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 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 we stayed out pretty much all day we had lots of hot drinks and snacks to keep us three snow brawlers warm and full of energy.

 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 we found out that the school will be closed again tomorrow. So we can continue the snow fun for another day.

Sunday 19 November 2017

"Dad! don't you think it would be cool if batman had an AT-AT? He could call it the BAT-AT!"

"Dad! don't you think it would be cool if batman had an AT-AT? He could call it the BAT-AT!" was pretty much all the motivation I needed for a couple of nights building while the boys were in bed. I don't like Star Wars at all... but I do like Batman and if I can have some fun giving those boring Star Wars kits a DC twist to put a smile on the boys faces I'm all over it.

Turns out that having a quick flick through the instructions, I had pretty much every part in our LEGO collection, it was just a case of rummaging and finding every single piece (in black of course).

In great Opeie style, Not being completely satisfied that I made his crazy BAT-AT comment a reality, his usual critical self explained that it was far too black and needed a little something extra. I was informed that there needed to be a disco in the back with Batman DJing (that kid always needs a bit of glam). So being the LEGO lovin' Dad that I am, always aiming to please, I added a disco in the back and a mixing desk into to the front (My dad points have gone through the roof).

I'm not sure that Snuffy likes his new friend though!

Sunday 12 November 2017

"Yeah, thats a song for another time"

Music is such an important part of human development, I can't image what life would be like without the music I adore. It has been such an important part of my life since as far back as I can remember. Going to gigs and watching the musicians I loved was how I spent a lot of my evenings gas a teenager and I've been lucky enough to see some amazing bands over the years. With Opeie being so into music too, it was only a matter of time before we moved from listening to music at home and in the car, to being in the stalls seeing the amazing bands live.

Last night marked that awesome milestone of Opeie's first gig and WOW! what a great gig. Thanks to the wonders of Spotify I'd had noticed that one of Opeie's favourite country bands were playing 4 dates in the UK so we quickly booked tickets. It seemed like such a long wait but well worth it. 

As Old Dominion took to the stage last night Opeie's little face beamed, this was clearly where he needed to be more often. He was in his element, dancing and singing along to all the words. He must have been the youngest person there (we did have to lie and say he was 8 after all! shhhhh.....). What was truly amazing to see was that he had a lot of me in him, lost in the music and going for it like no one was watching... and people were watching. I could see groups of people looking at Opeie singing along to every song, telling their friends and smiling. I was so proud of him.

All the excitement was clearly exhausting and when the headliner, Thomas Rhett came on (another of Opeie's favourites), he was clearly shattered so we didn't stay till the end. He did manage to muster up some energy for a little dance off at the end though which really made our night. The excitement in his voice as we walked back to the car was awesome to listen to. I knew being a dad was going to be amazing but this little guy blows my mind, I'm so smitten!

Of course, Old Dominion had to be Immortalised in LEGO too!

“It was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort”

I often day dream about selling everything we own and just adventuring for the rest of our lives. It's always been one of those life choices that I think would really suit me and I know Mrs M feels the same. I've found myself becoming less and less attached to my possessions as the years go by and I just want to be out there visiting new places and exchanging all that stuff for experiences. It is this way of thinking that has been the driving force for the last 2 years of home schooling, learning outdoors is so much more fun and learning though a series of experiences is what life is all about. 

Camping has always been one of Opeie's and my favourite homeschooling things to do as it means we can travel to various places we've not been before, research the area before hand and then spend time adventuring for a couple of days. After a camping trip a few weeks back though it was clear that, due to the cold wet weather it was time to hang up our guide rope hooks for the season until next year, sad times.

Mrs M had been saying for quite sometime that we should book hotels in random places so that we can continue the fun, but being in a hotel really doesn't have the same appeal to a couple of hardcore adventurers like us. Last week though Mrs M sent me a link to a hobbit house on Airbnb which really peaked my attention. A small, simple little hut, built into a hill in Brecon, absolutely perfect for us. Mrs M booked us a night there as she was working abroad and a couple of days back we packed a few things and hit the road.

I didn't tell Opeie anything about where we were going and as we climbed the stairs up the hill to where the Hobbit hole was located he said 'I don't think its up here dad'. As we got to the top and he saw where we were staying for the night, his eyes lit up. With a fold out Sofa bed, small fridge and wood burner/oven, we had everything we needed for a night of adventure. The weather was awful, so our plans for spending a late afternoon stomping through the hills went right out the window so we got out our sketchbooks for a spot of drawing. I had my reservations about whether we were going to last the night there, as it was so cold, but once the doors were closed, curtains were pulled and wood burner was lit the hobbit house became very cosy. 

Our evening was spent playing games and watching movies, tucked up with the fire burning, it was a really lovely way to spend an evening. The Hobbit hole was so toasty in the night that Opeie woke up and said it was too hot. Waking up with no fire burning though was definitely a shock to the system and we quickly got up and got dressed. The cold crisp air was beautiful though and the frost across the hillside really added to the adventure. Opeie wrapped himself in a blanket and we sat with the doors open and watched the sun come up, it was a magical end to a fun evening in the hobbit house.

Wednesday 18 October 2017

"Setting my mind on a musical instrument was like falling in love. All the world seemed bright and changed."

I couldn't be more proud of how the boys are growing up. There's not a week that goes by where they don't blow me away in some way. Seth especially over the last few weeks has made me so proud. When I was given the chance a while back to review a pBone I had no idea what it was, so I googled it and when I first saw it, I was desperate to give it a go. The first professional plastic Trombone and it came in a variety of colours... I'm quite sure that I'm not the only person that got excited about that. As much as I hoped they would, I never for one moment thought that either of the boys would take a serious interest in it, but there was a slight chance and I really couldn't pass that up.

When the awesome purple pBone arrived, the following nights fell in to a routine of Seth dropping his school bag and going straight into the lounge to watch Youtube videos and try to learn as many notes as he could. It was lovely to see him trying something new and feeling motivated to learn more. Weeks passed and things then started to slow down and the pBone started to come out less and less. It was a little disheartening and I attempted to get things going again but I was never going to push it, so I just let things be.

Then one afternoon we received an email from pBone inviting us to one of their events at the Birmingham Symphony hall, followed by the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra playing songs from the movies, which even to this day has been one of the most amazing nights that we have had together as a family. We were able to try out the pBuzz at the event as it had just been released and we were also given a trombone lesson which was a lot of fun. The show itself though was truly magical and as we left the Symphony hall, Seth, very excitedly, asked if he could have trombone lessons.

It was music to my ears (haha) and Mrs M had soon arranged for Seth to start having lessons at school which he instantly loved and his trombone teacher loved his pBone so much that she went and brought one for herself! (the magic of the pBone). When a musical show at school was planned and children were asked if they would like to be a part of it, Seth jumped at the chance. I feel so ashamed to say this but at the time I thought to myself 'I'm not sure what he was going to do in the show as he doesn't know how to play anything, just notes', (how wrong was I!). Seth decided on a song that he wanted to play (based I think on the Mighty Ducks hockey movie that he loves) and each night he would disappear to his room (or sometimes the garden) and the quiet in the house was replaced by his loud tooting.

Even then I thought to myself 'I can't tell what that is?' and I worried that maybe he had bitten off more that he could chew by signing up for the show (I know what a terrible dad!). The show came around (which fell on my birthday) and as we sat in the audience I was feeling so anxious. Seth looked very serious and it was clear that he was nervous. when it was his turn to take the stage I began to brace myself unsure of what would happen next. Seth calmly stood up, placed his music on the stand and erupted into 'we will rock you'. There was silence in the room as he started but this soon turned into all the parents clapping and stamping their feet along to the beat. I was in complete awe of this amazing child on stage that had the confidence to get up and play in front of everyone, it made my birthday.

The lessons have continued and Seth now states that 'he has a passion for music' which I love to hear. Which brings us to the last few weeks that have made me so proud as a dad. Seth has been looking around secondary schools to start in September, one of the schools that he has been very interested in going to is out of our catchment area but they offer the chance of earning limited placements for various skills and passions. With 18 music places available, Seth was invited to an interview at the school and was asked to complete a musical aptitude test. On the evening before the test we were chatting and he told me that he wasn't expecting to get a place as he didn't feel like he was good enough and was yet to take his first grading, Seth being Seth though still went into that test confident that he would give it his all. One week later and he has received a place at the school, which we are all so excite about. Clearly his passion for playing really came through and he should never have doubted himself for a second.

It's crazy to think that something as insignificant as an email asking us to review an instrument could have had such an amazing impact on all of our lives and I am forever grateful for pBone and the magic they have brought to our family. It is going to be so exciting for us all to watch Seth's next steps as he continues following his passion for music.

Tuesday 17 October 2017

"The fruit of your own hard work is the sweetest."

Getting through work projects with Opeie can be so rewarding. He gets a real sense of achievement from his work and for me its another gold star on the decision to Home educate. It doesn't go smoothly all of the time though and it can be a struggle sometimes to keep him motivated to write, I remember feeling exactly the same way as him when I was at school. So we come up with all manner of creative ways to write, designing magazines, keeping diaries and more recently writing to pen pals. Sometimes though all you need for that surge of motivation is some fun stationary.

Mrs M is big on pens, glue sticks, fancy pencils and diaries, Seth has followed suit with his 'special pen' for school and it was only a matter of time before Opeie found something fun to write and draw with that filled him with inspiration. Thanks to ScentCo, Opeie's latest pen pal letter will not only be full of things that he's been up to, questions about his friend and a fun fact he's learned at the end... it will also smell like a sweet shop when the envelope is opened.

I remember erasers having a scent when I was younger but these awesome pens and pencils have taken the magic of sweet smelling stationary one step further. Opeie has been having a blast with his Smencils, writing and creating and the room has been filled with a sweet smell (my favourite is definitely the cola). With 'Sniff it's' (scented paper clips), a lollipop sketch and sniff notepad and a watermelon pencil case there is no end to the scented fun we can have while Opeie is being educated.

All that's left now is to let Opeie's pen pal Daisy enjoy the magic of the scented letter at her end. 

Friday 6 October 2017

"If it wasn't for the speakers in the door Telling me a truth I hadn't ever heard before..."

I always hoped that music would become a big part of the boys lives early on as Mrs M and I formed some pretty solid groundwork for our relationship around the music we loved. Seth is yet to really find the music he is passionate about (I'm sure that will all come soon though), but he has instead gone down the playing music himself path, which we are so proud of him for and it is doing wonders for his confidence. Opeie has catapulted himself into music and it needs to be on in the background all of the time. We had bought him an iPod a while back when he was going through his 'bieber phase' (thank god that's over), he'd not really bothered with it since then but over the last few months Opeie's love of 'New Country' seems to have hit a new level. He can heard regularly through the day saying 'Oh yeah! this is my jam!'.

A few days ago he asked me if (in his words) we could "wipe all the trash" off his iPod and fill it up with the music he loves. I thought for sure that it was going to be a long drawn out affair with Opeie not really knowing what he wanted on there but he sat there and reeled off 71 songs for his playlist, artist and title. I don't think I even knew 10 songs when I was 6. As I started filling up his iPod I thought 'what a great idea for a post, I've written a few 'Opeie's top 5' music posts but for anyone out there that loves country music this is the playlist for you.

  1. Brad Paisley - Beat this summer
  2. Thomas Rhett - Star of the show
  3. Sam Hunt - Take your time
  4. Rascal flatts - Rewind
  5. Old Dominion - No such thing as a broken heart
  6. Luke Combs - Hurricane
  7. Keith Urban - Blue ain't your colour
  8. Elle King - Americas Sweetheart
  9. Dustin Lynch - Small Town Boy
  10. Old Dominion - Snapback
  11. Chris Young - I'm coming over
  12. Dylan Scott - My Girl
  13. Brad Paisley - Crushin' It
  14. Brett Young - In case you didn't know
  15. Thomas Rhett - Make me wanna
  16. Sam Hunt - Break up in a small town
  17. Luke Bryan - Huntin, Fishin and lovin every day
  18. Kenny Chesney - Save it for a rainy day
  19. Jon Pardi - Heartache on the dancefloor
  20. Brett Eldredge - Beat of the music
  21. Dan and Shay - 19 You and me
  22. David Nail - Whatever shes got
  23. Elle King - Devil don't go
  24. Florida Georgia line - H.O.L.Y
  25. Old Dominion - Break up with him
  26. Hunter Hayes - Everybody's got somebody but me
  27. LOCASH - I know somebody
  28. Maddie and Tae - Shut up and fish
  29. Rascal Flatts - I like the sound of that
  30. Sam Hunt - Make you miss me
  31. Thomas Rhett - Crash and Burn
  32. Brett Young - Sleep without you
  33. Chris Young - Lonely eyes
  34. Dean Brody - Bounty
  35. Dierks Bentley - Different for Girls
  36. Hunter Hayes - Wanted
  37. Jake Owen - Real Life
  38. Old Dominion - Be with me
  39. Thomas Rhett - Get me some of that
  40. Dierks Bentley - Somewhere on a beach
  41. Old Dominion - Written in the Sand
  42. Jon Pardi - Dirt on my boots
  43. Blake Shelton - Mine would be you
  44. Florida Georgia line - May we all
  45. Brett Eldredge - Drunk on your love
  46. Brad Paisley - Today
  47. Maren Morris - 80s Mercedes
  48. Dierks Bentley - Drunk on a plane
  49. Old Dominion - Til its over
  50. Craig Morgan - Wake up lovin' you
  51. Luke Bryan - I don't want this night to end
  52. Jon Pardi - Head over Boots
  53. Thomas Rhett - Sixteen
  54. Kenny Chesney - Come Over
  55. Blake Shelton - She's got a way with words
  56. Billy Currington - It Don't Hurt Like It Used To
  57. Brett Eldredge - Somethin' I'm good at
  58. Chris Young - Think of you
  59. Luke Bryan - Fast
  60. Leave the night on - Sam Hunt
  61. Rascal Flatts - Yours if you want it
  62. Jake Owen - American country love song
  63. Jason Aldean - Any Ol' barstool
  64. Josh Turner - Hometown girl
  65. Michael Ray - Think a little less
  66. Chris Lane - For Her
  67. Joe Nichols - Yeah
  68. Kane Brown - What ifs
  69. Yeah boy - Kelsea Ballerini
  70. Canaan Smith - Love you like that
  71. Old Dominion - So you go
I know a huge chunk of parents think they have the most amazing child on the planet but seriously I was nowhere near as cool at 6-years-old as Opeie is, I'm so proud of that little dude of mine. 

Monday 2 October 2017

"These beetles are amazing. They're special. Spend some time with them, and you'll see."

I feel so lucky to be homeschooling Opeie every single day, our days are filled with adventure and there is something to learn around every corner.  There are an endless amount of resources throughout the UK and we are doing our best to make the most of all the ones that we find relevant to Opeie's interests at the time. During the early days, I would panic about child-led learning, worried that I wasn't covering things that needed to be covered but I would always come back to a thought of being around 8-years-old, fascinated by a dinosaur project that we were doing at school that only lasted a couple of days. The project ended and it was never touched upon again and I was so disappointed, I don't want that for Opeie, his interests are so important to us.

Opeie's current interest is 'beetles', thanks to our friend Jamie buying the boys a copy of 'Beetle Boy'. Jamie worked with the author M.G. Leonard and had written inside the cover that she was "Beetle Mad". So it quickly became the book that I was reading to Opeie (we always have at least one big book on the go). Not only did it kickstart his new love of Beetles but the story had us both hooked from the first few pages.

We inevitably started our own beetle hunt and managed to find a few but none that matched up to Baxter the intelligent Rhinoceros beetle in the story. What was awesome, was that when we struggled to find the name of a beetle we had found, we contacted M.G. Leonard online and she got straight back to us with the answer we were looking for. In Opeie's words "she's amazing!"

To continue our hunt for the ultimate beetle it was time to take our beetle hunt on the road and while searching online for a suitable place to visit I was greeted by a place I remember as a child. I have fond memories of sitting on the bank of the river Avon in Stratford-Upon-Avon, picnicking on the grassy area, a stone's throw from The Stratford-Upon-Avon Butterfly farm. They have a Mini-beast Metropolis which I took to be a sign, so that is where we planned our next beetle adventure. 

There is something quite magical about being in a room that is filled with butterflies. Everywhere we looked, there were beautiful colourful wings fluttering by and it was quite the experience for Opeie. We learned all about the tiny scales on their wings and how they fed on nectar, it was great to see so many different varieties. As stunning as the butterflies were though, we were there for another (more important reason).

Before we could got to the Mini-beast Metropolis though we were greeted by Mark who had been described to us as the "Beetle Nerd" and most definitely lived up to his name. Not only did he talk us through the beetles they had on show but he also showed us behind the scenes at the Larvae and the Pupa which was very exciting for Opeie and fro an educational viewpoint this was as good as it gets. We even got to see and learn about the outer shell created by the pupa from soil and secretion. It was fascinating to see, and Mark made it all even more interesting, the guy really knew his stuff.

The star of the show for us was definitely the Goliath beetle, as big and awesome as he was though, Opeie informed me that "he's still not as big as the Titan beetle, they can grow to the size of a big ruler! they are my favourite". Another amazing homeschool outing thanks to the Stratford-Upon-Avon Butterfly farm and their staff, education through experience is what it's all about. Next on our beetle adventure is to find somewhere we can see both a Titan and a Rhinoceros beetle. (if you are reading this and know of somewhere in the UK let us know on Twitter @pirategifts).

Who knows, Entomology maybe something that Opeie goes into later in life, it would be so exciting to be able to look back at all these things and know that this is where it all started.

"Whatever good things we build end up building us."

I loved growing up in the 80's/90's. Childrens TV and Movies these days don't seem to have the magic that they had back when I was young and impressionable. I would get lost in Saturday morning TV, and films like The Goonies and Back to the future must have seemed to my parents like they were being played on a loop. One thing I would have loved from these days back then though are the LEGO movies. The movies are a constant flow of building inspiration and some of our custom builds have come from watching these amazing movies.

The LEGO movie opened up all sorts of building fun for us, with its series of fun mini figures and its creative kits to coincide. As soon as it came out on DVD it was nearly always on in the background while we sat building together. The LEGO Batman Movie came out and instantly became the top building inspiration movie (in fact we watched it this evening as we built). The Batman Deathstar came off of the back of this and ended up being such a great build. 

And now we are weeks away from the release of the LEGO Ninjago movie, With some interesting kits and an amazing Minifigure series to get us all inspired again. With the release of all these fun movies, this is such an exciting time for LEGO and I'm excited about what we could possibly end up building together after the boys have seen the movie.

While we wait for the upcoming release though we have been feeling up bags collecting the Minifigure series and building a couple of the kits. There's nothing quite like a great selection of products to get you revved up for a movie release and the Manta Ray Bomber (70609) and Master Falls (70608) have done just that as the boys are desperate to know how they fit in to the movie.

With a huge selection of new parts from both the series and the minifigure range, LEGO have again added to our ever growing brick empire at home and we couldn't be happier about it.

The boys have got their eye on the LEGO City 70620 kit, which as awesome looking as it is, is sadly another of those LEGO kits which is a little out of our price range. Thanks to the online instructions though I think we may build our our own but in a completely different style... watch this space.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie hits the cinemas on October 13th