Tuesday, 13 March 2018

"I tried to think of the most harmless thing. Something I loved from my childhood. Something that could never, ever possibly destroy us. Mr. Stay Puft."

I'm quite sure many of us have got that one friend that no matter how much effort they put into life they just cant seem to catch a break. Mines called Steve! After meeting him one afternoon in our local toy store we got chatting and our friendship blossomed from there over a love of LEGO, Movies, Games and many other geeky things that we have in common. Steve is the kind of guy that will just continue to graft in his work life despite what is thrown at him, and it has seemed like over the last few years, the obstacles that have been placed in his way have become a lot more frequent. Whenever I go an see him though he always has a smile on his face.

The last few months for him have been a little harder than usual with being away from his family due to work commitments and I like to think that as a friend I've always been there to help him out when he (and his family) have needed it. I really wanted to do something special to put a huge smile on his face though, so in my classic brick lovin' style I hit the LEGO.

Steve is usually the first person outside of the house to see anything that we have created with those magical bricks, and has been a huge fan of the custom Death star's that we have created over the years. If you remember a few years back, he was the chap that created the LEGO arcade with me, housing the first Death star that the boys and I had built. Well in all fairness he built the entire thing and took care of all the electrics etc (I just threw some Lego on it), He's such a smart guy, it just always seems like the world is stacked against him.

For years Steve has been making off the cuff comments about me building him a Death star, Id always loved the idea he had had for one and knew that I would inevitably build it. Recent events though gave me all the motivation I needed to get going.

Steve's idea: A retro Death star using all of the great characters released in the dimensions range.

Luckily they were all TV shows and movies from my childhood so I was excited to get stuck in. It gave me a great excuse to watch them all over again too (because what else was I going to do with my evenings?). As I said before, I knew that I would eventually start this, so for the last few months I had been picking up the Dimensions kits that I needed in preparation.

As soon as I had built all the floors for each section of the build (which is by far the most boring part) I was ready to let my creative juices flow . The boys sat and watched all the movies with me (apart from Beetlejuice) and came up with some amazing ideas. The bottom floor of the Death star build can be a little wasted, as unless you have it up high you cant really see whats going on, I really wanted to make the most of it though, So for the first room I created the scene from Ghostbusters, the part when they have dug up the street and are lowering Ray into the sewers and he finds the river of pink slime. This was great as I could make the bottom level look like a sewer. As soon as I had built it Opeie said 'Dad, didn't you watch ninja turtles before school when you were little?, you could put them in the sewer!' Which I thought was a great idea. So I added in an upper sewer tunnel with Michelangelo skateboarding out, which fit into the build perfectly.

The A-team was one of the highlights of my Saturday afternoon when I was younger and With Mr. T being released for Dimensions, I had to build the other 4 characters and somehow add the iconic truck into the build. It was at this point where I really started getting into the creation .

I had originally wanted to make the classroom scene from ET as one of the things that stuck out most for me was the little girls face with the frogs around her, but as that scene didn't include ET it was clear that I needed to go for the spaceship scene where ET finally 'goes home'. I didn't want to leave the frogs out though so I had the girl standing in the section surrounded by frogs anyway.

With the way this build comes together, building each quarter at a time and then working upwards is quite exciting when you get to the next level as it all starts taking shape and you realise how big the finished build is going to be. The Goonies was the section that I was looking forward to building the most as it was (and still is) my favourite film growing up. I was a little disappointed that LEGO had only released Sloth with the Dimensions pack but I still managed to build the Goonies despite their outfits not being spot on. The boys were playing and they were using LEGO dynamite and I had a eureka moment for what I was going to build for the section.

Steve is massively into retro gaming and all things arcade so I wanted to include an arcade into the build which I also thought would be a great spot to put a minifigure of himself in. The boys decided that I should be in there too as I was building it so they made a LEGO Steve and a 'daddy figure' to live in the arcade.

I was really looking forward to building a Back to the future section but it ended up being such a stress and I wasted a whole day building. I had originally planned to build the Delorean which the boys said not too as I had added the A-Team van in and they thought I should do something different. So I decided to try and create the scene when Marty gets to Hill valley after going back in time (You know the part "Mr Sandman......"). The section wasn't high enough to add the clock tower in though and it didn't seem right without it, so after a few hours building I broke the section up and attempted the enchantment under the sea dance. That didn't work either and by this point I was feeling pretty frustrated. Then, Opeie said 'You should build the big speaker from the start of the movie with Marty playing his guitar!"... the kids a genius! Within an hour it was looking amazing.

I knew that the final quarter of the larger section was going to be for the Gremlins but I had no Idea how I was going to create the idea I had so I made some make shift walls so that I could put the next level in and start working on the top layer. With all of the previous Death Star builds the top level had been split up into 4 sections but I had an idea and wanted to do something a little different. Before I started the build I knew that I wanted to build the closing scene from Ghostbusters with the Staypuft. It seemed like the perfect idea for high up on top. I was concerned though that the size of the Staypuft minifigure would look silly compared to the giant one in the movie but once I'd added the terror dog statues and the Ghostbusters it all looked pretty cute. 

I was talking to a friend of mine on one of the LEGO FB pages about the build and I told her that I was struggling for an idea for the Beetlejuice section. She said that I should make the graveyard scene, I couldn't remember it so that night I watched the movie again. She was right, it was the perfect idea and when the advert comes on with a country looking Beetlejuice riding a cow I knew I needed to include that too, along with his coffin and sign pointing to his grave. The double section was too big to be all graveyard so I added a sandy area and put the sandworm in their too. All I needed now was to come up with something for that Gremlins section. 

I knew what I wanted to do but I just wasn't sure how I was going to make it look how I wanted it too. The kitchen scene was one of my favourites when I was younger, I mean whats not fun about seeing a woman Microwave and blend up a Gremlin? Building a kitchen was the easy part but I needed chopped up gremlins in pools of gremlin slime. It wasn't until I had built Billy's knife wielding mom that it started to come together. I somehow had to add Gizmo in there too so I had him casually cruising in his remote control car.

It's so satisfying to complete a build like this, but this one was even better as it was a gift for Steve, a top bloke that deserves to have good things happen in his life. Lets hope that good things come in 3's and this has just kick-started it. Either way hes got a new toy to play with, I know that always makes me smile.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

"Then come my black days, MAD and loud. I howl. I growl at every cloud."

After a confusing end to 2017 and what can only be described as one of the worst starts to a year I've encountered, I'm trying so hard to not let recent events get the better of me. Writing was always an escape for me but in the last 6 months it has seemed like such a chore and if I'm honest I'm really having to force myself to write this as just seems like too much effort. I'm really hoping though that it somehow flicks a switch on how I am currently feeling, allowing me to get back to where I was last year, as I have so many happy things to write about. As a blogger (especially a family blogger), how you appear on the surface is so important, I never wanted to be one of those writers that is all doom and gloom. It can be really difficult at times though to write about the happy things in your life when inside that couldn't be further from how you actually feel. 

The blog has always been a happy place for me but amongst the back catalogue of unpublished posts that have been written, there is an insight into how I've actually been feeling deep down over the last few years. 

Do you ever feel like for some reason your emotions are completely out of whack?

Well that's pretty much how I am feeling at the moment and if it wasn't for the boys and close friends I honestly don't know how I'd got through to the other side with only this uneasy feeling to show for it all. One thing I have learnt from all this though, is that it's ok to not be Mr Sunshine all the time (although Ive always prided myself on being that happy guy that people generally like). We all have our 'off times' in life and I'm hoping I'm coming to the end of one of mine.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Success for me is ABC - Ability, Believe in yourself and Creativity

If there is one thing that I always try and install into the boys, its that effort is everything. I like to think that I do a great job of letting my family and close friends know exactly how much they mean to me and this has always been something I have taught the boys, especially when it comes to Mrs M. Back at the end of November I asked the boys to think of a thoughtful gift that they could create for Mrs M, I didn't specify what but said if they wanted any advice or help all they had to do was ask.

A few days later Opeie came to me with his idea. He has always loved the book I made for Mrs M when I asked her to marry me and he reads it a lot. I think it is because it is about how we met and with each page an insight into how we got to that magical moment in Orlando. His idea was to create his own book all about his beautiful mom which I was super excited about (part of me was worrying about the amount of time we had to complete though).

The thoughtfulness of this gift really touched me as he knew it was going to take a lot of time and effort but he wanted to show Mrs M just how much he appreciates being home-schooled. This was another huge bonus for me as from an educational view it was the perfect way to wind down our year of home-ed, combining literacy and huge amounts of creativity. 

We got to work quickly. Opeie wanted to make a 'Mommy ABC' in the style of one of his favourite Dr. Seuss books. An A-Z of everything to do with Mrs M with rhyming couplets on every page. Firstly he wrote all the words down that made him think of her, for the letters he struggled with we looked online for lists of words for that letter and combed them looking for relevant words. Trying to combine the words in rhyme was going to be tricky but luckily the first page was a breeze and it was all the motivation Opeie needed "Big A, little a, what begins with A? Auntie Lottie's Autumn Aeroplane A A A". As soon as the words were down that creative flair kicked in and he was drawing an aeroplane with a beautiful autumn print.

This was pretty much how the following few days of daddy school went, we would sit down and try and work out a rhyme for the page and then Opeie would grab his crayons and start creating. Then a couple of days before we had reached December I received an email from the company that I was going to use to create the book with a discount code for 40% off, perfect I thought, until I saw that the off was only valid for 8 days!!! Feeling a little deflated I mentioned it to Opeie in passing and he said "we can finish it by then dad", I loved his enthusiasm but I genuinely thought it would be pushing it for a 6-year-old. This is when I realised that when it comes to an amazing mom that you want to make smile at Christmas, anything is possible.

As soon as breakfast was out of the way on the mornings, Opeie pushed himself to complete his 26 drawings that he knew he needed to create, along with the 26 pages of writing to cover each of the letters of the alphabet. This had gone from an amazing creative and literacy based activity to an awesome lesson in working to a deadline and time management, not something that I would have ever purposely added into our homeschooling schedule but it all happened so organically.

One afternoon Opeie had written 9 pages for the book and drawn some of the pictures an he said his hand was really hurting. I had been telling him for about an hour to stop and we would do something else but he was so focused on getting the book finished, it was adorable to watch. With all the pages written and all the drawing complete Opeie started looking for backgrounds to mount all of his drawings on around the house to make his creations more colourful. He then used his pictures to create a cover and we sat together uploading it all online, he was so excited when he saw it all coming together.

On the day it arrived the excitement was too much for him, we still had 2 weeks until Christmas and he was desperate to give it to Mrs M. I couldn't get enough of that look of pride on his face when he took it out of the box. I saw that same look again as he handed it to his special lady on Christmas day.

It's lovely to buy nice gifts at Christmas but for me (and hopefully the boys now too) its all about the effort that we go to for the people we care about the most.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

"Human life is beyond comprehension."

If there is one thing that I have learnt from the first few years of home education, it's that child lead learning really does work. Being able to design your own timetable around the things that they are interested in is not only effective in their development but the things that they are learning really stick. When I was at school I hated reading and writing comprehension at school. The information I was given was generally dull which meant that I answered the questions based solely on what I had read. I know that's the whole point, but being able to make the reading part an interesting piece full of facts that are of a genuine interest makes all the difference.

As we sat at home today shying away from the cold weather for a change, I printed out a sheet about beetles (Opeie's current interest aside from Teen Titans and being chained up only to escape like harry Houdini). I then set out some questions for him to answer in full sentences and left him to it while I made lunch and cleaned the house. Opeie shouted through the house telling me that his activity was fun (a sentence you would have never heard me using when taking about written comprehension).

It was a great activity for putting in to practice all the writing skills that he has learnt over the last couple of years while also giving him fun facts about one of the things that he enjoys learning about most. A win/win for home education. 

Monday, 18 December 2017

"For every disciplined effort there is a multiple reward."

Its been a fun build up to Christmas this year mainly because we have decided not to go mad, buying things for the sake of it. When writing their letters to Santa this year, like every other year, we told the boys to just write 3 things that they wanted. You would think that this would be easy for any 6 and 11-year-old, the only difficult part being narrowing the list down to 3. For Seth and Opeie though it was a bit of a struggle. 

For a long time now I have been the sort of person that gets to Christmas and genuinely doesn't want anything. I am so content with how my life is that there is nothing that could make me any happier. All I ever want is a happy Mrs M and the boys. This has unexpectedly rubbed off on the boys, Seth especially. Opeie had one thing on his Christmas list that he really wanted and Seth simply said "I feel like i have everything that I need" which I thought was a very grown up and humble thing to say.

I like to think of Christmas as a time for making effort rather than it revolving around heavy spending. I like to try and do something special for the boys around the festive period that doesn't cost anything and this year I decided that I was going to make them both an advent calender. I had made them an advent in the past with the help of Mrs M, this year though I wanted to build them something using those lovable bricks.

At first I was kicking myself that I hadn't kept the LEGO advent calender we had bought last year as they would be great for reusing, all I would have had to do was design a cover for the box and I'd have been sorted. We ended up using the tray from our previous one as paint pots when crafting. Good old LEGO and their recyclable packaging. This years LEGO calender became my advent and mind started ticking away with ideas for the boys, I knew exactly what I was going to do.

Opeie has become a HUGE Ninjago fan since the LEGO Ninjago movie was released so it was a no brainer that his advent was going to be Ninjago themed. I decided to build his advent in the style of a Japanese temple with 25 doors to open. For each day a Ninjago character for his collection. Any LEGO enthusiast reading this with probably think 'that would cost a small fortune' but being a member of so many Facebook LEGO trade pages I managed to trade all of the figures for other LEGO items that we have. The advent didn't actually take that long to build and the look on his face on the 1st was amazing. Now on day 18 I get an excited little boy waking me up to tell me who he has got, its awesome.

I struggled at first for Seth's advent as he's not into any themes that come with minifigures. For Seth LEGO has become all about Technics. He loves playing with cogs and motors and working out how to make machines witch from an educational point of view is amazing. I decided to cruise the Facebook pages again and contact friends online looking for interesting Technics elements that he doesn't have in his collection. The problem I had though, was that I didn't know what style to build the advent (and I'm definitely out of my building comfort zone with Technics). That being said though I sat one evening and worked out how to make a remote control box which worked great but it looked boring so instead I decided to build a snowman with motor and receiver on the back so that Seth could open his torso every morning via remote and get to his LEGO Technic surprise.

Its been such a lovely feeling every morning watching them get excited about whats coming next and for me this is what Christmas is all about. A little effort goes a long way.

Monday, 11 December 2017

"Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood."

When I was woken at 6am on Friday morning by two very excited boys shouting "there's snow!!!", I pulled the duvet back over my head and thought 'all this for a light sprinkling' I need my sleep. 5 whole minutes of excitement passed before I was literally dragged from bed to join in with the prancing about. As I walked over to the window rubbing my eyes I wasn't expecting the magic that was going on outside. Despite my lack of motivation for getting out of bed that morning, I should probably point out that...

I can probably go as far as saying that when it gets to this time of year I crave it. If you don't mind the cold (Mrs M hates it) then snow can be the best fun. Ive never seen the boys get dressed so quick, we were outside just after 7am throwing snowballs (quietly of course). Gridlock traffic 5 minutes up the road on the school run soon changed to me u-turning my way back home so that we could have some serious fun. 9am and we already had a snowman built and that just kick started what has been an amazing 4 days so far. after the snowman was built we started building a snow base because lets be honest, a huge snowball fight was inevitable.

 It wouldn't have been fair, the kids having a base and not me, so we used a really useful box to make lots of snow bricks and built three walls for me to hide behind, it was the perfect way to protect myself from heavy fire.

Although Mrs M stayed in the cold for a lot of the time she popped out regularly with hot drinks and snacks for her three favourite snow brawlers and while I was out entertaining the kids in the street she baked and cooked our meals, it was a win win as far I'm concerned.

 With no sign of the snow leaving anytime soon and with Seth's school closed, today's snow fun was a morning of snowball fights, followed by sledging down the hills of a local farmers field, snow bliss.

To make things even more exciting, when we finally came in this evening Mrs M let us know that the school will be closed again tomorrow. So we can continue the snow fun for another day.

...and we finally got Mrs M out in the snow too! We'll make a snow bunny of her yet.

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