Friday, 28 July 2017

Harry and his piano

Harry has been learning the piano for over a year now, ever since we bought our fab digital piano. At first he progressed very quickly, speeding through the books and picking it up no problems. Then a few months in he reached the point at which it started to become a little more difficult, and that was when he really had to work on his practice. He's used to learning things without much effort, which is one of the reasons that we wanted him to have piano lessons - to give him something more challenging that he couldn't do straightaway.

Because of the way the exam system works, we missed the deadline to enter him for the Prep Test, something new since I had lessons. It's an exam but there is no pass or fail, it's a chance for the candidate to get some exam practice without any pressure. Because we would have ended up waiting months we made the decision to push him straight towards the Grade 1, and again because of the way the system works we had a choice of waiting either a couple of months or over six months.

So we decided to enter him for the next exam period, and we prepared for a couple of months of hard work. And he really did work very hard. I sat down with him every day to go through his pieces, we went after school to play on the closest 'real' piano that we have access to, and his teacher also worked very hard with him, giving us lots to improve on, and fitting in some extra lessons.

When the day of the exam came I must admit that I wasn't completely confident. He could play his pieces beautifully once he was warmed up, but he still made frequent mistakes that would throw him off completely. I wasn't sure how he would react to the exam conditions as it was the first time he'd done anything like it. I think I was much more nervous than he was!

Before the exam itself he had plenty of time to warm up in the waiting room, and we chose an order for him to play his pieces. We started with the one that he could play easily, followed by the one he found most challenging, finishing with the piece that sounded the most impressive. He was taken away and I waited for him to come back, with no idea how he was getting on. When he came out he seemed very confident, although I think a large part of that was the relief that it was all over!

We had to wait a couple of weeks for the result. Results come by e-mail, and although I didn't tell Harry I knew the first day that the result might appear and I was glued to my phone all day. I was desperately hoping that he would pass, I knew that it would be a massive dent to his confidence if he didn't. So we were all delighted to find out that not only did he pass - he managed to pass with a distinction! He lost a few marks on his pieces but did brilliantly in the other parts of the exam (the scales, sight reading and aural tests) and the written notes from the exam are full of praise.

Child with Grade 1 Piano certificate

We are so proud of him and he's very proud of himself. Since the exam he's been playing the piano a lot, playing his exam pieces again and starting some new pieces, and after the slog of playing the same three pieces over and over for weeks he's enjoying the freedom to play what he wants to for a bit. We will be entering him for his Grade 2 but not straight away, we'll let him enjoy the piano for a bit first!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

WWT Arundel Wetland Centre

Arundel Wetland Centre, West Sussex

This week we enjoyed a lovely day at the Arundel Wetland Centre with friends. Despite living close by we've never been, although my friend is a member and has been recommending it for ages, so we finally managed to plan a visit! We visited on a sunny day during the week when a number of local schools hadn't yet broken up for the holidays, so it wasn't too busy.

Arundel Wetland Centre, West Sussex

The Wetlands Centre covers a large area, and there are lots of different things to do. The children were given a free Wildlife Ranger log book (something which is running throughout the summer holidays) which contained a number of different activities. When they had completed each one they were given a sticker, and when they had collected six stickers they could claim a special large sticker.

We began by buying the children some duck food so that they could feed the ducks although the ducks didn't seem that bothered, perhaps they were full! Then we spent a bit of time in one of the hides, where the children could try and spot some of the birds on the top ten list posted in the cabin. There were lots of reference books, binoculars and telescopes to help them and it was a really peaceful place to sit for a while.

Then we headed to the pond dipping. My children have never done pond dipping before which was definitely something that needed rectifying. A very friendly ranger explained the process to them and was on hand to help them identify what they found. They had a great time filling up a plastic tray with various wriggling pond creatures, then we headed inside to have a closer look. There were magnifying glasses and books to help with identification, then particularly interesting creatures could be carefully transferred to a little pot and placed underneath a microscope which displayed the image onto a screen, fascinating stuff. Mia caught a dragonfly nymph and we gathered lots of little worms and snails.

Arundel Wetland Centre, West Sussex

There are a couple of little playgrounds which entertained the children for quite a while, then we went for a walk through the reed bed to the boat safari. The small boats leave every fifteen minutes or so depending on how busy it is, and we didn't have to wait for long. The boat trip was definitely my highlight of the day, it was so peaceful gliding along through the water and the guide pointed out lots of interesting things and told us little anecdotes about things that we could see. 

Arundel Wetland Centre, West Sussex

We took a picnic and there were plenty of places to sit down and eat your own food as well as a large cafe. After lunch the children had fun carrying out some of the other activities around the site, like working out which minibeast had committed a crime by eliminating bugs based on their characteristics, and identifying a grass snake based on the markings. Then we finished with some crafting - Harry made an owl mask and Mia made a butterfly card.

I made a little video showing some of the fun that we had!



We had a lovely day out. I paid £11.18 for adult entry and £5.64 each for the children, if you live locally it's worth looking into an annual membership as you can save quite a bit by visiting regularly and it's also valid at eight other Wetland Centres.  

You can find out more information about the Arundel Wetland Centre, including current opening hours and admission prices, on the WWT Arundel website.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Ten things I love about the school summer holidays

Ten things I love about the school summer holidays

We are already two weeks in to the summer holidays, and the beginning of September still seems quite a long way off. We've had our short break away to Center Parcs, and now we have some play dates scheduled, a couple of special events, as well as plenty of empty days stretching ahead.

I do love the school summer holidays, but come September I'm usually well ready for some peace and quiet and to get the children back into a structured routine. So I thought I'd write a list of ten things that I love about the summer holiday, so that I can re-read it towards the end of August when the novelty has worn off!

Ten things that I love about the school summer holidays

* Turning off the alarm after the last morning of term. In our household that doesn't necessarily mean a huge amount as our children get up early anyway, but just occasionally they will both surprise us with a lie in!

* Not having to make lunchboxes. Well I still do make sandwiches for Ram, but it's a lot quicker than faffing about washing up all the little pots and chopping up bits of fruit and veg.

* No school run. I'm lucky that Ram will do the school run in the morning if he's about, but I'm not very fond of the afternoon school run. The school is in the town centre and I always fret about finding a parking space (although to be fair it has never been a problem) and dealing with the busy roads, buses, cyclists and so on.

* Later bedtimes and no pressure for an early night. Both children do need to be in bed quite early on a school night as they get very tired, but in the holidays I don't feel the same need to make sure they are tucked up at a sensible time. Unless they are completely knackered, in which case these days they do fortunately now agree that it's time for bed, albeit reluctantly.

* No swimming lessons. I know how important swimming lessons are for children, but I do find swimming lessons a bit of a pain. Fortunately both children are in the same class for the time being which is nice as it's not too much of a rush from school and it means that I can take myself off for a swim at the same time, but it's still such a mission getting everyone dried and dressed afterwards and then battling home through rush hour traffic so that dinner isn't desperately late. Taking them swimming during the holidays is much more relaxed!

* Seeing the children discover forgotten toys that they don't normally have the time to play with, it makes it worth storing them during term time. I also build up a stash of craft and activity kits that they've received as Christmas and birthday presents, and it's lovely to be able to get them out and have the time to work on them. They've been busy rediscovering old favourite jigsaws and board games.

* Similarly seeing them wear all their lovely clothes, as they normally stay in their uniforms after school, In particular Mia has been wearing one or another of her princess dresses pretty much every day of the holiday so far!

* Enjoying the chance to do some longer activities that can be spread over several days, like our papier mache volcanoes. This week we've been watching seeds grow from a Trunkaroo activity box that we have been sent to try out, the children love coming down each morning to see how they are getting on.

Trunkaroo activity box growing seeds

* Enjoying what is hopefully some nice weather, or at least it not being too cold. I must admit that I'm not a very outdoorsy type, but it's nice to at least have the option to spend time outside!

* Having the children around all the time. I'm aware that this can also be a negative point, and I do miss the lack of time to myself, but I really do love having them about. They are both very affectionate children and they don't like to be very far away from me, even in the house, but it's so lovely having them around.

We were sent the Trunkaroo activity box in exchange for sharing across social media.

Friday, 21 July 2017

What Photobucket did to my blog

Photobucket and what it did to my blog

When I started this blog way back in 2011 I didn't know what I was doing. I wanted photos, so I uploaded photos directly through Blogger. I didn't think to resize images, I uploaded them directly from my digital camera. The pictures were enormous, and I quickly filled up my Blogger Picasa storage. I looked for an alternative, and discovered that many bloggers were using Photobucket. It seemed like the perfect option -  it was free, and it came reliably recommended.

After a couple of years my blog traffic increased, I reached the bandwidth limit on the free Photobucket account and my photos stopped displaying. After a bit of research I was happy to pay $29.99 for a yearly subscription package with Photobucket that came with an increased level of storage and unlimited bandwidth. And this carried on quite happily for a few more years until this summer.

Then at the end of June, Photobucket suddenly announced that it would no longer allow third party linking (aka hot linking) of images unless you upgraded to a higher level account - at a cost of $399 for the year. Well I say they announced it, they didn't notify me directly. I heard about it from a blogging friend and I've still had no official direct communication. The sudden change seemed to affect people in different ways, and those using a free account lost their images immediately. Fortunately I've been unaffected so far, but with my annual subscription due for renewal on the 12th August I knew that I had to act quickly.

Photobucket removal of third party linking on my blog

Paying $399 a year to host my images just isn't going to happen. I looked around and found that over the last few years Google have increased their free storage, and even the lowest subscription tier is a cheaper option than Photobucket. I made the decision to jump ship and transfer over all my images. Of course this is something much easier said than done - I had over 4000 images hosted on Photobucket linked to more than 1300 blog posts on Blogger. Even at the rate of five minutes per blog post that is an enormous amount of work.

Of course this all coincided with the beginning of the summer holidays, meaning that all this work now has to be fitted around entertaining the children during the day. I've spent hours and hours uploading and re-linking images whenever I get a chance, working late into the evenings, and I'm barely a quarter of the way through. I've cancelled my recurring Photobucket subscription so it's a race against time to update as many posts as I can before the 12th August - please bear with me if I don't manage it in time! Fortunately I have the majority of my photos backed up elsewhere under a reasonably logical filing system, others aren't so lucky.

At the beginning of the process it felt like an insurmountable challenge. I became quite disheartened, and you might have noticed the lack of new posts over the last couple of weeks - I've either been too busy updating photos or simply not had the motivation. But even though I have now only completed a quarter of my blog posts I feel like I've at least broken the back of it - I've updated most of my popular and seasonal posts, and those that are left are ones that can wait a while for new images.

On the plus side, it has given me a long overdue push to give my blog a good sort out. 1300 blog posts is a great deal, and there are many old posts that are now either outdated or just irrelevant. I've had a mass delete of old posts - over a hundred have gone and I have another hundred or so that I'm still thinking about. I've deleted reviews for products that are no longer available, previews for events that are long gone, and random posts that were just a couple of sentences. I'm even thinking about sorting out some of my 'in progress' craft posts and putting them all together into one post. I'm not absolutely sure that deleting posts is the best thing to do for a blog, but it makes me and my blog feel lighter for having done so!

I've also removed and updated masses of broken links. I run a regular broken link check, but because there are so many blog posts the free online checker doesn't find them all, especially from older posts. I've checked every single link in my blog posts so far and have found many that no longer work. I've also found a few where the original domain has expired and the link now directs readers elsewhere - something that a broken link checker won't pick up.

It's given me a push to think about the type of content that I'm publishing. I want my blog posts to be useful, interesting and informative, not just written for the sake of filling up my editorial calendar. So hopefully that's a change that I can make going forwards!

The big lesson for me here of course - don't put all your eggs in one basket, and don't assume that just because you are paying for a service it will continue indefinitely!

If you've been having problems with Photobucket and your blog then you might find this post helpful - What's going on with Photobucket? Info for Bloggers

Were you affected by the changes to Photobucket? How are you coping with it?

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Center Parcs Elveden in the summer

If you are a regular reader of my blog you will know that we love a family holiday at Center Parcs. (I've written about them so much here that I should be on commission!) We've holidayed at several of the resorts in this country and also a couple in Belgium (you can find links to my other blog posts at the bottom if you are interested.)

The big drawback to a family holiday at Center Parcs is the price. That's why our recent trips have been to the Belgium parks - they are much more reasonably priced in the school holidays and represent much better value for money. Definitely worth a look if you are Center Parcs fans! We visited Elveden Forest quite a few times before the children started school when we could pick up a reasonably priced short break, but we hadn't been since.

Now that the children have moved schools we find ourselves with an extra two weeks of school holiday before most of the schools break up, and so we were able to squeeze in a mid week break in the second week of July at a much cheaper price than later on in the month. We chose Elveden Forest, as although it's not our closest park it usually seems to work out slightly cheaper and we do like it there.

It was quite a change for us, as all our previous Center Parcs holidays have taken place out of season in winter or early spring, so we were very excited to see what it was like to experience Center Parcs when the weather is warm enough to actually enjoy, rather than sometimes endure, being outdoors!

Barbecue at Center Parcs Elveden Forest

Something that we did for the first time on this trip was to hire bikes. We paid just over £100 for four bikes from Monday afternoon until Friday morning. We left hiring them until we arrived as we wanted to be sure that we'd have enough dry days to enjoy them. This did mean that there were no bikes left in Harry's size. Not ideal, but he managed fine with a slightly smaller one with the seat right up, and it's our own fault for not booking in advance! Having the bikes was brilliant, it's only recently that both children have been cycling fairly confidently on two wheels, and it was a good way to practice cycling on a road but with hardly any traffic.

We also used the barbecue for the first time, having gazed longingly at them in the past through rain splattered windows. They are designed to hold a disposable barbecue, and if you think you might use one it's worth taking one along as they are quite expensive in the shop. As we were planning a couple of barbecues Ram did a trip out to the Sainsbury's up the road to pick up supplies at more reasonable prices.

Feeding ducks at Center Parcs

Our cottage was right next to a small lake so we had plenty of duck visitors waiting for the leftovers! We've always felt that we see more wildlife at Elveden than any other Center Parcs and we saw loads this time - it must be the warmer weather! We saw lots of deer, rabbits and squirrels as well as the ducks. 

As always we spent a lot of time in the swimming pool. The children have really grown in confidence in the water, and they will go on just about all the slides now which is brilliant. The pool has changed a lot since our last visit and there's now a brilliant area for young children with slides, shallow pools and pouring water, as well as a salty lagoon pool. Harry loves the outdoor rapids and will go round and round again, and Mia loves the indoor water slides. When the sun was out the indoor glass dome was really warm, and without coats and jumpers it was much easier to fit things in the lockers!

Pedalo on the lake at Center Parcs Elveden

One thing that we've found as the children get older is that it's less difficult to hide the extra activities from them. Previously they've been happy with just the swimming pool and play areas, but now they've noticed other children doing fun things like pony riding and tree top adventures and have started clamouring to do them too.

Unfortunately the prices for these activities are ridiculously expensive compared to doing them elsewhere, and we've managed to hold out so far, but it's becoming more difficult! We did hire a pedalo for half an hour to explore the lake (which was definitely long enough - it's hard work!) and along with the bikes that's all that we paid extra for (and of course a visit to the Pancake House!).

It was another really lovely few days at Center Parcs. If you are interested in visiting you might enjoy some of my other posts:

Center Parcs Erperheide in Belgium - our first visit
Center Parcs Erperheide in Belgium - the return visit
Center Parcs De Vossemeren in Belgium

Center Parcs Whinfell
Center Parcs Longleat
Center Parcs Elveden Forest

Monday, 17 July 2017

A year of Hama bead crafts

I've shared lots of my Hama bead crafts on this blog over the last few years (you can find them all listed on my Hama beads page!) and because so many of them have a seasonal theme I thought that I'd share some of my favourites, with a Hama bead craft for every month of the year.

A year of Hama bead craft project ideas

January - Mini Hama bead Russian Dolls picture

This design is made using mini Hama beads, tiny beads which are placed into position using tweezers. Because they are so small you can make some really detailed projects.

Mini Hama bead Russian dolls picture

February - Hama bead heart hanging decoration

A lovely decoration for Valentine's day which can be hung on the wall to add some interest to a narrow space.

Hama bead heart

March - Mini Hama bead Easter Eggs

These mini Hama bead Easter Eggs can be used as cupcake toppers or as embellishments for cards or decorations.

Mini Hama bead Easter Eggs

April - Hama bead Easter coasters

These coasters are made using Spring coloured Hama beads and are a lovely way to brighten up your Easter drinks!

Hama bead Easter coasters

May - Hama bead hair clip holder

This ribbon holder for hair clips is really useful to keep hair clips on display and accessible, but still neat and tidy. You can use some Hama bead projects that you have lying around to make it.

Hama bead hairclip holder

June - Hama bead quilt picture

This picture is made using a really simple design and is a great way to use up odds and ends of colours that you have left over from previous projects.

Hama bead quilt style picture

July - Minecraft Hama bead keyrings

We made these Minecraft keyrings to use as party favours for a Minecraft themed party. They are really simple to make, and a great activity for the summer holidays

Hama bead Minecraft keyrings

August -Hama bead jam jar pen holders

These pen holders are stylish and fun and a great way to corral pens, paintbrushes, knitting needles and so on.

Hama bead pen holders

September - Autum Hama bead candle holders

These candle holders are designed to hold battery tea light candles and bring a lovely Autumnal feel to your decor.

Hama bead battery candle holders

October - Hama bead haunted house

This Hama bead haunted house is a great craft project for Halloween and makes a lovely decoration, perhaps displayed in the window to spook trick or treaters!

Hama bead haunted house

November - Large Hama bead Rangoli

These Hama bead Rangoli are a great Diwali craft and can be used as decorations around the home or as mats underneath your Diwali food and drink.

Hama bead Diwali rangoli

December - Hama bead Christmas baubles

These baubles can be hung from the tree and are a great craft for children at Christmas - you can make them in all different colours to match your colour scheme.

Hama bead Christmas bauble craft

I hope that you enjoyed looking at my Hama bead projects, and perhaps found something to inspire you!

You can find all my Hama bead crafts on my Hama bead page.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Blog anniversary - My blog over the last year

Tomorrow will mark six years of the Jennifer's Little World blog. I never expected it to last this long, and I never expected it to develop as it has. I began when Mia was just six weeks old as a way to share photographs and news about the children, and of course I still share plenty about the things that we get up to. But it has also changed into a place where I can talk about my own interests, share my crafts, and muse about the things that are going around my head.

Jennifer's Little World blog header

A few of my favourite blog posts from the last year

A big crafty project last year was my Sky Blanket, and it was a great feeling to put together the post about my completed crochet Sky Blanket. I put a lot of work into the blanket and I'm really proud of it!

Another craft that I really enjoyed was our summer holiday scrapbook. This project was a collaboration with Fellowes, that I met at BritMums last summer. I was thrilled to receive some fantastic products and we regularly leaf through the scrapbook that we made together, it was a really fun summer craft for us all.

As a family we've spent a lot of the last year playing Pokemon Go, which features on the blog from time time, and particularly in my post about playing Pokemon Go at Center Parcs. In fact Center Parcs has featured heavily on the blog over the last few years - I should be on commission!

A blog post that I wrote about hangriness in the family definitely struck a chord with a lot of people, and writing it all down helped me to work out what was going on with Mia's behaviour and come up with ways to try and lessen the impact.

Working my YouTube channel

At the very end of November I was introduced to the idea of Vlogmas, and I immediately jumped straight in, creating a new video every day in the run up to Christmas. You can read about it here and find links to all my videos - Taking part in Vlogmas 2016. It wasn't easy, and it was a lot of work, but it really spurred me on to improve my vlogging. I gave myself a challenge at the beginning of January to publish 52 videos over the year. It's a tough challenge and I've only managed 19 so far so I'm falling behind, but I'm really proud of all the videos that I've made and I love making them. You can find my YouTube channel here if you fancy a watch!

Introducing blogging to the family

I recently encouraged the children to set up their own blogs. I thought it would be fun for them and help them with their literacy. You can see their blogs here - Harry's Blog and Mia's Blog - and I think they are very sweet! Over the summer I'm hoping that they will do some more work on them, and they have also started YouTube channels to share their Minecraft videos.

Posting less often, and less review content

I try to keep my posting schedule to around three to four posts a week. This is quite a change, as for most of the last six years I've been posting nearly every day. The reason that it has reduced is because I've become far more picky about the reviews that I take on. I no longer review low value items unless I really want the product. This has meant that my page views have dropped, but I hope that it's improved the quality of the posts on my blog. I do sponsored posts although I'm quite picky about them - but I'm afraid that I need to make a little bit of money somehow! I do share a lot of useful information on my blog for free, so I hope that makes up for it!

Our Instagram community

I had been looking for a place to share my latest crafty blog posts. Nicola at Me You and Magoo and I set up a monthly linky but it was becoming too much work so we switched it to Instagram where it works very well. Each month we change the hashtag, so it's currently #craftingismytherapy_july and over the last couple of months it has really picked up - we have loads of crafters sharing their images with us and it's great to see so many beautiful projects. Do take a look next time you are over there!


The current issue with my blog

A big problem that is currently facing my blog has been caused by Photobucket. I have been hosting all of my images on Photobucket for several years now, and I pay for a yearly subscription that allows enough bandwidth for my blog. A couple of weeks ago, Photobucket changed their terms of service with no warning, and they now no longer allow third party linking of images unless you upgrade to a higher package (around £310 for the year). I've not been affected yet fortunately, but my subscription is due for renewal in August and I suspect that is when I'll hit problems.

I can't afford to spend that much on image hosting so I'm going to need to find an alternative. That then means that I will have to go back through well over 1000 blog posts and re-upload and re-link the images. So please bear with me if you see any broken image links on older posts, I will get to it all eventually but especially with the summer holidays it is going to take a lot of time! I had assumed that because I was paying for the Photobucket service it would be a good long term solution, so there's a lesson there not to rely too heavily on other providers! Whatever happens, like many others I'm definitely not going to be using Photobucket for any longer than necessary.

The future for the blog

I often struggle with defining a niche for my blog. My two main topics are craft and travel, alongside a bit of general parenting. Quite varied topics! I don't have the time or inclination to set up different themed blogs, so it's all going to stay here. Perhaps it can all be grouped under the heading of a 'lifestyle blog'!

I'd like to increase my posting frequency, but I want to be careful to make sure that I'm posting quality posts rather than filler posts. I'd also like to work on some more brand collaborations, particularly with crafty brands. I'm sure there are lots of fab new craft products out there that I could showcase! Of course travel collaborations would be nice too, but I'm not the only one with that idea and the blogging world is ever more competitive!

Whether you are a new reader or you've been around for a while I'd like to thank you for listening to my ramblings, and I'd love to hear back from you with what you enjoy or don't enjoy about my blog!

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

How I prepare for the school summer holiday

At this time of year I always get quite anxious. The last couple of weeks of term seems to be a flurry of different events, and I start to get a bit overwhelmed with making sure that I've done that everything I need to before I find myself at home alone for the summer with two small children. Two months, that's a long time! I'm a definite introvert and I need time to myself. Of course it's a lot easier now that the children are older and they will entertain themselves for short periods (especially if Minecraft is involved), but when I'm used to being by myself for a fair portion of the day it's hard to adjust to losing my peaceful time alone!

To help with my anxiety there are lots of things that I like to get done so that I can feel more in control. Firstly I like to make sure that all the school things are sorted. I get as much of the school uniform ready at the end of term as I can. There's a second hand uniform sale, so I make sure that I've bought as much of the branded school bits as I can, then I can pick up the generic things from the supermarket. Once it's all been washed at the end of term I make sure that it's all labelled and any loose buttons are sewn on, so it's all ready to go in September. Then I pack it all away neatly, with the PE kit in the PE bags, and store it all well out of the way.

I make sure that the pencil cases have everything that they need and it's all labelled, I wash the lunch bags (they say wipe clean only but I can reassure you that they can handle the occasional trip through the washing machine!) and sort through the big pile of schoolwork that has come home (most of it ends up in the recycling bin but don't tell the children!)

I like to have some plans made to keep the children and me entertained. We've already made our Summer Activity List, and I've pencilled some play dates and family visits into the calendar.

Summer 2017 to do list

I've also been planning my blogging work, trying to get at least a few blog posts written in advance and a collection of ideas for posts for the next few months. I've scheduled my Facebook page and some blog posts are written ready to go. I know from experience that I'll have very little time to myself to work on things, and when I do have time off from childcare I generally just want to sit down and chill out, not be working!

I'm doing my best to get the house tidy. I'm putting away the assembled Lego sets (knowing that they'll all be out again in a few weeks time). I'm trying to get the bedroom floors clear at least, and I'm busy putting away the odd bits and pieces that never seem to find a home.

I'm also gathering together all the craft kits, activity sets, puzzle books and so on that the children collect for Christmas and birthdays, especially those that take a bit of time to do so that we can spread them over several days. I'll also make sure that we've got plenty of food in to avoid unnecessary supermarket trips that usually result in the purchase of an expensive magazine each.

What do you do to prepare for the long summer holiday?

Monday, 10 July 2017

A round up of Hama bead crafts for Summer

If you are looking for some activities to keep children busy over the summer holidays, why not try some Hama beads! We've been crafting with Hama beads for several years now, and if you are a regular reader of my blog you'll have seen the many Hama bead crafts that I've shared. Today I've put together some ideas for fab summer Hama bead crafts, and you can find more on my Hama beads page

Hama bead crafts for summer

The flower Hama bead pegboard is available in both a large and a small size. I recently received the smaller Hama bead flower board and we've been using it for lots of crafting lately. My first craft was this Hama bead flower wreath, a really simple yet pretty wreath that looks great as a summer decoration. You can make the flowers in lots of different ways and use a range of bright, cheerful colours. We've also been using the board to make keyrings and magnets.

Hama bead flower wreath craft

For some reason I've found that the boxes of mixed beads contain more yellow than any other colour! Perfect for these summery Hama bead covered pen holders which are great for holding pens, knitting needles, paintbrushes and so on, they really brighten up my desk.

Hama bead covered pen holders

If you don't have a mini flower pegboard you can use a hexagon shaped board to make similar looking flowers, like these in this Hama bead flower bouquet craft. The finished bouquets can be used as summer decorations, or perhaps for the front of a greetings card.

Hama bead flower bouquet craft

I made a smaller version of these flowers using mini Hama beads to make Mini Hama bead decorative plant markers. The plant markers can be used to brighten up pot plants around the house.

Mini Hama bead plant markers

Finally I love my Hama bead quilt style picture, a great way to use up beads in odds and ends of colours that you have leftover from previous projects. It sits in my bathroom and cheers me up every time I brush my teeth!

Hama bead quilt picture

If you liked these Hama bead crafts, you can find more on my Hama beads page!

Friday, 7 July 2017

July - Lately I've been...

It's the start of a new month, and time for another catch up! Here's what I've been up to lately.

Thinking about

My thoughts have been occupied for the last couple of months by Harry's Grade 1 piano exam, which took place earlier this week. I was worried that we'd rushed him into it a bit, because the exams only take place three times a year and it seemed a long time to wait until the next opportunity. It was quite an intensive few weeks of practice and he really did come on quickly. Getting the exam out of the way was a big relief and he seems confident, so fingers crossed! He's looking forward to playing some different music now, he was getting very bored of the same three pieces over and over!

Crafting

At the weekend we took part in a village wide Garage Sale Trail and I helped the children make some Hama bead keyrings and magnets to sell. We all love Hama beads!

I've also been working on my latest granny square blanket which is coming along nicely. In fact, width wise it's nearly there, so I need to decide soon whether I'm going to make it a large square blanket or whether to add rows to either end of the square to make it rectangular.

Pink crochet granny square blanket

Watching

We finished the latest season of Better Call Saul the other week. It was another good season although I think that it lacks the bingeability of Breaking Bad - it's still an enjoyable watch though. We also got around to watching Kong: Skull Island. I didn't think much of the premise or plot (although I enjoyed it because Tom Hiddleston). We did let Harry watch it with us which was a bit of a mistake, he can handle the action and the scary parts but the language was a bit stronger than I was expecting!

Eating

With some lovely sunny weather during June this year we've enjoyed a lot of barbecues. Ram loves a barbecue and fortunately he does all the cooking. We don't eat meat so it's a veggie meal, with veggie burgers and sausages, sweetcorn and lots of halloumi. The children will only eat the sweetcorn so they have their own dinner, but we eat together outside and it's nice to spend time together in the garden and then the children play afterwards.

Travelling to

We spent a lovely weekend camping in the New Forest. Our calendar has seemed very full this month and it was the only opportunity that we had, I'm hoping that we can manage another trip over the summer or in September as it really is lovely. It was one of the longest days of the year and we stayed up outside the tent with Harry reading until well past his bedtime, but he really loved it.

Child reading outside tent

I also travelled along Worthing seafront by foot taking part in the Night to Remember Midnight Walk 2017 to raise money for a local hospice. Our team total was over £1000 which was fantastic! We only walked the shortest walk of 7 miles but it was still quite tough and we didn't get in until 3am as we ended up near the back. Next year we've talked about trying the 13.1 mile walk, but we'll need to speed up a bit!

Reading

We've had a few after schools recently when one child has had a club and I've been left to entertain the other. As we live a distance from the school it makes sense to stay in the town, and fortunately there's a big library just over the road. I have to be very careful with library books because I have a tendency to end up with fines. I think it's because subconsciously I feel guilty at taking books for free and so I forget to renew them. But I've picked up a couple of fab books recently, and because I have a limited time to read them it means that I make the effort to get through them.

I recently enjoyed Little Bird by Camilla Way and I'm currently just finishing The Things We Learn When We're Dead by Charlie Laidlaw, both great reads.

Planning

This is our final week of school before the summer holidays, so it's been a rush of Sports Day, end of term discos and second hand uniform sales. Alongside that I've been planning things to do in the holidays, both things to add to our summer to do list and getting dates in the calendar for meet ups with friends and play dates.

Looking forward to

The summer holidays! I'm looking forward to spending lots of time with the children (although I'm sure I'll be well ready for them to go back to school in September!) and generally things just being a bit more relaxed for a while with less of a routine. I'm definitely looking forward to not having to make packed lunches and do the school run!

What have you been up to lately?

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

How to make a butterfly name sign

As a Bostik Blogger, each month I receive a box of themed craft materials to make something fun with. This month the theme is 'Creepy Crawlies' and I decided that I'd work with Mia to make a butterfly name sign for her bedroom.

Butterfly name sign craft

Here's how we made it:

You need:

A sheet of craft foam for the background
A foam butterfly shape - we used a pre-cut shape or you can make your own
Glittery butterfly stickers
Sequins
A coloured pipe cleaner
Large wooden beads
Bostik Foam Pads

Bostik craft materials

Instructions:

I found it easier to write the name onto the butterfly first so that Mia could see where to place the other decorations. She used a felt pen to write her name nice and clearly. Then I glued the butterfly cut out to the backing piece of green craft foam using Bostik White Glu.

Mia decorated the background to the door hanger with glittery foam butterfly stickers. The sequins are stuck to the butterfly using Bostik Foam Pads. The adhesive squares are very small so they fit tidily behind the sequins and they give a nice raised effect which really makes the sequins stand out.

Child crafting with Bostik materials

To make the hanging loop, Mia threaded some chunky wooden beads onto the pipe cleaner, which holds them firmly in place. Then I made holes in the craft foam and threaded the pipe cleaner through, securing it firmly at the back with tape. It looks lovely hanging on her bedroom door and she's very proud of it!

Butterfly name sign door hanger craft

The box of craft materials was provided to me free of charge by Bostik as part of the Tots100/Bostik Craft Bloggers Club.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Taking part in a garage sale trail

At the weekend we took part in a Garage Sale Trail which was brilliantly organised by a lady in our village. The first one was last year when we were away and I really wanted to take part, so I was delighted that we could make the day this year!

Over 50 houses in our village took part, and the organiser made a map showing the locations of all the houses along with a list showing what they were selling - she did a brilliant job! We are tucked away a little bit so I made posters with arrows pointing to our house, and our neighbour took part too so people hunted us out.

I admit that I was a little bit worried that no-one would come, but we had quite a steady stream of visitors all morning. It was advertised to continue until 4pm but we didn't see anyone after 2pm apart from a little gaggle of children that live up the road. They kept buying things and then going home to get more money and coming back, probably because we were selling things very cheap!

The children were really enthusiastic and they each made up their own little stall. Harry made some flower keyrings from Hama beads and Mia made some Hama bead Minecraft magnets which were  popular! Their top seller though was their brownies and cookies - they each made a nice amount from those even if Harry did end up spending most of his profit and more elsewhere!

Children doing a garage sale

I'm quite good at decluttering and I make regular trips to the charity shop, so I didn't have a huge amount to sell. A friend who lives a bit out of the way came along to share our driveway so she bolstered the stock a little bit, and she did very well. I did a lot better than I expected though, I made over £35 and cleared quite a few larger items that were taking up space.

For me it wasn't just about the selling, it was a really fun way to get talking to the neighbours and it was a lot more relaxed than a car boot sale - there was no haggling over prices and people seemed genuinely pleased with their purchases. Fortunately it was a nice sunny day so it was nice to sit out in the front garden and enjoy the sunshine!

I'm hoping that it takes place again next year, I've saved some of the bits that didn't sell and I'll be adding to the pile over the year so we have a few bits put together!

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Sugru Giveaway - Join in with our creative community on Instagram

Nicola at Me, You and Magoo and I have been hosting the Crafting is my Therapy hashtag on Instagram for a few months now, and we are so pleased with how many people have been joining in! We've had some really gorgeous crafty images linked up, and it's been brilliant to follow people's progress as they post updates on their projects.

The hashtag changes each month, and at the end of the month Nicola and I will share our favourite images from the month.

This month we are delighted to welcome Jen from Craftic as a co-host. Craftic is a fantastic resource for crafters packed with tutorials for simple projects that you can make using bits and pieces from your craft stash. Follow Jen on Instagram to see some of her beautiful crafty ideas.

Jen from Craftic

We are also very excited to announce that for the month of July we will be running a giveaway.

Sugru have provided us with a Create and Craft Kit to give away to one lucky person. To be in with a chance of winning, all you need to do is to share a crafty photograph on Instagram using the hashtag #craftingismytherapy_july (please see full terms and conditions below).

Sugru Create and Craft kit

Sugru is a brilliant product for crafters. You can see some of my Sugru projects in my Sugru crafts round up, and you can see some more great crafty ideas using Sugru on the Sugru blog. I'll also be sharing some of my favourite Sugru craft projects on Instagram over the month under the #craftingismytherapy_july hashtag.

So hop over to Instagram and check out the hashtag - we'd love to see you there!

Giveaway terms and conditions

The prize is a Sugru Create and Craft Kit.

To enter the giveaway you must tag at least one relevant photograph on Instagram with the hashtag #craftingismytherapy_july. 

At the end of the month we will pick a winner at random from everyone that has used the hashtag.

The winner will be contacted by direct message on Instagram. If the winner does not respond within 14 days then we reserve the right to reallocate the prize.

The prize will be provided and dispatched by Sugru.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Blog post ideas for Summer

I always find blogging over the summer difficult - the hot weather makes it difficult to concentrate and when the children are around over the holidays I find it difficult to get anything done. One thing that I try to do is to spend the last couple of weeks of term planning and writing some content so that I have at least one or two posts scheduled every week to take the pressure off a bit.

If you are like me and currently looking for ideas to fill your summer editorial calendar, I hope that you might find my list of Summer blog post ideas helpful!

20 Summer Blog Post Ideas

* Share a seasonal recipe - a barbecue favourite, a refreshing drink or your best summer cocktail. If you have published posts already over the last few years you can create a roundup of themed summer recipes to get some new views to your older content.

* Write a garden update, a balcony update or even a windowsill update with pictures of what you can see from your window. What has changed recently, what is growing, do you have a beautiful tree or flowerbed to share or is the garden full of summer toys.

Summer garden furniture on patio

* Summer home decor picks - a good place to add some affiliate links if you have any, perhaps choosing items along a theme like the beach, nautical, sunflowers and so on. You might have review items to include that would fit well with the theme.

* Write about a summer walk somewhere, and contrast it with a visit at different times of the year. For example a summer walk along the beach, a summer walk through some local public gardens or through the forest. What is special there at this time of year? Take lots of photographs!

* A summer activity list - a list of all the things that you want to achieve this summer. Also a great resource for bored children during the holidays!

* What happens in summer where you live? Are there any special events locally? Write a list of local activities like pick your own or car boot sales, or showcase something bigger like the International Bognor Birdman or the Eastbourne Air Show.

* Write about some of your favourite summer memories from when you were a child. What do you do now to create fun memories with your children? Do you try and replicate the things that you remember enjoying?

* Summer tips - How to keep babies cool, what to pack for a picnic, what you need in your hand luggage on a flight and so on. Everyone has advice to share!

* Free summer holiday fun - How to find out about free local activities and some ideas for things that you can do at home to save money on expensive day trips.

* What has been the summer craze where you live? There always seems to be one or two, whether it's loom bands, fidget spinners, Lego cards or Pokemon Go! Have your children been obsessed by anything recently?

Two fidget spinners

* How has the school year gone for your child? What did they achieve, what milestones did they reach, what fun things did they do? How do they feel about moving on to the next year, especially if they will be starting at a new school or will be having a big change.

* How does your routine change during the summer - do the children stay up later, do you eat dinner outside, does what you eat change? Do you enjoy being more flexible, or do you prefer the routine of the school term?

* Hold an interview with your child at the end of the school year, perhaps comparing a photograph of them on their first day with one taken on the last day. This also makes a good vlog and creates great memories to look back on.

* Are you going away on holiday? Write a preview post about where you are going and what you hope to see and do. You could ask other bloggers for their tips about a particular location to make a helpful crowd sourced post.

* When you get back write a review post, along with a video if you can. Include useful information to help people that might be planning their holidays, and remember to re-share in January when people are booking for next year! I write about pretty much everywhere that we visit, it doesn't need to be a press trip as people will value your honest opinions and photographs. If you managed to save money when booking share your tips, and write a list of packing essentials.

* Blog a summer craft, either for kids or for yourself. If you have blogged about a few you can combine them into a summer craft round up post.

Lollipop stick decoration for the garden

* Make a list! Ten (or more!) things that you love about summer, about the warm weather, the light evenings, about the school summer holidays, favourite summer foods, favourite places to visit locally.

* A review of a local attraction, with plenty of factual information and perhaps a video. Share to their Twitter and Facebook page, and keep an eye out in local Facebook groups if people are looking for advice and recommendations so that you can share your link (just be careful not to be spammy!)

* Summer garden ideas - some things you've done to make your garden pretty, share a Pinterest board if you have one, reviews of garden equipment that you've purchased like play or cooking equipment.

* A summer holiday travel wishlist - where would you like to visit in the summer holidays? For how long? Or do you prefer to travel out of peak season?

I hope that you liked my ideas and found them useful! I love putting together lists of blog post ideas, here are two other lists of blog post ideas that I've put together:

Blog post ideas for Craft Blogs
Blog post ideas for Travel Blogs

Happy Summer blogging!

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Ten things I love about travelling with the family

We love to travel as a family, and you can read about some of our adventures on my travel page. Today I've made a little list of ten things that I love about travelling as a family.

Ten things I love about family travel

That moment when you get off a plane or out of the car in a new country - the relief as you are released from a confined space and the feeling of excitement when the fresh air hits you with unfamiliar smells and sounds.

Spending time together - living in a little family bubble and enjoying time spent in each other's company. It doesn't matter if you are doing something adventurous out and about, or chilling together with books and tablets. As difficult as it can sometimes be travelling with young children, I'm well aware that there won't be endless opportunities, and we need to make the most of them while we can.

Family relaxing on sunloungers

Seeing interesting things - from big important historic sites and monuments to a different coloured post box or an unfamiliar food in the supermarket.

Losing track of time - when you don't need to worry about getting to school on time, rushing to swimming lessons, or getting to bed at a reasonable hour. If you are on a relaxing schedule you can even forget what day of the week it is, as long as you don't forget to come home!

Learning about a new culture - whether the differences are subtle or more extreme. I love seeing how people live in different countries, how their lives are different and how they are the same. Even countries that are very similar to the UK have their differences. I think it's important to share with the children that there are many different ways of doing the same thing, whether it's how you travel to school, what you eat for dinner or how you spend your free time.

Eating food that I didn't have to cook - and along with this, using crockery and cutlery that I don't have to wash up, sleeping in a bed with sheets that I didn't have to change, and using a bathroom that I don't have to clean.

Child eating hotel buffet

Relaxed bedtimes - as long as the children are happy and we don't have an early start, I love not having the pressure to get them to bed at a reasonable time. Especially nice when you are somewhere warm with long evenings, and you can enjoy being outdoors and making the most of the day.

Living out of a suitcase - and having the exact amount of clothes that you need. No fussing about what to wear every day as you have a limited number of options, and so much less stuff means a lot less tidying.

Learning something new - perhaps a few words in a foreign language, about a local landmark or historic site, finding out about a historic event that you've never heard of before, and learning about a different way of life.

Family visiting Pompeii

Coming home again - and appreciating what you have at home (as long as you can ignore the huge pile of washing, if only for a little while!)

What are your favourite things about family travel?
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