Friday, 9 October 2015

Blog On Winchester blogging conference #blogonwin

At the weekend I was lucky enough to attend Blog On Win - a fantastic one day blogging conference held at the Winchester Science Centre. I'd heard great things about previous Blog On conferences, and it was so nice to be able to attend one that was fairly local, or at least didn't involve a long train journey and a night in a hotel.

One thing that I particularly liked about the event was its size - only 70 or so bloggers - which meant that I was easily able to find the people that I wanted to talk to and found it less intimidating to speak to new people. We were welcomed by Laura, who has been hosting Blog On conferences since 2012 with three this year alone, the conferences are always really popular and successful.

Blog On conference Winchester

The sessions began with a very interesting Keynote about Principles of Social Media from Peter Lunn. What I took from this session was the importance of interaction when building up your social media profile, and making sure that you are listening more than you are broadcasting.

Then I learned about Developing a Photography Style with Annie from Mammasaurus. I'm well aware that the photography on my blog could be a lot better, but I've never really got the hang of all the different photo editing software that's available. I love the idea of having a consistent look for my photos, and Annie highlighted several different bloggers that do this very successfully, with instantly recognisable photographs. Annie had loads of tips, and it's definitely something that I'm going to be working on. She's written up her talk and it's well worth a read, you can find it here - Developing a Photographic Style for your Blog.

The session finished with a practical demonstration outside, where we were invited to take photographs of either a table of sweets or flowers on our phones and use the settings in Instagram to experiment with different ways of changing the photograph before we uploaded it. I've never done this before, I very rarely edit photos before I publish them, and I was really impressed with how much better my second photograph looks after just a few minutes of inexpertly messing around with the Instagram settings. The white paper bag looks so much brighter and the colours really pop.

Sweets photo improved by Instagram

There were lots of brands available to talk to in the breaks, and they were all really approachable and keen to work with bloggers. I saw some really cool new toys and games and I'm hoping to be able to work with some of them in the run up to Christmas.

After lunch I listened to Sarah from The Unmumsy Mum talking about her blog and Blogging Without a Rule Book. She was so funny, and it was really reassuring to hear about her amazing (and well deserved!) success despite the fact that she doesn't do any of the things that most bloggers worry themselves about. She has a brilliant blog post Twelve Reasons I'm the Last Person You Should Ask for Blogging Advice and if you are a blogger you should go over and read it!

The final session was titled No Such Things as a Stupid Question and aimed to answer some of the questions that bloggers often have about tax, disclosure, page rank and so on. It was very helpful and definitely gave me a few things to think about.

Then the day finished with a fantastic performance from the Scummy Mummies - they were hilarious and I'll definitely be checking out their parenting podcast. It was a brilliant way to end the day, we all left the venue laughing!

Scummy Mummies at #blogonwin

The Blog On Conferences are well known for their excellent goody bags and the one that I received didn't disappoint - the two big bags were packed with a lovely selection of toys and other things. I don't have a photo as many of them have been put aside for the children this Christmas, but there were a few bits that I squirrelled away for myself (not that there is much of them left now!)

Blog on Win goody bag sweets

It was a really good day, and excellent value for the price I paid for the ticket (just over £30). The next Blog On takes place in Manchester on the 1st May 2016, and if it's not too far from you I'd definitely recommend going along.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

I'm a friend of Sylvanian Families

This year Sylvanian Families turns 30, and I'm sure that many readers of this blog will have happy memories of playing with them growing up. In our family we didn't discover them until a few years later which meant that it was my younger sister who had the largest collection, but even though I was a bit older I remember being allowed to play with them too and loving the gorgeous little characters and particularly the amazing attention to detail in the figures and playsets.

The world Sylvan means 'of the forest', and the brand has three values at heart - Nature, Family and Love. Through the figures and accessories children can enter a wonderful world of imaginative play.

Sylvanian Families goodies

Recently I was invited to become one of a team of Friends of Sylvanian Families, and we were sent a lovely little bundle of Sylvanian Families goodies to welcome us. Mia hasn't yet discovered the world of Sylvanian Families, and she loved looking through the cards in this sweet pack of playing cards which feature characters and accessories from the current ranges and looking back over the years. We also received some gorgeous stickers and activity sheets. Then she was thrilled when I presented her with her very first Sylvanian Families figures - the Chocolate Rabbit Family.

Chocolate Rabbit Family

The Chocolate Rabbit Family includes Father Frasier Chocolate, Mother Teri, brother Coco and sister Freya. They are lovely little figures, with moveable arms, legs and heads, and the perfect size for little ones to hold and play with. They come dressed in their own outfits, and you can also buy additional outfits for them. As well as the figures, there is a wide range of houses, shops and other buildings, vehicles, furniture, clothing and other accessories available.

We don't have any other Sylvanian Families bits yet, so for the time being our Chocolate Rabbits have been making themselves at home in Mia's dollshouse where they fit perfectly. Look out for some Sylvanian Family crafting posts over the next few weeks!

Sylvanian Family figures in dolls house

We were sent the Chocolate Rabbit Family figures and a few other Sylvanian goodies as Friends of Sylvanian Families.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Money Matters - Teaching your little ones how to be responsible with money

When your little ones are running around playing, learning, and exploring, teaching them how to be responsible with money probably isn’t the first thing on your mind – after all, they’re only young, there’s plenty of time to learn about boring things like finances, right?

But the fact is, children develop most of the attitudes towards money in their early years, which is why it’s so important that you start instilling good values from an early age. Trust me, the sooner the better!

It might seem like a daunting task, but there are so many ways you can make it a fun, exciting, and hopefully, super successful process.

Here are some top tips that I’ll definitely be trying out….

Take them shopping

It may sound less than appealing, but taking your little ones shopping with you, will help to teach them some valuable lessons about money, budgeting and spending. Start off by taking them to the cashpoint with you, explain that the money coming out of the wall isn’t from some magical, endless money tree, but is actually coming out of your bank account. Then, as you go around the shops, explain why you’re buying the things you’re buying, and point out things that you would like to buy but can’t quite afford just yet or don’t need. Engaging with your child will not only open their eyes to the world of finances, but it will also allow you to spend some quality time with them too!


As your little ones start to grow, it’s time to introduce them to the concept of credit and, perhaps most importantly, the importance of making wise financial choices. A good way to do this is to get up your own credit report using a service such as Experian, and talk them through it. Explain how their decisions at 18 or 19, will affect their credit rating for years to come.

Pocket money

Pocket money can be a source of stress and tension in many households. Whilst you should absolutely never feel pressured to give your child an allowance if you can’t afford it, if you can afford to give them something every week or month, however small it may be, this will really help them to learn lessons about saving, budgeting, and spending. Set up a bank account for your child and encourage them to save at least some of their money towards something they really want. This is also a great opportunity to introduce the concept of working to earn – simply outline some chores or tasks that they must compete in order to earn their pocket money (nothing too taxing, of course!).

Pile of money and a calculator

This is a sponsored post.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Trying again with the crochet - and having some success!

I've mentioned many times that crochet and I don't get along, yet for a while now I've had the idea that I'd like to crochet a blanket. Nothing complicated, perhaps just granny squares sewn together. I even have a Pinterest board - Crochet blankets - which I love to browse while dreaming about all the gorgeous blankets that I could make.

Unfortunately when my Mum tried to teach me to make a granny square a little while back, it ended up in a crochet fail. Although that blog post does have a picture of a fairly reasonable granny square, it was my Mum that made most of it and I had no idea what I was trying to do.

But a few weeks back, Coats Crafts, who I work with as an ambassador, invited me to take part in a crochet along, with the aim of having a finished crochet blanket by Christmas. I was honest about my poor crochet skills, but they were encouraging and so I agreed to join in. I realised though that even the most simple of blankets was going to be a little above my skill level, so I have enlisted my Mum to help me get started and help me out along the way!

I decided to start with learning to make a basic granny square. I'd heard that YouTube was a good source of helpful videos, and indeed there are many showing how to make a simple granny square in real time so you can crochet along. Some use slightly different patterns when it comes to the chains around the corners, but as long as you are consistent it doesn't really seem to matter. I spent many evenings sitting in front of the computer with my crochet hook. It didn't come at all naturally, and I had to rip it back many many times.

These are my very first attempts, not great, and also these are the best ones that I managed at that time, the rest were pulled apart over and over again!

Rather bad crochet granny squares

But to my surprise, when I kept at it and didn't get frustrated with not being able to understand what I was doing, I found that over time it started to click, and I could work out what I was doing. I learned to make my stitches looser, and they became neater and more even. After a few evenings sat in front of YouTube I'd managed to make several squares, without nearly as much ripping back and starting again.

Improved granny squares

I'm particularly proud of this large pink square, which is the first one that I managed to make without having the video playing at the same time as my crocheting. I even managed an extra round after the point at which the video finished. I know that it's nowhere near perfect, but it's pretty impressive given where I started!

Large pink granny square

I've been sharing my progress on Instagram using #jenlearnstocrochet and I've been really encouraged by people commenting, especially awesome crocheters whose progress I follow across social media admitting that they found crochet difficult too at first!

I'll also be sharing how I get on across social media when the crochet along officially starts on the 9th October. Fingers crossed, with a bit more practice I'll be well on the way to actually finishing a blanket in a few months time!

You can read more about what I'll be making here - Patons Crochet Along, I'd love to connect with anyone else that is planning to take part!

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Book review - Two lovely new kids travel books from Lonely Planet

If you're a regular reader of my blog you'll know that as a family we love to travel, and my children are lucky enough to have visited some amazing countries and seen some wonderful sights. I'm very keen to develop an interest in seeing the world with the children, and while we can't be away on holiday all the time, it's great fun to spend time looking through travel books, remembering past adventures and planning new ones.

I was recently sent these two wonderful new books from Lonely Planet Kids to review.

New travel books from Lonely Planet Kids

The first, Adventures Around the Globe, is aimed at children aged 3+ and is perfect for Mia. The book introduces each continent in turn with a beautifully illustrated map, then takes a closer look at some of the most iconic sights to be found there, the animals that live there, festivals that are celebrated and so on. Each continent has a lovely big double spread page which can be decorated with some of over 250 re-positionable stickers.

Adventures Around the Globe inside

Part of the back cover can be popped out to make a 3D globe, a great way to help children understand how the continents fit together. There are also plenty of colouring pages and some simple puzzles like matching activities and spot the difference, as well as pages filled with fun and interesting facts.

Adventures Around the Globe from Lonely Planet Kids

The Lonely Planet Kids Travel Book is aimed at children aged 8+, and will be a fantastic addition to Harry's bookshelf. This large format, hardback book takes the child on a fantastic journey around the world, with a page for each country, arranged by continent. Each page is packed with photographs, sketches and key facts, as well as information about the history and culture of the country and much more.

Lonely Planet Kids Travel Book

It's easy to find each the page for country from the contents page at the front, and a detailed world map at the back makes it easy to find its location. It's a lovely book for browsing through. Harry loves going through to find places that we've already visited, and hunting for pictures and information about the things that we've seen. It's also a great book to prepare children for a trip to a new destination, or to learn more about a country that they are studying or interested in. It's a brilliant new reference book for his collection.

I received these two books to review, Amazon links are affiliate.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Halloween Ice Block Excavation activity

I've been meaning to try an ice excavation activity with the children for a while. Harry recently finished a dinosaur excavation kit which he really enjoyed so I knew that he'd like this. The activity is really easy to set up, and if you are lucky it will engross children for quite a while!

Halloween themed ice excavation

You need:

For the ice block

A plastic container (I used an old ice cream tub) and freezer space
Water, food colouring (I used gel food colouring for a stronger colour)
A collection of little Halloween themed toys and decorations
Glitter and sequins

Halloween themed ice block accessories

For the excavation

Tools (we used tools from the dinosaur excavation kit, you could also use plastic and metal cutlery, and plastic droppers and syringes if you have them)
Things that the children suggest might melt the ice - I gave them a bowl of salt and a bowl of hot water.

The ice block needs to be prepared a day or so in advance, and I made it over the course of a day. First I put a couple of centimetres of water into the bottom of the tub and let it freeze, then I added a further three layers, each filled with a handful of different items. I also added in food colouring and plenty of glitter, and I let each layer freeze before adding the next one. This way everything doesn't sink to the bottom of the ice block while it freezes.

Halloween themed ice excavation

Then I put it out for them to have a go at. First we used a large tray underneath, but as they added more and more hot water it was getting messier, so we ended up with it in a washing up bowl. Note to self - do this again in the summer when it can all be done outside!

I also gave each child a bowl where they could collect the things that they had excavated, fortunately they worked really well together and didn't argue over what they wanted to reach. The hot water proved to be the most effective way of getting through the ice, and when they started to get a bit frustrated I simply boiled the kettle and poured it over the block for them to make it easier.

Excavating an ice block

We had a lot of fun with this, definitely something we'll be doing again. In fact it made a good threat - if you don't tidy up your toys I'll freeze them and you'll have to dig them out! I'd also like to extend the activity to make it a bit more scientific - perhaps with a wider range of materials that might melt the ice for them to experiment with that we could discuss beforehand.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Four weeks in

I can't believe that it has been almost four weeks since Mia started school! It has definitely been an adjustment for us all. Mia has settled into school beautifully. She accepted it completely, trots off happily every morning, and settles herself down in the classroom with some colouring without a backward glance. Harry is doing well too, he has settled well into Year 2 and is enjoying his new topics.

Mia in particular finds the time after school a bit of a struggle. I try to console myself with the thought that she's been behaving all day at school (or at least we've not heard anything to suggest otherwise!) but when she's back at home with me she can release a full day of pent up emotions in a safe environment. That doesn't always help when that couple of hours before tea can feel like a bit of a shouty battleground when they can't settle to anything. I try to have a couple of activities on hand so that they've got something to get on with, and I've also restocked and rearranged our after school busy boxes, which keeps them entertained for a little while at least.

I've been very much enjoying my new freedom, even if it does feel a little self-indulgent at times. I've been tidying and cleaning around the house, without small children assuming that I've left home and abandoned them if I move more than two rooms away. I've been decluttering like mad, and have taken bags and bags of outgrown books and toys to the charity shop. I've cleared out and swept the garage and packed all the summer things away for the winter.

I've also been out for coffee with friends and had grown up conversations that lasted for a good couple of hours without any interruptions. I've even managed to teach myself to crochet, and I visited my Mum by myself and we crocheted together for a whole morning without any distractions!

Blue and purple granny squares

At my desk, I've been writing and planning blog posts, and managed to earn a little bit of money by doing so. I'm also saving up cardboard boxes for an eBay selling spree, and of course many times I just sit quietly for a few minutes with a hot chocolate, enjoying the silence in the house.

I do miss the children when they are at school , and sometimes I feel quite lost. But of course there is still plenty of looking-after-children to be done, with homework and reading, lunchboxes, making dinner, tidying and general entertainment and amusement. I'm also going to be helping out with swimming and reading at the school in their respective classes. It will just take me a bit of time to adjust!
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