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Monday 28 May 2018

Things I need to get done before the summer holidays

I can't believe that it's the May half-term already - the last few weeks have gone so quickly! It's been such a sunny few weeks, the children have been down the beach with school and having lessons outside and it really does feel like the last few weeks of the school year are approaching quickly.

I love the summer holidays - no school run, no packed lunches to make, no uniform to wash, and no worrying about getting the children to bed early. The long light evenings are perfect for barbecues, playing in the garden, or heading out to the beach for a Pokemon walk, and I honestly do love having the children around me all day (especially now that they are old enough to be entertained with tablets or computer games for periods at a time so I can get at least a little bit of time to myself!)

But in order to enjoy them properly I have to start my preparation work now and make sure that I've done everything that I need to. For me it falls into several different categories:

School


Last year I got away without buying much school uniform as they still had plenty that fitted. This year Mia moves into Year 3 which means that she needs a skirt instead of a tunic, and they both have many items of uniform that are looking a little short and scruffy. The second hand sale takes place in the last week of term so I'll get what I can there, the easy bits can be bought in the supermarket and the school specific things need to be bought in the uniform shop. I'm determined to get it all done as early on as I can so that everything is still in stock, apart from new shoes which we always leave until the last minute.

I'll also need to see if any other bits and pieces need replacing, like lunch boxes, bags and water bottles, and make sure that it's all packed away neatly ready for September.

House


The house always goes to chaos during the holidays. There are unfinished Lego and craft projects all over the place, along with games in progress that can't possibly be tidied away. Although I do get the children to help me with the cleaning, it always takes longer than just getting on with it by myself. I'll try and start the holidays with at least a tidy toy cupboard and bedrooms, and also take the opportunity at some point to go through each child's bedroom and have a good sort out. We have a garage sale planned for the middle of July so I'm hoping to gather some bits and pieces together that they can sell. Also at some point over the holidays I want to give the garage a proper clean by taking everything out and getting a broom into all the spidery corners.

Blog


Last summer holidays I was completely wrapped up in sorting out all the photographs on my blog after Photobucket ruined it. I spent hours every evening working on it and it really cut into the time I had spare for creating and scheduling new content.

It's difficult to get much done when the children are around, as even when they do leave me alone for a little bit I find it difficult to really focus knowing that I can be interrupted at any point. Also hopefully we'll be out and about and doing things together which I don't want to miss. During the evening though they will often watch a film with Ram so that gives me an hour or two to write a post or catch up with some social media bits.

Even so, before the holidays start I'll be aiming to write enough blog posts in advance that I've got one or more scheduled each week (that means at least 8 - eek!) and sort out scheduling for Twitter and Pinterest at least. Hopefully we'll do lots of fun things together that will give me blogging inspiration as we go along!

Photo credit Estée Janssens via Unsplash

Luckily I like a good to do list and mine is certainly building! Do you have things that you need to get done before your children break up for the summer?

Friday 25 May 2018

Sorting through some of my sentimental things

I love decluttering, and it seems to be a constant process in this house. There are always clothes that have been outgrown, toys that are no longer played with, old and outdated technology, as well as all the new things that come in. I also like going back through the things that I once thought were important to keep, and deciding whether I really need to keep them.

Recently I pulled out my old school work folders. Alongside the important exam and music certificates I've also kept yearbooks and programmes from concerts that I took part in and prize giving evenings. But I had also stored quite a few long essays from school and university that I decided it was time to part with. If I can't be bothered to read through them when I'm reminiscing, then when will I read through them? I only kept a couple of favourites that I remembered writing on subjects that interested me.

I'm quite glad that I've kept on top of old school work over the years, as it would have been overwhelming otherwise. It made me think about how much school work I keep from my own children - probably far too much that they've forgotten about already! I have some of my childhood drawings, but not too many, and that means that they are really special and I appreciate them when I get them out to look through. Like this picture of my brother that I drew when he was a baby, I would have been 5 or 6!

Child's drawing of a crying baby in a pram

Something that I did struggle with was my old school reports. It's always fun to read the school reports of celebrities to see where they've been criticised for something that they later excel at. But I'm not sure that anyone else would be particularly interested in mine, probably not even my own children. I was a diligent student and the reports are good, but I didn't really enjoy reading back through them. Many of them I had to write a paragraph for each subject myself, and it made me cringe to read it back! So I kept my primary school report, which was excellent if I say so myself, and one from my last year at secondary school.

The next box that I need to tackle is my old diaries. I kept a detailed page a day diary for about ten years, and they are all stored in a box in the top of the wardrobe. When I was writing them, I imagined people in the future poring over them to learn all about my life. However I can't bear to look at them myself as I hate reading what I've written. I'm torn between wanting to make a big bonfire of them and thinking that I should keep them for posterity. They definitely don't spark joy as Marie Kondo would say!

What things have you kept from your childhood?

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Getting used to a new car

This week we have a new car. We sold our old Ford Focus which was getting a little creaky (and which I had unfortunately managed to put a hole in the front) and we now have a new Skoda Karoq. When we first started looking at Skodas I must admit that I found it difficult to forget the Skoda jokes I remember from school, but it turns out that Skokas have massively improved their reputation over the last couple of decades, and when my friend told me that her Skoda was still going strong after 17 years I was more convinced!

I was a little worried as it's quite different to our last car - I'm a nervous driver and I don't like change. The Focus was a reliable car, and we've only ever had Fords. Our other car is a little Ford Fiesta which is small, easy to park and quite nippy. The Karoq seemed huge to me when I saw it in the showroom, and when I sat inside I felt very small. I wasn't even convinced when Ram told me that it was shorter than the Focus and only 2cm wider - it seemed enormous!

We needed a quick turnaround so we went for a basic model. It doesn't have all the fancy new features, but it does have a few extras that I've not had before - front sensors in particular are going to be very helpful! It has cruise control which adjusts your speed to keep a safe distance from the car in front, and an automatic braking system if you get too close. It's going to take a little while to get used to as there is no handbrake and you need to push down various pedals to get it to start - it's a bit different from the more basic cars that I'm used to!

Child in the boot of a Skoda Karoq

The new features have been making me think about how different learning to drive will be in the future as technology improves. I remember learning stopping distances for my theory test, but now you can rely on the car to calculate it for you. I used to use marks on the window of the car to help me with angles for reverse parking, but with front and rear sensors you can rely on those instead - and many cars are even able to park themselves. I'm not sure I can fully trust the car yet, but if it's all that you've ever known then I can see how you would. Perhaps by the time my children have lessons the cars will pretty much drive themselves!

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.