Thursday, 15 November 2018

Trying out diamond painting

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit the US on holiday, and as well as enjoying the tourist attractions we also made the time to visit some craft stores. I love craft stores in the US, they are so much bigger than the ones that we have here and have all sorts of different things that I've never seen before. The prices are also very reasonable, and there are plenty of reductions as well as coupons that make the prices even better.

We visited over Halloween and so there was lots of seasonal stock reduced. I bought a few craft kits for the children and also lots of bits which I'm planning to use as little gifts for our planned Halloween Disney cruise next year. The only trouble was making sure not to go overboard and stay within our baggage allowance!

Something that caught my eye in the clearance section at Michaels was a Halloween themed diamond painting. I've heard of diamond painting before, in fact I've been offered kits to review here which I've turned down as I've never been very taken with any of the designs. But it was still a craft that I really wanted to try, and when I saw this Halloween sugar skull in the sale I couldn't resist.

Diamond painting sugar skull for Halloween

Despite the name, diamond painting doesn't involve any diamonds. You start with a canvas which has the design printed on in colour, and a selection of tiny plastic 'diamonds'. The canvas is very sticky, and you uncover a small area at a time to work on. Using a special tool, you dip it into a pot of wax, then pick up the diamond and place it in the correct position. When it's finished you place the piece underneath something heavy to make sure that all the plastic pieces are stuck firmly, then you can frame it, preferably without the glass so that the 'diamonds' can catch the light.

Diamond painting in progress

I very much enjoyed working on this kit, it's a lot like cross stitch or mini Hama beads, but way quicker and very satisfying to put together. The finished picture really catches the light and sparkles. I'm going to pop it in a frame and keep it with the Halloween decorations to put out on display next year!

Diamond painting kits seem to be mainly mass produced in China and can be bought online very cheaply from places like Amazon and eBay. The designs tend to be brightly coloured with a hint of fantasy - unicorns and fairies are popular - and not really my sort of thing. I've not seen any other designs that really appeal to me, but I had such fun doing it that I'd love to pick up another kit that is more my style!

Monday, 12 November 2018

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

Los Angeles Natural History Museum review

On our recent family holiday to Los Angeles, we spent a great morning at the Natural History Museum. We began our visit with a showing at the 3D Theater - Oceans 3D: Our Blue Planet. Narrated by Kate Winslet, this 3D oceanic adventure explores stories of under the sea creatures and it was truly fascinating and beautiful. 

Oceans 3D Our Blue Planet

Then we explored the rest of the museum. We began with the mammal halls - African Mammals and North American Mammals. Each massive hall contains dozens of dioramas that recreate the natural environments of these creatures over a range of habitats. You can study the animals in detail close up, and I wasn't surprised to find out that these habitat dioramas are amongst the finest in the world - I've certainly not seen anything as magnificent in other museums that we have visited.

Like many children, both of mine are fascinated by dinosaurs, so we spent most of our time in the Dinosaur Hall. The center piece is a growth series display featuring a baby, juvenile and sub-adult Tyrannosaurus Rex, which is the only one of its kind in the world and includes the youngest known T-Rex fossil in the world. There is also a Triceratops, and my favourite dinosaur, a Stegosaurus.

Dinosaur Hall at Los Angeles Natural History Museum

We all spent a lot of time playing with this interactive digital table where you could take part in a fossil dig and act as different characters digging for bones and wrapping fossils - a really fun way to learn about how a fossil dig runs.

Los Angeles Museum of Natural History digital table game

In the Age of Mammals exhibit we admired this mastodon, a species which once lived in this area alongside the giant jaguar and sabre-toothed cat. Both children have studied the Stone Age recently at school, and this exhibit was the perfect accompaniment to their learning.

Mastodon at Los Angeles Natural History Museum

We also enjoyed a visit to the Spider Pavilion which is a temporary exhibition available until the 25th November, 2018. You can walk through inside a safe pavilion and observe spiders up close in their webs without any barriers - not one for the arachnophobics! I was a bit nervous but luckily the spiders don't move, and are large enough that you can keep a close eye on them!

Spider Pavilion, Natural History Museum

We finished our day spending some time in the Discovery Center. This area is fully aimed at children and there are plenty of hands on exhibits to entertain them, for example reassembling skeletons and  touching items like minerals, furs and fossils. The favourite area was the dinosaur dig pit, I think that the children would have spent hours here if we'd had time!

Los Angeles Natural History Museum Discovery Centre

I also made a little video of our day which you can see below:

We really enjoyed our visit to the Natural History Musuem, and I'd definitely recommend a visit if you are in the area. It's also ideally located to combine a visit with the California Science Center which is on the same site.

We were provided with complimentary entry to the museum in exchange for sharing our visit on my blog and social media.

Friday, 9 November 2018

How to make some mini Christmas gift bags

Have you started Christmas shopping yet? I must admit that I've barely thought about it! But I'm definitely starting to feel Christmassy, and so today I'm sharing my latest craft as a Bostik craft blogger - how to make some simple mini Christmas gift bags. These little bags are ideal for gifting small items like jewellery or sweets and you can customise them to make any size that you want.

Mini gift bags for Christmas tutorial

You need:

Christmas paper or wrapping paper
Bostik Fast Tak Spray Glue
A small box to use as a template
Sequins or other embellishments
Bostik Glu Dots
A hole punch

How to make a simple gift bag tutorial


First prepare your paper. My Christmas paper is not double sided, so I used Bostik Fast Tak Spray Glue to glue two pieces together back to back. This glue is very sticky and will stick almost any surface. It's easy to use, although do make sure that all nearby surfaces are covered! You just need to spray both sides of the paper to coat with glue from a distance of about 15 to 20 cm, leave to dry slightly for a couple of minutes until it is tacky, then press both pieces together firmly and leave to dry.

Decide which side of your paper is going to be on the outside of the bag, and fold over the top so that a strip of the inside paper will show on the outside.

Gluing Christmas paper together to make a gift bag

Next find a small box that you can use as your template. I used a matchbox, but something like a pack of cards would also work well. This helps you to make the shape for your bag. Wrap the paper around the outside of your template box and tape firmly in place. If your paper is quite thick you can remove from the box and press down the sides to make sure that you have a crisp fold line.

Using match box as a form for a gift bag

Fold the paper around the bottom of the box in the same way that you would if you were wrapping a parcel, starting about 1 cm from the bottom of the box. Secure in place with tape. You can also push in the paper down the sides of the bag.

Making a Christmas mini gift bag

Use a hole punch to make two holes in the top on each side of the bag. Cut two lengths of ribbon and tie a knot in one end of each. Thread them through the holes on each side from the inside of the bag so that the ribbon is held in place by the knot, then thread them back through the bag and tie another knot so that the ribbon forms handles for the bags with the knots hidden inside the bag.

Making ribbon handles for a gift bag

Finally decorate the bag using sequins or other embellishments. I used Bostik Glu Dots to hold my large star sequins firmly in place. The Glu Dots are easy to apply and very sticky, and you can use them for all sorts of decorations. You just peel off one side of the plastic covering, apply the glue dot to one of the surfaces, peel off the second side of plastic and press the surfaces together firmly.

Bostik Glu Dots for Christmas crafting

Your gift bags are ready to use!

Mini Christmas gift bags made using Bostik glue products

These simple gift bags would also make lovely decorations for the Christmas tree, filled with sweets or small presents.

Mini Christmas themed gift bags with Bostik

Bostik are currently running a great giveaway over on their Facebook page where you could win an Amazon Echo Plus! All you have to do is to leave a comment with your favourite #BluHacks - a way that you use Blu Tack! Enter here - Bostik Amazon Echo Plus Competition.

This is a collaborative post in association with Bostik. 

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, Los Angeles

La Brea Tar Pits and Museum review

The La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California, are a collection of tar pits which have preserved the bones of trapped animals over tens of thousands of years. They are one of the world's most famous fossil localities, and the Ice Age fossils found there include saber-toothed cats, dire wolves and mammoths. The accompanying museum is dedicated to both researching the finds from the pits and displaying the specimens for visitors. You can visit the pits, watch scientists and volunteers excavating and cleaning the fossils, and we spent a fantastic morning here as a family

La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, Los Angeles

The Museum entrance is located opposite the Lake Pit - a large lake which bubbles as gas is released to the surface and is home to iconic sculptures depicting a mammoth trapped in the tar. It's a dramatic way to start your visit! An animal trapped in the pits would have remained there until it died of exhaustion, and a large trapped herbivore might have attracted the attention of other predators which would in turn become trapped and die alongside it. With the amount of fossils recovered it would seem as if this was a regular occurrence, but in fact an entrapment event probably only occurred every ten years or so over a very long period of time.

La Brea Tar Pits with elephant

Inside the museum we began our tour by watching Titans of the Ice Age, a 3D journey back in time which helped to set the scene by introducing the main creatures discovered at the site, and showing how they became trapped in the tar. We also enjoyed the Ice Age Encounters show, which featured a life sized Sabre-Toothed Cat puppet and was incredible to watch.

La Brea Tar Pits skeleton in museum

There is plenty to see inside the museum. The Tar Pull exhibit lets you try and see if you could escape from sticky tar, and at the end of our day having learned more about the tar pits the children both wanted to go back and try again to see if they could have escaped (unfortunately the answer was no!) There are huge assembled skeletons and several animated models like this Columbian Mammoth that is really very realistic.

La Brea Tar Pits animated mammoth

Since 1906, more than three million items have been recovered from the pits, which represent over 231 species of vertebrates as well as 159 species of plants and 234 species of invertebrates. It's an impressive number which will continue to increase as excavations continue. It's difficult to get a sense for just how many specimens this is, although displays like the one below help a little - this case contains many many different examples of just one bone. There is also an entire wall composed of just dire wolf skulls - it's amazing to spot the similarities and differences.

La Brea Tar Pits display case with bird bone

In the Fossil Lab you can watch a group of scientists as they work on cleaning the new fossils, with some of the work magnified on screens for a clearer view. It's not just the large fossils that are important, there are also many micro fossils like tiny insects and plants which are excavated and studied with just as much care and interest.

La Brea Tar Pits scientists working

There is lots more to see outside the museum too. You can visit Pit 91 which is an active dig site in the summer. Even when not in use it's still fascinating to look down on, and there is plenty of interpretive signage and photographs to help you imagine how the work progresses. We also joined a free museum tour to Project 23 - a collection of 23 large wooden boxes containing fossils which were removed during the construction of an underground car park for the adjacent Los Angeles County Museum of Art. There is years and years worth of work still to go here and it was fascinating to learn all about it and watch the fossil specimens being cleaned.

La Brea Tar Pits Pit 91 active dig

We had a brilliant morning at the museum. It was truly fascinating, and we all felt like we learned a lot. I'd definitely recommend a visit! You can see some of our highlights in the short video below, including the very realistic life sized Sabre-Toothed Cat!

We received complimentary admission to the museum in exchange for sharing our visit on my blog and social media.

Monday, 5 November 2018

How to make a nature postcard

This guest post is from Becky Goddard-Hill, co-author of Create Your Own Happy (affiliate link) - a happiness boosting activity book for 7-12 year olds and their families. All the activities are based on scientific findings that explain why doing them will create happiness.

  How to make a nature postcard

Making a ‘nature photograph’ is a great way to tell the story of an outdoor adventure, and bring nature inside your home. This is a really simple activity and suits kids (or grown-ups of any age) It can be done by yourself or in a group and combines a little nature hunt with a beautiful craft.

 What you need: 

A postcard sized piece of coloured card

Double sided sticky tape

A forest, wood, park, garden or anywhere nature is growing.

How you make it: 

Put a strip of double-sided sticky tape across the middle of one side of your piece of card and take it out with you for a nature walk.

Pick things up as you go and stick them on your card. Try looking for different colours, textures, shapes and sizes, from tiny seeds to bits of bark, leaves and small flowers.

Only pick up fallen things as we don’t want to disturb growing things.

You can arrange them on the card to make an interesting picture or pattern.

You should now have a beautiful ‘nature photograph’ that you can hang in your home or seal with sticky back plastic and send to a friend.

How to make a nature postcard with children

Why nature makes you happy 

Here are 2 amazing bits of research that show us how being out in nature can make us happier and healthier

When a group of scientists at the University of Chicago tracked people’s happiness for 17 years, they found the people were happiest when they were living near trees. Pennsylvania hospital patients with a window with a tree view went home on average a day earlier than people with no view.

Japanese researchers found that a one-day trip to a park can boost our ‘natural killer’ white blood cells and proteins that help to fight off illness for at least seven days afterwards

You really create your own happy by getting out in nature. This will make you healthy AND happy and you will have a beautiful nature photograph too!

Create Your Own Happy book for children

This post contains an Amazon affiliate link.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Our Disney cruise - adding some magical extras

On our first Disney cruise we were puzzled by the decorated hanging pockets hanging outside staterooms. On our second Disney cruise we joined a Facebook group and learned about Fish Extenders - a way of exchanging gifts with your fellow cruisers. You sign up to participate and swap presents with ten or so other cabins, and the gifts are delivered to a receptacle which you hang outside your stateroom door. The gifts can be large or small, something to use on the cruise or a souvenir to take home, and are generally Disney themed. On our third Disney cruise I came very close to signing up, but chickened out in the end after I joined a Fish Extender Facebook group and was overwhelmed by the generous gifts that people were preparing.

I still wanted to join in somehow though, and a few days before the cruise I spotted a sign up list for a Pixie Dust exchange. It was a list of people that were interested in giving and receiving Pixie Dust, with no obligation. This appealed to me a lot more because I knew that I could make up lots of little gifts, but with only two days to prepare I was a little pressed for time, and I decided to do my best to gift everyone on the list but with something small.

I settled on a pack of chocolate buttons, a coloured pen and a glow stick. Unfortunately, even though I was very careful the glow sticks were a fail as most of them snapped before we even got on the ship - whoops! Next time I would pack them separately in a sturdy box and assemble just before handing them out! I tied them up with some ribbon and a free printable Pixie Dust gift tag that I found.

Simple Disney Cruise pixie dust idea

I also spent a good few hours making some little magnets which were much more successful. I used a picture taken on a previous cruise at a port we would be visiting again and added a cruise line graphic, the date, and the Danish and Norwegian flags. Each magnet measured about 6cm across. I cut them out, laminated them, cut them out again, and glue a small piece of magnet to the back. I ended up with over 60, and we had fun on the ship walking the corridors and selecting our favourite doors to add them to as a little surprise for the inhabitants. I hope that they were pleased to find them!

Disney Cruise homemade magnets for Pixie Dust

When I got back I was thrilled to find that I had been lucky enough to win a Disney collage design offered by one of the other members of the Pixie Dust exchange! This gorgeous collage is by Saffron Rose Designs and I just had to mention it because we were so pleased with it, it's a lovely way to display our favourite photos.

Disney Cruise collage picture from Saffron Rose Designs

We are hoping that we will be able to go on another Disney cruise next year, and this time I'm planning to step it up a level and join in with the full Fish Extender exchange, as well as making more magnets to hand out and probably some Pixie Dust too. It's just a case of fitting it all into the suitcases! I've found a blank door hanger to customise, and while I'm not quite sure where to start, there is plenty of inspiration online. I'm thinking about decorating each pocket with our favourite character, although I'm not sure which to choose for mine!

If you want to know more about the extra magic that a Disney cruise offers you might enjoy my guest post for Cruising with Kids - Top Tips for Cruising with Disney and Life Onboard a Disney Cruise.

Monday, 29 October 2018

The little blue house in Stavanger

Our our cruise over the summer holidays we docked for the second time in Stavanger, Norway. Stavanger is the sixth largest city in Norway but it doesn't feel like a city at all. The town centre is compact, very walkable, with lots to see and do. Next to the harbour is Old Stavanger, a collection of small, white wooden houses built around 200 years ago and set amongst pretty cobbled streets filled with museums, galleries and small shops.

Well, the houses are almost all white. What's that down at the bottom right of the photo?

Stavanger Old Town viewed from a docked cruise ship

This little blue house caught my eye as soon as we docked and looked out over the city. It's right opposite the cruise ship dock, nestled among the white wooden houses, showing its own personality. 

I fell in love with it straightaway. It's such a pretty house, in such a beautiful location, and I do love Stavanger. I can imagine myself living here, sitting by the window with a hot chocolate, riding my bike to the shops, wandering the cobbled streets, smiling at the tourists, and in the evening retreating to a little bedroom under the eaves with a book.

Little blue house in Old Stavanger

Of course in reality I know nothing about this house. I can guess that the view from the front window isn't the best, as the gorgeous view across the harbour would be blocked most days by at least one cruise ship docked literally right outside - you can see ours reflected in the windows! You probably also get lots of curious tourists like me wandering up to snap photos and peer through the windows. Being part of Old Stavanger there would be the obligation to keep the house looking nice for the tourists, and I'm sure that a 200 year old house has many more problems than our new build.

But I can still dream, and if we should happen to return to Stavanger I'll definitely be checking to see if it's still there!

The little blue house in old Stavanger

If you find yourself in Stavanger, and I hope that you do, you might enjoy my post about things to do in the port of Stavanger.
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