Wednesday, 31 July 2013

A day at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard with young children

Last year, we were sent some Epic Straws to play with and review. They were, and still are, a huge hit in this household. I'm afraid that I have to hide them, otherwise Harry would be playing with them all the time and we would have constant puddles all over the floor! With my post, I was lucky enough to be chosen as the winner in the competition hosted by BritMums, and I received a fantastic £200 of Virgin Experience vouchers. We deliberated for a long time over how to spend them, and this month we finally exchanged them for some days out vouchers. The first one was for Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, and we visited on a lovely hot day last week.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is made up of three large historic ships - HMS Victory, The Mary Rose and HMS Warrior. Your site ticket also includes a Harbour Tour and entry into several other museums and attractions. There's definitely enough there to fill up your day.

The new Mary Rose museum only opened a couple of months ago, and as it's popular you must choose a time slot to visit when you buy your tickets, it's definitely worth making sure that you arrive early. Once in you can spend as long as you like there. It's incredible really, the Mary Rose was built in 1510, sank in 1545, was rediscovered in 1971 and salvaged in 1982. The museum is very dark inside, and you view the ship through small windows in a corridor down one side. This makes it a little difficult to get a sense of the scale of the ship, although this is only a temporary measure to dry out the ship before it is opened up in five years time. The most impressive part of the visit is towards the end of the tour, when you ascend the height of the ship in a glass sided lift and can really appreciate the sheer size. Among the accompanying exhibits, faces of some of the crew members have been reconstructed and they are presented alongside the items with which they were found - identifying among others a carpenter and archer. It's all fascinating.

Next door is HMS Victory, Nelson's flagship and site of his death in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. She has been restored as she was then, and you can take a self-guided tour around the ship. Pushchairs can't be taken on board, so you'll need to carry little ones (and in our case also bigger ones) up and down lots of flights of narrow stairs! There is lots to see, and the children loved exploring the ship. Harry in particular was very taken with the cannons, and spent quite some time pretending to load and fire them.

HMS Warrior was launched in 1860, and was the world's first iron-hulled and armoured warship powered by steam as well as sail. Again, you are free to take yourself around. It's very spacious inside and you can roam across four decks, although it's a bit scary and dark down at the bottom and Harry made me turn back!

We found a nice spot inside the National Museum of the Royal Navy, where there is a lovely enclosed area set aside for young children, including toy ships, books and jigsaws. We spent quite a while here enjoying some chill out time, and it's well worth looking for if you are visiting with little ones. We also spent quite a bit of time in the Action Stations attraction. Although at first glance it seems more suited for older children, on the first floor there are some nice interactive exhibits. We didn't manage the Harbour Tour on this occasion as it was very hot and a long day, but as all tickets are valid for a year after purchase we'll definitely be fitting in another trip or two before they expire!

We used the rest of my winnings on tickets to Whipsnade Zoo, and Ram and I are also going to enjoy a chocolate making workshop. Look out for how we get on with those!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Ladybird Tuesday - Teaching Reading

I'm pretty sure that the Ladybird books taught me to read. I definitely have fond memories of Peter and Jane, and being confused at school when we were taught to read using books with children of different names. Teaching Reading is the handbook of the Ladybird Key Worlds Reading Scheme, published in 1969. I'm finding it very interesting at the moment because my son starts school soon, and although I've not really pushed it we are starting to look a little bit at letters and how they fit together.

The book goes into a lot of detail about the process of learning to read, with some interesting thoughts about when a child is ready. Several pages are devoted to various research papers sharing different opinions. There is also a list of nineteen questions, of which the majority should be answered with a 'yes' before beginning a formal approach to reading. They relate to things such as health, well-being and home background as well as things like being able to re-tell a simple story and draw representationally.

There are plenty of pre-reading activities suggested, such as going for an educational walk, or arts and crafts. Then once you are satisfied that it's time to teach the child to read the book goes on to discuss the different methods for teaching reading and suggested activities to help you with them. Of course the focus is on the Ladybird reading scheme, and there are lots of pictures taken from books in the series. There are also lots of wonderful images of industrious children reading away.

There is a lot of information crammed in to this little book, and I'm going to need to have a thorough read. It does all make me feel rather inadequate that I'm not doing all the things suggested in the book myself, although of course it is aimed at teachers and Harry will be introduced to all this when he starts school.

I'm joining in again with Ladybird Tuesday over at Being Mrs C.

My previous Ladybird Tuesday posts:
Children's Classics - A Little Princess
A First Book of Aesop's Fables

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Decorating the smallest room #HomeImprovementHero

We moved into our house about a year and a half ago, and we've been slowly working our way around decorating a room at a time. We started with the key rooms - so far we've done the living room, our bedroom and Mia's bedroom. We're lucky that most of the rooms aren't in too bad a shape, just not necessarily decorated to our taste. When I was offered £50 by MoneySupermarket to show how you can change the look and feel of a room on a budget I decided that it was time to update our downstairs toilet.

Here's the before pictures. It's an internal room with no window, so has no natural light. It was painted cream which the electric light makes appear yellowy, and the floor is the same colour. I like the tiles above the sink, but they didn't match the colour of the walls at all. All the fittings were pine which I thought made it look quite old-fashioned.

I chose pale blue for the walls and then used white for the ceiling and woodwork. We bought new fittings in white painted wood and some new towels in dark blue. Moving the position for the towel rail keeps it tucked out of the way and adding a soap dish keeps the sink clear.

The old mirror no longer matched, so instead of buying a new one I decided to save some money and paint the old pine one. It was much easier to do than I expected and made a huge difference, so here's how I did it:

how to paint a wooden mirror

1 - Lightly sand the wood

2 - Use masking tape and newspaper to cover the mirror inside the frame

3 - Paint the frame. I used white emulsion paint (the same that I used for the ceiling) and a small paintbrush. In the end I did three coats of paint to make sure that it was evenly covered, the photograph shows it after two coats.

The room is still a little bare and definitely needs some artwork on the walls. It's a big decision though so we are going to wait until we've found the perfect piece! I quite fancy something to do with the seaside as we live close to the sea, and I rather like the vintage train posters that you can buy advertising our nearest seaside resort.

It's amazing what a difference a coat of paint and a change of fittings can do to update the look of a room on a low budget. Fortunately we already had some white emulsion paint and gloss paint left over from decorating our bedroom, and it's only a small room so we didn't need much.

Here's what I spent:

Towel ring - £7.98
Toilet roll holder - £7.18
Toilet roll pole - £2.98
Soap dish - £7.18
Two hand towels - £6
Dulux Mineral Mist emulsion - £18.98

Which makes a total of £50.30. Thanks to MoneySupermarket for giving me the push that I needed to get this room done!

Book review - Despicable Me 2: The Junior Novel

The hugely anticipated Despicable Me 2 is currently showing in cinemas, and to tie-in with the film Simon and Schuster have released several titles.

Gru used to be one of the most villainous villains in the world. He and his army of Minions even stole the moon! But when he adopted Margo, Edith and Agnes, Gru became a dad. Instead of stealing landmarks, he makes pancakes, blows up unicorn balloons and dresses like a fairy princess! Little does this dad know, though, he's about to make another career change - as a spy for the Anti-Villain League! Find out how Gru gets on in this new novel based on the animated feature from Universal Pictures. Colour artwork from the movie included inside!

This book is an ideal companion to the film. Because the story and characters will be familiar to a child that has already seen the film, I think it is a great way to encourage young readers. It's a chapter book, and in the centre of the book there are plenty of coloured pictures from the film.

I received a copy of this book to review.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Eat something different for breakfast every day for a week

I've never been very adventurous when it comes to breakfast. For most of my life it's been toast and Marmite. I had a brief dalliance with Special K a few years ago, but since then it's pretty much been the toast that I've stuck with. So as part of my Day Zero Project, I challenged myself to eat something different for breakfast every day.

It might sound simple, but it wasn't as easy as it sounds. I had to plan in advance to make sure that I had everything I needed, and I had to plan according to what I was doing that day. Every other morning I go to the gym first thing, so it needed to be something that I could make and eat with unoccupied small children around. On the other mornings I eat at the same time as the children, meaning I am constantly up and down from my seat to tend to their various needs and demands.

Here's what I came up with:

Monday - A bread roll with cheese and juice
Tuesday - Overnight oats, using a recipe from My Darlings and Me
Wednesday - Granola cereal with Greek yoghurt
Thursday - Scrambled egg on toast
Friday - Pain au chocolat
Saturday - A cheese omelette
Sunday - Pancakes with syrup

Some of these rather indulgent breakfasts might not have done my waistline much good, but it was really fun to try out some new things. In particular, I was really proud of my omelette and my scrambled eggs, as to my shame I had never made either before. They turned out perfectly and are definitely something I'll be making again!

Next I'm going to try eating something different for lunch every day for a week. Goodbye, cheese sandwich!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Meeting alligators and crocodiles at Gatorland, Orlando, Florida

On our recent holiday to Florida we had a fantastic day out at Gatorland, Orlando with our four year old and nearly two year old. When you first enter Gatorland you come face to face with a big lake teeming with alligators. You walk around on a boardwalk raised slightly above them, and although they kept pretty still they were still very menacing! We had a good look around this area while we waited for the first show to start - the Gator Jumparoo Show. It was a bit cheesy, with chicken hung up above the water to encourage the alligators to jump for it. After the Disney queues, it was refreshing to be able to find a good viewing position just a few minutes before the show started, and there was a nice low glassed window area for children (it's not the best idea to lift them up above the railings!)

Gatorland alligators Orlando Florida

Then we headed out onto the boardwalk around the Breeding Marsh. Although the boardwalk is very safe, it is right down at the same level as the alligators and you can get very close! Mainly they were just lying there enjoying the sunshine, and there were plenty of information boards to tell you more about them. There are a couple of observation towers that you can climb for a better view, although the main path is fully pushchair and wheelchair accessible. We also had a good view of the brave souls flying across the swamp on a zip line!

Gatorland swamp Orlando Florida

There are plenty of other animals to see as well as alligators - we chatted with some parrots, learned about some of the local Florida snakes (thankfully only seen by us in enclosures on this holiday) and marvelled at some majestic white alligators. Then we headed up to the station for a ride on the Gatorland Express for a journey around the crocodiles and Breeding Marsh which the children loved. The train ride costs an additional $2 per person.

Then it was time for the Gator Wrestlin' Show which we enjoyed very much, the alligators weren't very large but they could certainly do a lot of damage if they wanted to! We had brought our own sandwiches but we topped up afterwards with some nachos and chips from Pearl's Patio Smokehouse - in future best avoided just after the show as there was quite a queue! The food was quite reasonably priced although not the best selection for us veggies, it hit the spot though.

Gatorland wrestling show Orlando Florida

The skies were starting to darken, but we made our way to the far end of the park for a closer look at the Saltwater Crocodiles and the Nile Crocodiles before heading out towards the Swamp Walk - a self-guided tour around a boardwalk through a native Cypress Swamp. It's all completely natural and what the area would have been like before it was developed, which is fascinating. Unfortunately the weather was against us, and it came on to rain quite heavily. There were plenty of small shelters, but a poor, sodden employee was closing the walk and so we had to return to the main part of the park.

We joined other visitors sheltering in one of the many covered areas, trying to decide how long to wait out the storm. We're not used to such dramatic weather conditions, and it really was pelting down! In the end we decided that it was time to make a move. I've never seen rain like it, by the time we had run the very short distance to the car and got everyone strapped in, we were all completely soaked through! It was a bit of a shame, but fortunately we felt that we'd had a good look around and seen everything that we wanted to. It did mean that we missed out on the Children's Playground and Splash Park, which would have been a welcome relief earlier in the day but wasn't needed at the time we went past!

Gatorland Orlando Florida

We had a great day out at Gatorland, I would definitely recommend a visit. If you want to enjoy one of the experiences there like feeding the alligators, having a photo taken with them or braving the zip line then do check in advance as there are additional charges and you may need to book in advance. It's definitely suitable for young children, there are all the facilities that you need, and not too much walking for little legs.

Disclaimer - We were guests of Gatorland for the purpose of this review. An adult (over 13) ticket currently costs $21.99 and a child ticket (ages 3 - 12) currently costs $13.99. The train ride is $2 per person. Do check locally for discount coupons on admission, and also on the Gatorland website. 

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Ladybird Tuesday - Dinosaurs

I've been on a bit of a roll with Ladybird book acquisition this week. I don't often get the chance to browse charity shops, but a shopping session with my Mum (and also having her on board with the hunt) led to a few purchases. It seems to be difficult to get hold of the really vintage Ladybird books now, but there are plenty of the newer Ladybird books around and they are usually quite reasonably priced. More about those over the next few weeks, but today's Ladybird Tuesday post is about a book that I picked up for Harry a little while ago - Dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs is a book in series 737 - Ladybird Leaders. According to the back of this copy there are ten books in the series which span quite a range of interests - Water, Man and his Car and Castles among other things. This copy was published in 1974. The book follows chronologically from a desolate world with no plants, animals or people and then details how life began in the sea, moving on to the first amphibians and reptiles before reaching the age of the dinosaurs. The timeline also continues on past dinosaurs to include horses, the woolly mammoth and the sabre-toothed tiger, so in fact it's really a very potted history of early life on earth.

There's a lot to take in from this book and it is a bit difficult to get a sense of the huge timescales involved. As an introduction to the subject it's very good though, and the illustrations are as excellent as ever. The final page has some outline images of some of the animals covered in the book with a human figure for size comparison, which fascinated my son. There's also a brief mention of how the first dinosaur bones were discovered.

I'm linking up again with Ladybird Tuesday at Being Mrs C.

My previous Ladybird Tuesday posts:
Children's Classics - A Little Princess
A First Book of Aesop's Fables

Monday, 22 July 2013

Book review - Wake up do, Lydia Lou! by Julia Donaldson

We love books by Julia Donaldson. I first started reading The Gruffalo to Harry when he was very tiny, probably only a few months old. He loved the rhyming verses at first, and then grew up to enjoy a finer appreciation of the story. Over time we've collected a fair few to enjoy, and regular readers will know just how much I love The Paper Dolls.

Wake Up Do, Lydia Lou! is a new book by Julia Donaldson and is illustrated by Karen George, who also teamed up for Freddie and the Fairy . The story is about Lydia Lou, who is fast asleep and won't be woken by anything, not even by the scariest things that a little ghost can enlist to help!

The story is very simple and so it's an excellent book to enjoy with younger toddlers and pre-schoolers. There is plenty of repetition, and the story is lots of fun to read aloud as you join in with all the different noises. It's definitely another one worth adding to our collection!

We were sent a copy of this book to review, Amazon links are affiliate.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

How to cook pizza on the barbecue #charcoalchallenge

Last year, at the beginning of 'summer', we bought a fancy new barbecue. We used it once, and then it rained for two months. We shivered around it a couple more times later in the year, and then it was back to the garage for the winter. So now that we are basking in the hottest and longest summer that I can remember, we are certainly making up for it and we've been barbecuing almost every night. Which is great, except that with a vegetarian husband, and a fussy one at that, it's rather difficult to come up with many variations on veggie burgers and sausages.

So when I was invited to take part in The Charcoal Challenge by MoneySupermarket I decided that it was a chance to try something a bit different on the barbecue. We were given £50 to see how creative we could be, and I blew a large part of the budget on a pizza stone, something that we had been eyeing up for a while but not yet been brave enough to try.

cooking pizza on the barbecue
A delicate manoeuvre...
To use a pizza stone on a barbecue, you need a barbecue with a lid. First you need to get the barbecue nice and hot, then place the stone on it for about ten minutes to heat it up. Our pizza stone has a removable baking tray, so you can prepare the pizza while you wait for the barbecue to heat up.

I use a simple and tasty recipe for pizza dough which came with my Kenwood Chef - 225g strong white bread flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon dried yeast, 150ml tepid water and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Just mix it all up together and knead for five minutes, roll out and leave to rise for about an hour before you add the toppings.

Make the pizza up on the baking tray, then when the stone is hot place the baking tray on top of the pizza stone and replace the lid. The instructions said that it would take about four minutes to cook the pizza, but we found that it took nearer to ten minutes.

We were so pleased with how well our pizza turned out. We know our pizza, and this was delicious. The base was crispy but not at all burned and the toppings were cooked to perfection. Lovely! Buoyed by our success, we also used the pizza stone to cook a pre-made garlic bread, all washed down with a small glass or two of sparkling wine.

cooking pizza on the barbecue with a pizza stone

Browsing through the instruction booklet as we ate, I noticed that you could also use the pizza stone to bake things, in particular cookies! So I knocked up a batch of cookie dough using my favourite cookie recipe and with bated breath we placed the balls of dough onto some baking paper as instructed and popped them inside the barbecue. Next time I wouldn't bother with the baking paper, but apart from the papery residue stuck to the bottom the cookies were also delicious - with a chewy caramelised base and distinctive smoky flavour.

So here's to trying new things, and adding a new barbecue meal to our repertoire!

How we spent the money:

Barbecue Pizza Stone - £35

Small bottle of sparkly wine - £3.50

Garlic bread - £1.20

Pizza topping - £1
Strong white bread flour - £1
Dried yeast - 65p
Pepper - 58p
Onion - 20p
Cherry tomatoes - 20p
Mozzarella - £1
Mushroom - 20p

Caster sugar - 99p
Golden syrup - £1.89
Butter - £1.30
Self-raising flour - 65p
Minstrels - £1

We already had a few bits in the store cupboard. This comes to £50.36, although of course we didn't use up everything that we had bought so there is plenty left over for next time!

I was given £50 by MoneySupermarket to spend to show how creative I could be on a budget when hosting a barbecue.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Making chocolates with small children

I've been intending to make chocolates for some time. After hunting everywhere over here for chocolate moulds I finally picked some up on our holiday to the US last November, then came back and found the same identical ones in Hobbycraft. That isn't the only time this has happened. Of course by 'making chocolates' I don't mean anything nearly as complicated as making chocolate from scratch (although we did try some more advanced chocolate making techniques at a chocolate making workshop), I mean melting down pre-purchased chocolate and pouring it into moulds.

Making chocolates with children

If you are just having fun playing with the chocolate then you can get away with the very cheap supermarket value chocolate bars, which actually don't taste too bad. If you are making the chocolates as gifts then it's nicer to buy a slightly more expensive brand as they will taste better.

The moulds that I used are from the Wilton range and I can fully recommend them. I have the Wilton Stars Candy Mold and Wilton Seashells Confectionary Mould (affiliate links) as you can see now easily available and very reasonably priced. You can also buy silicone chocolate moulds in all sorts of different designs which are easier to remove the chocolates from once set.

Pouring chocolate into moulds

These chocolates were made as gifts so I bought decent chocolate - packets of milk, white and dark chocolate for a variety of colours. I melted them down into separate bowls and gave each child a bowl and a spoon to put into the moulds. Mia couldn't quite believe her luck when she saw that I had given her a bowl of melted chocolate and proceeded to eat it as fast as she could, even coming out with a brand new phrase 'tastes nice!'

Chocolate in moulds

Harry took the whole affair much more seriously, carefully spooning in the different colours of chocolate and using a cocktail stick to stir together the layers together. Then we put them in the fridge for a couple of hours to set before popping them out and displaying them in various home crafted boxes.

Chocolate gift from children in a box

They were so successful that we went on to make another batch for my Mum's birthday! We've also had a lot of fun since with a Chocolate Picture Maker set that we were sent to review, a really easy way to make some fun chocolate bars. Another time I might step it up a bit and make a chocolate plaque like this one over at Smiles and Trials. Watch out, sweet-toothed relatives!

Find more chocolate crafts and activities here!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Review - Twinkl Teaching Resources

Twinkl Teaching Resources is home to thousands of free and unique printable teaching resources. They aren't just aimed at teachers, they are also great for parents, nurseries and childminders. The resources cover the Early Years Foundation Stage, KS1 and KS2. While many of the resources are free, a premium subscription gives you access to a further 10,000 resources at an additional cost of £29.99 per year. I was given a free premium subscription so that I could try out some of the resources and share them with you.

I've not really done a lot so far to teach Harry his letters and numbers. He starts school this September, and while he can write his name and Mia's name, he can't reliably recognise or write all the letters. I'm starting to think now that he is quite capable of learning them, and in fact it wouldn't do any harm to start stretching him a little ready for school. It's also good practice for him to get into the habit of sitting down and concentrating on something for a little while.

I headed straight for the Parents section of the Twinkl website, and a huge range of resources caught my eye - not just for formal teaching but also downloads like reward charts, chore timetables and household routine printables. Here I found some excellent colouring sheets which are all to do with starting school. Harry is getting really good at colouring and it was a good opportunity for us to sit down together and have a chat about starting school while he was colouring (not that he is anxious in any way about it at all - that's just me!)

I also wanted to find some resources to concentrate in particular on letter recognition and first writing. First I printed out a set of letter formation posters, which were really helpful to refer to when looking at letters and will probably find their way onto the walls of his bedroom. Many of the resources are themed, and there is a lovely unit which is themed around Under the Sea. In this unit I found some Pencil Control Worksheets which were perfect for Harry's stage of writing. They broke down each different shape that is used to make up a letter - zig zags, curves, circles and so on, and then the child can trace over them. We used this in conjunction with the letter posters and Harry really enjoyed doing this.

I also wanted to do a bit of work with numbers and counting, and I found some number worksheets which were very simple and just the right level for Harry. He had to count up the sea creatures and write the number in a circle at the end of the row. Then we moved on to some very simple addition worksheets. He really enjoyed doing these worksheets, and I could almost see the little cogs in his head going around as he worked them out!

Having access to these resources inspired me to think of ways that I could develop them myself and other ways in which I could use them. For example, you could laminate the letter formation posters and use a wipeable pen to go over the shape, use play dough sausages to fill out the letter shapes, or bury them in a shallow salt or sand tray and use a finger to trace out the letters.

The obvious thing to remember about the Twinkl resources is that you do need access to a printer to print them. In a school or childcare setting there will be a budget for this, but as a parent you do need to consider the cost of the printing. I did find though that although it was nice to print in colour, black and white was perfectly adequate.

I think that premium service is excellent value. While there is plenty available on the website for free, there is so much more that is available to premium users. Twinkl are currently offering a free trial for schools - click here for more information. There are also some really friendly Twinkl forums for sharing advice and support.

I received a Twinkl premium subscription to review, but I'd really recommend checking out the website as there are plenty of free resources to download!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Ladybird Tuesday - A Little Princess

I found this Ladybird book - A Little Princess, from series 740 - Ladybird Children's Classics - in a charity shop the other day and I knew that I had to buy it. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett is one of my very favourite books. In this edition the story has been retold by Joan Collins to make it suitable for very young readers. It has plenty of gorgeous illustrations by Shirley Tourret to keep even the youngest readers interested.

Ladybird A Little Princess

The story tells the tale of Sara Crewe, sent away from her father in India to school in England. When he dies she is forced to work as a poor servant in the school, but her lively imagination keeps her going and through her kindness to others she is able to find happiness again.

Ladybird A Little Princess book

I'm quite familiar with the original book and this is a very faithful retelling. Although aimed at younger readers, the language is advanced and in keeping with the period in which the book is set. It's a lovely story, and it always brings a tear to my eye at the end. I'm looking forward to reading it with Harry one day and hopefully inspiring him to read the original version when he is older.

Ladybird A Little Princess book

My Ladybird Tuesday book last week - Aesop's Fables Book 1 - was also from this series and I'm definitely going to be looking out for some of the other books in the Children's Classics series. It's a really good way to introduce these children's stories to an even younger audience.

I'm joining in again with Ladybird Tuesday over at Being Mrs C.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Book review - Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr

This year marks the 90th birthday of children's author Judith Kerr OBE, and to celebrate her classic book Mog the Forgetful Cat has been published in a special hardback edition. Mog the Forgetful Cat was first published in 1970, and I remember it from my own childhood. I've enjoyed reading The Tiger that Came to Tea by Judith Kerr with Harry, and I have loved sharing this story about Mog with him too.

The story is about Mog the cat, who is very forgetful. She often forgets things like how to get back into the house, or whether or not she has eaten her dinner, and this means that the rest of the family find her rather annoying. She always seems to be in trouble, until one night her forgetfulness comes in very useful!

I love the classic illustrations in the book with their depictions of milk floats, a black and white television and period furniture. There's plenty to talk about as you go along, and plenty to smile about too. A lovely book to share with your child!

I received a copy of Mog the Forgetful Cat to review, links are Amazon affiliate links.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Bean bag comet with ribbons

I was looking for a simple sewing project when I found these bean bag comets. I first saw them over at Entertaining Monsters and followed back to the original tutorial at Twig and Toadstool. I'm not very good at sewing, I lack the ability to make neat stitches in a straight line, but even I managed to make one. I was actually able to complete it during one of Mia's rare, short naps, and if you have a sewing machine you could make these up very quickly.

How to make a bean bag comet

I was recently lucky enough to win the monthly prize from the PinAddicts challenge which was a voucher to spend at Abakhan. Never having bought fabric before I thoughtthat  I'd treat myself to a fat quarter of pretty flowered fabric, and I've used some of it to make this bean bag. I will admit that the fabric I used was my least favourite in the selection, but it reminds me a little bit of garden furniture so it's a good choice for a garden toy! I've never bought ribbon before but I seem to have loads of it, I hoard it from chocolate boxes and other gifts, and so I easily found some in co-ordinating colours. I used rice to fill the bean bag.

Homemade bean bag comet

I was really, really pleased with this project. Like I say, I'm not really a sewer, and yet this was so quick and easy to make. I have another sewing project in mind, and this success has inspired me to make a start!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Two Book Reviews - "Things You Never Knew About Dinosaurs" and "Goodnight Little One"

When I was at BritMums recently, I was really pleased to meet with Parragon and be given the opportunity to become a Parragon Book Buddy. I was given two books to review which are aimed at children Harry's age - Things you never knew about dinosaurs by Giles Paley-Phillips and Goodnight Little One by Margaret Wise Brown.

Things you never knew about Dinosaurs by Giles Paley-Phillips

We reviewed another book by Giles Paley- Phillips last year - The Fearsome Beastie - and we all really enjoyed it, so I was pretty sure that Harry would like Things You Never Knew About Dinosaurs. I wasn't wrong, it's an enjoyable, rhyming book about a world in which dinosaurs didn't really die out, but instead are up to all sorts of things. Their inventive activities are really brought to life by the bright, colourful illustrations from Liz Pichon. It's a fun read, and we enjoying looking through it together.

Goodnight little one by Margaret Wise Brown

Goodnight Little One by Margaret Wise Brown is a beautiful bedtime story. The words are simple and gentle as you travel across the world, saying goodnight to a variety of different animals as they snuggle down to sleep. The illustrations by Rebecca Elliott are large with soft edges, giving the book a really calm and relaxing feel. It's a lovely book to read at bedtime, even with very young children.

I received both books to review, Amazon links are affiliate links.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Ladybird Tuesday: A First Book of Aesop's Fables

I love Ladybird books, and I've been meaning to take part in Ladybird Tuesday at Being Mrs C for ages. Recently I cleared out Harry's bookshelves and shifted all the baby and toddler books into Mia's room. This left a huge space that was looking a bit sad, so I raided my own bookshelves and filled the gaps with the few Ladybird books that I have. I realised at this point that I need more in my life, so I'm going to start hunting them down in charity shops, and I decided to start writing about one that I purchased fairly recently - A First Book of Aesop's Fables.

Ladybird book Aesop's Fables

Like most Ladybird books, this one particularly stood out to me in the charity shop where I found it because of the illustrations. This book was published in 1974 and is part of series 740 - Classics. Aesop's Fables are a collection of tales attributed to Aesop, a slave and story teller who is believed to have lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 560 BC. You can read more about Aesop and his fables here, they are basically a collection of short stories, each teaching a moral lesson.

Ladybird book Aesop's Fables

I was quite familiar with some of the fables, for example "The shepherd boy and the wolf" and "The goose that laid the golden eggs". Each story is very short, only a couple of pages long, with several illustrations and the moral clearly signposted at the end.

Ladybird book Aesop's Fables

The stories are very simply written, and would be a good starting point for discussion with a child about different moral issues. I'll definitely be reading them through with Harry, and it would also be a good book for us to look at when he is learning to read as the stories are so short and manageable.

If you love Ladybird books, do pop over and visit Ladybird Tuesday, where Being Mrs C is also assembling a really comprehensive catalogue of Ladybird books and reviews.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Ripley's Believe It or Not! Orlando, Florida

The first thing that you notice about the Ripley's Believe it Or Not Odditorium on International Drive in Orlando is the unusual building, which is tipping to one side. Apparently the entire building is falling into a Florida sinkhole! Although that fact might not be strictly true, the building is full of things which really are genuine, even though they might seem unbelievable.

Ripley's believe it or not orlando museum

We visited with our four year old son and nearly two year old daughter. You take a self-guided tour around the museum, which is crammed full of interesting, eclectic exhibits. My children's favourite item was this car, which has been customised with different musical instruments attached in a variety of ways. It was designed as a performance piece of art, and I can imagine how much fun it must be when taken out and about. Although I'm not sure what sort of a racket it would make, it was noisy enough with just my two bashing away at it!

Ripley's believe it or not orlando museum

An enormous chair was another hit, with both children desperate to clamber on top of it. We loved that so many of the exhibits were interactive and captured the interest of both young children. There was plenty for them to touch and explore, like the strange room where snooker balls run uphill, and an interactive whiteboard with flowing water that you could direct around the screen by positioning magnetic shapes. They also loved the rotating tunnel at the end which makes you feel as though you are falling over, initial apprehensiveness led to eager excitement as they ran round and round over and over again.

Ripley's believe it or not orlando museum

My four year old did find some of the rooms a bit intimidating, so we rushed him past those, in particular a pretend dungeon with some torture equipment. The two year old was too young to notice anything scary, and had a delightful time exploring.

I'd definitely recommend Ripley's Believe it or Not! for a visit, and not just if you have children, it is a fascinating and enjoyable place to visit for adults too.

We received two adult complimentary admissions to Ripley's Believe it or Not!, we paid for the rest of our party.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Making a sticker book

I recently saw this sticker story book idea over at Nurture Store and I thought it was a lovely idea, I knew that Harry would enjoy making his own story book. To start with I made him a simple folded book from a sheet of A4 paper using instructions similar to these - Make a six page book out of one piece of paper.

Sticker book activity for toddlers

Then I found a selection of different stickers and let him stick them on to the pages. We did one page at a time, and as we went along he told me the story and I wrote it down. We ended up with a long, involved story about a cat and the things that it saw in the pond and over a hedge.

I love these little insights into Harry's mind and the things that his imagination comes up with. We'll definitely be making more of these!

Sticker story book activity for little ones
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