Making It Up as we go along Mon, 22 May 2017 17:48:30 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Smyths Toys (free!) Party 27th May Mon, 22 May 2017 17:48:30 +0000 and NI 27th May – that’s this weekend!

The parties are from 9am until 2pm and there’s a free goodie bag for every child (while stocks last, queueing system in operation). I’m intending to get there early 😉

There will be free face painting (children 3+ only), a raffle every hour for a £50 voucher, a DJ and candyfloss. I think Smallest and Tigerboy are going to absolutely love it – with brands like Lego, Play Doh and My Little Pony up for grabs, there’s something for every child.

Pop over to the website to check out the details and find your nearest store and pop the date in your diary/bujo/google calendar whatever.

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The Finding of Martha Lost by Caroline Wallace Tue, 16 May 2017 22:44:51 +0000
Buy at Amazon (affiliate link)

Liverpool, 1976: Martha is lost.

She’s been lost since she was a baby, abandoned in a suitcase on the train from Paris. Ever since, she’s waited in lost property for someone to claim her. It’s been sixteen years, but she’s still hopeful.

Meanwhile, there are lost property mysteries to solve: a suitcase that may have belonged to the Beatles, a stuffed monkey that keeps appearing. But there is one mystery Martha has never been able to solve – and now time is running out. If Martha can’t discover who she really is, she will lose everything…

My first memories are of the summer of ’76 – long and hot and playing in paddling pools in the garden.

A very different life to that drawn in this story, which is entrancing. Martha is a wonderful narrator – I warmed to her immediately – even though the tale she tells is just that tiny bit implausible, even to the other characters around her.

You just want to find out how it’s all going to work out though, so you keep on reading.

Even through weeks when your five year old redecorates the living room carpet with acryclic paint, so you get everything out of order and forget you are supposed to be publishing your blog post review.

I’m so sorry this is late! (Other people have these weeks too don’t they, it isn’t just me?) I’m serious about the 5 year old and the carpet I’m afraid, although I did just about rescue it. But it’s thrown everything out of whack, and now I’m talking about me instead of the book and I’m sorry again…

I love this story, and Martha, and the cast of characters who unite around her. I confess that I haven’t *quite* finished it yet, but I can’t see any reason I’m going to suddenly go off it, and I’m already a day behind where I thought I was this week and it’s only Tuesday (well very nearly Wednesday but still).

I will do better. Don’t forget to check out the other blogs in the tour, I’m sure they are much more organised than I am right now.

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Dinosaur Train app review Mon, 15 May 2017 09:00:24 +0000 Recently I was very pleased to be offered a chance to do a review of the Dinosaur Train Paint and Match app. From Kuato Studios Based on the Jim Henson TV Series, Tigerboy recognised it immediately and got stuck in straight away.

Front page of Dinosaur Train: Paint and Match app on iPad mini

There are 24 pictures of Buddy the dinosaur and his friends to colour in, so a great selection available, and Tigerboy found the controls very intuitive. There’s a variety of pencil and brush sizes and plenty of colours to choose from, and you can print the end results (although I might not have told him that as I’m a mean mummy 😉 ). When they’re done with painting (if they’re ever done with the painting), there’s also a memory skills game with Mr Conductor, trying to match up as many train tickets as possible across 4 different levels.

For 99p, I have to say I thought this was a good value app. In the past I’ve concentrated my attention on free apps, although preferably from known organisations, but in app purchases or ads can make them really offputting and hard for children to navigate and enjoy. There’s at least several hours of play value in this – Tigerboy enjoyed free drawing as well as colouring in and really got quite inventive – and it would be ideal for a train journey or some such, and much easier to deal with than my usual tool of choice of crayons and a pad. (I can’t be the only one who gets fed up of crawling under train seats trying to retrieve the crayons?)

It did help that it was dinosaurs – he is very fond of dinosaurs as I think young children often are. (Why? What is so much fun about dinosaurs?) In terms of educational value, if you are looking to tick those boxes, this has a focus on memory skills and hand eye coordination, both of which are key to early years development.

Colouring in Buddy on Dinosaur Train app

Available to buy in Apple itunes link and Play store link

Disclosure: I am being recompensed for the time taken for this review.

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The Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat by Coral Rumble and Charlotte Cooke Fri, 05 May 2017 09:00:49 +0000 Buy at Amazon affiliate link

The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea, in a box on the living room floor.
They sailed away for a year and a day and these are the things that they saw…

Any book that starts with a box is starting out well as far as I’m concerned, particularly as my own children are rather like cats if you leave a box unattended 😉 Tigerboy was a bit perturbed that it wasn’t about a *real* owl or cat, but he quickly got into the swing of it, and loved spotting all the items mentioned in the captions. In fact we had to read it over immediately as he was afraid he might have missed some details. It’s a gentle imaginative build on the poem (would fit in really nicely into a unit study on the poem, were I to ever get myself organised enough to do such things) and I really enjoyed it – definitely won a place on the shelf by the bed reserved for frequent bedtime reads. Also made me think that we could do with some Edward Lear as I don’t think we current have a dedicated volume, so that’s gone on my wishlist, does anyone have recommendations?

Author Coral Rumble says: I have worked as a poet and performer for many years and I’m proud to have my work featured in Favourite Poets (Hodder). I have three published poetry collections of my own and have contributed to more than 150 anthologies. I am also one of the writers of the popular Cbeebies programmes ‘Poetry Pie’ and ‘The Rhyme Rocket’. I have given workshops in some fairly unusual venues as well…the grandest of which being Buckingham Palace!

Illustrator Charlotte Cooke says: I was thrilled and proud when my picture book The Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat was highly commended for the Macmillan Children’s Prize in 2010. Since then I have gone on to illustrate many other picture books and I enjoy making the occasional card too. When I’m not in my studio I’m usually outside running or playing referee to my two kids.

Find the other blogs taking part in the tour:

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New tent. Thu, 04 May 2017 21:02:49 +0000 Ebay bargain, exact tent we’ve been looking for. 

Yes, it’s another Vango 🙂

Smallest is very excited. Most of her camping experiences (that she remembers anyway) have been Kentwell related, and she’s hoping that we might manage to fit in some ordinary camping as well. 

I confess I’m a bit inspired too. Dreaming of adventures and magical landscapes – c very inspired by this photobox from millioneyez 

In reality we’ll probably manage a trip to a field half an hour away, but if there’s some peace and quiet to be had I’m feeling like I’m coming out ahead. 

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Autistic burnout/ regression/ inertia – it’s not just me. Thu, 27 Apr 2017 15:53:47 +0000 A few weeks ago on twitter, I put out the following tweet

[Text reads: Looking for resources on autistic inertia, burnout, regression particularly with reference to late diagnosis. Grateful for RTs.]

It’s my top tweet of the month, with hundreds of interactions. It turns out that the symptoms I have been feeling and struggling to put a label on are all too common across the adult autistic world. Accordingly, I’m starting a blog series to explore the issues, and attempt to gather solutions.

(I’m not going to speak for children here, only for me, and the people who’ve replied to me.)

The three terms have, for me at least, slightly different connotations.

Autistic burnout – this is a massive crash. For many of the people responding to the tweet, it was related to the shock of late diagnosis, trying to reassess who you are against a changing understand of self. (Yes, it can be a shock to be told that you are autistic, even if you’re overall positive about the concept. Remember that not good with change thing? Changing your external label is a *big* change.) However, it can happen at other points in life, may be related to stressful events, or other health issues, and the menopause was implicated several times. Lots of the resources I’ve read around it relate it to trying to be not autistic, or behaving in a socially expected way, and thus causing exhaustion. (see articles below.)

Autistic regression – described as a loss of skills, and probably the least clearly delineated of the states I asked about.

Autistic inertia – this is a stalled state, in which for whatever reason you can’t get yourself going. Can happen at any stage, and over anything, I came across the term in a thread by someone describing why their school/college work was always late. Oh yes. Part of this could be described as an executive function issue, but I also think aspects of anxiety and perfectionism can come into play. It’s also possibly the state that it’s easiest to do something about, perhaps a visual timetable, accountability partner, or even something like a bujo (bullet journal for those not in the know) might be ways of getting the problem under control. (If you’ve words of wisdom to share, please *please* drop them in the comment box below. If you haven’t commented before, it will go into moderation, but I’ll get to releasing it at some point honest.)

The sad thing about the twitter chat was that although there were lots of people identifying with the symptoms, there weren’t nearly as many people offering up research or strategies for dealing with the issues. So I’m hoping in this blog series to gather together the resources I was offered, and maybe start to build some more understanding of both the issues, and possible solutions for them.

Here are some of the links I was sent, to expand on what I’ve written above.

On burnout.

Judy Endow on Autistic burnout and aging, including tips on increasing sensory regulation to navigate autistic burnout.

Karletta Abianac has a kindle book on Successful to Burnt Out: Experiences of Women on the Autism Spectrum (affiliate link) and here’s a link to her blog post on recovery.

A detailed description of burnout/regression via a web archive link to Autism Information Library – Help I seem to be getting more autistic

On inertia

This is from Kalen – a personal account of inertia Long and detailed and includes suggested strategies for approaching the issue.

From UnstrangeMind Autistic inertia, an overview

Wading through treacle is an entire blog on autism, inertia and catatonia.

So, that’s pretty much where I’m up to so far – if I’ve missed out any resources that you’ve sent before, or that you can’t believe no one sent already, please do leave them in comments here. In the next post, probably some time next week, I’ll go into more personal detail on my own experience of these states. You’re looking forward to that, aren’t you? 😉

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The Woman Who Met Her Match – Fiona Gibson. Mon, 24 Apr 2017 15:53:36 +0000

What if your first love came back on the scene . . . 30 years later?

After yet another disaster, Lorrie is calling time on online dating. She might be single in her forties, but she’s got a good job, wonderful children and she’s happy. This, Lorrie decides, is going to have to be enough.

That is, until she receives a very unexpected request from France. Antoine Rousseau, who had once turned a lonely French exchange trip into a summer of romance, wants to see her – after thirty years.

But Lorrie is a responsible woman. She can’t exactly run off to Nice with the man who broke her teenage heart . . . can she?

(buy at Amazon – affiliate link)

As part of the blog tour for The Woman Who Met Her Match by Fiona Gibson, I’m very pleased to be hosting a guest post from Fiona.


How do you feel about growing older? Certain aspects I could do without. I won’t pretend to love the odd niggling aches, or my hair rapidly dehydrating, while another sort of hair suddenly pokes, defiantly, out of my chin. I’m not crazy about having to buy my clothes in posher stores (whereas an eighteen year-old can look great in an £8.99 dress, I most definitely do not). But having said all that, there’s one aspect of being older which knocks the sock off one’s wrinkle free youth – and that’s reaching a point in life where you know stuff.

It’s a definite benefit of just getting on with life, making a ton of mistakes and learning a few lessons along the way. Here’s what my current 52 year-old self would like to tell the young girl I once was…

– Stop worrying! Seriously – you worry so much about what people think of you, specifically your parents and colleagues but really, pretty much anyone you happen to encounter. You know you’re a bit loud, but really you’re quite shy and insecure underneath. Please believe me that it really doesn’t matter whether everyone likes you or not. Plenty of people do, and they’re the ones who matter. Life will become instantly less stressful if you just try to relax.

– A note on friends. These are the people who will bring you great joy throughout life. Don’t judge them, and do forgive their careless mistakes – because you’ll make plenty of your own. Never take them for granted. Nurture these friends and you will still be crying with laughter on a beach, drink in hand, in your dotage.

– Career-wise, you’re ambitious and love your job more than almost anything else in your life. This will change as you grow older, settle down and have a family, and that’s fine; earning a living will fit in around many other things. Right now, you think nothing of grafting away at your desk at 10 pm. However, you may be surprised by your urge to have a family and the joy they bring you too.

– Don’t panic: having children will not mean the end of your working life forever. They are only young for a very short time. You can scale down your job, then scale it up again. It is entirely possible – life has a habit of being very accommodating in this way. To inspire you and cheer you along, you’ll be surrounded by brilliant, hard-working, resourceful women all managing to do precisely that.

– A note on your parents. When your mum starts to need daily help – and it turns out she has an incurable illness – you’ll panic at first, and feel terrified that you won’t be able to manage. But you’re not alone; your family, friends and the health professionals you end up getting to know will be brilliant. And you will cope.

– A note on your naturally light brown hair. Please, never again have it cropped short and dyed black – unless you want to look like Hitler.

– Drink some water from time to time.

– Stop fixating on your supposed ‘faults.’ Yes, your nose is quite large (just like your dad’s), and that’s why they called you Concorde at school – but it’s not massive. Well, not that massive. Although you won’t believe me now, you will never have an operation on it.

– Gin jelly does not count as ‘food’.

– I’m sorry, but hangovers will become much, much worse as you grow older. By the time you hit your late thirties, you will no longer be able to shrug them off with a bacon sandwich and a can of Coke. In the worst worst cases, they can be mistaken for full-on mental collapse. But, fear not – all is not lost! You can still go out, have fun, dance madly and drink alcohol. You will still overdo it sometimes – perhaps you will never entirely get to grips with the concept of ‘moderation’ – but the occasion has to warrant the morning after. In other words, the hangover after a night on the lash with your best women friends is most definitely worth it. The one caused by slugging tepid Echo Falls at the kitchen table probably isn’t.

– Don’t sell your records. In a few years’ time you’ll want them all back.

– Finally, yes, it might feel as if there are many things to worry about right now – but, honestly, growing older shouldn’t be one of them. It’s fine, it really is. Of course, you’ll look older – so will everyone else – but underneath you’ll be exactly the same as you are now. In fact, in many ways, life is better as an older person. You won’t lose as many jackets. The friends who matter will still be your friends. And there will even be some food in your fridge.


I really rather love this. And I’m enjoying the book – not least because I might once upon a time have had a boyfriend in Paris… full review to follow when I’ve finished reading!

You can find Fiona on twitter, and the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour below.

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The Inventory 3: Black Knight by Andy Briggs. Sat, 22 Apr 2017 12:42:01 +0000 Buy at Amazon (affiliate link)

Dev and his friends are back with more mind-bending tech in this third instalment of the Inventory series. This time they are tasked with training new recruits to defend the Inventory’s incredible inventions. But will they be ready for action before Shadow Helix’s next strike?

First of all, why not catch up on Small’s thoughts on book one and book two of Andy Brigg’s The Inventory series? Now that you’re all set, you’re ready to hear what he thought of book three, Black Knight, aren’t you?

We’re going for a slightly different format this time around. Small is currently up to his neck working on a game for a competition submission so I’m trying a Q & A format on him.

Me: Tell me a positive about the book.
Me: OK, that was a bit too unspecific wasn’t it? Let’s try a different tack. Is there a sense of continuity from the previous books? Or do they stand alone?
Him: There’s no need to scan back – the required details are explained that you can just pick up and go without reading the previous books.
Me: Would you recommend this book to a friend?
Him: I would, but I would suggest reading the first two first to get the full story, it’s worth it.
. You have coding to do don’t you? Off you go then.

Hm. Not sure that worked an awful lot better than locking him in a room to write a review. Sorry Andy! if it’s any consolation, next child is nearly old enough to take over reading this series… (contemplates trying to get Smallest to write reviews. Cries.)

Anyway, to make it worth your while being here, a giveaway.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Bloglovin v Feedly – and what is RSS anyway? Tue, 28 Mar 2017 12:33:52 +0000 Time for an update on the Bloglovin situation. As you may have seen if you’re on social media (and if you’re not, how did you get here anyway? 😉 ) Bloglovin have made a statement that the canonical URL pointing to their site was an oversight, it’s all been fixed, and everything is hunky dory.


There’s still that little issue of a copy of your content on their site. And your images. And share options which share the bloglovin URL *not* your site.

This isn’t how RSS readers usually work. Sorry, but no. Back in the mists of time (probably around 2005??) I did some development work using RSS, and for my sins, I know way more about RSS than most people realise there is to know.

Basically, and this is the as non technical as I can make it version, your blog consists of content that you’ve written, then a whole load of instructions (html, css, code) that are used by computers at various stages to display it in friendly formats for people to read. Your content in this case isn’t just the blog post itself, it’s the tags, categories, title and so on – all the bits that are different from post to post.

RSS is a different way of describing that content, and it’s utterly consistent so that every RSS reader everywhere knows exactly what data it’s getting. Yes, readers can then display it differently, and can make it more or less pretty, but RSS is a really tightly defined way of listing out which bit of content is which.

In a recently updated help article on their site they say

What does Bloglovin’ do with my content?

Once we discover new content via your RSS feed we incorporate it into our platform in a few different ways.

First, we update your blog’s profile page on our platform, this page contains a summary of ever post on your blog.
Next, we create a page on our site where your content lives, this page has a canonical URL pointing to your blog post and ensures that google and others know that you are the creator. You get all the credit for the post. We prominently display your blog’s name and URL, and link directly to the original post.

OK, and this is where we’ve gone a bit off the reader aspect of it all.

Disregarding the canonical bit (which isn’t entirely correct if you’re using feedburner or feedblitz to serve your feed, they’re using that URL not your site URL), let’s look at what happens with that content page.

If you tweet this version of someone’s post, you tweet a link to bloglovin. If you pin an image, you pin the bloglovin page. How is this giving the content creator all credit for the post? Good grief, my name as author isn’t even on the page! If someone comments on this created page, I don’t get a notification, and as far as I can tell, I can’t moderate it. Jolly good. Can’t see any potential issues there at all.

What should a good RSS reader do? Enter Feedly.

feedly image displaying link and content view

Isn’t that clean? (I’m a big fan of simple and elegant.)

Yes, it’s still minus my blog sidebars and so on (which means any advertising there is invisible) – that’s because RSS only serves up your written content as it were. But see those share options? If you use them, you share links to your post, direct on your site. Feedly isn’t hogging the limelight here, they are merely allowing people to gather feeds in one place, read the content quickly and easily, and interact with it in the way they want. Perfect.

If you want to set your RSS to an excerpt (wordpress>settings>reading) feedly will display just that excerpt with a link to let people arrive at the original. Do be aware that will affect anything that relies on your RSS – so potentially email subscriptions? Depends how you’re setting it all up.

Bloglovin has moved from being an RSS aggregator/ RSS reader to being a full on syndication site. They are publishing your content (if they’d like to disagree with that assertion, perhaps they could explain the value in the og:publisher field? That’s their facebook page ID right there. The original from my site has me as the publisher, funnily enough.)

bloglovin view source with publisher tag

It might be that you’re OK with that. It might be that you feel that being visible on bloglovin has value for you – and only you can take that decision. But I’d ask you – how many views are your articles getting on their site? And how much traffic is actually arriving at your own site from there? Who is really getting the benefit of your hard work here? Is it you? Or is it bloglovin?

Personally, I’m moving all the feeds I follow to feedly, and pulling my blog from Bloglovin 🙂

Edited to add – you can grab an importable list of all your feeds from bloglovin here and import them to feedly here. Thanks for the tip Anna 🙂

Find this post useful? Please feel free to share, or you could even buy me a coffee 😉

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Bloglovin, syndication, and the canonical URL issue. Sun, 26 Mar 2017 11:04:53 +0000 Many bloggers use bloglovin as a way for their readers to follow them and see their content. When it was just an RSS aggregation service, this wasn’t a problem, and many bloggers have built up hundreds, or even thousands of followers on the service, and see a good amount of traffic from it.

Right at the moment though, there’s something not healthy in the world of Bloglovin, and that something is a snippet of code, claiming that the bloglovin version of our blog posts is the original and definitive version.

It looks like this, and it’s called a canonical URL. Used well in syndication, it would point the copy of the article back to the original on the content provider’s site, as described by searchengineland here so search engines would know which version to rank in their listings.

Can you spot the problem with how Bloglovin are using it?

canonical code snippet from Bloglovin site

Now, there’s a whole lot of misinformation flying around social media about what the problems are with bloglovin right now. Lots of people saying the issue is that they’re displaying the full post instead of a snippet, or that they are using a frame, or that they’re not using a frame, that you can fix it by changing your RSS settings, or by putting in a page break, or linking to code snippets to break frames and so on.

I don’t see those things as the major issue here. Some are factors that make me doubt the value of the service, but not the problem I’m looking to get fixed right now. There are some ways to view your posts via a frame on bloglovin – if I’m using a laptop and I go to my profile and click through on posts, I see this:

bloglovin frame around binge learning post on original blog. That’s showing my site, albeit wrapped in a frame, those are my links, if you hit the share buttons at the bottom of the post, you’re going to add my post to pinterest and so on.

However, if you go to a blog profile like mine and then click on the date link next to the title you get a page served entirely on bloglovin site, and looking like this.

Not a lot of point in paying for a theme, having sidebar, ads, follow buttons or anything is there? None of that stuff is visible. It’s just *my* content, on bloglovin’s site. Complete with *my* images, copied to their cloud network. This means if you hit a pinterest or facebook share on that page, you share the bloglovin page, which remember, has that lovely little canonical snippet of code in it, claiming the content as belonging to bloglovin. There’s even a comment field, and if people comment on there, you don’t get any notification of it.

As Zoe just pointed out on twitter, this takes Bloglovin from RSS reader to RSS scraper. Not where they want to be positioning themselves, surely?

Note *if* I were only showing a summary in my RSS (on wordpress in dashboard, see settings> Reading) then there would only be part of my post on that page. Like this from life in a breakdown

life in a breakdown face for blogging on bloglovin

This is obviously better than having all my content on the site, but the canonical URL code is still there even on this snippeted code, and the picture has still been copied.

We need bloglovin to respond to this and fast. Bloggers lost faith in the service last night, and lack of any public reply to those concerns is worrying. I’ve raised a support ticket here and my tweet from last night is getting a lot of interest so now I guess we wait and see.

If you’re a blogger, what do you think about all of this? Let me know, but in the comments on the original post please 😉

Read more about rel=canonical on Yoast.

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