Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Complete Collection of Mr Pattacake (Early Readers) from Sweet Cherry Publishing.

Sweet Cherry Publishing is a new company to me. Founded in 2011 they have a nice list of great children's authors and illustrators working with them, including Susan McNally and Ken Lake, and they specialise in producing fictional series and collections of books.

Book collections from Sweet Cherry Publishing. Mr Pattacake Review.

One of the sets we've been sent to review is The Complete Collection of Mr Pattacake. 3 books written and illustrated by Stephanie Baudet especially for children aged around 5-8 who are beginning to read confidently alone.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Locked in at The Escape Room, Manchester

Being locked in a room for an hour with a bunch of people you hardly know might sound like a nightmare, but actually a visit to the Escape Room in Manchester is just about the most fun a grown up can have in an hour - truly!

The Escape Room in Manchester Review

The Escape Room has been open just over a week, and I was lucky enough to be invited to the official launch last night. There was a fantastic buzz, no-one knew exactly what to expect, (for my party it was a complete unknown) and so the atmosphere is one of real excitement and a little trepidation - "what have I let myself in for?"

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

War Child and Kids Wish For The World

Way back in the day there was Band Aid and I bought the single. There was Live Aid and I watched the whole thing. Then there were a few tentative dips into charity singles before people accepted it was a wise and sensible way to raise awareness and a few bob for a worthy cause. My all-time favourite charity record is an album produced on behalf of War Child - Help.

There was quite a buzz about this album back in 1995. It was recorded in 24 hours in full view of the media, and I bought my copy as soon as it hit the shop. It featured a host of my favourite artists at the time (and also some unlikely singers including Kate Moss and Johnny Depp), and some unlikely tunes - the Manic Street Preachers cover of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head can't fail to bring on a smile, and Sinead O'Conner's Ode To Billy Joe raises a tear.

The Help Album from War Child 1995

Back then War Child were raising money to help children affected by the war in the Balkans, as Bosnia fell apart and we all watched on the news as the Olympic stadiums were smashed to pieces by bombs. It was the first time in my life that I realised I live in a relatively peaceful country only by accident of birth. These children and young people had been just the same as me, and now they were homeless, destitute, dying.

War Child have continued to work with musicians over the last 20 years, releasing several albums and hosting regular fundraising gigs. During that time they have helped hundreds of thousands of children - getting them out of army uniform and back into school, protecting them from violence and sexual violence, giving them access to medical help and family support, and giving thousands of children somewhere to live.

I like War Child a lot. I like them because they're incredibly open about where the money goes - and 95% of all money donated goes directly to projects. Money is never sent through Governments, it goes directly to where it's needed, and the projects don't stop as soon as peace is declared, they carry on so that children don't fall into prostitution or destitution. They don't sponsor children for life though, they stay long enough to teach them how to continue safely on their own.

On Februrary 9th the latest single to raise money for War Child will be released. Sung by Beattie Wolfe and featuring 10 children from around the UK - who all won the right to be there from 20,000 entrants. The song is called Kids Wish For The World, and the proceeds will be split between War Child and Childline - another charity which I have great respect for. I can't see my teenagers rushing out to buy it unless Skrillex or Professor Green does a remix, it's a little more mainstream than my old Help album, but hey, I hope it does really well.

 

Find out more about War Child here....
Find out more about Childline and the NSPCC here....

I wasn't paid to write this post. I think War Child do a great job.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Making Good Quality School Uniform Affordable For Parents

A few months ago I was invited by members of the Schoolwear Association to go to the Rowlinson Factory in Stockport and find out about how much effort and care goes into good quality school-specific uniform, and how they want to make it cheaper and easier for parents to buy that uniform.

My Child Is Worth It The Schoolwear Association

There's a petition to sign, so if you aren't a person who reads everything, and you want to trust me, you can sign here now, or read on.

I've been a parent of school aged children for more than 15 years now, and I have 14 years left before my youngest leaves school. That is a heck of a lot of uniform, a heck of a lot of money, and I've never been well off, it's always been very important to get best value.

The Schoolwear Association represent all of those who are involved in the supply of school-specific uniform - the distributors, manufacturers, retailers and everyone else. It is a voluntary organisation and everyone involved gives their time to ensure:
  • Best value and quality
  • Prompt delivery of uniform for Britain's schoolchildren. 
  • Shops pledge to supply you with uniform for local schools in any size you require. 
  • Schoolwear Association members also sign up to a Code Of Practice outlining ethical and fair trading.

 Schoolwear Association members clothe 3/4 of Britain's schoolchildren.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

5 months...

It has now been 5 months since Elspeth died, and although we've had Christmas and New Year, a birthday, return to school and everything else, it seems as if I wrote my 4 months post only last week. It seems she's been gone less time even than it did then, it feels more as if she could still be here, alive, in her room playing her guitar or hammering on her keyboard.

Christmas was, in the basic sense of the word, hard. It went well, we did it, the children all had a good time and Santa delivered, but it was exhausting. Mentally, emotionally, physically, and any other possible way, exhausting. We're wiped out now, yet life has to carry on, work has to be done, the washing still has to be cleaned and meals need to be bought and cooked.


I remember first seeing this picture a couple of years ago and as I've lived through the last 18 months it has come into my head so many times. That is me. We're making ourselves eat regularly because we need to stay on the ball, but I'm just not hungry very often, so preparing meals is really tedious. Food doesn't excite me at the moment. We still have a big box of sweet and savoury snacks we bought for Christmas (even the teenagers haven't been really eating much).

The lady in the picture is me, every afternoon when I think of teatime. I don't want to do it, the effort seems so much, but I do. I feed everyone, I eat something, my partner eats something, it's a success. Maybe that's the point, and that picture is not as negative as all that. If you think about it, she's looking pretty organised. She's dressed, there was space on the chair for her to sit down and there aren't any children arguing. Maybe she's doing okay.

I don't have any words of wisdom or advice to other people in my situation, I wish I did, but I know Christmas and the day to day is only working through sheer luck and determination. And I know that we have to have a focus to get us through the next few months, and Christmas is just too far away - although we have already planned a fairly spectacular Christmas LEGO Village for next December - but we can't and shouldn't wish time away like that. The little boys are too little, they change so quickly, the teenagers are all doing exams and this is an important year all round. We need to see our children grow up, and savour every moment.

I'll leave you with some smiles I collected over the last month...and our newly 21 year old's broken wrist, which he acquired on Dec 29th by slipping on ice on the way home from work...


 And a comedy fall from our youngest showman during a family photo....


We miss her....


Wednesday, 14 January 2015

What is LEGO Juniors? Digger set 10666 review age 4-7

If you haven't come across it before, then for younger builders who are new to LEGO, there is a range designed especially for them, and it's called LEGO Juniors.

LEGO Juniors Digger set 10666 review box front

I'm a fan of LEGO Juniors. I think it makes a great bridge between DUPLO and little LEGO. The components are all straightforward little standard LEGO pieces, and they are part of the other ranges, such as Knights, Princess, Batman and City, but if you were making a vehicle then you'd find a chassis piece to start you off, and instead of having to make a complex or large part, it will already be in one piece - as LEGO say 'Easy to Build'.

21 Today!

Today my oldest child is 21. He's not really been a child for a long time now, although he's very good at behaving like a 4 year old at times still....

Of course him being 21 means I must have been a parent for 21 years, which clearly can't be right...


Although this cute little chap does seem like a very long time ago....


Seeing as he's 21, the time has come. I need to apologise to him for his unruly hair. I know it's a pain in the neck, and whatever style he tries is a nightmare, and only a no.1 or a full on afro seem to work. It is incredibly thick, incredibly curly, and somewhat bizarrely incredibly dark - which has to be my paternal Grandmother's fault. However it does make looking at old photo's far more funny....
 

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Why Children Should Go To Funerals....

As soon as funerals are mentioned, one of the very first questions I've always been asked is "what are you going to do with the children?". It seems almost everyone's first default thought is that they shouldn't go, but why not?

I read a blog post written by a Pastor's daughter the other day entitled "Why you should've Taken Your Kids To That Funeral", and it stirred a lot of emotions in me because I have never had any issue with my children going to funerals, but people I know do. 

When our youngest boys were only a few months and 2 years old their Great-Grandmother died. The service was up in Scotland, we couldn't leave the little boys at home, and there was no-one in Scotland to watch them, so they came. I was ready to leave with them at any point, but it wasn't necessary, and I felt that whatever noise they'd have made, it wouldn't have mattered. The small congregation had nothing but smiles for the children, and thanks to us for travelling that distance with them.

My brother died a year later. At 2 and 3 they were still too young for school, the service was back in my home town which I had left several years before, and every relative I had would be there. It didn't really leave me any other option than to take them, and as my brother loved children, I didn't think he'd mind. Some of my relatives did mind, and that was a great shame. The boys were very well behaved, quiet and reverent throughout. It felt very right to have as many of the children with me as was possible. It felt right to have them there to hug and hold, and they didn't become overwhelmed or upset. They were calm.


When Elspeth died last August our children all understood what a funeral was, how it worked and what should happen. We let the children make a lot of the decisions about the service, including choosing the music, dress code and order of service. We chose an amazing Humanist Celebrant and she was delighted the children were so included. On her suggestion our 6 year old pressed the button to close the curtain around his sister. 

There weren't only our children there, her friends were there, schoolchildren and young people filled the room. They all had a chance to lay flowers on her coffin and share their words with the congregation.

Everyone got a chance to mourn together, to celebrate her life, to laugh and cry, and to say goodbye properly. Everyone got a degree of closure. Everyone got a chance to support each other.

By preventing your children from attending funerals you prevent them being there for you. If your child was hurt, you would want to comfort them, and they feel the same way. Crying in front of your child not only shows them it's okay to express emotion, it teaches them how they can help, it gives them a purpose and it makes both of you feel better. It shows them it's okay to feel the loss of that person, they can cry too. It makes everything real.

I think somewhere along the line we did something right, because all 6 of our children coped so incredibly well with their sister's funeral. They were all there for each other, they all took an active part and they all put something of themselves into the service. I think in honesty they coped far better than we did, and without their help we'd have found it all a lot more stressful. I'm very grateful to them.

I gave birth to my youngest child in our living room, while 3 of his brothers sat in the kitchen eating noodle sandwiches. I taught my children about birth and what would happen, I prepared them in case it was very quick and they had to take some responsibility. Nothing that happened that day phased them at all, and they all bonded with their brother immediately, with my 18 month old shouting "my baby" at the Midwife.

Birth and death are what happens. There's other stuff too, but they're the basics and they're going to crop up fairly regularly. You can shield your children from them, but not forever, and being the one who doesn't know the secret is hard enough any time, even harder when you know something is wrong. You might buy your child a pet, and teach them about death that way, but it won't be the same. You can hide your own emotions, but what good does that do when what you really need is for your family to give you a hug? Children have a right to be included IF THEY WISH. If they were part of their life, then in my opinion they should be allowed to mourn and to say goodbye with everyone else.

I once said I hoped there were lots of children at my funeral, lots of smiling and colour, and the person I was talking to told me that was an awful idea. I disagree, I still hope it's the case.


Sunday, 11 January 2015

Monstar Makes A Wish

We love the Orion Books Early Readers, and I can proudly say they have helped my 6 year old learn to read, and my 4 year old is now beginning to join in with looking at the words and deciphering a few for himself.

Monstar Makes A Wish Book Review for Early Readers

Monstar Makes A Wish is the 3rd Monstar book we've read, and it's another fun story featuring the two children Jon and Jen, and their fluffy pet Monstar. Written by Steve Cole and illustrated by Pete Williamson, it's light-hearted and exciting, and has more than a little dash of fantasy and ridiculousness.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

New LEGO releases for early 2015

It's the new year and it has brought with it some fantastic new LEGO - new ranges such as Frozen and the Swamp Police, the relaunched Bionicle LEGO, and plenty of  additions to old favourites such as LEGO minifigures Series 13, Friends, Arctic and one of our favourites - The LEGO Movie.


Bionicle LEGO has been relaunched and there are 13 new figures - 6 protectors, 6 Toa heroes and the Lord Of Skull Spiders. My 6 year old loves these and has had great fun playing with them over the past couple of years. They are tricky for young hands to build, hence the 8-14 age range, but they stay together well and are very poseable, so play value is good.
New Bionicle LEGO set 70790 Lord Of Skull Spiders

The price point is excellent for children spending birthday money and Christmas vouchers and they retail between £9.99 and £14.99. You can find out more and get some cool background and build ideas on the LEGO Bionicle website.

New Bionicle LEGO set 70790 Lord Of Skull Spiders

LEGO Minifigures series 13 Disco Sue
 
Minifigures Series 13 is a brilliant collection. Only a couple of slightly less interesting figures and some really strong females, which should please a lot of people.