Making It Up as we go along Wed, 19 Oct 2016 22:07:59 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 #brighterFuture Unilever challenge. Wed, 19 Oct 2016 22:07:59 +0000 This post is an entry for BritMums #brightFuture Challenge, sponsored by Unilever

Since having children, looking after the planet feels more and more important all the time. I went through a phase of using soap nuts, or make your own laundry gloop – these days I would rather use a washing product, keep the temperature turned down and the cycle short and dry washing on the line or the airer wherever possible. Good for my pocket and the environment, right?

Persil’s focus on encouraging messy play and their great campaigns on getting kids outdoors and active have caught my eye, and I do have to say that the fragrance from the washing liquid is doing admirably in coping with the aroma of teenage boy socks (what is that about? Honestly, I’m not enjoying this stage).

(Looking at the state of that seat cover up close I think I should give the tough stain removal a whirl too. I do apologise. ) And of course, going to hang the washing outside is a great time to get the kids involved, even if their involvement is limited to handing me pegs and legging it to the other end of the garden.

So tell me, what steps are you taking to build a brighter future for our kids?  

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10 things you don’t need to home educate. Mon, 17 Oct 2016 18:20:37 +0000

1) A Tuffspot (or own brand alternative).

Feels like every early years home education thread you go near on Facebook these days is all about the Tuffspots, and people worrying about how to home educate if they can’t afford/don’t have room for/just plain don’t want one.

It’s OK. You don’t need to be laying out messy play daily for your child, or building intricate small world scenarios overnight, or stocking up on whatever other craze has hit your local group. You don’t have to do it the same as anyone else. (Get messy or don’t. Get down with the small people if you want to. If a Tuffspot rocks your world, great! If you can’t see the point, move on. It’s OK. There will be another fashion along in a minute honest.) (Image link is Amazon affiliate.)

2) Permission from your local authority/headteacher/family and friends.

Except in very specific circumstances in England, (laws vary in different parts of the U.K., please inform yourself according to where you live – start here perhaps) all you need to do to deregister a child from school is send a letter saying you’re doing just that (check the right wording, get a receipt). If your child has never been to school, there’s no one to register with, no matter how much local authorities might like to pretend otherwise. If you go to deregister and someone tells you you have to have a meeting/get clearance from the local authority ask them to quote the law requiring this. And when they can’t? Go forth and home educate.

3) A curriculum.

No, you don’t have to follow the national curriculum. No, children do not have to sit particular sets of qualifications at particular ages. No, you don’t even have to have regard to the broad and balanced idea you’re likely to have heard lots about. The legal requirement is set out in section 7 of the education act 1996, and says

The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—
(1) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(2) to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

You can use curriculum resources if you want to (I have done myself from time to time), but no one gets to dictate which ones or how.

4) A timetable or structure

Just as there’s no nationally defined curriculum for home educators, there’s no particular set hours. Full time as referred to in the law mentioned above doesn’t mean keeping school hours – for starters you probably aren’t home educating 30 children, so your child is getting a much higher amount of contact time than they would be in school, and it’s accepted that learning can and does take place outside school hours. More on this on edyourself. You don’t need to do what you do following any particular structure, although again, if structure works for you, go for it. Above all else, home education has to be about what works for you and your family.

5) Laminator.

You don’t have to print out the Internet and coat it in plastic. Honest, you don’t. And if past experience here is anything to go by, most of the stuff you do laminate will get used once, maybe twice, and then disappear. Go steady with the plastic, for all our sakes.

6) Car

This one may seem slightly tougher – you probably want a car for getting out and about to all those fantastic resources, groups and so on you’ve discovered are available to you. And I’ll admit it’s definitely a nice to have – but I personally know a variety of people without cars who manage just fine. Home educators are a innovative bunch – you’ll find a way to make it work.

7) Degree or teaching qualifications.

In fact, you don’t need any qualifications. And why should that be a surprise? Teacher training is largely about how to control a classroom and deal with planning/paperwork – you don’t need to do either. You don’t have a classroom, and even if you want to plan, you’re doing it for a much smaller number of children, and you don’t have the same tick boxes teachers do to keep up with. Don’t worry if your children decide they’d like to learn something you aren’t good at/ interested in, there’s a whole load of resources out there. Find an online course, pal up with a friend, look for a tutor if you like. Lots and lots of options.

8) A billion books.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you here – books are good. Books are one of my most favourite kinds of thing. But you don’t actually need to own all of them all of the time. You can use a library, download lots of classics for free, haunt charity shops, swap with friends. And the ones that you really do want? Lots of cheap ways to get good books – look out at the works, the book people and so on.

9) A massive income/ big house.

As with anything else in life, being rich makes it easier. But you don’t have to have a huge budget to home educate, or a mansion to live in. Lots of resources are free or cheap online, libraries are great, charity shops are plentiful. Also, having your kids in school isn’t actually all that cheap – uniform, resources, trips, travel, it all mounts up. The immediate obvious cost if you’re home educating is that someone has got to be with the children, and that person can’t be holding down a traditional job at the time. Working around home education can be challenging at times, but there are all sorts of ways of getting by (will be writing more on this very soon).

10) A child.

Just kidding. This is the one thing you do need. Second and subsequent optional 😉

Other things that will come in handy – patience, a sense of humour, readiness to think out of the box. Home education isn’t for the faint of heart, as stepping outside the norm can be a little scary at times, but honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Finding Black Beauty (and 10 other horse stories you might enjoy) Sun, 16 Oct 2016 15:25:45 +0000 Post contains affiliate links.
finding-black-beauty-cover Find it at Amazon.

Finding Black Beauty by Lou Kuenzler. An enchanting retelling of Anna Sewell’s classic horse story, a moving and uplifting tale of friendship.

A horse needs the help of a young girl…

Aspiring groom Josie comes to love her spirited charge, a black colt called Beauty. When he is taken from her, she travels to London to find him – on the way discovering the truth about her own past.

Finding Black Beauty is a sweeping tale of a young girl; her love for her horse, and the circumstances that divide them.

finding-black-beauty-blog-tour I am a huge fan of horse stories, have been about as long as I can remember. Black Beauty is an absolute classic – but it’s not particularly accessible, language wise, to today’s children. This reframing of the story, although still set in the past is in modern language, and a great introduction to the original story. It stands alone as well in that the focus is on the main human character rather than the horse – another thing that makes it a little more accessible.

Aimed at children from 8 upwards, there are some sad or scary moments in this book, so if your child is particularly sensitive you’ll want to approach with care. But mostly it’s a wonderful story about a girl and her love for horses. Well worth adding to your library of horse books.

In case you’re looking for a few more titles to fill up your shelves, here’s 10 of my favourites.

The original Black Beauty. Being a horse was a hard life in Victorian England.

Fly-by-night by KM Peyton. Ruth has never ridden a pony before, but she falls in love with Fly-by-night. Where will she find the money for him, and how will she learn to ride? (Also worth finding the rest of the books about Ruth and her friends – KM Peyton is a wonderful story teller.)

The Silver Brumby ever wondered what the life of a wild horse is like? Wonder no more, but run free with the silver brumby. (Start of a series. All worth reading. And rereading.)

My Friend Flicka. If you don’t weep when reading this book, you may just possibly be made of stone. Honestly, I teared up just looking at the cover again.

National Velvet. One of the few books I came to through a film, just sublime.

The Glory. Proving that there are still horse stories being written that are worth reading, The Glory takes its place among the classics of yesteryear.

Phantom Horse. There’s something about wild horses isn’t there? They enchant us. This series is wonderful.

Jill’s Gymkhana is the start of Ruby Ferguson’s Jill books, and I grew up on these. Worth hunting down.

I wasn’t the only pony mad teenager who wanted to move to Follyfoot was I?

And finally? A Wind in Cairo by Judith Tarr. Something a little different from the majority of the pony/ horse stories I’ve mentioned before. The story of an arrogant princeling changed to horse shape as a punishment. Absolutely magical from an author who knows a massive amount about horses, and is well worth getting to know on social media too.

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Diversification. Wed, 12 Oct 2016 18:21:45 +0000 That’s a big word for splitting yourself up into lots of different pieces isn’t it? Tell you one thing, I’m going to have to get a whole lot more organised.


Anyway, I’ve launched the new reviews/competitions/money making/money saving site over at Not Just Kids Stuff. There’s a Shopkins giveaway running, so you might want to pop over and check it out. There’s also some stuff about swagbucks, and a bonus soup recipe, so how can you go wrong? (Share, like, follow it on twitter or by email or whatever. Please. It’s slightly scary launching a new site so far down the line of blogging it turns out, and terribly small social media numbers are even more scary.)

I’m working on the interwebrescue site. The idea is that it’s somewhere for people to find me when they want a quick web fix – like kicking a recalcitrant forum back into shape, rescuing a wordpress that’s having a bad day, that sort of thing. Or holding your hand through a scary DNS change or disentangling terminology that’s got you confuzzled. I’m paused just now trying to write the pages – I’m very not good at bigging myself up it appears.

I did design a Kofi button though 🙂 For all those tiny little jobs that aren’t quite worth an invoice, or when you’re just grateful for an article or some advice, I’ll be installing one of these. It’s like the paypal donate button, but somehow a bit friendlier.

I gave up on the biro section of my daily drawing challenge and segued neatly on to inktober instead. So it’s all still happening on instagram (check out the pics in the sidebar). I’m also using sktchyapp to practise a bit more – people share pics that you can then use as reference photos and upload to the app so that the originals can see. Well worth a go if you are into drawing.

Still kind of stacked up on things I’m supposed to be blogging about, but I’m working through it. I kind of have a plan, and what’s more I’m kind of following it.

First time for everything I suppose 😉

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Taking the #FloraLunchbox challenge in sixth form Tue, 11 Oct 2016 22:20:27 +0000 For years and years and years I’ve been able to be smug about lunch box issues. Even last year when Big started school I got away with it, as she mainly ate from the cafeteria, and even though I winced at the prices, it meant I didn’t have to plan, buy and pack.

This year however, she is quite determinedly taking a packed lunch every day to sixth form, which is much better on my budget but oh the pain of trying to balance meals and not bore her to tears, and actually pack some nutritional goodness in there. Not helped by the fact that her healthy teen appetite needs to support hours of swim training on top of day to day life.

I confess we were quickly stuck in a rut of daily ham sandwiches, piece of fruit, cereal bar. The Flora lunchbox challenge happened along at just the right time, and broadened our horizons massively.


Sliding quickly past the references to little ones here, I quickly had my teen sorted out which a healthy lunch of pasta, tuna and sweetcorn with a bit of flora in there to give it that little goodness boost. (According to Flora, every Flora tub contains plant oils, such as sunflower, rapeseed and linseed oils. Flora is lower in saturated fats than butter* and provides a source of healthy Omega 3 and 6. These essential fats contribute to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels and are also needed for normal growth and to support the development of children.)

My life got even better when I managed to meal plan in such a way that her lunch was effectively leftovers from my actual little ones’ tea from the night before 😉


I do think it’s a shame that she doesn’t really like eggs in a packed lunch, as they were always my go to for an extra protein burst when I packed my own lunches long long ago. But at least we’ve made the first step beyond ham sandwiches, and there are a few more ideas on the Flora site for us to explore as well. Which is good, as we’re at the start of two years of this sixth form lark, and that’s a lot of packed lunches to go.

This post is an entry for the #FloraLunchbox Linky Challenge, sponsored by Flora. Check out their lunch planner and recipe ideas here

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Would you buy my book? Thu, 06 Oct 2016 13:42:26 +0000 Beginning to think that all you need to do to be an expert or activist or have a voice is keep saying you are one and release a film or book. No actual expertise or experience outside your own required.
I’ve a whole heap of experience. Would you buy my book? (I haven’t written it yet. Just doing some market research.)

I can tell you about a life of anxiety and depression, that didn’t magically evaporate when I got a late diagnosis of autism. (I can tell you how I deal with anxiety – I like to call it the avoided panic technique, where I put off anything stressful for as long as humanly possible, then do it in a mad rush. Depression I stave off with walks by the beach, and art. And sometimes I don’t stave it of at all, and that’s when I go back to reminding myself one day at a time. One step at a time. One breath at a time. Just keep going. Because you have always survived before, and you can survive again.)

Can I write about my experiences of autism? Only by telling you about me, because I don’t think there’s a line where autism stops and I start, which is why I don’t say with autism but autistic. So my story has autism running through it like a logo in a stick of rock, and with hindsight it’s easier to see the hints, but from within it wasn’t that clear. Like standing too close to a picture to see anything but the brush strokes – I needed to stand back, or ask someone else what the picture was.

Could I write about home education? Yes, but I’m only an expert on my family and my children, and the first thing I’d tell you is they’re all different, so what I’ve got to say might not apply to you and yours. Still want to read it?

What about art and photography? That’s my special interest right now, and it’s hard to think about anything much else. But it doesn’t pay the bills (I wish I knew how to have that happen) so I can’t spend all the time I want on it. 

It always comes back to paying the bills. Hohum.

So, which book would you buy?

(If you’d like to read the things I’ve written here on autism, click through on the category link at the bottom of the post, where it says filed under 🙂

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Time for a change. Mon, 03 Oct 2016 16:49:05 +0000 I’ve been blogging here for over 13 years, and it’s my place.

But. A little while ago, a few years back, I started using this place to earn us a little income. And doing that, somehow, put a wall in between my safe place and me.

Over the last year, I’ve drifted away, and my art and photography are on instagram and my writing has been nowhere at all. There’s no place to talk about the children any more, because I’m thinking too much about the audience, who is reading, what will they hear, will they share, have I crafted the headline for maximum impact, will this make blog of the day, get shared to facebook, will anyone care?

Do you know what?

That isn’t the important thing to me any more. I want this space back. I want to be able to talk about where we’ve been and what we’ve done, about the things I’ve drawn and the books I’ve read.

I want to talk about autism, and basic income, anxiety and reenactment, maybe just share a bit of art, maybe tell you about our home education if that’s what I feel like talking about.

I want to share our snippets of weeks or days or months, and build up my memories here – I will in years to come regret the gaps in the archives. I know this because I regret the holes there are in previous years, when life was too raw to write about because I didn’t have the words to talk about miscarriages, or because I didn’t have the energy at the end of a day of solving other people’s problems and then having a two hour drive home with tired children.

So. I’m launching a new blog, Not Just Kids Stuff, to push the commercial stuff to. It will be a business, because we need an income. I’ve launched on Patreon too, but I’m not quite sure how that is going to pan out – people liked my sea creatures, so maybe I’ll reopen my etsy store and explore selling prints. Or put them on redbubble.

And as all that does or doesn’t take off, I’ll finish off the things I’m already committed to here, and then I’ll come out of hiding again. I’ve got a lot to talk about. I hope you’re ready.

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Ninja book box. Sun, 25 Sep 2016 09:00:15 +0000 Subscription boxes are big these days aren’t they? I confess that I’m intrigued by the idea of regular parcels of goodness, but so far I haven’t subscribed to any.

That might change with the launch of the Ninja book box – see it on kickstarter here

Ninja Book Box is a new quarterly box shipping worldwide from the UK and featuring books published by independent publishers, and that’s what makes it really interesting to me. It’s easy enough to miss what small independent publishers are doing in the cut and thrust of big social media, so anything that shines a light sounds like a good plan. Ninja Book Box aim to introduce excellent books (both backlist and new releases) particularly those which their team & the publishers they work with feel haven’t received the recognition they deserve, and help you find favourites in genres you wouldn’t necessarily pick up for yourselves. Supporting primarily UK based small businesses, each box will contain a book (often signed by the author & with additional material) plus at least two gift items and lots of other fun extras and will take its theme from the book. The Ninja team want to support excellence and promote exploration and discovery in all aspects of the box. Subscribers will also gain access to lots of additional community perks. For more information sign up to the newsletter, or check out the website for details of how to get the first box!

To launch the idea there’s a great blog tour happening across a multitude of blogs, check out the details at the bottom of this post. But before you do that, take a look at the rafflecopter for an easy to enter competition, with your chance to win a box too.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck, both to competition entrants, and the Ninja team 🙂


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Puppy in my pocket twitter party! Wed, 21 Sep 2016 16:26:00 +0000 Yes, it’s that time again – I’m one of the hosts for a twitter party to celebrate the wonderful range of Puppy in my Pocket toys.

In my pocket twitter party badge

the time: 28th September 1pm.
the place: Twitter!
Your hosts: @ukmumstv

Use the hashtag #PuppyInMyPocket to join in and watch out for all the fab prize tweets to join in and win some wonderful prizes.

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Martyn Ford: Dreams and regrets – UKYACX blog tour. Sun, 11 Sep 2016 12:28:03 +0000 ukyacx-logo-with-newcastle-details

As part of the UKYACX blog tour (MG variety), I’m very pleased to welcome author Martyn Ford to the blog today, continuing on the occasional series of Dreams and Regrets guest posts. Over to Martyn


Tasked with writing a blog post on “dreams and regrets”, we first have to define the words. I’m going to interpret the former, dreams, in the aspirational sense – an ambitious goal – and not write, despite the temptation, an account of that time I swapped souls with an old school teacher in order to trick a talking crab called Sesame Jones out of stealing all of my teeth.

And the latter, regrets, I’m largely going to ignore because I’m one of those people who says conceited things like, “Oh, ya, no, I don’t have any regrets”. Not because I’ve perfectly handled the many millions of choices I’ve had so far in my life, heavens no, but because regretting things is a bit like saying you’d change them in a time travel situation. And we don’t need to google chaos theory to know why that’s a bad idea.

So, what is my dream (goal, aspiration, target, whatever)? If I’m completely honest, I actually don’t know. Because every time I achieve something I set out to achieve, the target moves. It’s like running to the horizon.

This is a paradox. It seems to me the kind of people equipped with the necessary discontent, the compelling drive to work hard towards a situation different from their current one, are often the people not satisfied with the result.

I think I have a compelling urge to be creative, that’s all. Any achievements outside of that – which I’ve often mistaken for goals – are simply a nice bonus, a by-product. And, recently, I’ve learned that this is fine.

Almost a decade ago, I was 19 years old and working at an off licence. While it was a wonderful place to work, for all the wrong reasons, it wasn’t what I wanted to do. (Once, and this is true, I was so unstimulated that I stuck cutlery to the ceiling with Blu-Tack. A spoon here, a fork there, not too much. I had to use a ladder. If you don’t believe me, well, good. Making that up is less weird than actually doing it.)

“Ah, well, what do you want to do?” was the common response to my apparent dejection.

I had no real answer, besides a vague desire to write.

“Ah, well, what do you want to write?”

Again, just pouts and shrugs from me.

Fast forward a bit and I was walking past my local newspaper’s office. In the window they were advertising a vacancy for a junior reporter. I wandered in and, despite my lack of experience and (although I lied about this bit) ability, the editor offered me a job. She is one of many kind people who have given me the benefit of the doubt at various milestones in my career.

This was good (it still is, I still work for the company, albeit on a different paper). I was getting warm. This was a well-trodden path. I’d heard successful writers say they started in regional journalism.

(In fact, it’s a job I’d recommend to any aspiring writer. It consists of speaking to people, learning about the world and writing. I can’t think of any three things more beneficial to a would-be storyteller.)

But it wasn’t quite it. I wanted more creativity. I wanted to write things which weren’t true.

And so I founded my very own rejection letter factory. It’s quite simple, you can make one yourself. First, write a bad screenplay or a bad novel. Then, pitch it to every literary agent/ publisher/ producer you can find.

It got to a very strange point where if there wasn’t a rejection letter in the post/ email inbox, I felt a pang of disappointment. What kind of next level, masochistic psychology is that?


In the interest of brevity – let’s leap forward in time a few more years. Finally, I sat down and started writing a draft of what would later become The Imagination Box, an idea I had been stewing since the age of about eight and, more importantly, the first thing I finished that I felt positive about. That, alone, was a triumph for me.

Thankfully it secured me a brilliant agent and, about five years after my first draft, was published by Faber & Faber. It has since become a trilogy – I’ve recently finished the third.

It’s about a machine that creates anything you imagine. So themes of desire and the overblown virtues of getting what you want are prevalent.

It seems so trite to say something like, “it’s the journey, not the destination”. But it’s true. It’s about the whole ritual, the hard work, the knowing smile. Each and every rung.

The utterly bewildered frown on your colleague’s face the following day when they look up and notice that spoon – that’s just a lovely bonus.

Maybe, just maybe, I “regret” taking most of my twenties to figure that out.


So who else is now checking the ceiling for cutlery? Or contemplating sticking some up there? Great post from Martyn, and you can catch him in action at UKYACX next week – all details here.

Martyn Ford is a journalist and author of The Imagination Box trilogy (Faber & Faber in the UK, Delacorte in the US). Follow him on twitter at @Martyn87 or check out his website here

Disclosure: amazon links are affiliate links.

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