Thursday 27 April 2017

Keeping fit with a Fitbit

Last October for my birthday I got a Fitbit. I have the Fitbit Charge 2 (affiliate link) which has a large display and heart rate tracker. It is quite bit on my wrist which I found a bit difficult to get used to at first, but having been wearing it for six months now I'm used to it. One thing that I really like about it compared to the not-very-reliable Garmin activity tracker that I had before is how responsive the screen is when I raise my wrist - it turns on straight away so that I can see the time and daily steps.

Fitbit on my wrist

When I first got my Fitbit I set my daily target to 10,000 steps as was recommended. But I'm afraid that I didn't take it very seriously, and I didn't challenge myself to reach it every day. Some days when I went for a run I would go over, but many days I was around the 5-6000 steps mark which didn't feel like much of an achievement. My lowest step count in a day was just 409 steps - although to be fair that was Christmas day when I barely moved from the sofa!

So in January I made a resolution to complete my 10,000 steps every day. I discovered that in order to hit that magic number I had to do at least one extra activity, whether that was a run or a long walk. At the beginning of February I wrote about how I was managing my 10,000 steps, and at the beginning of March I upped my target to 11,000 steps. Nearly two months on I'm not finding that any more difficult, and so I'm thinking about increasing it again to 11,500 or even 12,000.

I've discovered a good trick for bumping up my step count when I can't leave the house, whether due to inclement weather or childcare responsibilities. We are lucky that the ground floor of our house is quite spacious, and if I open all the internal doors I can just march around the house in circles. Even better, I can do this while I'm reading a book at the same time. I can easily knock out a 30 or 40 minute walk, and although I must admit that I feel a little bit dizzy when I'm finished it's an easy and quick way to get to my target! It feels a bit like cheating, but it gets my heart rate up and it definitely counts!

I'm also enjoying some friendly competition with friends and family members. I rarely talk to them about it so they have no idea, but I feel a sense of smug satisfaction when I'm top of the leader board, as well as admiration for those that are achieving above my targets. I've not taken part in any challenges yet but I've heard that they can be very good for motivation, I'm just worried I'd get a bit obsessive about it! I do really love getting the badges, my best so far is 20,000 steps, but I'm sure I can do better than that!

Fitbit badges screen

One thing that I've noticed about the Fitbit is that it particularly loves stairs. Even on days when I've been for a run and am feeling knackered I don't always meet my calorie target. But if I've been going up and down the stairs a lot, for example on days when I've been busy doing washing and putting it away, or just general tidying, I easily burn more calories.

Talking of calories, the Fitbit has really made me appreciate how few calories I actually need to eat. According to my Fitbit, which seems accurate, I'm usually burning around 1,900 calories over the course of the day. When you think that a takeaway pizza 12-1,500 calories you realise that treats like that will definitely add up quickly! I'm not regularly using the calorie counter as an aid to weight loss, but I've found that when I am tracking calories, which I do from time to time, having the daily exercise definitely helps with the weight loss.

I'd love to hear how other people get on with their Fitbits or other activity trackers - how many steps do you aim for in a day?

Tuesday 25 April 2017

My Attic24 Summer Bunting

My latest completed crochet project is the Summer Bunting by Lucy at Attic24. I love all Lucy's crochet projects and had been wanting to try one out for a long while, but being fairly new to crochet I wanted to start with something simple. The Summer Bunting is available as a kit to purchase from Wool Warehouse, and at just £9.50 for everything that you need I think that it's a bargain! I chose to complete the project in the pink yarns as I had it in mind for Mia's room, but it's also available in shades of blue.

I received the bunting kit as a Christmas present the year before last, and I'm afraid that I had put it to one side while I was working on my crochet blankets last year. I'm not very good at following crochet patterns, and I wanted to make sure that I did it right. But in the end I found the pattern pretty easy to follow, and although perhaps I may not have got it quite right all of the time, I'm very pleased with the finished result!

Attic24 crochet pink bunting

The bunting uses four different colours of yarn, and the pattern just says to spread them evenly across the triangles. Next time I would plan it out in advance, as I hadn't thought through logically how many different combinations there were! That is what delayed me a little bit going along, as I wasn't sure the best way to do it. I think that I managed to sort it out though.

Bunting is very difficult to photograph nicely, but here it is hanging up in Mia's bedroom over her bed. She was delighted with it and chose exactly where she wanted to hang it.

Attic24 crochet bunting

There was plenty of yarn leftover once I'd finished the bunting - enough to make many many more strings! But I've added it to my stash for now as I have a few colourful crochet projects in mind. I've also been busy browsing the Attic24 kits and pondering my next purchase, there are some lovely blanket kits that have caught my eye!

Attic24 pink summer crochet bunting

Monday 24 April 2017

Hangriness in the family

Ever since the children were first weaned, I've always been in the habit of packing a drink and a snack to take along with us. Harry was very easily bored as a toddler, and taking a small box of raisins or Cheerios out and about with us was a good way to keep him occupied if we had to wait around somewhere. But it wasn't until Mia came along that I really understood how necessary it was to keep a snack in my bag.

To be fair I should have been quite familiar with the possibility of 'hangriness' (becoming angry through lack of food or drink) because it's something that Ram suffers with and I'm used to making sure that our trips out and about involve regular snack and drink breaks. Ram will often get even more hangry if I try and get him to eat something, but after he has eaten he'll recognise his hangriness in retrospect. But Mia's hangriness is completely different.

I have discovered that Mia needs to eat regularly, by which I mean every couple of hours, to stop her bad mood from descending into a screaming meltdown. It doesn't need to be much, it can just be something that doesn't feel very filling, like some sticks of pepper or cucumber, but it is enough to stave her off for a short while. I can always tell if she's due for a snack - she won't usually say that she's hungry unless I ask, but there is a noticeable downturn in her mood that can often result in a full on lying on the floor tantrum.

Child eating at holiday buffet

So if we are leaving the house to go somewhere and it's been a couple of hours since the last meal, I always make sure that I offer a small snack before we leave, alongside toilet trips and shoes on. I keep a packet of breadsticks and a water bottle in the car ready for the drive home from school, and I always have a bottle of water as a minimum in my bag, even if we aren't popping out for long.

I don't think that it's an uncommon thing in children (and adults!) so at least I'm aware of it, and most of the time I can prepare appropriately!

Does anyone in your family suffer from hangriness?

Sunday 23 April 2017

A day at Alice Holt Forest, Surrey

A day at Alice Holt forest

Over the Easter holidays we spent a lovely day with friends at Alice Holt Forest near Farnham in Surrey. Alice Holt is free to visit with a small charge for parking, and there is lots to do to keep the whole family entertained.

Gruffal trail at Alice Holt

The first thing that we saw on arrival was a sign to the Gruffalo sculpture, and so that was where we headed first. Along the way we found the Gruffalo's Child, then we discovered the Gruffalo himself sharing a clearing with Stick Man - the children were delighted!

Gruffalo sculpture at Alice Holt

From the 24th April 2017 there will be a Gruffalo Spotters Trail in the forest along with an augmented reality app for your smartphone - something for us to look out for on our next visit!

Children playing on a stream in the forest

The children spent lots of time playing in the forest, collecting sticks and using them to dig in the ground. There were some bridges already built across ditches, and dens that they could play in and add to. Along the paths there were lots of information signs aimed at children with plenty of information about the forest sights and things to look for. They loved running along the forest paths and easily kept themselves entertained.

There are several trails through the forest to choose from in varying lengths, so you can choose the one that suits your family best. We particularly enjoyed the Habitat Trail, which featured large wooden play frames every few hundred metres. Among other things there was an owl with a pole inside to slide down, a huge woodpecker that they could climb up inside and a pile of large wooden tunnels to crawl through. There was also a great playground and picnic area, and you can rent bicycles to explore some of the longer trails.

Child holding sticks in the forest

I made a little video showing some of the fun that we had during our visit to Alice Holt, I hope that you enjoy it!

Entry to Alice Holt Forest is free, with a small charge for parking. As a Forestry Commission blogger I received a free parking voucher. You can find more information on the Alice Holt website.

Friday 21 April 2017

Salt dough shell mosaics

I'm always collecting shells when I go to the beach, and instead of just leaving them lying around the house in boxes and jars I decided that we could do a craft together to enable us to keep our beach treasures on display. We made these simple salt dough mosaics - it was a really fun process and produced some lovely keepsakes.

Salt dough shell mosaics craft

Many of these shells are ones that I have collected on various beach holidays over the years. I chose a selection of smaller sizes, and also some little bits of sea glass. If you don't have enough shells you can also buy them quite reasonably - for example a pack like this Assortment of Mini Shells (affiliate link). You could also press sand and stones into the salt dough to add a bit more texture.

To make the salt dough I just mixed together a cup of salt, two cups of plain flour, and enough water to mix into a stiff dough (I find usually just under a cup of water is needed). The dough shouldn't be sticky, but it should be soft enough to knead and shape without cracking. This amount made enough for six circles, each approximately 10 cm in diameter.

Shape the dough into a ball and press flat to form a circle. You want it to be about 1 cm thick - deep enough to hold the shells firmly but not so thick that it will be difficult to dry thoroughly. Place your circles on a clean baking tray, and you can start to decorate.

Crafting with shells and salt dough

First make a hole in the top of the circle if you want to be able to hang them. The easiest way is to use a drinking straw to press out the hole, and wiggle it around a little bit to make the hole nice and large so it won't close up as the salt dough dries. Then press the shells firmly into the dough. This should be enough to make sure that they won't fall out. Think about the placement - you can make patterns, a picture, or just stick them in randomly.

Related post - Sea glass and glass pebble coaster tutorial

Child crafting with salt dough

Harry came up with the idea of using the pattern from a larger shell to press into the salt dough to leave an imprint - similar to the salt dough dinosaur fossils that we made a few years back. This worked really well, and I used the technique myself to make a border for my mosaic.

Salt dough ready for the oven

You shouldn't need to grease the tray in any way, but it's worth moving the salt dough around from time to time while it is baking, especially if you are using an older baking tray, to make sure that it doesn't stick.

Salt dough with shells pressed in

Bake the salt dough in the oven on the lowest setting. I've managed to burn salt dough in the past so I'm very careful now and don't cook it for more than 45 minutes in total, checking it every 5 minutes and moving it slightly so it doesn't stick to the tray. Because the circles are quite thick they will need longer than that to dry completely, so I usually finish off drying my salt dough by leaving it on top of a hot radiator for a couple of days, turning it over from time to time. In the summer you can leave them outside in the sun to dry, or on a sunny windowsill. 

Salt dough drying on the radiator

When dry, do a quick check to make sure that all the shells are still firmly in place, and if necessary secure with a dollop of glue. Then when the circles are completely dry you can varnish them. Varnishing adds a layer of protection, and also really brings out the colours and texture of the shells and other bits and pieces. I applied a couple of coats, layering it generously and making sure that it seeped into all the gaps where the shells are embedded, to make sure that they were firmly held in place. Then I took advantage of the sunshine to dry them outside.

Salt dough drying in the sun

The salt dough mosaics were finished off with some ribbon for hanging. They are quite heavy but a nail in the wall should be enough to hold them, and I think they will look lovely on display!

Salt dough and shells ornament

The salt dough mosaics aren't suitable for outside use, so I might have a think about ways I can use the shells for some outdoor decorations, maybe using them in some stepping stones for the garden.

Salt dough shell mosaic craft

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Wednesday 19 April 2017

The Iberostar Playa Gaviotas Park Hotel, Fuerteventura

Hotel review Iberostar Playa Gaviotas Park Fuerteventura

We spent a week at the Playa Gaviotas Park in Fuerteventura in April 2017, and had such a lovely time that I thought I'd share a little review of the Iberostar holiday where we stayed. Although our children were on their Easter holiday from school it was a slightly quieter (and cheaper!) week as not all the schools had broken up.

We booked our holiday with Jet 2 Holidays and flew from Birmingham. It was the first time that we had travelled with Jet 2 and we were very impressed, everyone was very friendly and it was a very smooth flight. The transfer from the airport was about an hour and a half - quite long although with some interesting scenery on the way and not too much stopping at other hotels. We did end up getting off at the wrong hotel though, the Playa Gaviotas. I'm not sure if it was our fault or the coach driver (there was no rep on board the coach), it did lead to a bit of confusion and although only next door we ended up lugging our suitcases up a few flights of steps to get to the reception at the correct hotel!

There are three hotels in this Iberostar complex - the Playa Gaviotas Park, the Playa Gaviotas, and the Fuerteventura Palace. You can use some of the facilities at the other hotels but do check at the hotel directly, for example we could get drinks at the Playa Gaviotas but not at the Fuerteventura Palace, but could use the pools at all three. We also had the option of dining in one of the other hotels for one evening.

Our room was a Suite which was located on level 4, the same level as the main reception and a floor above the restaurant and pools. There was a lovely feel to the communal areas in the hotel, with plenty of plants and fresh air.

Iberostar Playa Gaviotas Park Fuerteventura review

We had a large double bedroom with double doors leading out to the balcony, a desk, and large wardrobe.

Iberostar Playa Gaviotas Park Fuerteventura review

The children slept on a double sofa bed in the living room, again with large doors to the balcony, a television, and a dining table and chairs. The bathroom had a bath which is very important when it comes to dealing with sandy children. There was plenty of storage and it felt very spacious and clean.

Iberostar Playa Gaviotas Park Fuerteventura review

We also had a small kitchen hidden in a cupboard. Although we didn't do any cooking, the fridge was very handy to store snacks and drinks in. There was no kitchen equipment provided though, so you'd need to bring it all along yourself if you did want to self cater.

Iberostar Playa Gaviotas Park Fuerteventura review

We had a lovely view from our balcony over the pools (good for checking sun lounger availability in the morning) and the sea in the background. Talking of sun loungers, we did find that people were reserving them from fairly early on, despite warnings that items would be removed. We generally headed down to the pools around 10am and found somewhere, but tucked away at the back (which suited us as the children weren't that bothered about the pools). Later on in the day it was quite difficult to find a group of sun loungers anywhere, although we found plenty of outdoor seating on sofas and comfy chairs at the Iberostar Playa Gaviotas hotel next door.

Iberostar Playa Gaviotas Park view from balcony

Only one of the swimming pools was heated, and it was still quite chilly, so our children didn't go in them much. It's a shame as the other pools looked lovely but were mostly empty as they were very cold, there was a good range of shallow areas and deeper parts for swimming.

Iberostar Playa Gaviotas Park pool

Breakfast and dinner were served in the main restaurant, with lunch in the pool bar. The main restaurant was large and never felt crowded, although to be fair we were visiting during a quiet week. There was plenty of food and a good selection, we aren't foodies and the children are quite picky, so we didn't make the most of it at all. As vegetarians we did end up with quite carb heavy options (lots of pasta, bread, pizza) but there was plenty of fruit and veg to balance it out. At mealtimes you could help yourself to drinks in the restaurant and the bars, including many types of alcoholic drink.

Several times during the week there was a barbecue at the pool bar for lunch, and there were three themed nights during our stay - Mexican, Canaries and Tapas - with some more interesting and varied menu items. We spotted a timetable for the following week and there was a themed night every night with lunch also served in the main restaurant, so things obviously change during busier times.

Child eating hotel buffet on holiday

I have terrible will power when it comes to unlimited desserts and there were plenty to choose from, luckily small portions so you could try a bit of everything. On one of the themed nights there was a chocolate fountain which we all enjoyed, and every evening we were welcomed into the dining hall with either sparkling wine or a cocktail.

Dessert buffet at Playa Gaviotas Park, Fuerteventura

The beach, part of the Jandia Peninsula, is located a few minutes walk from the hotel, but you need to climb or walk down to it. There's a pretty little steep path from the hotel, or you can cut across through the neighbouring Iberostar Playa Gaviotas and use the lifts to get down.

Walk to Jandia Beach, Fuerteventura

It's a really beautiful beach, miles and miles of golden sand, and it was never busy. We spent a lot of time here building sandcastles and playing in the sea. There were lifeguards on duty but the sea was a little rough for swimming, however it was shallow and when the tide was going out it left behind large lakes which the children could splash about in.

Fuerteventura beach near Iberostar

There's a smooth foot path/cycle path along the top of the beach which makes for a nice walk. We made it as far as the lighthouse which was about a 30 minute brisk walk, and there's a whale skeleton on display which is an interesting sight. I made a little video of the beach which you can see here:

Our children weren't interested in the daily kids club, although there seemed to be plenty going on with daily activities. There was lots to entertain them though! Apart from the beach and the pools where we spent most of our time we found a nice playground in the Iberostar Playa Gaviotas and there was a Mini Disco every evening. There was also a later show which was suitable for children but as it didn't start until 9.15pm it was a little late for ours. We did enjoy most of Mamma Mia and the Magic Show, and the other shows looked pretty good too.

Play area at Iberostar Playa Gaviotas Park

I have also made a little video about the hotel showing our room, the pools, the beach and some of the food, enjoy!

We had a lovely stay at the Iberostar Playa Gaviotas Park, and I wouldn't be surprised if we end up coming back!

Iberostar Playa Gaviotas Park

Monday 17 April 2017

Our family holiday to Fuerteventura

We've just returned from a lovely week in Fuerteventura, staying in the Iberostar Playa Gaviotas Park on the Jandia Peninsula. The children finished school a week earlier than many other schools, so we were able to take advantage of slightly cheaper prices and a less busy week at the resort, and we had a fantastic time. I've made a few videos about our holiday and below you can see the one that I made about the hotel - it's definitely one to recommend!

On our first evening it was so lovely to arrive from the chilly weather back home to a lovely warm late afternoon sun. The transfer from the airport was about an hour and a half, longer than we usually aim for, but the children were fine and there was some interesting volcanic and sandy scenery to look at. We immediately got changed into our summer gear and headed for the beach, just a few minutes walk from the hotel. We came across a couple of ladies that were feeding the squirrels with pumpkin seeds and they kindly gave our children a handful - they loved waiting for the squirrels to come and take the seeds even if it took a few goes before they were confident enough not to run away shrieking!

Children feeding squirrels in Fuerteventura

The next day we headed straight to the beach as soon as we were up, and we spent hours there every day of the holiday. Jandia Beach really is lovely, miles and miles of golden sand, shallow waters and not at all busy. The sea could get a little rough at times so we didn't attempt to swim (although there were lifeguards) but it was shallow enough that you could safely paddle, and when the tide went out it left behind large lakes of warm water to splash in.

Family holiday to Fuerteventura

After a couple of days we learned to time our beach trips with the tide coming in, and so the children built fortresses against the incoming waters - always doomed to fail of course but it was fun trying!

Family playing on beach

I made a little video about the beach which you can see below - I'm wishing I was back there now!

It's so nice going away with the children now that they are that bit older and can entertain themselves for a little while. We spent a good amount of time relaxing on sun loungers by the pool, as they weren't that bothered about actually swimming (the water in the pools was a bit cold, and they aren't natural swimmers). They could easily keep themselves occupied for ages with books, activity books and their tablets and it meant that we all had the chance to relax.

Family on sunloungers by pool

We aren't a foodie family so we probably didn't nearly make the most of the all inclusive food (many meal times were spent desperately trying to find something that they would eat, or at least try) but there was a great selection of different dishes and desserts. I put on 2 kg over the week - I just can't resist several helpings of cake for breakfast, and when I see a selection of different desserts I feel like I have to try them all! Lunch was served in the pool bar which was lovely, shaded tables with a view across to the sea in the background. 

Child eating at holiday buffet in Fuerteventura

We all had a really great time, it was fantastic to connect as a family and enjoy spending time in each other's company, it's so nice that that these types of holiday are becoming more fun for us all and not quite so much of a mission as they were when the children were tiny! 

Here's another little video with some of our holiday highlights.

Friday 14 April 2017

Ten Hama bead projects for adults

I love Hama beads, and in fact I think that I spend more time playing with them than the children! So I thought I'd round up ten of my favourite Hama bead projects that were made by me, and for me!

Ten Hama bead projects for adults

It's easy to brighten up your decor with some cheerful beaded projects. This Hama bead heart hanging decoration is a great way to fill a small narrow space on the wall, and was made for Valentine's Day. The Hama bead quilt style picture is so bright and colourful in a square frame in our bathroom, and I admire it every time I'm brushing my teeth!

Hama bead heart and quilt style picture

You can use Hama beads to make some lovely holders for battery powered tea lights (please note that these are not designed for real candles as that would be very unsafe). These Autumn battery powered tea light holders are made with beads in reds, oranges and greens, and these Christmas battery powered tea light holders are inspired by Scandi designs in red and white.

Hama bead candle holders

You can use Hama beads to add a touch of fun to some of the decorative objects around your home. I made some strips of Hama beads to wrap around a jam jar to make Hama bead covered pen and pencil holders, and I used two large square pegboards to make some Hama bead photo frames to display my favourite pictures.

Hama bead adult projects

The mini Hama beads are perfect for more intricate projects. My first mini Hama bead projects make lovely embellishments for card making, and I used some dragonfly and flower designs to make some mini Hama bead decorative plant markers.

Mini Hama bead projects

Finally I particularly love making seasonal Hama bead projects. For Easter I used the mini Hama beads to make some tiny Hama bead Easter eggs which can be used for card making or as shown in the photograph as little cake toppers. I used a larger version of the design in the midi beads to make some Hama bead Easter egg coasters, great for brightening up the table or for the first Spring drinks in the garden.

Hama bead Easter designs

I hope that you liked my Hama bead projects! Remember - Hama beads aren't just for children!

You can find many more of my Hama bead creations on my Hama beads page.

Wednesday 12 April 2017

Lollipop stick bird houses

Bird house craft with lollipop sticks for children

You need:

Thick cardboard
Coloured lollipop sticks
Small feathers
Googly eyes
Jewel embellishments
Ribbon for hanging
Bird cutouts, or some coloured card to make your own
Bostik Glu Dots
Bostik Foam Pads


First we made the bird houses. Stick the lollipop sticks to the cardboard so that it is covered, I found that 11 sticks across was a nice size for the house. The lollipop sticks are stuck down using the Glu Dots. I really like using the Glu Dots for crafting, they stick different surfaces together really firmly and because they are applied directly from the transparent surface you can easily see where they are being stuck for easy positioning.

Bostik Glu Dots for crafting

Use another lollipop stick to make the base of the house and stick two together at an angle to form the roof. Using the Glu Dots also means that the craft is dry instantly, great when you are working with impatient children!

Bostik Glu Dots for crafting

Then we made birds to go inside the house. We used some foam cut out bird shapes, but you could easily make your own from coloured cardboard. We used some small feathers for the tail which are again stuck down with the Glu Dots, the perfect size for the feathers.

Child using Bostik products for crafting

We also added googly eyes and plastic jewels. To stick the jewels down onto the bird we used the Bostik Foam Pads. These foam pads are very small, so they are perfect to use with smaller embellishments, and they give the bird a really nice 3D effect.

Child using Bostik products for crafting

We used the Foam Pads again to stick the birds into the bird houses, using several around the edge and in the middle so that it was well stuck down and stood out a little from the house.

Lollipop stick birdhouse craft

Harry decided that he wanted to build his bird house an extension using some more lollipop sticks, again stuck together firmly with the Glu Dots. Then to finish I tied a length of bird ribbon through the top so that the decoration can be hung.

Lollipop stick birdhouse craft

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