Wednesday, 17 September 2014

My new desk

Lately I've been feeling a lot more productive, both with my blogging and my crafting. I just feel more organised, and also more inspired. It might sound strange to say, but a lot of that is because we recently decorated our downstairs study and bought a new desk to house our second PC.

Ikea Micke desk in white for PC

The original idea was to have a desk that Ram could use when he works from home, with a large screen and space at the side to plug in his work laptop. We spent a lot of time agonising over the choice of desk, and eventually settled on the Ikea Micke desk in white. It is quite compact, with a cupboard on one side to house the computer tower, and two shallow but large drawers. We also bought the Micke add-on unit to go on top. It has some small shelves on one side, and a magnetic whiteboard at the back which I really liked, although in the end the new monitor fills up all the space so we can't actually use it!

I'm afraid that I've rather taken over this area of the house. I prefer to do my blogging work at a proper PC, because I need a full keyboard to type on and I like having the space to lay out all my folders and notebooks that I use to keep track of everything. I've filled up the shelves with some of my crafty bits and pieces, and I like having them around to inspire me while I work. The desk is in a good location too, it's tucked away a little bit from the rest of the house but it's still central, so I can sometimes sneak in five minutes of computer time with the door open before the children notice that I've gone. When Ram is working at home he can shut himself away for some peace and quiet.

The nice white desk makes a good background for taking crafty photographs. The shelves are a bit of a mess but I like having them filled with things that I've made like my felt button tree picture, my washi tape holder and ribbon covered box. There are also some Hama bead projects lurking there, including ones made by the children which make me smile.

Ikea Micke desk with add on shelves

I'm really enjoying sitting down at my desk and getting on with my work. I love writing my blog, and I spend a great deal of time on it. I'm lucky enough to receive products and experiences through it that we wouldn't have had otherwise. So I'm trying to become more organised, treat it more like a job and schedule in the time for writing posts, leaving plenty of time for doing other things. I've even started working on an editorial calendar!

Button felt tree picture on Ikea desk

Do you find that your environment makes a big difference to the way you work?

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Ladybird Tuesday - The Old Woman and her Pig

The Old Woman and Her Pig is part of the Ladybird Series 606D. Although the Series is titled 'Well Loved Tales', I must admit that this story is a new one to me! It was published in 1973. They are graded in terms of reading difficulty and this book is in Grade 1, the easiest level. Even so it still seems quite a challenging book to me, it's certainly not aimed at very early readers.

The Old Woman and her Pig Ladybird book

The story is about an old woman who finds a crooked sixpence, which means good luck. She uses the money to buy a pig, but on the way home the pig refuses to jump over the stile. So she calls upon a dog to bite the pig to make him jump over the stile, but the dog refuses. The story continues as the women searches for ways to build a string of stubborn animals and inanimate objects which will set in motion a chain of events culminating in the pig jumping over the stile. 

The Old Woman and her Pig

The nature of the story means that it has plenty of repetition, as each required action is repeated several times. It's also a way of telling quite a complicated story in just a few words, making it appealing to young readers. In the end, everything works out as it should, and the woman is able to get home with her pig. 

Ladybird book The Old Woman and her Pig

This is another great book to share with children today, I know that my son will enjoy reading it as it's just the right level for him. The illustrations are fantastic too, the expressions of the characters are just brilliant, they really capture the emotions!

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

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Crafting with Sugru - a round up of ideas

Crafting with Sugru round up of crafts

A few months back I was sent some Sugru to review- a fantastic substance that that can be moulded by hand, bonds to almost anything, and sets overnight to form a flexible, silicone rubber. As well as using Sugru for a multitude of fixes around the house, I also came up with some crafty ideas which I have rounded up in this post.

My first Sugru crafting project was a Sugru beaded holder for my washi tapes. I knew what I wanted to make, but I was finding it difficult to keep the pencil upright, and held firmly in position. A blob of Sugru holds the pencil to the base lid perfectly, and then I used another strip around the base of the lid as a decorative feature, with some pretty beads pressed in to it.

Sugru crafting washi tape holder
Sugru washi tape storage
Sugru comes in a range of bright cheerful colours, and you can also mix the colours to make different shades - you can find a Sugru mixing colour chart on their website. I love the original colours, and I used the bright blue for this Sugru beaded keyring upcycle. I took an old keyring and used Sugru to cover the original design, then decorated it with coloured wooden beads.

Sugru upcycled beaded keyring
Sugru beaded keyring
Sugru is also great if you want to glue things together that are tricky to stick with other types of adhesive. These salt dough fairy wands are very top heavy, and it would have been difficult to stick the star onto the stick using glue. A little ball of Sugru has kept them firmly in place and able to stand up to being waved around while spells are cast.

Salt dough fairy wands
Salt dough fairy wands with Sugru

You can also find loads more Sugru craft ideas on the Sugru website. There are some fantastic ideas here, like multicoloured beads, Sugru stamps and upcycling some vintage finds using Sugru. I also love this article about ways to improve your crafting kit using Sugru.

I'll be updating this post with any future Sugru projects that I come up with. If you've made something crafty with Sugru then please do feel free to leave a link in the comments below to make this a helpful resource for other crafters!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Review - Science4you science kits for children

If you ask Harry what he wants to be when he grows up, his immediate answer is 'a scientist'. This stems from the fact that whenever he asks me anything complicated I say "ask Daddy, he's the scientist". Not that I'm completely ignorant when it comes to scientific manners, but Ram does at least have a degree in a scientific subject! So the chance to review some simple science kits for children was a great opportunity for Harry to have a go at being a scientist himself. He very much enjoyed getting into character, what with the state of his shirt after school he certainly looks like he's been in the lab all day!

Science4you science kits for children review

We were sent two kits from the Science4you range. The first kit that we looked at was Science4you Water Science. The recommended age range is children aged 6 and older, Harry is 5 1/2. He is nowhere close to being able to do the experiments by himself, but we had a lot of fun doing them together. Mia was also around while we were working on this kit and she was pretty entertained by a lot of the experiments too, especially those involving bubbles!

Science4you science kit review

The Water Science kit contains materials and instructions to carry out 27 experiments. The kit doesn't contain every single thing that you will need, although most of the materials are easily available from around the house. Some of the experiments can only be done once, and others can be done over and over again. The booklet included with each kit is very comprehensive, with detailed instructions and plenty of additional information to help explain the science behind the experiments.

science kit experiment with water

I think that I was just as surprised as Harry when the first experiment worked! You just need to put some water into the beaker, place a piece of paper over the top and then quickly flip the beaker over. Harry was absolutely fascinated that the water stayed in the beaker when it was upside down, with just a piece of paper holding it in, and we had a lot of fun waving it about, placing it over each other's heads and so on, without spilling any.

science kit review turning flowers blue

Putting cut white flowers into dyed water and watching them change colour is a classic experiment, but we've not tried it before, and the results were pretty impressive. The flowers acquired a blue tinge within minutes, and the next day were beautifully blue. Another experiment that took a few hours to work was the water beads. I've seen these often used in sensory play for little ones but never actually used any myself. The tiny beads absorb water and turn into little jelly balls which are a lot of fun to play with and have been bouncing about the house ever since.

water beads in a science kit review

We also did experiments using plastic bottles, tubes, straws, bubbles, syringes and more. I will admit that I couldn't get all of them to work first time, which Harry fortunately accepted because of course I'm not a scientist. The instructions also include the scientific explanations for the experiment, it helps if you understand it a little bit yourself as they are quite complicated and I needed to try and explain it to Harry in a way that he could understand.

The second kit that we looked at was Science4you Slimy Factory Slippery Slugs. This kit has a recommended age range of 8 years and older. This wasn't a problem for us at all as we were doing the experiments together but we did scoot Mia out of the way as the experiments involved quite a bit more concentration, as well as substances that I wouldn't want a younger child to be playing with. Here are the contents of the kit:

Science4you kit review - Slimy Factory Slippery Slugs

Unfortunately there were a couple of bits missing from the kit, but I contacted the company and received replacements within a few days.

The Slimy Factory Slippery Slugs kit lets you carry out 17 experiments. Because this kit is aimed at slightly older children it is a little more complicated. For the first set of experiments you need to make Sodium Alginate and Calcium Chloride solutions. It's pretty basic, and just involves a bit of measuring and adding water, but to little ones it does feel like you are carrying out some real, scientific experiments.

You can use the Sodium Alginate in the diluted Calcium Chloride to make little blobs in a variety of different colours. The solutions keep for a while so you don't need to do it all at once. Harry loved using the pipette to make some fake 'fish eggs' as you can see in the video below. You can use a similar method to create 'worms' and 'tadpoles'.

Another experiment uses 'magic powder' to make your own bouncy ball, which Harry loved doing. Once it's ready you can use it for several other experiments in the kit, for example measuring how far you can bounce the ball, along with instructions on how to create a table for recording results.

Finally an experiment that both children enjoyed was making a jelly seahorse. You just need to mix up the special powder with some hot water, pour it into the mould and leave it for a couple of hours. I must confess that the first time we tried this I read the instructions wrong and added too much water which didn't work, luckily the kit contains enough powder to make two seahorses!

Science4you kit review jelly seahorse experiment

When you remove the seahorse from the mould you have a jelly seahorse which you can keep soft by storing it in a zip lock bag. I made a quick video just to show that Harry did manage to do most of it by himself, under supervision!

Harry didn't get much of the actual scientific explanations involved with these kits, but then I didn't expect that. At his age it's enough to see the sorts of things that you can do, without needing to know all about why. He'll cover these topics at school in a few years, for now it's just about having fun, and he certainly had a lot of that!

These were both great little kits and would make a nice alternative to a toy as a gift. It's nice to buy them with the intention of actually doing them with your child, not just to supervise but also so that you can explain a little bit about what is going on using the instruction book to help.

We received these two kits to review. Water Science is priced at £14.99 and Slimy Factory Slippery Slugs is priced at £19.99. Harry has also enjoyed watching videos of these and other kits in the Science4you range on their YouTube channel which gives you a good idea of the contents of these and the other kits.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Crafting for Christmas with Baker Ross

I'm a part of the Baker Ross Bloggers Network, and from time to time I'm lucky enough to receive a big box of craft supplies to enjoy with the children. The latest box we received was filled with things to get us crafting for Christmas. It may still seem early, but as we are going away before Christmas this year I very much enjoyed the opportunity to make a head start on some of our Christmas cards and gifts!

Crafting for Christmas with Baker Ross review

We started by making some Christmas cards. We used a pack of six Hanging Stocking Card Blanks, just £1.49 for six. The pack comes with envelopes and silver cord which you thread through the top of the cards so that they can also be used as ornaments. We decorated them with Glitter Bow Stickers (£2.99 for a pack of 100) and Self-Adhesive Pom Poms (£2.99 for a pack of 200). I'm not usually very keen on crafting with pom poms, as I find them difficult to keep stuck in place with glue. This pack comes with a small double-sided sticker for each pom pom, which was great for keeping them stuck firmly in place.

Decorated cardboard stocking cards from Baker Ross

Both children loved doing this, Harry used the pom poms to make Christmas designs on the stocking and Mia loved using the bits and pieces to decorate, trying to copy Harry by placing the pom poms neatly in lines. We finished them off with some glitter glue.

Then the children decorated some Ceramic House Tealight Holders (£4.96 for a pack of four) using some Glitter Porcelain and Glass Paint Pens (£9.99 for five). The paint pens are brilliant, they produce a really bright, vibrant colour and it's easy to control how the paint is applied. I kept them away from Mia as I was worried about them staining the table, but they washed off fine. The house tealight holders are really sweet and they both had a lot of fun decorating them (Mia just used felt tip pens and they also worked well). You can use a normal tealight inside, or we received some LED Tealights (£2.99 for four) which are great for little ones, they even flicker realistically and the children loved them. The tealight holders will make a lovely gift.

Decorated ceramic house tealight holders from Baker Ross

Finally we made some little Christmas gift boxes using a Christmas Gift Box Kit (£3.45 for a pack of three). Each box kit is individually packaged and contains a sturdy cardboard box and decorations. The set contains everything that you need to make a Father Christmas, a reindeer and a snowman gift box. The boxes are a nice size for sweets or you could fill with shredded paper for a smaller gift like jewellery. We had a lot of fun making these, and I love how the children have given them such expressive little faces!

Gift box kits from Baker Ross

Christmas craft kits like these are great to have around the house in the run up to Christmas if you need a seasonal activity to keep the children occupied, with a satisfying finished product.

We received these products from Baker Ross to review. Prices correct at time of writing.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Sponsored post - Fairy and the #powerofsoft

September is one of those times of year when I really notice how quickly the children are growing up. It seems like the blink of an eye since we were taking photographs of Harry outside the house in his brand new school uniform, and now I'm waving him off to his second year at school (in a much less organised fashion than last year I must admit!).

Children growing up #powerofsoft

I remember when Harry was tiny, he was always a very early riser. He would usually be up for the day at around 4.45am and would come into bed and lie in between us. I used to try and doze next to him, and as much as I hated being woken up so early, I tried to enjoy the moment, because I knew that there would be a time not so far in the future when I would miss his little body next to mine in bed.

I'm now very much aware that it will be no time at all until Mia starts school, and I really want to slow down and enjoy this last year at home with a pre-schooler. Now that Mia is slowly moving on from the stroppy toddler years there are so many things that we can enjoy doing together. I'm very fortunate to have the chance to stay at home with her, and with Harry being at school we will have plenty of time to spend together and lots of cuddles to enjoy.

Fairy Non Bio have produced a really sweet video highlighting the fact that pre-schoolers are "The Softest They'll Ever Be", and encouraging parents to make the most of this time while you can, with plenty of soft cuddles. I'll warn you, it's a soppy one!

This is a sponsored post.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The last year with a pre-schooler

Last week we waved Harry off into Year One, and my final year at home with a pre-schooler began. I can't believe that in a few weeks we'll be filling in an application form for little Mia to start school.

Last year at home with a pre-schooler

She's been going to nursery two mornings a week for a year now, and from this term it will be free as it's all covered by the government free childcare scheme which is excellent. This time last year I'd assumed that we'd put her in for an extra session from September in preparation for starting school, but now that the time has come we've decided not to as I want the extra time with her. It's a private nursery, so she does long sessions anyway which include her lunch and are almost as long as a school day. She also has the experience of seeing Harry go out to school and doing the school run everyday, so I hope that she'll find the transition pretty easy.

I remember before Harry started school thinking that I really must make the most of the time, and I think that we did. We had a lot of fun crafting and learning at home, and we've always been a family to enjoy day trips and outings. Mia is quite different to Harry, she's less inclined to sit down and concentrate on something. I'm often to be found sitting at the table doing Hama beads with Harry while she jumps about behind us on the sofa. I feel that she's not quite in the same place academically as Harry was at this age. It's not her fault at all, I'm afraid it's second child syndrome! So there are a few things that I want to work on with her, like learning how to recognise and write her name, and practising colours and shapes, while of course still doing lots of fun things like sensory play and crafting.

I've not really thought about what I'll do when Mia does start school next year. Obviously getting a job would be a good idea, although I don't know what sort of job I could do that would fit nicely into school hours and/or be paid enough to cover any extra childcare costs. After being out of work for nearly two years I feel completely out of touch with the kind of work that I used to do. I'd love to be able to make something of my new found interest and skills in blogging and social media, but there's a lot of work that needs to be put in to get myself out there.

I'm feeling that I should come up with some kind of bucket list of things to do before Mia starts school, but I don't want to be left feeling inadequate if we don't manage to do them all! So I'll see how we go, and make the most of this time!
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