Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Hama bead quilt style picture

Sometimes of an evening I quite fancy making something pretty with Hama beads (especially when they've been left out all over the table by the children) but I need some ideas. So I turn to my Hama bead ideas for me pinboard and I can always find something to inspire me.

Recently I pinned this gorgeous Hama bead rainbow quilt design made by Megan. It really jumped out at me as it was so bright and colourful, and so I used the basic pattern to make my own colourful picture to put in a little white frame that I picked up recently.


The frame is a very simple one (I buy frames cheaply at a local framing shop so I guess they are made with offcuts) and has no glass or backing. I just cut a piece of white card to the same size as the frame and then stuck the Hama bead design directly on to it with double sided tape. Because the design is quite large, after ironing I made sure to sandwich it between two heat proof mats for a few minutes to make sure that it didn't warp.



I've put it in the bathroom, so it can make me smile when I'm brushing my teeth! Here's my board packed full of ideas for Hama bead creations that I might like to make. There are some really creative designs out there, including lots of 3D projects that I have my eye on!

Follow Jennifer Jain's board Hama bead ideas for me on Pinterest.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Christmas Crafting and play with House of Fraser

I was recently asked by House of Fraser to choose some products from the Arts and Crafts section of their online store to try out with the children in the run up to Christmas. I chose four great products to try out with the children, and here's what we thought!

Play Doh Perfect Twist Ice Cream (£20)

Play Doh has always been very popular in this house, and Harry (5) jumped upon this set as soon as he saw it. He loves watching Play Doh videos on the internet, and this was a set that he had seen demonstrated. It took me a few minutes to set it up, but it was pretty straightforward. It won't be fitting back into the original box though, as it's quite a large set!

Play Doh perfect twist ice cream set review

There are two main parts to the set which means it's a great one for a couple of children to play with at once. There is one extruder which you use to make the ice cream shape and then a second extruder with a slicer that makes little sprinkles. All around the base and down the sides there are little moulds which you can use to make additional decorations.

The set comes with five little pots of Play Doh. Three of these are Play Doh Plus which was a new product to us. It's softer than normal Play Doh and lighter. This means that it is a lot easier for little fingers to work with and to push through the extruders. Normally I have to help the children with this bit, but with Play Doh Plus even Mia (3) was able to work them easily.

The set also comes with some lovely accessories - dinky little ice cream cones, sundae glasses and spoons. To make an ice cream you place the cone beneath the first extruder. As you pull down the lever the cone spins around slowly to make a nice smooth ice cream shape. Then you place it between the second extruder to make little sprinkles. These didn't stick to the ice cream very well but were easy enough to push into place.

Play Doh ice cream maker set

Of course if you want to use the set properly you do need to be comfortable with mixing up the colours, not a problem for the children at all so I just have to let them get on with it! The main extruder was really easy to clean as the Play Doh is kept in a removable section which folds out. The sprinkle part was a little harder to clean as it's all enclosed but when it's dried out I'm hoping it will all fall out.

The thing that I really liked about this set is the role play possibilities. While Harry was having fun actually making the ice creams, Mia was more interested in playing with the finished ice creams, putting in her order and pretending to eat them. There are all sorts of games that you could play and I thought that the little accessories were fab.

Play Doh Disney Sofia the First Tea Party Set (£11.25)

Another set which is fantastic for role play is this Play Doh set from Disney themed around Sofia the First. I chose it with Mia in mind, but I think that Harry will have just as much fun with it!

Sofia the First Play Doh set

The set comes with three tubs of Play Doh, including some lovely sparkly pink and purple. It has a large Sofia doll which is covered in little Play Doh moulds. The base of her dress is a tray which you can use with an empty Play Doh tub to make a table. She also has a teapot and teacups. The teapot is a small extruder, so you can fill it with Play Doh to push 'tea' out into the tea cups. Sofia herself is hollow inside, making a handy place to store her accessories. I must admit that I'm not so keen on the small Play Doh moulds myself as I find them difficult to use but it doesn't seem to bother the children, Harry in particular really enjoys making the different shapes. Again, because it has lots of pieces it's a set that more than one child can have fun playing with at the same time. It would make a lovely gift for a little girl!

Disney Princess Fuzzy Felt Craft Set (RRP £10.99)

I have very fond memories of Fuzzy Felt from when I was little, and because Mia loves playing with her magnetic dress up dolls I knew that she would enjoy this set. The fact that it is Disney Princess makes it even more appealing. The set contains a purple background board and over 100 felt pieces spread over four individual sheets. One sheet is in full colour and contains the princess figures (Snow White, Belle and Cinderella) in their modest underwear. Each princess has her familiar ball gown and a few accessories like gloves, tiaras and a couple of items related to their story, for example an apple for Snow White.

Disney Princess fuzzy felt

Then there are three plain coloured sheets of felt shapes in pink, blue and yellow, with further items to help you tell the stories of the princesses, like woodland creatures, castles and other characters from the stories, as well as some extra bits of clothing and accessories. These coloured sheets aren't quite as nice, it would be better if all the pieces were in full colour, but it doesn't affect the story telling potential of the set.

Disney Princess fuzzy felt

Mia wasn't so interested in acting out the stories, although that may be because she's not so familiar with the films yet (that will come as she gets older!). She did enjoy dressing up the princesses though, and creating a larger scene with me, particularly with the animals like the rabbit and the cat. It's a lovely little set and I know that we are going to have lots of play out of it.

Disney Frozen Crayola Mess Free Colour Wonder (£6.50)

I first saw a Colour Wonder Crayola colouring book at a friend's house and was completely fascinated. It's a similar concept to the magic painting books that I used to have when I was younger, but it works a lot better. I have no idea how they work, I just know that they work really well! This pack contains an 18 page colouring book which has a nice selection of images from the Disney Frozen film. Then you also have a pack of 5 marker pens. Each marker pen is a different colour (they are chosen to match the sorts of colours that you'd be using for these particular pictures - light blue, dark blue, brown, pink and peach), but magically they all look white when you take off the lid, and on ordinary paper or any other surface they make no mark.

Crayola Colour Wonder Frozen set review

Amazingly however, when you colour in the pages in the book, the paper turns the correct colour - the colour of the pen that you have drawn with! The colours are really bright too, and there is no mixing or running of colours. This makes them perfect for when you are out and about and don't want the mess usually associated with felt tip pens. It's also great for little ones that you aren't quite ready to trust with real pens yet as they leave no mark on furniture, hands or clothes and it really is a brilliant system. Although I chose the set with Mia in mind, Harry is also a big fan of the film and enjoys the colouring just as much, so it's for both of them really!

Frozen Crayola magic colouring book

We had a great time trying out all these arts and craft products, and you can find the full range online at House of Fraser.

We received these items for the purpose of this review, prices correct at time of writing.

Ladybird Tuesday - The Story of Nuclear Power

It's a rather complicated book this week. The Story of Nuclear Power is from Ladybird Series 601, all books which discuss the achievements of man. Other titles in the series include The Story of Plastics which looks very interesting (currently the cover is on display in my Ladybird wall display, I'd love to read the actual book!), The Story of Furniture and The Story of Ships. The Story of Nuclear Power was published in 1972.

Ladybird The Story of Nuclear Power book

The book begins with a discussion on the need for nuclear power for us to have heating, lighting, cooking, radio, television and so on. Then it goes back to the very beginning when man used forces for power that exist in the outer regions of the atom. Then in the twentieth century, scientists began to wonder if there was anything smaller than the atom, and discovered the much greater forces that can be released from within the centre of the atom, which is what we mean by nuclear power. I'm not a very scientific person, and those couple of paragraphs in this Ladybird book explained the concept to me much more clearly than any science lesson at school!

Vintage Ladybird Book The Story of Nuclear Power

The book continues with a detailed look at early experiments, and how scientists from across the world came together to unravel the secrets of the atom and were able to control the release of the atomic energy. The world became aware of this new power with the dropping of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. 

Vintage The Story of Nuclear Power Ladybird book

The book takes a look at the future of nuclear power, for example in the Space Age. It suggests that the first planned use of nuclear engines will be to propel space ships shuttling between Moon and Earth orbits, although that hasn't happened quite yet!

The book is overwhelmingly positive in it's description of nuclear power. Atomic bombs are mentioned in passing with no hint of the huge loss of life and devastation that they cause. Perhaps this is because the book was written before nuclear power plant disasters like Chernobyl in 1986. I think that a book written today would be much more balanced about both advantages and disadvantages of nuclear power.

Although it is briefly mentioned that the used fuel elements are hot and radioactive, this is glossed over, giving the impression that they are somehow 'processed', with no mention of safety. Instead the book finishes with several pages of all the wonderful things that nuclear power will be able to do in the future, like powering cargo and passenger submarines across oceans and developing undersea food farms.

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

Monday, 24 November 2014

Review - The Christmas Circus at Squire's Washington

This Christmas, Squire's Garden Centre in Washington, West Sussex has an amazing Christmas experience for the family - a Christmas Circus performance as well as the chance to see Father Christmas. Our family was invited along to the preview event.

The Circus show takes place in a circus tent next to the garden centre. Before you go in there's the chance to buy popcorn, other sweets and light up spinning toys.

There is a vague plot to the circus show, with a story about some presents being stolen from under the tree and a search for Santa, which was used to tie the different acts together.

Squire's Washington Christmas Circus review

The clown was very good, and the children thought that he was hilarious, especially when he pulled a poor Dad up from the audience and swung a watering can about. We also saw some exciting circus acts, including a trapeze and super hula hooping.

Squire's Washington Christmas Circus

At the end of course Santa is found, and he ushers everyone to an area behind the seating where the circus performers were handing out presents. It was all done very quickly so fortunately there wasn't too much waiting around, but it did mean that you didn't really get the chance to meet with Santa individually as there were a lot of people and stopping for a photo would cause a hold up. The children were delighted with their presents, the gifts handed out seemed to be ones that would suit young children of most ages and it seemed as though despite working quickly the assistants were trying to match a suitable gift to the child.

Squire's Christmas circus

The circus show itself lasts for about 40 minutes, so it's a decent length show but not too long for very little ones. The whole experience lasts for about an hour. We were sitting just behind the ringside seats, but I would have thought that you'd have a good view from anywhere as the circus tent is not too large and the seats are well positioned.

Tickets for the Christmas Circus cost £10 a person, or £14 for Ringside tickets. A 10% discount is available for groups of more than 10, and as well as the circus the ticket price includes the chance to meet Santa and a present for each child. Below is the schedule of dates, and you can find more details and book tickets here - Christmas Circus at Squire's Washington.

Squire's Washington Christmas Circus schedule

We received complimentary admission to the preview event.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Review - Using Journl online personal organiser to plan a holiday

I was recently given the opportunity to try out Journl - an online personal organiser designed to keep track of everything that's going on in your life.

Review of Journl online personal organiser

You open Journl to your In-Tray, which contains your calendar, a general To Do list, information that you have recently added, as well as the option to create new elements that can then be moved elsewhere. Then you have tabbed sections along the top. Initially have three called Me, Home and Work, but you can delete them, rename them and add new ones to suit your own purposes. Within each section you can then create Notebooks for different topics.

Journl in tray screenshot

Using Journl for holiday planning 

I tried out the Journl app by using it to plan our recent holiday to Florida.

First I created a new Notebook in the Me section called Florida 2014. The main Notebook screen displays a calendar and To Do list, then you can create titled pages for all the different areas. On each page of your Notebook you have a variety of different elements that you can add to the page. They are Note, List, Checklist, Shopping List, Money List and Documents.

Using Journl to play a holiday

I make lots of lists before we go away anywhere, so it was really handy to have them all in one place. I used a "Before we go" page to make a Shopping List of things that we needed to buy before we went, and a Checklist of tasks that needed to be completed. I also have an electronic packing list that I print out each time we go away, and I'm intending to enter it electronically into Journl. If I create it as a Checklist then it can be copied and moved, so I could copy it and move it into a new folder for each holiday that we take.

I found the Documents element handy to store documentation related to the holiday. This is particularly useful as it can be accessed remotely from any location as long as you have internet access, and on your phone if you have the iPhone app. You could use this folder to store files with booking information, insurance details, itinerary plans, e-tickets, receipts and so on. I also used the Documents element to store electronic copies of our touring plans for the Disney parks which were .pdf files created by a touring plan website.

From the iPhone app you can even snap a photo to add to the files so you don't even need to scan things in, for example a quick photograph of your passport or driving licence (obviously make sure that you are happy with the security of your account and password and think carefully about the type of information that you are storing). You can also add documents just by dragging and dropping them from a folder on your computer.

Journl personal organiser

The Money List lets you keep track of your spending by adding in an item and the price and it will tally the total cost for you. This would be great for keeping a track of expenses as you go along so you can quickly see a total cost for the holiday. You could also use it in advance to plan your budget for the trip and work out how much cash you need to exchange.

I also found more uses while we were away, for example I was making notes for my diary and blog posts in a small notebook. I took a photograph of the finished pages and stored them electronically in Journl as a backup in case something happened to the physical notebook.

On the "Contact information" page I kept a List of important contact details, for example telephone numbers for the banks to cancel cards and phone numbers for the insurance and for the villa that we stayed in as well as a few details of people back home.

Other uses

As I mentioned above, the main Journl screen acts as your In-Tray, and you can use it to quickly dump Lists or Notes and come back to file them in the correct Notebook later.

This works really well when you are out and about using the app and want to work quickly. It's very easy to move these individual elements to the relevant Notebook. A feature that I liked is the ability to select either "Choose" to just move something or "Choose and Follow" if you want to be taken to where you've actually moved it, very handy! Once moved elements disappear from the In-Tray. The screenshot below shows me in the process of moving the List called "Rides that we want to go on again" from the main In-Tray, where it was created quickly on the go, to the Touring plans page of my Florida 2014 Notebook.

Journl review

Now that we are back I'm also starting to think of ways that I can use Journl to organise other areas of my life. In particular I can see that Journl would be really useful as a blog planner. You could use a separate Notebook for each blog to maintain a long-term to do list and ideas list, as well as using the Calendar feature to plan out blog posts in advance. For my blog I could make pages for different themes e.g. Christmas or Easter, to collect together different craft, recipe and activity ideas.

It's really easy to edit and move around Notebooks and elements that you've already created. For example, if I use Journl to plan more holidays in the future it would probably make sense to make a separate section for "Holidays" and keep all my different holiday Notebooks in that section.

You can visit Journl to sign up for a two week trial to see how you get on, and I'd definitely recommend giving it a go and getting to know it. Like all new things you do need to spend a bit of time at first, but I found it pretty intuitive and there is plenty of help available. If you want to continue using Journl, it costs £4.99 per month or £39 for a full year subscription. 

This is a sponsored review, and I was also given a year's subscription to try out Journl.

Friday, 21 November 2014

My holiday crafty purchases

I recently returned from an amazing holiday to the US. I'm afraid that you may be hearing rather a lot about it on the blog over the next few weeks. But instead of just travel reports I thought that I'd also share some of the fantastic crafty goodies that I picked up! I can't remember exactly where I bought everything, but I shopped in craft shops Michaels and Jo-Ann (both of which do amazing coupons that you can just show the cashier on your phone, you can sometimes save up to 50% off your most expensive item and 20% off your entire shop). I also found some little bits in Target and WalMart.

I know that most of these things can be sourced in the UK too, but they did work out cheaper and as I don't normally buy so many crafty things at once it was pretty exciting for me!

I bought washi tape, printed fabric tape and patterned Duck Tape. I just can't resist washi tape, especially when it's really cheap, and I found fabric tape, glitter tape and shaped tape.

Coloured duck tape and washi tape

Now I just need to find a way of storing it, as unfortunately my lovely washi tape holder is now woefully inadequate!

Patterned washi tape

I bought Perler beads which look to be the same as Hama beads, but they are stripy! I'm looking forward to playing with these and seeing how they look when they are ironed.

Stripy Perler beads

I also found some Cricut accessories cheaper than at home, including some Cricut vinyl which I've been after for a while. I'm not sure what I'm going to use it for yet but I've seen lots of cool crafts around that I'd like to try.

Finally I used one of my large discount coupons to buy a Smash Book. I think that I'm a bit late to these but I've read about them and they are pretty cool, basically they are just a scrapbook that comes with a fancy pen that has a glue stick on one end, along with a few other stickers, tiny sticky notes and tape to embellish with. I've already done a few pages with some mementoes and notes from our holiday, I'll share how I get on with it when I've completed some more!

New Smash book

Some links in this post are Amazon affiliate links, just in case I've whet your crafty appetite!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom, Florida, 2014

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween party review

This year we were on holiday in Florida for Halloween, and we were lucky enough to be able to attend Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at Disney World Resort. Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween party takes place in the Magic Kingdom on selected dates every autumn in the build up to Halloween, beginning at the beginning of September with the final evening taking place on Halloween itself.

Entry to the party

After 7pm, the park is open only to guests who have purchased tickets for Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. Obviously the park will be full of other guests that have been there during the day, so to distinguish the Halloween party guests you are given a wristband to wear. It seemed a fairly efficient process to make sure that only guests with a wristband were left in the park after about an hour or so, with plenty of checkpoints at the entrances to different lands and before going on rides, as well as regular spot checks. On entry you are given a map with Trick or Treat locations and the show schedule as well as your Halloween treat bag.

Decoration and theming in the park

Disney World was already beautifully decorated in autumnal and fall colours, with lots of orange and red and plenty of pumpkins. We noticed a few extra pumpkins that had appeared on the evening, like the large inflatable ones at the entrance, as well as special lighting, spooky smoke and projections. There were also lots of seasonal photo opportunities!

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween party costumes family

Costumes

About half the guests were dressed up, although not as many adults as children. Most of the costumes were store bought or Disney character costumes, but there were a few more original ones as well as couples and families wearing matching or complementary costumes. Although it was very warm earlier on it did become cooler later, so it's important to remember different temperatures when planning a costume. You aren't allowed to wear costumes that obscure your vision and they aren't supposed to be too scary. Most people were in fancy dress rather than traditional spooky Halloween costumes. We decided to go as a family of skeletons and fortunately found matching outfits before we left home by raiding the local supermarkets.

Disney World Florida decorated for Fall

Dance parties

There were two character dance parties taking place, and we stopped for some of the Monstrous Scream-O-Ween Ball in Tomorrow land where the characters from Monsters Inc. were dancing away with guests. The music was pretty good too.

Mickey's "Boo-To-You" Halloween Parade

There were two parades, one at 8.15pm and one at 10.30pm, and we watched the earlier parade. The park seemed much busier than during the day (perhaps because not so many visitors were busy with the rides but were instead walking about) so we quickly realised that we'd need to be in position for the parade quite early, and we were waiting at least half an hour before it was due to start.

The parade was lead by a headless horseman which was pretty cool, then there were a series of themed segments - spooky characters based around the Disney Haunted Mansion ride, floats carrying Disney villains, a Harvest/fall dancing part and Halloween candy, with Goofy driving a huge candy machine. The parade was very good, although perhaps no more spectacular than the usual daytime parade. We usually find that Frontierland is a good place to watch the parades as it's not as busy as Main Street.

Boo to You Halloween parade at Disney World

Candy

We discovered that Halloween in the US is mainly about the sweets. As you enter the park you are given a Trick or Treat carrier bag, which doesn't look that big but can hold a surprising amount, and adults are just as welcome to take part. You can use your own bags or containers too. We took a spare rucksack to decant our bags into which was a very good move. There are numerous Trick or Treat stations located around the park, and although you have a map really you just need to look for the easy to spot lit up pumpkins:

Disney World Orlando trick or treating

The Trick or Treat stands seemed to be positioned so that you could usually see at least one from wherever you were located in the park. There were also a couple of Trick or Treat trails where you could take in more than one stand at a time. The sweets given out were good quality, branded treats and handed out generously. Just one visit to each station in the park would easily fill your bag, but there is nothing to stop you going around and around, and you are limited really only by what you can carry! This was Harry's favourite part of the evening, not because he's especially into sweets (in fact I'm not sure that he actually ate any of them!) but he loved the experience as we've never been trick or treating before. This is just a tiny fraction of what we received between us:

Halloween candy from Disney World

Rides

Most of the rides were open and had minimal queues. The only ride we saw that was slightly different for the evening was the Haunted Mansion, where there was an actress in suitable attire outside entertaining the crowds along with atmospheric smoke and lighting. During the parade in particular the rides were empty (apart from the new Snow White Mine Train which always had a massive line!). When walking around though the park felt much busier than it had during the day.

Food

Not all the food venues were open, so it's probably best to check in advance if you are planning to eat a full meal at the park. We didn't buy anything to eat, but I saw that some of the venues were selling specialty food for the evening and there was plenty of snack food around to purchase like candy floss (cotton candy), ice cream and popcorn. You could also buy seasonal treats elsewhere in the parks around this time, I bought this lovely Halloween Minnie cupcake at Hollywood Studios later that week.

Disneyworld Halloween Minnie cupcake
Characters

We don't really go in for meeting the characters at Disney World as our children are quite shy and also it takes up a lot of time waiting in line. However I know that for many people this is the highlight of the party, as some of the characters are dressed in special Halloween outfits and there are also characters about that don't appear very often.

Villains Mix and Mingle Live on Stage

This show took place four times throughout the evening on the stage in front of Cinderella Castle. We stayed in the same position for this show, and Celebrate the Magic and Hallowishes which followed straight after. We didn't have a great view of the show unfortunately as we were behind a tree, but it was a good show with plenty of characters, music and lighting effects on the castle behind.

Celebrate the Magic

At 9.15pm Cinderella Castle was decorated with projected scenes from Disney films alongside music for a spectacular show. This seemed to be the same show that is performed on non-Halloween nights, but we still enjoyed an extra chance to see it.

Hallowishes

The Hallowishes fireworks display took place at 9.30pm, almost immediately after Celebrate the Magic. The fireworks really were spectacular and we felt that they were better than the usual Wishes fireworks, definitely the best fireworks that we've ever seen at the Magic Kingdom

Hallowishes firework display at Disney World 2014

It was a late night for us all, we stayed a little while after the fireworks finished and left around 10pm. Mia was fast asleep in her pushchair by this point! But fortunately we'd had a few days of the holiday already to accustom the children to staying up a little later than usual.

As the park will be dark throughout the party you do need to be extra vigilant about keeping an eye on the children. It's a good idea to purchase some glow sticks or light up toys to attach to them, to make them easy to spot! Of course there are plenty on sale at the park or you can take your own along.

Ticket price and availability

We visited on the 23rd October 2014, and posters said that there were still tickets available for that night. Closer to Halloween however we saw several sold out posters, including on Halloween night. Although the event starts at 7pm, the park actually opens to ticket holders at around 4pm, so you have a chance to take in some rides first and then I believe at 7pm you can collect your treat bag and wristband. Ticket prices for the 2014 event varied according to the date that you visited, with prices increasing nearer to Halloween, as well as discounts for annual pass holders and advance tickets. So prices ranged from $66.03 for an adult advance ticket purchased for September to $82 for an adult ticket on Halloween night, and you don't need to purchase separate admission to the park. You can see this year's ticket price details as well as loads more useful information and tips here).

It's a pretty pricey night out, so you need to decide if it's worth it to you before booking tickets. Even if you are regular visitors to Disney World then it's a great opportunity to see a different side to the park. If you enjoy meeting the characters then there are many one off opportunities to meet and greet, and children (and adults) will enjoy taking home as much candy as they can carry. There really was a sense of something special taking place, and there was a fantastic and fun atmosphere throughout the park.

We were lucky enough to receive complimentary press tickets to the party.
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