Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Ladybird Tuesday - Stone Age Man in Britain

The Ladybird book Stone Age Man in Britain is part of Series 561 - Adventures from History. At the time my copy was published in 1961 it was the only book in the Prehistory sub-category.

Vintage Ladybird book Stone Age Man in Britain

The book begins with an introduction to the world as it was before the Stone Age, although with no real timescale, just "thousands of years ago". It's specifically about Britain, after the glaciers receded and Britain became warm enough for the very earliest ever people to live here to move across from France (which was actually joined to Britain then).

Ladybird Book Stone Age Man in Britain

The book describes a very basic early civilisation of cave men, with no metal, or pottery, although they did have the knowledge to make fire. They hunted wild animals like the mammoth and sabre-toothed tiger, animals which have now disappeared. Then about six or seven thousand years ago a new group of people called the Neolithic people arrived in England, a more intelligent civilisation with greater knowledge of weapons for hunting and a more developed brain. These were the Stone Age men, able to hunt with flint knives, fish, build houses and sew clothes.

Stone Age Man in Britain Ladybird

The book describes the way that they lived and the skills that they developed in some detail. For example, the process of making a boat from a hollowed out tree trunk, the beginnings of farming, and finally the building of Stonehenge.

It's a really fascinating book, and as always the illustrations really bring the information to life. I know that the Stone Age is a subject that Harry will be covering at school at some point, and this will be a handy reference!

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

Monday, 29 September 2014

Book review - Taming the Tiger Parent by Tanith Carey

Recently I've been reading and reviewing Taming the Tiger Parent by Tanith Carey - 'How to put your child's well-being first in a competitive world'. The book is about how today's parents feel trapped in a never-ending race to ensure that their child is the brightest and the best, but while it's completely natural for us to want our kids to reach their potential, at what point does too much competition become damaging?

Taming the Tiger Parent book review

Carey uses case-studies in the book to explore what this contest is doing to the next generation, and there are some worrying results. Children are being pushed by their parents to make sure that they are not just academically ahead but also well rounded and excelling in other areas such as sport and music at the same time. Planning and executing a child's busy schedule as they are ferried about to after school activities and tutoring can put so much stress on both parents and child that it leads to the breakdown of relationships and has the completely opposite effect than the one desired.

I must admit that this book was an alarming read. Firstly because I had no idea that there was so much competition out there. It actually made me panic a bit that we don't have a plan in place to make sure that our children are headed on the right path to a good university. But then secondly because if you do go ahead and book your children into the correct enrichment classes, tutoring, extra-curricular activities and so on, then you run the risk of damaging both them and your relationship with them, and all that hard work will have caused it.

I always say that I just want my children to be happy, but this book made me realise how competitive I actually am. This is the first time I've really thought about it, but I do compare Harry to the others in his class. I want to know what reading book level his peers are on, and I check the work on the walls of his classroom to see which children have neater handwriting and can draw more recognisable pictures. The book contains a list of different types of tiger parents, and I could see my own traits in many of them, from The Spy to the Humblebragger.

Of course I want my children to be happy, but as parents we do have certain expectations and I just assume that one day they will go to university and have good jobs. If I don't push them, how will they get there? Ram is very competitive too. But something that particularly struck me was that it's all very well to help your child reach the top of the class, but then they are faced with the continuing pressure to stay up there, and if they fall below that high standard then they will feel like a failure.

The book is divided into three sections - How tiger parenting became a global force, How competitive parenting and schooling affect our children and How to shed your tiger parenting stripes. I think that I found the final chapter most useful. There are some really good suggestions on how to take a step back and really connect with your child, as well as helping to spot early warning signs in both yourself and your child.

This book really is one that I think all parents should read. I read it in two sittings on the train to London and back and it made the journey fly by. It flows smoothly, and I found myself marking many paragraphs that I wanted to refer back do. I'd definitely recommend it, whether you consider yourself to be a tiger parent or not.

I received a copy of this book to review.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Review - PlayMais from Crafter's Companion

I was recently sent some PlayMais from Crafter's Companion to review with the children. It's not a crafting material that I'd heard of before, but you can choose from a wide range of sets, both themed sets with instructions to build particular things, or sets which just contain lots of the little coloured pieces. I chose the PlayMais Fun to Learn Numbers set, priced at £11.99, which contains over 550 PlayMais pieces, along with printed cards, a cutting tool and a sponge.

PlayMais numbers crafting set review

So what is PlayMais? Well it's actually very similar to packing peanuts, albeit in much prettier colours. The soft, squashy pieces are made of corn starch, water and food colouring, meaning that it is natural, safe, and 100% biodegradable. When you dampen the PlayMais pieces they become sticky, meaning that you can stick them to each other and to other surfaces, for example cardboard. Then when they have dried out they become hard and solid.

PlayMais review

PlayMais is recommended for children aged 3+ (although I think that younger children would also have fun with it if supervised!). I set both children off first with the number card activities.

PlayMais review

This whole set is themed around numbers, and it comes with a set of 14 cards. The cards each have a number and a picture, with coloured outlines for where you need to stick the pieces. Some of the outlines are smaller, some larger, and some are shaped, so there is plenty of scope for practising different designs. There are also four cards with shapes that can be pressed out to make a small train and carriages with little animals to go inside. We've not got to those yet but I know that the children will have fun making it.

Children crafting with PlayMais

Mia loved putting her picture together. She wasn't particularly bothered about matching the colours but she was very proud of her finished picture. Harry did enjoy pressing the PlayMais onto the cards, but he had more fun using it to build his own 3D creations. He quickly saw that the pieces resembled bricks, and so with a thick piece of card as the base he built a sweet little house complete with doors and windows. I helped him with it and really enjoyed it, I think we'll be building more of these!

PlayMais house

There were loads of pieces in the set in a range of bright colours. Definitely enough to complete all the cards with some left over for free creating. It wasn't too messy, we did get a bit sticky but it was easily cleaned up. The PlayMais pieces are definitely biodegradable too, Harry enjoyed putting a couple in a bowl of water and watching them dissolve.

If you're looking for a fun new craft to try with the children then I'd definitely recommend PlayMais. There is a lot of scope for the things that you can create.

We received this PlayMais set to review.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Holidaying in Florida

As a family, our favourite holiday destination has to be Florida, and more specifically Orlando. I visited for the first time with my parents when I was a teenager, then Ram and I had a great holiday there back in 2011. I always knew that I wanted to take my own children there one day, and we've been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit as a family twice in the last few years.

In a few weeks time we are lucky enough to be heading out to Orlando again for another fantastic family holiday, and we can't wait. We are returning to the accommodation that we have stayed in for our last two trips, so we are familiar with the area which makes it much less daunting when it comes to leaving the airport in what feels like the middle of the night with two small, grumpy children!

On our first trip to Orlando it was all about Disney World. We spent two weeks exploring the Disney theme parks, and that was pretty much all that we did. The children were small, but we took it slowly with plenty of breaks. We arrived early at the parks and saw as much as we could before they got too busy, then headed back to the villa in the afternoon for a rest. Sometimes we returned to the parks later in the afternoon and sometimes we just relaxed by the pool.

Memories of holidaying in Florida

On our second holiday we also did a Disney cruise as part of our trip, so we didn't feel the need to spend all our time at Disney. Instead we visited some of the other tourist attractions in the area and we discovered some really wonderful places to visit. They were cheaper than the Disney parks and also much quieter, and it was so nice not to have to queue for everything! We particularly enjoyed Dinosaur World and Gatorland, and the Kennedy Space Center was another very good day out.

Family at Dinosaur World, Orlando, Florida

On our upcoming holiday we are going back to Disney, and this time we're also going to be visiting Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. I'm very much looking forward to visiting the new Diagon Alley attraction at Universal Studios and travelling on the Hogwarts Express between the two parks. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride at Magic Kingdom is also a new attraction since our last visit, completing the Fantasyland expansion, and it looks really good. We'll be there over Halloween, and I'm interested to see how differently it is celebrated in the United States, I think that it's going to be a lot of fun!

I'm hoping to fit in some shopping too. I love visiting the American craft stores and seeing all the different products that they sell, I've already started a list of things to look for. We might even have time to do some clothes shopping too, although that's not always easy with the little ones in tow!

Have you visited Florida? If you are looking for a holiday in Florida, check out the Cosmos website for cheap package holidays and deals.

This is a sponsored post.

Hama bead Roman mosaic border designs for children

How to make Hama bead Roman mosaics

Recently I held a Roman themed day, and one of our activities was making Roman mosaics from Hama beads. We do love Hama beads, and they seemed like the perfect way to recreate a Roman mosaic! I left my son to come up with his own design, but I knew that I wanted to revisit the idea myself and come up with some Roman mosaic designs. Here are the patterns that I came up with, based on real mosaic photographs found in a guide book for Fishbourne Roman Palace.

Firstly I looked at circular designs. I thought that these would make a nice frame, either as a standalone design with a photograph or drawn picture inside, or else a child could come up with their own Hama bead picture to fill the centre circle. (The dot in the centre is just to help with positioning the design centrally on the large circular peg board).

Hama bead Roman design

Hama bead Roman design

Hama bead Roman design

Once I have ironed my larger Hama bead pieces I find it a good idea to leave them for a few minutes between two cork heatproof mats with the iron rested on top as a weight. This ensures that as they cool down they stay nice and flat, as there can be a tendency
for them to bend.

Hama bead Roman design frames

Above is my finished frame. The mosaic picture inside the frame on the right is a postcard that I bought from the archaeological museum in Naples, it's a mosaic found at Pompeii. Below is the finished frame around a picture of a mosaic from Fishbourne Roman Palace. I think it looks pretty good!

Hama bead Roman mosaic frame

Next I had a go with the large square peg board and made some borders, again inspired by real Roman mosaics from my books. I think that these designs would also make nice borders for a frame around a mosaic design or picture.

Hama bead mosaic designs

I think that the designs look good with two contrasting colours. For my designs I've used brown and flesh coloured Hama beads, but you could also use black (or any other darker colour) and white.

If you enjoy using Hama beads to make patterns rather than pictures you might also like my Hama bead Rangoli patterns which I designed for Diwali. I have created large Hama bead Rangoli and small Hama bead Rangoli.

You can also find all my Hama bead projects for both children and adults on my Hama bead page.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Review - Penpals at Home handwriting books

I was recently sent two new books from Cambridge University Press to try out with the children. The Penpals at Home series is aimed at children aged 3-5 years old. Penpals books are used in schools to teach handwriting in children, and this is the first time that the books have been published for parents to use with their children at home. The books teach early handwriting skills such as patterns and print letter formation. 

Penpals handwriting books review

Mia tried out Penpals at Home - Getting Ready for Handwriting. She's 3 1/2 and I've not really done any work on writing with her so I was quite impressed with how quickly she picked it up. She wasn't interested in holding the pen correctly so we still need to work on that, but she loved tracing the shapes with a suitable dry erase pen (not included) and then rubbing it out afterwards. She worked through the book once straightaway and then was asking for it again later.

Penpals Getting ready for Handwriting book review

Each page uses digital watermarking technology to make the patterns and letters on the page come to life through a free app which you can download to your phone.

Review Penpals Handwriting book

Harry is 5 and in Year 1 at school. I tried him with Penpals at Home - Forming Letters. Although he is writing with some confidence, he still often writes letters backwards and he also tends to write his letters rather large, so this book was just right for him.

Penpals handwriting wipe clean books

Harry really enjoyed working on this book. I found that the app worked really well for this book as it was at a higher level, and it demonstrated how to form the letters for him. Harry worked through the book with the app at his side to remind him how to write them. So although the books work fine without the app, it's a nice addition to have.

I'd definitely recommend these books if you are wanting to work on handwriting with your child at home.

I received these books to review.

Review - My Friend Cayla interactive talking doll

Recently we were sent a My Friend Cayla doll to review. My Friend Cayla is an interactive, talking doll and she's expected to be one of the most popular toys this Christmas. She's about 45cm tall and comes with a brush and mirror so that you can style her long blonde hair. She's not just a doll to play with though, she's completely interactive and powered by Bluetooth technology. Her main selling points - she can answer questions, understand and chat, tell stories and play games.

My Friend Cayla talking interactive doll review

My Friend Cayla is powered by three AA batteries (not included) which seem to be lasting well. She's pretty easy to set up, you just insert the batteries and download a free app to your smart device. Then turn her on and connect her to the device via Bluetooth. She needs to remain reasonably close to the device, and you can't use it for anything else while she's being played with. You also need to have an internet connection, preferably WiFi, while you are playing with her.

In the settings you can change your doll's name and your location. You can also set how chatty she is and add any banned words to a list so that she won't use them.

Through the app itself you can play noughts and crosses (tic tac toe) with Cayla, the only game currently available (although more are promised for the future). She's a worthy opponent, and she won't always let you win. She has one story to tell you, about a trip to the botanical gardens with her mother, and you can look through her photo albums with her.

My Friend Cayla talking doll review

There are seven photo albums to choose from, for example Holiday, At the Zoo and At the Farm, and they do take a few minutes to go through, you can select a picture and Cayla will tell you more about it. They are fun, but it would be nice to see a lot more content within the app, especially some more games, as when you've done these the novelty does wear off.

I made this little video of Harry using some of the features within the app:

Cayla's main selling point however is the option to chat with her. As well as general conversation with Cayla, about her likes and dislikes for example, you can ask her general knowledge questions, which she will use the internet to answer. Some of the sample questions I have seen are things like 'What is the capital of France' or sums like 'What is two plus two'.

This is where we really struggled. When you first turn her on, Cayla says 'Hello' and then launches into a conversation about something relevant to a young girl, like trying out different types of food or owning three leotards for gymnastics. This usually ends with her asking you a question, like your favourite type of fruit, but then ignoring any answer that you give or just continuing the conversation with another statement on her chosen subject.

When she is listening her heart pendant lights up, and this is the only time that you can talk to her. When the light is out she is thinking. Sometimes she will wait for quite a while with no light, so you can't do anything with her, even if she has just asked you a question which you want to answer. Sometimes even when the light was on there was no response to anything that I said. I found that if she appeared stuck it was a good idea to turn her off and back on, and then she might be more in the mood for conversation. If she's left alone she'll start talking about things that she does or that she likes. When we did manage to get her talking we had some surreal conversations. For example:

Cayla: What is your favourite fruit?
Harry: Apples
Cayla: (silence)
Me: Bananas
Cayla: I love dogs!

Me: What is the capital of France?
Cayla: That's not appropriate.
Me: What is the capital of Spain?
Cayla: How are you coming up with these?
Harry: What is the capital of England?
Cayla: My Mum likes to drink tea.

Me: What is your favourite colour?
Cayla: I don't have a best friend necklace, but maybe someday we can have matching necklaces.

Many of the questions that I asked her were answered with the response that the question was too difficult, she didn't know, or she would have to ask her teacher. To be fair she did answer a couple of questions correctly, I did manage to get her to tell me that two plus two was four, she told me the capital of France in the end, and she told me all about the Mona Lisa. But there were many more occasions where she couldn't answer my questions.

You can see an example of her conversation in this video that I filmed of Harry playing with her. I accept that his voice is rather squeaky and some of his questions are perhaps not obvious or direct enough (they are based on things that she was talking about before I started filming) but this is pretty typical of the chats that we've been having with Cayla.

I did spend a lot of time looking online for advice, but I couldn't find any way of improving it. Even when I talk to her (in my standard, Southern accent) asking the questions suggested in the instructions and on-line tutorial videos, she very rarely gives me a relevant answer.

However, both my children love Cayla and they keep on asking to play with her. I think you can see in the videos that Harry is really affectionate towards her, he was stroking her, patting her and so on. Mia loves brushing and styling her hair (Cayla is her first doll with proper hair to brush) and she found Cayla hilarious whatever she said. I'm not sure how long the novelty is going to last though, especially as they can't set her up to play with by themselves.

I do think that the manufacturers have made some bold claims about the doll, and for us unfortunately she didn't live up to those expectations. She was fun to play with, and the technology is promising, but I think there is a little way to go yet.

My friend Cayla interactive talking doll

I received a My Friend Cayla doll for the purpose of this review, as well as a second doll to offer as a giveaway prize. My Friend Cayla retails for around £60-£80. 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Simple magic tricks to make and perform for children

Harry has been very interested in magic tricks lately. We've seen a couple of little magic shows, and he has been fascinated watching magic trick videos on YouTube. Most magic tricks take a lot of time to practice, which is difficult for little ones, so I researched a few super simple tricks that take little preparation and young children can easily learn to perform themselves. They look really effective too!

Simple magic tricks for children

Harry loves performing his magic tricks, although he gets just as much enjoyment from showing people how they were done! Here is his repertoire of magic tricks:

The disappearing coin trick

You need:

A plastic, clear cup or tumbler
Coloured card
A coin
A handkerchief or small cloth

To make the props:

Draw around the rim of the plastic cup on to some coloured card and cut out the circle. Glue the coloured circle firmly across the top of the glass. Use the remainder of the coloured card as the base for the trick.

Disappearing coin magic trick

To perform the trick:

Explain to your audience that you will be making a coin disappear. Take your coin and place it on the base sheet of coloured cardboard. Place the handkerchief over the glass so that it is completely covered, then move the handkerchief covered glass and place it on top of the coin. Remove the handkerchief, and the coin has disappeared! Make sure that you clear away the props for this trick quickly though before your audience spots what is going on, and make sure that the upturned glass always remains on your base sheet of coloured cardboard.

A coin through the hand

You need:

Two coins that look the same

To perform the trick:

This trick is very easy even for young children, and it looks really effective. It does need a little bit of practice, and it's much easier to demonstrate rather than explain in writing. We learned how to do it from this video:

The magic floating toilet roll tube

You need:

A toilet roll or kitchen roll tube (or a plastic/styrofoam cup)

To make the prop:

Firstly you need to prepare your toilet roll tube. Make a small hole in the back of the tube about halfway down which is large enough to fit your thumb. Then decorate the tube using felt pens, stickers, coloured tape, paint and so on.

Magic floating toilet roll trick

To perform the trick:

Stand facing your audience and hold the toilet roll tube with a hand on each side. Push one of your thumbs through the hole in the back of the tube, making completely sure that your audience can't see it. Then with a bit of practice you can move your hands away from the tube and move it using just your thumb, so that it looks as though it is floating in the air. Make it fly away from you and pretend to chase after it. It might help to watch the trick being performed first, like in this video:

The classic cups and balls trick

This final trick is a bit more complicated for little ones, but an adult can pick it up really easily and it's great for impressing the children with. Again, it's one that you need to learn from a video. I taught myself quickly and I've been showing it off ever since!

There is a wealth of videos on YouTube with magic tricks for all ages and skills, it's definitely worth having a go at learning some!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Ladybird Tuesday - Charles Dickens

The Ladybird book Charles Dickens is from Series 561 - Adventure from History. It's a large series featuring books about many notable historical figures. I've also looked at Nelson from this series and I have quite a few more in my collection. Charles Dickens was published in 1965.

Vintage Ladybird book Charles Dickens

The inside covers of the book feature a series of cartoons depicting famous figures from Dickens' works and the title of the book in which they appear, for example Scrooge and Fagin. The book is arranged in the typical Ladybird style, with a page of (fairly dense) text on the left and accompanying illustration on the right.

The book begins with Dickens' early life in Chatham and London, where he had many experiences that would later feature in his books. It's interesting to read about a few of these and which stories they featured in, for example the year and a half spent working in a solicitor's office where he met many unusual people and gained knowledge of the law, both of which provided him with plenty of material for his books.

Charles Dickens Ladybird book

I like that the books in this series are written in a really conversational tone, and are filled with anecdotes about their subject. There are also little notes of a general historical nature, for example when Dickens' wedding to Catherine Hogarth is mentioned it is accompanied by a description and illustration of the sort of clothing that people wore then, and a note that the long dresses of the women must have got very dirty because of the muddy streets. A page about a railway accident in which Dickens was involved includes information about the trains that people travelled in at the time, along with a picture to help the reader imagine the scene.

Charles Dickens book

The story of Charles Dickens' is brought to life really well, intertwining biographical details with information about his books and stories. I've only read a couple of his books, but as the Ladybird book points out, many of his characters are familiar to me because they are constantly referred to in popular culture. It's a really interesting book!

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

Monday, 22 September 2014

The MAD Blog Awards 2014

The MAD Blog Awards 2014

This year, I was so thrilled to be a finalist in the Craft category of the MAD Blog Awards. Along with the other finalists, including the other fab blogs in my category - Along Came Cherry, Little Button Diaries, My Little 3 and Me and The Imagination Tree - I was invited up to London to a glamorous awards ceremony. I didn't win, that honour goes to the very well deserving Little Button Diaries, but I can honestly say that I'm not upset at all. I really was so excited to find myself a finalist that I already felt like a winner.

I arrived in London early and met up with some other bloggers at Wagamamas. Here I was really pleased to meet Jo from Kids Days Out Reviews. We've chatted online a lot, and I've contributed a couple of guest posts to the blog, and it was great to finally meet in person.

After lunch I headed to the Royal Garden Hotel for my hair and make up appointment. I haven't had my hair and make up done since my wedding, so it was a big treat for me. It was carried out by the Powderpuff Girls, and they spent plenty of time making everyone look glamorous. I had no idea what I wanted, and so she plaited my hair across the front and put it up at the back with plenty of curls. I don't normally wear make up so I decided to go with something very bold - full on smoky eyes that I could never have managed myself! I loved my new look for the evening. I posted the picture below on Facebook and I received more likes and comments than I did when I posted the first photographs of my babies!

The MAD Blog Awards 2014

Before the awards began I met up with Jo for a drink in the hotel bar, then gradually we bumped into more and more bloggers and we made our way downstairs for the drinks reception. I was so pleased that my friend Swazi from the great Chocolate is not the only fruit had won a ticket to the evening, it was lovely to see her. I also caught up with bloggers that I've met before and bloggers that I had heard of but not had the opportunity to meet yet.

The MAD Blog Awards 2014

At dinner I was sat with Kara from Chelsea Mamma that I often seem to bump into at events, and we also share a local connection. I met Emma from Adventures of an Unfit Mother and caught up again with Katie from Hurrah for Gin. We enjoyed a delicious dinner, and then it was on to the actual awards. The awards were presented by Dr Ranj, famous in our household from CBeebies Get Well Soon, and he was a great host. When it came to my category I was so excited to see my blog appear on the screen and hear him read out my blog name as a finalist.

The MAD Blog Awards 2014

I may not have won myself, but I was so pleased that Jo won the Family Travel category with Kids Days Out Reviews. It's a fantastic blog with masses of brilliant content and she works very hard on it. It was absolutely a worthy winner, and she even mentioned me in her acceptance speech!

I made it my mission for the evening to have my photo taken with Dr Ranj, and I lined up Swazi to help me manage it. She did brilliantly, spotted her opportunity and took a fantastic photo! There is a less tipsy official one around somewhere, but I think that I like this one better, do I look a bit star struck?

The MAD Blog Awards 2014
Photo thanks to Swazi

We finished off the evening with a go on the life size Operation game. You may notice than in every photo of me I'm clutching a wine glass very tightly which probably affected my concentration somewhat, not that I was tipsy of course!

The MAD Blog Awards 2014
Photo thanks to Jo

It was a fantastic night, I had a brilliant time and I'm so glad that I had the opportunity to be there. I think that the stats that were shown on the screen after the awards really prove how proud I was to be a finalist. Thank you so much to everyone that nominated me and then went on to vote for me, I'm so grateful to you all.

The MAD Blog Awards 2014

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Review - RAVPower Luster Lipstick 3000mAh External Battery Charger

I do love my iPhone 5, but like most smart phone users the battery life is a problem. Normal days at home are fine, as I don't use the phone too much and we have several chargers around the house. But when we go out for the day, particularly if there is travelling involved and I can't connect to WiFi, I'm constantly checking the remaining battery life to make sure I don't run out.

We've been considering buying an external charger for our phones for some times, so the opportunity to review the RAVPower Luster Mini 3000mAh Portable Charger was perfectly timed. Both Ram and I had trips up to London this week, with a long train journey that generally drains the phone battery pretty quickly, and so they were great opportunities for us both to test out the charger.

RavPower external phone charger review

The device comes with a USB to Micro USB cable that you use to charge it. This cable can be plugged into a USB port on another device to charge. It doesn't come with a plug socket that goes into the mains, but this makes the cable smaller and lighter to carry around.

If your phone has a Micro USB port then you can use the same cable to charge your phone. If not (for example with an iPhone) you will need to use your phone charger cable. You can see the Amazon link above for a list of devices that the charger is compatible with, it seems to me to be a pretty comprehensive list.

The external charger is available in five different colours, mine is gold. It measures approximately 10.5 cm in length with a 2.5 cm diameter and it weighs 85g. It comes with a removable clip to attach to a belt, although I didn't need to use this.

The device has a red light while you are charging, which changes to blue when the charger is fully charged. According to the manufacturers, the battery pack will provide you with at least one full charge to your iPhone5 and the input charging time is 4-5 hours.

On Friday I travelled up to London for a couple of days. By the time I arrived at my hotel mid afternoon my phone battery was nearly gone and I only had ten minutes or so to change in the room before I was heading out again. I was able to easily fit the compact charger and cable into my handbag and charge my phone while I was walking about, and when I checked a couple of hours later the phone was fully charged, fantastic!

The charger can also act as a torch which is very handy. You can choose between a bright light, a dim light and a flashing light. The torch can remain lit for up to 120 hours if fully charged which is brilliant.

Review of the RAVPower Luster Lipstick external battery charger

It would be nice if there was some kind of indicator so that you could see how much charge was left on it, but for the price of the charger (currently £10.99 on Amazon) I think that it's extremely good value, and I love how compact it is. We are definitely going to be getting plenty of use out of it!


I received the charger to review, Amazon links are affiliate.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Hama bead covered pen holders from jam jars

Recently I was ironing a larger square Hama bead piece, and I noticed how flexible it was before it had completely cooled. So that gave me an idea for another Hama bead craft - Hama bead jam jars and pencil holders!

Hama bead covered pen holders from jam jars


Old, clean jam jars or similar containers
Large square Hama bead pegboard
Hama beads


First you need to wash the jars and remove the labels. I've found that the easiest way to remove labels is to spray them with WD40 and leave for a few minutes. Most labels will peel off straight away, some may need a couple of applications. Then wash the jar thoroughly in soapy water.

Use the square peg board to create your design. A design made using one large square Hama bead peg board will not be enough to go all the way around the jar. You can get round this by making two separate pieces and sticking them together or by clipping two boards together (they are designed so that you can do this) to make a longer strip. I just made shorter designs that don't go all the way around my jars.

I went with a simple geometrical pattern, you could also use pictures or words to denote what will be stored inside the jar. Just bear in mind that your design will end up being reversed, so take care with text! You may notice lots of yellow in my designs - for some reason I have ended up with a disproportionate number of yellow Hama beads. I suspect that the large boxes of mixed beads do not contain an equal spread across the colours!

How to iron Hama beads

Iron well on just one side, taking special care to iron to the edges of the design. When you remove the beads from the board the strip of beads will be very floppy. Place the jar on its side and drape the beads over the top so that they will cool to the shape of the jar. If you are working with a long strip that will wrap all the way around the jar then you might want to secure it in place with an elastic band while it cools. When the beads have cooled the strip of beads will still be flexible enough that you can remove it from the jar.

How to make curved Hama bead craft

I glued my strip of beads to the jars using normal white glue, or you could use a glue gun to make it extra secure. Here's the finished jar!

Hama beads wrapped around a jam jar

I made as many storage pots as I had jars lying around! I used a large pasta sauce jar, a chocolate spread jar and a smaller container that held dried yeast. You could also use the ever versatile toilet roll tube, with a cardboard base. They'd make great gifts for Mums from little ones, perhaps filled with flowers or chocolates. They'd also make a great desk tidy gift.

Hama bead covered jam jars craft

Crafts on Sea

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Book review - The Owl and the Pussy-cat by Edward Lear

This Autumn, Puffin are publishing a beautiful new picture-book edition of the classic poem by Edward Lear, The Owl and the Pussy-cat. The book is illustrated by Charlotte Voake, with an introduction by Julia Donaldson.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat new book review

The Owl and the Pussy-cat is a classic poem which I'm sure is familiar to everyone. It tells the story of the Owl and the Pussy-cat that sail away together in their beautiful pea green boat. It's a short poem, but with such gorgeous illustrations it lends itself perfectly to the picture book format. I love the poem, and I really enjoyed sharing it with the children.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat new book review

Julia Donaldson has written a sequel to the poem - The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussy-cat - which is also published by Puffin.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat gift edition is published on the 2nd October 2014. I received a copy of the book to review.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

My new desk

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

Ikea Micke desk in white for PC

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

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

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

Ikea Micke desk with add on shelves

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

Button felt tree picture on Ikea desk

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