Thursday 28 August 2014

Dear Elspeth...

Without any warning, in the early morning of 15th August 2014, my partner's daughter, one of our children, 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 may be 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

Sunday 17 August 2014

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.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Toogiez T-Shirts Complete With Squishable Companions review

Toogiez have come up with a really novel idea for children who like to take their cuddly toys and dolls out with them - companions you can wear! Each Toogiez t-shirt has a velcro patch on the front where you can fix your Toogiez character or animal.

Toogiez T-Shirts Complete With Squishable Companions review Pirate Toogy

We've been sent a Toogiez t-shirt to review - and we have a pirate Toogy!

Monday 11 August 2014

Matalan School Uniform Review - and Autumn/Winter preview.

I haven't ever bought school uniform from Matalan before, but over the years we've spent a fortune there, so when I was invite to visit the headqarters in Skelmersdale to look at their school uniform and have a sneak preview of their Autumn/Winter ranges I was really quite excited.

The Autumn/Winter clothes look great. The little girls and boys wear (which goes up to age 5) especially. I'm glad my 5 year old is small, because I'll certainly be going back in store to buy some of these. Blue and grey suit my ginger haired boys, and I think they're great Winter colours. The emphasis is on softness, and I really like it.

Matalan UK Autumn Winter young boys range

Saturday 9 August 2014

How To Make Apple Pice Cream

My 5 year old has been a star all week, whereas his 4 year old brother has been in loads of trouble and visited the naughty step several times - including for pulling one of our rabbits onto the table by it's ears. I told him he could pick what we have for tea tonight, and I was expecting 'pizza'. In 5 year old style, he completely pulled a blinder out of the bag, asking for "Pice Cream".

When I asked what Pice Cream was, he told me it's 'pie with ice cream in it'. Now, I can do baked alaska no problem, but ice cream IN a pie? So I asked on Facebook and had a look around and we came up with a few alternatives...

The amazing Blueberry Pie Ice Cream Sandwiches from The Kitchen McCabe seemed a winner, and easy enough to recreate in 'apple', but then a friend of mine suggested I was actually making it more complicated than I needed to, and I could just blind bake the pastry, stew the apple, and add a dollop of ice cream, and a lid. What's more is that if I deal with the hot stuff, he can do most of the rest himself, so it's even better...

What we've come up with was certainly delicious....

Apple Pice Cream

How To Make Apple Pice Cream ingredients


1 big apple (or 2 smaller) - cored, peeled and chopped quite finely. 
25g caster sugar per large apple - golden caster sugar is best, but all will do.
1/2 tspn mixed spice or cinnamon
30ml water per apple 
250g ready made puff pastry

You will need a deep cupcake tin or little ramekins


Mix apples, sugar and spice in a bowl

How To Make Apple Pice Cream ingredients chopped apple and spice

Add 30ml water per apple. Cover and microwave for 2 minutes on high power, stir

Microwave again for 2 more minutes on full power (if the mixture dries out add another teaspoon of water). If you don't use a microwave then put into an ovenproof dish, cover and bake in the oven until soft but with a little bite.

Blend with a hand blender until it is mainly goo

How To Make Apple Pice Cream apple puree blended

Cover and leave aside.

Roll out the pastry and cut a square for each pie to fit your tin. I found 10cm x 10 cm was just right. The pastry should overlap the edges, but not by loads.

How To Make Apple Pice Cream ingredients cutting pastry shapes

My son said the pies needed tops, so you need to find a suitable template. A Green Toys children's teaset mug was just right for ours.

How To Make Apple Pice Cream ingredients cutting pastry lids

Half fill each pie with the apple mixture. I couldn't decide whether to bake the lids alone or on top of the pies to catch the flavours, so I did a mix.

How To Make Apple Pice Cream ready to go into the oven

Bake the solo lids for approximately 12 minutes and the pies for 15 minutes, or until they're turning golden brown. Don't leave them too long, or the corners of the pastry will dry too much and burn.

Leave to cool just for a couple of minutes, and then the pies should carefully lift straight out by gently holding the pastry corners. 

How To Make Apple Pice Cream out of the oven and cooked

You can clearly see that cooking the lids on the pie does not give as visually attractive a result. The lids can be easily prised out though, and the added appleyness is lovely.

How To Make Apple Pice Cream out of the oven lid removal

Fill with a scoop of ice cream. We ended up with vanilla and chocolate.

How To Make Apple Pice Cream out of the oven ready to add ice cream

 Eat straightaway while the apple is still warm, and the ice cream is still solid..

How To Make Apple Pice Cream out of the oven ready to eat

 And was my 5 year old recipe inventor happy with his Pice Cream?

How To Make Apple Pice Cream ready to eat small boy's delight

Boy eating Pice Cream

Yes he was. Job done.

Link up your recipe of the week

Friday 8 August 2014

Green Toys Recycled Plastic Cookware And Dining Set Review

This month's Green Toys review is a brilliant Cookware & Dining Set. Suitable for ages 2+, it has 27 pieces which are all made entirely from recycled plastic milk bottles. With place settings for 4 people, plus a frying pan and casserole dish with lid, it has everything your chil(ren) need to cook up some interesting dishes - very interesting in the case of my 4 year old!

Green Toys Recycled Plastic Cookware And Dining Set Review

Jack Daniels Barbeque Sauces

I was sent some of the new Jack Daniel's Barbeque Sauces a little while ago, and they've become such an everyday part of our meals that actually I almost forgot it was a review. 

Available in 5 different flavours, all infused with 1% Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey (not enough to make them an age-restricted product or unsuitable for children). We were sent Hot Pepper Steak Sauce and Extra Hot Habanero Barbeque Sauce to try

Jack Daniel's hot limited edition barbeque sauces review

Hot and spicy foods are popular in my house with my 5 young people. We love a good chilli or curry, and when it's chip night the chilli sauce is there on the table with the ketchup. I did expect these to be a hit with everyone except the two youngest, and they are, but I've actually found them to be incredibly versatile too.

Wednesday 6 August 2014

The National Football Museum at Urbis, Manchester Review

A couple of weeks ago we were invited to the National Football Museum at Urbis in Manchester by Mu Cheese. I'd never been before, and my little boys can't really fail to be interested in football living where we do, so I knew it was going to be a good day. My oldest son wasn't working until later in the day and so he came with us on a very rare day out!

The National Football Museum at Urbis, Manchester  The Urbis building from outside

Tuesday 5 August 2014

Robert's Bakery 50 Days Of Summer Free Downloadable Activity Pack.

A couple of months ago we went on an amazing picnic with Roberts Bakery, where we were introduced to 50 Days Of Summer, and some fantastic sandwiches including Strawberries & Cream, Nutty Nana and the Sunshine Sandwich

We were also treated to some great entertainment - mainly for the children. 

Quorn Lasagne Recipe And Review

It almost seems cheating to review Quorn because actually we eat it a lot. I've been a vegetarian for the last 29 years, and to start with it was really tricky to find foods that fit in with modern busy life, everything required hours of preparation and cooking. Quorn is one of the best vegetarian convenience foods around. High in protein, low in fat and calories, quick to cook and incredibly versatile, we tend to eat Quorn as a family around twice a week.

There are loads of recipes on the Quorn website, I chose to test the Quorn Lasagne recipe.

Quorn Lasagne Recipe And Review

Monday 4 August 2014

Tatton Park VW Show 2014

Tatton Park Volkswagen Show is an annual event organised by Volkswagen Northwest. It is a 1-day show which takes place in August, and is generally really blessed with good sunshine. There's no overnight camping except for traders, but our friends Dave and Kate trade there with their business Campertronic - and it's this time of year that Dave's parents go on holiday, so we take their place setting up and packing away, occasionally selling things and helping with childcare.

I've been going to Tatton Park VW show for the last 12 years. It's the only show that I haven't missed, whatever else has happened in my life. Last year it was our first trip out when my partner was still very much recovering from Meningitis, this year it was our first overnight camp of the year - mainly because our teenagers haven't stood still long enough for us to do anything....

Friday 1 August 2014

Batman LEGO DUPLO Giveaway - The Batcave Adventure set 10545

A little while ago I helped LEGO DUPLO with their How Do You Play? Competition. As a thank you they've sent me some Batcave Adventure sets to give away to my readers. The Batcave Adventure comes complete with Batman and Catwoman, and a great Batwing with a cannon that really fires!

LEGO DUPLO Batcave Adventure set 10545 Review

We review LEGO sets quite regularly, but this is something very different - a DUPLO review! My 2 youngest boys are at the upper age limit for DUPLO now, as they're 4 1/2 and almost 6, and when DUPLO asked if they could send me the Batcave Adventure set 10545 I wasn't going to say 'no'. They love Batman, and I knew we'd get a lot of play out of this set.

LEGO DUPLO Batcave Adventure set review pack shot

LEGO Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtle Van Takedown Set 79115 Review

It's here - the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles LEGO sets are out. Darker and more moody, they're completely different to those which came before. Based on the new movie due out in October this year, there's nothing 'cartoon' about these minifigures.

LEGO Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtle Van Takedown Set 79115 Review