Monday, 22 May 2017

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

At the weekend  Ram and I took Harry up to London for the day, and we took him to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It was a bit of a mission to get the tickets, so we were very lucky that my brother-in-law was able to buy some extra tickets quite a while ago, and we could tag along!

This post doesn't really contain any spoilers, but please don't keep reading if you don't want to know anything about the show!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child theatre

We didn't realise when we booked the tickets that the performance we saw was the last one by the original cast. I don't know if the audience is normally so enthusiastic, but there was a brilliant atmosphere in the building! The play is performed in two parts so it's a long show, although we had a break between the two with enough time to grab some dinner.

As you leave the theatre after the first part you are encouraged to take a badge with the hashtag #keepthesecrets, and promise not to spoil the show for other people. Although I had read the script, back when I didn't know that I'd be able to get tickets, there were still plenty of surprises, and I think that people really have made an effort not to give away too many details.

So I don't want to say anything about the play that might be a spoiler, but I can say that it was amazing and we absolutely loved it!  It's a very intense show, loud and fast paced, and as you'd expect from a Harry Potter story it deals with some dark themes. There are some fantastic magical effects and I'm sure that it would benefit from another watch - I'm sure that I missed things!

#keepthesecrets badge

The play is billed as suitable for children aged 10 and up, so I was a bit unsure as to what Harry would make of it. Originally just Ram and I were going to go, but since booking the tickets Harry had seen all the films and read all the books, including the script for the play, and he really wanted to come along. When another ticket in our group became available we decided that all three of us would go, and Harry's cousin, who is also 8, was watching too. I was surprised however not to see any other children in the audience, perhaps because it was quite a late finish for a school night.

Fortunately Harry really enjoyed it, and although he did find some parts of the show a little bit scary (it's a bit different to reading about something sinister happening and then it actually taking place in front of you!) he was really glad that he had come along.

Now I'm just desperate to watch it again!

Friday, 19 May 2017

The cable box

We are very lucky. We have a good sized house, and we have plenty of storage. One of my reservations when buying this house was that the more room you have, the more you find to fill it, and I admit that there are several things in our house that wouldn't be there if space was more limited. However I like to think that I personally am very good at decluttering and passing on the things that we no longer need, and I take on this responsibility for myself and the children.

Unfortunately Ram doesn't share my interest in decluttering. Although he's not really the sentimental type, and he doesn't have the boxes of old diaries or photographs that I like to keep, he isn't good at passing on things that we no longer need, in case they are useful one day. One prime example is the cable box, or more correctly now, boxes.

Boxes of random cables

I'm guessing that one of these probably resides in most houses up and down the country, and I hate it. I don't like the fact that the cables are all tangled, it makes me uneasy in a Feng Shui sort of sense, as though it means that the energy in our home is jumbled up. I don't like that I don't know what most of the cables are for. I don't like it because owing to my lack of knowledge I worry that we might get rid of a cable and then find that we need it and can't replace it. I don't like it because many of the cables relate to outdated tech that we've since upgraded, and it feels like such a waste.

I'm currently going through many different types of item around the house and having a sort out - the so-called komono from the Marie Kondo method. I can't sort the cable box myself because it isn't mine (all the cables that I need for my own personal electronic devices, like my Kindle and Fitbit, are neatly labelled and stored in sensible places for when I need them). So I've hauled the boxes down from the top of the wardrobe and left them prominently in the bedroom for Ram to go through.

It's been there a week and I'm not sure he's really noticed it yet.

Do you have a cable box? I'm sure I'm not alone!

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Arundel Castle, West Sussex

Arundel Castle, West Sussex

At the weekend we were invited to visit Arundel Castle in West Sussex. The castle is just down the road from us and we often drive past, so we were very interested to have a look around inside! We visited on a Sunday and managed to find free parking a short walk away. Arundel can get busy on a nice day but there is quite a lot of street parking and several pay and display car parks in the town, including one right opposite the entrance. It took us around 3 - 4 hours to visit the castle.

It was such a lovely sunny day that we decided to begin our visit with the gardens. From the main entrance you first come to the Fitzalen Chapel and White Garden. The chapel was founded in 1390 and is the burial place of the Dukes of Norfolk. Then we walked through the gardens with their beautiful fountains, including the crown fountain where a crown is suspended in the air above a jet of water, fascinating to watch it bobbing up and down. There are also some lovely glasshouses which you can walk through and peek inside.

Arundel Castle Gardens

Next we entered the castle, and started our tour with the Castle Keep. This is the oldest part of the castle and dates from 1068. You reach it by a short walk across the battlements, then once inside you can climb up and walk around the edge to enjoy some spectacular views across the downland and to the sea. 

View from Arundel Castle

Inside the keep you can see the entrance down to the dungeon, and the surrounding rooms have lots of information about the history of the castle, brought to life with models.

 Castle Keep at Arundel

We went on to tour the Main Castle Rooms and the Castle Bedrooms. I couldn't take any photographs inside, but the rooms were stunning. I was really interested to see the bedrooms, it's fun to imagine what it would be like to stay for a few nights in the castle! There are some really interesting things to see, like enormous fireplaces, beautiful pieces of furniture and storage, and lots of weaponry. 

Arundel Castle in West Sussex

We finished our visit with a slow walk back to the entrance through the gardens, admiring the lovely flowers and stopping for a quick climb in a clump of twisty trees. We had a really lovely visit, and I'd definitely recommend it!

I also made a short video of our day at the castle which you can see below, enjoy!


If you have a little more time in Arundel it's a lovely town to walk around. You can take a short walk up past the castle to Swanbourne Lake which is very pretty and a nice place to feed the ducks or hire a little boat. Just a bit further along is the Black Rabbit pub, where I've enjoyed several good meals.

We received a complimentary Gold Plus family ticket in exchange for a review. The Gold Plus ticket allows you access to all areas of the castle, and there are three other ticket options. You can find more information and prices on the Arundel Castle website.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Hama bead flower wreath

Hama bead flower wreath tutorial

The latest craft box that I received as a Bostik Blogger was themed flowers - and I was full of ideas! My favourite item from the box, not surprisingly, was a mini flower Hama bead pegboard and a selection of Hama beads, and so I decided that I would make up lots of little flowers using the pegboard and use them to make a pretty flower wreath.

You need:

Six green lollipop sticks
Green craft foam
Flower cut outs and artificial flowers
Mini flower Hama bead pegboard
Hama beads in bright colours
Bostik Fine and Wide Glu Stick
(Optional - ribbon or cord for hanging)

Materials for making a Hama bead wreath

Instructions:

Use the Bostik Fine and Wide Glu Stick to glue six lollipop sticks together in a circle, and leave to dry thoroughly. Cut leaf shapes from the green craft foam and use the Glu Stick to glue them around edge of the wreath. Then cover the wreath with artifical flower petals so that you can no longer see the lollipop sticks underneath.

Use the Hama bead flower pegboard to make a selection of Hama bead flowers in different colours. I found that 11 flowers covered the wreath perfectly. As they are cooling after being ironed keep them flat - I found it best to let them cool between two heat proof mats. Then glue to the wreath using the Glu Stick. Make sure that you use plenty of glue, and leave to dry.

When the wreath is dry, tie some ribbon through the top for hanging.

Here you can see a full video tutorial for the wreath:


Hama bead flowers used to make a wreath

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

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Horrible Histories - The Best of Barmy Britain at the Pavilion Theatre, Worthing

At the weekend Harry and I were guests at the Pavilion Theatre in Worthing to see Horrible Histories - The Best of Barmy Britain. Performed by two energetic and hard working actors, some of the more gruesome parts of British History are brought to life using a variety of different costumes, props, along with catchy song and dance routines.

Horrible Histories Barmy Britain at Worthing Pavilion

Here's what the theatre has to say:

Could you beat battling Boudicca? Will King John be a martyr for the Magna Carta? Will you lose your heart or your head to Henry VIII? Can Parliament survive gunpowder Guy? Light up your life with the great fire of London! Stand and deliver to dastardly Dick Turpin? Escape the clutches of Burke and Hare and move to the groove with party Queen Victoria! It’s the history of Britain with the nasty bits left in!


Horrible Histories Barmy Britain tour

The show is made up of lots of different sections that each focus on either a historical figure - like Henry VIII or Guy Fawkes - or an event - like the plague. The actors take on the characters using a variety of costumes, props and accents, and share fun and gory facts. There is plenty of humour, including jokes for the grown ups, along with spoofs, and lots of audience participation.

Harry said - "I really liked the section with Boudicca in because it had a funny song and we all had to clap along. I learned a lot about history like the Tudors and Queen Victoria."

It was a very enjoyable show, and we both learned a lot!

Harry and I received complimentary tickets to the show in exchange for a review.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Predicting which videos will be popular on YouTube

I've been publishing videos on YouTube for a few years now, in fact my first video was a washing machine review published back in 2012. Some of my older videos have done really well. My most popular video - a look around the Playmobil Lion Knight's Empire Castle that we bought my son for Christmas one year - has received over 115,000 views which is quite amazing. I have quite a few other Playmobil videos which have done surprisingly well, and all I do is show the features of the sets and talk about them. I should probably think about making a few more, especially as many of the sets are now no longer available!


Something that put me off adding videos to YouTube for a long time was that it has a reputation for negative comments and trolls. I'm a sensitive person, and if someone said something rude about me or my children I would take it very personally and it would probably stop me uploading videos. Fortunately the worst that I've had was someone commenting on the fact that I was letting my son play with dolls!

I've uploaded videos across a variety of genres, but mainly toy reviews, craft tutorials and days out or holiday videos. I've never really done much in the way of promoting my videos, and I've found that in general they either take off immediately and the views keep growing, or they tank completely. I think that one way to do well is to get lots of views as soon as you can after publishing. I had a lot of success with my video about the pirate play area at Center Parcs de Vossemeren which I shared to their Facebook page and they re-shared immediately. The views came in straightaway, thick and fast! But having said that, my second video about the park which I published a few days later and didn't share has now overtaken it in terms of views.


In general my travel videos do perform well, especially those of holiday destinations abroad, and hotel or room tours. A really quick video that I made of the beach where we stayed in Fuerteventura also took off really quickly without any promotion at all, I've no idea why!

One type of video that I've had poor success with has been craft tutorial videos. This surprised me as I thought they would do well - I obviously need to do some work on improving them! My most popular craft video was this short demonstration of the Chameleon Multiple Tone Pens, one of the first craft videos that I made. It took a long time to get to that level of views though, it was published over two years ago.


Another craft video that I made has done terribly despite me actually promoting it - it's only 30 seconds long and I really thought it would do better - please have a watch and make it more popular!


So sometimes there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why some videos do better on YouTube than others and I find it impossible to predict! I'd love to know if you have any tips or tricks for YouTube success!

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

My crafting lately

My crafting seems to have slowed down a bit lately. I'm not sure why, perhaps I've been feeling a little bit uninspired. So I thought I'd share some recent projects that I'm proud of, to try and get my crafting mojo back!

I was really pleased with my crochet bunting using a kit from Attic24. It was one of those projects that I'd had sitting around for ages, and I was so proud of it when it was finished. It is now hanging up in Mia's room, and she loves it!

Attic 24 crochet bunting in pink

After coming back from holiday with yet another collection of shells, we dug into our collection to create some salt dough shell mosaics. They make really lovely, chunky decorations, and are currently on display in the summer house. I'd like them to go outside but I'm not sure that they are sturdy enough, perhaps I might put them out anyway as a transient piece of artwork!

Salt dough shell mosaics

Most recently I've been working on my latest Bostik Bloggers craft, which I'll be sharing in full in the next few days. I used a mini Hama bead flower pegboard to make a flower wreath, a lovely decoration to brighten up the home for summer.

Hama bead flower summer wreath

Finally I've also been creative making lots of videos for my YouTube channel. Most of my recent ones have been about our days out here and there, but here's a short little crafty one which I made with the children when we had lots of fun making garden art on the patio!


For my next project I'm working on a little kit with mini Hama beads, a craft that I find really relaxing although also rather fiddly - and you do need to keep an eye on your work in progress as a small knock can be catastrophic!

If you share photographs of your crafts on Instagram, it would be fab if you wanted to join in with our crafting community! You just need to tag your photos with the hashtag #craftingismytherapy_month, so we are currently using #craftingismytherapy_may. Every month Me, You and Magoo and I will share some of our favourites, and it's a great way to see what projects others are working on, and perhaps get some inspiration. I'd love to see you there!

Monday, 8 May 2017

Learning to ride a bike

If I'm honest, we aren't the sportiest of families. My husband and I exercise to keep ourselves fit, but when it comes to family sporting activities we don't do a great deal. We tend to stick for walks in the country and along the beach (mainly with the added incentive of hunting for Pokemon or Geocaching).

It's been bothering me for the last couple of years now that Harry couldn't ride a bike without stabilisers. I've had it on my summer activity list for the last two summers, but when it came to it he just wasn't interested in learning, and was quite happy to pootle about on his little toddler bike. A little while ago a friend kindly gave us a bike that her son had grown out of, and it had been waiting in the garage for Harry get around to having a go on it.

Then suddenly towards the end of last week, just as I was about to start making dinner, Harry announced that he wanted to have a go on the bike. It was an inconvenient moment, but I didn't want to miss the opportunity, so we all went out the front of the house, got out the bike, and put Mia on her balance bike to keep her occupied.

He didn't want any help at first but it became apparent that he wasn't sure what to do. I didn't really know how to teach him either, so I did the classic holding on to the back of the saddle, letting him pedal, and then letting go. It took quite a few goes before he got anywhere, but then he suddenly went from one pedal round before he fell of to pedalling up and down the length of the road!

Small boy riding on a bike

It was amazing quite how quickly he picked it up, and we spent the weekend venturing further afield and making use of the cycle paths around our estate. The bike is too small for him, so we've been looking at buying him a decent bike that will last him for a few years, and then passing this one down to Mia so that she can have a go - I'm hoping that she'll pick it up just as quickly!

I'm so proud of him, he was determined to do it and persevered when he was struggling. I think it's an important life skill, and I'm hoping that if we are able to get us all bikes we can start to enjoy some fun family bike rides!

Friday, 5 May 2017

Living in a smart home

Our first foray into the world of the smart home was a few years back when we installed a Tado smart central heating system. We can control the heating from our phones, and because it works on location the heating can turn on and off depending on where we are. If we are going on holiday we turn the heating off, then time when we turn it back on so that the house is nice and warm for our return. If we are only out locally for a short time the house doesn't have long enough to get cold, and it's nice to pull into the drive and see that the heating has come on ready for us without having to worry about it.

The next element to our smart home was the Amazon Alexa, which we bought just before Christmas last year, and since then things have become much more complicated. We started out with just the main Amazon Echo (affiliate link), which was very shortly followed by two Echo Dots (affiliate link), so we now have the main Echo in the kitchen and a dot in both the living room and bedroom. I mostly use Alexa to play music as she's linked to our Spotify account. It's really good to be able to put music on in the kitchen while I'm making dinner. She's can also tell me the news, the weather, and the children love asking her to tell them a joke.


However one of the main reasons that Alexa was purchased was for the next element - the light bulb invasion. Initially intended for just the living room and bedroom, the light bulb empire has gradually expanded to include most of the house. We have Philips Hue bulbs, in a mixture of both coloured and white, some set up individually and some linked. The outside ones are set on timers, and all can be controlled by both voice and phone.

They were quite fun at first, especially the four coloured bulbs in the living room which can be set to flash on and off in time with music. The excitement has worn off a bit now, as has the novelty of controlling them by speaking to Alexa. The trouble is that as we've added more and more, Alexa isn't always sure exactly which bulbs you are referring to. By the time she has asked for clarification, and you've managed to come to a joint agreement about what you are hoping she might do, it's a lot quicker to just pull up the screen on the phone and change them yourself.

Most recently, a few weeks ago we installed a Ring Video Doorbell (affiliate link). This was quite an expense, not just for the unit itself but also for the full morning that it took two electricians to install. It is fab though, the camera is motion activated so whenever someone comes to the door it will record a 30 second clip. If someone rings the bell we have the function to answer it from our phone. So for example if I've just popped out and the postman arrives with a parcel I can speak to him through the doorbell and ask him to leave it round the side. If small boys come to the door to ask us to throw their football back (a regular occurrence) I don't need to go running to the door if I'm busy and I can tell them I'll chuck it over later. It's also comforting to be able to pull up a live view from our front door when we are away and make sure that nothing untoward is going on.

Although it's great from a security point of view although it does make me feel a little bit spied on - the husband will receive an alert whenever I leave the house, when I return, and will see any visitors that I might have during the day (most likely none!).

Ring smart doorbell

So what is next for our smart home? I've not noticed the husband researching anything else recently although I know that there are plenty of add-ons available that work with our existing set up. I wouldn't be surprised if he starts mooting the idea of an indoor video recording security system, but I might have a few objections to that one!

Do you have any of these devices? I'd love to know how you get on with them!

Amazon links are affiliate.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

A day at Whipsnade Zoo, Dunstable

Whipsnade Zoo with the family

Over the weekend we had a lovely family weekend away in Bedfordshire, and we enjoyed a great family day trip to Whipsnade Zoo. Whipsnade Zoo is located in Dunstable, and we were able to cover our entry with Tesco Clubcard vouchers. We've visited a couple of times over the last few years, even when Harry was just a tiny baby, and always had a great time.

I made a little video showing some of the things that we saw:


I think that my favourite animal at Whipsnade has to be the elephants. There are lots of them and you can stand quite close and watch them walk about, we say baby elephants 'kissing' their parents which was very sweet. When we visited a few years ago we were lucky enough to see them being walked down the road, each using their trunk to hold onto the tail of the one in front!

Elephant at Whipsnade Zoo

The zoo is quite spread out and so there is a fair bit of walking for little ones. You can pay a bit extra to take your car onto the site, but you would still need to do some walking. It's also worth mentioning that you need to book a time slot for the indoor soft play area, luckily Ram was on the ball as it was closed for a private party later on in the day and the time slots do fill up.

Whipsnade Zoo flamingos

We also watched the bird show which was very good, it's amazing how they can train them! There's a lot to do and we easily filled our day. 

The zoo is in beautiful surroundings, if you are visiting and have time I'd also recommend a stop at nearby Dunstable Downs for kite flying and glider watching.

Whipsnade Zoo with the family

Monday, 1 May 2017

May - Lately I've been...

It's time for another catch up post! Here's what I've been up to lately:

Thinking about

I'm feeling a bit snowed under with clutter in the house at the minute so it's time for a bit of a clear out. We need to do a tip run as we have some broken electrical bits that need to go to the recycling, but it gets very busy at the tip so we've been putting it off. There's a charity drop off box at the gym, so I'm trying to get into the habit of taking along a carrier bag each time I visit.

After having the children at home over Easter and spending a lot of family time together I've been thinking about them and wondering what they get up to all day. I'm also thinking about the summer holidays, they will have 8 weeks off this summer for the first time as they have changed schools - I'm wondering how I'm going to fill all that time!

Crafting

I finally finished my crochet bunting! After my last few projects I've acquired a bit of a stash of different colours of yarn, so I'm thinking about some new crochet projects. My sister bought me a book of crochet mandala patterns and I've already made a couple that I'm quite proud of. I'm thinking about having a go at a larger one that I can use as a lap blanket at my desk in the winter. 

Attic24 pink crochet bunting

Watching

One of our favourite TV series is back - Better Call Saul - so we've been enjoying watching that. Otherwise I've not watched much else. I have picked up the YouTube a bit, I enjoy videos by Cruising the Cut about life on a canal boat, and I follow lots of parent bloggers that make videos like the ones I do which are always fun to watch. I also love watching the Honest Trailers on YouTube and eagerly await new ones - have a look here ScreenJunkies or just search for honest trailer, they are hilarious!

Eating

I've been doing very well at watching what I eat lately. Despite putting on 2 kg over Easter I've managed to get down to my 'low' weight so I'm pleased with that, and it means that I can fit into all my clothes! Hopefully I can keep it off for the summer, maybe if it's warm enough I'll even face the world in shorts!

Travelling to

For the first week of the Easter holidays we were lucky enough to enjoy a lovely family holiday to Fuerteventura. We stayed in a hotel on Jandia beach and spent lots of time playing in the sand and relaxing on sun loungers by the pool. 


Closer to home we've been exploring the local area lately and making the most of the beautiful weather. We've had walks up to Cissbury Ring, Highdown Hill, and through the lovely bluebell woods near our house.


Reading

I very much enjoyed I See You by Clare Mackintosh which I picked up in the library the other week, definitely one to recommend. While we were away I read Coffee, Tea, The Gypsy and Me by Caroline James which was a fun, lighthearted read that I downloaded when it was in the freebie Kindle list. I love 'shopping' on Amazon and downloading all the free books, I've found some good books that way!

Planning

I'm working on a video challenge this year where I want to publish 52 videos. I've managed 15 so far which puts me a couple behind schedule, so I've been coming up with some ideas. If you want to see my latest videos you can find them on my YouTube channel. I really love making videos, people scoffed at my Media Studies A-Level but that was where I first learned about editing clips together (in the very early days of digital video!) and I love the fact that I can make them and call it 'work'!

I'm also trying to make some plans for the garden this summer. Mainly involving clearing it out a little bit, I'm not much of a gardener!

Looking forward to

At the end of the month we are going with Harry to watch Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in London which I'm really looking forward to. We originally had two tickets and it was going to be me and Ram, then Harry read all the books and we thought that he'd probably appreciate it more so I was going to take him. Then another ticket became available as they'd been booked as part of a group, and so all three of us are now able to go which is brilliant. From reading the script it does look as though it might be a bit intense, but I'm hoping that Harry will be able to cope with it. It will also co-incidentally be the final performance by the original cast which is quite exciting.

I'm also looking forward to the weather warming up a little bit. We've had our first barbecue of the year already but it was a bit too cold to sit outside, I'm hoping that it won't be long until we can get the garden furniture out.

What have you been up to lately?
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