Monday, 21 May 2018

A really lovely weekend

I've just had a really lovely weekend.

Saturday of course was the Royal Wedding. I missed the last Royal Wedding as I was attending to the needs of a demanding toddler, so I made it very clear to all that I intended to watch this one. I put up some bunting, bought some posh crisps, cakes and biscuits, and settled myself down in front of the television with my cross stitch when the coverage started at 9 am.

I was left alone all morning which was wonderful, I loved watching the guests arrive and admiring their dresses, seeing the flowers in the chapel, watching everyone enjoying the atmosphere. As the royals started to arrive the rest of the family joined me and we all watched the ceremony together (with a bit of wriggling from the little ones, kept in check with the table of snacks). Ram announced that he fancied a barbecue so he set off to Asda to buy what he needed (along with a cheeky can of Pimms for me) and he brought me delicious halloumi and veggie sausages as they were ready.

Watching the Royal Wedding

After lunch I had a nap (just one can of Pimms is enough to make me a bit tipsy!) and then I went out in the garden with the children. We tidied up the pots ready to put some flowers in, and planted a few seeds that we found lying around in the garage. Then we sat out on sun loungers and enjoyed the glorious sunshine.

On Sunday morning I helped Harry to make a Viking axe from cardboard. Every two weeks he has topic homework, homework that requires a little more effort based around their topic. I know that at some point he will be having a Viking dress up day, so I've been a bit sneaky and encouraged him to focus his topic work efforts on things that he can use as props. Two weeks ago we made a Viking helmet and now he has an axe, complete with 'blood'.

We also made some bath bombs in preparation for Mia's party next week. They worked out very well (we used this recipe from Red Ted Art) - my one mistake was to add some glitter for a bit of bling - this produced two sparkling children after bath time!

Child with homemade Viking helmet and axe

In the afternoon Harry went out to a party so I stayed at home with Mia. She's always been a Daddy's girl, but lately she's been a bit more affectionate towards me, which is nice. We had a really fun afternoon, and I even managed to tempt her away from the computer games. First we did some cleaning in her room, she's great at tidying and she did a really good job.

Then we worked on a collaborative art project. It was based on something that she's been learning about at school and she had a name for it, I think that it's called automatism. Basically she drew a big squiggle and we painted in the shapes together, we had a lot of fun and it was really relaxing! Then we carried on the art outside with chalk drawings on the patio before settling on the sun loungers with our books.

Several times during the afternoon Mia turned to me and said 'we are spending lots of time together aren't we Mummy?' and I realised that was one of the reasons that I enjoyed the weekend so much. Lots of time spent doing things together (although of course there was individual screen time too, we aren't perfect!) I also made a real effort to put my phone down and live in the moment, hence why I don't have many photographs!

We also spent plenty of time outdoors which always makes me feel better. I'm a very indoorsy person by nature, so it takes a bit of effort to get me outside, but it's definitely something that I need to encourage - especially when the weather lately has been so wonderful!

What did you get up to at the weekend? Did you watch the wedding?

Friday, 18 May 2018

Getting the outside areas ready for summer

The weather has been so nice over the last few weeks, but every year it takes me a while to fully appreciate that the warmest days of the year often appear at the start of summer rather than the end. I think I get caught up in thinking that summer is in August, when in fact by the time August rolls around it can often be positively autumnal. So this year I'm determined to embrace the warm weather as soon as it arrives! Especially because I often think how we are lucky to have a good sized garden and yet we don't spend nearly as much time in it as we should.


Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Life in the Year 2000 by Jennifer aged 7

Recently I've been sorting through my paperwork and I came across some of my old school work. Among it was a piece from primary school that I vividly remember writing - my thoughts about what my life would be like in the year 2000. Back in 1987, that seemed a very long way in the future!

In the year 2000 I hope I will be a baby sitter. I also hope that I will have children of my own. I hope nobody will be poor or have no home. I hope that there will be more buses to help people get from one place to another. I hope everybody will be able to afford things like food and drink. I hope I will be able to go to university. I hope also that I will be able to buy a house and go on holiday to the seaside. Then I would be able to take my children and make sand boats for them. I hope I will marry somebody and live in Horsham. I hope people will be able to buy a lot of things and I hope I could win a lot of colouring competitions and get prizes. 

In the year 2000 I hope people will be able to buy cars and learn to drive. I hope I will go shopping like my Mummy does now and buy a cat called Poppy. I hope I will have three children called Jennifer, Anna and Thomas. I hope I will be able to buy toys and that they will invent some kind of toy called a wiggly woggly which is a toy which wiggles and talks. I hope all the little children will be able to go to school and learn things. I hope I will have a tabby cat called Pippy and a dog called Tinker. I hope people will be able to buy food to eat and drink to drink. I hope that for my birthday I will get some ribbon and materials to make cards. I hope I will get a gerbil to call Pineapple and a rabbit called Fruit and I hope that people will buy lots of air and helmets to go to the moon in. 

I hope that when the grass needs cutting somebody will cut it for me. I hope that if we want to be invisible we can. I hope that people will suddenly find you can live on the moon. I hope they will build houses there. I also hope they will build machines that when you press a button chocolate comes out. I hope that every garden in the world would look nice.

I'm pleased to say that some of this did come true, although not quite by the time I was 20. In retrospect going to university as well as having a husband, house and three children by then would have been quite ambitious. I'm also not sure that I could have kept up with all that as well as look after two cats, a dog, a gerbil and a rabbit. I'm pleased to say that I do have someone that will cut the grass for me, and I have taken my children to the seaside and made them sand boats. But I'm still waiting for the technology to make myself invisible, and obviously the world has a way to go yet when it comes to making sure that everyone has enough to eat and drink.

I read this out to the children (they loved it, particularly my long list of hoped for pets) and it inspired Mia, who is now the same age, to write her own version. Here are her hopes for the future:

When I'm older I want a boy and a girl. I want the boy to be called James. And the girl to be called Sophie. I want everyone to recycle. I want everyone to recycle more and have showers. I want a big house with lots of stuff. 

I love how unoriginal we both are when it comes to thinking of names - the names that I chose for my children are the names of me and my siblings and Mia has chosen the name of the boy who came for a play date the day she wrote this, along with her own middle name! Also my minimalist tendencies are clearly not rubbing off on Mia!

I'm really pleased that my teacher set this piece of work for us all those years ago, I wonder if any of my class mates still have theirs!

Children writing about the future

Friday, 11 May 2018

Working on my YouTube channel

I've been using YouTube for several years, my first video was published five years ago and I've been a pretty steady contributor since. Some of my videos have done surprisingly well - my most popular video is a short review of our large Playmobil castle set which is currently sitting with 127K views. Recently, my video of us assembling an Ikea Stuva loft bed has been very popular, and I also do quite well with holiday destination review videos.


I have never made a fortune from YouTube monetisation, but I did make a few pounds a month which was always nice to have, and a good motivator to keep producing popular content. Back in January, along with many other small creators, I received the e-mail telling me that my channel was no longer eligible for monetisation. They introduced new benchmarks, and creators are required to have over 1000 subscribers and 4000 hours of watch time in the last twelve months.

At the time I had just 463 subscribers and was about half way there with the watch time. My problem is that although I have a few videos with very high view counts, they are short videos so don't add much to my watch time, and they are also one off niche videos which don't attract new subscribers as my content is so varied. I made the decision to try and work on my YouTube channel to reach the new requirements, although five months in I'm still way behind.

Over the last few months I've managed to build up my subscribers and I'm currently on 915, so I'm doing well although there's still a little way to go. If  you aren't already subscribed I'd love you to pop over to my channel and consider clicking the red subscribe button, I really do appreciate each and every subscriber! You can find my channel here - Jennifer Jain on YouTube.


When it comes to watch time though it's proving a bit more tricky. I'm not very good at making longer videos, and most of mine only last about three to four minutes. That's because I know that I don't have the time personally to sit and watch videos all day, and I like to keep things short and sweet. I hope this means that people have the patience to watch to the end at least, but if they click away afterwards then it doesn't do much. I'm desperately trying to think of longer content that I can create which won't be too boring!

If you watch videos on YouTube I'd love to know which type of videos really keep your attention!

You can see some of my latest YouTube videos in the playlist below:


Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Review - Hello Kitty Kruisers for the Nintendo Switch

The children love their Nintendo Switch, and they particularly enjoy multiplayer games that they can play against each other or with friends and family. So they were delighted to have the chance to review Hello Kitty Kruisers, a new colourful and cute arcade racing game from Rising Star Games. 

Hello Kitty Kruisers game review for the Nintendo Switch

To play the game, players choose a character from Hello Kitty and her Sanrio friends and they can race on land, over water and through the air. You can race either in single player or with up to three friends, and as you play through the game you can unlock new outfits and vehicles for your favourite characters. There is also an Adventure mode where you can challenge your racing skills by completing different fun tasks.

Hello Kitty Kruisers for the Nintendo Switch review

We already have a racing game on the Nintendo Switch that they love, so I was particularly interested to see how Hello Kitty Kruisers compared.

Here's what they thought!

Mia (6) - I liked the way it's different from our other racing game because you can do boats and flying but in the other game you can't do that it's just normal racing. My favourite character is the kitten because it's cute and it's quite a good one to play with. I like playing the game on my own because then it makes it a bit easier to win. I really liked the adventure mode because it's different and you need to collect apples or collect cupcakes and sometimes go through hoops, and then there's driving against the time.

Harry (9) - I like the way that you can race in planes and boats because you don't normally have different modes in racing games and it makes the game more interesting. My favourite character is the frog because it's green and my favourite colour is green. I like playing the game with other people especially if they are as good at the game as me because then it's challenging. Another thing I like is that basically there's different levels but then each level is repeated several times in different modes so you can race around the track in different ways. I also liked playing in adventure mode and completing the different challenges. I'd recommend it to lots of people, especially people that like Hello Kitty.

As you can see the game was a big success in this family!

Nintendo Switch Hello Kitty Kruisers review

Hello Kitty Kruisers game review

We received a copy of this game to review. The suggested retail price for the digital game is £24.99, and £29.99 for the physical game. The boxed physical version of the game also comes with an official Sanrio iron-on badge.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

The things that I want for my children

Last weekend I went to a baby shower for a good friend. It was a lovely afternoon, with plenty of tea and cake, along with a few games. Then there was an activity that really got me thinking - a postcard to fill out addressed to the baby with some hopes and dreams for its future. Some of the prompts were quite tricky, and it really got me thinking! Furthermore it inspired me to think about some of the things that I want for my own children.


Thursday, 3 May 2018

Trying to get my blog up to date

I started this blog way back in 2011, and blogging was very different then (that's a topic for a whole other blog post!) I started using Blogger because it was free, and although I've been tempted to move to self-hosted over the years, when it comes to it I just can't face it. Back when I started blogging many of the blogs that I read were as delightfully amateurish as mine -blurry photos, brightly patterned backgrounds, buttons and badges scattered all over the place. The focus was on the writing, and no-one paid much attention to how the blog looked on the screen.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Things in the house I have more than I need of

As an aspiring minimalist, I'm constantly looking around the home for things to declutter. I'm generally pretty good at it, and I don't hang on to much once we've finished with it. But as I look around I'm always being confronted by the things we own that we have far too many of. Here is a list, which could also be titled 'things that should be decluttered, but I just can't bear to'.


Friday, 27 April 2018

Unicorn pencil holder craft

This month the theme for my Bostik Bloggers craft box was Creatures, and with unicorns being so popular at the moment among my daughter and her friends I decided to make a Unicorn Pencil Pot from a cardboard tube to sit on her desk.

How to make a unicorn pencil pot craft



Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Being in diet mode

A few weeks ago I reluctantly stepped on the scales and discovered that I was at my heaviest weight ever, excluding pregnancy. I know I'm not overweight, but since having children and no longer any stomach muscles, any excess fat settles around my tummy and I can really feel it. I generally start to notice extra weight around this time of year, after the excesses of Christmas and a failure to successfully complete a New Year diet when it's cold, dark and I can't resist the biscuits.

I don't like to call it dieting, so I tend to refer to it as 'watching what I eat for a few weeks'. I don't use the word diet in front of the children and I don't draw attention to the fact that I'm cutting back, as I want to do my best to avoid them having any issues with weight as they grow up. Luckily I've lost extra weight in the past successfully, so I'm pretty clear on what I need to do without getting too obsessive over it.



Monday, 23 April 2018

Theatre review - Gangsta Granny Live on Stage

At the weekend the four of us went along to the Pavilion Theatre in Worthing to watch Gangsta Granny Live on Stage, the award-winning stage adaptation of the book by David Walliams which is currently touring the country.  

"It’s Friday night and Ben knows that means only one thing - staying with Granny! There will be cabbage soup, cabbage pie and cabbage cake and Ben knows one thing for sure - it’s going to be sooooooooo boring! But what Ben doesn’t know is that Granny has a secret - and Friday nights are about to get more exciting than he could possibly imagine, as he embarks on the adventure of a lifetime with his very own Gangsta Granny!"


Friday, 20 April 2018

Entertaining children on holiday - then and now

Last weekend the children wanted to play a game together, and from the cupboard they pulled Boggle. This particular Boggle set has many many happy memories for me. When I was younger it was one of our 'go to' family games, and we played it over and over. Although most often on family holidays - all my memories are of playing it on the ferry and in tents across France.

Having recently returned from a family holiday, it set me to thinking about how differently children entertain themselves on holiday now. I'm not talking about our mad Disney or city break holidays where we are constantly out and about on the go, but the more relaxing holidays with plenty of downtime in a cottage, hotel room or by the pool.

Children on ipads in the car

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

My cross stitching wish list

I'm currently really enjoying my cross stitch. Because I try to be a minimalist crafter I'm not a great hoarder of craft materials. When it comes to cross stitch, I like to buy a kit, preferably a large one that will take me a long time to work on. Then I won't even think about buying a new kit until I'm very close to finishing it. So I only have a few completed cross stitch projects, my favourite being the Moira Blackburn Three Things sampler which took me seven years to complete!

Just after Christmas I started working on the Design Works Christmas ABC Sampler (affiliate link) which is another large piece. It has a box for each letter of the alphabet plus a small one for Merry Christmas at the bottom. I decided that it would be too much to try and complete it for Christmas this year, bearing in mind I'd want it finished and framed by the end of November at the latest so that I could enjoy it on display over the Christmas period. But I'm getting on pretty well with it and I'm starting to think that maybe, just maybe, if I get a shift on, I might manage it in time! I've finished seven of the boxes already...

Design Works Christmas ABC Sampler in progress


Monday, 16 April 2018

CLOSED Giveaway - A box of crafty goodies

Now that the children are back at school, I decided that it was time for a new giveaway! This is a crafty box filled with some unused spare bits and pieces from my stash, and some unused crafty things which I've received as part of various collaborations on my blog.

Crafty giveaway prize to win


Saturday, 14 April 2018

Sewing with the children

One day last week during the Easter holidays we found ourselves with a spare day at home - a rare luxury! I asked the children what they wanted to do, and Mia announced 'sewing!' Luckily I had saved a sewing kit that she received for her birthday for just such a moment, so we took it out and started to sew together a gorgeous little felt doll. She was really patient with it, and although she wasn't able to manage it completely by herself she had a good go and we worked on it together.

Harry started to get a bit upset, and I thought it was because he wasn't getting any attention. But it turned out that the reason was that he wanted to do sewing too, and no-one ever gives him any sewing kits. So I asked what he wanted to make, and it emerged that what he really wanted to sew was a hedgehog.


Thursday, 12 April 2018

Our Easter holidays

My children are lucky enough to enjoy a three week long Easter break from school, and after a close family bereavement at the beginning of March we were definitely ready to take a break and spend some time together as a family. As it happens, our three week holiday has fallen nicely into three different sections!

Our first week was spent at Center Parcs, Erperheide in Belgium, our third visit. We had a really lovely time, there is so much to do that it's impossible to get bored. The children have really increased in their water confidence since our last visit - we spent every morning in the swimming pool and they will both now go on all the slides. They were also brilliant in the car this year - it's a bit of a drive but we managed it without any fuss. I had lots of time to catch up with my reading (I'm currently re-reading Gone With the Wind, one of my favourite books) and my cross stitch, and we did a few extra activities at the park too.

Playing Mini Golf at Center Parcs Erperheide

For the second week, Ram's Mum came to stay with us. We had a nice week, we went to all our local haunts like the garden centre for cake, the beach a couple of times, and a walk through the village to the library. At the weekend we all went on a day trip to Brighton. We had a quick look around the shops then a walk on the pier - for the first time the children managed to win some toys in the 2p coin pusher machines which I'd never thought was possible!

The third week started with a big tidy up and clean, and then a couple of days at home to chill. We did crafting, I did some more cleaning and tidying in the garden, and the children enjoyed some Minecraft time. Then we had a busy few days catching up with friends and having play dates which will continue into the weekend, I feel like all our socialising has been crammed into the last few days of the holiday!

I do love school holidays, it's so nice not to have to do the school run, make packed lunches, take a break from the scheduled activities and make the most of a more relaxed bed time. It's also been lovely to feel the early warmth of Spring and enjoy the lighter evenings. Although I do find it all quite intensive when I'm used to being at home on my own for a lot of the day!

I hope that you've all enjoyed a lovely Easter break!

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Visiting Center Parcs in Belgium from the UK - similarities and differences

Having now spent four holidays at Center Parcs in Belgium - three at Erperheide and one at De Vossemeren - I thought I'd share a few tips for any UK visitors that are considering a visit to Center Parcs in Belgium.

If you love a Center Parcs holiday but want to try a more cost effective experience with a multicultural feel then I'd definitely recommend trying it out - there are many advantages over the UK parks! Although these tips are based on the two Belgian parks that we've visited, I'm guessing that many of these tips would also apply to families taking holidays at one of the other Center Parcs sites across continental Europe.


Booking the holiday

We've always booked online, and it's well worth checking the prices through the Center Parcs websites from different countries. We've usually found that the French site has given us the cheapest prices. This does mean that you have to make your booking in French and all correspondence will be in French, so it helps to have a smattering of the language or be confident in your use of Google translate! Make sure that you understand when the final payment will be due if you have only paid a deposit. As in the UK, Center Parcs raise their prices considerably during the school holidays. If you can find some dates when the UK schools are off but the local schools aren't, you can get a very reasonably priced school holiday break.

Driving there

We always travel to Center Parcs in Belgium by car through the Eurotunnel. Driving in continental Europe is quite straightforward but there are a few things you need to be aware of. I'm not really qualified to give advice, especially as I don't actually drive over there myself, but you can find lots of tips online. Check speed limits as they vary by country and may change according to the weather conditions and type of road. If it's your first time driving abroad I'd recommend avoiding driving at night if you can, at least until you get used to it.

You need to make sure that your car insurance will cover you and extend it if necessary (it cost us £25 for a week on our most recent trip) and make sure that you have everything in your car that you need. Check the guidelines for specific countries, including those that you will be driving through on your way. Some examples - you need to take your vehicle log book document (V5C certificate) as well as vehicle and travel insurance documents, you need reflective jackets for each passenger which are stored in the main part of the car not the boot, a warning triangle, beam deflectors and first aid kit. You can find a really useful checklist and information for different counties here - Driving in Europe checklist - and many shops will sell you a kit that contains everything you need. We found that petrol and diesel are cheaper than at home, and there are plenty of petrol stations along the way and in nearby towns.

Language

There are three main languages spoken in Belgium - Dutch, French and German - and the majority of the signage around the park is in these languages along with English. Outside the park most local signage is in Dutch. We had no problem being understood in English when communicating with anyone in the park, whether staff or guests. They usually addressed us first in English anyway, we obviously stand out!

The only times when language was a slight issue was during the kids shows which were usually performed in Dutch and German with a little bit of French and very occasional English. I speak German reasonably well so I was able to translate for the children, and the stories are quite easy to follow anyway, but some children might get frustrated if they didn't understand. We did go to a bedtime story once which was completely in Dutch, and although I can get by in Dutch I struggled  to translate well enough for the children!

Kids show at Center Parcs, Erperheide

Where are other guests from?

Judging by the cars in the car park and languages spoken, the majority of visitors are Belgian, German or Dutch with some French. Most people seem to speak Dutch or German. There are other visitors from the UK, but we've not encountered very many.

Food

The cottages are self-catered. There is a small shop on-site which is well stocked and sells pretty much everything that you'd need, but a cheaper option is one of the supermarkets, of which there are many close by. We usually look for a Lidl which sells pretty much everything that we need. Be aware that supermarkets outside the parks may be shut on a Sunday. I always take the opportunity to visit a nearby supermarket and stock up on waffles and cake that you can't buy at home, marble cake is my favourite!

Dining out

The Center Parcs we've been to don't have anywhere near the range of dining options as you can find in the UK parks. There are no chain restaurants and only a couple of restaurants on site. They do have a good selection and are reasonably priced, but it would be very samey if you are eating there every night. If you want more varied cuisine you are probably better off jumping in the car and heading to the nearest town.

Self-catering

The kitchens are well equipped with everything that you need. With one exception - there's no oven! There is just a fancy microwave and a hob, so bear that in mind when planning meals. There's a kettle and a toaster and various coffee making equipment.

Activities

The price of the activities is a lot cheaper than at the UK parks which makes a big difference to the cost of the holiday. When we've booked we have also received four 'Toppings' vouchers which you can use towards activities. We have used one voucher to reserve a particular cottage, then there is a list of activities and how many vouchers you need. As an example, in the past we have used one voucher for two children to play mini golf and two vouchers for a family game of bowling.

Currency and paying for things

The currency is the Euro. We have had no problems paying for things with credit cards, contactless payments and so on. You'll need a one or two Euro coin for the lockers and for trolleys in the supermarkets off site. Some of the activities need to be paid for in cash, for example the pony riding and some of the children's craft activities. There are cash machines on site.

Differences in the cottages

We always stay in the VIP cottages, broadly speaking the equivalent of the Executive accommodation at the UK parks. One big difference is that there is no daily cleaning, I think that your cottage will only be cleaned during your stay if you are there for longer than a week. This means that some of the amenities, like toilet rolls and dishwasher tablets, will not be replenished during your stay, so make sure to bring extras. In a VIP cottage you are provided with a kitchen pack which includes a sponge, matches and cleaning cloths but no washing up liquid, so you'll need to pack that too.  Check what is included in the level of accommodation that you've booked, for example you may need to bring your own towels. You can find some more information about the cottages here - A VIP cottage at Center Parcs Erperheide and A VIP cottage at Center Parcs De Vossemeren. One thing that we love about the VIP cottages is the daily delivery of fresh bread and rolls!

The sockets in the cottages are of course European sockets. In the bathrooms we've not found shaver or toothbrush charging sockets.

VIP accommodation at Center Parcs, Erperheide, Belgium

Other differences from the UK Center Parcs sites

We've found that there are many more activities included in the cost of your holiday, especially for children. There is a group of costumed characters, Orry and Friends, and they perform a show twice a week, as well as a Mini Disco, storytime, meet and greets and so on. The characters also run children's crafting sessions which are very reasonably priced. Twice a week there is a full evening show which is good and suitable for families (although it does finish quite late). As well as the usual swimming pool there are indoor play areas which are included and these are brilliant. For example, at Erperheide it's a massive soft play and foam ball play area, at De Vossemeren it's an amazing indoor pirate themed play area with sand, water and rope bridges. Both Erperheide and De Vossemeren have a small farm where you can walk in with the animals. It's lovely if you can visit in the spring and see all the baby animals!

Farm at Center Parcs, Erperheide

You will need coins for the lockers in the swimming pool and they can be tiny, so pack your things in a small bag or two. Children that can't swim need to wear a buoyancy aid, these are provided.

There is no Aqua Sana spa equivalent. There is a sauna which I've not used so I can't comment on it, but I do know that you aren't allowed to wear a swimming costume!

The parks seem to be a lot more open to the public than Center Parcs in the UK. I'm not certain, but I think that locals can pay to visit and use the pool and play areas. There are definitely posters advertising birthday parties for children which can't just be for guests. When you book in you will be given separate tickets which you need to use each time you enter the swimming pool and indoor play areas as well as a parking ticket to display on the dashboard. I have also heard a rumour that you can use the facilities at other Center Parcs sites during your stay, although we've not tried this ourselves!

I really love the multicultural feel of the Center Parcs in Europe, hearing all the different languages, there definitely seems to be more of a buzz and they work out a lot better value for money, it's definitely worth considering!

If you are interested in a holiday to a Center Parcs in Belgium, you may like to read some of my other posts:

Our holiday to Center Parcs De Vossemeren
VIP Accommodation at Center Parcs, De Vossemeren
First holiday to Center Parcs, Erperheide
Our second holiday to Center Parcs, Erperheide
Our third holiday to Center Parcs, Erperheide
VIP Accommodation at Center Parcs, Erperheide

If you are looking for things to do in the area you might enjoy:

Plopsa Indoor, Hasselt
The Duinengordel dune belt

I'd love to know if you found this article helpful, and please do leave a comment if you have any questions, I'm always happy to share our experiences!

Friday, 6 April 2018

Mini pot of Spring flowers craft

This month the theme for my Bostik Bloggers craft box was 'Flowers' and so with Spring on the horizon I made a little pot of colourful foam flowers to brighten up my windowill!

Mini Spring flowers craft

To make these Spring flowers you need:

A small plastic pot or cup
Sturdy wire
Foam flower shapes (or cut out your own)
Card flower shapes (or cut out your own)
Ribbon
Green tissue paper
Bostik Blu Tack
Bostik Glu Dots

To make the flower pot:

Decorate the outside of the flower pot using ribbon and cardboard flower cut outs, or any other embellishments that you have to hand. I used Bostik Glu Dots to adhere them firmly to the pot. They worked especially well for sticking down the ribbon as it can be difficult to stick ribbon with glue, the Glu Dots hold fabric items in place really well.

Using Bostik Glu Dots to decorate a flower pot

To make the flowers:

Gather together your wire and foam flower cut outs. Cut the wire to a suitable length, depending on the size of your pot and the height that you want your flowers to be. Assemble the flowers using foam flower cut outs. If you don't have any ready made flower shapes then you can easily make your own using craft foam or coloured cardbaord. The pieces are again held together with Glu Dots, great for crafting with children as they hold everything together really firmly.

Using Glu Dots to make foam flowers craft

Then attach the wire to the flowers. I found that a good way to do this was to insert the wire in between two of the foam shapes. This way it is held firmly by the Glu Dot in between. You could also use tape to attach the wire to the back of the flower.

Attaching foam flowers to wire for standing

To complete the flower pot:

Line the flower pot with a small piece of green tissue paper, then place a large blob of Blu Tack into the pot. If you don't have Blu Tack you could use florist foam, scrunched up tin foil or old play dough. Lining the cup with green tissue paper just stops it from being visible from the outside, if your pot is not see through then you don't need to use it.

Using Blu Tack to support wire and foam flowers

Push the wire flowers firmly down into the Blu Tack and arrange them neatly. Then add some more crumpled up green tissue paper to cover the base of the flower pot. You can bend the stems of the flowers to make some stand out more and to create a symmetrical arrangement. A lovely Spring display!

Spring flowers craft for children

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

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Our third visit to Center Parcs, Erperheide in Belgium

This Easter, we spent a third lovely holiday at Center Parcs, Erperheide. We stayed for a week in the same cottage that we've stayed in twice before, number 514, which is a VIP cottage very close to the swimming pool, Baluba play area and the car park, it's really handy. It's a two bedroom cottage and you can read more about it here - VIP accommodation at Center Parcs, Erperheide.

It had been two years since our last visit as last year we visited Center Parcs, De Vossemeren, so we were eager to see what had changed. One impressive new feature was an old squash court which has been turned into a massive ball pit, lots of fun!

Center Parcs Erperheide giant ball pit

There were also a couple of new elements in the huge Baluba soft play area, which you have entry to as part of your stay. They had fun with this padded spinning wheel, and the 'volcano' in the background which you can climb up and then slide down. I saw a few adults attempting this one as well, it's difficult to resist!

Baluba soft play at Center Parcs Erperheide

When you book a holiday at Center Parcs, Erperheide you receive three Toppings vouchers which you can use towards activities. We used two of the vouchers for an hour bowling and one voucher for the two children to play mini golf. It's a fun little course based around fairy tales (although I must admit that we didn't recognise most of them!) We also took a pedalo trip around the rivers and the children had a short pony ride each. The activities at Erperheide are very reasonably priced so we are happy to pay out, normally we don't pay for activities at Center Parcs as it's too expensive!

Children playing mini golf at Center Parcs

There is a little farm which you can visit and we also found this separate area very close to our cottage where there were some sheep in a little pen. The children loved these sheep, they gave them names and we had to visit them every day.

Looking at the sheep at Center Parcs Erperheide

For the first time we took a drive to the beautiful Duinengordel nature area and spent a couple of hours exploring the dunes and golden sand. You can read more about our trip here - Duinengordel - and if you are in the area I'd really recommend a visit.

Duinengordel dune belt Belgium

If you visit somewhere multiple times it's always nice to have a photo taken in the same space so that you can watch the children grow and this is ours - at the bottom of the slide in the market dome!

Children in a slide at Center Parcs, Erperheide

Here's a little video I made showing some of the fun that we had, as well as a cottage tour and a look around the Market Dome, shop, farm and play areas:


If you are interested in a holiday to Center Parcs, Erperheide, you may like to read my other posts:

First holiday to Center Parcs, Erperheide
Our second holiday to Center Parcs, Erperheide
Our third holiday to Center Parcs, Erperheide
VIP Accommodation at Center Parcs, Erperheide

Another Center Parcs in Belgium which we have visited is Center Parcs, De Vossemeren:

Our holiday to Center Parcs De Vossemeren
VIP Accommodation at Center Parcs, De Vossemeren

If you are looking for things to do in the area you might enjoy:

Plopsa Indoor, Hasselt
The Duinengordel dune belt

And finally I've also written a blog post with lots of tips and advice for visitors from the UK that are interested in staying at a Center Parcs in Belgium. 

Monday, 2 April 2018

Visiting the Duinengordel dune belt nature area, Limburg, Belgium

Visiting Duinengordel, Limburg, Belgium

We have recently returned from our third holiday to Center Parcs Erperheide in Belgium, and for the first time we ventured out to explore the nearby Duinengordel nature area. I'm not sure why we had not heard of it before as we've definitely been missing out!

Duinengordel parking at Oudsberg Heidedal

The Duinengordel is about a half hour drive away from Center Parcs Erperheide and it's an easy drive through a couple of small, quiet towns. You can find out lots of information on the website here - Duinengordel - although most of the information that I could find when planning our trip was in Dutch. I found this part of the website most helpful - Duinengordel walking network - and we decided that we would visit the Oudsberg network as this seemed to be closest to the dunes. The website lists some of the main starting points and car parks, but from looking at the map we realised that many of them start a few kilometres away from the actual dunes which was a bit too far for us with the children. So we parked just by the Heidedal campsite (Kampplaats Heidedal). 

From here there are two short circular signposted walks - one at 1km takes you around the edge of one of the large dunes, the other is slightly longer at 2km and takes you beyond the dune a short way into the forest before you return to the car park. We ended up taking the slightly longer walk. There are no facilities here at the starting point, just the noticeboard with a map. The car park itself is quite small but there is plenty of space to park along the road.

Walking entrance to Duinengordel at Oudsberg

It only takes a couple of minutes to walk from the car park to the dunes down a sandy path. The route was quite easy to follow, and there is a large clearly marked area in the centre which is the 'Speelplaats' or play area. This is a huge sandy dune which you can play in and run up and down. We visited on a sunny day and the colour of the sand really was beautiful and golden, and despite it being a warm day at the end of March we had it almost to ourselves.

Visiting the Duinengordel, Oudsberg, Belgium

We followed the path around the edge of the large dune, and stopped for quite a while so that the children could play in the sand and climb the twisty trees. A group of horse riders passed us, and there are many paths through the dunes which are marked out as bridleways. There are also marked areas which have restricted access to protect them.

Visiting Duinengordel from Erperheide, Oudsberg, Belgium

Walking through the forest back to the car was really peaceful with bright yellow butterflies fluttering past. The walk was the perfect length for us, it was quite hard going at first but that was masked by the excitement of climbing through the sand, then nice and level back through the forest. It was a lovely trip out for a couple of hours, we'll definitely be visiting again if we find ourselves back in the area!

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Normans and Crusaders at Arundel Castle, April 2018

Arundel Castle Normans and Crusaders Event 2018

This weekend we visited Arundel Castle for the Normans and Crusaders event taking place over the Easter weekend. This is the first event of the season for Arundel Castle, and it's a chance to get a glimpse into 12th Century life.

With a few drops of rain threatening, we started our visit in the craft tent. Children had the choice of a crown, shield or catapult, and Mia went with a sparkly crown while Harry chose to make a catapult. Mia spent ages decorating her crown with pens and jewels...

Arundel Castle craft tent event

...and it didn't take Harry long to put together a catapult and practice firing small projectiles at a fantastic toy castle.

Arundel Castle making a catapult craft

Luckily after that it brightened up a bit, and so we explored the rest of the attractions outside. There was a cooking demonstration, birds of prey, and lots of other interesting things to see. Harry also had a go at archery!

Arundel Castle Normans and Crusaders event 2018

Throughout the day there were lots of different displays in the arena. We really enjoyed the weapons and armour demonstration, with real historical figures represented and lots of fascinating information about the clothing, weapons and also the castle itself.

Arundel Castle Normans and Crusaders armour demonstration

You can see a short video below showing some of the fun that we had at the event!


We also spent time exploring the castle rooms and keep - you can read more about what else there is to see at Arundel Castle in my blog post from last year - Arundel Castle, West Sussex.

We were provided with a family press pass in exchange for sharing our visit on social media and on my blog.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Packing light for family travel - some tips

I like to think that I'm quite an expert when it comes to packing for the family. Although my husband is capable of piling up the clothes and toiletries that he will need, I'm the one responsible for most of the extra bits and pieces, along with everything that is needed for the children. When you are travelling with small children it really is much easier if you can limit the amount of stuff that you are dragging around with you. So here are my top tips for packing light when it comes to family travel.

Packing light for family travel - some tips

* My key packing tip is to have a good packing list. I have a list which I keep as a Word document, updated and added to over the years. It is organised into categories - clothes, toiletries, electrical items, food and so on, and it contains every single thing that we might possibly need. When I start packing for a trip the first thing that I do is print out the list and then go through it with a pen and cross off all the things that we don't need. Like sun cream for a winter break or beach towels for a city break. There are lots of lists online that you can use for inspiration but it's much better to make up your own personal list which you can customise to suit the occasion.

* If you are not travelling by car, take only one large suitcase per adult. Ones with a pull along handle are ideal, so you can pull the suitcase with one hand and hold a child's hand with the other. This can be a little awkward if you also need to be pushing a pushchair, in which case one adult will have to pull two suitcases while the other pushes and keeps an eye on any additional children.

* Split all your clothes and toiletries between the suitcases, so if one gets lost on the way you still have at least a few clothes per person to keep you going.

* Some items of clothing like underwear, need to be changed daily, but other clothing can last a day or two. I usually allow a clean top per person per day, and clean bottoms every few days. I take one pair of pajamas for each week of the holiday - if they get dirty a child can easily wear a t-shirt and underwear to bed. If you plan to wear several outfits per day, for example to dress for dinner, you can recycle clothes, you don't need to pack several complete outfit changes for each day. At the end of the day, I put clothes that still look fairly clean to one side rather than throwing in with dirty clothes, in case they are needed again later in the holiday.

* Choose clothes that work together. All of our tops match all of our bottoms.

* Only take towels if you know that you won't be able to rent or borrow them from your accommodation. In my experience most hotels will provide towels in exchange for a deposit, and it saves a lot of space. If you aren't sure if towels will be provided, it's easy enough to buy some at your destination if you need to.

* Always decant toiletries into smaller containers. I often don't bother taking soap or shower gel as it's almost always provided, and think about what toiletries are really necessary, for example, the whole family can easily share the same shower gel or shampoo. I take one mini hairbrush for the whole family to use.

* Save space when packing chargers by buying a USB charging station (affiliate link). Then you don't need to take bulky plugs, you can make the most of the limited sockets in your accommodation, and you can charge lots of devices at once which saves time. Some things like a Kindle or electric toothbrush may have enough charge to last the holiday so you don't need to pack the chargers.

* It's easy to wash clothes on the go, which can save a lot of space. You may be staying somewhere with laundry facilities, or else you can just wash things out in the sink and hang to dry. If you are staying somewhere warm then clothes can easily dry in just a few hours.

* Give your children a space limit when it comes to packing books, toys and teddies. Now that my children are older I give them each a small rucksack which they can pack as they wish, with the understanding that they are responsible for carrying it. When they were younger I packed their things in with ours, so that I didn't need to worry about a child and their bag.

* You don't need as many toys for young children as you think you do. When mine were little I used to pack a bag of about thirty Duplo bricks and a few toy cars, and they would play with them for ages. Take plenty of paper and some pens, a few small books, and you are sorted.

* Shoes can take up so much space in a suitcase. I usually aim for just two pairs - the largest pair to wear and a spare in case of rain and puddles.

* Pack clothes in plastic bags, then you can roll them up and squeeze out excess air to save lots of space.

I hope that these tips were helpful, if you have any more I would love to hear them!

Photo credit Pete Bellis via Unsplash

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Needing to keep busy before we go away

I was talking to a friend the other day about how much I have to do at the moment. We are going away over Easter and I have a massive list to get through before we go away. But as I was going through it, I realised that actually, the majority aren't important at all. Most of them, no-one would even notice if I didn't do them. When I really thought about it, the only thing on the list that was absolutely vital was packing, everything else was just to make me feel better.

For example, I always like the house to be clean and tidy when we go away. It's even more important this time as we have family staying when we get back, so I need to make sure that the guest room is tidied, dusted, hoovered and has clean sheets and towels. It needs to be done of course, but really, a quick tidy, changing the sheets and running the hoover around doesn't take that long.

And although I like the house to be spotless when we are away, the minute we come home there are suitcases and their contents dumped everywhere and dirty washing all over the place, I don't have time to appreciate the hoovered floors and clear surfaces. I think that deep down what I'm really doing is imagining something happening to us while are away, and dealing with the anxiety about that by making sure people don't think that we live in a pig sty!

Another thing that I fret about before we go away is making sure that my blog and social media are scheduled with some content to post while I'm away. This means coming up with the ideas well in advance and finding the time to get them written up so that a new post will appear every few days. But does it really matter if I'm not pushing out content constantly? Lots of blogs I read only publish once a week, many even less often, and it means that I look forward to and appreciate their content rather than just having my Feedly filled up with a stream of generic blog posts that I just scan through. Again, I think it's just my anxiety coming out, that if I take a break people will forget who I am and no-one will ever read my blog again.

The truth is that I really like having a long to do list. I've written before about how I use Trello to organise my life, and I have groups of tasks which need to be done daily, weekly, and as one offs. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to drag a task to the next day or delete it completely, and it makes me feel that I've had a productive day if I've ticked plenty of things off the list. It's also a way of measuring my worth as a stay at home Mum with children that are out of the house for most of the day, knowing that on the surface at least I've achieved something worthwhile.

Do you have a big to do list? How many things are actually vital to have completed?

Never ending to do list
Photo - Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash

Monday, 26 March 2018

Some great Minecraft crafts for children

My children love Minecraft, and they would play it all day if I let them. But now and then I like to drag them away from the screens for some crafting. There are some great ideas out there, and so I thought I'd pull together some different Minecraft themed crafts.

Minecraft crafts for children round up

I recently helped my son to make a selection of Hama bead Minecraft keyrings to give out to his friends. There are lots of different designs online which you can use, and I found a good selection here - Minecraft designs for Hama beads.

Minecraft Hama bead keyrings

The pixellated design of the Minecraft world lends itself perfectly to Hama or perler bead crafting, and there are so many different elements in the game that you could use. These Minecraft keychains are made to look like some of the different swords in Minecraft, another really simple yet effective design that can be customised to use your favourite colours.

Minecraft Hama bead sword keychains
Photo - Red Ted Art

All of these Hama bead pieces could be used to make magnets or as an embellishment for a card. I think they'd also look very cool mounted in a shadow box frame for the wall.

Talking of shadow boxes, a piece of Minecraft inspired decor that I love is this Minecraft inspired wall art. It's really easy to make and it looks amazing, it would be perfect for a child's bedroom, or to hang in the place where Minecraft is usually played.

Minecraft inspired wall art with scrabble tiles

Photo - The Gingerbread House
Some other great Minecraft wall decorations are these Large Wooden Minecraft Characters which are really easy to make and only require a few materials. There are lots of other Minecraft room decor ideas over there too, it's definitely worth a look if you really want to indulge your child's love of Minecraft!

Going back to Hama beads, if you are looking for something a little more complicated I really love this Perler Bead Minecraft Moneybox. I always love to make something which has a practical purpose, and it looks amazing.

Minecraft Hama bead block money box
Photo - Red Ted Art

For my son's Minecraft party I put together some Minecraft themed party bags which I was very proud of. One simple craft which was very popular was these Minecraft bookmarks. They are just printed, laminated, and a coordinating ribbon added to the bottom. The printables that I used below are sadly no longer available, but you can find similar ones here, including Minecraft bookmarks that you can print and colour - Free Minecraft printables. They'd make a lovely gift for a friend!

Minecraft printed bookmarks craft

Another great party bag or present idea would be a Minecraft in a Jar gift. You just need a few little toys and sweets in Minecraft colours gathered together in a decorated jar.

Minecraft gift in a jar idea
Photo - The Gingerbread House

If you children want to act out their Minecraft games in real life, it's easy to make them some simple props, and they also make great decorations for a Minecraft themed party. You can find all sorts of ideas here - DIY Minecraft Party - Swords, Torches, Pickaxes and More!

Or if you want something for the children to work on by themselves, show them this Easy Minecraft Bookmark video from Red Ted Art, and let them have a go!


Finally, if you want to take your love of Minecraft into the kitchen, why not make some Gingerbread Iron Golem Biscuits. They look delicious, and this would also be an ideal activity for a themed Minecraft day!

Minecraft iron golem biscuits
Photo - The Gingerbread House

You might also like my blog post about the themed Minecraft party that I held for my son, it was a big success! And if you have a young Minecraft fan in the house, you might like my list of gift ideas for a Minecraft fan.
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