Making It Up as we go along Fri, 19 Aug 2016 08:10:20 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 (Not) back to school – home education planning with The Range. Fri, 19 Aug 2016 08:10:20 +0000 This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #CollectiveBias

Back to School with The Range

August. Hot days, but cool evenings, time for another camping holiday, and suddenly, all the shops including the Range are full of back to school displays, and parents are wondering where the summer went and how long the queue for shoe fittings is going to be.

But not all children go back to school. Or even to school in the first place. We’ve been home educating, this time around, for 7 years. While Big did choose to go into school age 15 last September, she’s so far the only one to take the plunge, and this year I’ll have Small, Smallest and Tigerboy all at home with me for their education.

The law in the UK requires parents to ensure that their children, once compulsory school age, receive an education suitable to their age, ability and aptitude and any special needs they may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise. We’re definitely in the otherwise category 😉

We don’t do lesson plans and school around the kitchen table, although I know families who do. We tend more to the child led and interest driven approach, although I do like to ensure that the basic of maths/ english are covered in a fairly formal way. This means that there’s no such thing as a typical day here. I often start with a craft or art activity after breakfast for the younger two – this could be drawing based around a favourite picture book or art manual, or we might go out in the garden with a science experiment, or do some gardening or baking.

There are also plenty of trips out – Colchester Zoo once a month for their free workshops (you do have to pay the normal entry fee , roller skating and softplay down the road, science classes with fellow home educators, or guitar group. Trips to the beach feature quite highly, and of course there are our regular reenactment activities, with camping thrown in for free.

Colchester Zoo penguin

physical education at the beach

kentwell camping

None of this stops me browsing stationery – in fact, we probably go through more notebooks and sketchpads than most, given everything is done at home. Smallest is coming up 7 this time, and she does like a plan, so I’m thinking some slightly more organised project style work this year will go down well, starting with a body project as I can bring Tigerboy in on that on his level as well. (He would start in reception if he were going to school, but he’s not compulsory school age, so not actually technically home educated yet. I don’t mark a formal start to education though, so he’s just been included in everything we do to whatever extent he wants to be.) So I was rather pleased with this Grafix set I picked up from the Range, and yes, I topped up our sketchbook and notebook heap too. (We have the Stabilo early writing set for each of them. I like the way the pens have guide holds on them for right or left handers – Smallest is left handed and has found pencil grips hard.)

body project Grafix from the Range

sketchbooks and left handed pens

And now that I’ve done my bit of orgoplanning, I think I’m really looking forward to September. There’s something about an inviting new pile of stationery that just makes you want to dive in, isn’t there?

Are you looking forward to September/back to school, in whatever form that takes?

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Bio-Oil Scars Uncovered giveaway. Mon, 15 Aug 2016 17:38:51 +0000 I’m not a big user of beauty or skin products. I just don’t really go in for much in the way of make up or pampering, but the things that I like, I really like.

bio oil giveaway

And I really like Bio-Oil.

I *think* I first encountered it in a goody bag, maybe from Britmums? Or perhaps from back when I was writing for Emma’s Diary? I don’t remember the exact details, sorry. I do know that once we got it in the house, we’ve kept it. It’s not used extensively – it’s not a daily use I wouldn’t think – but when we need it, we need it.

For example, Big has a bit of an acne thing going on on her shoulders. (It’s OK, we talked about this before I posted it, and I have permission.) She uses Bio-Oil to help it heal – it reduces both the acne itself and the subsequent scarring.

Scarring isn’t just a physical issue though. For many of us, how we look affects our emotional well being and confidence, and that can have a knock on effect to how we live our life. Bio-Oil’s Scars Uncovered campaign is all about those emotional issues – take a look at the video here.

I’ve been fortunate (so far) and I don’t have many scars. But a few years ago I had a mole removed, and I was really surprised by how much that upset me. For starters, the mole was in an awkward place, under the waistband of many trousers, which made it a very uncomfortable process. There was the fear associated with it – could it be something more serious? (It wasn’t.) And then, afterwards, getting used to a visibly damaged bit of me. I wish I’d known about Bio-Oil at the time, I think it would have helped.

Now I have 5 60ml bottles of Bio-Oil to give away, with easy entry through the rafflecopter widget below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: Prizes are being provided by Bio-Oil and I have been sent my own supply too. Listed in Competitions at ThePrizeFinder and Life in a Breakdown comp linky.

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Weekend snippets 14 August 2016 Sun, 14 Aug 2016 18:09:09 +0000 {trying out} bullet journaling. Well, I wrote out a weekly diary page three times in a notebook, ripped them out because I didn’t like the layout, and put the notebook in my bag anyway. So I’m thinking about trying out bullet journalling. And somehow I’ve restrained myself from buying yet another notebook even though it’s the perfect type, and it’s on sale. (Look, it’s here on Cass Art (affiliate). Isn’t it gorgeous?) Aren’t I good? (For the restraint. Not for the complete failure to actually journal/ plan.)

{working on} a new business idea. Kind of recycling one. With actual money making focus. Because it’s about time I focussed on earning a living. More to come on that – I may try out some market research on you all at some point.

{reading} I’ve got about three books on the go at the moment. Women and Girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Understanding Life Experiences from Early Childhood to Old Age (Amazon affiliate link,) Autism, Anxiety and Me, and Heritage of the Xandim. I’ll get back to you with mini reviews at some point on all of them.

{writing} I actually got as far as writing out 8 sticky notes for book plotting. Then put them carefully in the back of a notebook. And put it away. Safely. No I don’t know either.

{parenting} having noticed that Tigerboy hardly ever gets one to one attention from me out and about, I decided to rectify that and took him to the park (his choice). We were there about an hour and then he said he was ready to go home. I asked if he’d enjoyed it, and he said ‘it was a blast’. I’m calling that parenting win of the week. Or possibly the month.

Big has her lifeguarding course starting tomorrow, after which she’ll be qualified to work as a pool lifeguard. Which will be rather better paid work than most of what’s on offer to 16 year olds. Small has just completed his cram week for computer science iGCSE, had a great time, and is on course to pass comfortably. Smallest is becoming ever more self propelled – today she wrote out a schedule for the day’s events, although it went a bit pearshaped when she worked through them quicker than she’d planned and nearly put herself back to bed at 10 in the morning 😉 Tigerboy has signed up to Reading Eggs and Maths express (more of that through the week) and is loving working with Reggie.

So there you go. Snippets are back.

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Learning to draw: my journey so far. Sat, 13 Aug 2016 01:00:12 +0000 As I mentioned a while ago, (dear 15 year old me) I have spent most of my life convinced I couldn’t draw. When I took up photography a while back, I started seeing things differently. And then I started drawing.

To begin with, I wasn’t quite sure what to do, or what I was interested in drawing, so I just kind of pootled about doodling things. I used the book that Big was using, Anatomy for the Artist (Amazon affiliate link), but I didn’t get on with it as well as she did.

I have, however, very much enjoyed doing a variety of things sparked off by picture books. Like Lily and Bear, and the nowhere box. And of course, Augustus.

Really, what has worked for me is getting *good* art materials and experimenting. I’ve built up quite a stock 😉

My day to day carry kit looks something like this.

day to day sketch kit

That’s a Winsor and Newton watercolour sketching set, some Derwent Pencil water pens, my Staedtler pigment liner pen set (that particular set exclusive to Cass Art) and a set of mini pencils that came off a draw by numbers set. They’re the only bit of this that aren’t high quality, given that the sketchpad is Moleskine, but if you shop around carefully, you can get quality at a really good price. For example, right now, Cass Art have a clearance sale, although their prices are competitive all the time. Their shops are treasure troves of artistic inspiration if you’re ever near enough for a visit too.

My experiments at the moment are inspired by an excellent book, Just draw it, that I found at the library. I like the way that it suggests a technique and links it to an artist, so not only are you getting to try something out, you’re getting to learn about artists as well. 

So here’s my attempt at a Zen portrait. Not sure I’ve quite got the technique down.

Here’s the book in question.

And probably the best suggestion of all, to keep a sketch book, and just keep drawing.

What I’m trying at the moment is speed drawing, inspired by various Olympic sports. My rugby players don’t look this good though.
I guess what I’m learning at the moment is that if you don’t try, you don’t have any chance of succeeding. And the more you try the more chances you give yourself to produce something you like. Which have been good lessons to learn.

Disclosure: Amazon and Cass Art links are affiliate links.

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Wildflower Bay by Rachael Lucas – review and giveaway Tue, 09 Aug 2016 11:27:29 +0000 It is no secret to any of my readers here or on social media that I am a huge fan of Rachael’s work. I’ve known her for years – we first ‘met’ online on email lists back when we were very new mothers, and have been bumping into each on and offline ever since. I’ve been watching her authorly career with awe, as she goes from strength to strength as a writer – I can’t wait to see where she takes us all next.

Wildflower Bay (buy on Amazon) is a return to the world of her first book Sealed with a Kiss (read my review here ) featuring one of my favourite characters, Finn. It doesn’t start on the island though, it starts in the streets of Edinburgh, where we meet up with Isla, a career driven head stylist, who has been so caught up in chasing her dream job that she hasn’t noticed her personal life is somewhat lacking in substance.

I love Isla. Despite her being outwardly completely goal oriented, there’s a lot more going on under the covers, as there always is in Rachael’s books. I get the feeling that I’d get on with her, even though I’d exasperate her by leaving cups in the wrong place 😉 Like all of Rachael’s books, my (signed!) copy sits on my comfort book shelf (what, you don’t shelve books by how they make you feel?) of books I turn to them regularly when I want a bit of escapism from a life with too much lego underfoot. I hope you love them too 🙂

To give you a chance to get to know them, I’m hosting a giveaway for a paperback copy of Wildflower Bay. Isn’t it just adorable?

wildflower bay cover

Have a handy rafflecopter widget.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don’t forget to leave a comment, and good luck!

rachael lucas

Rachael juggles working as an author, coach and freelance writer with the aid of quite a lot of tea. She and her partner (also a writer) live by the seaside in the North West of England with their six children.

She is the author of Wildflower Bay, Coming Up Roses and Sealed With a Kiss.

For more about Rachael, visit her website at, say hello to her on Twitter @karamina, or find her on Facebook

Sneakily, you can grab part one of the ebook free here on amazon kindle or buy the whole book here

Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book for review. Amazon links are affiliate links.

Don’t forget to visit the rest of the blogtour, which kicked off yesterday at Lipstick and Lace!


Listed with other Competitions at ThePrizeFinder

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Blogs unblogged Thu, 04 Aug 2016 00:17:11 +0000 There have been gaps in the archives of this blog before. They always make me a little sad, when I look back and I don’t have the reminders of our day to day life.

I haven’t even been keeping up with my snippets post, and that’s a real shame. Small said the other day that he would be able to check when he first solved one of his cubes, and I had to admit I haven’t been keeping notes. So I need to put that right. 

So where are we now? How about some summer snippets to catch you all up?

Big finished her exams and we all headed off for our first stint in 1593. Right after that was NCS, which involved a fair bit of toing and froing. Now she’s making the most of some unscheduled time catching up with friends before her life guarding course starts. While all that’s been going on, the rest of us fitted in the zoo, a couple of beach trips, and even a London outing for the little ones. 

Small has computer club a couple of times a week, and his current passion is cubing. He can solve his 3×3 in under 30 seconds, and the 4×4 is now a timed excursion rather than the several days it took first time around (I still feel kind of guilty about that, I was trying to put it in a pattern, not scramble it!) He’s working towards his first iGCSE, and has a cram week next week, which I think he’s rather looking forward to. Of course, it might be the gaming marathon right after it that’s really attractive 😉

Smallest has taken up guitar lessons with a home education group. She’s even practising most days. Without her picks which disappeared about a day after they arrived, obviously. She’s also practising reading, and has lost another tooth.

Tigerboy oddly, is the one who seems to be changing least at the moment. I say oddly because at 4 you’d kind of expect all kinds of developing to be going on. I’m guessing that we’re heading for some kind of leap some time very soon. Should be fun.

As for me, as may have been apparent, I’ve been going through a depression cycle. I’ve had them all my life, and I kind of assumed that once I had my autism diagnosis I’d flick a switch of self understanding and acceptance and all would be well. 

Apparently it doesn’t work that way. Who’d a thunk it?

What does happen is I’ve a little less patience with a world that expects me to conform to particular behaviours and stereotypes. I’ve a little less willingness to expend energy passing for normal, but I’ve spent so many years going through the motions that I’m not quite sure what to do instead.

So I’ve been allowing myself to explore who I am, what I’m interested in, what I want to do. And at the moment, that’s art, photography and sketching. I’ve started to upload some of my photos to redbubble to see if I can get to the point of making an income at all. I’m not convinced my photos are a good enough quality, but I can’t afford a DSLR at the moment so we’ll just have to make do for now. 

In terms of drawing, I’m practising portraits. This one looks OK but not enough like who it’s supposed to be. (You can have a guess who it is if you like, I’m not expecting any right answers though.)

So there you go, that’s you all caught up. Have you missed us?

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Squeezing the pennies – tracking day to day spending with #SagaSpendingDiary Tue, 02 Aug 2016 17:59:38 +0000 Recently I was asked to take part in a #SagaSpendingDiary challenge and sent some items to help me with this task.

saga spending diary kit

So, in the kit, there’s a copy of The Wealth Chef: Recipes to Make Your Money Work Hard, So You Don’t Have To at Amazon uk (affiliate link), a budget diary, and a joint meal plan/shopping list pad. Oh, and one of those funky four colour pens 😉

The book looks pretty interesting actually, claims I’ll learn how the author went from zero to becoming a financially-free multimillionaire in just 8 years, with tips on how to become debt-free in 3 to 7 years, including mortgage, while creating wealth at the same time. I don’t think I have to say how attractive that sounds. With four kids, I’m looking in a future that just wracks up debt, particularly if any of them want to go to university. It’s a whole bunch of no fun.

Now, I already meal plan, and budget pretty hard – I don’t know many people who don’t. But I’ve got out of the habit of tracking every penny spent. I did used to do that by getting the weekly budget out in cash and splitting it into different envelopes but somehow I’ve fallen out of the habit. So I thought it would be interesting to track my spend, and I have to say, just this week has been pretty painful so far.

I’ve paid out nearly £270 in the last two days. How?? Quite easy really. Smallest has a weekly home education guitar group, and that needs paying first Monday of the month. Then Big is signed up on a lifeguarding course in a couple of weeks, and that was due for payment yesterday. I do think of that as a fairly direct investment – it will qualify her to work as a lifeguard, and that’s a pretty good job for a 16 year old (a quick scan of job related sites makes it appear that she could get £6 an hour as opposed to minimum wage for a 16 year old of £3.87). It’s still a fairly steep payment though. On top of all of that, I went grocery shopping (with my meal plan) and that came to £47.65

The budget diary has some well laid out pages for keeping track of all this stuff. I’ve a feeling it’s all going to get a lot scarier before the end of the two week challenge though. Why not subscribe to my newsletter (handy sign up box in the sidebar) so that you can get the update post on how it all went? Go on, you know you want to.

saga spending diary close up

Oh, and if you’ve got any hints and tips on how to keep the spend down while managing a family with four children gratefully accepted!

Disclosure: I was sent the items above to take part in the challenge with Saga Equity release.

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A day trip to Liverpool Biennial with Cass Art. Thu, 28 Jul 2016 07:54:20 +0000 Would you believe I’ve never been to Liverpool? Ridiculous, I know, but up until last Saturday, the absolute truth. But on Saturday, I got up at 5.30, and headed off for a day trip, invited to visit the Biennial 2016, a festival of contemporary art by Cass Art.

Having never been to the city before, the Biennial was a new idea too, so it was great to meet Julie Lomax,
Director of Development. She explained that the festival is made up of episodes on themes, and the episodes themselves are made up of different art works, dotted around the city in a variety of locations. There is a massive amount of art on show, and my top tip for a visit would be wear comfortable shoes. You’re going to do a lot of walking. (I’m probably explaining this really badly – there’s a thing about the episodes here that might help explain it better.)

Now, given my whole experience of art at school, you won’t be surprised to hear that I don’t know a great deal about art, contemporary or otherwise. I have to admit that I felt a bit fraudulent taking part in the whole tour on some levels, as some of the other participants obviously knew a lot more than I did. Having said that, there were only two of us who had a go at doing any sketching as we went around, so I did at least feel like I was having a go.

The art on show varies across media, size, type, you name it, it’s in there. There are installations aimed at children, and sized to exclude us grown ups, temporary installations in ex breweries, even art on a screen in a chinese supermarket. We started in Bluecoat, right next to the Cass Art shop.

Bluecoat Liverpool

This is part of the software episode, and there’s supposed to be an app as well, though I haven’t got around to downloading yet.

What does this remind me of? Please? There’s something kicking around in the back of my mind and I don’t know what it is!

bluecoat software

We moved on to FACT.

FACT Liverpool

I loved this room. I could have just stood there watching for hours. I love how the closer the figure is to the screen the clearer it is. I want to draw this effect.


From there to China town, and a very odd little installation in a Chinese supermarket. Yes, really. Somewhere I have a piece of paper with a story about a portal on it, I wonder where that went…

Hondo art

From there to the Oratory, which is part of the Greek episode. And our first encounter with the Sleeping Shepherd boy (yes, keep your eyes open as you go about, he pops up in more than one place). I had a go at drawing him 🙂

sleeping shepherd boy

By now, I was starting to flag. We had seen a lot of art. I’d spoken with people, was very aware I was kind of lost and a long way from home, and we still had a long way to go and a lot to see. Fortunately, what we did next was walk down through the gardens below the cathedral, which made for a very calming and regrounding section of our tour. Much needed, and I highly recommend if you’re visiting the city/ biennial you build the gardens in too.

Really, there’s way too much to see in a day – we didn’t cover more than a tiny fraction of the art on offer, and I’m seriously considering going back for a much longer visit, possibly with some children in tow. (It’s actually cheaper for me to go with a child, given the family and friends railcard. And we could stop in a YHA family room, and maybe see some other Liverpool stuff too.)

And yes, no matter how much or how little you know about art, I’d say a visit is worth it. I’ve come back fired up to create more, to not limit myself to just sketching, to realise that art comes in all sorts of formats. I’d say it was an incredibly useful day out (not least because I got hours on a train or 6 to read a book or two 😉 )

As I said, I was invited to visit by Cass Art, and you can read their account of our tour on their blog. (If you look very closely, you might even spot me in one of the pictures, taking part in a work of art 😉 )

Feel free to visit the Cass Art online store too.

Disclosure: my travel expenses were recompensed, I received a bundle of art stuff, and Cass Art links are affiliate links.

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Bottersnikes and Gumbles. Wed, 27 Jul 2016 14:39:21 +0000 A couple of weeks back, I took the two younger children down to London for the premiere of Bottersnikes and Gumbles, a new show available on CBBC and Netflix, based on an Australian book.

At this point, you know as much as I did 🙂

If you mention Bottersnikes and Gumbles, you largely get blank expressions. Except for a few lucky people who came across the book back in the 1970s when it was first out and about, and from them you get massive enthusiasm.

The premiere was in a London hotel, with various cast members there. I got to meet Jeff Rawle!

jax and jeff

(With thanks to Jo from Mum friendly for this pic – you can read her Bottersnikes review here.)

but I’m getting ahead of myself. First of all, we watched the show.

Smallest loved it. Tigerboy pronounced it a bit scary, which surprised me as he’s not usually scared of anything to be honest, but he is a little younger than the target age range.

After we’d watched, we went off to enjoy some animation by colouring pictures on wheels then displayed via a phonotrope by animator Jim Le Fevre (who was one of the best people I’ve ever seen at handling a group of over excited children. Great fun.)


I had hoped to interview the very lovely Kathryn Drysdale, but unfortunately the children got a bit overwhelmed with the heat and excitement of the whole event, so we ended up having to leave and recover in a nearby Subway before heading home on the train. At which point we got the books out of our goody bags.

bottersnikes on train

You can buy the book at Amazon and other booksellers. It turns out it’s a fabulous read aloud, and we’ve been enjoying it at bedtime. (Sudden graduation from picture books. Not sure that I was ready for this!) It does have a slightly different feel to the TV show – the Gumbles are a bit sillier, the Bottersnikes a bit less awful and a bit more successful – but the children are quite prepared to enjoy it in both formats. Slightly worried as to what we’re going to do when we run out of book – I’ve asked if there will be any more released, as there are obviously stories missing from the collection we’ve got.

Bottersnikes and Gumbles is playing on CBBC daily, and is the highlight of the children’s day. I’m not sure they’ve worked out they could be watching it on Netflix, and I’m not about to point it out, as it’s quite nice for them to get a daily treat for a while. If you’ve not come across the show, I do recommend it. There’s a game in production as well, and I’m looking forward to seeing that.

Disclosure: we were invited to the premiere. Amazon links are affiliate links.

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What’s your X Moment? Sun, 17 Jul 2016 22:02:36 +0000 Parenting, or indeed life, is full of blink and you’ll miss it moments. Once upon a time, that was what happened, if you weren’t there, you weren’t looking, you lost your chance. Then came cameras, Polaroids, digital cameras, and now most of us have that powerful camera in our pocket in the form of our phone and we can record that second for posterity, share it with family and friends.

Not all phone cameras are created equal though, they don’t all leap into life quickly, or take that perfect snap in the moment of a fast moving child, the first step, the dewdrop on a rose, a rainbow, the gold of a sunrise

kentwell sunrise
or a passing butterfly.


To support the launch of their new Xperia X smartphone, Sony are asking the British public to share some of their most precious, fleeting moments; the moments that help define who you are and the life you lead, or as Sony is calling them, ‘X Moments’.

For Sony, an X Moment is a “split second in time that means something to you that’s here and then gone. It could be a baby’s first steps, achieving a personal goal, a sporting achievement, your dog’s whimsical expression, or just a random flash of happiness and hilarity. It’s a moment that you’d love to capture perfectly that’s all too missable if you, or your phone isn’t up to the job”.

Maybe it’s your child’s first day. First smile. The moment they met their siblings. I’ve had a lot of them – one recent moment that stands out was Tigerboy’s first go on roller skates. He was so pleased with himself – I’m pleased I have a picture.

first day on skates

What’s your X moment? Feel free to share – and check out the other posts on the topic at the linky.

Disclosure: I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity.

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