Tuesday, 28 June 2016

"A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work."

It's been a restless few weeks for Opeie recently sleep wise. We're not really sure why but he's been waking up on and off and occasionally has been a little upset. It may just be a growth spurt but he's never been the best sleeper and would keep us up sporadically through the night for the first 4 years, which at times was exhausting. A few nights back we heard him wake up and Mrs. M went upstairs to make sure he was ok. He was still semi-asleep and explained to Mrs. M that he had had a bad dream.

When asked what the dream was about (because it's always important to ask in case it is something serious) he explained that the dream was about a small fish who was being chased by an angry whale and couldn't get away. Although he was clearly quite upset about the poor little fish he said it was ok because a swordfish had come along and saved the little fish from the big bad whale. Despite the tears and restless sleep I've got to say, the whole thing was pretty adorable.

I'm not really sure where it all started but swordfish keep popping up a lot recently when Opeie is talking. As far as I can remember we've not been anywhere where he may have seen a swordfish, read any books including a swordfish or even spotted one in any documentary we may have been watching recently, but it is clear that this new love of the hero swordfish is here to stay. So when Opeie decided he wanted a craft session a few days ago we came up with a plan to recreate his dream.

The idea was to make something cute that Mrs. M could have in her work space at home to make her smile. Opeie and I had a long discussion about the dream and he explained what the fish looked like before drawing them for me. We cut the front and sides out of a box and covered in duck tape that we had left over from our Custom scooter. Opeie did a great job of mixing some lovely colours and painted the inside of his fish tank and the three fish. We had a big bucket of shells and rocks in the back garden from various visits to the beach which were waiting to be used for something fun, so we made the most of them.

After Opeie had painted his dream fish and given them button and googly eyes, we suspended his creations with the only string we could find (yo-yo strings) and our fish tank was complete. Our craft session gave us a great chance to talk about dreams and why we think we have them. We talked colour mixing and textures, but most importantly to him, he got to use a glue gun. A pretty perfect little craft session and a splash more colour added to Mrs. M's office area.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

"It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength."

New LEGO kits for us are always exciting! When you have a real passion for a product, like we do with these amazing bricks every new kit released tends to get those corners of my mouth pointing upwards. What really makes me happy though especially as a custom builder is a new LEGO piece. To anyone else it would just seem like an insignificant piece of plastic but each new element created can open up a world of building possibilities.

When I first saw the LEGO City - Town fun in the park kit I was in complete awe! I know, I know, that sounds ridiculous but as I have said many times before, LEGO is a way of life in our home and has a huge effect on how me and the boys interact every day, so it's only natural that these little things (to us) would be a big deal. With so many Minifigures in the kit, there is a great selection of torso's faces and legs. I'm not sure how many of them are new designs but I've not seen most of them before and didn't have any of them in our collection so from a custom builders point of view, the body parts alone would have already had me hooked on this interesting kit.

What did make me laugh to myself was the fact that for the first time ever LEGO had made me broody. With the inclusion of the amazing new baby minifigure, It had me wishing there was a baby in the house just so the Lego adventures that we come up with for our posts could include a Gifts from the Pirates baby. I could have a word with Mrs. M but I'm quite sure it's not the best reason for having another baby

What really touched home for me about this amazing kit was the wheelchair included in the set. When you have a son with a disability who is as much of a fan of LEGO as his brick obsessed dad, having these sort of extras is really important. Seth isn't in a wheelchair but he does have mobility issues himself and for me seeing this little piece of plastic showed that the world of LEGO was becoming even more diverse.

I had made a wheelchair myself a few months back when I needed a professor X for something we were building. It turned out fine but this new LEGO wheelchair has a lot more playability.

I love a kit that Spurs on some serious LEGO roleplay. What I found really interesting about this kit was the fact that when I opened the box for Opeie to build, for the first time ever he didn't follow the instructions when building the Minifigures. He sat and created his own little families and friendships and all I could see between his characters when I looked at what he had created was love. It made me realise how innocent Opeie still is and being homeschooled means that he will keep that innocence for a little longer. 

It may be a bold statement but for me, this kit is my favourite from this year so far.  While Seth and I like to create large structures, Opeie definitely concentrates more on the characters, their personalities and what sort of people they are. These City characters have been played with every day by Opeie and I imagine they will all be going on many adventures over the coming weeks (possibly even to a volcano).

Our fun didn't end there with the LEGO building. On the evening that Opeie built the kit I popped out to pick a friend up from work and he had very kindly got hold of the fountain kit for the boys, to say thank you for helping him out earlier in the week. All this LEGO City fun has got us all talking about whether we should make our own custom LEGO city so watch this space.

If from the post I haven't made it clear just how great the Town fun in the park kit is then I'll leave you with this. If you are a fan of LEGO you need this in your collection.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Nintendo: Kirby Planet Robobot for 3ds

While visiting my friend Steve a few weeks ago, we got on to the conversation of gaming. Steve is the chap I built the LEGO arcade with and we have both been huge gaming fans so at some point when we see each other that topic will pop up. As we were chatting I was explaining about my life long love of Nintendo and the impact the games had had on my childhood growing up. I was really shocked when he said 'I never really got Nintendo, they keep using the same characters over and over!'. This, is of course, true! but for myself and probably a huge amount of Nintendo enthusiasts, this only adds to the magic of them as a gaming platform. By playing the various games you build a relationship with the characters. I remember defeating Koopa for the first time, watching that floor disappear beneath him, which was around 24 years ago and I have followed the plumbers escapades ever since. Mario, Link, Samus, the Pokemon and all their Nintendo buddies have had a pretty lengthy career and although Mario has had many reincarnations over more than two decades, each game I play takes me right back to that moment as a child. I really have grown up with Nintendo.

Kirby is right up there on that list. There have been a few titles from Kirby's back catalogue that I haven't played but I do remember playing Kirby's adventure when I was around 13, as well as many of the other titles and there was something really addictive about that cute, round, pink character and the way he sucked up the baddies to take on their abilities. Kirby is another of Nintendo's iconic platform characters and what has always stuck out to me (as with most of Nintendo's games) is that the games are suitable for all ages.

Kirby: Planet Robobot for the 3ds is the latest instalment from the ever growing Kirby franchise of games. This new Kirby though, (although still cute), has definitely upped his game (nice pun there!) with the awesome addition of robot Mech suits throughout the levels. Kirby can still inhale his enemies taking on their powers and abilities but he has the added fun of mech suits which have him lifting heavy objects and smashing through walls to protect his beloved home planet Pop Star. The Mech suits aren't just for destroying everything in its path, they can also be used to scan enemies throughout the game to take on their personas, plus there are new abilities which are a great addition to the game play, Doctor, Poison and ESP.

Aside from the main story there are also 2 other modes that can be played, Team Kirby clash is a multiplayer game (up to 4 players) where the team works together to take down larger enemies and Kirby 3D Rumble is a solo game where you have to defeat waves of bad guys to progress through the levels. 

The boys have always been interested in the things that fuelled my childhood and being able to introduce Kirby to them too has been great. Nintendo meant so much to me growing up so being able to share that with the boys has been really interesting and I hope that the boys enjoy following the lives of their favourite characters too. Seth is there already when it comes to his love of Pokemon. Sun and Moon is released later this year which is definitely on his list of future games to play and I can't wait to get stuck into it with him.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

"she believed she could so she did"

There's not a day goes by where I'm not in complete awe of Mrs. M. Meeting her has completely changed my life in so many ways. I know this is going to sound really cliché but she makes me want to be a better person. I've seen every moment of her going from amazing stay at home mom to the awesome career that she has built for herself and us as a family and it has been really inspiring.  She is proof that if you put your mind to something, anything is possible and her positivity and drive have definitely rubbed off on me in some ways and given me a lot more confidence to achieve the things I want to do.

Being driven can come at a cost though and there are days (like yesterday) where she will get up and start work before 8am and still be working around 10pm, which can inevitably take its toll. Mrs. M spends a lot of time in her office area upstairs, which honestly I don't think I could do but her passion for the work that she does keeps her striving for greatness. What most people that know Mrs. M don't know is that aside from her demanding job and the long sometimes intense hours that she does she still finds time to help so many people throughout every week. whether is is mentoring other people in her line of work or fundraising for friends and charities that she feels connected to. She's not the sort of person that will gloat about what she does, she just gets the job done and moves on to help someone else. 

In the last few months, she has fundraised for a wheelchair for someone she knows, raised money for our local hospital, has been helping out with all of our amazing local junior doctors and gave up a big chunk of her Saturday last weekend to help a children's hospital. This lady of mine is truly amazing!

What I love most about the way that she is though is the impact it has on the boys. All children should be brought up to think they can achieve ANYTHING and the boys get to see first hand that this is possible from hopefully both of us. Mrs. M making a huge impact on so many peoples lives and myself hopefully giving the boys all sorts of creative experiences, keeping them mentally stimulated and as happy as they can be.

Again, although she would never gloat, this evening I am so proud of her for being featured in the Guardian as a 'Rising star.' It is something I saw in Mrs. M since day one and it is so exciting for us to see that she is being viewed that way by the people in her profession.  I have been smitten by her since the moment I saw her and she continues every day to blow my mind.

You can read Mrs. M's article here:

"You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality."

It's been a fair few months since me and my friend Steve completed the LEGO arcade which has become a pretty awesome addition to our home. When I get up in the morning and walk out of our room it is the first thing I see across the landing and it always makes me smile. I feel really proud of what we both achieved. The boys love the fact that they have an arcade in their room but the build has caused a little problem. The Christmas Death star that we built is no longer accessible to them to play with which Opeie has been a little bit disappointed about. The shape of the build and the fact that all the sides were open made it the perfect shape for Opeie's LEGO adventures and roleplaying with his Minifigures. How rude of me to box that in and have it on display.

I felt pretty bad, so after many many chats about why I can't keep getting it in and out,  we decided that we should build another, but more fitted to the themes that Opeie loves and the recent release of the Disney Minifigure range was all the motivation we needed to get building, so we started coming up with ideas. I wanted this build to be built solely from the bricks that we had, to keep costs down because I can get far to carried away with ordering parts from Bricklink when we are working on something big. we did, however, need odd shaped plates for the levels so I made that my one purchase and actually stuck to my plan even though I did have to change a few ideas because we were missing certain coloured bricks. 

With the characters from the Disney range being so colourful I knew that it was going to end up a great looking build and we got so into it from the minute we started. The plan was that we were going to build it together but at 5 Opeie didn't really have the patience to sit there for long each building session so Opeie dipped in and out but was involved in every part of this fun team build. I'd say he ended up more like a foreman/architect, explaining exactly what he wanted and where things were going to go which was great as you can't beat a child's imagination and ideas. The great thing about the original Death star build is that each level is built in quarters which, for a build of this size is perfect for a customising as you can work on each room individually.

So here's what me and my little Disney fanatic came up with...

The lower level of the Death star is really limited space wise as to get the rounded shape without making the complete build enormous the roof needs to be quite low, apart from the quarter open section that we had used for the Wampa in our Christmas Deathstar build. Because of this Opeie came up with the idea of having an underwater scene all the way through that level with treasure chests full of gems, shells, starfish and any other sea related LEGO pieces to make it look pretty. We used the open section for Ariel and Ursula and also found Flounder out from a Disney Princess kit that we had bought Mrs. M a year or so ago for Mothers day which we were pretty excited about.

Opeie loves role playing with his Minifigures and really enjoys playing with the kitchen, lounge, and bedrooms on the Simpsons house so we decided to make the Mickey, Minnie, Donald and daisy sections like rooms from a house. Donald and Daisy got the kitchen, with an oven, sink and breakfast bar. Minnie's room became the lounge with pink and white sofa's and a Mickey head coffee table and Mickey got the bedroom. Opeie informed me that Mickey was messy so he needed dirty socks on the floor, old pizzas and drink cans. We made the door joining Mickey and Minnie's room mouse shaped and built one of Mickeys walls with Windows to look like his trousers.

With the next level complete we had got to the rooms I was more excited about building. When the Disney series was released I was itching to get my hands on the Cheshire Cat and Alice, as I have always loved the books and the Disney movie for me was one of my favourites. There were so many ideas for the Alice in wonderland scene but as we had the Cheshire Cat it seemed only right to try and recreated the scene in the movie when the two meet. 

Opeie came up with the idea of having a slide down the upper centre column so our Alice in Wonderland room became two Alice in Wonderland rooms and we added a room on the upper level with the white Rabbit about to go down the rabbit hole (with the slide to the next level). I didn't have the rabbit mascot figure to use for the build so I put some feelers out on the Lego Facebook trade pages asking if anyone had some ears for trade (as I didn't need the whole figure) and a lovely chap called Ian Messaged and said he had some and would happily just post them to me as a kind gesture, genuinely nice guy! 

I walked into the boys room this morning and spotted the luggage cart from the City airport VIP kit we recently reviewed and I noticed the 'follow me' sticker on the back, so I couldn't resist adding that in above the rabbit hole too.

We knew exactly what we wanted to do for Peter Pan and Captain Hook but ended up building the section three times before going with what we did. If I'm honest I'm not at all happy with Hook's ship but Opeie loves it so it stayed. Part of the room was water for Captain Hook's ship and the other was land with Peter Pan in a tree house (another great idea of Opeie's). I added tick tock croc to the water but then Seth came along and put a clock in his mouth which I thought was great. The little details really make these builds and it makes such a difference building with the boys as they come up with the best ideas.

Aladdin was originally going to be the cave of wonders but we thought that it would end up being quite bulky and take up a lot of space, so we went for a market scene. That part of the movie really stuck out for us and the song is so catchy. Opeie was frantically trying to find the only Minifigure style monkey that we have to use for Abu as he wanted him scaling a wall with stolen fruit. The scene gave us the chance to use our snake charmer which had been sitting in a box since we got him. I racked my brain for ages on how I was going to make the genie look like he was coming out of the end of the lamp and then Opeie just clipped him to the top. I'm still not sure why that didn't cross my mind but again having helpers really makes the difference.

I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do for the toy story scene because it wasn't just buzz and the alien that we had from the latest series. Opeie has quite a nice collection of the other characters from the movies and of course wanted them all displayed. With so many characters to fit in a small area, I was stumped. I attempted to make a larger scale bed and dresser but it looked awful. The boys had no idea too so we went to our back up Mrs. M, who casually said 'why don't you make the wagon toy chest', that woman is a genius. With a few of the figures peeking out of the chest, there was plenty of room for Lotso, Bullseye, Rex and their friends. The build has made me realise though that we need to get hold of Hamm, Stinky Pete, and Twitch.

With the larger mid-level complete we only had the top to work on and I was eager to get the whole thing finished so that Opeie could play with it. The one section was already complete with the White rabbit waiting to go down the rabbit hole and Alice casually reading her book under the tree, 

I was really looking forward to building the Maleficent section of the Death Star because of the contrast in colours with the rest of the build. We knew it was going to be heavy on the grey and we all thought that castle style walls would look best but we were not sure how to fill it. In the end, we made a glass casket for sleeping beauty (I had to use rapunzel and she doesn't look very sleepy haha). We added in a poisonous apple and Opeie was more than happy with that.

Opeie's idea for Stitch was to have the walls looking like a space scene with stars and have Stitch in his red and white escape ship. Lilo and Stitch is one of Opeies favourite Disney movies so I really wanted to do a good job of that section. I tried so many times to build a ship but each time it looked awful so I had a word with the boss to discuss our other options. We decided on a beach scene with Stitch playing in the sea. With a beach bar, surfboards, water skis and sun loving folk it really was the better-looking option and turned out great.

Which left us with only two characters to display from the series, Mr. Incredible and Syndrome! Sadly these guys got relegated to hanging off the side of the build fighting because Opeie knew exactly what he wanted to do with the remaining room. 

He didn't ask " do you want to build a snowman?" He just gave me clear instructions to exactly what he wanted for the frozen section of the Death star. Mrs. M had bought me the Frozen castle for my birthday last year and Opeie wanted Elsa, Anna and Olaf up top for all to see. So using the pieces from the LEGO movie ice cream truck we built Anna's ice cream stand while Elsa just shot her ice Ray's about and that pretty much concluded our build. Opeie has however spotted the new Frozen kit and wants Sven and Christof for the scene.

My favourite part of the build was probably the most simple. As soon as I saw the Toy story aliens were going to be included in the Disney Minifigure series I thought how great it would be if someone made the grabber machine from the Pizza Planet scene in the movie. So I went hunting on the swap sites for aliens and managed to get hold of 17 over two days. Using rounded curve windows we turned the lower centre column of the Death star into a grabber which you can see through every room on the first two levels, genius use of space if I do say so myself.

I enjoyed building this so much more than the Christmas Death star because I was using a lot more colour and it was great switching between the themes. Seth said excitedly, "that Death Star looks brilliant, you know that box of all the Simpsons figures that we're not doing anything with? Maybe....", I stopped him there, I think I'm done with Death stars for a while. All that's left to do now is play and Opeie has been loving it even more than our previous build.

We finished this a few days back and yesterday me and Seth started on his big build idea, so watch this space. If last nights building session, while he was doing his physio was anything to go by I think it's going to be a pretty impressive build together.

Monday, 20 June 2016

"Being a father, being a friend, those are the things that make me feel successful."

I'm not usually a fan of being woken up early in the morning before I'm ready to get out of bed. For the last 6 and a half years though it has pretty much become the norm. Becoming a father means giving up many of the luxuries that you become quite accustomed to over the years, which doesn't sound great, but what you get in its place is a sense of purpose and an unconditional love that you could never get anywhere else. Becoming a dad for me was my defining moment, and from that moment I felt like my life had finally started and everything about this new path was glowing.

Every day feels like fathers day to me and being the stay at home parent makes me feel like that even more. Yesterday as I was woken by the usual "Daaaaaaad" it seemed like the start of every other amazing family morning but this time, there was an extra pitch of excitement in Opeie's voice and he wanted me awake right away because he had something very important he wanted to give me. Walking through the house and seeing colourful decorations everywhere and handmade cards are going to make any doting father feel very special.

Yesterday as always was a great day and that amazing little boy of mine that fills my world with complete happiness yet again reinforced the importance of having a loving and caring family around me. It was a shame that Seth wasn't there too but we have more than made up for it after school today by starting a new project so we can spend some quality creative time together. 

The only thing that did get me a little down yesterday was thinking about my own dad and how disappointed I am that he let our relationship go the way that it did. We're on different paths now but I will always hope that he is happy. Becoming a parent isn't something you go into lightly, you have to make an enormous amount of effort every day to make sure your children develop in the happy and content way that they should. I can go to sleep every night knowing that I have done everything I can to show them how much I adore them both and how proud I am of the little gents they've become.

Happy belated fathers day to all you amazing dads out there!

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