Wednesday, 29 October 2014

International Travel with Five Kids!

It's now only 16 days until we fly out and begin our first international trip as a family. We've had a number of comments in the lead up to this, mostly people expressing surprise, trepidation and some disbelief that we are traveling as a family of 7. So I thought I'd try and dispel some of those 'concerns' that other people seem to have! 

I will say, we are extremely organised for this trip. Mostly because I'm a little bit of a freak when it comes to needing to feel in control. I have lists to keep track of the lists of stuff I've made! Well, maybe not but almost. I have been planning this since before we booked the tickets which was all the way back in February! 
First off, we did our homework when it came to the tickets. We spent literally months watching flight prices on several booking websites like Skyscanner and Expedia. We also didn't use credit for the tickets. We saved for around a year and had enough for the biggest chunk of the cost, the international leg, by January this year. We went to the travel expo with the aim to find better prices than the ones we had seen online and we did! We booked and paid for them and then didn't have to concern ourselves with changing prices for the rest of the year! Our travel agent did give us the tip that big travel expos will almost always get you a better deal so if you plan on attending one.  You'll need to pay then and there so plan on having your ticket funds organised beforehand if you attend one. Purchasing the bulk of the tickets that early also allowed us time to save for the rest of the flights as we knew we'd be able to still secure cheap internal flights online closer to the departure date.

The next thing to organise was the passports. The Awesome One and I had ours, but all of the kids needed passports. Kids' passports here last for 5 years, which with an infant seems kind of ridiculous but that's the way it is. You need to get both biological parents to sign the application forms, so you need to allow extra time if there could be issues getting that other signature. Thankfully there weren't too many obstacles in our way to get their forms signed, although it still took a good 6 weeks or so to get their passports issued. We left Miss P's till the very last, and waited as long as we could to get it so that her photo would be easier to take. 

 Australians don't need a visa to enter the USA, as we participate in the Visa Waiver program. You do need to pay $14 per person though and get an approved ESTA application. This allows you to enter the USA as many times as you wish within a two year period provided you don't stay longer than 90 days each time. 

With all that done, we were well on the way to being completely organised. We booked our hotel online, and booked and paid for our internal US flights after spending more months watching prices the same way we did for the international flight. It's important to weigh up pros and cons when finding cheap flights though, as when you are travelling as such a large group with a toddler in tow you want things to be as smooth as possible. So cheap flights might sound awesome, but it's best to check that it doesn't leave at 5am, or have you stopping over in another city for hours on end. 

So now all that was left was to organise luggage. We have a massive bag allowance with our flights, but realistically who has room for 12 suitcases?! The older girls were getting all excited about all the 'stuff' they could buy with such a large baggage allowance, and then we brought them thumping down to earth. We explained that the logistics of transporting that many bags were not doable and they would be packing a small carry-on size suitcase each. To say they were initially less than impressed is the understatement of the year!

Even the Awesome One was somewhat dubious as to how two weeks' worth of winter clothes would fit in small cases. This is again where being kind of OCD about researching stuff comes in handy. I have read almost a zillion blog posts on packing in small bags, and I followed all the tips given. Those being mostly to roll everything, stuff underwear into shoes, and above all to travel light! Make a list (another one!) of clothes you think you'll need then organise that into how many of those do double duty. Only take things that can be worn multiple times, and make sure to include one nicer top so that you can dress up your jeans to go out for dinner. We had a practice packing day, where all the kids (aided by a list I wrote) picked out their own clothes and brought them to me for approval. We then 'packed' the suitcases. And what do you know?! They all fit two weeks' worth of clothes AND a large winter jacket into their small carry on sized cases. 

You might wonder about making them take small cases when we have checked luggage allowances. The logic behind that is that then they can all comfortably handle their own case through airports, even though the bags will still be checked onto the plane.  This means that the Awesome One can handle our case (and the pram and portacot), and I can handle Miss P. 

And on the note of airports, we've also talked extensively about the procedures that go on in airports. The kids all know what to expect in terms of checking in, going through security and customs/passport control and can be excited about it without worrying that they don't know what's going on. We've discussed carry on bags, and talked about things like the regulations about liquids and gels and having to take their shoes off through security. They know that the iPad and laptop will be in The Awesome One's backpack, and any lotions, toiletries etc... will be in my bag. They even know the order we'll be going through security checks in, in order to facilitate an easier time. Me first with Miss P (who will be in a sling for most of the airport time), then Little Dude and The Eldest One (who are airport and travel buddies). After that will be Miss Emily and the Social One who are also buddies. The Awesome One will bring up the rear to ensure that nothing is left behind. 

It might sound pedantic, but they know me well enough to know I mean business. I refuse to be that chaotic family that we've all seen. The one with parents screaming at each other in frustration, kids' crying and sulky and confused. We've spent a lot of money on this trip, I want everyone to be able to enjoy themselves. I want the kids to be able to be excited and enjoy all the new experiences and sights, while still being aware of what's going on. Most of all I don't want stress and confusion to take away from that experience. 

I believe that the key to doing anything with a big family is organisation, and travel is no exception. I can't see why I should be scared of it, or at the extreme, should put off traveling until they are all older. At the very least, if it all turns to crap at the airport or on the plane, if major meltdowns happen, well it's a small part of the overall trip and we'll have more good memories than bad. That's what I'm telling myself anyway! ;)

So what do you think? Are we insane, or have we got it all covered? 


Friday, 17 October 2014

How To Make A Life Size Halloween Mummy for Under $50

I was planning on making another Halloween 'thing' this year, but between all the stuff we've had going on lately plus it being only FOUR weeks until we leave for the States, it's just not going to happen. So instead I'm going to repost my Halloween Mummy tutorial from my old art blog. I can't wait to get Morris or Mortimor or was it Ahkmenrah, the Mummy out of storage. At the moment he is wrapped up tightly in some black plastic gargbage bags in the shed. He actually really looks like a dead body which is kind of creepy in itself...maybe that's what I'll make next year.....

Anyway........   Here is my tutorial on how to make a Mummy for Halloween!

As you all know and I've said many times, I love Halloween. So this year I thought I'd make a Mummy. I am extremely happy with how he turned out, he was cheap and easy to make, although he was a little more time intensive than I had thought it would be. Materials were easy to find and very inexpensive, and the end result is way cooler than any store bought one you might be able to find.

So what materials do you need?

Chicken Wire, also called Bird Netting. The stuff with the smaller holes is better for this project. I bought a roll of 10 meters and it cost $15. I used less than half I'd estimate. There's still plenty left for another project. You can get this at any hardware or garden centre.
A bamboo garden torch. I used this instead of a plain garden stake thinking it would add stability, but it didn't, so a plain garden stake would probably work just as well. Cost of $3. Available again at a hardware or garden centre.
A plastic (and very unrealistic looking) skull. It was actually filled with lollies originally (I bought it last year), and it cost about $3 from Big W. 
I bought 2 meters of calico for around $10, 2 meters of cheesecloth for $12, and 1 meter of muslin for $2. (Actually that was free because it was all they had left, so the lovely lady at Spotlight gave it to me with my other fabric!)
I also used about half a meter of polyester wadding that I had left from a quilt, 2 pairs of old gardening gloves, some duct tape, and a lot of old fabric scraps and old sheets. These I had around the house so they didn't cost me anything, but you can pick up old sheets at Op shops (Thrift stores) for next to nothing, and duct tape, wadding and gardening gloves are also quite cheap if you don't have them already. You will also use cable ties or wire (even garbage bag ties will do), and a little bit of glue.
So for less than $50, I have all my materials to make my life size Mummy (he's right around 5').

The Process

(this post has LOTS of images to help you make him!)
Plastic Skull and Bamboo Garden Torch
I took the torch part of the bamboo garden torch, and turned it upside down so that the wider part becomes my base
I have a tendency to injure myself when making things - I'm a bit of a clutz. So safety first! 
I wore safety goggles because making a hole in the plastic skull was way harder than I thought it would be. I broke a piece off my craft knife (which is when I put the goggles on!), and switched to using scissors to scrape a hole in the plastic. This took me a good 30 minutes or so. 

Scraping away to make a hole for the bamboo torch
He doesn't look very mummy like yet!
Once I had the hole big enough, I plonked his head on top and voila! The base structure for the Mummy is complete! 

Chicken wire body
To make the body, I simply cut off about a meter of chicken wire using tin snips, and then rolled it into a rough cylinder shape. I then squeezed the top corners together to form the shoulders, and squeezed the bottom to make the hips skinnier.  

Attaching the body to the structure.
 I used the wire that the roll of chicken netting was held in place with, to secure the body to the stake, as seen above. 

How it looks so far.
Attaching the arms
I made the arms and legs the same way as the body, just using less chicken wire. A basic cylinder that was squeezed to make it arm or leg shaped, and then I used cable ties to secure it to the body. (You could use wire or garbage bag ties, or anything you have on hand, I just had cable ties on hand and they made it easy!)
He's looking a little more formed now.
I used the wadding and duct tape to give him some shoulders.
I filled the gardening gloves with leftover bean bag beans and taped them on to his wrists.
I did the same for his feet - I used heavier duty gloves because they were flatter.
I used beans, but you could use anything to stuff the gloves: cushion filling would work well, but so would plain old plastic shopping or freezer bags. Anything to fill them out but keep them soft.
I used an old pillowcase cut into strips to bulk out his neck.
Then I started wrapping the arms and hands, using duct tape to secure in place.
His body was slipping too low, so I used cable ties to secure one side to the other, and both sides to the neck.
Then I kept wrapping, using cut up strips of fabric roughly 3 inches wide.
My fabric strips were roughly 3 inches wide at this point, but for the fingers I made the strips only about an inch wide and about 7 inches long. It's important to wrap the fingers individually and with small strips of fabric to achieve an authentic look.  Because my Mummy's body kept slipping down, I used cable ties to make a chain and link both sides to each other. Then I used more cable ties to secure the chains to the neck. This was definitely a bit of a 'secure it any way you can' moment. Don't forget also, that everything you use will be covered up, so it doesn't matter how messy it is at this point. (It's also helpful to have someone hold the Mummy while you wrap!) While I was wrapping him, I made sure to pull tightly so that I could control the shape of his chest. I made it skinnier at the waist and hips and kept it wide at the shoulders. Because chicken wire is so pliable, it was easy to keep adjusting his shape, pushing and pulling the wire until I was happy with it, right up until the last wrapped layer.  When wrapping these initial layers, you can simply tie the ends off, or just tuck it in to either the chicken wire or another layer of fabric. You will secure the final layers with glue which will hold all these initial layers in place. 

The hands are starting to look much more 'mummified' having covered up the original duct tape
To further secure the chest in place, I used longer strips of fabric and wrapped it more like a 'mankini' in between his legs and up over the shoulders, then over the head to hold everything together.
It was at this point I thought his right leg was too skinny, so I used toilet paper to pad it out.
Almost ready, just the final layers of 'proper' fabric to go.
Once he was all secure, and I had covered up all the duct tape, I tore my store bought fabric into strips about 2 inches wide, except for the hand pieces, which were 1 inch. I then proceeded to wrap the final layers, this time securing the start and end of the pieces with a little dab of glue. I used Aquadhere because it's a strong PVA that's pretty water resistant. I think he has about 3 full layers of fabric on him here at this point. 

Close up of the hands and feet - crisscrossed feet and fingers wrapped individually
I tucked in the final layers and secured with a dab of glue.
I'm not sure what the neighbours would have thought when we took him to the front yard to age him with coffee!
I used 2 jugs of instant coffee, and poured plain water over him as well to dilute some parts.
 And so here he is all finished! We left him in the laundry to dry overnight, but the smell of coffee was so strong that the next morning I took him outside where he has stayed ever since! The smell has worn off though, and he looks suitably old and dirty. So there you have it. Like I said, he was pretty time intensive, but if you don't have a baby that needs your attention you could probably do him in a day. A full day, but a day nonetheless. He took me two. The bamboo torch end will be useful for holding him in place. That end will be buried in a pot of sand, but you could just as easily pile some heavy pumpkins around that to steady him.

Friday, 10 October 2014

It's October Already!

I cannot believe it. In exactly 5 weeks' time, actually almost to the minute, we'll be heading out the door to begin our trip to the US!

This year has seriously flown by. And on that note, did you realise it's been a year that I've been writing this blog!? And today also marks Miss Penelope's 15 month birthday. She's such a big girl now, it just goes so fast. It makes me sad really. I mean, I'm happy but I'm sad. I miss her being a baby baby already.

She does provide us with so much amusement though, and she astounds us everyday with her intelligence. Remember we said she was going to take over the world? Here is a picture of her plotting that world takeover....

Anyway.... she is 15 months old and a little whirlwind! We've been pretty busy / excited about the upcoming trip, and today we got one of the last things needed - a little backpack for the big (well... actually still really little) Miss P. Okay, maybe we didn't really need to get her a backpack, but I just couldn't resist. It was waaaaaaay too cute. Do you disagree? ;)

So the other day I sent the younger three kids outside to play. It's been gorgeous weather mostly and they've spent too much time inside these school holidays. Then I snuck out behind them to watch what they were doing. It was pretty cute actually. Miss Emily had stopped being her normal-for-these-days bossy self, and the Little Dude was being a proper boy and giving his undivided attention to a bug that he was letting crawl all over him.  Miss Penelope was torn between looking at said bug and her current favourite activity, exploring the front yard. Exploring won out and she took her big sister on a tour of all the things she finds fascinating.

I took some photos on my phone to capture the moment, realising that before too long Miss P will be the only one still interested in looking in the garden and playing with bugs. I guess I just wanted to bottle that moment in a sense, to make it last forever.  It's easy when you get so busy to forget that they're just kids, and we should stop and smell the roses.... and play with bugs, while they still want to. :)

Oh and the sequence of photos is backwards...don't know why and a couple of yummy strawberry wines mean I don't really care either.... but I apologise if it irritates you who are reading it.

So my next post will probably be a round up of our upcoming Halloween party. amidst all the chaos that seems to be our lives, we are still hosting the 2nd Annual Wherry Halloween Bash. Costumes are being organised (spoiler alert...*Star Wars characters might be showing up this year*), decorations are being retrieved from boxes and spooky food is being planned..... And we are all hoping we get to do Halloween in the States at some point soon. :) :) :)

Until then, I hope each and every one of you is having an awesome day!

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