Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Making Gingerbread houses with the children

This is the third year in a row that I've been making gingerbread houses. I remember how much I worried about making my first gingerbread house, and how proud I was of it! This year and last year instead of one I have made two smaller houses, so that the children can decorate one each.

I use a fantastic recipe from Tesco - How to Build a Gingerbread House. On the website you can find a video which is really helpful to watch first, and some templates that you can use for the pieces. To make two smaller houses I print the template at 75% of the size and the recipe makes enough gingerbread for the two houses along with extra for about eight gingerbread men or other decorations like little trees for the house.

The recipe is pretty straightforward. I never have any treacle so I just substitute golden syrup which seems to work fine. I also find that I don't need to add quite all of the melted butter and sugar to the dry ingredients, so I add it gradually and mix as I go. I make the gingerbread house pieces the day before and then store them overnight in a cake tin, separated by pieces of baking paper. This way they are nice and firm for when you come to assemble the house.

Gingerbread house pieces

A trick that I learned from the video is to roll out the gingerbread directly onto the baking paper and cut the pieces out, then move the whole thing onto a baking tray. This means that the pieces don't become misshapen. You need plenty of baking paper!

I do find that the larger pieces that make up the roof need a little longer to cook than the window pieces. You need to remove the pieces from the oven as soon as they have started to brown slightly and then leave them to cool. They will still be quite soft when they first come out the oven, but they do harden up.

The windows are made using crushed boiled sweets, I find that I need about six large sweets for all the windows in the two houses. For a larger house you need one boiled sweet which you can place whole in the centre of each window before putting the pieces in the oven.

The next day it's time to assemble the house. The smaller houses each fit nicely onto a dinner plate, covered with tin foil. I use Royal Icing which you can buy in powder form and just add water. I don't follow the instructions exactly as I find it makes the icing too runny. I find about 300g of icing sugar and 40ml of water makes a nice thick icing, but just add the water gradually and keep mixing, it's best if you can use an electric mixer. This makes loads of icing, enough to assemble the houses and with plenty left over for decorating.

Assembling a gingerbread house

I use an icing syringe to pipe the icing onto the pieces, making sure to stick it to the plate at the bottom. Assemble the walls first and leave to set before adding the roof (it takes about 10-15 minutes to set firmly enough). I start with the back piece, icing a line along the plate and propping it up using a glass. Then I add the sides, again icing along the bottom to hold it in place. Then finally add on the front piece. I fill in any gaps with plenty of icing and if necessary I ice along the bottom sides again so it's nice and sturdy. Adding the roof is a little more tricky and you may need to hold it in place for a few minutes so that it doesn't slide off!

Gingerbread houses ready to decorate

I make the gingerbread houses myself up to this point, as you do need a little bit of concentration! Then I let the children loose to decorate them. I find that chocolate buttons are good for decorating as they are light and stick down easily. Dolly mixtures add a bit of colour, and as I'm personally not a big fan of jelly sweets I always choose something that's nice and chocolatey too!

I helped the children decorate by piping them lines of icing that they could stick the sweets onto. They were so pleased with their finished houses!

Children decorated gingerbread houses

Monday, 15 December 2014

Playing miniature golf at Disney World Resort, Florida

There are four different miniature golf courses at Disney World Resort in Florida, and on our most recent holiday we managed to play on three of them! I thought I'd share a little bit about the different courses and the fun that we had. Entry to the miniature golf courses was included in the park passes that we bought for our holiday so it's worth checking your tickets, otherwise you can pay separately when you arrive. Currently each course costs $12 for a child and $14 for an adult.

On arrival you are given a time slot. We played early evening or first thing and never had to wait more than five minutes or so to play, but it might be worth checking the wait time in advance if you are visiting in peak season or at a busy time of day.

Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf

Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf is located at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel, but has its own entrance and car park. Here you can also find the Fantasia Fairways Miniature Golf Course which we've not yet tried, as it looks a little more difficult for our young family. These two golf courses are based around Disney's classic Fantasia film and each course has 18 holes.

Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf is situated a little apart from the main Disney parks, so it feels pretty quiet and relaxed. It's close to Hollywood Studios though, so you can see the Tower of Terror in the background and if you are there in the evening at the right time you can even see the Fantasmic fireworks in the distance.

The course is a little deceptive. Some of the holes look very difficult but there are often hidden routes which the ball will fall through if you aim it in the right general direction. Sometimes sending the ball along the correct ramp or tunnel will send it directly into the final hole! There is also sometimes a bit of helpful sloping going on to direct the ball where it needs to be, so it's great for little ones.

Fantasia mini golf Disney World

There is often both an easy and a difficult way to complete the course. For example the hole in the picture below has a steep ramp to shoot the ball up, but if you don't have enough power to get it all the way to the top it will fall through a lower hole in the ramp and still come out near where you need it to be.

Playing miniature golf at Disney World

Often, sending your ball the correct way through an obstacle will cause something to happen, for example music plays or there is a quick spray of water. Many of the obstacles are also moving which makes them more interesting and fun. There is one hole which is located in a dark cave, and when you send the ball through it triggers a dragon's roar and a scary shadow is projected onto the wall. This one was a little bit scary for the children - we had to run them through it with their eyes closed!

Crazy golf at Disney

Winter Summerland Miniature Golf

The Winter Summerland Miniature Golf course is located at Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park, but it is completely separate and opening times are different to the water park. There are two courses here - the Winter Course and the Summer Course - and each is a different 18 hole experience with plenty of fun obstacles. They are both pretty similar in terms of difficulty, and some of the theming is mirrored, for example there is an ice castle in winter and a matching sandcastle in summer.

The story behind the courses is that Father Christmas built a vacation destination for his elves, divided into two parts. One part is for those that wanted to enjoy the sunshine, and the other for those that preferred the chilly North Pole. Both areas have a Christmassy theme to them, finishing in a beautifully decorated Christmas area.

If you only have time to do one of the courses then there isn't much to choose between them, so I would choose the quietest one. Both courses are fairly compact so I would imagine that it might feel a little busier than that Fantasia course when there are more people around, but that also makes it a a little more suitable for younger children as it's not too overwhelming.

The Winter Course

The Winter Course features ice and snow. There are a few things to watch out for, in particular a cheeky snowman that seemed to squirt water completely randomly and was difficult to dodge!

Blizzard Beach miniature golf

The children loved trying to hit the ball through the ice castle, which has a moving drawbridge so you need to time your shot. It's not too difficult though!

Winter Summerland crazy golf

The Summer Course

We visited the Summer Course on a sunny day, but there is plenty of shade around the course from the Florida sun, and also a few places to sit while you wait for your turn.

Summer golf course at Blizzard Beach

Above you can see the sand castle above that is the same as the ice castle, and on the hole below the cheeky snowman has melted! Again, we found here that the courses often felt strategically ramped to send your balls the way that they are supposed to go, which is really good for little ones. This doesn't mean that it's not challenging for adults though.

Summer crazy golf at Disney

The final section of the course is beautifully themed with Christmas decorations and a festive fireplace, and at the very end you send your ball through a computer screen to receive a special message from Santa. 

Winter Summerland miniature golf at Disney

After finishing playing each of these courses, both children were given a souvenir Mickey golf ball to take home which was a lovely touch!

Harry (5) and Mia (3) managed really well with all of these miniature golf courses. Although some of the holes are a little more challenging, they didn't mind accepting a bit of help and they loved it when sending the ball a particular way caused something to happen. Even if you think that your children are too young to play miniature golf I'd still recommend giving it a go as it's a lot of fun even if they don't manage it all by themselves! With younger children I'd probably recommend starting with the Winter Summerland courses as they did feel a little easier and the theming felt more geared towards little ones. And definitely choose this one if you are visiting around Christmas time!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Christmas crafts using festive Duck Tape

Recently I've been crafting with Duck Tape. Duck Tape has been around for years, and it's a tough, very strong tape that can be easily torn and yet sticks firmly to almost anything. The film is combined with cotton, meaning that it's flexible, and can also be stuck together to produce a fabric type material. Duck Tape is available in a range of colours and patterns, and this Christmas I was sent some festive rolls to use for some Christmas crafting. I received gold, silver, red, green, black and white rolls.

Festive coloured rolls of Duck Tape

Here are some of the ways that I used the Duck Tape this Christmas:

Christmas card holder and display

This Christmas card holder is so easy to make from Duck tape. It can be stuck across a mantlepiece, a door frame, bookshelves, the wall - anywhere! You just need two long strips of Duck tape. Place one strip sticky side up across a long table and then stick a second piece the same length down on it, leaving about a centimetre of the sticky side showing. Fold the bottom of the tape down under the back so it is only sticky on one side. Then attach it to your chosen surface using some more Duck tape.

Duck tape hanger for Christmas cards

As you receive a card you can attach it to the tape from one corner where it will be held securely. The Christmas cards will easily peel away when you take them down, so that you can keep or recycle them.

Christmas cards hanging with Duck tape

A mat for Santa's treats on Christmas Eve

This mat for Father Christmas is made from a piece of cereal box covered in white Duck Tape. Then I made some stripes across the bottom left with the coloured tape. One of the strips is folded over to make a small pocket where the children can tuck a letter for Santa. I cut out a green circle from two pieces of tape stuck together for a mince pie. I must admit that it wasn't as easy as I had hoped to cut out the circle but I think that it looks okay. Then there is a rectangle for the carrot. This will go by the fireplace on Christmas Eve!

Duck tape mat for Santa

Duck Tape and ribbon gift boxes

These small, colourful gift boxes are made from old toilet roll tubes. The tube is covered in Duck tape, decorated with some festive ribbon and then stapled together at one end. Small treats are placed inside, then it is stapled shut ready to give to the recipient.

Duck tape and toilet roll tube Christmas gift boxes

Ribbon for decorations and wrapping

The gold and silver Duck Tape in particular can be used to make some lovely stiff ribbon. You just need two long strips. Place one strip sticky side up on a table then place another strip down. It can be quite tricky to line up the strips, so I placed one slightly higher up and then folded over both sides. The Duck tape is much easier to cut when it is covered on both sides, so you can cut a nice triangle into the ends. I used the Duck tape ribbon to make some bows for the Christmas tree, you could also use it to wrap presents, to decorate around the sides of you Christmas cake, to use on a wreath, or on all sorts of other festive decorations.

Duck tape gold ribbon

You can also buy Duck Tape in a huge range of colours and patterns. You can see some of the cool patterned tape that I bought on holiday recently. It also has loads of practical uses around the home. I used some to mend our cardboard play house and Harry's book bag!

I was sent a selection of Duck Tape to use for these crafts. A roll costs around £5.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Right Here, Right Now - December 2014

As I half mentioned in my post the other day, I've been feeling a bit out of touch with myself somehow lately. I felt that I needed to focus. So I'm joining in with Right Here, Right Now, hosted by Aly at Bug, Bird and Bee as a way of taking stock of what I've been up to.

Currently I am: Dealing with end of term over-tiredness in two small children that had a super busy holiday away last month instead of a half-term holiday to recover. Everyone apart from me in the house also has a streaming cold and hacking cough. We've had a lot of screaming and tears over the last few days (on all sides!). I'm looking forward to a day out (child free!) with my friends tomorrow though.

Reading: I'm currently reading Travelling to Infinity by Jane Hawking which I've been sent to review. It's the story on which the film The Theory of Everything is based, written by Stephen Hawking's first wife. I've not got very far with it yet, but it's proving to be a good read and I'm hoping to finish it before I watch the film.

Travelling to Infinity by Jane Hawking

Listening to: The only time I really listen to music is in the car when I'm driving the children about. At the moment it's mainly the Frozen soundtrack, to which I am word perfect, although Mia has currently developed an obsession with Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid. When I do get the chance to have my music on, I've been listening to some of my old Blur albums.

Swooning over: We've not been watching much on television lately, so unfortunately opportunities for swooning have been limited. I am quite sad that we've finished watching Breaking Bad though...

Planning: I've been doing a bit of Christmas planning, although to be honest I don't have much to do. All the presents are bought now with just a bit of wrapping to go, and we don't have to cook a big turkey dinner. I'm doing a bit of blog planning for the New Year, coming up with ideas for posts and scheduling them in, although I've slowed down a bit now that Christmas is approaching. I've recently started a bullet journal style system for keeping myself organised which is working out well.

Eating lots of: I can't keep away from the chocolate biscuits at the moment! Sleep has been a bit limited lately with poorly children, and I find myself headed towards the biscuit tin as a way to keep going. This weekend I'm hoping to make a start on the gingerbread house, so that will mean eating lots of gingerbread, and we've just opened the first of the Christmas chocolate tins!

Remembering: I've been feeling very nostalgic about Christmas past lately. I wrote a little bit about our Christmas traditions, I think that Christmas is a time when you can't help thinking about how things have changed over the years, and how little ones are growing up quickly.

Discovering: I've been trying my hand at stop motion animation lately along with Harry which has been a lot of fun. I also found out about the free YouTube music that you can add to your videos.

Films I've watched: Ram and I managed a trip to the cinema last week to see The Hunger Games - Mockingjay Part 1. I enjoyed it as I really liked the books, although I don't agree with splitting the last book into two films, I think that it could easily have been covered in one. Last night we watched A Most Wanted Man which was pretty good. We normally watch a lot of films together but we've slowed down a bit lately, we have a long list of films to get through!

Wearing: I'm in my winter uniform now of walking shoes, jeans and stretchy jumpers, with an extra hoodie over the top when it's cold in the house.

Making: I don't really have a long term craft project at the moment, as I still need to find one to settle to - something to think about in the New Year. I have the Hama beads out pretty much permanently and the other day I made a little Hama bead Christmas forest. I've also been trying to come up with Christmas crafts involving Duck Tape for a review post, which is proving more difficult than I'd anticipated!

I really enjoyed writing this post! You can visit the Right Here, Right Now linky here to see what Aly and others have been up to this month.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Hama bead Christmas forest

I've been working very hard on my blog lately, but in the run up to Christmas I am aware that the content lately has rather been driven by external sources. I was starting to feel as though I needed a bit of time to make something for myself, even something small. So last night I took an evening off and made a little Hama bead Christmas forest.

Hama bead forest decoration

The trees are made on the large square pegboard using one of the lovely designs found here - Glittered Trees by Karen Benvenuti. The tree at the back left is made using some of the stripy Perler beads that I bought on holiday. I think it looks pretty cool! The Perler beads feel a little harder and more brittle somehow than the Hama beads, but they mixed in perfectly with them and ironed beautifully. I just need to keep them away from the children or else they will all be used up and I don't know where to buy them in this country!

If you are crafting with Hama beads this Christmas you might like some of my other Christmas projects - perhaps a 3D Gingerbread House or Hanging Baubles with Ribbon.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Review - Hot Wheels Super Looper Track Set

Recently on the blog we reviewed the Hot Wheels Total Turbo Takeover track set, and Harry has still been having a lot of fun playing with it. So he was very keen when we were asked to review the Hot Wheels Super Looper Track Set.

Hot Wheels Super Looper Track Set review

The Super Looper Track Set is fully compatible with all the other sets in the Hot Wheels Track Builder System, which includes several different sets as well as other pieces of track which can be purchased separately. It's a wall mounted set and the cars can either speed around the main loop or around the double loop at the side, with a lever at the top (underneath the flames) to control which way the cars will go.

Assembling Hot Wheels wall mounted set

It's a large set, and you need to have an area of (painted) wall available which measures at least 120cm x 120cm along with space in front to play with it, especially if you want to connect it to other track sets. You will also need 4 x D batteries which are not included.

Attaching Hot Wheels set to the wall

The instructions form a template for the wall fixings, to make sure that they are positioned accurately. The track is then fixed to the wall at five points using hooks kept in place with 3M command strips. Although it is claimed that they are easy to remove, realistically you aren't going to want to keep taking the track up and down, so once built it's going to be a pretty permanent feature on your wall for as long as you want it there.

Hot Wheels Super Loop Chase Race set review

I ended up assembling this track, which isn't a task that comes naturally to me. There are quite a lot of pieces, and although they are clearly labelled it wasn't always obvious to me how they fitted together. It ended up being a joint effort but we managed it, and it feels pretty sturdy now that it's together. I gave up following the instructions by the end and just used the picture on the box as I was fixing it to the wall.

When assembled, you just need to turn on the booster, position your car to one side, then press the lever to load it on to the track. The booster is very powerful and the car whizzes around at a tremendous speed, you can't really see it as it's so quick! Harry loves it but I find that it is quite a lot faster than I think it needs to be!

Like our other set, only one car is included which is a bit of a shame because I'm not brave enough to trust any of our other cars in it (experience with the other set has shown that they don't work very well and because this set is so fast I'm wary of cars flying about the room like missiles). Although it does work as a standalone set, it will be more fun when we've attached some more track to the bottom and perhaps added another car or two for some potential crashes.

Harry helped me to make a little video of the Super Looper Track Set in action, so that you can really get a feel for just how fast the car zips around the track.

We received the Hot Wheels Super Loop Chase Race in exchange for this review. Amazon link is affiliate.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Country Baskets Festive Face Off 2014

Recently I was contacted by Country Baskets and asked if I would like to enter their Festive Face Off Challenge. I was sent a blogger pack of crafty items, and challenged to use them to create a festive decoration. This is what I received - some thick mint coloured aluminium wire, pale green ribbon, artificial silver poinsettia style flowers, small silver shaped baubles, wire ball decorations, a spray of frosted berries, a string of silver bells and some white wired pom poms.

Country Baskets Festive Face Off challenge

I decided that I wanted to make a centerpiece for our Christmas table. Because some of the materials were large I knew that I wanted to make something with a bit of height to it, and so even though I'd never attempted anything like this before I had a lot of fun creating! This is what I came up with:

Christmas table centerpiece

Materials (starred items were included in my blogger pack)

Long cardboard tube
Silver Duck tape or similar (or you could use tin foil)
Double sided tape
Small sturdy cardboard box
Tin foil or silver sticky backed plastic
*Aluminium wire
*Silver artificial poinsettia style flowers
*Spray of artificial white berries and foliage
*String of white pom poms
*Small silver tree ornaments
*Wire ball Christmas decorations

How I did it

I began by making the cardboard tube that gives the centerpiece some height. I covered the tube in thick silver tape, using long pieces down the length and a final piece around each end. Then I wrapped the tube in pale green ribbon, securing at top and bottom as well as points around the tube with double sided tape.

How to cover a tube in silver

I realised that because I was planning a heavy top, the centerpiece was going to need a sturdy base so that it didn't topple. For this I used a small, strong cardboard box, and cut a hole in the centre the same size as the cardboard tube. I covered the box with silver tape (you could also use tin foil) and then wedged the tube in firmly. 

Making a Christmas table decoration

Then I used the wire to make a wreath style circle. Because the wire is so soft it was easy to mould it, I actually used a small cake tin to wrap it around. It's held in a circular shape by twisting some of the wire over at the end, then I attached it to the box base with a small amount of silver tape. Now it was time to decorate!

Christmas centerpiece with white berries

The entire spray of berries was rather large and inflexible so I cut off the four main strands and twisted them around the wire base, securing them in place with some silver tape. Then I concealed this and filled in the gaps with the silver poinsettias, which came with nice long wires that could be wrapped around for a bit of extra stability. That was the base finished!

Christmas table decoration with wire basket

Then I used some more of the aluminium wire to make a small basket for the top of the centerpiece. I've never worked with wire before so it was a bit of a challenge and I rather made it up as I went along! I made a small spiral, with the bottom circle the same diameter as the cardboard tube. Then I pushed up the sides to form the basket shape. I used silver tape again to tape the bottom of the basket to the cardboard tube which held it securely and covered this with a little more ribbon.

White pom poms decoration

Then I cut some long strings of pom poms and pushed them through the spirals so that they hung down the sides. I placed some of the small silver matt and shiny Christmas tree ornaments around the base, filling in the gap in the centre of the wreath. I filled the top basket with some wire ball ornaments.

Christmas centerpiece

You could also use the basket to hold pinecones or other seasonal decorations. I also found that one of my silver ball shaped candles fitted nicely, although if I was going to light it I'd make sure that it was held securely, and I'd remove the pom poms! 

Christmas table decoration

This is my entry into the Country Baskets Festive Face Off Challenge! I was provided with the materials listed above to help create my entry.

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