Wednesday, 26 July 2017

WWT Arundel Wetland Centre

Arundel Wetland Centre, West Sussex

This week we enjoyed a lovely day at the Arundel Wetland Centre with friends. Despite living close by we've never been, although my friend is a member and has been recommending it for ages, so we finally managed to plan a visit! We visited on a sunny day during the week when a number of local schools hadn't yet broken up for the holidays, so it wasn't too busy.

Arundel Wetland Centre, West Sussex

The Wetlands Centre covers a large area, and there are lots of different things to do. The children were given a free Wildlife Ranger log book (something which is running throughout the summer holidays) which contained a number of different activities. When they had completed each one they were given a sticker, and when they had collected six stickers they could claim a special large sticker.

We began by buying the children some duck food so that they could feed the ducks although the ducks didn't seem that bothered, perhaps they were full! Then we spent a bit of time in one of the hides, where the children could try and spot some of the birds on the top ten list posted in the cabin. There were lots of reference books, binoculars and telescopes to help them and it was a really peaceful place to sit for a while.

Then we headed to the pond dipping. My children have never done pond dipping before which was definitely something that needed rectifying. A very friendly ranger explained the process to them and was on hand to help them identify what they found. They had a great time filling up a plastic tray with various wriggling pond creatures, then we headed inside to have a closer look. There were magnifying glasses and books to help with identification, then particularly interesting creatures could be carefully transferred to a little pot and placed underneath a microscope which displayed the image onto a screen, fascinating stuff. Mia caught a dragonfly nymph and we gathered lots of little worms and snails.

Arundel Wetland Centre, West Sussex

There are a couple of little playgrounds which entertained the children for quite a while, then we went for a walk through the reed bed to the boat safari. The small boats leave every fifteen minutes or so depending on how busy it is, and we didn't have to wait for long. The boat trip was definitely my highlight of the day, it was so peaceful gliding along through the water and the guide pointed out lots of interesting things and told us little anecdotes about things that we could see. 

Arundel Wetland Centre, West Sussex

We took a picnic and there were plenty of places to sit down and eat your own food as well as a large cafe. After lunch the children had fun carrying out some of the other activities around the site, like working out which minibeast had committed a crime by eliminating bugs based on their characteristics, and identifying a grass snake based on the markings. Then we finished with some crafting - Harry made an owl mask and Mia made a butterfly card.

I made a little video showing some of the fun that we had!

We had a lovely day out. I paid £11.18 for adult entry and £5.64 each for the children, if you live locally it's worth looking into an annual membership as you can save quite a bit by visiting regularly and it's also valid at eight other Wetland Centres.  

You can find out more information about the Arundel Wetland Centre, including current opening hours and admission prices, on the WWT Arundel website.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Ten things I love about the school summer holidays

Ten things I love about the school summer holidays

We are already two weeks in to the summer holidays, and the beginning of September still seems quite a long way off. We've had our short break away to Center Parcs, and now we have some play dates scheduled, a couple of special events, as well as plenty of empty days stretching ahead.

I do love the school summer holidays, but come September I'm usually well ready for some peace and quiet and to get the children back into a structured routine. So I thought I'd write a list of ten things that I love about the summer holiday, so that I can re-read it towards the end of August when the novelty has worn off!

Ten things that I love about the school summer holidays

* Turning off the alarm after the last morning of term. In our household that doesn't necessarily mean a huge amount as our children get up early anyway, but just occasionally they will both surprise us with a lie in!

* Not having to make lunchboxes. Well I still do make sandwiches for Ram, but it's a lot quicker than faffing about washing up all the little pots and chopping up bits of fruit and veg.

* No school run. I'm lucky that Ram will do the school run in the morning if he's about, but I'm not very fond of the afternoon school run. The school is in the town centre and I always fret about finding a parking space (although to be fair it has never been a problem) and dealing with the busy roads, buses, cyclists and so on.

* Later bedtimes and no pressure for an early night. Both children do need to be in bed quite early on a school night as they get very tired, but in the holidays I don't feel the same need to make sure they are tucked up at a sensible time. Unless they are completely knackered, in which case these days they do fortunately now agree that it's time for bed, albeit reluctantly.

* No swimming lessons. I know how important swimming lessons are for children, but I do find swimming lessons a bit of a pain. Fortunately both children are in the same class for the time being which is nice as it's not too much of a rush from school and it means that I can take myself off for a swim at the same time, but it's still such a mission getting everyone dried and dressed afterwards and then battling home through rush hour traffic so that dinner isn't desperately late. Taking them swimming during the holidays is much more relaxed!

* Seeing the children discover forgotten toys that they don't normally have the time to play with, it makes it worth storing them during term time. I also build up a stash of craft and activity kits that they've received as Christmas and birthday presents, and it's lovely to be able to get them out and have the time to work on them. They've been busy rediscovering old favourite jigsaws and board games.

* Similarly seeing them wear all their lovely clothes, as they normally stay in their uniforms after school, In particular Mia has been wearing one or another of her princess dresses pretty much every day of the holiday so far!

* Enjoying the chance to do some longer activities that can be spread over several days, like our papier mache volcanoes. This week we've been watching seeds grow from a Trunkaroo activity box that we have been sent to try out, the children love coming down each morning to see how they are getting on.

Trunkaroo activity box growing seeds

* Enjoying what is hopefully some nice weather, or at least it not being too cold. I must admit that I'm not a very outdoorsy type, but it's nice to at least have the option to spend time outside!

* Having the children around all the time. I'm aware that this can also be a negative point, and I do miss the lack of time to myself, but I really do love having them about. They are both very affectionate children and they don't like to be very far away from me, even in the house, but it's so lovely having them around.

We were sent the Trunkaroo activity box in exchange for sharing across social media.

Friday, 21 July 2017

What Photobucket did to my blog

Photobucket and what it did to my blog

When I started this blog way back in 2011 I didn't know what I was doing. I wanted photos, so I uploaded photos directly through Blogger. I didn't think to resize images, I uploaded them directly from my digital camera. The pictures were enormous, and I quickly filled up my Blogger Picasa storage. I looked for an alternative, and discovered that many bloggers were using Photobucket. It seemed like the perfect option -  it was free, and it came reliably recommended.

After a couple of years my blog traffic increased, I reached the bandwidth limit on the free Photobucket account and my photos stopped displaying. After a bit of research I was happy to pay $29.99 for a yearly subscription package with Photobucket that came with an increased level of storage and unlimited bandwidth. And this carried on quite happily for a few more years until this summer.

Then at the end of June, Photobucket suddenly announced that it would no longer allow third party linking (aka hot linking) of images unless you upgraded to a higher level account - at a cost of $399 for the year. Well I say they announced it, they didn't notify me directly. I heard about it from a blogging friend and I've still had no official direct communication. The sudden change seemed to affect people in different ways, and those using a free account lost their images immediately. Fortunately I've been unaffected so far, but with my annual subscription due for renewal on the 12th August I knew that I had to act quickly.

Photobucket removal of third party linking on my blog

Paying $399 a year to host my images just isn't going to happen. I looked around and found that over the last few years Google have increased their free storage, and even the lowest subscription tier is a cheaper option than Photobucket. I made the decision to jump ship and transfer over all my images. Of course this is something much easier said than done - I had over 4000 images hosted on Photobucket linked to more than 1300 blog posts on Blogger. Even at the rate of five minutes per blog post that is an enormous amount of work.

Of course this all coincided with the beginning of the summer holidays, meaning that all this work now has to be fitted around entertaining the children during the day. I've spent hours and hours uploading and re-linking images whenever I get a chance, working late into the evenings, and I'm barely a quarter of the way through. I've cancelled my recurring Photobucket subscription so it's a race against time to update as many posts as I can before the 12th August - please bear with me if I don't manage it in time! Fortunately I have the majority of my photos backed up elsewhere under a reasonably logical filing system, others aren't so lucky.

At the beginning of the process it felt like an insurmountable challenge. I became quite disheartened, and you might have noticed the lack of new posts over the last couple of weeks - I've either been too busy updating photos or simply not had the motivation. But even though I have now only completed a quarter of my blog posts I feel like I've at least broken the back of it - I've updated most of my popular and seasonal posts, and those that are left are ones that can wait a while for new images.

On the plus side, it has given me a long overdue push to give my blog a good sort out. 1300 blog posts is a great deal, and there are many old posts that are now either outdated or just irrelevant. I've had a mass delete of old posts - over a hundred have gone and I have another hundred or so that I'm still thinking about. I've deleted reviews for products that are no longer available, previews for events that are long gone, and random posts that were just a couple of sentences. I'm even thinking about sorting out some of my 'in progress' craft posts and putting them all together into one post. I'm not absolutely sure that deleting posts is the best thing to do for a blog, but it makes me and my blog feel lighter for having done so!

I've also removed and updated masses of broken links. I run a regular broken link check, but because there are so many blog posts the free online checker doesn't find them all, especially from older posts. I've checked every single link in my blog posts so far and have found many that no longer work. I've also found a few where the original domain has expired and the link now directs readers elsewhere - something that a broken link checker won't pick up.

It's given me a push to think about the type of content that I'm publishing. I want my blog posts to be useful, interesting and informative, not just written for the sake of filling up my editorial calendar. So hopefully that's a change that I can make going forwards!

The big lesson for me here of course - don't put all your eggs in one basket, and don't assume that just because you are paying for a service it will continue indefinitely!

If you've been having problems with Photobucket and your blog then you might find this post helpful - What's going on with Photobucket? Info for Bloggers

Were you affected by the changes to Photobucket? How are you coping with it?

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Center Parcs Elveden in the summer

If you are a regular reader of my blog you will know that we love a family holiday at Center Parcs. (I've written about them so much here that I should be on commission!) We've holidayed at several of the resorts in this country and also a couple in Belgium (you can find links to my other blog posts at the bottom if you are interested.)

The big drawback to a family holiday at Center Parcs is the price. That's why our recent trips have been to the Belgium parks - they are much more reasonably priced in the school holidays and represent much better value for money. Definitely worth a look if you are Center Parcs fans! We visited Elveden Forest quite a few times before the children started school when we could pick up a reasonably priced short break, but we hadn't been since.

Now that the children have moved schools we find ourselves with an extra two weeks of school holiday before most of the schools break up, and so we were able to squeeze in a mid week break in the second week of July at a much cheaper price than later on in the month. We chose Elveden Forest, as although it's not our closest park it usually seems to work out slightly cheaper and we do like it there.

It was quite a change for us, as all our previous Center Parcs holidays have taken place out of season in winter or early spring, so we were very excited to see what it was like to experience Center Parcs when the weather is warm enough to actually enjoy, rather than sometimes endure, being outdoors!

Barbecue at Center Parcs Elveden Forest

Something that we did for the first time on this trip was to hire bikes. We paid just over £100 for four bikes from Monday afternoon until Friday morning. We left hiring them until we arrived as we wanted to be sure that we'd have enough dry days to enjoy them. This did mean that there were no bikes left in Harry's size. Not ideal, but he managed fine with a slightly smaller one with the seat right up, and it's our own fault for not booking in advance! Having the bikes was brilliant, it's only recently that both children have been cycling fairly confidently on two wheels, and it was a good way to practice cycling on a road but with hardly any traffic.

We also used the barbecue for the first time, having gazed longingly at them in the past through rain splattered windows. They are designed to hold a disposable barbecue, and if you think you might use one it's worth taking one along as they are quite expensive in the shop. As we were planning a couple of barbecues Ram did a trip out to the Sainsbury's up the road to pick up supplies at more reasonable prices.

Feeding ducks at Center Parcs

Our cottage was right next to a small lake so we had plenty of duck visitors waiting for the leftovers! We've always felt that we see more wildlife at Elveden than any other Center Parcs and we saw loads this time - it must be the warmer weather! We saw lots of deer, rabbits and squirrels as well as the ducks. 

As always we spent a lot of time in the swimming pool. The children have really grown in confidence in the water, and they will go on just about all the slides now which is brilliant. The pool has changed a lot since our last visit and there's now a brilliant area for young children with slides, shallow pools and pouring water, as well as a salty lagoon pool. Harry loves the outdoor rapids and will go round and round again, and Mia loves the indoor water slides. When the sun was out the indoor glass dome was really warm, and without coats and jumpers it was much easier to fit things in the lockers!

Pedalo on the lake at Center Parcs Elveden

One thing that we've found as the children get older is that it's less difficult to hide the extra activities from them. Previously they've been happy with just the swimming pool and play areas, but now they've noticed other children doing fun things like pony riding and tree top adventures and have started clamouring to do them too.

Unfortunately the prices for these activities are ridiculously expensive compared to doing them elsewhere, and we've managed to hold out so far, but it's becoming more difficult! We did hire a pedalo for half an hour to explore the lake (which was definitely long enough - it's hard work!) and along with the bikes that's all that we paid extra for (and of course a visit to the Pancake House!).

It was another really lovely few days at Center Parcs. If you are interested in visiting you might enjoy some of my other posts:

Center Parcs Erperheide in Belgium - our first visit
Center Parcs Erperheide in Belgium - the return visit
Center Parcs De Vossemeren in Belgium

Center Parcs Whinfell
Center Parcs Longleat
Center Parcs Elveden Forest

Monday, 17 July 2017

A year of Hama bead crafts

I've shared lots of my Hama bead crafts on this blog over the last few years (you can find them all listed on my Hama beads page!) and because so many of them have a seasonal theme I thought that I'd share some of my favourites, with a Hama bead craft for every month of the year.

A year of Hama bead craft project ideas

January - Mini Hama bead Russian Dolls picture

This design is made using mini Hama beads, tiny beads which are placed into position using tweezers. Because they are so small you can make some really detailed projects.

Mini Hama bead Russian dolls picture

February - Hama bead heart hanging decoration

A lovely decoration for Valentine's day which can be hung on the wall to add some interest to a narrow space.

Hama bead heart

March - Mini Hama bead Easter Eggs

These mini Hama bead Easter Eggs can be used as cupcake toppers or as embellishments for cards or decorations.

Mini Hama bead Easter Eggs

April - Hama bead Easter coasters

These coasters are made using Spring coloured Hama beads and are a lovely way to brighten up your Easter drinks!

Hama bead Easter coasters

May - Hama bead hair clip holder

This ribbon holder for hair clips is really useful to keep hair clips on display and accessible, but still neat and tidy. You can use some Hama bead projects that you have lying around to make it.

Hama bead hairclip holder

June - Hama bead quilt picture

This picture is made using a really simple design and is a great way to use up odds and ends of colours that you have left over from previous projects.

Hama bead quilt style picture

July - Minecraft Hama bead keyrings

We made these Minecraft keyrings to use as party favours for a Minecraft themed party. They are really simple to make, and a great activity for the summer holidays

Hama bead Minecraft keyrings

August -Hama bead jam jar pen holders

These pen holders are stylish and fun and a great way to corral pens, paintbrushes, knitting needles and so on.

Hama bead pen holders

September - Autum Hama bead candle holders

These candle holders are designed to hold battery tea light candles and bring a lovely Autumnal feel to your decor.

Hama bead battery candle holders

October - Hama bead haunted house

This Hama bead haunted house is a great craft project for Halloween and makes a lovely decoration, perhaps displayed in the window to spook trick or treaters!

Hama bead haunted house

November - Large Hama bead Rangoli

These Hama bead Rangoli are a great Diwali craft and can be used as decorations around the home or as mats underneath your Diwali food and drink.

Hama bead Diwali rangoli

December - Hama bead Christmas baubles

These baubles can be hung from the tree and are a great craft for children at Christmas - you can make them in all different colours to match your colour scheme.

Hama bead Christmas bauble craft

I hope that you enjoyed looking at my Hama bead projects, and perhaps found something to inspire you!

You can find all my Hama bead crafts on my Hama bead page.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Blog anniversary - My blog over the last year

Tomorrow will mark six years of the Jennifer's Little World blog. I never expected it to last this long, and I never expected it to develop as it has. I began when Mia was just six weeks old as a way to share photographs and news about the children, and of course I still share plenty about the things that we get up to. But it has also changed into a place where I can talk about my own interests, share my crafts, and muse about the things that are going around my head.

Jennifer's Little World blog header

A few of my favourite blog posts from the last year

A big crafty project last year was my Sky Blanket, and it was a great feeling to put together the post about my completed crochet Sky Blanket. I put a lot of work into the blanket and I'm really proud of it!

Another craft that I really enjoyed was our summer holiday scrapbook. This project was a collaboration with Fellowes, that I met at BritMums last summer. I was thrilled to receive some fantastic products and we regularly leaf through the scrapbook that we made together, it was a really fun summer craft for us all.

As a family we've spent a lot of the last year playing Pokemon Go, which features on the blog from time time, and particularly in my post about playing Pokemon Go at Center Parcs. In fact Center Parcs has featured heavily on the blog over the last few years - I should be on commission!

A blog post that I wrote about hangriness in the family definitely struck a chord with a lot of people, and writing it all down helped me to work out what was going on with Mia's behaviour and come up with ways to try and lessen the impact.

Working my YouTube channel

At the very end of November I was introduced to the idea of Vlogmas, and I immediately jumped straight in, creating a new video every day in the run up to Christmas. You can read about it here and find links to all my videos - Taking part in Vlogmas 2016. It wasn't easy, and it was a lot of work, but it really spurred me on to improve my vlogging. I gave myself a challenge at the beginning of January to publish 52 videos over the year. It's a tough challenge and I've only managed 19 so far so I'm falling behind, but I'm really proud of all the videos that I've made and I love making them. You can find my YouTube channel here if you fancy a watch!

Introducing blogging to the family

I recently encouraged the children to set up their own blogs. I thought it would be fun for them and help them with their literacy. You can see their blogs here - Harry's Blog and Mia's Blog - and I think they are very sweet! Over the summer I'm hoping that they will do some more work on them, and they have also started YouTube channels to share their Minecraft videos.

Posting less often, and less review content

I try to keep my posting schedule to around three to four posts a week. This is quite a change, as for most of the last six years I've been posting nearly every day. The reason that it has reduced is because I've become far more picky about the reviews that I take on. I no longer review low value items unless I really want the product. This has meant that my page views have dropped, but I hope that it's improved the quality of the posts on my blog. I do sponsored posts although I'm quite picky about them - but I'm afraid that I need to make a little bit of money somehow! I do share a lot of useful information on my blog for free, so I hope that makes up for it!

Our Instagram community

I had been looking for a place to share my latest crafty blog posts. Nicola at Me You and Magoo and I set up a monthly linky but it was becoming too much work so we switched it to Instagram where it works very well. Each month we change the hashtag, so it's currently #craftingismytherapy_july and over the last couple of months it has really picked up - we have loads of crafters sharing their images with us and it's great to see so many beautiful projects. Do take a look next time you are over there!

The current issue with my blog

A big problem that is currently facing my blog has been caused by Photobucket. I have been hosting all of my images on Photobucket for several years now, and I pay for a yearly subscription that allows enough bandwidth for my blog. A couple of weeks ago, Photobucket changed their terms of service with no warning, and they now no longer allow third party linking of images unless you upgrade to a higher package (around £310 for the year). I've not been affected yet fortunately, but my subscription is due for renewal in August and I suspect that is when I'll hit problems.

I can't afford to spend that much on image hosting so I'm going to need to find an alternative. That then means that I will have to go back through well over 1000 blog posts and re-upload and re-link the images. So please bear with me if you see any broken image links on older posts, I will get to it all eventually but especially with the summer holidays it is going to take a lot of time! I had assumed that because I was paying for the Photobucket service it would be a good long term solution, so there's a lesson there not to rely too heavily on other providers! Whatever happens, like many others I'm definitely not going to be using Photobucket for any longer than necessary.

The future for the blog

I often struggle with defining a niche for my blog. My two main topics are craft and travel, alongside a bit of general parenting. Quite varied topics! I don't have the time or inclination to set up different themed blogs, so it's all going to stay here. Perhaps it can all be grouped under the heading of a 'lifestyle blog'!

I'd like to increase my posting frequency, but I want to be careful to make sure that I'm posting quality posts rather than filler posts. I'd also like to work on some more brand collaborations, particularly with crafty brands. I'm sure there are lots of fab new craft products out there that I could showcase! Of course travel collaborations would be nice too, but I'm not the only one with that idea and the blogging world is ever more competitive!

Whether you are a new reader or you've been around for a while I'd like to thank you for listening to my ramblings, and I'd love to hear back from you with what you enjoy or don't enjoy about my blog!

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

How I prepare for the school summer holiday

At this time of year I always get quite anxious. The last couple of weeks of term seems to be a flurry of different events, and I start to get a bit overwhelmed with making sure that I've done that everything I need to before I find myself at home alone for the summer with two small children. Two months, that's a long time! I'm a definite introvert and I need time to myself. Of course it's a lot easier now that the children are older and they will entertain themselves for short periods (especially if Minecraft is involved), but when I'm used to being by myself for a fair portion of the day it's hard to adjust to losing my peaceful time alone!

To help with my anxiety there are lots of things that I like to get done so that I can feel more in control. Firstly I like to make sure that all the school things are sorted. I get as much of the school uniform ready at the end of term as I can. There's a second hand uniform sale, so I make sure that I've bought as much of the branded school bits as I can, then I can pick up the generic things from the supermarket. Once it's all been washed at the end of term I make sure that it's all labelled and any loose buttons are sewn on, so it's all ready to go in September. Then I pack it all away neatly, with the PE kit in the PE bags, and store it all well out of the way.

I make sure that the pencil cases have everything that they need and it's all labelled, I wash the lunch bags (they say wipe clean only but I can reassure you that they can handle the occasional trip through the washing machine!) and sort through the big pile of schoolwork that has come home (most of it ends up in the recycling bin but don't tell the children!)

I like to have some plans made to keep the children and me entertained. We've already made our Summer Activity List, and I've pencilled some play dates and family visits into the calendar.

Summer 2017 to do list

I've also been planning my blogging work, trying to get at least a few blog posts written in advance and a collection of ideas for posts for the next few months. I've scheduled my Facebook page and some blog posts are written ready to go. I know from experience that I'll have very little time to myself to work on things, and when I do have time off from childcare I generally just want to sit down and chill out, not be working!

I'm doing my best to get the house tidy. I'm putting away the assembled Lego sets (knowing that they'll all be out again in a few weeks time). I'm trying to get the bedroom floors clear at least, and I'm busy putting away the odd bits and pieces that never seem to find a home.

I'm also gathering together all the craft kits, activity sets, puzzle books and so on that the children collect for Christmas and birthdays, especially those that take a bit of time to do so that we can spread them over several days. I'll also make sure that we've got plenty of food in to avoid unnecessary supermarket trips that usually result in the purchase of an expensive magazine each.

What do you do to prepare for the long summer holiday?
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