Making It Up as we go along Thu, 24 Nov 2016 12:00:53 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Cover reveal: Domina from L S Hilton Thu, 24 Nov 2016 12:00:53 +0000 Everything you thought you knew about Maestra… You don’t.

Publishing with Bonnier Zaffre, March 23rd 2017. I admit I’m intrigued. If you are too, you can pre-order at amazon here (affiliate)

If, like me, you’re behind the loop on this one, you might want to look up Maestra:


Fatal Attraction meets The Talented Mr Ripley, and soon to be a major Hollywood film – prepare for this year’s The Girl on the Train

By day Judith Rashleigh is a put-upon assistant at a London auction house.

By night she’s a hostess in one of the capital’s unsavoury bars.

Desperate to make something of herself, Judith knows she has to play the game. She’s learned to dress, speak and act in the interests of men. She’s learned to be a good girl. But after uncovering a dark secret at the heart of the art world, Judith is fired and her dreams of a better life are torn apart.

So she turns to a long-neglected friend.

A friend that kept her chin up and back straight through every past slight.

A friend that a good girl like her shouldn’t have: Rage.

The Talented Mr Ripley meets Gone Girl in this darkly decadent and compelling new thriller that asks:

Where do you go when you’ve gone too far?

(How *have* I missed this one? Anyway, cover is another of those Amazon affiliate links. If you’ve already read this I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.)

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Contemplating home education styles, with a Teach My Preschooler kit review. Wed, 23 Nov 2016 15:34:06 +0000 When you mention home education to people one of the first questions (usually right after ‘but how will they make friends?’) is how will they learn to read? Or do maths?

The answer to that is all sorts of different ways, to be honest. Some children just seem to acquire reading in the same way they did spoken language, soaking it up from the atmosphere around them. Most home education households I’ve been in are very book rich environments (code for there are books *everywhere*), avid library users and big on reading with and to their children. This isn’t enough for every child though, and these days there are all sorts of resources available either free or cheap. We’re fans of Reading Eggs (handy affiliate link over there in the sidebar if you’re looking to give it a whirl) but there are all sorts of other apps as well, like Teach your monster to read, Nessy (which is particularly targeted at children with dyslexia).

Or you can go old home ed, as it were, and use actual physical resources. We’ve got a Montessori movable alphabet (like this one at Amazon affiliate link) and recently we were sent a TeachMy Preschooler box set for review.

The Kit contains resources for four types of activity – letters, reading, printing and math. (Sorry, it’s an American company.) It comes in a green filebox within a sturdier cardboard sleeve, ideal for storage. There’s a parent guide too, but I doubt you’ll be desperately surprised when I say we’ve been winging it in how we use the kit πŸ˜‰


Inside the box the rest of the resources are in labelled up plastic envelopes. The whole set is very well organised, and feels sturdy.


I chose the preschooler as I thought that Tigerboy might like it. Turned out that Smallest took to it too, so I’d say don’t underestimate the longevity of this set.

They’ve both spent some time with the printing activity, which is a magnetic writing board, an instruction book and 4 sets of transparencies. I particularly like the transparencies, which weren’t something I’d encountered before.

Tigerboy started out following instructions. (Don’t worry, it didn’t last long.)


Smallest had a go at the letters and numbers.


She’s also spent quite a lot of time with the learning to read set. She’s already pretty much there with phonics tbh, but lacks confidence, so this was a good consolidation activity. And it turns out she loves flashcards, so has been practising them regularly, which can’t be a bad thing.

Way back when the big two were the little ones, ‘normals’ was a thing in my home education circle, as mentioned often on Merry’s blog eg here. With the way Smallest responded to this kit, I’m wondering if a box set of normals would be something that she would enjoy. She already effectively does this for herself, but she loves ticklists and organisation, so I’m thinking that an actual list of activities, all kept in one place for her to access easily might well be something that would make her a very happy girl. And Tigerboy tends to crash along and involve himself in whatever she’s up to so he’d probably just join in to a large extent.

There are as many ways to home educate as there are families home educating. The thing to do is find out what works for you, and never be afraid to mix it up when things need a change. If you need more inspiration, there’s a style of home education quiz on the eclectic homeschool blog which might give you some ideas.

Disclosure: the kit was supplied free of charge for an honest review, and amazon links are affiliate links.

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What Autism is Sat, 29 Oct 2016 22:26:57 +0000 To me.

(I can’t define it for anyone else. And if you don’t experience it, you do NOT get to define it for us or to draw us as suffering monsters. If you could refrain from that, that would be nice?)

Back to me. 

Actually I think you *can* see it in my face. It’s that little worry line between my eyes. Having to concentrate really hard, and still not quite getting it. 

It’s a lack of confidence, constantly at war with the single minded focus on an interest. At the moment my interest is art, and objectively I can see I am improving, but I crave external feedback as well, and I want to be the best. 

Numbers, stats, rankings, they’ve been an obsession on and off for as long as I can remember, fed by the unhealthy actions of the educational system that didn’t quite know what to do with me.

Primary school had strengths, lots of them. A small school, 100 children or there abouts across 7 years. Teachers knew us well, we often spent two years in a class, and there was a lot of flexibility, so it didn’t matter quite so much if you were found reading books under the desk when you were supposed to be doing maths. We kept chickens and had a big school field, and playing football with the boys might have been slightly odd, but it wasn’t the end of the world.

Secondary school was more challenging, and perhaps they should have noticed then that I was floundering, but I don’t think people really knew about autistic girls in the 1980s. Certainly not bright ones, who could mostly make the right noises, even if they weren’t quite at the right times. And being horsey was a way to excuse being unfashionable and friends were a small number but still some.

Autism is never quite fitting in. Being the only girl at karate, and the only girl in the security team. It’s drinking too much at college because it slows your racing brain when nothing else does. It’s finding an identity beyond anxiety and depression but oh so late. It’s wondering what I could have been, could have done, if I’d known, understood, forgiven myself, known how to pace myself better.

Autism is not my excuse. It’s never an excuse, because I don’t need one. I am. And I’m still learning how to be the best me.

Autism is maybe a strength, if I can work out how to focus it to help me past all the bits of me that don’t work so well. Autism just is. 

Other people have written about their own experiences, like flojo

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Gravity by Andy Briggs Fri, 28 Oct 2016 08:26:28 +0000 gravity-blog-tour

Buy from Amazon here

We very much enjoyed being part of the blog tour for Inventory: Iron Fist last spring, and I leapt at the chance for Small to read the sequel, not least because I love his reviews.

I think you’ll agree with me that he has not disappointed πŸ˜‰

I tried to go into Gravity with an open mind. While I had somewhat mixed (though generally positive) feelings towards the original, I was hoping that the second book in the The Inventory series would be an improvement. Thankfully, I was not disappointed. The sequel manages to go in a much more interesting direction than the first book did, now focusing more on the characters and plotline than the technology within the inventory (which is a good thing, because the technology isn’t plausible enough to be interesting by any stretch of the imagination). Speaking of the characters, it goes much further in developing them than the first book did, making them much more interesting (except the main protagonist Dev. Dev is overpowered and boring), and creating a much more interesting book to read as a consequence. The series will still likely not appeal to people who prefer hard Sci-Fi, as the technology only continues to be ludicrously absurd and impossible (funnily enough, Andy Briggs’ previous series about superheroes actually pulled itself off in a far more plausible manner than The Inventory does), but I can safely say that I recommend this book, moreso than I recommended the original. (The fact that a word counter lists the three most used words in this review as “Book More Interesting” in that order should be a testament to that.)

(If you would like Small to read your book, be aware that he will be brutally honest about it. Feel free to get in touch.)

Thanks very much to Andy for the chance to be included in the tour.

Andy Briggs
Book info
Title: Gravity (The Inventory #2)
Author: Andy Briggs
Release Date: 6th October 2016
Genre: MG Sci-Fi
Publisher: Scholastic
Format: Paperback
Find it on Goodreads. Buy from Amazon here

Disclosure: amazon links are affiliate links, we were supplied a copy of the book in return for an honest review.

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#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, where a child is a pupil at a special school, (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. (The special school situation is slightly different. You’ll want to do some research.) 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 suitableβ€”
(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 πŸ˜‰

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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ˜‰

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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 πŸ˜‰


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 πŸ™‚

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