Thursday 28 March 2013

Easter Eggs - decorating masterclass with Rococo and ACHICA

ACHICA, the members-only luxury brand discount site, teamed up with Rococo chocolates and invited me to a very special Easter event this week.

Rococo chocolates are celebrating 30 years in business this year.  Their award winning chocolate is sourced from Grenada and all the organic products made from the Rococo House Blend contain beans from the joint venture between Rococo and the Grenada Chocolate Company.  The ethical, fair trade chocolate is then turned into their trademark quirky shapes and products, stunningly packaged and sold through their exclusive and beautiful shops.

Our session began with a lesson on how the bean-to-bar process takes place - with some helpful tasting along the way.

Then we were let loose with smooth chocolate eggs and an array of decorations. Armed with a piping bag and a bowl of warm melted chocolate, the creative process began.

The urge to stick my head and open mouth under this was overwhelming, but will-power prevailed.

I can't think of a lovelier way to spend a morning, and I got some bespoke, hand-decorated and personalised eggs to present on Easter Sunday.

Thank you so much to ACHICA and Rococo.

If you want to purchase Rococo chocolates (or any other designer goodies) from the ACHICA site, you will need to register first.

Disclosure: I attended the event as described above and received a goody bag.  This post contains an affiliate link.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Pine Cone Crafts - Photo Holders

A pine cone is for life - not just for Christmas.

Seriously though, they are such a great natural crafting material and there's tonnes of different things you can make with them.

I made these little photo holders in next to no time.  You can use them for pictures, kid's artwork, memos or to hold business cards on your desk.  They look great as place name holders too on a party table, but don't wait til Yuletide, and you don't have to paint them gold either.

I love to use bright, bold colours, I like the juxtaposition of the natural object and the in-your-face colour, but of course you could leave them au natural too.

Poster paints and acrylics work well, as does spray painting, but for these I used ordinary household emulsion paint.  I stocked up on a wide range of colours as Dulux currently have tester pots on 3 for £1 - seriously good value!

Kids love to paint the pine cones, but if they can be persuaded that less is more, I adore the look when you just brush the tips of the cones.

Choose cones which have a nice symmetrical shape, and ones with a flat bottom so they sit upright - if they list slightly you can always sit them on a little bit of blu-tac.

You'll find that the top tip naturally splits in two to hold your photo, but if not just tease it apart with a sharp craft or Stanley knife.

I shared this craft with Red Ted Art on her latest hangout.  It's fair to say it wasn't our finest hour as the event was plagued with technical problems, from broken microphones, to falling cameras to lost connections!  You can see the edited version here, but please do take a look at the following links from the other participants for loads of pine cone inspiration.  You can also check out my pine cone bird feeder, made with possibly the biggest cone in the world!

Kid's Chaos made an adorable hedgehog using a cone and air drying clay.
Plus 2 point 4 did some printing with pine cones, lovely for wrapping paper.
Zing Zing Tree made a very adaptable felt animal creation, that you can mix and match.
The Frog & The Fairy made some adorable small world play trees and a Christmas tree for a doll's house.
Mum at the Madhouse made a gorgeous owl (and has lots of other lovely ideas in her post)
Domestic Goddesque shows us how to make a beautiful iridescent door hanging,
and of course, our lovely host, newly published author Red Ted Art shares some pine cone babies from her book.

Maggy's book is launched tomorrow, so don't forget to order your copy.

(affiliate link)

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Fat Face Kids T-Shirt Design Competition

Sponsored post

Fat Face, purveyors of cool clothing, are 25 years old this year - wow nearly as old as me *cough*.

To celebrate, they've launched a competition sure to keep the kids busy over the Easter holiday.  So if your children are aged 4 - 13 and love to get creative, then pop into a participating store or download an application form.

The brief is to design your 'perfect summer adventure' and Ruby wasted no time getting the crayons and felt tips out.  Given that they are celebrating a birthday, she decided to draw a party with lots of people and a huge cake.

But then we decided that it might be a bit too 'busy' for a t-shirt design.  For inspiration, we headed down to the store to look at some of the t-shirts they currently have in stock.  This gave us loads of great ideas, and showed that clear, bold, simple designs seem to work best.

While we were there, we spotted that they had a little art corner set up for people to sit and come up with their designs, so she pulled up a chair and got straight to work!

She's still working on the final design (such a perfectionist!) but we have until 14th April to get it sent in, so plenty of time yet.

Why don't you have a go too?  The winning design will get their t-shirt made up and be sold online and in selected stores.  They will also receive a £100 Fat Face gift card.  Full terms and conditions are on the website.

Monday 25 March 2013

The White Woods - fun in the forest in the snow

Is there anything so beautiful and magical as the forest in the snow?  It takes on a fairy-tale quality and opens up so many play opportunities.

Snowball fights are an obvious choice

or seek out some snow shelters

do some slippy, snowy balancing seems you're never too old for this one

follow wild animal prints and work out who's made them

ooh I wonder what happens if we shake these...

...we can make it snow!

finally, no snow day is complete without a snow angel or two.

Check out the Forestry Commission website for your nearest forest and lots of activity sheets to download, or pick up leaflets, worksheets and collection bags printed with leaf and animal print identifications from the visitor centre.

We are official Forestry Commission reviewers and receive an annual discovery pass.

Linking up with
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Magpie Monday - My Kinda Day

It has oft been said that I am a cheap date.

Well you know what, that's fine by me!  You could never call me high-maintenance, and I'm never happier than when I'm rummaging around looking for a bargain.

This Saturday, may well have been one of the most perfect days.

Meeting up with my lovely like-minded friend, we joined the frozen throng of saddos queueing for the jumble sale.  This particular jumble sale is usually very well attended and has a reputation for having some high quality toot.  The snow kept quite a few away so it was relatively calm inside.

I grabbed quite a few clothing items, for their fabric upcycling potential and a fistful of silk(ish) scarves - more on them another time as they are currently whirring around in the washing machine.

I did get these two great shopping bags - I won't get lost in the supermarket with these right?  The larger one is from Ikea and I love the size/shape of it.  I have loads of 50s barkcloth curtains stashed away and I think I'll use the bag as a pattern and knock up some vintage beach bags.

The doors opened on the general jumblie at 2pm, but then they open up the separate bric-a-brac- section at 2.45.  We ummed and ahhed about whether to stay, but decided what we had planned may just prove more fruitful.

So, here's where it got really exciting.  My friend regularly goes to a tip and buys stuff that people have dumped.  She comes back with all kinds of amazing things and has been promising to take me on a hot date to the dump for ages.

Course, my family and other friends are horrified by this - lucky I don't give a toss what people think of me right?

I can't tell you how much this appeals to me.  If ever there was a more obvious way of saving something from landfill.  It's literally rescuing things from the jaws of the crusher.

We arrived and it was a little disappointing as man-with-a-van had beaten us to it and brought pretty much everything (obviously, I don't know exactly how 'above board' this kind of activity is!), but I did have a look in the section he'd deemed 'too pricey'.  See - I'm a bit posh.

I spotted these gorgeous vintage enamel items in mint green.  A square pail/mop bucket and a kitchen colander.

I know how expensive even repro items like this are, so I was happy to pay a fiver for the two and save them from the crusher.

Initially I was thinking I'd make the colander up into a hanging basket and plant up the pail too, but they are in such lovely condition now I'm not so sure.  Maybe I could stencil on some lettering to the side of the bucket and turn it into my cleaning caddy (the idea that I would use a cleaning caddy had my Old Man rolling about in hysterics by the way).

What do you think?  What shall I do with them?  Would you scavenge something from the dump or have I gone too far this time?

Have you saved anything from landfill lately.  What did you rescue that was too good to be chucked?

Me and My Shadow

Thursday 21 March 2013

New Toy Ranges from Schleich

I'm so, so happy that Schleich have produced a brand new range of Smurf figures.  There's something comforting and reassuring about your kids playing with the same toys as you did when you were their age.

I remember the Smurfs very well from my childhood.  They were a massive craze with all the kids at school collecting them.  I seem to remember that they were given away at petrol stations (back in the day when we actually had a choice of independent petrol garages and not just supermarkets).  Unfortunately, my dad was collecting cut glass tumblers from a rival firm at the time, so although he was racking up plenty of miles driving to work, my collection was fairly limited and I was filled with envy at my friend's vast arrays. 

The Smurfs, of Belgian origin have actually been around since the late 1950's, and to date Schleich have sold over 300 million of the little blue fellas.

They first came onto Ruby's radar when we saw the 2011 film, and there's a Smurfs II movie due out later this year so expect Smurf-mania all over again.

This new range is called 'A Smurf for All Occasions , and they would make the most adorable little gift, or cake topper, or send one instead of a card...

There's Bride and Groom Smurf, perfect for newly weds...

What a perfect cake- topper this would make.  Or you crafty folks could fashion it into some sort of wedding card.

Or, if you have a wedding obsessed child like mine, just play with it singing "here comes the bride" endlessly.

 There are 8 different Smurfs in this new range so there's bound to be one to suit the occasion, or you could simply start your little ones off on a new collection.  Choose from Valentine's Day Smurf; Sorry Smurf; Happy Birthday Smurf; Bride & Groom Smurf; Baby Smurf; Thank You Smurf; Get Well Soon Smurf and Party Smurfette.

The new range of Smurfs are available from Amazon and priced from £3.79 each it's a a real shame they didn't include a 'Happy Easter' one, because I think it would be so much cuter than a chocolate egg.

Also from Schleich is this new range of equine figures.  These braided horses are currently stabling with our Bayala Pegasus who, incidentally is winding them up something chronic because he has magic powers and the horses don't - all they have is pretty hair!  Who knew they could be so competitive? 

These figures are aimed at children aged 5-8 and were launched at the Toy Fair earlier this year.

If you have a pony or horse-riding daughter, she'll be mad for these, with their intricate manes and tails and attention to detail.  There are 6 different horses in the range and cost from £3.99 - £5.99.  See the full product range here.

Disclosure: We were sent these toys for the purposes of this review.  All opinions are my own.  this post contains an affiliate link. 

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Loo Roll Crafts!

Making things from toilet roll crafts is a childhood staple isn't it?  Well, with the Health and Safety brigade on the case, these and egg box crafts are in danger of dying out in our schools and nurseries, so it's all the more important that we make these things at home with our kids.

Red Ted Art hosted a brilliant Google Hangout again last night, and this time we were sharing our cardboard roll crafts.  Do check out the video, it's amazing how versatile a loo roll is!

We keep lots of recycled bits and bobs in our junk modelling sack, and loo roll middles and kitchen roll tubes always seem to feature in there, or even better, rolls from wrapping paper - I think I'll try Anthea's idea out on a long tube...

I showed our loo roll birds.  Not exactly an original idea, I suspect people have been making them for as long as there have been toilet rolls, but it's an old favourite none the less.

Ruby made up some brown paint for the owls (a good refresher about colour mixing), and painted two bird bodies in brown, and one in royal blue for a peacock.

A wine bottle is handy for drying - if ever you needed an excuse to drink more wine...

For the owl we pressed down both sides of the top to create the head and ear shape, and for the peacock we squeezed the top into a point.

Once they were dry, we got busy decorating.  Anything goes really, but it's nice to use real feathers (either from a craft shop or ones you've found).  Buttons, circles of card or googly eyes, and a triangle or yellow or orange felt, foam or card for the beak and you're done.

Ruby went to town on her peacock, and we added a concertina folded fan shape for his tail, adorned with real peacock feathers.  She drew on some eyes with extra long eyelashes! She added some sparkly bits of pipe cleaner and a bead popped into the top for his head feathers.  Doesn't he look a fine fella?

Do check out all the other posts featured in the video:

Maggy's loo roll people
Rebecca's Gruffalo and The Cat In The Hat characters
Ali's bird feeder
Anthea's torus shapes
Christine's caterpillar

Finally, I'd LOVE you to vote for me.  I'm gobsmacked to find myself in the final five in the craft category of the Mum and Dad Blog Awards.  A vote for Me and My Shadow would mean the world to me.  Thank you. 

Red Ted Art - THE BOOK!

Nearly 2 years ago, I remember being at an event to launch Nick Coffer's book My Daddy Cooks.  Maggy Woodley my crafting blogging hero was there too and although we'd spoken loads online, I think this was the first time we'd met in real life.

I recall Nick telling her she must, must, must write a book of her fabulous crafts, and now, nearly 2 years on her book is finally here.

I cannot tell you how proud I am of Maggy.  The book is just beautiful, crammed full of stunning photos of her inspired crafts and her gorgeous children.

Maggy has been such a huge support and help to me throughout my blogging journey, always there to offer advice.  Her blog Red Ted Art is an inspiration to everyone to get crafting with their kids.

The projects are so simple and well explained that really anyone can do them.  I love how she uses materials that most people already have at home and there's a strong emphasis on recycling, so it's perfect for spur of the moment, impromptu making.

It's the sort of book that you can just allow to fall open on any page, and you'll want to make that item.  From a pretty garland of garden flowers to wear in the hair; to loo roll people; to rainbow popcorn.

If you like to be a bit more organised about your crafting, then you'll love the fact that it's ordered in sections so after a trip to the park you can head straight to the nature chapter, or following a visit to the beach dip into the stones section.

We had a go at one of the sewing projects, trying my hand at these felt strawberries.

I'm so pleased with how they turned out, although they were quickly stolen and squirrelled away in the play house fruit bowl before I'd even finished putting the stalk on the last one!

The book is available to purchase from 28th March, or you can pre-order now from Amazon priced at £10.23.  I cannot think of a nicer birthday or Easter gift for a child, or treat yourself and be inspired.

There's also the chance to win your own copy, so head over to the Red Ted Art blog and enter now, or check out the competition over at Thinly Spread.

Disclosure:  We were sent a copy of the book for the purposes of this review however all opinions expressed are my own.  This post contains affiliate links.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Must See Kid's Films for Easter

OK I admit it.  I want to be Claudia Winkleman.  Or I want her hair at least.  In a bid to pretend I am in fact her (indulge me will you) I'm bringing you a round-up of some of the best films for little 'uns in time for the Easter break.

First up is The Croods.  Due for release later this week, we were lucky enough to see a preview this weekend.  Rated a Universal, it's suitable for the whole family and there were some genuine laugh out loud moments.

The pre-historic family have their world threatened when seismic movements destroy their only safe haven - their cave.  This challenges the father (Ugg) and his sole philosophy that new is bad, but thrills central character Eep the teenage cave-girl who believes their existence so far has been not dying as opposed to actually living.

It's a welcome change to have a strong female lead role, and someone for girls to identify with, although I'd have preferred it if she hadn't gone all fey at the arrival of Guy, the new cool kid on the block who uses his brain rather than his brawn.

This film says a lot about father-daughter relationships, and I found it quite poignant - that moment when a dad realises he is no longer his little girl's whole universe.

The Dreamworks animation film is in 3D, and to be perfectly honest I'm not sure how much that added to the experience.  I know some kids don't enjoy 3D, and some point blank refuse to wear the glasses. Luckily the Odeon cinema we visited had kid's size glasses as well as clip-on ones for spectacle wearers so it wasn't too much of an inconvenience.

One film which I suspect definitely WILL benefit from the 3D treatment is Disney Pixar classic Finding Nemo.

This much loved underwater adventure is returning to cinemas at the end of the month, and for the first time ever will be in 3D.

First released in 2003, Finding Nemo won an Oscar for Best Animated Picture and has quickly become a modern classic.  We're looking forward to seeing if the 3D make-over adds a new edge and lives up to it's promise of making you feel like you're in Nemo's underwater adventure with him.

Finally, if you don't fancy a trip to the flicks, how about a DVD to snuggle down and watch at home?  There's a new caper from Scooby Doo and team out called The Mask of the Blue Falcon, which is perfect for a movie and popcorn evening at home.

This latest offering from Warner Bros is based around a comic book convention, where the gang are forced to channel their inner super heroes to save the day after a group of villains and baddies are released.

There's loads of reference to comic book history and characters from days gone by, certainly enough to keep the grown ups sniggering.

The whole premise of a Scooby Doo movie is so reassuring and ingrained into our psyche, it's no wonder that Shaggy and the gang have been going for so long.

This is definitely one for your inner child and has as much to offer Mum and Dad as it does the littlies in your house.

So what are your must-see movies this Easter?  Do you have any to add?

Disclosure: All views are my own.  We attended a preview screening of The Croods and were sent a review copy of Scooby Doo for the purposes of this blog.  This post contains and affiliate link.

Monday 18 March 2013

Canal Boating - A gentler kind of holiday

Me and the Old Man have wanted to do a canal holiday for ages, and now that Ruby is a little older and will actually listen to rules and instructions (generally!), we thought the time was right.

I asked on Facebook if anybody had done one recently with kids and what they'd recommend.  Unequivocally, the answer came back "not recently but we remember going on boating holidays as kids and they were the BEST holidays EVER".  So many people had such happy recollections, and I was even more determined that this is what we should do - a holiday to make childhood memories.

Hoseasons have barge holidays all over the country, and we found a trip which was only about an hour's drive from home.

We unloaded the car straight onto the boat, quickly stowing away all our bags; loading up the fridge freezer with meals I'd prepared at home; popping a few bottles straight into the wine cooler and then we got cracking on learning the ropes.  The boatyard owners expertly took us through all the necessary procedures, showed us where everything was and gave us a quick lesson in steering the boat and how to moor up.

It was a little nerve-wracking to be left in charge of a 65ft boat, but the Old Man seemed quietly confident and quickly settled into his role as Captain (with a little help from his First Mate).

We had tried to pre-plan our route, but it quickly became apparent that the whole point of this type of holiday is not about where you are going, but about the journey.  In a sense, it doesn't really matter where you end up, and it was easier to simply go with the flow and not worry about reaching a 'destination'.

Life nowadays is one great rush.  Dashing from appointment to appointment. Tearing down the motorway at 70 mph.  Dashing to do the school run and get home in time for swimming lessons... There's just no time to notice our surroundings anymore.  Apart from the impact of the weather on our daily lives, we are all probably a bit guilty of losing touch with the seasons and the natural world.

Cruising along on the water at 2 or 3 miles per hour is the total antithesis to our hectic modern life.  It gives a whole new perspective on our world.  Those green blurs that whizz by the car window are actually trees, bursting into life with spring buds.  And in those trees are finches and sparrows, feasting on bugs and insects or busying themselves making nests for their new arrivals.  Those hedgerows that obscure your view to the fields beyond, are teeming with activity that you just wouldn't normally notice.  Sounds silly?  Well when was the last time you actually stopped to look?

We had time to notice the daffodil buds tight and ready to burst open.  The clumps of snowdrops with heads bobbing in the breeze.  We passed slowly the fields of cattle; sheep and horses. We fed moorhens, coots, swans and ducks from the boat as we ambled along.

At each bend and turn in the canal, there was something new to see.  Each bridge different, and features to notice in every one.

There was time to spot the subtle yarn-bombing that someone had troubled themselves to do at the locks.  Little crocheted coloured hearts tied to the handles along our journey.

On a canal, you have the freedom to stop where you please.  Unlike a camping holiday, you can pretty much moor up wherever you like, so long as it's not marked 'private' or 'no mooring', but those signs were rare.  Pitch up when you spot a nice looking pub, and stop off for a bite of lunch or a wee dram to warm your cockles.  Explore picturesque villages and ancient canal towns en route.

On the first night, as dusk fell, we pulled up to the bank and it felt as though we were in the middle of nowhere.  It was perfect.  We watched the sun go down, and for the first time in ages allowed ourselves time to look at the beautiful sunset.

Snuggling down for the evening, we gathered round the table to enjoy dinner together.  Later, we went up to the stern to see the stars.  The sky was crystal clear and we were able to point out constellations to Ruby that we rarely ever see at home.

The boat was equipped with TV and video so we settled in to watch Fantastic Mr Fox with a bowl of popcorn, before retiring for the night.

The next morning, it quickly became clear to us just how cold it had been.  The water was frozen all around us.  But it was stunningly beautiful.  Sitting up at the front, wrapped up against the cold, with a hot cup of coffee and a cake, I felt the first proper rays of sunshine of the year beating down on my face.  There was nowhere else I'd have rather been right then at that moment.

Then, echoing last night's DVD viewing, I spotted a fox on the opposite bank.  Quickly calling the others out, we sat, silently for about 20 minutes just watching him.  It seems like an odd thing to say (particularly since foxes are not my favourite creatures post 'chicken-gate') but it truly felt like an honour to witness.  None of us had ever seen a wild animal that close, and been able to observe it for so long.

Once breakfast was done and cleared, we set off again, breaking through the ice and sending glittering shards radiating from our path like frozen crazy-paving.  The morning was magical, the frost clinging to every branch and blade of grass.

We absolutely loved our trip.  The calmer pace of life.  The gentle footprint it left.  We became much more mindful of our resources, given that they were limited.  We stopped wasting water and power.  We reduced the amount of rubbish we produced.  We learnt to slow down and appreciate our surroundings, and the world around us.  I only hope these lessons can continue at home.


We holidayed in Golden Days at Clifton Cruisers, based in Rugby.  The boat sleeps up to 6 and costs from £925 per week inclusive of fuel and bedding or from £655 for a short break (prices may be subject to alteration).  We received a press discount of approximately 20%.  Golden Days facilities include underfloor heating; fully equipped galley kitchen with gas cooker; fridge-freezer; microwave and wine chiller; 2 TVs with integrated DVD players, 2 bathrooms with body-jet showers.

Clifton Wharf has a charming and snug cafe called Bridge 66.  With log burning stoves and a model train track mounted high up in the rafters, it's quirky, homely style makes it well worth a visit.  They sell incredible cakes and a wide range of specialist teas and coffees, together with handmade gifts and souvenirs.  There is also a spa treatment room on site offering massage and beauty therapies.

Disclosure: All views and opinions are my own.  We paid for the holiday, but were grateful to receive a press discount as mentioned.