuclear power. I'm not a very scientific person, and those couple of paragraphs in this Ladybird book explained the concept to me much more clearly than any science lesson at school!

Vintage Ladybird Book The Story of Nuclear Power

The book continues with a detailed look at early experiments, and how scientists from across the world came together to unravel the secrets of the atom and were able to control the release of the atomic energy. The world became aware of this new power with the dropping of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. 

Vintage The Story of Nuclear Power Ladybird book

The book takes a look at the future of nuclear power, for example in the Space Age. It suggests that the first planned use of nuclear engines will be to propel space ships shuttling between Moon and Earth orbits, although that hasn't happened quite yet!

The book is overwhelmingly positive in it's description of nuclear power. Atomic bombs are mentioned in passing with no hint of the huge loss of life and devastation that they cause. Perhaps this is because the book was written before nuclear power plant disasters like Chernobyl in 1986. I think that a book written today would be much more balanced about both advantages and disadvantages of nuclear power.

Although it is briefly mentioned that the used fuel elements are hot and radioactive, this is glossed over, giving the impression that they are somehow 'processed', with no mention of safety. Instead the book finishes with several pages of all the wonderful things that nuclear power will be able to do in the future, like powering cargo and passenger submarines across oceans and developing undersea food farms.

I'm joining in with Ladybird Tuesday at Being Mrs C. You can see all my previous Ladybird Tuesday posts here.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Review - The Christmas Circus at Squire's Washington

This Christmas, Squire's Garden Centre in Washington, West Sussex has an amazing Christmas experience for the family - a Christmas Circus performance as well as the chance to see Father Christmas. Our family was invited along to the preview event.

The Circus show takes place in a circus tent next to the garden centre. Before you go in there's the chance to buy popcorn, other sweets and light up spinning toys.

There is a vague plot to the circus show, with a story about some presents being stolen from under the tree and a search for Santa, which was used to tie the different acts together.

Squire's Washington Christmas Circus review

The clown was very good, and the children thought that he was hilarious, especially when he pulled a poor Dad up from the audience and swung a watering can about. We also saw some exciting circus acts, including a trapeze and super hula hooping.

Squire's Washington Christmas Circus

At the end of course Santa is found, and he ushers everyone to an area behind the seating where the circus performers were handing out presents. It was all done very quickly so fortunately there wasn't too much waiting around, but it did mean that you didn't really get the chance to meet with Santa individually as there were a lot of people and stopping for a photo would cause a hold up. The children were delighted with their presents, the gifts handed out seemed to be ones that would suit young children of most ages and it seemed as though despite working quickly the assistants were trying to match a suitable gift to the child.

Squire's Christmas circus

The circus show itself lasts for about 40 minutes, so it's a decent length show but not too long for very little ones. The whole experience lasts for about an hour. We were sitting just behind the ringside seats, but I would have thought that you'd have a good view from anywhere as the circus tent is not too large and the seats are well positioned.

Tickets for the Christmas Circus cost £10 a person, or £14 for Ringside tickets. A 10% discount is available for groups of more than 10, and as well as the circus the ticket price includes the chance to meet Santa and a present for each child. Below is the schedule of dates, and you can find more details and book tickets here - Christmas Circus at Squire's Washington.

Squire's Washington Christmas Circus schedule

We received complimentary admission to the preview event.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Review - Using Journl online personal organiser to plan a holiday

I was recently given the opportunity to try out Journl - an online personal organiser designed to keep track of everything that's going on in your life.

Review of Journl online personal organiser

You open Journl to your In-Tray, which contains your calendar, a general To Do list, information that you have recently added, as well as the option to create new elements that can then be moved elsewhere. Then you have tabbed sections along the top. Initially have three called Me, Home and Work, but you can delete them, rename them and add new ones to suit your own purposes. Within each section you can then create Notebooks for different topics.

Journl in tray screenshot

Using Journl for holiday planning 

I tried out the Journl app by using it to plan our recent holiday to Florida.

First I created a new Notebook in the Me section called Florida 2014. The main Notebook screen displays a calendar and To Do list, then you can create titled pages for all the different areas. On each page of your Notebook you have a variety of different elements that you can add to the page. They are Note, List, Checklist, Shopping List, Money List and Documents.

Using Journl to play a holiday

I make lots of lists before we go away anywhere, so it was really handy to have them all in one place. I used a "Before we go" page to make a Shopping List of things that we needed to buy before we went, and a Checklist of tasks that needed to be completed. I also have an electronic packing list that I print out each time we go away, and I'm intending to enter it electronically into Journl. If I create it as a Checklist then it can be copied and moved, so I could copy it and move it into a new folder for each holiday that we take.

I found the Documents element handy to store documentation related to the holiday. This is particularly useful as it can be accessed remotely from any location as long as you have internet access, and on your phone if you have the iPhone app. You could use this folder to store files with booking information, insurance details, itinerary plans, e-tickets, receipts and so on. I also used the Documents element to store electronic copies of our touring plans for the Disney parks which were .pdf files created by a touring plan website.

From the iPhone app you can even snap a photo to add to the files so you don't even need to scan things in, for example a quick photograph of your passport or driving licence (obviously make sure that you are happy with the security of your account and password and think carefully about the type of information that you are storing). You can also add documents just by dragging and dropping them from a folder on your computer.

Journl personal organiser

The Money List lets you keep track of your spending by adding in an item and the price and it will tally the total cost for you. This would be great for keeping a track of expenses as you go along so you can quickly see a total cost for the holiday. You could also use it in advance to plan your budget for the trip and work out how much cash you need to exchange.

I also found more uses while we were away, for example I was making notes for my diary and blog posts in a small notebook. I took a photograph of the finished pages and stored them electronically in Journl as a backup in case something happened to the physical notebook.

On the "Contact information" page I kept a List of important contact details, for example telephone numbers for the banks to cancel cards and phone numbers for the insurance and for the villa that we stayed in as well as a few details of people back home.

Other uses

As I mentioned above, the main Journl screen acts as your In-Tray, and you can use it to quickly dump Lists or Notes and come back to file them in the correct Notebook later.

This works really well when you are out and about using the app and want to work quickly. It's very easy to move these individual elements to the relevant Notebook. A feature that I liked is the ability to select either "Choose" to just move something or "Choose and Follow" if you want to be taken to where you've actually moved it, very handy! Once moved elements disappear from the In-Tray. The screenshot below shows me in the process of moving the List called "Rides that we want to go on again" from the main In-Tray, where it was created quickly on the go, to the Touring plans page of my Florida 2014 Notebook.

Journl review

Now that we are back I'm also starting to think of ways that I can use Journl to organise other areas of my life. In particular I can see that Journl would be really useful as a blog planner. You could use a separate Notebook for each blog to maintain a long-term to do list and ideas list, as well as using the Calendar feature to plan out blog posts in advance. For my blog I could make pages for different themes e.g. Christmas or Easter, to collect together different craft, recipe and activity ideas.

It's really easy to edit and move around Notebooks and elements that you've already created. For example, if I use Journl to plan more holidays in the future it would probably make sense to make a separate section for "Holidays" and keep all my different holiday Notebooks in that section.

You can visit Journl to sign up for a two week trial to see how you get on, and I'd definitely recommend giving it a go and getting to know it. Like all new things you do need to spend a bit of time at first, but I found it pretty intuitive and there is plenty of help available. If you want to continue using Journl, it costs £4.99 per month or £39 for a full year subscription. 

This is a sponsored review, and I was also given a year's subscription to try out Journl.

Friday, 21 November 2014

My holiday crafty purchases

I recently returned from an amazing holiday to the US. I'm afraid that you may be hearing rather a lot about it on the blog over the next few weeks. But instead of just travel reports I thought that I'd also share some of the fantastic crafty goodies that I picked up! I can't remember exactly where I bought everything, but I shopped in craft shops Michaels and Jo-Ann (both of which do amazing coupons that you can just show the cashier on your phone, you can sometimes save up to 50% off your most expensive item and 20% off your entire shop). I also found some little bits in Target and WalMart.

I know that most of these things can be sourced in the UK too, but they did work out cheaper and as I don't normally buy so many crafty things at once it was pretty exciting for me!

I bought washi tape, printed fabric tape and patterned Duck Tape. I just can't resist washi tape, especially when it's really cheap, and I found fabric tape, glitter tape and shaped tape.

Coloured duck tape and washi tape

Now I just need to find a way of storing it, as unfortunately my lovely washi tape holder is now woefully inadequate!

Patterned washi tape

I bought Perler beads which look to be the same as Hama beads, but they are stripy! I'm looking forward to playing with these and seeing how they look when they are ironed.

Stripy Perler beads

I also found some Cricut accessories cheaper than at home, including some Cricut vinyl which I've been after for a while. I'm not sure what I'm going to use it for yet but I've seen lots of cool crafts around that I'd like to try.

Finally I used one of my large discount coupons to buy a Smash Book. I think that I'm a bit late to these but I've read about them and they are pretty cool, basically they are just a scrapbook that comes with a fancy pen that has a glue stick on one end, along with a few other stickers, tiny sticky notes and tape to embellish with. I've already done a few pages with some mementoes and notes from our holiday, I'll share how I get on with it when I've completed some more!

New Smash book

Some links in this post are Amazon affiliate links, just in case I've whet your crafty appetite!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...