Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Autumn Sale at Currclick - Extra Discount Here :)

Get an EXTRA 10% off CURRCLICK SALE prices at the checkout with this code LEAVES

Monday, 13 October 2014

Round Up the Week

It was a very busy week last week, and seemed to involve lots of film related stuff. Strange that, cos it's not even the Into Film Festival for another month :)

We started Monday by going to see Ten Pieces at the cinema. It's a BBC film aimed at KS2, designed to get them to engage with classical music. My children very much enjoyed it and we had some debate over whether or not the final modern piece was really music at all, with Boykin being of the opinion  that it was really dance. In the afternoon we came home and played Agricola for a couple of hours before they had to get ready for cubs and drama.

Tuesday we went to see some filming that was happening in our area. The film is a full-length feature with stars like Liam Neeson and Sigourney Weaver in it. (Not that we saw either of them). It was really interesting to see how many people were involved and how many times the same scene had to be filmed from different angles. It's made us all watch films in a different way now. One of the other onlookers likened it to Groundhog Day. Consequently, we came home, lit a fire, made big mugs of hot chocolate and sat down to watch Groundhog Day. I'd forgotten how much I liked that film and it lead to more interesting discussions as to why the main character had to keep repeating the same day; what changed within him; what would it be like to get so many chances to achieve the perfect day; and which day would you change.

Unfortunately amongst all that, I forgot that we were supposed to be at book group. Sad to say, we missed it. Sorry folks :(

Wednesday was our local themed group. The theme this month was Time & Clocks. The activities on offer were: make a paper plate clock; make a lemon clock; make a water clock; make a timeline of time and clocks; play some time related games; estimate a minute; design a time machine and write a story about it.

Thursday Boykin went to Parkour and they both went to Ninjas. In the afternoon, we delivered the Harvest festival donations to the local food bank before The Girl had a singing lesson. Boykin then went to dancing whilst The Girl went to choir and we all spent the rest of the evening visiting my eldest son and his girlfriend :) That was a busy day, that was!

Friday was a pyjama day :) We did stuff at home. All day. They did maths, biology, handwriting, made chocolate croissants and drank hot chocolate. And I read to them. A lovely relaxed HE day at home :) Until The Girl went to scouts that is.

Saturday we went to play in the woods with my brother and his children where they climbed trees and swung from ropes while we drank tea brewed in a Kelly Kettle. I love Kelly Kettles :) And then The Girl went litter picking with scouts at a local music festival.

Sunday was church, a bit more of the music festival, games with friends and hot baths, warm fires and a film.  

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Panda Drinks Review

We were offered the opportunity to review a  range of still drinks from Panda, a brand I associate with brightly coloured fizzy pop and blue tongues. I had no idea that they produced anything else and was curious. My kids were pleased to receive the drinks and very much enjoyed testing and reviewing them :)

The bottles are a handy size, small enough to fit in a lunch bag, handbag or the little side mesh pocket on a child's rucksack. We do quite a bit of walking and I like my children to carry their own drinks, so the small sized bottles make this easier for them. I also quite like the flip tops rather than the push-up-and-down tops, which invariably lose their plastic lids and are, I think, a little less hygienic.

We received two samples from each of the two different ranges - the juice drink range and the Panda Splash range, which is flavoured water. Both ranges are made with only natural fruit flavours and they contain no added sugar and no artificial colours.

My children really enjoyed the drinks. Words they used to describe the Panda Juice drinks were sticky, sweet, syruppy and yummy. The Girl preferred the Raspberry flavour and Boykin preferred the Blackcurrant flavour. Personally, I preferred the Raspberry flavour because it did actually taste of raspberries (not that the blackcurrant didn't taste of blackcurrants though). However, I was put off by the very obvious taste of sweeteners which I really don't like. When I buy bottles of dilute juice, I usually go for the 'sugar' version rather than the 'no sugar' version because of this.

In the Panda Splash range, we were given Blackcurrant and Orange & Pineapple flavoured waters to try. Again, my children liked them, with Boykin preferring the blackcurrant and The Girl preferring the Orange & Pineapple :) Words they used to describe theses drinks were very sweet, quite nice, tastes of orange and sweeteners. Apparently they like the taste of sweeteners and so this doesn't put them off at all. I found the flavoured waters much more refreshing than the juice drinks, although overall the Raspberry juice drink was my favourite - despite the sweeteners.

Oh, and I'm very sorry for not being able to show you the actual product. The package got returned to the Post Office, so we had to go and pick it up and we drank them on the way home :)

You can follow Panda Drinks on Twitter and on Facebook

Disclaimer: I received 4 bottles of Panda drinks at no cost so that I could give you an honest review. No money changed hands for these opinions, which are entirely my own....and my children's.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Frugal Food

Both children are out on Thursday teatime, one at choir and one at dancing. Consequently, there's only me to feed. I really look forward to it. Not because I'm going to eat some fancy dinner or unhealthy junk food, but because I get to eat leftovers :)

 That sounds a bit crazy, doesn't it? Not if you saw me cooking normally. The Girl is now vegetarian. Me and Boykin are not. Neither child seems to have inherited my taste buds - or at least not for the same dish at the same time. Consequently mealtimes here can look a bit like variations on a theme. Veggie vs meat sausages. Potatoes vs rice. Garden peas vs processed peas.

I've now developed a bit of a routine with Wednesday's tea being something and mash potatoes. I always make way too much mash because in my previous life (i.e. the one with only one child who ate everything) they were a favourite staple in our house. Now, my two youngest eat next to nowt when it comes to spuds :(

As well as loving mashed potatoes, I also loathe chucking food in the bin. It feels a bit like a sin - especially if meat and fish are involved. So on Thursdays, not only do I redeem my foodsoul, I also get to eat my favourite all-time potato dish - fried mash potatoes :) I usually chuck in all the leftover veg from the previous evening and make a bit of a fancy bubble-and-squeak. However, yesterday, they ate all the veg. Hooray!!

So tonight's delicacy consisted of all the left over spuds fried in butter (yes, I know it's bad for me - but it's so yummy); a large dollop of cream cheese spread; an egg; some fresh spinach and rocket from the garden. I mixed them all up together and fried them until they went brown and crispy. Then I slid the whole lot onto a warm plate and sprinkled it with black pepper. Lovely!

Now I'm going to enjoy eating the left over random fruit crumble served with evaporated milk. Can you tell I was a child in the 70s? ;)

What's your favourite left-over potato recipe? Maybe you will come up with something that will tempt even my spudless children :)

Friday, 26 September 2014

Home Ed groups - then and now

I've been home educating for over 20 years now. I'm not saying that makes me any kind of expert or anything but I have seen quite a few changes, especially in regards to local groups.

15 years ago, I knew of only 3 Home Ed groups in our region that I could take my son to, each one meeting on a monthly basis. Two were in our local town and one was on the other side of Leeds and involved a train and two buses to get there. The two local groups consisted of the same four or five families - one was an art group and the other was a social meeting in a small room provided by the council (other families occasionally turned up there too). There were very few children my son's age  at these groups and it was a struggle to get him to go sometimes.  Luckily, he understood that I needed to meet with other home educating parents and he would agree to come along. There were occasional trips to theatres and workshops, but communication was often sparse. We sometimes missed them because the only way to find out about things was down the phone tree (which often didn't work) or through a printed monthly newsletter. There were no yahoo groups that I knew of and definitely no Facebook. Not that it would've helped anyway as we had no internet and neither did the local library.

This week we went to a new local group in a local park. I'm really not sure how many families were there as some sat in the playground, others played cricket on the playing field and more were sitting in the room that was our official meeting place. I reckon there were at least 18 families who had travelled from different parts of West Yorkshire to come to play in the park. Most of these we see regularly at one group or another, some were new families with younger children just starting out on their home ed journeys. The group had been organised through yahoo and Facebook. No phone tree.

It really struck me how different it is (and how old I am) for HE families nowadays. Every week there seems to be a new group being started in areas where none have existed before. Every week there are new workshops and trips being organised by parents all over West Yorkshire. My children were playing in the park with friends that they have known since birth, with children that they see two or three times a WEEK at different groups and with new friends. The world seems full of home educated children today whereas 15 years ago, I had to search the EO contact list to find the very few other local HEors.

This experience made me determined to organise groups and trips myself so that my younger children wouldn't struggle with isolation in the same way my eldest son had done as a teenager. I never envisaged the growth in the number of HE families that I have seen, nor did I envisage the way the internet would change the way that we communicate. Back then, I was inspired by an American HEor living in Leeds who put tons of energy into organising groups and activities. She showed me what was possible, how trips could be organised and how groups could be set up and run. Consequently, along with other local HE parents, I have organised trips, set up groups and met some fabulous families. I have many people to be thankful to, and for, on my HE journey, but that American mum stands out in my memory. Wherever you are in the world today, Judith Shalkowski, I thank you. You were an inspiration :)

Cycling at the new HE group in the park

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Picsticks Review and Discount Code

I was offered the chance to review some photograph magnets from Picstick.  They offer nine photo magnets 50mmx65mmx0.75mm for £9.50/$14.99. You can upload photos from your computer, your Facebook account or your Dropbox. Postage is free worldwide :)

Picstick encourages people to create photo magnets from photos shared on Facebook. On the FAQ page it states "You can also browse your Facebook friends and groups you follow and select from the photos they have shared. (Perfect for creating surprise presents!)". I can kind of see the lovely friendly gift-giving idea behind it, but I don't really want my Facebook friends or random group members making magnets from my photos. I also felt that this suggestion contradicts the Terms and Conditions which state that "You warrant...that you have all required rights or permissions necessary to incorporate third party material into your Products". So those surprise presents could cause you some problems :/

Setting up a Picstick account is simple and free. For some reason, I was unable to link my Picstick account to my Dropbox account where most of my photos are kept. It kept timing out or giving me a blank page. I don't know if that's a Picstick thing or a Dropbox thing. I didn't try connecting to my Facebook account , so I don't know if that process is easier or not.  In the end, I chose to upload photos from my computer which proved to be fairly easy because of the straightforward instructions on the website.

Because I was writing a review, I tried to choose different subjects rather than all family photos.  I went for colour, brightness, detail, landscape vs portrait,a  computer generated image and some family photos. Any editing that needs doing has to be done before you upload the images to Picstick as the only editing tools available are crop and rotate. One or two pictures looked like they had a black line across the top of them when I placed them in the grid, but I had no need to worry about that as it wasn't on the magnets when they arrived.

I quickly got an email to say that my order had been received and my magnets were being made. I received another email the next day saying that my order had been shipped and they arrived the day after that. Speedy service!!

The magnets arrived in a strong cardboard envelope which also contained a card with a thank you message and thumbnails of my photos. Very cute. I was, however,  a bit disappointed in the magnets. They looked very grainy and mottled. At first I thought this might be because I had cropped some photos as far as the website would allow, but when I checked the image I'd made in Photoshop I knew the colours should've been solid and they weren't:(

But all was not lost. I contacted Picstick via the Contact form on their website and quickly received an automated email saying that replacements would be sent out sharpish. The next day, I received a more personal email that addressed my questions directly and asked me to let them know if the replacements were ok or not. They were. Not a mottle in sight :)

The colours are vibrant and details are clear. . Although next time, I may make my images brighter before I upload them and use more close-up photos as they definitely work better. That said, I think they're a lovely size, they stick very nicely to my fridge and I can see all sorts of uses for them :)

They'd be ideal to slip in a Christmas or birthday card to friends and relatives.
You could add text and use them as magnetic business cards to give to customers so that they never lose your contact details again.
You could make your own large print magnetic flashcards to help with reading or maths or language learning.
Every member of the family could have their own photo magnet that holds their personal 'To Do' list or messages to the fridge door.
You could scan your children's artwork and make magnetic copies to send to friends.
Or you could make your own magnetic calendar, or timetable if you're very structured, or a chore chart......

I'd love to know what other ideas you can come up with. I like to find an educational use for everything if possible :)

Picstick have offered all my lovely blog readers a 25% discount. Just use the code below at the checkout.


Disclosure: I received a free set of photo magnets in order to be able to give a complete and honest review. All opinions are my own. No money exchanged hands :)

Friday, 19 September 2014

Toilets and Trips

Our last local group themed session was on Toilets. As parents we had all felt a little challenged by the topic, although it proved to be a more popular theme than anticipated. We had 16 families come to the session which is about twice as many as usual.
The activities included investigating tipping toilets and designing a water container that tips when it is full; listing the synonyms of 'toilet' including the more impolite ones; matching the translation of the word 'toilet' with the correct country on a large map; making miniature model outdoor loos from toilet rolls; a toilet related board game; learning about U-bends and making a working model; playing outdoor toilet related games like toilet Tig, Mother May I and toilet roll relay race; and making toilet pests from empty toilet roll tubes. I was very busy most of the day making toilet roll flies but I did catch a glimpse of the toilet roll relay race and the ensuing carnage.

Totally coincidentally, another local HE mum organised a trip to a water treatment plant and a sewage treatment plant which tied in very nicely. Both places were very interesting, although I found it a bit sad when they told us that 30 people used to work in the water treatment plant which is now computerised and has only a couple of people working there. And the same at the sewage treatment works that would've employed up to 300 people and now employs only 8. Not that I'd want to work there. It was a bit too smelly.
The two plants, one at Headingley and the other at Esholt, are education centres for Yorkshire Water, each venue had its own classroom. There were computer activities in one venue and models of roadworks and films of protozoa in the other.
I thought my children knew about the water cycle, we have covered it before, but they seemed to either have forgotten everything or were too shy to answer.
We were split into two groups, so I stayed with The Girl while Boykin hung out with his friends in another group. There was a lot of information to take in, but they gave us some really nice looking resource books to take home and have a look through. They were mostly aimed at KS2, but that doesn't bother us as we aren't limited by the National Curriculum and happily jump around resources as long as they are interesting.
One of the things that surprised me most, was the ornate sewer exit constructed by the Victorians. There we were, looking at real-life pieces of poo floating out of the sewer through a fancy bit of stonework complete with coat-of-arms and Latin motto. They were so proud of their sewage works those Victorians. It made me realise just how much we take our sewerage system for granted, and just how lucky we are to have it.

As part of my own home education, I had to look up the motto. Labor Omnia Vincit - Work Conquers All. The sewage works certainly went a long way to conquering some of the Victorian health problems, we don't get cholera outbreaks anymore, thankfully.
One thing that both my children mentioned having learnt that day was that Fat, Oil and Grease (F.O.G) shouldn't be put down the sink. I already knew that, but thought it was to prevent my house pipes blocking up. I now know that it's to prevent the main sewers blocking up. I'm usually pretty careful anyway, but I'll be a bit more careful from now on because some poor bloke has to go down there and chip it all out by hand :(
The sewage and waterworks trip was free and was open to children age 7+. If you have one near you, I'd recommend going along as soon as your children are old enough. It really is an eye-opener.

Yorkshire Water Educational Resources