Monday 27 February 2017

The children and their blogs

The children have grown up with me working on my blog, and they are starting to understand what I do more and more. They love looking back through old blog posts, and they are especially appreciative if I receive something that they can help me to review.

A few months ago I suggested to Harry that he start his own blog, and Harry's Hobbies and Holidays was born. He's a fairly infrequent poster, but I love seeing how he describes events in his own words. He's learning to touch type at school, which I think is a very important skill. I can type very fast and it certainly helps me to get things done quickly! So any practice is good for him, and it's amazing to see how quickly his typing has come on.

Mia wanted to get on board as well, and so recently she started Mia's Blog. She had a lot of fun designing her header logo, and again I'm surprised by how quickly she can find her way around the keyboard to type out her posts.

Both the blogs are under my Blogger account, and any comments that they receive will go to my Inbox so I can keep an eye on them. They are thrilled when they receive a comment and they know that someone has read what they have written. They don't know how to access the blogs themselves yet, so they can't write posts without me knowing. I'm hoping to get them involved in writing reviews of their toys on their blogs and encouraging them to help me when I made videos for my YouTube channel - maybe one day they might be able to make a few pennies from their work!

Children blog headers

I always try to be mindful of the information that I share online, and so I encourage them to keep details vague and not to use their full names. Obviously I share their photos and some information about them on my own blog, although less as time goes on, and when they are older they may decide that they don't want to continue. But these days I think it's impossible to avoid having a digital footprint, and I think anything that encourages them to write has to be a good thing.

Do your children have blogs? I'd love to see them if you leave a link in the comments!

Friday 24 February 2017

My two little bookworms

Both of my babies were very different when it came to books. Harry was looking at the pictures in books almost from day one, he particularly loved the books with the black and white pictures and would gaze at them for a few minutes. By the time he was three months old I was reading him The Gruffalo and he was paying rapt attention. It took Mia a lot longer to develop an interest in books. She wouldn't sit still for a minute when I tried to read to her, and she was more interested in pulling at the pages and wriggling to get away.

It wasn't until she was about three years old that she would sit still for a story at bedtime, and she quickly found the favourites that she wanted over and over every night. She had quite a slow start to learning to read herself, but in the last few months her reading has really come on, and although at school she's working her way through Biff, Chip and Kipper at home she's started picking up and reading more complicated chapter books. She can't read every word, and she skips the ones that she doesn't know (she gets very cross if I try to help her so I leave her to it!) but she seems to pick up enough to make sense of the story and to keep her interested.

Child reading in bed

Harry has been able to read longer chapter books for a while now, but he's always preferred his non fiction books. He has some fantastic factual books and he loves going through them and calling out to me to tell me an interesting fact that he's picked up. I had recently been struggling to get him to read fiction books, so I was delighted a couple of months back when he picked up the first Harry Potter book, and now he's almost on book seven. I wouldn't say that he's named after Harry Potter, but I probably wouldn't have thought of the name Harry if I hadn't discovered the books, so it's nice to see him reading and enjoying them. He received a lovely box set of the Chronicles of Narnia books for his birthday, so he's decided that he's going to go onto those next.

Child reading in bed

I'm so glad that my children are turning into readers, I'm looking forward to sharing all my old favourite books with them as they grow up!

Wednesday 22 February 2017

My new school run

Last September, the children started at a new school. It was quite a change for us all, but fortunately they have both settled really quickly and it has been a really positive move for both of them. We are so proud of how they are doing.

They have moved from a school which was within reasonable walking distance of our home to a school in a nearby town centre, so it's made a big difference to my school run. It means that I don't do nearly as much walking as I used to, and the school run involves battling the traffic - fortunately my husband does most of the drop offs in the morning, as I'm a nervous driver and I really don't enjoy it!

My new route has meant that I have discovered a new love for the beach, as I drive along the coast to town each day. I've started leaving early, parking up along the seafront, and taking myself off for a walk. After spending their first term mainly sitting at my desk and not doing nearly as much exercise as I should have been, I've really noticed a difference since January when I began aiming to walk 10,000 steps each day.

It's not the best time of year to be starting a walking habit, and it has been very cold outside over the last few weeks. But I've been pushing myself to make the effort and feeling much better for it.

Walking by the sea at Worthing

It's another really positive thing which has come from the new school, and I'm looking forward to the summer and lighter evenings when we can all stop off on the way home for some fresh air and beachcombing!

Monday 20 February 2017

The Sky Blanket is finished, what's next?

For the whole of 2016 my crafting was pretty much dominated by my Sky Blanket. I completed a few other projects here and there, but the Sky Blanket was always there to be worked on and with a strict timetable to stick to. Now that it's finished, I can pick up some of the other projects that I've been thinking about!

My next crochet project is this Pink Crochet Bunting using a kit from Attic24. I'm not very good at following crochet patterns but it really is quite a simple pattern (assuming that I've got it right!). There are twelve triangles to make with four colours to choose from, then they are all joined together in a line and embellished with buttons. It's a nice portable project to take away and I'm hoping that it won't take me too long to finish. I'm not sure where the bunting will end up, but as it's pink I think that Mia may have her eye on it!

Crochet bunting triangles

I really want to make another crochet blanket, but I have three now and although they are used (I'm always sitting under a blanket if I'm watching television) I have enough for the time being. My sister bought me this book for my birthday - Crocheted Mandalas (affiliate link) - and I'm thinking that a large mandala would make a nice lap blanket for when I'm sitting at my computer during the day. I've not decided which one to go for yet, I want to start with something simple and it would be nice to find one that I could just keep making bigger and bigger until it reaches the right size. I'm thinking perhaps to start with a Granny Square mandala. It will probably end up being mainly blue, as I have plenty of sky coloured yarn left in my stash!

Crocheted mandala book

I'm also thinking that I'd like to make some crochet cushion covers. I've ended up with quite a lot of white yarn in my stash which needs a project, and I've seen some lovely granny square designs which are white with a different pop of colour in each one. We also have lots of old cushions hanging about that are looking very sad, I think that a nice cover would make them look lovely.

In addition to all this I have lots of Easter crafting planned for the next few weeks. I'm looking forward to some nice, bright cheerful crafting and hopefully some sunshine to go along with it!

Saturday 18 February 2017

Review - Aquabeads Disney Princess Cinderella Set

As an Aquabeads blogger, the latest set that I received to review was the Aquabeads Cinderella Set (affiliate link).

Review - Aquabeads Disney Princess Cinderella Set

The Cinderella Set comes with three template sheets. With the first two sheets you can make Cinderella's head, and a glass slipper and carriage. Then the set also comes with a large plastic Glass Slipper Ring Holder, two ring bodies, and the beads to make two rings, which can be stored and displayed in the ring holder. There is one layout tray and a sprayer in the set, along with all the beads that you need and full instructions.

The beads come in a range of Cinderella colours and there were plenty of beads in the set to complete the designs. The set includes both plain beads and jewelled beads, which look really pretty in the finished designs as when they are fused together with the water they become really shiny.

When you have placed the beads on the board, you need to spray them with water which makes the beads stick together. You need to use quite a bit of water, and then tilt the board slightly so that the excess water can drain off. Leave to dry for several hours and the finished piece will be nice and sturdy.

Review - Aquabeads Disney Princess Cinderella Set

Mia really loved the idea of the glass slipper ring holder, and the fact that the set made two rings that she could wear and then store in the holder. The ring pieces were simple to make and stuck together well, and she was really pleased with it.

Review - Aquabeads Disney Princess Cinderella Set

Unfortunately we didn't have as much success with the Cinderella head. I sprayed with water and left overnight, and when I came down in the morning it had curled up and come apart. I tried my best to rescue it but it was too fiddly and so I had to give up. We've made similar sized pieces before with the Frozen Playset so I'm not sure what I did wrong this time, I think that perhaps I should have placed something over the design to flatten it while it dried.

Review - Aquabeads Disney Princess Cinderella Set

The shoe and the carriage worked really well and made some nice little pieces to play with.

Review - Aquabeads Disney Princess Cinderella Set

As we've found before, the Aquabead designs can be quite fiddly, and even though the packet suggests suitable for children aged 4+ I think that older children will have much more success with Aquabeads. Mia at 5 still finds them quite frustrating, especially larger designs, whereas Harry at 8 enjoys using them much more. The trouble is that if you knock one bead it can push all the others out of place, and as you can no longer see the design underneath you effectively need to start again. I personally find it much easier to use a bead dropping tool to place the beads (available to purchase separately or included in some of the larger sets).

The big advantage that Aquabeads have over other similar bead crafts is that the beads are stuck together with water so even young children can complete them by themselves. There are also plenty of different character options available so you can find a theme to suit any child.

I received this Aquabeads set in exchange for a review, Amazon link is affiliate.

Friday 17 February 2017

A February walk along Goring Beach

Even though we live close to the sea, I must admit that over the last few years I've not spent nearly as much time at the beach as I should have. But since the children moved schools last September I'm spending a lot more time driving along the coast to pick them up, and along with trying to increase my exercise levels I've been making the effort to leave home early a couple of times a week and take myself for a walk along the beach.

February walk along Goring Beach, West Sussex

I've found a car park where I can park for free on Marine Crescent in Goring, which is pretty much empty at this time of year. There is also plenty of free parking along the seafront itself. The footpath is separated from the road by a stretch of grass, so it's nice and peaceful, and at this time of year there aren't too many people out and about. 

February walk along Goring Beach, West Sussex

I like looking at the beach huts, although they are all shut up at the moment, I don't know anyone that owns one. They seem to sell for around £15000-£18000, and there are also council owned ones that you can rent although there's quite a waiting list. I must admit though that even in summer I never seem to see them being used very much!

February walk along Goring Beach, West Sussex

On my most recent walk the tide was out, and there was actually quite a lot of sand on the usually pebbly beach. You can walk quite far out before you get to the sea. 

February walk along Goring Beach, West Sussex

I'm always keeping an eye out for beach treasures, in particular nice shells or sea glass. I'm also secretly hunting for washed up Lego or rubber ducks. I'm terrible at finding things though, the best I usually manage is mermaid's purses, cuttlebones and crab legs, which I leave where I found them!

February walk along Goring Beach, West Sussex

After a short walk west you come to Goring Gap, the stretch of coast between Goring and Ferring. It's a protected area, and you can't see any buildings to the north (although there are a few houses and a main road) right up to the South Downs.

February walk along Goring Beach, West Sussex

This fishing boat has been here for years, I assume that it goes out to sea because it seems to be in good condition!

February walk along Goring Beach, West Sussex

On my way back I spotted this buoy which must have been washed up on the beach at some point - the sign on it says 'Beach Office Aware'. I've had a quick look online and it seems to be a navigation buoy, I hope that its absence hasn't caused any problems!

February walk along Goring Beach, West Sussex

It's a lovely walk along the coast and I'm looking forward to seeing how it changes throughout the year.

Wednesday 15 February 2017

February - Lately I've been...

I thought it was time for another catch up post, so here's what I've been up to lately!

Thinking about - ideas for blog posts! December was such a busy month and I had loads on, then in January it all went very quiet. Along with the gloomy days and drizzly weather I've found it a bit difficult to drum up motivation, and because we are going away in a few weeks I like to have content planned well in advance. I've got lots of things planned out now though, I just need to put my head down and get on with it!

Crafting - My Sky Blanket is finally finished! It was a long long project but I'm very proud of my finished blanket. Although it is large it spreads out nicely across the sofa and is long enough for two or more of us to fit underneath at once! My next crochet project is some crochet bunting that has been waiting for me to get to it for far too long, and I have in mind to make a crochet lap blanket as well. I am also coming up with ideas for Spring and Easter crafting to share on the blog.

Watching - We don't have a television series that we are working through at the moment. We've recently finished the latest series of Vikings which we enjoyed, but we started the second season of The Man in the High Castle and it didn't really appeal so we may not stick with that. We've caught up with a few movies recently, I really enjoyed La La Land and Arrival. When Ram is out I stick on an episode of Sherlock to accompany me with my crochet. I wasn't quite sure about the last season though, I prefer it when it's just about solving the crimes, it all got a bit too complicated for me.

Eating - I really have been trying to cut back a bit since Christmas as I'm starting to develop a tummy that needs to go. But I'm hopeless, if there's a pack of biscuits about my will power is terrible. I've stepped up the exercise a bit so I'm hoping that will help, but I really do need to think a bit more carefully about what I'm eating. I can't resist a weekly cake when I'm meeting up with a friend but I know that's not rally the problem, it's all the other snacks that I eat when I'm at home!

Travelling to - We are lucky enough to have a few holidays lined up this year, and we will very shortly be heading off once again for a Center Parcs holiday in Belgium. After two fantastic holidays at Center Parcs, Erperheide, this time we are trying out a different park - De Vossemeren - still in Belgium but almost on the border with The Netherlands. It's actually very close to Erperheide and a similar driving distance. It will be nice to expore some different activities for the children including an awesome looking indoor pirate themed play area, indoor mini golf and of course the indoor swimming area Aqua Mundo (at this time of year I'm anticipating that we will be spending most of our time indoors!).

VIP Cottage at Center Parcs De Vossemeren

Reading - Just before Christmas we went for a health check up thanks to Ram's work. Everything was fine fortunately, but in my half hour chat with the doctor I mentioned that sometimes I find myself getting a bit anxious about things. She recommended that I have a look at some mindfulness techniques and recommended the book A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled by Ruby Wax (affiliate link) so I popped it on my Christmas list and have just finished it. It made a lot of sense and I can see how it would work, so now I need to set aside six weeks to follow through her mindfulness program (I skipped that bit to concentrate on the text). Next up is Happy: Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine by Derren Brown (affiliate link) and then I have the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay (affiliate link) to read, although I want to wait until I've finally managed to see the film first!

Listening to - I seem to spend quite a lot of time in the car doing the school run, and so I listen a lot to the radio, usually a local station. The station I'm currently listening to has a secret sound competition that airs when I'm driving and no-one has guessed the latest one since we started our new school run, I'm desperate to know the answer now! I do like having a sing along while I'm driving.

Planning - We spent quite a bit of time after Christmas planning our holidays for this year, and we have a very exciting one planned for later this year.

I've also been planning how I can resurrect my second blog Toddler Things. I really like the domain name, and it would be a shame to lose it because it does bring me in a few pennies from AdSense and YouTube views (I have written posts which link to my popular Playmobil toy review videos). But of course I don't have toddlers any more and so I feel a bit removed from the subject, and hadn't published a post in over a year. I need to go back through and rewrite the older posts (most of them are terrible) and try and get some new content in there. I get sent plenty of press releases related to babies and toddlers so I'm hoping that I can find some things from there that I can quickly use for post ideas.

Looking forward to - some sunshine! It's very frustrating being a blogger at this time of year when it's so dark and dull all the time and you need to take photographs for posts! It's also far too cold for me at the moment, I enjoy running and walking outside but over the last few weeks there have been a couple of occasions when I've let myself get a bit too cold when out and about and I don't think it's done me any good.

What have you been up to lately?

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Spring crafts from Baker Ross

It seems to have been a cold winter this year, and I'm sure that I'm not the only one longing for a bit of warmth! We've been cheering ourselves up with our latest box of crafting goodies from Baker Ross, all with a Spring theme.

We started with some Creative Colouring Flower Wreaths. Mia loves colouring and she's very neat, so these detailed designs kept her busy. She took a lot of care making sure that she had chosen bright colours and matched them to the intricate design.

Then we made some Happy Face Flower Suncatcher Decorations, plastic suncatchers with thick black lines that can be coloured using Brilliant Glass Paint Pens. The paint flows smoothly from the pens and leaves a lovely bold colour.

Spring and Easter crafts for children with Baker Ross

They look great hanging up in the window! There are eight in the pack, or you can also buy a larger pack of 32, and I think that they'd be a fantastic craft for a birthday party or similar, where the children could take home their finished craft.

Mia and I also had a lot of fun with these Peacock Crinkle Decoration Kits. They are very simple to make by folding up the tissue paper and sticking together, with lots of little bits and pieces to decorate them with. They are glittery and shiny, and make a really cheerful decoration.

Spring and Easter crafts for children with Baker Ross

The Bug PomPom Decoration Kits are very sweet. There are three in the pack - a butterfly, a bee and a ladybird - and Mia was immediately drawn to the butterfly as it's bright pink. She needed a bit of help with making the pom pom, but once I'd made it she loved decorating him with all the self-adhesive stickers.

Tthese Mother's Day Handprint Poem Decoration Kits make a lovely gift. The child makes the plant using a cut out of their handprint, which is a lovely keepsake, and it makes a lovely personalised decoration for the noticeboard or desk.

Spring and Easter crafts for children with Baker Ross

We really enjoyed putting together this Easter Bunny Train Kit. I must admit that it was a little fiddly to assemble so I did that part and then let Mia loose with the plentiful selection of stickers to decorate it. The train also comes with a large bunny sticker to sit in the back.

Spring and Easter crafts for children with Baker Ross

The train would make a lovely Easter decoration, and you could fill it with chocolate eggs or other small gifts, perhaps as a table centerpiece.

I received these products as a member of the Baker Ross Bloggers Network.

Monday 13 February 2017

My completed crochet Sky Blanket

My completed crochet Sky Blanket

I'm thrilled to announce that my Sky Blanket 2016 is finally complete! It's been a long project but I've loved completing it and I'm so pleased with my lovely, enormous, snuggly blanket.

My completed crochet Sky Blanket

The final blanket measures 144cm in width (with a starting chain of 200 plus border) and 337cm in length including the border. The border is four rows wide, with half trebles down the sides and double crochet across the top and bottom, so the side border is very slightly wider. The blanket is mainly crocheted in half trebles, with the occasional row of trebles or mixed stitches.

My completed crochet Sky Blanket

Obviously the colours of yarn that you will need for a project like this will vary greatly depending on where in the world you live and the rules that you use for your blanket. I chose to stick with natural sky colours, and to add embellishments to represent special days and sky colours. This is the colour breakdown that I had for my typical year in the UK:

White (for snow and fog) - 5
Light blue - 125
Medium blue - 67
Light grey - 142
Dark grey - 23
Mixed colours - 4 = 366 rows (2016 was a leap year)

For the blanket I used Red Heart Detroit yarn which comes in 100g balls. I found that one ball allowed me to complete around 15 rows of half trebles. So I did get through quite a bit of yarn! I ended up with more grey rows than I was expecting, although looking at the colour breakdown there were more blue sky days overall. Of course the weather here is so mixed that on many days I could have used any of these colours in my blanket!

Here is how my blanket progressed throughout the year - JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAugust, September, October, November and December, and here's how it looked as it went along:

My completed crochet Sky Blanket

If you are interested in making your own Sky Blanket, I have written several posts which might help. I've shared some tips on completing a Sky Blanket, and what I would do differently next time. I have also included the blanket as a project on Ravelry, where you can find links to all my blog posts and progress pictures - Crochet Sky Blanket.

There was a group of us taking part in the Sky Blanket project throughout 2016, and you can find us across social media, in particular Instagram, using the hashtag #skyblanket2016. The project was started by Bug, Bird & Bee, The Boy and Me and You Little Sew and Sew.

My completed crochet Sky Blanket

With thanks to Make it Coats for providing me with the yarn for this project.

Friday 10 February 2017

Hama bead crafts for Valentine's Day

I share lots of different Hama bead crafts on my blog, and my favourite ones are those which are inspired by different celebrations that I can use to decorate the house. So here is a roundup of my Valentine's Day themed Hama bead crafts, just click on each link to see the full tutorial.

Valentine's Day crafting with Hama beads - lots of projects

My first Valentine's Day Hama bead heart craft was this Valentine's Day hanging decoration. The hearts are made using the small heart pegboard and sewn to a length of ribbon, finished off with a button at the top. Perfect for a wall hanging in a narrow space.

Hama bead hanging heart decoration

I also used these hearts to make some Hama bead heart bunting. The hearts are strung on narrow ribbon to make some pretty bunting for a fireplace or elsewhere in the home.

Hama bead heart bunting on mantelpiece

Another hanging decoration is this spinning heart decoration which uses both the large and small Hama bead pegboards.

Spinning Valentine's Day Hama bead craft for children

When allowed to hang freely the central heart will spin around. It would also make a lovely decoration for outside! You can see it in action in the little video below.

I also used the large heart pegboard to make some Valentine's Day frames which can be used to display a photograph or drawing.

Hama bead heart frames for Valentine's Day

Finally I used the mini Hama beads to make some tiny Hama bead hearts.

Mini Hama bead heart decorations

These little hearts would make great embellishments for Valentine's Day cards, attach to cocktail sticks for cupcake toppers, or just sprinkle around as little decorations. You can see how I made them in the tutorial video below.

I also used some of these mini Hama bead hearts to make some Mini Hama bead heart pin badges. To make these badges you just need to purchase some pin backing pieces and affix them firmly using a strong glue.

Mini Hama bead heart pin badges

I love crafting with Hama beads because they really are great for all ages. Even the very youngest children are able to place the beads on to the board (under supervision of course to prevent any beads ending up where they shouldn't), and you can use their first projects as simple coasters. Over time they learn how to arrange the beads to produce different designs, from simple strips to more complex patterns. You can then use their finished pieces in many other crafts - you can see here some of the many ways that we display our finished Hama bead projects around the house.

I think I have just as much fun playing with the Hama beads as the children do, and the mini Hama beads are great for adults to produce some really intricate projects. Have fun creating!

Wednesday 8 February 2017

A mini heart cushion for Valentine's Day

This month I have partnered with Brother Sewing to create a Valentine's Day themed sewing craft. I decided that I would use some of the pieces of pink patterned fabric in my stash to make a mini patchwork cushion with a heart theme.

How to sew a simple patchwork heart cushion for Valentine's Day

You need:

* Pieces of fabric in a variety of complementary colours and patterns. Each square on my cushion measures 10cm x 10cm and you will need a larger piece in one fabric 30cm x 30cm to make the back of the cushion (or you may choose to make the back of the cushion as a patchwork piece too). I used a selection of pieces of patterned fabric from my stash.

* Heart themed embellishments - I used two heart shaped buttons and scraps of felt, you could also use ribbon, lace or beads

* Stuffing for the cushion

Simple heart themed patchwork cushion sewing project


First prepare all your pieces of fabric. For one side of the cushion you will need nine squares of fabric, each measuring 10cm x 10cm. Cut the patchwork pieces to size and then experiment with different arrangements until you find one that you are happy with.

Simple heart themed patchwork cushion sewing project

It's a good idea to take a photograph or do a rough sketch so that you don't forget your layout!

Simple heart themed patchwork cushion sewing project

Begin the patchwork side by sewing the squares together in three strips of three. Take two squares that will be next to each other, place them so that the right sides are facing inwards, and sew down one side.

Simple heart themed patchwork cushion sewing project

Then turn right side up and press flat. Repeat with the third square in the strip. Make sure to follow your pattern closely so that you keep the arrangement correct, it requires a bit of concentration to make sure that you get all the pieces in the correct place!

Simple heart themed patchwork cushion sewing project

When you have made three strips you can sew the three strips together. Again, place the two right sides facing inwards and sew along the side. Take care to align the seams as closely as you can so that the squares will line up.

Simple heart themed patchwork cushion sewing project

Press flat when finished. My finished piece of patchwork measured about 27cm x 27cm square.

Simple heart themed patchwork cushion sewing project

Next think about which embellishments you'd like to use on your cushion. I decided to use a large felt heart and some heart shaped buttons, both of which were stitched on by hand. When planning the position of embellishments, make sure that you don't place them too close to the edges as you need to allow room for the outer seam. Then cut the piece of fabric that you are going to use for your backing to the correct size.

Simple heart themed patchwork cushion sewing project

Place the patchwork piece and the backing piece together with the right sides facing inwards. Sew around the outer edge, leaving a gap of around 6cm at the bottom for turning and for stuffing the cushion.

Simple heart themed patchwork cushion sewing project

Turn the cushion the right way out, using a knitting needle or similar to push into the corners to make sure that they are square. Press flat, being careful to avoid the embellishments.

Simple heart themed patchwork cushion sewing project

Stuff the cushion firmly, making sure that the stuffing is distributed evenly throughout the cover.

Simple heart themed patchwork cushion sewing project

Finally, sew up the remaining gap by hand, and your cushion is finished!

Simple heart themed patchwork cushion sewing project

This mini cushion makes a lovely gift for Valentine's Day, or a pretty seasonal decoration for your sofa or bed.

Simple heart themed patchwork cushion sewing project

This post was written in collaboration with Brother Sewing.