Monday, 10 September 2018

"You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend."

The last few months have been all about making the house ours, moving rooms around, de-cluttering and making use of all of the space we have. We decided that one of the rooms downstairs needed to be a relaxing reading space. We couldn't quite decided what to put on the wall though in a relaxing space dedicated to one of our favourite past times. That was until I thought about a gift that my bestie Helen had got me for my birthday. She has really helped me through a lot of the harder parts of all this heartache and she was eager to help with putting some personal touches into the house. She had very Kindly bought me 3 canvas's so that the boys and I could create one each.

I asked the boys if they would use their artistic flair to create something each around a book (or series of books) that were important to them. I knew straight away that mine was going to be based on A Series of unfortunate events as Ive been reading them to Opeie at bed time and Ive really loved how excited he's been as we have ploughed through them. I didn't want to draw an obvious picture of the Baudelairs or even their nemesis Count Olaf so I went for a random singer from the Volunteers fighting disease, as the song about the heart shaped balloon always stuck out for Opeie.

I wasn't at all Surprised when Opeie decided he was going to base his canvas design on Beetle boy by M.G. Leonard. The Beetle boy trilogy will always be very special to me as they were the books that really opened up Opeie's imagination and made him realise just how amazing the world of books can be. He hung off every word of those stories and after the first and the second books we were both eager for the release of the next one. I was genuinely gutted when Battle of the Beetles ended.

I not quite sure what I expected Seth to choose, as he mainly reads on his own these days and he gets through so many books that I can't keep up with him.  I was pretty surprised that he chose Enid Blyton's 'The Secret Seven' as they are books that I have been reading to him at bedtime. The secret seven and the Famous five were books that I grew up on and I wanted to share those adventures with the boys.When I asked Seth what was so special about the Secret Seven books he said that he loves me reading to him and finds my voice really relaxing (which made my day).

Emotions may be all over the place at the moment but these little personal touches around the house are making fun new memories and giving us the relaxing home that I think we all need.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

"And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow."

With Seth's first day of secondary school being tomorrow, I should be really thinking about starting the home ed for Opeie tomorrow too. In great home ed style though I'm not. Instead we have decided to have a 'home ed appreciation day' before getting into all of the adventuring and creative learning. We both feel really lucky to be in a position to be educating/learning on our terms and were going to spend tomorrow really thinking about that as we see the local children leaving for school. Tomorrow will be a day of staying in our pj's, reading, baking and playing because... well we can.

I think its amazing how far we have come as a team and I often think back to those unnerving few months around (what would have been) his official 'start date', all the 'what if's' and 'Am I doing the right thing'. It seems crazy now to think that I had that little confidence in not only myself, but Opeie's ability to learn outside of a classroom environment. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't still have the same occasional thoughts every now and again when I am having an off day, but luckily on these days (which thankfully are getting less and less), I take myself back to a single moment.

We had decided to go on a spur of the moment mid week camping trip (because as home edders you can do that kind of thing). As we pulled into the campsite car park at Devils bridge the heavens opened. Not a light delicate shower but the sort of rain that meant that we couldn't park next to the tent pitch for fear of getting stuck on the field. We managed to get the tent up in the rain and flopped onto the beds to read for a while. The rain died down and the sun came out and we saw that as an opening to go exploring. We decided to walk Devils bridge falls (which is beautiful) while reading the local legend that surrounds the bridge.Within 5 minutes of the walk the rain came down even harder than before. We were drenched! usually I love the adventure, but I felt like the trip was going to be a flop and I seriously started questioning the whole 'Home Ed' thing. As we walked up the waterfall though with the rain still coming down and the spray from the falls almost hitting us too, the sun came out behind it all and what appeared a few feet in front of us was the most beautiful sight. 

In an instant, all of those negative feelings I had about Home Ed seemed to vanish and as we stood and stared at a rainbow (that we could almost touch) curving over the waterfall in front of us, I was left with an enlightened feeling of 'This is exactly where we should be right now'. 

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that"

I genuinely had no idea that the transition to becoming a single dad was going to be so difficult. I'd felt like a single parent for such a long time, so I figured everything would just fall into place. Being there for the boys though during this confusing and upsetting time has been so exhausting. Its hard enough dealing with my own confusion around why someone could walk out on their family for what seems like no reason at all, without having to also be damage control for those two very special boys in my life and the hurt and disappointment that they are feeling. Keeping busy is all I've got these days and I'm trying to desperately hold on to my passions and creativity, while keeping it together.

LEGO for me has always been so much more than a building toy, it has become a way of life in our home and a way for the boys and I to not only explore our imaginations but to also communicate with each other. Recently LEGO is the one thing that is keeping me sane of an evening, which may sound dramatic but there have been moments over the last few months where I have felt like I'm not coping very well and the evenings can be quite lonely. The rummaging, the designing, the entire process of building has become like my evening meditation and Ive started using that to build things to make the boys home more interesting. 

All the heartache aside, it has actually been pretty nice transforming our home into the home that we want and the first thing we did was to scrap the lounge and turn it into a LEGO room. It made so much more sense to actually make use of the space that we have and it has really helped the boys to look at our family home in a new way now that its just the three of us. 

The past couple of nights Ive been busy making small changes to things in the house. A couple of damaged picture frames have been replaced by frames made of bricks and (not being a fan of the main lights in the house) I decided to create some new table lamps for the house for a little more relaxed lighting (we could all do with a little more 'relaxed' these days). Opeie recently bought the Powerpuff girls kits with his pocket money and after building them they were just sitting on the shelf not doing much, so I decided to build the first lamp around them, mainly because of all the bright colours. It came out looking pretty cute and fit perfectly into the room.

Well, I'd got the buzz, so the following evening I started to build a Spider-man themed one for the boys bedroom. As I sat there clicking those bricks together it was the first time in what seems like such a long time that I really felt like myself again. Not only did the lamp come out looking really fun  but it really got me thinking of more things that I wanted to create over the coming weeks. I think it has been good for the boys to see me getting excited about something again.

Ive always had a thing for lighting around the house, especially of an evening and I can't believe I've not thought about doing this before. The great thing about building the lamps with LEGO is that if we get bored of them we can take them apart and change the theme. The boys also pointed out that we can create lamps for Christmas, Halloween, Valentines etc. It looks like this may be a new family tradition and as Opeie keeps saying 'Im glad we are are making new fun memories over the bad ones'.

As always, another amazing win for LEGO in our house, Its amazing that something as simple as plastic bricks, could have such a huge impact on us three boys.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

"If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you're a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind."

A few weeks back we had a visit from one of our friends Kayleigh, who's been a friend of mine since Uni and unlike me she went on to do amazing things with the skills that she picked up from her course. Kayleigh is a skilled glass designer who specialises in hot sculpting and iridised surface design (I took that last bit straight from her website 😂). Like myself she's a big fan of the brick and one evening we had a chat about how she would really like a brick version of her combined furnace, glory hole and Lehr setup from her work place so that she could use it to be able to explain how it works to her customers a little more easily. Obviously I love a challenge when it comes to LEGO, I didn't expect it to be as much of a challenge as it was though, when she arrived at ours with no photos of what it was I was building. 

As she explained each part of what she wanted building we had a good chuckle as I had no idea what half of the words meant. So it was down to Kayleigh's skills with a pencil to try and give me what I needed to start building. While I started putting bricks together, asking lots of questions as I went, Kayleigh kept Opeie entertained with some building of her own. 

When you complete a build that is a representation of something that you have never seen before its really difficult to get excited about it. It wasn't until Kayleigh added this image of the LEGO with the actual furnace behind it, that I realised I hadn't done a bad job at all even if it was a little off scale.

You can see Kayleigh's work over at KayleighYoungGlass

"Sugar, Spice and everything nice..."

I love those quite moments in the house when Opeie is doing his own little secretive things and today there was silence everywhere. I eventually ask him what he was doing and he simply answers "I'm turning you into a Powerpuff girl character dad!". I love that little guy so much.

"Get out of my way, you Cakesniffers!"

Its been a tough few months with our lives changing so much with the split. As I said in the last post I feel like I've really lost myself in all of it and I know the boys are feeling the same way, Opeie especially. With his mom not being around I've been trying as best I can to keep him busy and in the company of the people that love spending time with him. This has not been difficult at all because we have the best group of friends around us and they definitely more than make up for our lack of family. 

Over the last few months we've spent a lot of time hanging out with our friends Charlotte and Rich, usually walking the streets of Shropshire in search of Pokemon. To continue the love of all things Pokemon and our blossoming friendship, they invited us round to theirs today to bake cakes and decorate them in a way that only Pokemon enthusiasts know how.

As the saying goes 'A baking session isn't successful unless you've messed up a couple of batches first'. No you're right, no one has ever said that, but as we all had a good laugh about the mess we made and Rich pointed out that the one batch looked like it needed vegetables and gravy with them, it was clear that the muck ups really add to the memories of the afternoon.

We soon had a decent batch to work with though so we set about adding some flair to our cupcakes. While we created our masterpieces we chatted about all sorts and I was reminded yet again how in awe I am of that amazing 7-year-old of mine. He loves being around other adults and is such a confident kid when it comes to general chit chat, everyone seems to adore him as much as I do.

With the first couple of cakes finished it was time for an action shot, Pikachu... I choose you!

The cakes ended up taking so much longer than we expected but thats the great thing about being around amazing friends, you get lost in all the fun and the time just flies by. With the cakes finished the only thing left to do was check to see if our creations tasted as good as they looked...they totally did.

These may be some of the toughest months we've been through but being surrounded by such amazing and caring people has made us realise that we really are the luckiest three boys.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

"There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time."

Pretty much every night I lay next to Opeie after reading to him thinking 'I'm going to write a post tonight' and every night I head downstairs, lie on the sofa and get overwhelmed by the mass of emotions that seem to stop me doing anything that I enjoy recently. If you've got this far into your life and you've not been faced with the reality that life, at times, can be an absolute arsehole, then you are doing pretty well. I've had my fair share of utter crap throughout my many years on this earth, some (not many though) I take full responsibility for, but the bulk of it has been thrown at me by the unpleasant people I have met while navigating through this storm of a life.

I had however thought that 8 years ago that had all ended and that my life was on track for the celebration of love and kindness that I felt like I deserved. Sadly I should have known better. When you finally meet 'the one' (and for me it was the one that I wanted to start a family with), It feels different than than any other previous relationship. For me, this was it! and I can honestly say that I put everything I have into developing that into a relationship I could be proud of. Unfortunately, there were two people in that relationship and only one was really putting in the effort when it came to matters of the heart.

When you are in a relationship with someone that holds their career in higher regard than anything else then there is only one direction that relationship is going in. I shouldn't have been surprised when I heard those heartbreaking words because there was a 3 year build up to that point, but then hope can be a very dangerous thing. And I did hope that she would see that her actions were destroying the magic we had built in the early years and that there is more to life than climbing the career ladder.

I wanted this blog to be a happy place for the boys to look back on and see all of the amazing things that we have done together and I hope that it still can be. I felt that it was important to write this post though, not only to mark where life changed for us all but also to break down the wall of negativity I had built, stopping me from doing the things I love most. The last 4 months have been a real learning curve, There have been more tears than I think I have ever cried, thoughts and feelings I thought I would never have and I've ended up really losing myself in all of it. 

If there is one huge thing I have learnt from all of this though it's that I have the most amazing group of friends that I could ever ask for. Not only for being there for me but also being amazing support for the two most important people in my life. The love, kindness and effort of all of them (and you know who you are) has got me through what could have been my lowest point. Life can seriously throw you about at times and I'm not expecting this new life as a single dad to be easy, but honestly, aside from the upset and confusion, so far it has been more fun than I've had in a long long time.

The boys and I have a whole new life ahead of us and I plan on embracing every moment I have with them, Its time to claim our lives back, there is so much fun to be had.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn."

I'm going to start this post off on a negative note, which I don't usually do as I always keep all of my posts happy and upbeat but stay with me. For as long as I can remember I have been 'Anti Zoo's'. I never liked the idea of animals being out of their natural habitat and trapped in enclosures, the whole idea of it weirded me out a little and because of this we had never taken the boys to the zoo. When I think about it now my view on this could seem quite odd as I have taken them to aquariums before... clearly I feel completely different about sea life. 

After being asked to visit Twycross Zoo my initial thought was to politely decline, but before doing so I went online and did a little research on the zoo and this is where I realised that my thoughts and feelings about zoo's especially in Twycoss' case was very wrong. After reading about their conservation projects and research into animal behaviour, breeding programmes and sustainability, I closed my laptop feeling very different about the views I had previously had. So we decided to visit Twycross so that we could really see what the zoo was all about.
If there is one very important thing that I have learned since starting this amazing home-schooling adventure with Opeie, it is that no day sat in a class room, having information thrown at you is ever going to trump a day out learning through experience and that really is what home-schooling is all about for us. Add another home-schooling family into the mix and your educational fun is magnified as the children bounce their thoughts, feelings and ideas off of each other. 

We picked probably the best day of the year so far to visit the zoo as the sun was out and there looked like there was no chance of anything changing, which for a day in April is good going. The kids were excited and us parents had our own favourite animals that we couldn't wait to see. What I loved from the get go was how immaculate the zoo was and how welcoming and friendly the staff were which will always put you in good stead for a great visit anywhere. 

With maps in their hands we left the kids to show us around (a great home-schooling lesson in itself).

First on their list of places of interest on the map was Lorikeet landing, I don't think I'd ever seen a Lorikeet before and I think its safe to say that we were all really impressed by the bright and vibrant colours on these beautiful birds. I was great to be able to walk into the enclosure and have them landing right next to you as you made your way through. I love the way that there was no shortage of information about each of the animals there, having the educational side of things made easy for us home-schooling parents.

Being the little punk enthusiast that Opeie is these days, he was in awe of the black and white zebra mohicans. It was interesting to learn that the zebras stripes can be used as camouflage but also that their monochrome pattern can confuse and deter flies. 

one of the most appealing things about the zoo for me was the shear size of it, you could easily spend the whole day there wandering about, especially on the glorious day that we visited. with something different everywhere you turn, even if you were not interested in reading the information about the animals the visit would be a stimulating visual experience. Being able to see animals that you would never get to see unless visiting their natural habitats, really is very special.

Ive always been a huge fan of the giraffe and as we approached the enclosure we realised we had arrived at exactly the right time, to see them up close while they were feeding. For me personally this really made the visit.

One of the things that really surprised me about the visit was the the way I felt about animals that I'd not really thought about before. We're always watching nature documentaries and although its fascinating to learn about animals, to actually see them is a real experience. I'd never really given Gorillas a second thought, when we reached the enclosure though I could have sat there watching them all afternoon and it was clear that we all felt the same.

At lunch time we found a spot of grass to have our picnic. When we looked behind us we were shocked to see two enormous tortiose happily munching on some grass. (like I said 'everywhere you look there is something interesting). 

Tummys full, it was time for our little map reading tour guides to take us to the next place of interest, the Lemurs...

It was at this point that one of our party members started to get very VERY excited... and it wasn't one of the children. When arranging the trip I had been concentrating so much on the kids having a great time I hadn't thought for one second about our friend Helen having the time of her life. It turns out she loves Lemurs and having them walking along right next to her was clearly making her very happy indeed. 

With so many amazing animals to see  we were fully entertained for the day and the kids had so much to talk about on the way home. As a home educating parent these are the sorts of days out that really have the most impact and the visit has already spurred on many activities and interesting talks about habitats and interesting facts about each of the animals we saw.

If you are planning on a visit soon the new Chimpanzee Eden has just opened. Check out the link HERE!

The thing that really made this visit special is that it made me realise that although it is good to have strong feelings about various things in life, they are not always right and sometimes you can be proved wrong. Twycross and the amazing work that they do to learn about each of their animals while educating along the way really is something special and we hope to visit there again very soon. 

Saturday, 14 April 2018

"Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick."

As much as I adore LEGO, I wasn't 100% sold on the Brickheadz range when they first came out. They seemed too static and lack playability which really put me off. That was though until a couple of days back when Opeie decided that he wanted to spend some of his birthday money on the new Brickheadz Go brick me kit. He got home tore open the box, had a quick flick through the instructions and built himself and his doting dad. The instruction book is awesome, giving you all sorts of plans for various facial features and accessories. I was blown away with the characters that he built and I think he really did us both justice.
Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick.
Read more at: and accessories. I was absolutely blown away by what he built and I think he really did us both justice.

Opeie's creations have completely changed my view on these fun builds and I'm now hooked. we've ordered the parts we need to build lots more so watch this space.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

"There's a bright spot in every dark cloud."

We used to be a really crafty family, always with the glue and the colourful card out making various things. Recently though the only time we seem to craft is when Opeie is creating awesome cards for his Pen pals. As the boys and I sat glue gunning for an hour this afternoon fixing one of our favourite creations, I realised that I had never actually written about it. 

Early last year one of my friends posted a video online of an amazing cloud lamp that lit up like a storm cloud. after seeing it in action I was hooked but the $3300 price tag wasn't at all appealing. It was one of those things though that I just couldn't get out of my head and I knew there must be a way of making a cheaper alternative that didn't break the bank. I did a little research and went shopping for supplies.

All I needed was some sphere paper lamp shades in various sizes, a bag of wadding, a glue gun, clear wire, a hook and LED strip lights, simple.

The light ended up being so simple to make and it was something that the boys could get involved in making too. Once the lamp shades were up we started hot gluing long pieces of the wadding to them, working around each one in a circular motion. once the three paper shades were covered we put the LED strip lights in each one. We then tied clear wire to each shade and hung them from a hook in the ceiling so it looked like the cloud was floating above the bed. It ended up being much more effective than i expected and only cost us around £15 (so a little cheaper than the one I spotted online😁).

To finish off the magic of the light we played the storm sound from the white noise app, turning the boys room in to a relaxing and magical place for reading.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

"Problems are hidden opportunities, and constraints can actually boost creativity."

When it comes to home-schooling, the learning never stops, but over the school holidays we definitely kick back and relax a little. The boys have had so much fun so far over the Easter period and it'll be sad when Seth goes back to school after this week. Ive been trying to get Opeie into a little coding recently and have borrowed books from the library and a BBC Micro:bit but he just hasn't shown any interest. I think part of it is because I want to have a go and learn with him but I didn't want to push it as thats the quickest way to put any child off an project.

Yesterdays activity, which I assumed would only last for a couple of hours ended up filling our whole day and in Opeie's words was 'One of the best Daddy-School days he's ever had'. Back in November we bought Seth a LEGO Boost kit for his birthday (Ok, so I was trying to get them both into coding) and with his obvious love of LEGO, it seemed like the perfect gift for Seth and something that Opeie may have been interested in at a later date. Seth sat and built it after his Birthday and had a little play but it ended up on a shelf untouched. So yesterday as the weather was awful and it was clear that we were not going anywhere, Opeie and I decided to have a play.

After learning the basics and working out what each of the commands does we began building a track out of LEGO so that we could work out the commands to get Vernie the robot to the finish line. For dramatic effect we used Opeie's Creator 3 in 1 robot (Which looks like it could be Vernie's child) and placed it at the end of the course. So Vernie had lost his child and needed to be programmed to get to them safely. One of the many thing I love about the boost is being able to key in the turning Degrees. We hadn't covered that yet so we drew a circle and I spent some time explaining Degrees and how the number we entered, would affect the robots movement. Seeing the actions in motion rather than just being on paper meant that this sank straight in with Opeie

It wasn't all movement that we needed to code though which made the activity even more fun. I placed the traffic cones (that come with the kit) across the track and Opeie stopped the robot at that point, recorded himself saying "Oh no! traffic comes, please can I have some help?" and also added that into the chain of commands followed by a 360° spin and flashing disco lights on the chest once they were moved.

Opeie's next obstruction was a Nexo Knights robot who was blocking his path. Opeie programmed his robot to stop and say hello and then recorded voice commands so that they could have a short conversation before high fiving and continuing along the route. Desperate to make use of the rocket launcher on his shoulder, Opeie built a LEGO target before adding in some coding to make Vernie stop and shoot it down. When the command for 360° spin didn't quite go around all the way (probably due to being on carpet), Opeie worked out how many more degrees he needed to turn and then added that into the line of coding too, which straightened up Vernie, keeping him on his path.

When Vernie finally made it to Vern Jr, Opeie had recorded an excited reunion piece to finish off our afternoon of LEGO fun. These are the sort of homeschooling activities that really reinforce our decision to teach Opeie ourselves and this is also another huge win for those amazing bricks, turning a dull and rainy day into a colourful learning adventure. 

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