Wednesday, 17 September 2014

LEGO Mixels Series 3 Review - Glurt 41519 and Wizwuz 41526

The LEGO Mixels Series 3 were released on September 1st and LEGO have sent us a couple to look at. As with previous series releases there are 9 Mixels in 3 tribes - this time the Wiztastics, Glorp Corp and Spikels.

LEGO Mixels Series 3 review - Glurt 41519 and Wizwuz 41526

LEGO Mixels Series 3 - Glurt 41519 Glorp Corp doglike

Glurt set 41519 is one of the Glorp Corp - gooey creatures who remind me of pre-school age kids - all snot and dirty hands. Glurt is very dog-like, with a big yapping mouth and little legs.

LEGO Mixels Series 3 - Glurt 41519 Glorp Corp doglike special elements

One of the best things about Mixels is the array of interesting elements in each bag, and these are no exception. The builds are quick and require a degree of skill, they're a little tricky for younger children because of the tiny parts, but excellent for promoting fine motor skills and teaching new ways to connect LEGO bricks, and fantastic to play with when built.

LEGO Mixels Series 3 - Glurt 41519 Glorp Corp doglike creature with goo

In this bag we also got a little extra. One of the Nixels - the 'bad guys'. 

LEGO Mixels Series 3 - Glurt 41519 and Nixel

Wizwuz set 41526 is one of the Wiztastics and, as you might have guessed, these are Mixels who are capable of magic, albeit tongue-in-cheek.

LEGO Mixels Series 3 review - Wizwuz 41526 set pack contents

LEGO Mixels Series 3 review - Wizwuz wiztastic magic tribe 41526 set side view

When you start to build you have a purple slug-like creature, who transforms when the legs are added into an amazing spider-type Mixel.

LEGO Mixels Series 3 review - Wizwuz wiztastic magic tribe 41526 set build

LEGO Mixels Series 3 review £3 pocket money toys stockingfillers

We really like Mixels. They're cute and different and have tons of character. They're excellent pocket money value at only £3 a bag (they make great stockingfillers too), and generally have over 60 elements in each model, with some really special parts that can fire the imagination and be used to make all kinds of models. There are alternative builds and storylines online, and the Cartoon Network show for 20 minutes peace and more play ideas.

These aren't the first Mixels we've reviewed - we've also played with Zaptor, Flain and Seismo from Series 1 and Gobba and Lunk from Series 2.

Monday, 15 September 2014


This isn't a post about Bootstraps, news which I'm sure will be welcome. This is a post about a company called World's Apart. They emailed me just a few days after Elspeth died, and offered me a nightlight to review.

They got my 'out-of-office' notice and I probably wouldn't have heard from them again, but my 4 and 5 year olds were having awful trouble sleeping. By fluke I saw the email and it was so timely that I replied asking if I could please take a nightlight and review it at some point in the future. At the time the idea of going shopping for lights was even more horrific than it is now, I couldn't have done it.

The PR replied and was incredibly lovely to me and said she'd just send me a light and a torch and she didn't want a review. She wanted to try and help. Here's my thank you...

The nightlight is a part of the Planes Safe n Sound Lumiglow Wall Stickers set. We haven't yet put up all the rest of the 60 Disney Planes wall stickers included, we needed the light and we just put that up. It's clever because the nightlight forms part of the picture and fastens to the wall using sticky backed velcro, so it's up in about 1 minute.

Disney Planes Safe n Sound Lumiglow Wall Stickers night light review from World's Apart

The velcro is attached pretty securely, but will remove when you want it to and doesn't destroy the wall. My 4 year old did pull ours off to inspect how it works, and then replaced it at a slightly jaunty angle (I think he thought we wouldn't notice - we did).

Disney Planes Safe n Sound Lumiglow Wall Stickers night light review

The best thing about this night light though, is that it's sound activated. It needs a deep noise like a clap, or a loud voice (or as we quickly discovered you can just tap your finger on the plastic). The light is bright enough to fill the whole room with light, stays on for 2 minutes and then fades out gently.

Disney Planes Safe n Sound Lumiglow Wall Stickers night light review

The torch is a Cars Go Glow Night Beam Tilt Torch and our 5 year old is using it. The torch also doubles as a lamp when placed on it's end. It's not as bright as the lumiglow night light, but it's still bright enough to light up more than half the bed. As a torch it's great. It's light and easy to hold for any sized hand.

Disney Cars Go Glow Night Beam Tilt Torch from World's Apart review

The best thing about the torch/lamp is that it's motion activated. To get it to switch on you just move it. You don't need to shake it or anything overly-active, just pick it up. In fact, it's so sensitive that it's on my son's headboard and it comes on if he sits up in bed. Perfect.

Disney Cars Go Glow Night Beam Tilt Torch from World's Apart review

The torch, like the night light, is on for 2 minutes and then switches itself off if it's not moving. Perfect for younger children who never turn anything off anyway. 2 minutes may not seem like much, but actually it's a lot longer than you'd think and a really good length of time.

Night light motion activated torch lamp with 2 minute timer for children afraid of the dark.

My boys still aren't happy enough to initially go to sleep without the room light on, but if they wake in the night then either of them can instantly have light and don't panic or sit in bed shouting or crying. I can easily check on my children during the night too, without waking them. I'm confident that over the next few weeks we'll bring them back to going to sleep in the dark, and these 2 lights will play a large part in that.

Nothing is easy.

I had a conversation this morning with a close friend. It went something like this...

F-It's hard I guess, you want to do fun stuff but it can be hard?
Me-When I read my own typing it seems impossible. You can't imagine being happy. You don't want to be
F-No, exactly
Me-You feel guilty at the idea. And then you remember why you weren't happy. So you aren't happy. Everything normal feels different. Boiling the kettle is different
F-Of course
Me-Sitting here typing is different. I'm different
F-You have to find a new normal. Everything has changed
Me-But you don't want to. It feels like you are betraying her
F-You aren't.
Me-Thinking of switching on my laptop feels like I don't care. It's hard. It's really hard
F-Don't do it if you don't feel ready but, equally it may help. Remember that she loved the blog, and all the things she enjoyed through it too, she would want you to find a way to carry on I think

And I typed those words, and I listened to myself, and I re-read them, and I heard my partner yesterday telling me to get back to the blog, and I thought of the reviews I have here, half-written and sitting there, and the things they're written about - the sandpit my 4 year old can't wait to go in after school, however cold it is out there now. The lovely time we had with the little ones at Chill Factore, and the gorgeous books we've been reading.

It's very hard after what's happened to have any confidence in anything I do. I have hardly cooked, I feel everything will be tasteless and insipid.  I have no confidence over anything I do with our children, I worry I did things wrong and I worry we don't really know them at all. It's very hard being that person, and I imagine very hard being a friend to that person, because you can't really do anything to make it better.

Nothing is easy now. Nothing is the same. I will never be the same. But Elspeth liked my blog, she read it, she was impressed with my achievements. Life may not be the same, and actually, we don't want it to be, but I'd be doing my whole family a disservice if I didn't switch on my laptop and pull myself up by the Bootstraps.

A whole wall of sunflowers made by the Foundation children at our school.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Small Steps...

Picking up my blogging right now is really hard.

I don't want to have a blog full of the heartache that we're all feeling here at home, it's always been my happy place full of achievements and fun stuff. Even when my partner had Meningitis my blog was where I recorded each and every improvement. Right now it doesn't feel like we can ever have improvement, although logic tells me each and every step back to normal life is a step forward.

Our youngest child started school yesterday. He's 4, he is coping incredibly well on the face of it. He was excited for his first day and ran into school. He has stopped telling everyone we meet all of the details about what happened, which is a relief, but school are ready for it and ready to explain to other parents if their children come home with our son's 'news'.
He has sorted it out in his head. On advice from a Family Support Worker we let him go and see his sister in the chapel, and since then he has stopped being scared that she is still upstairs, and has accepted the permanence of her death.
He isn't sleeping well, so he's tired. He's scared of dark and shadows, so he won't go to the toilet alone or go upstairs without me, and he's only falling asleep with the light on. World's Apart very kindly sent us an amazing night light which is really big and bright, and sound activated, so when he wakes he only has to speak and he has light.
He's scared we'll die. If someone lies in bed late he asks if they've died. He's made me promise I won't get confused and kill myself.  I promise.

Our 5 year old moved over to year 1 and the big school yesterday. He had a good day, he was 'Star Of The Day', and it was meatballs for lunch. He's eating again now. He knows lots about France, and is still wearing his Cockade from the funeral last week. His class are going to study France this half term, maybe if he's up to it he'll sing them something from Les Miserables.
He misses nothing. He sees me go to check on the older children when they sleep in, and asks me if I checked to see if they are dead. I can't lie, so I just give him a hug.
He's going to sleep with the light on, but sleeping well. He has been given a Disney Cars torch that is motion activated, so he can have light at night when wakes. He uses it to check his brother, I know, I've seen him, but I didn't let on.
He's terrified he will die. He's scared he might eat some mud or too much toothpaste or anything else poisonous. He warns his brother whenever he feels he's doing something dangerous. Death is now something that doesn't only happen to the elderly or the very ill. He's realised so terribly young that life is fragile.

The teenagers are all coping in their own ways. They all know it's okay to be happy, smile, laugh. It's okay to watch comedy on TV or have fun with your friends. You can listen to music or play games. You can cry for a reason, cry for secret reason, and cry for no reason. It's all okay.
They're all having help from CAMHs for bereavement counselling. They all need to know it wasn't their fault, and they couldn't have prevented it. No-one can truly be inside someone else's head, we only see what they choose to share. This was true of Elspeth, and it is true now of our other children, and we're trying our best to make sure guilt and anger are not what they feel inside.

Both of our 16 year olds did exceptionally well in their GCSE's. Elspeth had 3 A*'s and 4 more A's and had 11 GCSE's in total. Jake has an A* and 4 more A's and 12 GCSE's in total. This is brilliant, and we're so proud of them. It means that Jake has secured his place at a Specialist Engineering College in the midlands, and will be leaving us, as was always the plan. I'm pleased he's still following his dream, although we'll miss him terribly, but have warned him he'll never be too far for a surprise visit, and he will be joining us alternate weekends and holidays.

The small steps will add up, I know that. It's such a long road ahead that I know we'll never reach the end, but maybe if we keep counting the small steps, we can see the progression more clearly.

First ever LEGO model all by himself, following the instructions x

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Dear Elspeth...

Without any warning, in the early morning of 15th August 2014, our daughter took her own life. We couldn't have known, and even if we had found her immediately, we couldn't have saved her.

I have written many thousands of blog posts in my head since that morning, here is just one of them...

Dear Elspeth, 

You planned it so well. Your Dad was meant to find you, I know that. You couldn't have known I'd have a bad night's sleep and pull your 5 year old brother into bed for an extra half hour with me. You thought we'd be downstairs. You certainly won't have expected that I'd ask your brother to go and tell you to turn off your alarm. He wasn't sure if you were dead, he said he thought maybe you were pretending. I knew from what he said. I knew as I ran to your room. I knew when I saw you, and as I touched your cheek. I had to tell your Dad, and I didn't want to be that person to do that to him. I didn't realise I was screaming and he was already on his way. We both saw we were far too late, we knew that. And that was really the moment when time. just. stopped.

The Police were here for the next 5 hours. Everyone treated us with the utmost care, they really did. You'd have been pleasantly surprised, and possibly disappointed you couldn't find anything to chastise them for. There were so many people in the house, we sat in the kitchen. Your brothers and sisters were in the living room, away from what was happening, in a bubble of Cartoon Network and silence, together under blankets on the sofa. No-one had any socks and it was cold, a Policeman guarded the stairs and it seemed wrong to ask him to let me get some.

They brought down your note. I hadn't seen it, I hadn't even considered it. So typical of you to write so much. I couldn't read it all until they brought us back a copy 4 days later. I couldn't focus my eyes for long enough. I think of you writing and my heart stings so much. You must have felt beyond despair.  You knew how much this would hurt us, you must have been hurting so much more to do it.

You said we aren't to be too sad. I don't know how sad is too sad, but I don't think it's possible to be any more sad than we are now. You have left a gaping hole in our family that can never be filled.

You said it will be easier for us now.  It gives me no comfort to know that I'll never have to deal with your frustrations and anger again. It was a part of you, and you take everything that your child offers, be it good or bad. We didn't care that you were Autistic, you were the same person you'd always been. You were our child, our sibling, and it didn't make us love you any less. No-one is ever perfect all of the time, and you were less trouble than most, for most of every day. I know life was hard work for you, but we didn't realise just how hard.

The meltdowns were awful, but the rewards you offered were so great, couldn't you see that? You were so clever and witty and beautiful. Your obsessions with TV shows and movies, your enthusiasm for the small things, how could you ever think that life would be easier now without you? How can Christmas ever be great again without you there? How can we ever play a board game again without taking note of the space at the table where you always sat? Dr Who was an event when you were there, it just wasn't the same last weekend, and it'll never be as good again.

Never again will we sit downstairs and listen to you play your guitar, no more handpainted birthday cards or fantastic artwork. Who will be the one to be the first there when one of the small boys cry now? Who can I moan at for running on the stairs? Who will I talk to when I make a coffee late at night before bed?

You were hard work, you took up more time than any of our other children, but someone had to be that person. As you got older the mood swings were at least more predictable. I suppose if we knew they were coming, so did you, and you hated the lack of control. You hated the inability to stop yourself, and you would beat yourself up afterwards. You were so worried that you'd break up the family, but that wouldn't have happened. We've been there all this time, we weren't going to give up on you as you became an adult.

You said in your note that your funeral isn't to be lame. We've done our best. Cardboard Tom Jones will be there. You have a purple coffin and a French Legion Of Honour medal just like Gavroche in Les Miserables. Your 5 year old brother will press the button to close your curtains, and you'll leave with the TARDIS. We mentioned Sunflowers and everyone has run away with it, you'd be so delighted. There are the most amazing and beautiful Sunflowers everywhere and they are all for you.

We will always wish that we could have known, we could have seen. Why did you ask me for a Winter coat, why did you arrange a sleepover with your friends, why buy tickets to Manchester Pride? Was there a glimmer of hope that you'd stay longer? As long as I live I will look for the clues, I will search for what I should have known, and I will wish you had told us that you were so desperate inside.

We aren't angry with you, we know you loved us, and you knew we loved you, and I will always be glad that I told you so the day before you died. We miss you. We will all always miss you.

Life might have been a little simpler if you'd been less angry, but you missed the point. Life will never be easier without you xxx
In a study published by the Autism Research Centre in June 2014 it was found that around 66% of adults with Asperger's Syndrome (high-functioning Autism) have had suicidal thoughts, and 35% had planned or attempted suicide. Because of the nature of Autism, they are far more likely to actually carry it through to a conclusion. 

Childline Freephone 0800 1111 - for children and young people who are struggling and need to talk or need help
The Samaritans - for anyone who needs to talk or is struggling
Child Bereavement UK - for those who have lost a child, and for children who have lost someone. Advice for anyone spending time with bereaved children.
Winston's Wish - the charity for bereaved children
Autism Help.Org - advice and help for families of children with Autism
Papyrus UK - Prevention Of Young Suicide

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Poppy The Pirate Dog And The Treasure Keeper - Early Reader from Orion Books

Poppy The Pirate Dog And The Treasure Keeper is an Early Reader from Orion Books written by Liz kessler and illustrated by Mike Phillips. This is a red band book for a new reader to read alone with little help. My 5 year old is beginning to gain in confidence so much that he can now read this book himself without frustration, despite a couple of words he needed help with.

Poppy The Pirate Dog And The Treasure Keeper - Early Reader from Orion Books

We've read quite a few of these books now, and they're always great bedtime reading. This is a great story about Poppy The Pirate Dog, who joins in her children's game and becomes the Treasure Keeper on their pirate ship.

What she actually does is save the day when some real treasure is lost, and Poppy finds out where it is, and who has it!

Poppy The Pirate Dog And The Treasure Keeper - red band Early Reader from Orion Books age 5-8

I love that the children in this book are playing with household and garden items and using their imaginations. They're having a great game and involving the family adults in a nice way, and entertaining everyone for free. It's good wholesome stuff.

There are trickier words and some more interesting ideas, but overall the language used is very familiar and easy to work out for the newer reader. The illustrations are lovely, and Poppy is a great looking dog who always seems enthusiatic in the way that Dalmatians really do!

Poppy The Pirate Dog And The Treasure Keeper  has 64 pages nicely broken into manageable chapters, and has an RRP of £4.99. There are two other Poppy books in the series - Poppy The Pirate Dog and Poppy The Pirate Dog's New Shipmate.

We've reviewed several other Early Readers from Orion Books - all my book reviews can be found here...

We were sent our book to review.

An Xtreme Visit to the Chill Factore, Manchester

We were really lucky a couple of weeks ago because we were invited twice in 3 days to attend events at the Chill Factore, at Trafford Park in Manchester. Even luckier because one event was for the over 12's and one event for the under 5's - which suited my family really well!

Xtreme Chewits

We love Chill Factore and have been before a few times, so an invite to the Chewits Xtreme Sour Pineapple launch for the older children was really exciting. 

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

A Trunki Paddlepak picnic, review and giveaway!

I've always liked the Paddlepaks from Trunki, although as we don't currently go swimming regularly and don't live anywhere near the beach, I felt I couldn't really justify buying one - however as it turns out, they're far more useful than simply being a swim bag!

A Trunki Paddlepak picnic, review and giveaway!

Trunki sent us a Paddlepak to review - my boys were really happy with that - they were even happier when they discovered it was full of Ella's Kitchen snacks, and Trunki activity sheets! 

A Trunki Paddlepak picnic with Ella's Kitchen review and giveaway!
A picnic with a range of  Ella's Kitchen snacks review

Our job was to take our Paddlepak out on a picnic. It's a great rucksack, it holds loads, and what's more, it's waterproof - it's ideal. 

We picked our day, the sun was shining as we got everything ready and packed our Paddlepak, and we were ready to go.

A Paddlepak from Trunki - what does a Paddlepak look like on a 4 year old

Well, this is Manchester.....we'd barely got up the path when the rain in we went and waited 1/2 an hour. There were loads of black clouds building up, but instead of cancelling completely, we decided to brave the drizzle and picnic in the garden...

A Paddlepak from Trunki and Ella's Kitchen children's snacks picnic

The Ella's Kitchen snacks were met with a mixed response. The huge tub full of Row, Row, Row Raspberries and Bananas Multigrain Nibbles was a hit, as was The Yellow One Fruit Smoothie (which they fought over). Some of the other snacks were a little bit bland for my chilli-loving 4 and 5 year olds now, which is a shame as they did love them when they were younger, and the range is far more interesting and varied now. I really liked the 'ee i ee i oh' Raisin & Spelt Cookies.

A Paddlepak from Trunki and Ella's Kitchen children's snack range picnic
Ella's Kitchen children's snack range picnic banana and raspberry

After a few minutes the heavens really let loose, but it meant we could test the water-resistance of the Paddlepak
A Paddlepak from Trunki lying flat on blanket in rain
A Paddlepak from Trunki review - back cushioning padding and straps

Before trying the PaddlePak I thought they worked very much like an incredibly pretty carrier bag - I was wrong. Trunki say it is water-resistant, but it's actually virtually waterproof and I'm really impressed. You can even blow it up and fasten it, and the air doesn't squeeze out without massive pressure. Nothing is going to get wet in there....

A Paddlepak from Trunki review - watertight and blown up like a balloon
Empty of everything - except air!
A Paddlepak from Trunki review -details reflective tape straps pockets loops

The detail on the Paddlepak is great. There is reflective tape on the padded straps, soft padding against the child's back, side pockets and hanging loops, and a huge inside pocket that runs the full height of the bag. If you have wet AND dry items you need to transport, they can go separately. There's even a zip up pocket in the tail fin - perfect for bus or changing room locker money, tissues and keys etc.

A Paddlepak from Trunki free downloadable printables activity sheets travel gamesfor children

As it was raining and we were now indoors, the Trunki activity sheets were perfect....they have absolutely loads of activity sheets and games which you can download for free from the Trunki website. They kept my boys busy for a while....

range of Trunki free printables activitysheets and travel games

We've used our Paddlepak every day since we got it, and we even attempted another picnic when we went to see my children's Grandparents compete in a pony and carriage event - but guess what? Yep - it was rained off! Hurricane Bertha was on the way, and the ponies were back in the horse box before we even arrived!

A shark Paddlepak from Trunki on small 4 year old

I'n really impressed with the Paddlepak. It's genuinely a fantastic and pretty much waterproof rucksack that my 4 year old has taken great pride in, and is using to carry his treasure and snacks everywhere. It's obviously very comfortable, even when it's pretty full, and it's ideal for a picnic. The fact it's a shark is brilliant - both of my little boys love sharks.

There is a huge range of Paddlepaks costing £19.99- £24.99 - which I feel is on a par with any good quality children's rucksack, but Paddlepak is much more cool.  My son wants to wear it all the time, so he's helping carry what we need for our trips out each day and it gives him responsibility and importance. It is very light and with all the pockets and loops is perfect for a multitude of jobs - especially picnics! It's not in any way 'babyish', and he'll be using the Paddlepak for years to come.

We have enjoyed reviewing the Paddlepak this week, and we love it, so I'm delighted that Trunki have offered a Paddlepak of their choice as a prize for one of my readers.

Entry to the giveaway is by rafflecopter form below.  Each additional task completed will give additional entries into the giveaway. UK entries only please. The giveaway will end at midnight on Sunday September 7th when no more entries will be accepted. Please see additional terms and conditions at the bottom of the rafflecopter form.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Penne Pasta With Sausage Recipe - The Camping Cookbook

I've always camped. My parents met through their involvement with the Scouts, and my grandfather and uncle were both wardens at Drum Hill Scout Scout Camp in Derbyshire. When I had my own children it seemed the best way to ensure they had holidays and freedom, and the space to be children - away from electricity and other distractions.

Boy looking under bridge for a troll
Checking to see if there's a troll under the bridge before he crosses!
In 2003 we bought our first camper van, and I met my partner when he was buying his camper and rang me for advice. My children have always camped.