Friday, 23 February 2018

Mia and her Speech and Drama

You'll have to forgive me, this is a very proud Mum post!

So last year, Harry passed his Grade 1 piano exam and of course we were all very pleased for him, he had worked hard, and we gave him lots of praise. But Mia was a little miffed at all the attention that he was getting, not least because he received a lovely certificate which I put up in a frame on his bedroom wall. I found her a frame too and we put in an recognition award from school, but she felt that it wasn't quite the same.

So I was on the lookout for an activity for Mia. She's not got the patience for piano lessons yet, she gets very easily frustrated if she can't do something. But one day she came home all excited because lots of children in the school had won awards for speech and drama which had been presented in assembly - some of them even had medals and trophies! So in September we signed her up for a term of lessons, and she absolutely loved them. They take place at school at lunchtimes so she's still full of energy, and they seem to be very small classes so she gets a lot out of them.

I've really noticed a difference when she's reading aloud and I'm sure that this must be from the classes, she reads beautifully with lots of expression and she really seems to have learned how to bring a story to life. She also did beautifully in her school Nativity play at Christmas.

This week she went to perform at the Worthing Music and Arts Festival. I must admit that I didn't really know what this was. I first thought that it was just a show, where she'd perform her poem along with lots of other children. Then I found out that there was judging involved, and so I thought that it was similar to the music exams, where each child would be awarded pass, merit and distinction or similar. It wasn't until we arrived that I realised that it was more of a competition, with 17 children in her age group reciting the same poem (Tarantula by Clare Bevan) and being awarded first, second and third place.

All the children performed the poem brilliantly, and it was lovely to see how they all put their own interpretation onto it. They were all so confident for their age, I know that I wouldn't find it easy to stand up in front of an audience of adults before a judging table and recite something from memory! We were so thrilled when Mia was awarded second place! I'm really glad that she's found something that she enjoys, that suits her little personality, and has given her an achievement that she can be proud of. 

Worthing Music and Arts Festival

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Combining minimalism with being a crafter

I would love to be a minimalist. There are many different definitions of minimalism, and mine is to only own the things that I really love and need. I'm not there yet although I try my best. The main thing standing in my way is that I do like to have things around me, and I wrote about this when I discussed hankering after minimalism but being a sentimental hoarder. I also love tidying and organising - I don't know what I'd do if there was nothing left to declutter!

Combining minimalism with a love for crafting

I have quite a few hobbies - I craft, I read, I toy with baking, I exercise - and all this means that I end up with a lot of stuff. Crafting in particular generates a lot of things, both related to current projects that those that I've got in mind for the future. So I thought I'd write a few tips for combining a love for crafting with a minimalist home and lifestyle, in the hope that I can start to take my own advice!

So here goes:


  • If you want to try a new craft, buy a kit that contains everything you need and won't leave you with leftovers, in case you decide it's not for you.
  • If you can, borrow equipment from others, like different sizes of needles or hooks.
  • When you have finished a project, give away any leftovers that you won't use. I've given odd balls of yarn to family that do charity knitting, at our summer garage sale I had a free box, and I've also given away excess craft materials on our local Facebook free group, where they were snapped up.
  • Keep a list of your works in progress, go through the list regularly and be realistic about which ones you are going to complete. I do this in my smash book and also with regular updates on my blog which helps me to focus on the projects that I really want to work on.
  • Don't have too many projects on the go, and finish one type of craft project e.g. cross stitch before you start the next. 
  • Keep your current projects organised so that they are all contained and can be kept tidy. I use a box for my yarn projects and large ziplock bags for my cross stitch. 

Balls of yarn in a box ready for a crochet blanket project
  • Don't buy supplies without a project in mind to use them for. 
  • Don't hide your stash away where it is out of sight, store things where you can easily get to them and be reminded of what you have.
  • Have a purpose in mind for finished projects, whether that's somewhere in your home that they can be displayed, or as a gift.

Of course it's all much easier said than done, now I just need to start taking my own advice!

Monday, 19 February 2018

Giveaway - Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep Day & Night

Tommee Tippee is launching a new generation of its best-selling Perfect Prep machine, the Perfect Prep Day & Night. The Perfect Prep Day & Night prepares a formula feed bottle to the perfect temperature in just two minutes, following formula feeding guidelines for safe bottle preparation. It can be difficult to prepare a bottle safely, especially in the middle of the night when parents are already sleep deprived, and the new product features work to combat this, including volume control to minimise night time noise as well as a glow nightlight.

The Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep Day & Night can be used with most bottles and formula brands. It is available in four shades (white, black, grey and red), has an RRP of £130, and is available to pre-order now and on full sale from 18th March.

You can see more in the video below:



You can also join the Tommee Tippee community over on Facebook for tips and advice, and to connect with other parents.

I have one Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep Day & Night to giveaway to one of my readers! All you need to do is fill in the Rafflecopter form below. All tasks are optional, but completing more will give you more chances of winning. Please see the Terms and Conditions below the form.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Giveaway Terms and conditions 

The prize is a Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep Day & Night. 

The giveaway will run from 12am on Monday 19th February 2018 until midnight on Sunday 25th February 2018 as shown in the Rafflecopter form above. 

All entries must be received via Rafflecopter. All entry tasks are optional, but each one will give you extra chances of winning. 

The winner will be picked at random via Rafflecopter. 

The winner will be informed by e-mail when the giveaway closes, I'll also attempt contact via other social media if necessary. 

As soon as I have the winner's details I will pass them to Tommee Tippee so that the prize can be sent out. If the winner does not respond to my contact within 28 days I will redraw and reallocate the prize. 

Winners must have a UK mailing address.

Good luck!

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Visiting the United States with the family

We have been lucky enough to visit the United States with our family several times, and while it can seem a bit daunting to plan a trip with very young children, with a bit of forward planning you can make sure that everything runs smoothly.

Plane flying in the sky

The most important thing is to make sure that you have all the travel documents that you need. Everyone will need a passport, and if only one parent is travelling, or a child is travelling with someone that isn't their parent or legal guardian, you will need to check carefully if additional documents or letters are required. You can find out more information about children travelling with just one parent or other adults here.

You will also need to apply for an ESTA for each member of your family. The ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) has been put in place to replace the Visa system for travellers from certain countries. It allows you to arrange your entry easily online before you make your trip to the United States. Although most applications are approved online in minutes, you should allow at least 72 hours for your application to be processed, as if it is refused you will need to arrange a separate Visa through the US embassy.

Application for an ESTA costs $14 and allows you to enter the United States for business or pleasure for up to 90 days over a period of two years, or until your passport expires, whichever happens first. An ESTA does not completely guarantee your entry into the United States, as the U.S. Border Authority still have the final say on who can or cannot enter the country. You can find out lots more information about the ESTA application process, including how to apply and checking that you are eligible, here - Frequently Asked Questions about the ESTA.

You will also need to make sure that you have valid travel insurance for every member of the family. Our children have been taken ill a couple of times on holiday, nothing serious thankfully, but it was such a relief to be able to call a doctor out in the middle of the night with only the excess to pay - having seen the bill it would have cost us several hundreds just for a simple visit.

Also on the medical front, make sure that you pack any medication that you or your children need. Check carefully, as you may need additional documentation if you are taking prescription medicines - take them in their original packaging, and only take what you will need. Make sure to pack them in your carry on luggage in case of any delay in retrieving your suitcase.

One particularly daunting prospect about a holiday to the US for many parents in Europe is the thought of a long haul flight. We've survived several long haul flights with our children now, and while it hasn't always been easy, it can be done. I've shared a few tips for a long haul flight with young children here, along with my packing must-haves!

Departure board at the airport

Once you have landed you may still need to negotiate a long queue at immigration, a challenge with over tired and jet-lagged children. Make sure that you keep plenty of snacks and drinks in reserve from the flight, and visit the toilets before you join the queue. You won't get your pushchair back until baggage reclaim, so be prepared to carry your child if they are too tired or grumpy to stand. This is where a ride on suitcase or similar works brilliantly for the toddler to sit on while you are waiting!

Depending on when and where you have flown, jet lag can be a problem, although we usually find that it's the adults that suffer more, and children generally adapt remarkably quickly! I've found that it is best to adjust to the new time zone as soon as you can, so if you land during the afternoon try and keep children up and awake until as close to their usual bedtime as possible. Keeping to meal times in the new time zone really helps too.

I hope that these tips were helpful if you are considering a family trip to the United States!

This is a sponsored post.

Photo credits - Plane Deniz Altindas, Departure Board Matthew Smith, both via Unsplash.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

First adventures in slime (and a UK friendly slime recipe)

I've known about slime for years, pretty much since when I joined Pinterest in about 2012. Back then it was something that was very big in the US and hadn't been heard of here, mainly because one of the key ingredients is borax, which we can't buy here in the UK. Even as people started to come up with borax alternatives and UK recipes I was still quite hesitant, because I wasn't sure that I wanted my children playing around with dangerous chemicals.

Then a couple of weeks ago Harry started going to Science Club after school, and their first activity was making slime using a UK friendly recipe. The borax comes from contact lens solution, and the recipe that he came home with looked pretty safe, so after constant pleading I agreed that I'd let him have a go. I went to the supermarket to get him the contact lens solution and soon found out that the important ingredient, boric acid, isn't in all the cheap own brand solutions. You need to pay more for a branded one and they can be rather expensive. I kept my eyes open, and eventually found a bottle on special offer, so I treated him to some for half term.

The recipe that he started with is very simple. You use a cup or so of PVA glue (something that I have plenty of!), add a pinch or two of bicarbonate of soda, some food colouring and/or glitter, then mix it all together. Squirt in the contact lens solution a bit at a time and keep mixing, adding more until it starts to become stiffer and come away from the edges of the bowl. When it's not too sticky you can take it out and knead it with your fingers until it comes together into slime. It's not nearly as messy as it looks, and although it can be sticky you can remove it quite easily from your fingers.

We've been using gel food colouring which gives the slime a lovely bright colour (also adding a faint coloured tinge to the hands) and we've used glitter glue as well as adding extra glitter. We've also experimented with adding shaving gel and bath foam (not too expensive if you buy from the value ranges!) and he has a long list of things that he wants to buy from Hobbycraft, including clear glue, glow in the dark paint and foam beads.

Turquoise glitter slime

So far he hass made eight or nine batches and still has about half the bottle of contact lens solution left, so it's proved fairly good value for money. And it has kept him happily entertained for several hours, so for me it's worth it, and I'd definitely recommend letting your child have a go if they've not discovered it already!

My slime recipe is very basic, so if you want to step it up a little there are lots of videos on YouTube. Our favourites are by Michelle Twin Mum who has made lots of different varieties and has inspired most of his shopping list. And I really love this blog post by Sarah at Mum of Three World about her daughter the slime businesswoman!

Friday, 9 February 2018

A broken boiler during the coldest week of the year so far

Back in early October I was so organised, and I booked in a boiler service. Although we had never had a problem with our boiler since we moved in six years ago, it had only been serviced a couple of times, so I thought it was a good idea to get it sorted before the winter. There was a small fix needed, otherwise all good, that was us sorted.

Unfortunately it wasn't that simple, and a few days later the boiler stopped working. We had it fixed, and it kept us going until a couple of weeks ago, when we couldn't get it to light one morning. We called the plumber, who wasn't available until the next day, so we settled in for a cold night, then typically the next morning it started up again. He still came out, but couldn't find anything wrong with it, and it was fine until last week when it packed up again, and this time it didn't kick back into life. Although we can try to get it fixed, with the boiler being over 15 years old, after discussions with the plumber we decided that a new boiler was the best option. We have a date for installation booked next week, so just a few more chilly days to get through.

Small portable heater

I'm quite surprised by how much the cold in the house has affected me. I thought it would be fine - we have an immersion heater at least for hot water, I have lots of jumpers, and I like hot drinks. But although I'm quite happy if I'm sitting in one room with the heater on, if I want something from another room it seems such a mission to go out into the cold (and it is very cold!) and open and shut all the doors until I get to where I need to be. All the rooms upstairs are freezing, and as for the top floor I've not been up there in days - for all I know there are icicles hanging down from the ceiling!

We've managed to gather together three heaters, each of which can heat a room effectively, but only if we keep the doors shut and leave them on. As soon as the heater turns off it becomes very cold very quickly. We have moved the children's mattresses into our room and so we are all sleeping together with a small heater on over night. It was quite fun at first, a bit like camping, but the novelty has quickly worn off. Even the children want to go back into their own rooms now!

It has really made me appreciate how dependent we are on central heating at this time of the year. I can't imagine what it would be like if we didn't have the heaters, and we live in a double glazed, new build house. I don't think I'd be able to concentrate on anything apart from how to keep warm!

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Young Voices 2018 at the O2

This week Harry and a group of children from his school travelled up to the O2 in London to take part in the Young Voices choir concert. Along with over 8000 other primary aged children from across the country he sang his heart out to a mixture of different songs - ones written specially for the show, and a mixture of classics and modern music.

Harry travelled up to London in the coach with the rest of the children. We debated taking Mia along to the show in the evening, but we decided that she was a bit too young for the late night, so we arranged for my ever helpful and accommodating parents to collect her from school and take her back to theirs so that we could pick her up on her way home. This meant that Ram and I could get up to London early and spend a few hours together enjoying some child free time.

We first visited the Tower Bridge Exhibition which was somewhere we'd not been before. You go up to the top of one of the towers by lift, then you can walk across the two walkways for some views across the river and over London. Each walkway is fitted with a section of glass floor where you can test your courage by walking across, and one of them even has a mirror on the ceiling for that perfect selfie! There are also some fascinating videos and photographs of the bridge throughout history.


Then we went for a chilly walk along the river to the Tate Modern, stopping for a hot chocolate on the way there and an early dinner on the way back, before we headed to the O2. I must admit that I'd been a bit anxious about Harry going along - the O2 is so big and he's so little, and it was such a long day for him. So it was with relief that when we arrived to take our seats on the main floor of the arena we spotted the school banner and saw that they were in the bottom tier.

This meant that Harry could come down to see us for a quick hug beforehand, and we were able to see him (albeit tiny, and mainly the top of his head!) throughout the show. I was so glad that he wasn't right up at the top, it's so steep up there and we would have had no chance of spotting him. I really did admire the teachers with all these over excited children shrieking away, it was so noisy!

Young Voices choir 2018 at the O2, London

I wasn't sure what the show was going to be like. Harry has been practicing the songs for a few months now, and most of them I knew anyway, so I think I was just expecting to sit there while all the children sang their way through the list. Instead we were treated to an amazing show with dancers and a variety of  musicians, and it was brilliant to see how much the children were enjoying themselves. They all had little torches which they were waving around, along with jumping and dancing. It's the first time that Harry has been to any kind of music concert and he absolutely loved it, such an amazing experience for him. I was really proud of him, he has a lovely little voice but had always been reluctant to join the school choir until now, I'm hoping this will inspire him to keep going with it.

The school don't take part every year but I'm really hoping that he will have the chance to go again, and of course for Mia to get to go as well!

Monday, 5 February 2018

Easter hanging egg decorations

I love decorating the house for Easter, it's so welcome to start displaying some bright and cheerful Easter and Spring decorations! I have a homemade Easter tree that we made a few years ago, and it's a great way to display these simple hanging Easter decorations. If you don't have an Easter tree you could use a twig from the garden, perhaps painted white, or just hang the decorations from your mantlepiece or other hooks and handles around your home. These polystyrene eggs are so light that you can hang them almost anywhere.

Decorated Easter egg simple craft for children

You need:

Small polystyrene Easter Eggs
Tissue paper - a selection of different shades looks good
Ribbon and thread in different colours
Sequins and other small embellisments
Bostik Fine and Wide Glu Pen
Bostik Glu Dots

How to decorate polystyrene Easter eggs for the home

Instructions:

Tear or cut your tissue paper into small pieces, about 1 cm square. Mix them up so that you have a selection of different shades to work with.

Using tissue paper to collage polystyrene Easter Eggs

Coat the polystyrene eggs in glue using the Bostik Fine and Wide Glu Pen. This can be a little fiddly, I find that a good way to work is to use a skewer to make a hole in the top of the egg (you will need to do this later anyway for hanging) and then use a box or larger piece of polystyrene to support the egg while you decorate it.

Stick on the small pieces of tissue paper, making sure that all pieces lie flat and that the entire egg is covered. Leave to dry thoroughly. Don't use too much glue, and it's easier to pour some glue out into a jam jar lid or similar and apply with a brush so that you can smooth down all the edges. When the egg is completely coated with tissue paper, leave to dry thoroughly.

Egg covered in tissue paper craft

Make a hole in the top of the polystyrene egg and fill it with glue. Then cut a piece of coloured thread to use as a hanging loop. Push the ends of the thread into the hole, then add more glue so that the thread is completely secured. Leave to dry.

Polystyrene Easter egg craft for children

Then add other decorations to the egg. I made a circle around the middle of the eggs using ribbon. The Glu Dots are great for fixing ribbon and fabric as they are so sticky, and they held the ribbon firmly in place. For smaller sequins I used the Fine and Wide Glu Pen, and for the larger embellishments I used another Glu Dot. If you are finding it fiddly to apply the decorations you can use an egg cup to hold the egg in place and decorate half at a time.

Bostik Fine and Wide Glu Pen for crafting

When the eggs are dry you can hang them up to display!

Hanging Easter Eggs decoration craft

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

Saturday, 3 February 2018

A little crafting catch up

At the beginning of the year I published a post about my crafty plans for the year ahead, and so a month in I thought that I'd do a little update. My big aim for this year is to spend some time crafting every day, and so far I've managed it easily. I'm lucky because I do have stretches of time during the day when I can work on my projects, but I've also been trying to find gaps of time when I would otherwise have been doing something far less productive. For example while the children are reading in bed before they go to sleep, normally I'm just sitting playing on my phone waiting for my evening to begin.

I started the year working on my Christmas ABC Sampler (affiliate link), a lovely, large, Christmas themed sampler. Although it felt a bit odd to be working on it when Christmas was over and done with! It's a beautiful design with lots of different colours, including metallic thread, which I've never used before and beads, which I'll add on at the very end. I don't have a particular deadline in mind to finish it, but I'm aiming to complete one letter each month.

I started with Ornaments because that was where the centre square fell. I spent a lovely afternoon by myself in a hotel in Telford, accompanying my husband on a business trip, and that was when I completed the majority of the square. For the next section I chose Tree, as it was quite a large area and I wanted to continue making a decent dent in the project. It's proving to be quite a complicated sampler to work on as there are lots of different colours mixed in together, many of which are quite similar. It looks beautiful when a section is complete but it can be a bit difficult to keep track of the individual stitches - luckily I've not made any major mistakes so far!

Christmas ABC cross stitch sampler in progress

Secondly this month I've been working on my Persian Tiles crochet blanket. My Mum bought me this for Christmas and I was quite daunted by it at first, but once I got on with it I realised that I could follow the pattern without too much trouble. For a complicated design the pattern is fairly simple, and there are many tutorials on YouTube for the different stitches if I forget what I'm doing. I'm sure that it's full of mistakes but hopefully they aren't too noticeable. So far I've finished six of the squares and three octagons, so still a little way to go but it feels like a good start. The squares work up quite quickly but the octagons take a little longer and involve a bit more thought.

Persian Tiles Eastern Jewels blanket in progress

I share many crafty photos over on Instagram, and if you enjoy sharing your crafty progress, Nicola and I would love you to join in with our Crafting is my Therapy community. Each month we use a different hashtag, so this month we are using #craftingismytherapy_february, and I'm always amazed by the beautiful projects that people link up, from a wide variety of crafts. We also share some of our favourites each month, and it's a great way to find more crafters to follow. We'd love to see you there!

Contains an Amazon Affiliate link.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

February - Lately I've been...

January felt like a very long month. It was been so cold, dark and dreary, with some added stress which has left all our plans up in the air for several weeks, so I'm very glad that we are now in February! I thought I'd write a little catch up of what I've been doing over the last month, and what I'm hoping February will bring.

Thinking about

I've had a lot on my mind which has led to me focusing mainly on getting the children to school and back and making sure that we have enough food in the house. Unfortunately there isn't an end in sight so for the time being I'm just thinking about the best way that we can get through it.

Crafting

One of my New Year's resolutions was to make some time for crafting everyday, and so far I've been very successful. I've been mainly working on two projects, a cross stitch sampler and my Persian Tiles crochet blanket, and I've made some really good progress with both of them. I've found the crafting a really good way to take my mind off things, especially because both projects involve counting lots of stitches, so it has become a really good distraction.

A post shared by jenniferjain (@jenniferjain) on

Watching

We've not made it to the cinema this month but we have watched a few films at home, including Bladerunner in preparation for watching the sequel. I recorded The Miniaturist over Christmas and although so far I've only managed to watch part one I'm really enjoying it. We are also keeping up to date with Vikings.

Eating

I'm afraid that all my New Year diet plans went out of the window almost immediately, which is something that I need to work on. We still had quite a bit of chocolate and other snacks left after Christmas, but they've pretty much gone now, so as long as I don't buy anymore then I'll be fine. The trouble is that when I'm at home on my own, which is every weekday, it's too easy to just grab a pack of biscuits or a chocolate bar. The most effective method for me when I'm watching what I eat is to track my calories using My Fitness Pal, so I'm determined to get back on with that very soon.

Travelling to

Very unusually I've not travelled anywhere this month! I think that the furthest that I have been is to take the children to school.

Reading

Reading has also taken a bit of a backseat. I don't have a book on the go at the moment although I have a couple lined up, I've just not been making the time for reading lately.

Planning

After the changes to YouTube which means that I now can't monetise my channel I've been planning where I want to go with creating video content. I still need to work on increasing my subscribers (please do pop over if you want to help me out! Jennifer Jain on YouTube) and I also need to increase my watch time massively - difficult because most of my videos are very short. I don't earn a great deal from YouTube, but I earn a little bit and it all helps. So I need to think about making videos which are possibly longer and ones that people will be interested in watching. I was really proud of my most recent video, a time lapse of us all assembling Mia's new Ikea Stuva loft bed, and it seems to be doing quite well so I'm very pleased with that.

Next I'm thinking of another timelapse of me sorting out and organising my bookshelves, but I'm not sure I'm ready yet for the disruption that will cause!


Looking forward to

I'm looking forward to things becoming a little more settled. I'm not sure when that's going to be at the moment, but I'm hoping that things will get easier!
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