Saturday, 2 February 2013

Pocket Money Changes

we have reached our goal - see the picture at the bottom of the page. Thank you all so, so much for donating, it means the world to my friend, to Jack and to me. You have done a wonderful thing today. Thank you. 

Pocket Money Changes - it's a new idea I had today that I would like you to help with. 

At the moment, for many of us, money is tight. Luxuries have been cut right back and we're all living a little bit more carefully, trying to make our cash stretch.

For some this means that the little pleasures they enjoy have to stop - and for some those little pleasures are everything, so losing them is hard. 

I had an idea after talking with a good friend, who's story I'll tell you in a moment, that together we could make a big difference to people, with just a small kindness. 

Pocket Money Changes is the result of a brainstorming session with my husband. 

I can't change the world - I can't change everything - but with your help I can change someone's day, their week. We can change someone's situation from losing something simple that they love to getting to enjoy that something simple. 

I'm not sure how well I'm explaining - so let me tell you my friend's situation.

She and her husband have three children, the youngest is only a few months old and has had some health problems, so they've had a rough few months.

Her husband works but doesn't earn big money, and she is a full time Mum. It's a fairly typical situation and, like most of us, they're careful with their money and budget for small pleasures.

One of those small pleasures is a dance class for their eldest child, a gorgeous, gentle four year old boy who, for the sake of protecting their identity some, I'll call Jack. 

He goes to his dance class every week and is happier there than anywhere else, and the whole family get great pleasure from this happiness, and from seeing him bloom doing something he loves. Jack is a sweet, shy boy who can be overwhelmed by crowds and loud groups, but blossoms in his dance class.

The class is very inexpensive, costing just two fifty a week - which the family have included in their weekly budget. Something so small which makes such a difference to their son's life and self worth, his happiness and theirs as a family. 

This week a problem came up. 

The dance class are having a show - which the gorgeous Jack is VERY excited about. He can't wait to dance in front of all his family with the others in the class and show them all the things they've learned. He's practicing like crazy and talking about nothing but the show. The whole family are excited about seeing the show, and it's given them all something to look forward to after a tough couple of months. 

But today at the class they were told that they'll need to buy a costume for the show. 

They can't afford it. 

The costume is thirty seven pounds - which when money is tight is impossible to find. They might have managed another month, but this month they have to MOT and tax the family car, which can't be put off, and that means that they quite literally don't have thirty seven pounds. 

They asked if Jack could just wear his usual dance class outfit - but he can't. If he doesn't have the costume he can't be in the show. If he isn't going to be in the show then he can't go along to the classes for a few weeks because he'd be left out. 

I could have a big old rant about how unfair that is, and how they should let him dance in his dance class clothes - but that isn't going to help. 

What MIGHT help is finding the thirty seven pounds so that Jack can keep doing his class, can be in the show, and can proudly show off what he's learned to his family, who are bursting to see him on stage. 

I can't afford to pay thirty seven pounds for Jack's costume - and that's where I'm really hoping you come in. That's what I want Pocket Money Changes to do. 

None of us, realistically, have thirty seven pounds that we don't need right now. But I bet there's at least thirty seven of us who can afford to donate ONE pound to help the family, so that the lovely little man can dance in his show, in his fancy costume.

You see at the top of that side bar, over on the right of your screen, a 'Donate' button? That button is the Pocket Money Changes fund - where I'm really, really hoping people will drop their pocket change so we can all pool together and help little Jack to be in his show. 

If we can raise thirty seven pounds by Friday Jack will be able to buy his costume - and he and his family will be so, so happy. 

It's a small kindness - but it really, really will make such an enormous change. 

Please donate your pocket money - and make a change for Jack?

(The donations go to a paypal account I've set up for the Pocket Money Changes fund; I will pay the money directly into my friend's bank when it reaches thirty seven pounds. If someone has a suggestion for a better method in future please let me know - in the meantime I will keep everyone who donates updated with the total and let them know when it has been paid. 

If we collect MORE than thirty seven pounds I will donate the excess to charity, not one penny of it will go into my bank or be kept by me. 

If you have any friends in a similar situation who you would like to be helped by Pocket Money Changes please let me know - I would like to keep helping people with these small kindnesses so that little faces can smile. This isn't about big gestures, holidays abroad or meeting famous favourites - it's about small, inexpensive kindnesses that will change someone's life.)

I want to add a log here of people's donations so you can all see the total as we go.

(the total is with the paypal charges deducted, I haven't spent a penny!)

I want to keep doing Pocket Money Changes for other people who want a small gift that means a great deal. If you have any friends or family who you know have a similar situation and want to help please email me on with the story and reasons. If the help they need is below £100 I want to help.

Thank you all so much xxx I will post a photo of Jack's  costume when it arrives.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Appletters and Pairs in pears - greatest review ever

I'm a massive fan of the supreme genius that is Bananagrams - my Mum bought me my own version a couple of years ago after telling me how brilliant it was. She is a teacher and uses her game in the classroom to keep her students interested in their English lessons. 

So I began stalking following the fab PR team behind the game on twitter and bumped into them at a conference last year, and so began a beautiful friendship.

I followed my Mum's example and began using the game to help Jellybean with his letters and phonics and early steps of learning to read. 

He never really grasped the game itself - he is quite little after all, so his spelling is pretty bad, but we have a lot of fun with Bananagrams anyway, and I force ask everyone who visits to play. 

So when I was contacted with the chance to play with and caress review the recently re-launched favourites 'Appletters' and 'Pairs in pears' I almost had Lesley's arm off! 

As you can see from the first pic below the day they arrived was officially the Greatest Post Day Ever - there's a post coming regarding that there DVD - but the focus now is on my new toys! 

I didn't waste much time getting the games out and we love the ideas in 'Pairs in pears' for pre-reader activities. The game can be played by adults, but there are activities included to play with young children for whom the full game is a bit difficult. 

As we wanted, it's educational, fun, exciting and plain silly at times! 
Jellybean LOVED finding the matching letters and matching patterns to copy words, reading them and sounding them out as we went. First of all we had to write his name, of course, and then we were doing simple three letter words - and he spelled 'run' all by himself! That was a proud Mummy moment! 

As you can see the whole family has been enjoying the game - at all kinds of levels. From simply learning the alphabet (with added 'learning colours' for aiding concentration) to full on competitive spouse evenings seeing who can make the most rude words win the game. 

Not only is it a great game with a lot of interesting variations it FEELS good. The tiles I mean. It might just be me, but I really do like the feel of the tiles, and I know that the tactile fun times will keep the children interested. Midget Gem also likes stacking them into towers - which is fun and I get him to tell me the letters as he does. Most of them are 'J' at the moment. He'll get there! 

The press release for 'Pairs in pears' says;

BUILD WORDS, MATCH PATTERNS - Wordplay fun for all ages & stages

PAIRSinPEARS pairs fun with learning! Packed with eight fun and educational activities, plus two competitive word games, PAIRSinPEARS grows with your family, from the pre-reader stage all the way through adulthood. It’s a game you’ll keep coming back to for years to come. 

With developmental activities like Pattern Grouping and Letter Hunt for parents to play with their pre-readers, and wordplay activities like Rhyming and Fill in the Blank for early readers, your kids will learn while having fun. 

And it gets even juicier with two fast, fun games that have players racing to build word grids in friendly competition. This is the game that truly has something for everyone!

The game retails at 15.99 and it's worth every penny! 

Then - THEN - we moved on to Appletters. It's similar to other well known word games in that you connect your words to those already on the board - BUT you can only connect as a worm rather than as a grid. As you can see from the pictures below this was more challenging than just adding words anywhere - my poor husband was stuck with only one vowel for a while and almost lost - but pulled it back last minute (HUFF) and we had to have another game because I hate losing. 

There are, again, variations more suited to younger children which Jellybean very much enjoyed - and again the tactile nature of the tiles and the fun packaging capture the interest of both children. 

The press release for Appletters said:

Clear the table, unzip the apple and prepare for a great family evening! Appletters is the addictive game for early readers where players work together to build a “word worm” by adding words to the head or tail.

Unexpected twists and turns can happen, so stay on your toes! If you forget the rules, you might get called a “Rotten Apple!” The first player to use all of his or her tiles wins. If you’re hungry for more fun, you can take a bite out of the three extra challenge games. Parents and educators agree – Appletters helps to develop spelling skills, enhance strategic thinking, encourage cooperation, promote turn-taking, and improve concentration. Make Appletters the core of your game night fun!

And it's TRUE - it really does improve their concentration - even Midget Gem, who isn't quite two, will sit at the table singing a close approximation of the alphabet song and playing with the game.

This game also retails at 15.99 and honestly it's worth it - there are so many ways to play, and it's small enough to take everywhere with you. 

Smaller fingers might find the tiles in 'Pairs in pears' easier to play with but I'm just trying to think of things to say might be 'cons' to make this a fair review and not just a fanatical post! I am rather fanatical though! 

The only other thing I could say might possibly be improved is that the packaging - though colourful, well made and awesome looking - is a bit fiddly to get the tiles back into. The tiles come in a small plastic bag which I keep because it makes scooping everything away easier - but Midget Gem ripped the bag from 'Appletters' so the tiles go straight into the apple - and it's a bit of a balancing act getting them in and the bag zipped up without dropping any tiles. 

That is, literally, the only bad thing I can say. 

Now I just need to get my hands on 'Zip it' and 'Fruitominoes' to complete my collection of 'Bananagrams' games! Check out their website for more details on these games and the rest of the range, and pop yourself over to Amazon to buy your own games before THE UNIVERSE RUNS OUT*.

*This is unlikely. But you never know!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Kids can be cruel

Tonight, putting my children to bed, all three of us over tired, grumpy and cold, I tried the usual routine of stories, cuddles, singing, kisses, tucking in and putting on music. 

Somehow I seemed to get it all wrong. 

Jellybean wanted a different CD - but he's broken or scratched all of the others so only one will play. 

He wanted a specific toy which I couldn't find. 

Midget Gem wanted to be on the top bunk, which he can't get to. 

Jellybean wanted to steal Midget Gem's favourite toy. 

The music started to skip, because the one remaining CD is scratched now too. 

The little lights that give them comfort won't turn on.

They were both screaming, I was trying to stay calm, I was trying to tuck them both in because neither will settle if their blankets aren't right - but as soon as I had one tucked in and went to do the other the first kicked themselves free, and I was up and down like a Jack in the box. 

I left the room, shut the door and left them to it. They screamed. Three times they came out of their room and ran in separate directions and I quietly herded them back. 

Jellybean shouted "I don't love you any more" and then "I want my REAL Mummy, I want my PROPER Mummy". I went to give him a hug and he pushed me away. Midget Gem tried to kiss him, and he hit him. I told him off, and he hit me. Midget Gem hit me and told me to go away. 

I went away. 

I heard a smashing noise and ran back in - one of them had thrown a toy and knocked a picture from the wall, smashing the glass in the frame. It was one I made myself to decorate the nursery when I was expecting Jellybean. It's been precious to me for four years. 

To more echoes of "Go away" and "I don't love you" I had two options. 

Cry. Or cuddle. 

I cuddled. I picked them both up, sat on the floor, pinned them to me, started humming and kissed them both over and over and over and over again.

Gradually the fight went out of them, and they stopped hitting me and screaming. With just little hiccups they agreed to go to bed if I sang to them. 

I sang, I tucked them in and I hoped that this time, an hour after starting, they would stay. 

This time they stayed. 

This time when I was shutting the door I saw Midget Gem blow me a kiss, and Jellybean said "I love you Mummy". 

It was worth it. 

Now I'm having some wine. 

Bloody children.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Who gets abused?

Not you, right? Not your friends? Nobody you know is that stupid. Nobody you know is the 'type' to be victims of abuse, right? 

Only saps get abused. Only some wet, wimp of a girl would let her boyfriend hit her and not hit him right back and get the hell out of there. Right?


I remember talking about it, with my friends when we were teenagers. I remember how adamant we all were that we would never be so STUPID or put up with that kind of shit. That we'd turn on our heels and leave, and destroy that guy in the process. 

We were way too strong, way too fabulous, way too smart to fall for the nonsense that brings on an abusive relationship. We also believed that all abusive relationships were when your boyfriend beat you up and you cried and begged him not to.

We all watched Eastenders. We all saw that nasty Trevor beating up poor Little Mo, we all cheered when she got that iron on him, we all spent many an hour saying "silly bint, she needs to just boot him out" and not once did we understand the insipid, slow burning, poisonous rot that comes before the first punch ever landed. None of us knew. 

I blogged a few days ago about domestic abuse - not violence, ABUSE, and the destruction it brings to your soul, your mind and your life. 

I want to expand on that by talking about WHO gets abused, and how. 

So. Who gets abused? What type of person? What 'qualifications' do you need for an abuser to pick you out and follow that Eastenders script?

The thing is - it's anyone. Everyone. All of us. 

You, me, the boy next door, your best friend, that kid you hated at school, your cousin, that old lady in the corner shop. It could be any of them. It could be all of them. 

Strong or weak, brave or not, tall, short, male, female, gay, straight, kind, cruel, whatever. All and any of the people that you see every day could be abused. 

The campaigns I've seen most recently are focusing on teenagers - a terrifyingly high percentage of teenagers are or have been in abusive relationships, and this needs to change and be challenged with education and understanding before that figure grows even higher. 

Over a quarter of teenagers have been in a relationship that has been abusive - whether that is violence or sexual abuse, manipulation or mental abuse. 

Those teenagers aren't just silly little girls. They are from all backgrounds, all religions, all races, all levels of education and income, all kinds of lifestyles. 

They also aren't just girls. They are boys, they are the jocks and the nerds, they are the smart kids, the bottom sets, the gay kids and the straight ones. 

Adult or teen these facts are the same. ANYONE could become a victim. 

In fact I believe that the more adamant that you are that you'll NEVER be the victim of abuse the more likely it is that you will. Because you're the last one who will admit that this rot is setting into YOUR life. 

It's so, so hard to admit that you got someone so wrong, that they've slowly chipped YOU away to a shell of the strong person you were, that they've got under YOUR skin and are destroying you. 

You still want to think that they are the good person you thought you met, that this is a blip, that you can fix it. You end up changing everything that you ever were to try and fit an ever changing mould so that you can keep yourself safe from whatever the hell you did wrong this time and stop the next attack. 

You're so smart, so savvy and so switched on that it couldn't POSSIBLY be happening to you...right? So you stay, and you try, and you continue getting abused because you just can't admit that it's happening, not even to yourself. 

Stopping the cycle of abuse is a scary, immense task - it's so ingrained into society at all levels that it will take each and every one of us remembering the signs, educating our children, listening to the things that people DON'T say and supporting each other to even begin to buck the trend. 

Relationships in the media are rarely chocolate box. They are rarely happy, healthy or right. They set an example to people of how to adapt YOURSELF to try to make a relationship work and the blazing rows, back and forth and lies and manipulation that make up every soap marriage sink in to the minds of everyone viewing, everyone reading those magazines, everyone seeing those gossip columns, and it becomes not just normal but, scarily, somehow desirable. 

Young people seem to seek out these tempestuous relationships, to expect that's how it goes, to relish the drama and trauma. The problem is that whilst these games are being played out, real psychological damage is being done, real lessons are sinking into subconscious minds that teach the players that they aren't worth anything more or better than this, and it continues, around and around, poisoning them.

It scares me. It scares me that this dramatic, traumatic world of relationships is all that some people will ever know. That they will never understand how much more they deserve and how happy they could be, in a healthy, supportive relationship where their individuality is embraced and encouraged.

Stepping out of that cycle once it's begun, even if you escape one abusive relationship, is hard. Stepping away from one abuser isn't the end of the path. A great many victims will step into another carbon copy relationship and fall into the same patterns of behaviour. The same cycle of abuse will continue, and more and more people are joining that dance. 

Domestic abuse isn't just violence, it isn't just young girls who fall victim, it isn't a game and it isn't entertainment. 

The 'celebrities' and tv shows that fill our minds and consciousness with these relationship models are irresponsible, are dangerous, and we all need to fight back with facts, figures, details and empowerment for the victims so that they KNOW what is happening is not right, is not ok, and CAN NOT CONTINUE. 

Monday, 28 January 2013

Wobbles and highs

Today was a great day, I had a good meeting this morning, I met some fab people I might be able to work with, I had a great time with the kids, I managed a sneaky afternoon nap without any tragedies, I had cream cakes for dinner...a great day!

But I still had a mad little weep at around 9pm that threw me! 

My husband was out walking the dog, the boys were fast asleep in bed, I was watching some SERIOUSLY trashy TV (Jersylicious on Netflix - it's AWFUL but so addictive!) and I was chatting on twitter whilst watching my trash and drinking tea with too many sugars (shh) and boom, there I went. 

I was talking about how often we all say "I love you" here. Every morning Jellybean wakes me with kisses, the boys both snuggle in for cuddles, Jellybean says "I love you Mummy, you are the greatest of all the Mummies" (every day, without fail, it's the first thing he says to me) Midget Gem gives me the biiiiiiiiiig biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig kisses that are our special trademarked family kiss, we all have a little love in before we start our day. 

As many times as we can, throughout the day, we all say "I love you" and have cuddles and kisses. "Mummy duddle" is a phrase that echoes around the house all the time, no matter what we're doing we stop for a kiss. 

Bedtime is a flurry of cuddles, kisses, snuggles - we have to do all the kinds of kiss we know, Eskimo, butterfly, tiny kiss, normal kiss, big big kiss, crocodile kiss, lion kiss, special kiss (just between their eyebrows on the top of their nose) and sometimes we run out of kisses and have to top each other up by giving a lot a lot a lot of kisses all over each other's face to make sure there are enough kisses to give back! 

We're the most affectionate family ever - and when I was talking about it on twitter I remembered why it started. 

After I had Midget Gem, when we moved to the tiny flat in Weymouth, I had HORRIBLE PND. I thought I was going to die. I was too scared to leave the house in case someone walking by snatched the baby out of the pushchair and threw him into the road. I was scared that I would wobble the pushchair off the curb in front of a bus. I was scared that Jellybean would run away and fall into the harbour and drown. I was scared that my husband would crash his car and never come home. I was scared ALL the time that one of us, all of us, would die and I could barely breathe I was so afraid. 

I never wanted any of us to leave the flat and cried every single day. I never slept because I was watching everyone to make sure they were still breathing, and I couldn't go to sleep in case they died when I wasn't looking.

I was scared if I did sleep *I* would die and the boys would grow up without a Mummy. I was scared constantly. 

Because I was so scared I wanted to make sure that they all knew I loved them - I wanted the last thing I ever said to be "I love you" - so I said it all the time. All. The. Time. Every thing we did, everywhere we went, no matter what, "I love you" was being said every few minutes. 

And the PND didn't last, the terror lifted, happiness came back, I was happy, loving my family, enjoying our lives and no longer lived with the constant terror that I was going to lose them, or they were going to lose me.

But "I love you" has stayed. We say it all day. Ever hour we've all said it at least a dozen times. The effect doesn't wear off, it hasn't become just words from us saying it so much, we all KNOW it. We all feel loved. The children know they're loved, we know they love us. Spontaneously the children will kiss and cuddle us, or each other, and say "I love you" and Jellybean blows kisses to family photos and tells us he loves everyone. 

I love all this love. I love all this affection. I cried this evening because I was remembering a hard, scary time in our lives - but the result of it is a family who show and tell each other every day that they love each other, and are affectionate. 

So it was worth it.