Thursday, 24 July 2014

A day at Butlins with Beechdean Scooby Doo Ice cream!

We got the summer holidays off to a fantastic start with a day out at Butlins Bognor Regis! It's just down the road from us, but I haven't been since I was a child, so I was delighted to be invited along to try out some new Scooby Doo Ice Creams from Beechdean Ice Cream. We also had the chance to see the Scooby Doo Live show, which is new this season at Butlins.

Butlins deckchair

We were greeted by this enormous deckchair, and of course we had to stop and take a photo! Then we had some time to explore. The children were a bit too timid for the rides in the fairground but we had a great time on the smaller rides and the indoor soft play in the Skyline Pavilion.

Butlins Bognor Regis

Then we headed for the conference centre to find out more about the new Scooby-Doo ice creams. When we arrived, first we attempted some Scooby Doo themed dressing up to take a "Scooby Selfie". To help celebrate the launch of the new Scooby-Doo ice creams, Beechdean is launching a nationwide competition offering the chance to win a family break to Butlins, plus spending money, and you can find out more details here - www.beechdean.co.uk/scooby

Scooby selfie

Then there was plenty of ice cream to try! There are three new flavours - Chocolate Snack, Honeycomb Snack and White Chocolate and Strawberry Snack. Of course in the interests of fairness we had to try one of each. My favourite was the Honeycomb, but Mia was quite fond of the White Chocolate!

Beechdean Scooby Doo ice cream

Beechdean Scooby Doo ice cream

After that it was off to Centre Stage to watch the Scooby-Doo Live show. It was packed inside, but we managed to find seats on the floor near the front. It was quite a relaxed atmosphere fortunately so it didn't matter that the children were a bit restless. Harry loved the show, and although a bit shy at first he was soon shouting along and pointing out the baddies to the cast. Mia was a bit more fidgety though so we only made it through the first half of the show, but we all still enjoyed it very much!

Scooby Doo show Butlins

Finally we returned to the Skyline Pavilion, and spent some more time on the little rides and soft play. We were all a bit hot and bothered by this point so it was time to head back home, but I'm hoping that we can return to Butlins at some point because I know there was plenty that we didn't have time to see!

Harry's first year of school is over

In the blink of an eye, Harry's first year at school is over. It started off slowly, but the last few months have gone so quickly, and now I can hardly remember a time when I had two little ones at home all day. The school run has become a fixture of our routine. I know exactly what time I need to leave the house for drop off and pick up, I know where to park and I know all the different routes that we can walk. We've even managed to work it all around our gym trips. 

child in school uniform

Harry has come on so well. He started school not recognising all his letters and he has finished the year as one of the top readers in his class. He's desperate to learn, he takes in everything, he loves school and he's made lots of new friends. He had his first Sports Day last week, took part in a class assembly and performed with the Infant Choir. We are so proud of him.

Although Harry seems happy about his move to Year 1 it's a big change for him. The classes are mixed up, so he's only going to be with a few children from his old class. They also don't mix as much between the classes. His classroom is at the other side of the school, not kept separate like the Reception classes, and I'll no longer be taking him into his classroom in the mornings. I've not met his teacher, or even seen inside his new classroom.

Harry is definitely ready for a break, these last few weeks have been hard work. And I'm so looking forward to having him home for the holidays. I've got lots planned - we have our Summer List to work through and I've been arranging plenty of trips out. Mia will still be at nursery for two mornings a week so there will be some time for just the two of us.

I'm trying very hard not to think about the fact that once he's back at school in September it's not going to be long before we receive our application form for Mia to start school next year. I just can't imagine it!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Sponsored post - NISAs - the new name for the ISA

Did you know that ISAs have changed since the 1st July 2014? 

At the moment we don't always have a great deal of money left over at the end of the month to put into savings. But when we do, we always put it into our ISAs. It's the obvious place to save money without needing to worry about paying tax on it. Until the 1st July 2014, the maximum amount that could be invested in a cash ISA was £5,940, increasing to £11,880 if you invested the rest into a stocks and shares ISA.

However from the 1st July 2014 this all changed. ISAs are now known as New ISAs, or NISAs, and have an increased annual allowance of £15,000, which can be saved either entirely in cash, in stocks and shares, or in any combination of the two. Existing ISAs will change to NISAs, and any contributions made since 6th April 2014 will count towards the 2014-15 allowance.

In theory this is great news because it offers opportunities for larger tax free savings. But Scottish Friendly has warned that savers need to be wary of automatically holding all their ISA funds in cash and instead to consider the alternatives that are available.

The reason for this is that banks and building societies have already started lowering their interest rates, rates that are already low, in anticipation of the NISA launch, and it's important to think about whether savers that invest all their money in cash are really receiving the best deal. 

Neil Lovatt, Scottish Friendly’s Director of Financial Products, said:

“For every one investment ISA taken out, three cash ISAs are opened. 

“Cash is easier to understand as it offers security and access to the savings without penalty that investment ISAs do not. People are being put off by what they think is pure equity investments and instead are opting for accounts that offer poor returns on their cash. 

“The changes introduced in the budget gave savers a glimmer of hope and incentivised people to put more money aside each month. However, the Cash ISA market has not risen to the opportunity, instead choosing to offer low rates of interest on cash ISAs and in some cases actually reducing their rates for fear of overly high inflows”.

I must admit that we've only ever invested money in a cash ISA. Like many people, we want the security that the cash ISA offers, and we all know that with a stocks and shares ISA the value of an investment can go down as well as up. But if you are prepared to look at the long-term picture when it comes to savings, there are ways of investing that will still mean that your savings are secure. 

So if you have some spare funds to invest at the moment don't necessarily think that a cash NISA is the best way to see some return on your investment, it's worth doing some research into the alternatives. You can find out more information in the video below: 



This is a sponsored post in collaboration with Scottish Friendly. Find Scottish Friendly on Twitter here.

Review - Aquabeads Deluxe Set

I was recently given the opportunity to review some Aquabeads. Regular readers will know that Hama beads are a crafty favourite in this family, and so I was very interested to try out the Aquabeads to see how they compare. I received the Aquabeads Deluxe Set which retails for £19.99 to review.

aquabeads deluxe set review

The Aquabeads Deluxe Set contains over 1200 beads in eight colours in a divided case, a base tray, eight template sheets, three base boards to place the beads on (each with a different configuration for the beads), a bead pen to help you place the beads, a sprayer to fix the design and full instructions. With this set you can make a small photo frame, a desk tidy and a variety of different pictures.

The Aquabeads are small, round, solid beads. They are placed on the tray, either with fingers or with the clever little bead pen that picks up a bead and drops it when you press a button on the side. The base boards fit nicely onto the base plate with the template underneath, and they are clear so that you can see exactly where to place the beads. When your design is completed you simply spray it with a fair amount of water and leave it to dry. The coating on the beads dissolves slightly in the water which sticks the beads together before you remove your creation from the base plate.

The beads are very small (and bouncy!). Harry (5 1/2) found them a bit fiddly to place at first but he soon worked it out, and he loved using the bead pen. Because he was placing the beads directly onto the template he had no problems making his designs.

aquabeads deluxe set

Once you've sprayed your design you need to wait at least an hour for the beads to dry, meaning that you can't make another design straight away on the same board. This pack includes three boards though, so you don't need to stop creating. The finished piece peels away from the board quite easily once dry, and then you can respray it on the other side just to make sure that it's solid, and they feel very firmly stuck together.

aquabeads

The huge advantage that Aquabeads have over Hama beads is that children can complete the whole process themselves, they don't need to wait for an adult to iron their creation as they can just spray it themselves.
It's also very easy to make 3D designs, either by layering up different flat pieces or making small boxes. All the pieces can be packed down quite small so it's easy to store (although the divided storage tray for the beads didn't keep the colours separate for too long!).

aquabeads storage

Harry has really enjoyed doing this set, it's something that he can easily get on with by himself while I'm making dinner which is great. Mia is a bit young yet (it's recommended for age 4 and above) and it's too fiddly for her at the moment, but it won't be long before she's able to have a go. Harry has had several crafting sessions with the box and he hasn't completed all the projects yet, so there's plenty in the set to keep children occupied.

You can buy refill packs for the beads and also a variety of themed sets with different designs and project ideas.

I received this kit to review, Amazon link is affiliate.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Ladybird Tuesday - Stories of Special Days and Customs

You may have noticed my absence from Ladybird Tuesday lately. This wasn't because I had lost interest. The truth was that I'd actually worked my way through my meagre collection of Ladybird books, and hadn't had the opportunity to search for any more! I've been finding the really vintage ones that I love harder and harder to track down, and when I did find them I couldn't really justify the cost.

And then at the weekend, this happened:

Vintage Ladybird book collection

We were visiting my husband's parents and they had retrieved three boxes of old books from their loft for him to go through. Well, as you can imagine, I was in Ladybird book heaven. I was so excited to see books that went with books I already had, and so pleased to find so many books that Harry will be able to read and enjoy now and that both children will be able to read and refer to as they grow up.

It was so difficult to choose one to start with for this week. In the end I chose Stories of Special Days and Customs. It was published in 1972 and is from Series 644. This series only contains two books, and I wrote about the other one a few months back - The Stories of our Christmas Customs. I'm quite chuffed that I've managed to complete a series!

Ladybird Stories of Special Days and Customs

Stories of Special Days and Customs takes us through a variety of special days which are celebrated throughout the year. They are the occasions that we celebrate in this country and are mainly based around the Christian calender, but it also covers days like April Fools Day and Bonfire Night. It's actually a really good reference book to have around, as I really enjoy doing seasonal crafts and activities with the children.

Ladybird Stories of Special Days and Customs

A page is devoted to each special day, accompanied by a gorgeous picture. Some are of people celebrating the day itself, others are of some of the Gods and Goddesses or historical figures that are the reason for the celebration.

Ladybird Stories of Special Days and Customs

In the introduction, the book boldly states that the most important anniversary in the year is Christmas, although this may just be because they have inserted a plug for the Christmas Customs book. Once again the Ladybird book manages to present plenty of information in an easy to read and understand fashion.

I learned a great deal from reading this book, especially about how the pre-Christian festivals were adopted by the church. The children will learn about and celebrate a lot of these occasions at their school, and it will be nice to be able to share this book together at those times.

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

Monday, 21 July 2014

Felt and button tree framed picture

I recently made this little button tree picture with a patterned fabric background in a little frame that I picked up one morning on the school run. I'm very lucky that my school run takes me past our local craft shop! Here's how I made it:

Button tree and felt framed picture



Materials:

Frame (mine has no glass)
Patterned background fabric
Green felt
Brown felt
Green buttons
Fabric glue
Scissors, needle, green thread, brown thread

Instructions:

I bought the frame in our local framing and stitching shop, they usually have a box outside with small frames for £1 each. It has no glass or backing to it, but that's fine for this project. You can easily buy cheap frames from Ikea or the large supermarkets.

Empty frame felt picture

The first thing to do is to plan the design for the button tree on paper by drawing around the frame and creating an outline for your picture. You also need to choose the buttons that you want to use and plan where they will be positioned. I decided to stick to round buttons in the same colour, but I found loads of inspiration on Pinterest with all different shapes and colour of button. When your design is completed, take a photograph that you can refer to later as you sew on the buttons.

How to make a button tree picture

Cut a piece of thick card to the same size as the frame. Then cut out the background fabric a couple of centimetres larger than the card. Iron if necessary.

Use your paper drawing to trace templates for the felt pieces (the trunk and leaves) and cut them out. My one tip for cutting felt - buy some decent, sharp scissors and only use them for cutting felt and other fabric to keep them sharp. Use pins to secure the template to the felt when cutting. The tree trunk shape was quite fiddly to cut, I found it easiest to cut a little outside the template, and then neaten up once the paper template was removed.

How to make a button tree picture

Using the frame as a guide, position the felt pieces on the background fabric and secure in place with some small dots of fabric glue. Don't use to much as it will make it harder to sew through the fabric later.

Button and felt picture

Then stitch around the trunk and leaves. I used contrasting colours and large stitches because that's the way I roll, you could match the colours so that the stitches aren't visible.

Embroidered felt tree

Then it's time to sew on the buttons. You don't need to be as diligent as you do for buttons sewn onto clothes. Make sure that the buttons are all the same way up and decide how you want to align the centre holes, I went for random directions. I stuck pretty closely to my original design, but I did make a couple of changes.

Felt button tree picture

Then you need to mount the fabric design onto your piece of cardboard. Check the positioning carefully, then fold over the edges and secure them with some long stitches across the back. Sew down the corners for extra security.
Finishing off button tree picture

Then I found that my picture just rested neatly in the frame. If you have a more substantial frame you'll have a backing to hold it into place. I think it works better without glass as it's such a three dimensional piece.

I'm linking up with #handmadeinjuly and

Crafts on Sea

The buttons and the fabric that I used in this project were received as review products.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Salt dough beaded fairy wands

I've been meaning to make fairy wands for a while. Mia loves dressing up in her princess and fairy costumes, and by calling it a magic wand I was able to interest Harry in the craft too!

Salt dough craft fairy wands for children

These pretty salt dough wands with their ric rac streamers are perfect for waving and twirling about. They take a few days to make as you need to wait for the different parts to dry, so you need to work on them in stages.

You need:

A length of bamboo garden cane or similar stick
Tape
Ric rac or ribbon
Strong glue or Sugru
Small wooden beads
Glitter/sequins/other decorations

To make the salt dough:

Two measures plain flour
One measure salt
A few drops food colouring
Water to mix to a dough

Each wand is made with a stick of bamboo from the garden, cut to about 30cm and with the ends sanded smooth. I decorated the length of each one with coloured ric rac. The easiest way that I found to do this was to secure one end of the ric rac to the end of stick with tape, and then paint a line of fabric glue along the side of stick. Twirl the stick on one end while you feed out the ric rac so that it covers round, then secure at the other end with tape. Leave to dry.

The toppers for the wands are made with salt dough. I used a very basic recipe - two parts of plain flour to one part salt, with a few drops of yellow food colouring and enough water to mix it to a dough. I used a heaped tablespoon as my part measure and it made enough for about eight toppers.

How to make salt dough

I sorted out some small wooden beads for the children to use to decorate the salt dough. I've seen enough crafts on Pinterest using melted plastic beads to be wary of using plastic beads in the oven! Then we made up the salt dough and cut out shapes, placed them on a baking tray and pressed in the beads. This amount of salt dough made enough for about eight shapes, so the children could choose their favourite when they were dry.

When it came to baking the salt dough, I kept a very close eye on the oven and checked them at ten minute intervals, as I was a bit wary about burning the beads. In the end I baked it at a low heat (100C) for just over an hour, turning the salt dough half way through, and it was absolutely fine. Then I kept the salt dough pieces in the warm airing cupboard for a few days to make sure that they were thoroughly dried out and also placed them on a sunny windowsill. When they were dry I painted them with some silver glitter paint which makes them really shiny and sparkly.

Salt dough glittery beaded shapes

I cut some long lengths of ric rac to make streamers for the wand. The salt dough pieces are quite heavy, and so I chose to use Sugru to attach them to the top of sticks. I reviewed Sugru recently and was very impressed at how well it stuck different materials together. I used one 5g pack of yellow Sugru which was enough to stick both the salt dough and the long pieces of ric rac firmly to the stick. If you don't have any Sugru then you'd need to use some very strong glue, and perhaps tape the pieces of ric rac to the stick first.

Salt dough fairy wands craft Sugru

When the Sugru or glue has dried, the wands are ready to be played with! Children can invent all sorts of role play games, and these wands should be sturdy enough to last for a good amount of time.

The beads and ric rac that I used for this project were part of a review bundle from The Bead and Button Company.
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