Tuesday 31 December 2013

Goodbye 2013......

I don't think I'll miss you...

Gains And Losses

Some amazingly lovely things have happened this year and at least 3 of our children will end the year in a far happier frame of mind than they started with, but by God it's been hard!

I've had hard times before, money, health, relationships have never always been perfect, but never before have I had to work so damn hard just to keep it all together.

Running a household with 7 children aged from 3 to 19 isn't easy at the best of times, but this year I really did have to take on far more than I ever signed up for.

My broken leg and a catalogue of errors and unfortunate circumstances means that I'm still waiting for it to be fixed 5 months later. The simplest tasks day to day tasks take forever.You have no idea how often you crouch or kneel until you can't, and stairs have become my nemesis (I joke I'm a Dalek).

I've seen things I never want to have to see again, things I can't unsee. I have watched my partner and father of my children lying in a hospital bed seriously ill, I sat and cried with him while he had a lumbar puncture and thank heavens I have been given the opportunity to spend the last 6 months watching him recover.

One of my biggest gains in 2013 is this blog. Exactly a year old I could never have ever begun to imagine how far I'd come in only 12 months.

I could never have forseen the brilliant things I've been sent to review, the places I would get to take my family, the skills I'd learn and the lovely things people would say about my writing. I've worked with Britmums, Netmums, Mumsnet and Tots 100 and hopefully I'll add Parentdish to that in the new year.

Most surprising of all are the truly amazing friends I've made through blogging, my life is so much richer for having them. 


Sadly there are always a few who don't get to stay with us....

Politics lost Jose Sarria, Nelson Mandela and Margaret Thatcher. They'll all leave their lasting impression on all of our lives. Good or bad.

Roobarb and Custard, which was second only to Bagpuss in my eyes as a child, lost it's voice with the passing of Richard Briers and a few days later it's animator Bob Godfrey.
Ray Cusick, the inventor of the Daleks, and Mr Kalashnikov, the inventor of the AK47, both left us in 2013 - I'm not entirely sure which we should have been more scared of.

Corgi lost 'Mr Corgi' Marcel van Cleemput - the designer of some of their most iconic models including the James Bond Aston Martin, the Batmobile and the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car, which sat on my Great Grandparent's mantle for my entire childhood with flattened wheels where they'd melted.

Music lost Lou Reed, fiction lost James Herbert and TV lost Marcia Wallace......and so Bart must say goodbye to Edna Krabappel.

 So long to Alan Turing's conviction. His royal pardon has come a mere 59 years too late
I lost my schoolfriend Chris this morning, he always started conversations with me online at 1.30am and kept me awake for the next hour or so, and I'll miss that - as much as he'd often annoyed me with it and stole my sleep. Earlier in the year I lost Sara who I met at antenatal classes when pregnant with our first children. Cancer took them both too early.

Goodbye to them all.

Turn the page.....but never put down the book.

Happy New Year to all of my readers -
I wish you health, peace and happiness for 2014 x

The Dalek illustration is by Nick Abadzis - you can find him here
The Bart and Miss Krabappel still is taken from The Simpsons
The Roobarb and Custard illustration is by Captain Howdy and based on the original illustrations by Bob Godfrey

My Top 13 Parenting Posts of 2013

Anna from In The Playroom has had a fantastic idea for a linky - your top 13 parenting posts of the year. Hers are all really informative and useful, mine are more of a mix. These are the posts that get Google hits every day, the posts that I am most proud of, and a wild card or 2....

Early Sunday Morning - I'll start with my favourite post of the year. It took 5 minutes to write, is incredibly short and I think it's probably the funniest thing I've ever written.

Closely followed by this...laugh or cry, you can't deny it was hilarious - 3 Year Old Boy V's 3 Year Old Sharks - my son's 3rd birthday trail of destruction....

Another birthday, this time my 5 year old ~ Fighting Gender Norms With Birthday Cake

Lego Memories ~ A post I loved writing because it brought back so many happy memories all in one bundle.

Easter Snow ~ 8 foot snowdrifts provided without a shadow of a doubt some of the best and most amazing photo's I'll ever have a chance to post online.

 Along with this post at The Sealife Centre Preview in Manchester

The 2 posts that beyond all others get the most Google hits and I feel a little pride each time and hope that I helped - 

3 of my most popular and favourite food posts - 

My wild card entry is this ~  

I wrote this post the night my partner became ill. I had to leave him in hospital and I was incredibly scared although I did feel that he was in the right place and getting better. At this point no-one realised that he wasn't getting better, he was actually seriously ill with Meningitis. My blog became my diary and my reference, and as I look back it's the best memory I have because the next few weeks were a blur.

And this one was 20 days later.... The Birthday Present ~ Meningitis Day 20

Yeah okay, there are 14, not 13, but I've never been keen on 13's and I'm less keen than ever now.... I hope you'll let me off....

Top 13 Posts for 2013 Linky

Because Anna told me off - here's my cheeky link to my incredibly popular Lego Minion

Kor Geomag Tazoo Paco review

We have been given the opportunity by Kids Blog Club to review the Kor Geomag ~ Tazoo Paco. It is a construction toy for children aged 5+ which really fires a child's imagination and boosts problem-solving and logic skills.

Geomag has been around for a while, but the Kor Geomag are brand new to the UK. Each have a large metal ball at their core and are held together magnetically, which allows for all kinds of different shapes and movements when you start to attach the 2 outer layers and assorted extra features. Although the set includes some small parts, ALL metal and magnetic parts are set into large shapes that a child cannot swallow.

The set has 26 magnetic building blocks that connect to the inner metal core, and then a whole host of extra parts that fasten onto the building blocks - 71 pieces in total. A nice clear instruction book is included to get you started and it really is incredibly simple to get the hang of how it works.

 You start by surrounding the core with the building blocks to make your ball shape. 

 And then attach your outer shapes however you choose

Because everything is held together by magnets you can twist and turn it and move it around without losing your creation. It's worth remembering though that it IS all held together by magnets, and it will come apart if you're too rough with it - however it's very quick to rebuild!

Here's my 5 year old's first creation - a sea creature using everything in our basic set. In the picture below I had turned the entire bottom section 90 degrees.

Paco can be made into a frog, owl, lizard, beetle, dinosaur or sea creature or whatever you wish. The limit really is your child's imagination and they can create and adapt their creatures without limit. As they play they develop better skills - including stronger fingers and how to handle their creation gently.

This toy is brilliant for expanding the imagination and encouraging children to go with the flow. It is excellent for independent play and my son wasn't frustrated by it, even when he presses too hard and accidentally dislodges half his creature. He instantly saw different ways to build and use the set, and they were easy for him to achieve, and as he gets older I can see that he'll make more complicated creatures and rather than focus mainly on entirely alien beings he'll be led to try and make different actual animals.

Kor Geomag are available in 2 ranges called Tazoo and Proteon and all sets are compatible and can be swapped around and used together. There are 2 different Tazoo Kor Geomags ~ Paco and Beto (land living green and sea living blue) and we were sent Paco. There are 5 different Proteon Kor Geomags which are a tougher range ready for battle and featuring more scope for weapons etc. All of the Proteon Kor Geomags have a distinctive 'environment' theme such as volcanic or swamp.

Kor Geomags start at around £25 and are available at independent toy stores, Harrods, Fenwicks and online at Amazon. If you want to keep up with Geomag you can do so on their Facebook page or their Website.

Saturday 28 December 2013

The Taming Of The Tights by Louise Rennison ~ review and giveaway

The Taming Of The Tights is the third book in the Misadventures of Tallulah Casey series by Louise Rennison. Following on from Withering Tights and A Midsummer Tights Dream, it's been available in hardback since before Christmas, and on January 2nd will be available in paperback format.  

Louise Rennison is the best selling award-winning author of the phenomenally successful ‘Confessions of Georgia Nicolson’ series, which was translated into over 34 languages and went to the stage and big screen as ‘Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging’. She has won the Nestle Smarties Book Prize, the Michael L. Printz Honor Book and the Roald Dahl Funny prize for ‘Withering Tights.
We were sent a copy of The Taming Of The Tights to review and my 15 and 13 year old girls took up the challenge. Both have previously read Louise Rennison's work, and especially enjoyed Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging.

My 15 year old is very nearly 16 and has always had a very mature taste in books (she's currently reading 2 copies of Les Miserables to compare the translations), and it was clear quite quickly that now she feels too old for this book and was disappointed to find that out. In my experience young people rarely want to read about anyone younger than themselves, so I wasn't really surprised. My 13 year old however is really enjoying it.

The story is full of all those things teenagers worry about and find important, and in the case of teenage girls, as usual, it tends to involve teenage boys. It also covers friendships and falling out, and feeling as if you don't quite fit in. As with the previous books it's really light-hearted and funny, with never the book nor the characters taking themselves too seriously.

In our overall opinion this book is best suited for  young ladies aged 11-14 and is a good follow on to the 2 previous books. Easy to read and with familiar settings, characters you can relate to and lots of cringeworthy moments the series is a good introduction to teen fiction and justifiably incredibly popular. 

Taming Of The Tights is currently available on Amazon for£7.69

Harper Collins have given me the opportunity to give away a copy of Taming Of The Tights to one of my readers. Entry is by Rafflecopter below...

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Early Christmas Dinner...

On the night of the 23rd we have a Christmas Party. We've had one ever since we all moved in together, so this actually our 7th year. This year, for the first time and very definitely hopefully not the last, we were joined by the 'Bury Blogging Massive', the group of bloggers who I am privileged to live closely enough to that we can all get together fairly regularly - although never before all in the same place at the same time!

Bury Family Life, Sims Life, RedRoseMummy, Me, Grumpyishmum,
My Mummy's Pennies, Not Such A Yummy Mummy
It was all going swimmingly all day baking and preparing, but when I came to reheat sausage rolls and things at 7pm my oven didn't work! I cooked everything in the tiny top oven and this morning (feeling a little dishevelled) we were up at 7.30am with my partner dismantling the oven.

By 8.45am he was on his way to pick up a replacement motor and by 10.30 we had a working oven! Yeaay! 

So tonight, while we have all of the children together, we had our Christmas dinner. The oven didn't let us down and thankfully we didn't have to start Googling 'how to barbeque an entire roast dinner'. I hope your Christmas dinner goes just as well....

From all of us here at The Brick Castle ~ We Wish You A Very Happy Christmas x

Giving That Little Bit Extra To Someone Special This Christmas

When The Halifax contacted me and asked if I could think of someone special who deserved a little bit extra this Christmas I had the perfect candidate. I think my partner's Mother Diana deserves a little extra more than anyone else I know.

 My partner's family live in Scotland on a gorgeous Shetland Pony farm where they have ponies and chickens and their own woods. I've written about it before because we go up there whenever we can. It was on the way home from their house when I broke my leg, and it was there last Easter where we had the amazing snow.


They're far in distance, but never far. When I was pregnant and whenever we've needed them my partner's Mother has always been quick to remind me that she can be here in 4 hours. When I had my hernia operation in October 2012 they were here for a week to help with the children and the house.

2013 has been a fairly rubbishy year for us all healthwise and my partner's Mum Diana has borne the brunt of it. In July my partner's Dad had to be rushed to hospital for emergency surgery. While he was still recovering my partner developed Meningitis. Any parent knows that is one of your greatest fears and to be away from your son while they're so incredibly ill, however old they are, must have been horrific for her, especially coming so quickly after her husband being in danger.

In October and completely out of the blue, Diana had a stroke. She's recovered and is as well as before thankfully, but clearly a very worrying and hard time for her and my partner's Dad.

My partner's parents train their Shetland Ponies for riding and pulling a carriage, they teach children to ride and volunteer with youngsters with disabilities, the ponies are incredibly important to them, so I wanted to get something with a Shetland Pony on it. I instantly thought of a pendant, and after only 2 minutes looking I found exactly what I had in mind, ordered it and we were ready when they came to visit this weekend...

 It's a gorgeous silver pendant, made in Shetland and showing a Shetland pony. And she liked it!.

 I'd like to thank The Halifax for funding this gift and giving me the opportunity to give that little bit extra to someone very special this Christmas. 

Friday 20 December 2013

The Postman just delivered Christmas...but where do you hide the presents?

I don't enjoy shopping usually, but I was so incredibly lucky to win the Gingerbread House competition, and the Pumpkin Carving Challenge earlier in the year, and when I'd had a rest (and stopped crying) after my lovely day in hospital my partner and I blew all our winners vouchers on some more Christmas. It actually doesn't go so far per person when there are 9 of you, but we didn't get our Summer holiday or have any fun this Summer because of my partner's Meningitis, so we threw caution to the wind and went for it.

And today I've had deliveries all day...

And tonight I have to try and find somewhere to sleep....

In previous years we've hidden presents on top of and inside wardrobes, in the loft, under the bed, in the garage and all the usual places.

We've a VW campervan that we don't camp in much in December, and several times anything of little value has spent a week or two in the cupboards in there before Christmas and my partner has had to run down to the bottom of the garden and unload it on Christmas Eve - mainly in the snow!

We have a giant metal flight case as a surface for a TV and desktop PC, and one year when we had 4 children aged around 7-9 at that very inquisitive stage we filled that with the presents - which was great until we needed to move everything and get them out, and were caught taking apart the computer at 10pm by an 8 year old who wasn't feeling so well.

This year I'm not even going to pretend I can hide all this. All our hiding places are already full. We're just calling our room The Grotto and banning all children from entering or else they'll get coal for Christmas....

Luckily the little ones are not too bothered though because we managed to empty one of the giant boxes already, and as far as they're concerned the best toy there ever could be is already in the hallway for them to play with....and thankfully they haven't even wondered where it came from because they'll never believe this box had 'more cooking stuff for Mummy'....

Wherever you hide it - I hope they don't find it.....and if they do, I hope your split-second explanation is suitably ridiculous and mine pretty much always have been...

This post is an entry into the Hudl Christmas cheer competition hosted by Tots 100 and you really should check out some of the other entries because they're hilarious!

Why my operation didn't happen....


So there I was in hospital at 1.30pm, nothing to eat and only a cup of coffee and a glass of water since 11pm the night before, texting my partner and telling him I was really dehydrated and that the Surgeon was due to come and see me any minute.

And I waited. And I dehydrated. And my headache got worse. And my eyesight got blurry. And my phone started to run out of batteries so I had to switch it off.

At just after 3pm my Surgeon came to see me and for half an hour I felt a bit better. I'd got an arrow drawn on my leg and I was going to be asleep and out of pain very soon.

And I waited.

And at 4pm the Nursing shift changed and I spotted one of the Nurses glance around and shake her head at the other one.

The next hour was interminable. My prison cell room was so hot. My headache and eyesight got worse, my lips cracked and bleeding, I put my shoes on and leant my head against the window, ran the tap and put my face under it.

Then I could hear them on the phone asking for the Surgeon to come upstairs and explain to the 2 afternoon bookings himself.

Even if I'd been fully dessicated I'd have understood what that meant. It was 5.10pm.

I have to say I went to pieces at this point, my head was so painful, my blood sugar so low, and of course I'd had no painkillers either. I drank 2 glasses of water and the Nurse made me a brew.

And I didn't wait. If I'd had to walk all the way home in the dark and rain by myself I'd have done it because I needed to get out of there and I wasn't waiting for that Surgeon any longer. My partner came and met me at the hospital gate and then for the next hour I had to endure the most astonishing cramping of my life as the fluid started returning to my body.

When my Surgeon didn't return from lunch until 3pm, despite still having one of his morning patients to operate on before he started on the afternoon list, he can't have ever thought about the fact that we were waiting and uncomfortable. He can't have known that my partner had taken the day off work to drive me and look after our 3 year old. He can't have known that I have all those other children to look after. He can't have imagined the logistics involved in arranging people to pick up my 3 and 5 year olds from nursery and school for the next 2 days, or for getting my 16 year old to his college interview. He wouldn't have considered that I'd booked and paid for childcare before school for 2 days. He can't have realised I'd have so much more to do with my time than sit in hospital all day blinded and in agony from dehydration. He can't have known how scared I am about having to face Winter walking to school and back 3 times a day on icy streets when I am struggling so much, or how I wake up each night uncomfortable and can't get back to sleep. He can't have known that I can't drive because it leaves me in such pain it's not worth it, and he can't understand how hard it is to cook a meal for 7 or 8 every night when your leg hurts so much. He certainly can't have begun to understand that my partner is still recovering from his Meningitis, and he can't drive distances or stay awake every evening or help me as much as he'd like to.

He can't have known that one of my greatest wishes was sit on the floor and play with Lego with my kids on Christmas Day.

I hope he had a nice lunch.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Waiting to go to theatre. ..

I'm sitting in one of those fancy nighties that ties at the back. I've got socks on and a big cosy dressing gown and this chair really is very comfortable. 
I didn't sleep well last night,  partly because I was up late writing,  partly nerves and partly because I can't anyway - I wake up uncomfortable and can't get back to sleep. 
My surgeon is due any minute to discuss consent forms and draw a big X on my leg - so they don't cut open the wrong one.
It did flash through my mind in the early hours of the morning that this is mean, if something goes wrong then I could ruin everyone's Christmas!  I have no reason to suspect it will though,  and right now I can't drive,  can't walk round the shops,  can't sit on the floor and play with my children,  so it's worth the risk.
Any minute now I'll sign my forms and get wheeled away and put to sleep and when I wake barely moments later I'll be so dehydrated I won't be able to speak and I'll have alien things on my legs and everything will be the same but different. ..
And then I can have some food and a drink and ring my partner and go home to my family.  Where it will be the same but different. 
I can barely remember walking up the stairs like a grown up or being able to kneel or crouch.  I guess this is all I need for Christmas. The timing is perfect. Too perfect.

Home Made Christmas Decorations using Free Printables

I try and be crafty, but I'm not a natural and I have to think about it for a long time before I start as experience has taught me I'll end up wasting loads of lovely materials otherwise.

Cartridge Save have solved my problem by creating a whole host of free printables that you can make with your children ~ including loads of Christmas ideas for decorations and activities. I was asked if I wanted to try them out and they even sent me a bag of goodies to use...

The printable sheets are really clear and easy to use, and even come with templates for you to cut out and draw around.

We started by making Christmas trees. These can have pretty string threaded through the top and hung on the tree, or left freestanding. If you use card they'll be sturdier, we used thick paper. 

There's a template to cut out, and you can fit 5 trees onto a piece of A4 sized card if you're careful.
2 trees make one 3D tree, and if you use paper or card that is only decorated on one side, you will need to put 2 pieces 'back to back' to give full colour.

You can also take card or paper in 2 different colours for a more striking effect. 

While the glitter and decorations were drying we decided we'd make angels next. I love these because they remind me of being at infant school myself. We always made them in class. They're incredibly simple.

The angels are made from a circle of paper cut and turned into a cone, but the cut area forms the  wings. We decided to put glitter on ours. 

Mine is the gold and silver angel - my 5 year old went for black glitter, possibly a goth angel?

After angels we made a Christmas card with a woolly mitten.

The mitten is cut from a template and then decorated. Our card had snowflakes already, and the boys made them shiny. Then you hole punch the end and thread wool through to make a tassely edge. I couldn't find a hole punch, so I put my glove on the bread board and made holes with the point of my scissors.

The card itself is made by taking A4 card and folding it in half, then taking coloured A4 paper, cutting it in half and trimming the edges slightly, so that when you stick it onto the card, you can see a white edge. We didn't trim ours enough really, and my sons choice was perhaps a bit pale for a Christmas card, I'd like to make the next one bright red or green. We decorated ours with lines and dots of glitter.

The last project we tried was the crackers. We were given some gorgeous thick paper, ribbon and snaps to make our crackers.

Cut thick wrapping paper or other paper  to a 20x30cm rectangle and score lines 10cm in from each end. This will be the 'weak point' where the cracker rips.  Don't be too zealous or you'll overweaken your paper and it'll tear too early. 

Take 2 matching toilet roll tubes and cut one in half. Put a dab of glue on either end of your snap and fasten it to the 'inside' of your paper. Glue the middle section of the paper between the score lines, paying particular attention to the edge, and then roll it around the toilet roll tubes tightly. 

We discovered that we've 2 types of toilet roll and the new eco friendly tiny ones are a bit small for crackers, so we ended up cutting 2 small tubes and sticking them together to make a fatter tube.

When the glue is dry you need to form the end by pinching the cracker evenly and then twisting the end. It's easy once you get the hang of it, be gentle but firm.

Before you fasten the second end of your cracker you need to fill it. These are totally personalised, so anything that fits can be used as long as it won't spoil or won't break if it falls on the floor when the cracker is pulled!I think adding some Christmas sprinkles and maybe a sweet or two makes it fun too.

You can even use something that has special importance to the person who'll pull the cracker.

Don't forget a joke and a novelty hat if you can fit one!

Then pinch and twist to fasten the second end, add ribbon and extra decorations.

Your decorations can be themed or, as in my case, personal. I have a recipient in mind for each cracker and the contents are specific to them.

I added some glitter to the ends of my crackers and made them a bit extra special. 

Really the only limit is your imagination - or your children's imagination! 

Cartridge Save are the UK's biggest online printer cartridge shop. They specialise in next day delivery of low price printer ink.