Monday, 26 September 2022

The things that I bring back from the US

An important part of my travel to the US is finding time for some shopping! I'm not after designer clothes or trainers, instead I like to visit the supermarkets like Target and Walmart and the large craft stores. I like to browse the homewares, crafts, stationery, pharmacy and snacks. 

On our visit a few weeks ago the first thing that we noticed was how much prices have increased since our last visit pre-Covid in autumn 2019. A trip to the US is definitely no longer a chance to pick up bargains! Most of the prices were comparable to home, and were in many cases more expensive, especially with the current poor exchange rate. 

However it is a chance to get hold of some things which aren't available at home, and these are the things that I always look for:

Craft supplies - I've already blogged about my holiday craft shop purchases so I won't repeat myself, but I always like to look for things which are a bit different to what we can get at home, and also to look for seasonal things and special offers.

Selection of fabric purchased on holiday

Nestle crunch chocolate bars - I've seen them in the UK, but they aren't as easy to find and also tend to just be the larger bars. I like to bring home a multipack bag of the tiny bars, especially if we are visiting around Halloween when they are on offer. 

Ghirardelli Brownie Mix - whenever we go to Costco I pick up a box of Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate brownie mix as it's so delicious and easy to make. But in the US there are so many different flavours available! The only trouble is that they can end up being quite heavy so you have to be restrained. This time I also bought some Betty Crocker mug cake mixes which were very tasty.

Ghirardelli brownie mix different flavours

Pharmacy things - I like to get some antibiotic cream as we can't buy that over the counter here. I also usually get a bottle of melatonin tablets as they are useful when travelling, to help with jet lag and adjusting to new time zones. There are also a few other things which are much cheaper and available in larger quantities, like hydrocortisone cream and antihistamines. I find that nail varnish is cheaper too!

Chips Ahoy - I love Chips Ahoy cookies! They are much sweeter at first but you soon get used to them. This time I discovered the Red Velvet flavour which were really tasty. 

A jigsaw - I often like to buy a jigsaw as a souvenir, and this time I came back with a jigsaw showing the map of the Magic Kingdom park. The only trouble that I've found is that US jigsaws tend to be a different size to the ones we get here. This one is square, and it won't fit on my jigsaw mat!

Disney World Orlando map jigsaw

A mug - I don't drink many hot drinks but I do like a morning hot chocolate and I love drinking from a mug which reminds me of my travels. We visited a discount gift store near our accommodation and I picked up a Mickey Mouse mug with images from across the years.

Do you visit the US? What are the things you buy that aren't as easy to get hold of here?

Friday, 23 September 2022

The best things about visiting theme parks with older children

We've always taken the children to theme parks, and when they were young we did several holidays to Disney World in Florida, which were brilliant although hard work with toddlers. This summer we repeated the two week intensive Disney World holiday, two years later than planned, and it was such a difference travelling with our children now that they are older, aged 11 and 13!

* No more pushchairs! We had two on our previous visit, and although they are handy for stashing things it is a pain pushing it through crowds, finding somewhere to leave it while you go on a ride, and it slows you down. It was very freeing to be without it.

* Longer legs and more stamina means they can walk longer distances, spend longer in the parks and get more done. 

* Visits to the toilet are uncomplicated! You don't need to worry about finding somewhere to change a nappy, and they know when they need to go so you don't have to constantly nag.

* You have some help carrying the bag, or at least they can be responsible for their own small bag or bum bag with essentials like phones and snacks.

* They understand about needing to queue for a ride and won't make a fuss. They are also able to keep themselves entertained while waiting, especially if they have the aforementioned phones close by.  

Family at Magic Kingdom park, Orland, Florida

* They can sit quietly for a show or longer attraction, even if they aren't really that interested. Once I had to take a screaming Mia out of the Carousel of Progress show which is a revolving theatre attraction and probably shouldn't be exited at any point!

* They are much more likely to go on the faster or scarier attractions, but if they don't fancy it they can wait for you at the exit, ideally taking charge of your larger bags while you ride. 

* They can help with the planning so they can do the things that they want to as well as being understanding about doing things for others.

* You can take them in the souvenir shops safely without them wanting everything and making a fuss when they don't get it!

* They understand the importance of an afternoon nap or chill time and they are able to stay up later in the evenings. For the first time this visit we were able to see the Electrical Water Pageant which happens on the lake around the time the park closes - we were never able to keep them up late enough before! We also saw all the firework displays several times because they weren't too tired to stay up and wait.

It was definitely a different trip to our previous visits, and I think that we all got a lot more out of it!

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Two different wooden painted signs

A few weeks ago I was in The Works and found myself tempted by the Christmas crafts. I bought a few plain wooden decorations which I thought would be fun to decorate, and also a couple of these Wooden Hanging Signs. I think they were buy one get one free at the time, and as Mia was with me I said that we could each make our own sign. Here's what we started with:

Plain wooden sign from The Works

I was planning a Christmas theme, but Mia decided that she wanted to make a sign for her bedroom door. She takes great pride in her bedroom - she keeps it beautifully clean and tidy and she loves spending her birthday and Christmas money on accessories like fairy lights and fluffy cushions. She searched for some colour schemes and chose the colours that she wanted, mixed up the paints and set to work. I helped her out with the lettering - we chose a font in Word and typed out what she wanted before I copied it as I could using some metallic pens. It says 'Welcome to the cosy den'. 

She added large star sequins and glitter, and I think that it looks amazing! It's hanging on her bedroom door along with some other accessories and it makes me smile every time I go past.

Welcome to the Cosy Den painted door sign

For my sign I went with the Christmas theme. We all spent a mealtime together coming up with various words that I could use. I wanted words with a Christmas theme that weren't religious or too cheesy, and I liked having a rhyme. We came up with 'stars twinkle bells jingle'. I used simple green and red for the background and gold for the lettering. Then I used star sequins for the star words and a couple of small bells glued on next to 'jingle' - I knew that saving them from all those Lindt reindeer over the years would be worth it one day!

Christmas homemade painted wooden sign

I really like how we both started with the same sign and came up with such different interpretations!

Monday, 19 September 2022

Coping with theme parks in the Florida heat

This August we had a brilliant couple of weeks in Florida doing the Disney theme parks. We've not been in August before and I wasn't quite prepared for how intense the heat would be. It was hard work, but we managed, and so I thought I'd share some tips which made it more bearable:

Apply plenty of sun cream and take a bottle with you for top ups.

Drink plenty of water. I found that I was sweating constantly and you need to be drinking almost constantly to keep up with the rate of water lost. There are plenty of water fountains and at Disney World parks you can get free iced water from most of the quick service dining locations.

Likewise eat plenty of snacks. You are allowed to take your own food and drink into the Disney theme parks (with a very few restrictions - check here for guidance). I'm not a nutritional expert but I'm assuming that a snack like crisps might replace some of the salts that you have lost through sweating.

Wear loose and comfortable clothing, avoid dark colours and high necklines. If you feel too body conscious to even think about wearing shorts then there's no need, there are honestly people of all shapes and sizes in the theme parks. But I wouldn't recommend skirts unless you aren't planning on going on any of the faster rides!

Wear comfortable footwear, an important tip for theme parks regardless. I bought a pair of Teva sandals which were really comfy and were great for rides where my feet got wet, as well as during the frequent Florida storms.

Take and use hats and sunglasses. If you are a glasses wearer it can be a pain to keep swapping between normal glasses and prescription sunglasses as you move from indoor to outdoor spaces. My son gets round this by taking a large pair of non-prescription sunglasses that he puts on over the top of his normal glasses!

We bought some cooling towels and they were brilliant, and you can buy a set of four for £10-£15. They are small, light pieces of fabric which you wet under a tap or at a water fountain, wring loosely to dry, and then wrap around your neck. I liked to use mine to dampen my arms, legs and face and make the most of any slight breeze on my wet skin to cool down.

We also saw lots of people with cooling fans which I was quite envious of. Some people even had fans which looped around their necks, and a fan is also great to direct at a child sitting in a pushchair. Some people had umbrellas for shade, which are also useful for the frequent downpours.

Coping in the Florida heat at theme parks

There are plenty of indoor, air-conditioned attractions and it's definitely worth saving these for the hottest parts of the day. Even the outdoor theatres are usually undercover with fans, and are a great place to sit and have a snack if you are early for a show. You can also sit down and rest while waiting for a parade or the evening fireworks. You might want to bring a small mat to sit on but I always felt comfortable sitting on the ground. 

You can also duck into one of the shops. When walking down Main Street in the Magic Kingdom we often walked some of the way through the shops on either side which are all connected.

It's also fun to go on a water ride. The wettest ride in all the parks is Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom which will leave you soaked. You also get pretty wet on Splash Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdom. Keep an eye out for fountains - there's a spitting camel next to The Magic Carpets of Aladdin at Magic Kingdom, and the ride itself can be steered through a water spray. At Epcot there are some fantastic jumping fountains that you can use to cool down in.

But by far my biggest tip would be to simply avoid the parks during the hottest part of the day as much as you can. We planned our days to arrive just before the park opened and keep going until lunchtime, often finishing the morning with an ice cream to cool us down before the long walk back to the car. Then we returned to our accommodation for some lunch, a visit to the pool and then a nap or quiet time. We went back to the parks anytime from 4pm and stayed until late in the evening. It was still hot in the evening, but once the sun has gone down it makes a big different to comfort levels.

Finally the most important thing is to keep a careful eye out for the signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke for all members of your party. If anyone starts to feel unwell then you need to find a cool, shaded spot, have a rest and make sure to drink plenty of water. There are first aid stations throughout the parks and any cast member can help you find medical assistance.

Friday, 16 September 2022

Book review - What a Shell Can Tell by Helen Scales, illustrated by Sonia Pulido

Regular readers will know that I love beachcombing and hunting on beaches for treasure, so when I was offered the chance to review this gorgeous book I knew that it would be right up my street! What a Shell Can Tell by Helen Scales and illustrated by Sonia Pulido dives into the world of shells and the creatures who inhabit them, from the common and familiar to the weird and wonderful.

Book Review - What a Shell Can Tell by Helen Scales

The book is aimed at young readers, but I think that it would make a wonderful addition to the bookshelf of anyone that has an interest in the sea and its creatures. 

Each double page spread asks a a question about what we can learn from a shell, for example what can a shell's pattern tell you, or what can a shell tell you about where it lives. There's a handy spotters guide to help identify different types of shell and the book is packed with fascinating information, presented in an easy to understand format and full of gorgeous, colourful illustrations. It's designed to connect observations to scientific explanations, looking at what you can see and learning about what that means.

What a Shell Can Tell book inside illustrations

I love hunting for shells and have quite a collection, but I realised that I didn't really know a great deal about them, and I've found this book enormously informative. I was particularly interested in finding out what you can learn about shells from their patterns and textures and it has really made me think more about the shells in my collection. 
What a Shell Can Tell book inside illustrations

I would absolutely recommend this lovely book, not just for children but for anyone that wants to learn more about the world of the ocean and seashore. Sharing this book is a great way to connect with your child as you explore the beach together.

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Wednesday, 14 September 2022

Embroidered felt Autumn leaves

I'm busy looking for crafts to work my way through my felt stash, and I decided that as the weather is slowly beginning to turn somewhat autumnal that I would make some embroidered felt leaves for some Autumn decoration. This is also the first of my ten craft projects that I want to complete by the end of the year.

At first I was going to make something similar to my felt heart garland using smaller leaves, but I couldn't face all that cutting out, especially because leaves are so intricate! So I made some larger leaves to display in a bowl on the fireplace, and embellished them with embroidery and tiny beads. Each one measures about 10cm in height.

Felt Autumn Fall leaves displayed in a white bowl

I was greatly inspired by a couple of designs that I found online. First were these gorgeous Felt Fall Leaf Ornaments with a digital pattern available to purchase on Etsy. Mine aren't nearly as beautiful as these, they are just perfect! Secondly these Embroidered Felt Oak Leaf Brooches from the brilliant Bugs and Fishes, which has a detailed tutorial and pattern for the oak leaves. For my leaf patterns I searched for leaf outlines and traced them from my computer screen. 

Felt Autumn embroidered leaves

I did all the embroidery freehand so they aren't very neat or symmetrical, but I like to think that they have a rustic feel to them! I tried to use a mixture of colours in the felt and the embroidery thread and each one is backed with a piece of grey felt. I had a lot of fun making these and I really like having them out on display.

Hand embroidered felt Autumn and Fall leaves

Why more people are choosing a cruise holiday in 2022, and why you should too

This is a collaborative post

There are so many reasons to go on a cruise. From having everything you could want to do all in the one place, to seeing many new places all in one trip without the added stress that planning flights between various countries would bring, a cruise is the best choice going for an exciting yet stress-free holiday.

Whether you’re an old hand at cruising, or you want to try something new and exciting this year, here’s why you should choose to go on a cruise holiday in 2022.

No more stress!

Cruises make for a great low-stress holiday. No need to plan lots of flights and transportation to airports and various accommodations, it is all in the same place. Once you’re on the ship you can relax anywhere you like, whether it is in your room or by the pool, a cruise is made to be relaxing from start to finish.

Cruises also mean you don’t need to plan a packed itinerary. Most cruises offer lots of activities and plan all the stops for you, so you don’t need to worry! You no longer have to limit yourself to just one location, as cruises are designed to give you a taste of lots of different places in one trip.

Planning a trip on a cruise also makes getting travel insurance much easier. Where you ordinarily would have had to purchase insurance for your flight, insurance for your trip as well as health insurance for each of the countries you visit, if you opt for a cruise you can take out a cruise insurance policy to cover your whole trip.

Cruise ship docked in Norway

Offer a huge range of activities

Although you are mostly confined to the ship while you are on a cruise, modern cruise ships are huge and offer a massive variety of restaurants, bars, and activities for customers to enjoy. There will always be something to do on a cruise ship, and you’ll not only never get bored but you’re likely to make friends through your time there. Talk to people you meet, make connections, and enjoy the various lounges, pools and games on offer across the ship together.

The variety of things on offer on a cruise ship means that you don’t need to plan every day in advance, you can instead wait to see what mood strikes you on a day-to-day basis. This also means that travelling in a group can be a lot easier, as individuals can take part in different activities at the same time.

Cruise ships often have an extensive range of food options, with everything ranging from classic breakfasts to 5-star restaurants, cruise ships can feature some really incredible food. If you’re looking for a place to try out something new while having the experience of a lifetime, look no further!

Cruises are unique

Cruises are an absolutely unique experience and one that everyone should try out at some point. The ability to do so many different things from the middle of the ocean is an experience like no other. It is a time to forget about the worries of real-life and take time out for every moment.

More people than ever are choosing to go on a cruise in 2022, and you should do the same. Step away from the outside world for a while and step into the immersive, vibrant atmosphere of a cruise ship. See incredible sights and try out luxury restaurants all from the comfort of the ship, and spend your days filled with fun activities and experiences like no other, all without the stress of planning!

Cruise ship docked
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