Monday 29 July 2019

Brading Roman Villa, Isle of Wight

We had a lovely week in the Isle of Wight earlier this month, and another of the places that we really enjoyed visiting was Brading Roman Villa, so I thought that I'd share what we got up to. Brading Roman Villa is considered one of the finest Roman sites in the UK, and is mainly preserved undercover so it's a good choice for a rainy day. We paid £25 for a family ticket and our visit lasted for a few hours.

The West Range of the Villa is preserved in the museum, with walkways so that you can have a good look around it. Outside you can see the North and South Ranges marked out with chalk outlines as well as a Roman garden. I must confess that we felt that the mosaics aren't as spectacular as some that we've seen elsewhere, but the layout of the museum gave you a good overview of the structure of the villa, and there was plenty of artist's impressions and information to help you understand how the villa would have looked in Roman times.

Brading Roman Villa mosaics indoors

The children are both interested in the Romans, and thanks to studies at school and their own reading they are able to identify characters from the myths and legends that they could spot in the mosaics, as well as identifying different objects from Roman life. But when visiting a museum like this they do need to have some additional child friendly activities to keep them interested, and luckily Brading Roman Villa provided quite a few of these. 

Children doing a mosaic activity at a Roman Villa

They spent ages working on these mosaics, and behind them you can see a toy model of a Roman villa which they also enjoyed looking at, with Mia desperate to recreate one for herself when we got home!

Brading Roman Villa kids activities

There were also dressing up costumes, and various puzzles to complete as you went around, like reassembling the layers of artefacts excavated from the well on site. This also meant that us adults could spend time reading the information boards without interruptions!

Dressing up as Romans

The children also loved creating some different realistic and mythical Roman figures, and putting together a large jigsaw puzzle representing one of the mosaics on the floor. These activities really kept them interested as we explored the remains, and definitely meant that we made the most of our visit.

There was a special exhibition running during our viist, Hoards, which was included in the entrance price. It's a touring exhibition featuring various hoards of valuable objects which have been discovered, and there were some fascinating objects and stories behind them to learn about.

Brading Roman Villa activities for children

We visited on a Saturday and we didn't see any other children, which makes me think that perhaps the villa is marketed more towards an adult audience. But if your children are studying the Romans at school or just generally interested in Roman history, then I'd recommend a visit to the villa.

Related post - Tapnell Farm Park, Isle of Wight

Saturday 27 July 2019

We bought the children Fitbits

A couple of weeks ago we treated the children to a Fitbit each. Although Ram and I do exercise regularly, I often think that the children don't get active enough. We can't walk to school as it's several miles away, although I do make them walk to the road that I park in. But they aren't the most athletic of children, and I can't imagine that they get particularly involved in PE lessons at school. Aside from swimming lessons they aren't interested in doing any sports clubs.

I've had a Fitbit for a few years now, and I find it really interesting and motivating to keep track of my steps. For the first year after I started wearing it I managed to reach my step goal of 10,000 steps every single day, and although I'm not as obsessive about it now I do feel better when I've made that goal.

Fitbit Ace worn by children

A great deal of deliberation went into purchasing the Fitbits. The children don't have phones so they need to connect to a tablet, and they have small wrists so it needed to be one designed for children. I was keen to go for the Fitbit brand because then we could share our stats and enter challenges together, and we eventually settled on the Fitbit Ace. This is an older model, so it was a reasonable price.

The children were so thrilled when they arrived. They soon worked out that they could 'cheat' the step count by waving their arms around, although I don't mind because it still feels like a form of exercise! Mia also discovered that when Harry challenged us to a step goal day challenge she could adjust her goal to one step and complete the challenge before she even got out of bed! But they've become used to them now and are using them as they are intended, checking in their step counts with each other and with me throughout the day.

I'm really enjoying how it has been encouraging them to get out for a walk. At the moment in our town there is a brilliant initiative called Beat the Street running. Electronic boxes have been placed at regular intervals across several towns in the area, and you can use a map to find them and swipe them with a special card to collect points. We've really enjoyed going out for some walks together, and many of the boxes are at playgrounds which is added motivation. I've found that because they have such small legs, their step count racks up much faster than mine does!

Beat the Street box in Worthing park

I'm very interested to see what their step count looks like once they are back at school. It's only a small school but there are lots of steps up and down so it may well add up quite quickly! I'd definitely recommend a fitness tracker if you want to see how active your children really are, and take literal steps to improve.

Monday 22 July 2019

Tapnell Farm Park, Isle of Wight

We loved visiting the Isle of Wight as a family. We found so much to do that our week was filled, and there's plenty left for our next visit! One of our favourite days was spent at Tapnell Farm Park. We looked at various options for a longer family friendly day out, and chose Tapnell Farm Park over the other contenders, Blackgang Chine and Robin Hill Country Park, because we felt that it offered better value for money. We paid £37.80 for a family ticket, saving ourselves a couple of pounds on the gate price by booking online the night before.

Tapnell Farm Park outdoor go kart track

We had read that the park can be quite busy and so we arrived as it opened, but as we were able to time our visit before most schools had broken up for the summer we found it very quiet. We headed first for the pedal go karts, with an outdoor track for older children and adults. There are go karts in all shapes and sizes, ones that children can ride themselves and ones with seats for younger children to be pedalled around. It's a wide track with beautiful views and plenty of room for overtaking if things start to get competitive!

Tapnell Farm Park indoor aerial runway

We visited on a lovely sunny day, but the indoor play barn is a great place to spend time if the weather isn't too good. There are a couple of long zip wires side by side so that you can race your friends, and a brilliant straw bale play zone for exploring with tunnels and dens.

Tapnell Farm Park straw play barn

There's also a climbing wall with several different routes that children can try, which was pitched perfectly and not too easy or too difficult.

Tapnell Farm Park indoor climbing wall

There are plenty of animals at the farm to visit. Indoors there are pet animals like rabbits and guinea pigs, which are available to stroke at certain times of the day. Outside you can see traditional farm animals in the paddocks, like sheep, pigs and goats, as well as a Wallaby Walkabout area where you can get close to the wallabies. So close in fact that we were trapped inside for a while as a wallaby refused to move out of the way to the exit!

There are also plenty more play areas outside, including colourful tyres and two large bouncy pillows, one for younger and one for older children.

Tapnell Farm Park coloured tyre play area

Children can race a cart down the Sledge Slides, practice football skills by aiming balls at targets, and play farm themed Mini Golf (this costs an additional £1 per ball from a vending machine).

Tapnell Farm Park, Isle of Wight

We were lucky with the weather when we visited, but I think that even on a rainy or cold day there would still be plenty to do. It was also a lot of fun for adults too, it wasn't just about sitting around watching the children enjoy themselves, and we also had a go at many of the activities! We spent several hours here with a picnic lunch, and definitely feel that we got our money's worth. I'd really recommend it if you are looking for somewhere fun to visit with the family in the Isle of Wight!

Isle of Wight day out at Tapnell Farm Park

Friday 19 July 2019

Journalling and writing prompts for bloggers

Journalling and writing prompts for bloggers

Recently I treated myself to a new journal, and although I was full of ideas when I purchased it, as soon as I found time to sit down and write my mind went blank! So I thought I'd come up with a list of journalling and blogging prompts that I can use as a way to both open up my creativity when it comes to creating new and interesting content, and come up with ideas that I can develop into blog posts.

I hope that these ideas might be useful for other bloggers too!

* Create a visual mind map or spider diagram for your blog. With your blog name in the centre, create bubbles for the topics that you already blog about as well as new topics that you would enjoy writing about. Under these main areas create sub-categories and sub-themes. You will see if there are any gaps in your content, and be reminded of topics that you've already covered and can link back to in new blog posts.

* Find a list of seasonal events and awareness days. There are plenty out there to choose from so choose your favourites, maybe one or two for each month, and think about a related blog post that you could write. Maybe it's an issue that you've been touched by, or a related recipe or craft that you could share. You could create a page for each one and add in related thoughts and ideas as they come to you so that when the day comes around you have something ready to write up and publish.

* Start a list of social media status updates and prompts that you can post to Facebook or Twitter to inspire a conversation or spark engagement. If you have enough you could share them in a blog post, maybe themed by season or blog niche.

* Come up with a list of photo challenges or blog post challenges that you could set for fellow bloggers. For example you could come up with a list of themes for each day of the month and encourage others to join in by posting a daily photo to Instagram or Twitter.

* Explore what blogging means to you. For example:

- Why I'm glad that I started this blog
- What I enjoy most about writing my blog
- Why I write a blog
- What I've learned from blogging
- What I've gained from blogging
- Advice for new bloggers
- What I'd do differently when it comes to my blog
- Where I want to take my blog

These don't need to be written up into a blog post, but they are a way of helping to think positively about your blog and what you've achieved, especially if you are becoming disheartened or feeling that you can't compare to others.

* Keep a record of your statistics over time - the number of posts written, number of followers on different platforms and so on.

* Lay out and track your blogging goals. Either specific goals such as reaching a certain number of followers, or a more general aim like creating a viral meme or setting up a social media scheduler. Think about what needs to be done to meet each goal by writing out a specific list of actionable tasks that you can tick off when they are complete.

* Brainstorm potential blog post ideas, trying to be as specific when it comes to the title as possible. There is lots of inspiration for blog post ideas online, for example my entire year of blog post ideas and inspiration. From time to time I like to challenge myself to quickly come up with five or ten different ideas for blog posts, and then I immediately schedule them in my editorial calendar to encourage me to get them written up.

I hope that these ideas give you some inspiration the next time you're staring at a blank page in your journal!

Journal prompts for bloggers
Photo credit Kyle Glenn via Unsplash

Main image credit Ana Tavares via Unsplash.

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Wightlink Ferries to the Isle of Wight review #ad

Ad - We received a complimentary return ferry crossing from Portsmouth to Fishbourne in exchange for this blog post.

We've just returned from a wonderful family holiday on the Isle of Wight. Although we live pretty close, and have often seen the island in the distance, it was our first visit, and we had such a lovely time that I'm certain we'll be back!

There are several different ways that you can reach the island. Our closest port is Portsmouth, and so we chose to travel with Wightlink which offers three different routes from the mainland. You can travel with your car from either Portsmouth Gunwharf to Fishbourne or Lymington to Yarmouth, or as a foot passenger you can travel by FastCat from Portsmouth Harbour to Ryde Pier. We were taking our car and so we used the Portsmouth Gunwharf to Fishbourne route. The route to the port in Portsmouth was very well signposted, and as we'd made sure to arrive at the earliest recommended time we ended up making an earlier ferry which was a big bonus! This crossing over the Solent takes just 45 minutes.

Car inside a car ferry

Loading the cars onto the ferry was simple and speedy in both directions. While you are waiting to board, both Portsmouth and Fishbourne have facilities for passengers, including toilets with baby change and hot drinks. You need to leave your car once it has been loaded on to the ferry and head to the passenger decks and lounges for the journey. The ferry leaves as soon as the last car is loaded, so if you are among the final passengers to board you'll be underway by the time you reach the deck!

Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth viewed from Wightlink ferry

Sailing from Portsmouth you have a beautiful view of the city, the skyline dominated by the Spinnaker Tower. We were lucky that the weather was lovely for both our crossings so we were able to enjoy the sunny decks, and there was barely any motion from the waves. If the weather is more inclement then there are plenty of places to relax inside the ferry, alongside toilets and cafe facilities.

View from the back of a car ferry across Portsmouth

On our ferry there was a small area inside set aside for children with large windows and padded seats, I think Harry could have stayed here all day! It's such a busy stretch of water that there is always something interesting out there to spot.

Child sitting at a window in a Wightlink ferry

Up on deck you can see land in both directions so it's easy to see how much of the crossing is remaining. I was really impressed by how smooth and enjoyable our ferry journey was. I'm sure we'll definitely be using Wightlink to make this crossing in the future!

Child on a Wightlink ferry from Portsmouth

I made a short video of our crossing which you can see below - enjoy!

Monday 15 July 2019

Useful things that you can make using Hama beads

Useful projects created using Hama beads

I love that Hama beads are such a versatile crafting material. There are plenty of ways that you can craft with them rather than just creating different patterns and shapes. I'm all about creating things that have a purpose, and so here I've rounded up some ideas for Hama bead craft projects that can be used to make something useful. There are some great gift ideas too!

Related post - A year of Hama bead crafts

I really love my Hama bead jam jar storage. I took old jam jars and tins and made colourful wide strips of Hama beads to decorate them. When the Hama beads are still warm from the iron they are supple and can be formed into a curved shape that will hold once the beads have cooled. Then you can glue them to the outside of the jars or tins. It also makes the jars easy to pick up and carry!

Hama bead covered decorated jam jar craft

I love using Hama bead photo frames to display my favourite photos and postcards. I've made several different themed frames, and you can use colours and patterns that match both your decor and the theme of the pictures.

Hama bead photo frames

I use these Mini Hama bead decorative plant markers to brighten up my pot plants. They are so colourful, and the mini Hama beads can be used to create some lovely and intricate designs in the same range of bright colours as the larger beads.

Related post - A guide to using mini Hama beads

Mini Hama bead decorative plant markers

This Hama bead hair clip hanger is a great way to display a couple of Hama bead creations. Just fix a larger piece to one end of a long piece of ribbon and a smaller piece to the bottom. When hung on the wall it makes a great place to display and organise hair clips, and you could also use it for pin badges or buttons.

Hama bead hair clip hanger craft

Related post - Ironing tips for Hama beads

Hama bead keyrings make a really useful and practical gift. I made these Minecraft key rings as party bag gifts for a Minecraft themed party. We've also made key rings using the mini flower peg board. The children love them for decorating their school bags!

Hama bead Minecraft keyrings

Hama bead Emoji magnets are another useful gift. We've made them using the Minecraft templates that we used for the key rings above, and we also came up with our own Emoji based designs. They were a great hit with other children at the school summer fair!

Hama bead Emoji themed magnets craft

Finally you can never have enough coasters, and I've made Hama bead coasters in a variety of seasonal designs, including Diwali, Halloween, Autumn and Easter.

Hama bead Autumn themed coasters

I hope that my designs have inspired you to get crafty this summer, happy Hama bead crafting!

You can find many more Hama bead projects on my dedicated Hama beads page.

Friday 12 July 2019

Why I want my children to travel the world

As a family we love to travel, and we have been lucky enough to enjoy some wonderful experiences. We are very varied in where we stay, from self-catering cottages to cruise ships to tents. We also travel all over the place, from the campsite up the road, to cities in our own continent, and to faraway countries on the other side of the world.

I know that my children are still young, and there are many things that they don't or won't remember.  But I will always have my own memories of sharing these experiences with them, and I hope that they will grow up remembering an interesting and exciting childhood.

We prioritise travel above many other things in our household budget - our house and clothes are definitely a little scruffy - but I'm so grateful for all the opportunities that we have had.

So I thought I'd write about some of the reasons that travel is brilliant for our family, and why I want my children to see the world.

* Travel helps to enhance their learning. We try our best to find attractions that relate to relevant school topics. So we have seen real Viking ships in Norway, a Roman villa reconstruction in Los Angeles, and numerous castles and forts.

Getty Roman villa in Los Angeles, United States

* We can expose them to different cultures. For example in Singapore you can visit temples belonging to many different religions, all located within walking distance of each other.

* They see different languages being spoken. As someone that has studied languages, I think that language learning is really important and I want them to understand that too.

* While we are away we become a single family unit, depending upon and helping one another. We work together to plan itineraries and solve problems.

* The children can be given some responsibility, even if that's just helping themselves to their own food from a buffet dinner, or a short walk back to the hotel room to fetch something.

* We learn to enjoy each other's company, to play games together, talk together, or just sit in companionable silence reading, without the distractions of home and work.

* Time spent travelling from one place to another means that children need to learn to entertain themselves and be happy in their own company. They know to pack books, puzzle books, and pens and paper alongside electronic devices, and they are very good at sitting still for long periods in the car or plane.

* The children are used to living and sleeping in different environments, with different food, routines, and away from the comforts of home.

* They are able to learn about the different ways that other countries deal with the same problems, and think about whether the solution is better or worse than where we live. For example social problems like homelessness, or practical problems like recycling and public transport. This is something that I really thought about when I spent a year living in Germany for my degree, and it always interests me to see how different countries and cultures are both similar and different.

Do you enjoy travel with your children when you can? What do you think they learn from it?

Family camping trip outside

Wednesday 10 July 2019

How I organise my day

I like to think that I'm a very organised person. I love making plans and lists, I know where pretty much everything in my house is, I usually remember everything that needs to be taken up to school, and I don't very often lose things.

I work from home, both on this blog and for a home working company, and although it's not very reliable or demanding I can fit it around the children and their needs, as well as much of the school and household admin. But in order to do so I need to have a system, and I thought I'd share how I plan my day to keep myself organised.

As I've discussed here on the blog before, Trello is vital to me for organising my life. Trello is a free online organisational tool which uses cards, lists and boards to keep track of projects. I turn each item on my to do list into a colour coded card, which I store in lists. Each day has its own list, and when a one-off task is completed I delete the card. When a recurring card is complete I move it to the list for the next day or week. Every evening I make sure that the day's list is complete, reschedule incomplete tasks as necessary, and delete the list.

So every morning, I load up my To Do Trello board and sort through the tasks for the day. I'm a big believer in eating the frog, and so if there's a task that I really don't want to do (like making a phone call!) then I'll move it to the top of the list and get it out of the way first. Some tasks can't be done until the children get home from school or until the evening and so they get moved to the bottom. Some of my daily recurring tasks, like little bits of blog admin, only take a few minutes, and so I like to get them out of the way early on and drag them over to the next day.

I'm flexible with my time, and as I sometimes meet friends and make time for gym trips, every day is different. I try and plan my week in advance to a certain extent, adding more tasks for the days that I know I'll be at home, and getting things out the way beforehand if I have a busy day coming up.

I also know the times of day when I'm most productive, so I'll try and schedule accordingly. For example, I find it easy to get on without distraction in the morning, but it's difficult to regain my rhythm after lunch. So this is when I'll plan a gym trip, or to do some housework away from the computer.

Laptop at a desk ready for work
Photo credit Kari Shea via Unsplash

If I have an event coming up with lots of tasks, for example a holiday or a seasonal event like Christmas, I'll split the tasks up and spread them out so it's not too overwhelming and doesn't end up being left to the last minute. For an upcoming holiday I'll make a card to pack for each person, as well as cards for shopping that needs to be done or housework that I want to get done before I go away. It also means more things to tick off which is very satisfying!

I do however try not to get too hung up on my lists. Although the important things generally get done, it's very rare that I complete everything on my list for the day. I just slide it over to the next day or week and don't worry too much about it.

My system also works really well for things that pop into my mind through the day, like a birthday card to be bought or something I need to pick up from the shops. I'll just open up the Trello app on my phone and type in a quick card to remind me. I tell my family that if I add something to my to do list then it will get done, as I'm constantly going over it!

How do you keep organised and make sure that everything gets done? I'd love to hear your tips!

Monday 8 July 2019

Rediscovering old books from my childhood

I wrote recently about how Harry is always reading the same books over and over again, and that I remember doing the same when I was little.

Recently I was thinking about some of the more obscure books that I used to keep re-reading, and I wondered if it would still be possible to buy copies. One book that I loved was Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer, a story about a girl at boarding school who falls asleep at night and wakes up forty years in the past during the First World War, while at the same time a counterpart from the past is living in her time. They alternate for a few weeks, then Charlotte ends up trapped in the past and has to find a way to return to where she belongs. I was pleased to find that this one is still in print and readily available, and enjoyed reading it again.

Then I got to thinking about another book that I enjoyed which was about a teenage girl that moved to Australia, New Patches for Old by Christobel Mattingly. I've always been fascinated by Australia, I've read many books set there, and this was probably the first. It's set a few decades ago, and I found it amazing to re-read it and see just how much of a change a move to Australia was back then - the family moved to the other side of the world expecting to never see their friends and family back home again, and international phone calls home were expensive and had to be booked in advance. It reminded me just how much smaller the world has become over the last few years.

This particular book has been out of print for a long time, but I was really pleased to find a copy from World of Books available on eBay for just a few pounds. I'm not sure why I'd not ordered from World of Books before, because they are based close to my home, and almost every time I go out I pass one of their vans! But I didn't really know what sort of books they sold, and I discovered that they sell some more obscure second hand books for a really reasonable price, along with free postage. I've been buying through them on eBay, but you can also buy direct from their website, and the books arrive within a few days. I'd definitely recommend giving them a look if you are after something that's out of print!

Buying old out of print books

Most recently I remembered another book that I enjoyed as a child, The Silver Crown by Robert O'Brien. Again, this one has been out of print for a while, but World of Books came through with a cheap secondhand copy. It's a story about a girl who wakes up one morning to find a silver crown on her pillow. She leaves the house to go for a walk, and returns to find her house burned down and her family gone, with mysterious characters chasing her as she goes on a journey to reach her Aunt's house. I was really surprised to find that the book is set in America, as I was sure that I remembered it being set in England. It just goes to show how unreliable your memory can be!

I've been enjoying re-reading some of those books that made a big impression on me when I was little. I'd love to know what books you would like to read again!

Reduce your utility bills and grow your savings

This is a collaborative post

Cutting down your utility bills is a great way to help increase your savings pot. Whether you’re saving for a new house, the holiday of a lifetime, or simply hoping to clear some debt that you have accrued, then focussing on your energy bills can be a big help.

The likelihood is that you aren’t quite as energy efficient or economically sound as you could be, so here we’ve collated some ideas which will enable you to contribute to your savings pot.

If it is debt that you are struggling with, then you can get free debt management advice by checking out this site – companies like Carrington Dean are able to help to relieve financial stress surrounding debt.

Start by finding out if you’re getting the best deal 

One of the quickest ways to start saving on your energy bills is to visit a price comparison site. Your energy supply is one place where you are unlikely to be rewarded for being a loyal customer, and the best rates are often reserved purely for new customers.

There are plenty of comparison sites out there nowadays which you can simply click onto, input your current energy consumption and be offered a wide range of tariffs from a whole host of providers (many you probably haven’t even heard of).

Not only can you compare prices, but often they will also deal with the switchover meaning that it is super easy to do.

Switch your lightbulbs for energy efficient ones 

If you’re still running your house on old bulbs, then you can often see reductions in your energy bills by switching to CFL or LED bulbs.

Whilst the initial outlay of replacing them all may seem counterproductive; over time you will make great savings on your electricity bills – especially if your house has lots of bulbs in each room. Even by switching out just a handful of your most used bulbs, you’ll see some good savings against your quarterly or annual bill.

Unplug anything you aren’t using 

Contrary to popular belief, things that are plugged in continue to use electricity, which over time will add a significant sum onto your energy usage.

Think about how many plugs remain switched on around your house, from TVs and computers to toasters and kettles, there are probably plenty of things in your house right now that are unnecessarily using electricity which you are going to be paying for!

Switch to a water meter 

Many of us are currently on standard water charges, meaning that we are charged an amount each year, based upon what the water company expects you to use based on your household size. Whether you use more or less than what is expected, the amount will remain the same.

What many do not know though, is that you are likely using a lot less than you are paying for. It is free to switch to a water meter and you have the flexibility to switch back within 12 months if you feel it isn’t working for you – you could easily see your bills cut in half just by doing this.

Friday 5 July 2019

Books that remind me of a certain place and time

I've been a reader throughout my life, and while I've read many many books over the years there are some that will always remind me of where I was and what I was doing  at the time that I read them. 

The first books that I can really remember reading over and over were my Enid Blyton books. I have a very vivid memory of reading one just after I had been to the opticans and prescribed my first pair of glasses, around age 7. They had used the eye drops and the words on the page were all blurred and yellow. I was most upset after being diagnosed as short sighted because so many of Enid Blyton's adventurous characters were described as having sharp eyes, and it made me feel like I was faulty!

When we used to go on camping holidays my Mum would always collect together a box of books for us from the library books sale and charity shops. It's one of my favourite holiday memories! It was this box that introduced me to A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which I vividly remember reading in the tent. It was the first book that I was really emotionally drawn to, and I remember it making me cry.

As I got older I moved on to the adult books from the holiday box, and I remember reading A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle while we were staying in the area. I'm not sure why this one appealed to me so much as a child as it was hardly relevant to my own life, but I remember really enjoying it!

As a teenager I impressed my teacher by reading Wuthering Heights, and she gave me a photocopied family tree which I stuck inside. It reminds me of sitting at an uncomfortable desk at school, I think one of our English classes was devoted to individual reading which I loved.

Woman reading outside
Photo credit Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash

A later holiday introduced me to Bill Bryson and Notes from a Small Island. I always read through my own books too quickly and so started reading the ones that my parents had brought along, and in this instance it led to the discovery of one of my favourite authors!

I didn't read much for pleasure at university as I had so much study related reading to do, in particular lots of German books which took me ages to plough through. But in my final year I discovered the Harry Potter books. The first four had been published by that point, and I bought them all and read them one after the other in my freezing attic room. I can still remember seeing them piled up on my scruffy bedside table!

I moved down to Worthing after university, and that was when I started to go back to the library as it was a nice walk from our flat. I returned to reading some of my childhood favourites like the Little House on the Prairie series, and I also discovered a shelf of books on Egyptian conspiracy theories which fascinated me even though I couldn't bring myself to believe them!

After we were married we went on a round the world trip for our honeymoon. We were limited for suitcase space so I only took one book, and I chose Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy as it was a nice thick volume with small print. I have a vivid memory of reading it while spending the night in a shack in the rainforest with frogs chirping all around. I even managed to pace myself perfectly so that it lasted the whole trip!

Reading took a bit of a back seat once again when the babies arrived, and it became all about the books that I read to the children. The first book that I read with Harry was called Faces, a soft book with just a few pages featuring line drawings of faces and black and white patterns. From just a few weeks old he loved this book, he would gaze at the pictures for whole minutes at a time.

Mia never had the same interest in books as a baby, but I remember receiving a copy of Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson to review and making the mistake of not reading it first before reading it aloud.  It's such a beautiful book and still makes me want to cry when I read it to them. This is a book that will definitely always remind me of when my babies were little!

Which books will always transport you back to a particular time and place in your life?

Wednesday 3 July 2019

The end of the school year

I can't quite believe that once again I'm counting down the last few days until the end of the school year. The summer term has been so short, and this term has really have flown by. I love looking back at what has changed since the start of the school year last September - they are looking so clean, neat and excited! Now they both wear glasses, and they are both definitely looking taller!

Children first day of school

The children keep me very busy every two weeks, helping with the creative homework that they need to produce for school. Among other things we have made two stop animation videos, built a Mayan temple from cardboard boxes, crafted both an Egyptian sarcophagus and interior tomb display from yet more boxes, and baked Indian sweets, Egyptian honey biscuits and Brazilian truffles.

Creative homework for school

In the Spring, Mia took part in the Worthing Arts Festival, performing both a poem and prose piece, and went on to achieve a Distinction in her Transition Grade Speech and Drama exam. Harry performed beautifully and confidently in his school production of Aladdin, playing a variety of different roles including a salesman and the magic carpet before going on to pass his Grade 3 piano exam with a Merit. They've also entertained us with several themed class assemblies, a carol service, sports day and a swimming gala each.

They've both done really well with swimming after we made the decision to stop the never ending weekly class lessons and instead focus on a (hopefully!) shorter period of joint private lessons. They can both swim really nicely now, and get much more enjoyment out of visiting places with water slides.

We've taken part in lots of school activities. They both sold some of their old bits and pieces at the school summer fair, including lots of Hama bead magnets that were a big hit!

Children helping at the summer fete

We also helped to plant a flower bed along the seafront as part of a Worthing town centre initiative - our bed is themed to celebrate the anniversary of the moon landings and features a white moon in the middle surrounded by a yellow sun and stars!

Worthing seafront flower bed

We are all really looking forward to the summer holidays, and grateful to have so many fun things to look back on. And I can't believe that when they return to school in September Harry will be in Year 6, among the oldest in the school, and his last year before going up to secondary school!

Monday 1 July 2019

Why I need lots of hobbies

In our house there are always projects on the go. We have a massive Lego Taj Mahal being built on the dining room table, diamond painting set up in the kitchen, cross stitch spread out in the study, and crafts that I'm making for our upcoming Disney cruise all over the floor in the spare room.

There are also many projects yet to be started - I've shared before how I use Trello to keep myself organised, and I also use it to track craft projects that I'm currently working on, new crafts that I fancy having a go at, as well as books to read and recipes to try.

I love having a choice of different things to do when I have some spare time. I enjoy having different craft projects to fit different situations. I also like always having something to do to fill my time. Like many people nowadays I'm guilty of turning to a screen for entertainment, but I find myself much happier at the end of the day if I feel that I've spent my time productively.

I enjoy working on long term projects that will take me several years, like a large cross stitch sampler, but I need to mix that up a bit with some shorter projects that can be completed in one go, like a Hama bead make. I enjoy reading long books that I can really engross myself in, but I'll usually have a shorter novel on the go at the same time.

Knitting, magazine and a cup of tea
Photo credit Rebecca Grant via Unsplash

Although I do work part time, I also spend lots of time running around after the children and sorting out all their little problems. I need something to not only keep me busy, but also to plan and to look forward to. I always have lots of things going around in my head, and it's much better if these are fun things that I want to think about, rather than things that I'm worrying about.

I like giving myself a challenge, even if that's just working to complete a project to a certain timescale and I'm only accountable to myself. It makes me feel happy to watch my progress over time, for example with crochet, where I've made enormous progress since my first wobbly granny squares. Being surrounded by things that I've created reminds me of my accomplishments.

So I think I'll always be someone that needs lots of hobbies to keep me busy!