Monday, 31 December 2012

My 2012

As 2012 comes to an end, here are some of my highlights from the past year. It's been a year for:

Life changes

Moving house - it's almost exactly a year since we moved house. We love our new house, and it's a part of a wonderful community. Harry will be starting at the local school next September, and we are really glad that we made the decision to move.

Redundancy - Not the best news just before Christmas, and it was a very stressful process, but now that it's in the past I'm hopeful that it's the best thing for me and our little family.

Children

No, there aren't any more on the way! Harry will be 4 in a couple of weeks and he's growing up so quickly. He's a lovely little boy, talkative, funny and bright. Mia is 19 months now, and over the last year she has changed from a baby to a toddler. It's great having her running about and chatting away, desperate to join in with whatever her big brother is doing and putting her sticky fingers everywhere. They have such a bond and are always giving each other kisses and cuddles, it's wonderful to watch.

Holidays

We've enjoyed some fantastic holidays this year, we started the year with a lovely break at Mazzard Farm in Devon, and enjoyed brilliant trips to Lanzarote and Florida.

Sport

I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed the Olympics this year, we were very lucky to have tickets to see some of the events and it was definitely a highlight of the year.

Blogging

I'm still blogging, something that I'm very proud of! My most popular post of the entire year has been one which was only published a few weeks ago - How to make a Nativity play Shepherd's Costume - I hope that it helped some people out this Christmas! My Diwali craft posts were also very popular, in particular Making a Rangoli using dyed rice.

I started my second blog - Toddler Things - and I have a couple of other smaller blogs in the works too.

Crafting

I've been working hard on my never-ending cross stitch project. Will I have it complete by the end of 2013? Let's see!

Personal challenges

I was really excited to start the Day Zero Project which I'm hoping to make a big part of my 2013, more about that to come soon! One of the things on my list which I was really proud of was my gingerbread house for Christmas.

Sleep

No, not really! Actually, to be fair, Harry's sleep has improved enormously and it's now rare to hear from him in the night. We've even got him sleeping (or at least staying in bed) until 7.30am at the moment as the jet lag from the holiday stays in his system, but I know that won't last much longer! Mia is generally up and about throughout the night though, she usually settles very quickly with a drink but it's not long before we hear from her again. Knowing that we got there in the end with Harry gives me hope for the future though, one day I will sleep again!

I hope that you have had a wonderful 2012, and here's to an even better 2013!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Some tips for visiting Disneyworld, Orlando with small children

We were lucky enough to take the family to Disneyworld, Florida a few weeks ago. Before we went I was rather daunted at the thought of taking two small children (1 and 3) on such a big holiday but I am so glad that we did, we all had a fantastic time. I've put together a few tips that made our holiday much more pleasant for us all!

  • My most important tip - arrive at the parks early! You should be in the queue at the turnstiles before the park opens, which means allowing time to get from your car to the entrance (especially at Magic Kingdom where you need to take the monorail from the car park) and to get through the security bag check. Arriving earlier makes it so much easier to do the rides before the queues build up.

  • Take a pushchair even if your child doesn't still use one at home. You can rent them in the parks, but that still leaves you some distance from your car to the entrance, so it's much easier to have your own or you can buy a very cheap basic one locally from Walmart or Target.

  • Tie something recognisable to the pushchair as you will have to leave it outside all attractions. They may be moved around but we never felt that security was an issue, but obviously take all valuables with you.

  • All the toilets that I saw had a small changing table and a large cubicle that would accommodate a pushchair, each park also has a Baby Center with more changing and nursing facilities.

  • You can take food into the parks without any problems, we took sandwiches, drinks, and lots of snacks.

  • There are plenty of places to sit down and rest in the shade.

  • The larger adult rides operate Rider Switch passes so that adults can ride if your children are too small. As you are about to join the queue, tell the attendant that you want to use a Rider Switch pass. One or two members of your party can join the queue to wait as normal, then the second adult will be given a pass which allows up to four people to return to the ride using the Fastpass queue.

  • Don't try to do a full day at Disney. The parks are huge, there is lots of walking, the weather is likely to be warm and the crowds build throughout the day. Arrive early, see as much as you can, then return to your accommodation for lunch and a rest. If you are up to it, return to the park later in the day.

  • Take some familar food items with you from home if you have fussy children. For our family, this means Weetabix, Marmite and baby biscuits. 

I hope that these tips are helpful! If you have any more please do add them into the comments!
Small child at Disneyworld

Friday, 28 December 2012

Keeping ourselves busy

We've been living in our 'new' house for almost exactly a year now, and we have finally managed to schedule in some time to start some decorating! It has sometimes felt a bit like living in someone else's home, especially as the previous owner was a big fan of feature walls in very bold colours that I wouldn't necessarily have chosen myself (although I'm sure that the new owner of our old house is cursing the hills, sky and sun 'mural' that I was so proud of in Harry's room!).

We decided that as everything would be disrupted anyway we might as well tackle two rooms at once, so we are starting with our bedroom and Mia's room. We decorated a lovely butterfly themed room for Mia in our old house just before we made the decision to move, and I've always felt it was a real shame as she was never able to appreciate it. We kept the new pink curtains so that we can re-use them here, and we've bought her a new table lamp and matching lampshade.

I'm afraid that my decorating style is rather unimaginative. I tend to choose a pale colour for the walls and then use a darker shade of that colour for curtains and other furnishings. I don't do feature walls or anything more adventurous. As we already have curtains from the old house for both rooms, we are just painting the rooms the same colour as they were before - pale pink for Mia and pale blue for our bedroom. This will be the third time that we have decorated a bedroom for us, and we've done it almost the same each time!

It's turning into a larger job than we expected as the dark coloured walls are going to need two coats of white as well as two coats of colour - I'm hoping that we can get it finished before Ram goes back to work! We do have a deadline of Harry's birthday next month, when we will have guests staying so will need to vacate the guest bedroom!

We've also ordered Mia a proper bed for her new room, so in a few weeks time we'll see how she manages out of the cot. Harry surprised us with a very smooth transition, I'm really hoping that she will be the same!

Harry helping out with some artwork - it's a bridge

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Our Christmas!

First of all, I do hope that all my readers had a lovely Christmas! I've been a bit quiet lately, this is the first time that I have actually sat down at the computer in what seems like ages! It was a strange build up to Christmas for us this year, as we spent the first two weeks of December enjoying the Florida sunshine. Then we all came back ill so it took us several days to recover and get over the jet lag. We didn't even have an Advent calendar this year as we were away for so much of Advent, and I didn't do nearly as much crafting or other festive activities as I would have done normally.

However we have enjoyed a lovely Christmas. Harry really enjoyed taking part in his first Nativity play as one of the shepherds, and I loved watching my first Nativity play - all the children were so sweet! We spent a few days before Christmas with my in-laws in the Midlands, then returned on Christmas Eve for a Christmas Day at home, before joining my brother and parents at his on Boxing Day.

We have managed to avoid filling the house with too much coloured plastic, in fact nothing was received that required batteries! We also spread the present opening over several days which I think works really well because then the children have time to appreciate each gift - they haven't even received their gift from my parents yet as some assembly is required! I'm afraid that the children's food over the last couple of days has largely consisted of Pringles and party rings - back to proper food tomorrow!

I started one new tradition this year which I've heard that a lot of people also do - new pajamas on Christmas Eve. I bought some while we were on holiday so I wasn't quite sure of the sizes, with the result that they are a little snug, but at least they are nice and warm! Harry was really into the idea of Father Christmas this year, we sprinkled reindeer food and put out a mince pie and carrot.

Our Christmas dinner is a little non-traditional - we mainly eat vegetarian food so we didn't have a turkey but we had lots of roasted vegetables and other party food, as well as a plate of cheese sandwiches for the fussier members of the family.

Although I've been away a little bit from my own blog, I've loved reading on-line about everyone elses's Christmas and all the different and similar traditions that people have. When I was little I remember every Christmas as being the same, which was wonderfully comforting and familiar (although I imagine also distorted by the nostalgia of childhood). I am expecting our family Christmases to be different every year as we visit different people in different orders and combinations, but I hope to have some continuity and develop some traditions that we can take with us wherever we are.

Now we are entering that strange time after Christmas before the shiny New Year starts. We have some decorating which has been waiting for a long time (it's now a year since we moved!) so we will spend the next few days taking it in turns to do some painting while the other entertains the children!

New pajamas at stocking hanging time!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

My first Gingerbread House for Christmas

I've been meaning to make a gingerbread house for a long time. I've always been put off because I thought that they looked really complicated and would probably fall down, and also we always seem to be away in the days leading up to Christmas and I have never found the time. Then earlier this year I saw a post on The Crazy Kitchen, where a couple of bloggers were making gingerbread houses for celebrations throughout the year, and I made a resolution that I would make one this Christmas. I added it to my Day Zero Project, researched and planned, and I finally made one!

After all the agonising over it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was all a lot easier than I had expected! I used this recipe from Tesco, which also includes a printable template for the gingerbread house. There's even a handy video which is worth watching because it contains some useful tips.

Making my first gingerbread house

I'm not really a fan of jelly sweets so I concentrated on the chocolate - chocolate buttons, Maltesers, Minstrels and Smarties. I even let Harry help with the decoration, under my watchful eye of course. I cannot describe how proud I am of my little house. I keep going up to it and admiring it. I am also desperate to start eating it, once I've shown it off to everyone of course!

Making my first gingerbread house

Update - the tradition continued once there were two children on board! Here are my subsequent gingerbread houses:

The 2013 Gingerbread Houses
The 2014 Gingerbread Houses
The 2015 Gingerbread Houses

Sunday, 16 December 2012

SeaWorld Orlando

On our recent trip to Orlando, we spent a day at SeaWorld. Although we've been to Orlando before, this was our first visit to SeaWorld Orlando. We knew that the park was very big and we wouldn't be able to do everything in a single day, but we had a good attempt!

The first thing that we did was to obtain a show schedule and plan our day. We didn't want to see all the shows, mainly because Mia is still quite small and doesn't really have the patience to sit still for too long. But there were a couple that we knew we didn't want to miss.

First we saw the lovely Blue Horizons show, a mixture of dolphins, tropical birds and costumed performers.

SeaWorld Orlando Blue Horizons show

Then we joined everyone else in the park heading to the One Ocean show, also known as the Shamu show. It was only on twice, with the second show at 5.30pm and too late for us, but luckily it is held in a big theatre as it's very popular. It was amazing watching the huge killer whales performing in a number of different themed segments, including one where the sole purpose was to drench as much of the audience as possible!

SeaWorld Orlando show

We also watched Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island, We weren't so sure about this show, the performing animals were a bit thin on the ground and we were probably the wrong demographic - I think that older children than ours might have appreciated it more.

In between the shows we had a good look around the other attractions. Turtle Trek really stood out for me - after viewing some turtles underwater you watch a short film in a 3D, 360 degree dome cinema. It was quite an intense experience but a brilliant use of technology. We also enjoyed Shark Encounter, with an underwater tunnel through the shark tank.

We spent quite a bit of time in Shamu's Happy Harbour, which was a children's area perfectly suited to our little ones. There was a little train, some spinny rides and lots of things to climb on and slide down.

Finally my son enjoyed The Polar Express Experience, based on one of his favourite films. There were two ways to enjoy the experience, a walking one and a moving one. Unfortunately like most of the children he was too short for the moving experience (you need to be 42"/107cm), but luckily because it was all enclosed he didn't realise he was missing anything! We watched a short version of the film, then walked through some snowy scenes to see Father Christmas and various polar animals. It was very busy inside. Harry loved the actual Polar Express train that was outside!

Polar Express train at SeaWorld Orlando

We also let Harry have the chance to press a penny in one of these machines that are all over the place at the theme parks. I have lots from a trip when I was younger that he plays with at home, so I thought it was only fair that he have a go. He was delighted!

Pressing coins at SeaWorld Orlando

There are some Seaworld attractions which are firmly aimed at the grown ups. We decided against a boat ride on Journey to Atlantis - it was an overcast day and we didn't fancy getting soaked! The Kraken rollercoaster was great, but the highlight for us was Manta. From the description we were expecting something similar to the face down rollercoaster Air at Alton Towers which we love. However it was way more intense (in a good way), you could really feel the g-forces as you dived down headfirst and then swooped about, we thought it was amazing!

Manta Rollercoaster at SeaWorld Florida

We had a great day at SeaWorld, and although we didn't see every single thing we felt that one day was enough for us to experience it. I'd definitely recommend a visit with the family!

We received complimentary tickets to Seaworld (but we paid for the rest of the holiday ourselves!)

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Our brilliant Orlando holiday

We are back from an exhausting two week holiday to Orlando in Florida. We had a brilliant time, and I thought that I would share some of our highlights. Before we went I did have some reservations about whether our children were too young for such a big and busy holiday. I was particularly worried about the long flight and the time difference. Given that we have poor sleepers anyway, I was sure that we were in for about a month of no sleep! In reality it wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. They both adjusted really well, and we tired them out so much during the day that they went straight to sleep at bedtime!

The main reason for our visit was to go to Disneyworld, so we bought 14 day passes which could be used across the four parks - Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingom and Hollywood Studios. We had timed our trip so that most of the New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom was open. Although the official opening was towards the end of our trip, in fact everything was already open for a soft launch. My biggest tip for a visit to Disneyworld is to arrive early so that you can enter the park as soon as it opens, you can get so many more rides done in the first couple of hours than you can later in the day. We were able to do all the rides in Fantasyland (which was the area most suited to our family) without much of a wait on several days.

Small children at Disneyworld

Harry and Mia loved Disney. We spent most of our time at Magic Kingdom, but there is so much to do across the four parks that there was no chance of running out of things to see. All the parks except Epcot also had a daytime parade and all the parks except Animal Kingdom had an evening parade/show/fireworks. Because it is a relatively quiet time of year to visit (after Thanksgiving and before Christmas) we found that we never had to queue for too long.

We tried to spread things out as much as possible, generally visiting for a morning then returning to our villa for lunch and a rest, then either going out for a meal or back to one of the parks later in the day. Although it was tempting to try and stay for a full day we did find that it was too much for the little ones.

We stayed in a villa a few miles away in the Emerald Island Resort, which actually wasn't as expensive as you might think. It even had a pool which Harry loved! We booked directly with the villa owners in the UK because this worked out cheaper than as part of package, and also meant that we knew the exact villa that we would be staying in. We stayed at the Just Reward Vacation Villa and it was lovely with everything that we needed.

Private swimming pool in Orlando Villa

We also fitted in a day trip to Seaworld and a visit to Universal's Islands of Adventure to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - I'll be writing more about those over next few days if you are interested!

We even made time for a bit of shopping - I have come back with some nice new clothes and some crafty bits.

Eating pizza at California Pizza Kitchen

And finally, it wouldn't be a holiday for me and Ram if it didn't involve pizza. We first discovered the Tostada pizza from California Pizza Kitchen on our first trip to the US a few years ago and we always make the effort to hunt a branch down on holiday. The Tostada has black beans, tortilla strips, lettuce, cheese and ranch dressing - it sounds strange but it's delicious, and I can't believe that this chain hasn't made it to the UK yet!

If you are thinking about planning a holiday to Orlando and have any questions please do get in touch, I'd love to help if I can!

You can read my other posts about our Orlando holiday here:

SeaWorld Orlando
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure
Some tips for visiting DisneyWorld, Orlando with small children
Flying long haul with two small children

Friday, 14 December 2012

Flying long haul with two small children

Flying long haul with small children

Here is what I have learned about taking a long haul flight with two young children:

Daytime flights

  • Don't bother browsing the excellent selection of films available to view. You have no chance.
  • Each of the carefully planned activities you have brought along will occupy your child for approximately 30 seconds.
  • You will spend a large portion of the flight retrieving things from the overhead locker.
  • Nappies will be filled constantly.
  • Probably because the only way to keep little ones quiet is to fill them up with snacks.
  • These snacks will be scattered around the cabin because throwing them about keeps them just as entertained as eating them, and as long as they are happy and quiet you won't be stopping them.
  • Avoid eye contact with fellow passengers so that you don't see the disapproving looks when your toddler spends the whole flight clambering about over the seats and armrests and whinging when you try and make her sit still.

Night flights

  • Ensure that you tire your child out during the day so that they go to sleep immediately on the plane. Warning, this one is very difficult to time correctly and can lead to an overtired child that will spend an hour jumping on the seat, then scream for half an hour before finally giving in.
  • The toddler will pretend to fall fast asleep, wait until everyone around is fast asleep, then start screaming.
  • The toddler does look really sweet when she's asleep though, so all is forgiven.
  • Keep your fingers crossed that the flight isn't full, enabling you to secure an extra seat in order to make a proper little bed for the toddler.
  • You'll spend ages trying to get to sleep yourself, then when you do finally doze off an uncanny sixth sense will awaken you just in time to catch the toddler before she rolls off the seat - no chance of getting back to sleep after that!
  • You will encounter turbulence at some point, which will require the contented, comfortable, sleeping toddler to be awoken and wrestled back into a seat belt.
  • You need to have everything that you might possibly need within arm's reach because you don't want to risk waking up a child to retrieve something.
  • Similarly, make sure that you have been to the toilet before anyone goes to sleep.
  • The bag containing the favourite stuffed animals has equal importance to the one containing the passports.

We had a fantastic holiday, the flight wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been and I will be back soon to share what we got up to. As soon as I've had enough sleep to let me see straight!

Image courtesy of Kazuend via Unsplash.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Creating a role play area - Doctor's Surgery

One of the things on my Day Zero Project was to create a role play area for Harry and Mia. I was inspired to make one because we've been looking around various pre-schools and schools lately and they all have one. They look really fun, both to create and play in, and we were able to make space for one in Harry's bedroom.

How to make a doctor's surgery role play area for children

I used our room divider to mark out the area, and covered the walls with a sheet to curtain it off. Then I asked Harry what sort of role play area he would like to start with. I made a few suggestions, and he chose a Doctor's Surgery. Part of the fun was working on it together, and he really loved helping me to set it up by finding things from around the house that he thought would fit the theme.

How to make a doctor's surgery role play area for children

I wanted to bring in some ideas about staying healthy, and so I found some really good posters about healthy living to print out for him to colour to go on the walls. I kept it simple, and chose posters about eating lots of fruit and vegetables, exercise and having a good night's sleep (a particularly relevant one for him!). Harry coloured them in while we talked about what they meant. I also printed out some vaguely medical charts and made him an official looking clipboard using my cutting mat and a bulldog clip.

How to make a doctor's surgery role play area for children

We have a waiting area outside the surgery with a chair and some books to read, then inside the doctor has a table and chair, with a bed for patients to lie on while being diagnosed. We already have a toy medical kit, and I added a few bandages and plasters that were in our own first aid kit.

How to make a doctor's surgery role play area for children

It didn't take very long to put it all together, and I was able to improvise pretty well with things that we already had around the house. I'm intending to rotate through lots of different themes - Harry has already requested a dentist which I think would be really good as he has so far refused to show a dentist his teeth. I'm also thinking a shop, restaurant or cafe, kitchen and library.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Guest post - Memories of a 1950's Christmas

This lovely guest post about her childhood Christmas memories is from my Mum, Helen, who blogs herself at bitstobuy. Enjoy!



Taking the tiny artificial tree out of its bag and putting it up with the same old broken decorations which probably dated from 20 years before. The lights never worked first time but we usually got them going.

Making paper chains out of newspaper and flour paste.

Being so excited because it was the only day that my Dad wasn't working and he was home all day.

Not being able to get to sleep because Santa was coming. Even though someone at school told me when I was 5 that there was no Santa Claus, the pretense was kept going until I was about 10.

Seeing that lumpy pillowcase at the bottom of the bed in the early hours.

Opening my stocking and knowing that there would always be an orange and some chocolate money.

Using the front parlour room which was never used any other day of the year. Dad would take some coals on a shovel from the living room to put in the front room grate. We would get the Dansette record player out and play 'A white sports coat and a pink carnation', and Mantovani records.

Folding up the paper from presents carefully so that it could be used again next year.

All sitting round first thing in the morning to open presents. Dad usually got new vests and Mum some smelly soap.

Mum looking flustered and serving up dry turkey, mashed and roast potatoes (two different kinds of potato!) sausages and bacon, and stuffing, and thin gravy.

The Christmas pudding cooking for hours and filling the house with steam.

Finding a silver 6 pence piece in the pudding and giving it back to be used again next year.

Mum and Dad falling asleep in the afternoon.

Watching the Queen on a 9 inch screen Bush television.

I can still remember that feeling of excitement that this day was different.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Dolly nappy made from a flannel

For her first birthday last year we bought Mia her first doll. To our surprise, she showed an interest almost straightaway, and now at 18 months she is often to be seen lugging her about and plonking her in the pushchair. She even gives her a cuddle and a kiss, which is really sweet. She has lots of clothes for her, but one thing that she is missing is some nappies, so I decided that I'd have a go at making some.

How to sew a simple dolly nappy

I saw these simple dolly nappies made from old face flannels at Made by Tamsin a few months back.

I knew that these nappies would be a perfect make. I have lots of old white flannels around as we stocked up when my son was a baby - we used them to prevent an unwanted shower when changing his nappy. They are also really cheap to buy new. Mia has a My First Baby Annabell doll which is quite a small doll, but I hope that these nappies will also fit a larger doll, as I'm sure that she will end up with more than one!

I don't have a sewing machine and I'm not much of a sewer so I cheated a bit. I cut out the shape from one piece of flannel and just roughly hemmed the edges before sewing on the velcro. Here is my version:

How to sew a simple nappy for a doll

I modified the shape slightly as our doll is a bit smaller, and I found that cutting away part of the T shape made it fit a bit better. This doll has a sleep suit which is very difficult to remove so I expect that the nappy will end up being worn on the outside for the time being!

How to sew a simple nappy for a doll

I found that when I showed the nappy to Harry (3) he was desperate to put it on the doll, but had some trouble working out which way round it should go. To help him I sewed a bit of ribbon to the front to make it clear. I found a scrap of lovely vintage baby ribbon, probably purloined from one of my Grandmas. Mia was delighted with the nappy, although she seemed to think that it was some sort of hat for dolly.

Now I am inspired to make some simple clothes for her doll. Bearing in mind that I've never done anything like this before and I'm not really gifted when it comes to sewing, it's going to be a bit of a challenge!
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