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


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


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


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.


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

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.


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.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Ladybird Tuesday - Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves is a book in Series 740 - Legends. My very first Ladybird Tuesday book was also in this series - A First Book of Aesop's Fables. It's not a large series, and it only contains 7 books. 

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves Ladybird

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves is one in a collection of stories called The Thousand and One Nights, based on ancient Persian, Arabian and Indian tales. They are linked by the story of Sheherazade, who managed to avert her execution by telling one of the stories to her sister each night in the presence of the Sultan, who couldn't bear to miss the end of a story and so kept delaying her execution until in the end she was forgiven. 

Vintage Ladybird Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves

The story has been re-written in simple text for younger readers. It follows Ali Baba, who never had much money to support his wife and son until he spots some thieves hiding their gold in a cave and learns the magic words ("Open Sesame") to open the cave and help himself. There follows a series of twists and turns as he and his family manage to foil the robbers.

Ladybird Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves

Although most of the book follows the usual Ladybird style with text on the left and illustration on the right, some of the pages have both text and picture, and alternate pages have an illustration which is just red, black and white which jars a bit with the lovely colourful illustrations elsewhere. It's an exciting story though, and it's been well written to cater to young readers.

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

Monday, 17 November 2014

Our Florida holiday 2014

We've just returned from a fantastic holiday, two weeks in Orlando followed by a week's cruise in the Caribbean. We've been lucky enough to enjoy holidays in Orlando before but of course they are all different!

This year we were in the US for Halloween, which was quite exciting because it's more of a major holiday over there than here (although it's getting that way!). Disney World was beautifully decorated for the season and we were lucky enough to attend Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween party which was brilliant. On Halloween night itself we didn't feel brave enough to go trick or treating around the houses (we've never trick or treated before at home) but we did go to a Halloween event at the Florida Mall which was excellent. Most of the shops were handing out sweets, and the dressed up children just had to flit from store to store filling up their treat bags. We gathered a phenomenal amount of candy!

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party

It was also fun to see the changes to the Magic Kingdom Resort since our last visit. In particular, there have been several updates since the popularity of Frozen, with a few new attractions (including a Frozen singalong show and snow play area), characters to see (if you have several hours spare to wait) and of course plenty of merchandise. The new Festival of Fantasy parade was pretty spectacular too, it's definitely the best that we've seen.

Frozen dolls at Disneyworld

We spent a few days at the Universal Studios Resort too. Ram and I visited Islands of Adventure a couple of years ago to see the new Harry Potter areas, and this time we saw the even newer Harry Potter areas at the Universal Studios park which were very cool, much more about them to follow! Ram does love his Butterbeer.

Gringotts Ride at Universal Studios

We also attended an NBA Basketball game, Orlando Magic against the Washington Wizards. There was a really fun atmosphere before the game started, with opportunities to have your photo taken and printed out for you, and plenty to eat or drink. For young children there was a huge soft play area and free face painting and balloon modelling. Some of the viewing areas weren't seated, so you could stand in a bar area with a drink watching the game.

NBA Basketball Orlando Magic

We had press tickets so we were able to sit in the press box which was very exciting with an excellent view. It was a little removed from the atmosphere below though, so we spent some time downstairs too. It was the first home game of the season and unfortunately Orlando Magic lost the game that night, but we still had a fun evening out.

Orlando Magic game

On our previous two family holidays we've missed a rocket launch each time due to illness and bad weather, so we were really hoping that the launch scheduled while we were out there this time would go ahead and it did! The launch was planned for soon after 1pm, so we arrived mid-morning and parked easily near Playalinda Beach in Canaveral National Seashore (entry costs $5). Then we walked about a mile along the beach to the security fence and waited there until the launch, luckily there was a boardwalk which provided some shelter from the sun.

We had a great view as the Atlas 5 rocket took off, and there were plenty of experts around to answer questions. It really was amazing, and I was really surprised by how slowly the rocket moved. If you are planning a visit to Florida you can check out a launch schedule here to see if your holiday co-incides with a launch, they take place a couple of times a month and as well as rocket launches you can also see deliveries taking off for the International Space Station.

Atlas 5 rocket launch Cape Canaveral

After two tiring weeks (my phone told me that on some days I'd walked over 10km around the parks) we were all ready for our week's cruise on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, following the Eastern Caribbean route. Unfortunately we had a few setbacks - bad weather meant that the first stop, Royal Caribbean's private island CocoCay, had to be cancelled and two hours out of port we had to go back as a passenger had been taken ill. We had to take a further detour due to the storm, and it was a lot rougher than I remember previous cruises, proper up and down motion rather than gentle swaying. We also discovered at check in that we were sharing our cruise with the 2014 High Seas Rally, which basically meant that our cruise was shared with 1800 bikers partying while raising money for charity. I'll be writing a detailed cruise review in the next couple of weeks.

We still had a great time though and we visited two beautiful beaches, Magens Bay on St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands) and St. Maarten. For the first time the children were confident enough to paddle and splash in the sea as it was so warm and calm, and we all really enjoyed it.

Magens Bay beach USVI

As always I ate far too much on holiday, so I'm trying to watch what I eat now. I read a statistic that suggested cruise passengers put on a pound for each day of their cruise, and I think that was certainly true for me! But how could I resist delicious treats like pizza cookies?

Pizza cookie

We did some shopping too, I always like to stock up on different coloured polo neck tops in the Gap Outlet. I made a couple of visits to some craft shops too, and I may have gone a little overboard on the patterned tape amongst other things!

Patterned washi tapes

It was a brilliant holiday! We have so many happy memories of the holidays that we've taken, I really hope that we're able to get back to Orlando soon.

We had press tickets to the Orlando Magic game and Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, but everything else on holiday we paid for ourselves!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Decorating a Hobbycraft wooden Advent Calendar

Recently I was eyeing up the blank wooden Advent calendars in my local Hobbycraft, and so it was perfect timing when Hobbycraft contacted me and asked if I'd like to receive some Advent calendar goodies to decorate and share with my readers!

Of course, I jumped at the challenge, and so here is my finished decorated wooden Advent calendar.

Hobbycraft decorated wooden Advent calendar

Hobbycraft sell several different designs of wooden Advent calendar to decorate along with the accessories to personalise them. You can see the full Hobbycraft Advent calendar range here. My calendar is the Christmas Wooden Advent Calendar Tree which currently retails for £15. It's a large and stable design with nice large drawers, and comes ready to paint or otherwise decorate.

How to decorate a wooden Advent calendar

Here's how I decorated my Advent calendar:


Plain wooden Advent Calendar
Acrylic paint in a variety of colours (I used green, white, gold, brown and blue)
Number stickers
Other decorations of your choice - green washi tape, stickers, glitter, glitter paint and so on


Painting a wooden tree Advent calendar

I painted the 24 boxes in five different shades of green which I mixed up myself. I was especially pleased with the different colours that were made when I added the gold acrylic paint. The paint covered really easily and dried to a smooth finish. I painted the outside of the trunk area brown, and I only painted the fronts of the individual boxes. The drawer knobs were painted in gold acrylic.

Painting the wooden drawers on a wooden Advent calendar

I covered the green painted sides of the tree in the Hobbycraft Confetti Glitter Glue which I loved, it's a much easier way to decorate with glitter and sequins than by sprinkling them onto wet glue separately and it looks really sparkly and festive!

Wooden frame for an Advent calendar

When the individual boxes were dry I dug out the greenest washi tapes that I could find, as well as a couple of tapes with a Christmas design. I had six different rolls, originally I was going to make four boxes using each but some of the colours ended up too similar so I changed it up a bit, trying to spread out the different tape designs and widths evenly across the boxes.

Decorated drawers on a Hobbycraft Advent calendar

I came up with a rough idea of how I wanted to position the drawers back into the tree, but when I started fitting them back in I found that they didn't all fit as smoothly as I would have liked. With hindsight I should have taken more care when removing the drawers to make sure that the same boxes went back into the same holes. I was able to sort it out by rearranging them a little and sanding down the sides of some of the stubborn ones, but that is something to remember for next time!

I tried to spread out the different colours of paint, washi tape designs and sticker shapes evenly. The number stickers come with a little foam sticker on the back which helps them to stand out a bit, and I used glue too so that they were attached securely. The wooden numbers are slightly too large to fit on the box with the knob in the middle so they need to overhang very slightly but this isn't a problem as there is a gap between the slots in the tree.

Wooden Advent calendar decorated from Hobbycraft

I'm so pleased with my finished Advent calendar! The paint covered really well, it looks nice and smooth, and I love all my different washi tapes. It was really quick to complete as well, in total it probably only took a few hours to do although spread over several days.

Completed decorated wooden Advent calendar

Now the next thing is to fill it! Fortunately I have lots of ideas, in fact I have an old but very popular blog post packed with ideas for ways to fill a wooden Advent Calendar. This year I think I'll be going with simple chocolates but maybe I'll pop a few little surprises in there too!

I received a selection of items from Hobbycraft for this post - the items that you see in the photograph. I purchased the other materials myself as well as using things from my crafty stash.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...