Tuesday, 27 November 2012

FOLKSY GIVEAWAY: Backbeat Leather

I have got such a great giveaway for you this week, and this time it's something for grown-ups, not the kids, which is fantastic because those little feckers get all the cool stuff usually.

Allow me to introduce you to Backbeat Leather, a husband and wife team who make rock and pop influenced leather accessories.  They have SO MUCH BRILLIANCE in their shop and I want it all.

Look at these belts. JUST LOOK:

And this phone case - love it:

And...and DOG COLLARS!

I could post image after image of their stock and be here all day, but you'll just have to go and look for yourself so I can get on with it.

Backbeat Leather were kind enough to send me one of their belts to review.  Long Suffering Husband was in need of a cheer up present, so I chose with him in mind and picked this beautiful bird and barbed wire design, which he loves:

At some point when I actually manage to catch him for more than 2 minutes I'll replace that pic with one of him modelling it for you all.

It's such a great quality belt - really sturdy, lovely aged looking belt buckle and the design is just beautiful.  It looks great now, but I can tell that it's going to go on looking better and better the more old and worn it gets (which is going to be a lot as he's worn it nearly every day since it arrived).  There's a choice of sizes available, which is useful as you know you're going to get a belt that fits really well.  If you're unsure which size to go for, you can send them a message and they'll ask for measurements, which is really helpful.

Giveaway time...

To win one item of your choice from Backbeat Leather, complete the Rafflecopter widget below.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 26 November 2012

So, that was November then.

I've not been around much recently.  Want to know what I've been doing?  Here's a run-down of events since the end of October:

1. Rory comes down with vomity bug on the weekend half term starts.  Weekend a write-off.

2. The pure joy that is half term with a still slightly sickly and bored child.  Twitch.

3. That weekend, my husband goes out in Manchester with colleagues and stays at one of their houses.  Or so I think.  I get woken up by a phone call from a very nice nurse at Trafford General Hospital at 7am on the Saturday to say that they've got him in with a head injury.  Brilliant!  Excellent way to start the weekend.  No other information available until half an hour later he phones me and says they've made a mistake, he hasn't hit his head at all, he has only a slight graze on his cheek and he's going to walk 3 miles to the car and drive himself home.  He sounds a bit odd and I try to tell him this and beg him not to drive home, but he is irate and won't listen.  Panic filled 2 hours spent convinced that he's going to crash and kill himself on the way home. Miraculously, he eventually walks in having not crashed during the 45 minutes drive.  But no wonder he sounded odd and was so cross - he has HORRENDOUS CONCUSSION and a massive bruise and grazing all over one side of his forehead, eye and face and proceeds to be Very Ill Indeed for the entire weekend.  Turns out he threw himself out of a taxi onto his head and was out cold.  Has no memory of any of it.  I grow several hundred more grey hairs over the weekend.

4. Rory develops a terror of pre-school and has to be prised off of me screaming and crying every time I drop him off.  He shakes every time we even approach the building, cries at the thought of going and attempts all manner of emotional blackmail on his fraught mother.  Gets worse every day.  By the end of the week, I feel like crying with him whenever I drag him through the door and have to prise his fingers off of the door frame.

5. Rory gets a nasty virus, which lasts for nearly 3 weeks and means a LOT of missed pre-school, which is really going to help with his new phobia.  I have piles and piles of work building up that I can't get done because of having to look after ill child injured husband.  General illness turns into the worst cough I've heard in a long time that keeps him awake at night and means endless trips out of bed and into his room for me.  3-4 hours sleep per night every night for a fortnight or maybe even more - I lost count.  Was like having a newborn baby but without having to whip breasts out every time I got out of bed.  Every time I think he's on the mend, he develops a different symptom, most notably, a baffling measles-like rash.  Many trips to the doctors.

6. At some point during this period, he also manages to dive head first off a chair, smacking his head hard on the floor.  On examination, his pupils are wildly different sized, so off we go in an ambulance - the second member of my household to be at hospital with a head injury in a week.  Discharged, come home, weep a bit.

7. At another unspecified point in this endless 3 weeks, I catch the virus and spend a week feeling awful.  Rich isn't allowed to take time off in November and December because he is a Retail God, so I have to carry on looking after poorly death wish child on my own whilst feeling like proper shit.

8. Rich catches the virus.  Only somehow - do not ask me how - he manages to get dangerously dehydrated with it over the weekend (we're on wrecked weekend number 4 here).  Is that another admission to hospital I see? IT IS!  Off he goes to be put on a drip and kept in overnight.  Rory in pieces about daddy being in hospital yet again and still really ill himself.  To add insult to injury, the morning after Richard's admission to hospital, Rory chokes on something and has to be held upside-down and smacked on the back to dislodge it. this starts off a new obsession/phobia about eating.  Tra la la.  Rich comes home after nice restful night in hospital with skin like a beautiful ripe peach after a night on a drip, having been brought Sunday lunch on a tray to eat in bed.  I'm frantically plucking another 300 grey hairs out, prising my eyes open with matchsticks and my hands are shaking whenever I sit still because of the stress.

9. Richard is better and back at work.  Rory's rash is nearly gone and he's almost well enough to go back to pre-school.  The end of another day is in sight and I'm contemplating hitting the gin.  So what does Rory do? Dives head first off a chair again, landing on his head on the floor, which makes a sound like a coconut being dropped.  Have mild breakdown.  Fortunately pupils fine this time as, frankly, cannot take him to hospital again or social services are going to be round convinced that I am abusing my husband and son.

10. We're so nearly at the end of the last awful week.  It's Thursday.  I can make it...I can make it...I can...OH FUCK, my back's gone 'twang' and I'm stuck in the middle of the living room floor unable to move with a 3 year old, husband unable to come home and help me because it's the Christmas rush at work, no food in the house as I was just about to go to the shop to buy some, my dad ill and my mum on crutches with an equally dodgy knee so they can't help, in-laws in Australia for 3 weeks.  Dial out for pizza, spending my last 12 quid in the process and inch across the floor to get it from the delivery man when he turns up.  Take a lot of Codeine.  Bemoan lack of downstairs toilet.  Write off all the work that's piled up over 3 weeks that I've sworn I will do as soon as everyone's better because I can't even sit at the computer.  Think about gin.  Can't have gin as on Codeine.  Sniff gin and think of happier times.

That just about brings us up to date.  Husband is at work, child is finally back at pre-school, my back is bearable enough for me to sit and type for the first time in a few days and I'm bracing myself for the onslaught of the next lot of work about to come in.  If anybody ever wants to use me again, that is, seeing as I had to let a couple of people down in the last 3 weeks.  I'm sorry, people.  Hopefully this goes some way to explaining.

The rest of you, I'll be back on it with more tales of domestic crappery ASAP and I have a fabulous giveaway for you which will go live either today or tomorrow depending on how much I get through this afternoon.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

FOLKSY FRIDAY: iwishiwasa review & giveaway

The Disgrace Family received possibly the best thing we've ever received through the post this week, which is saying a lot, because the list of cool things we've received through the post includes Richard's limited edition Star Wars trainers and a bag of fizzy cola bottles as big as my head..  I think this tops them - just.

I am talking about a superhero mask and cuff set from iwishiwasa - AKA Tamsin, a London based costume designer and maker who makes the coolest dressing up costumes around.

Rory is a serious wannabe superhero and can often be seen shooting imaginary spider webs from his hands at passing babies (he neither likes nor trusts babies) a la Spiderman.  He also loves dressing up.  Now, I can and do use a sewing machine, but not brilliantly, and not in the genteel sort of way that one imagines a woman should sew.  I bash clothes together whilst swearing like a sailor at the machine, sewing over my fingers and using the sort of commentary usually only seen in bad S&M porn: "Come on you bastard, you can do it.  That's it...faster...FASTER.  NOT LIKE THAT.  Rein it in, bitch.  That's right, who's your daddy?" The resulting items are wearable, but only just and not always desirable.  So until now, Rory's superhero endeavours have been limited by a slightly crappy cloak that I knocked up in 30 minutes:

As a result, he was delighted (and extremely vocal about it) when we opened our little package of awesome.

This outfit was instantly donned and he refused to take it off when we went into town to run errands.  This was interesting.  Women tutted and avoided my eyes in a "HOW VERY COMMON" sort of way.  Little boys looked envious.  Grown men high fived him.  Later on, Daddy stole the mask and was overjoyed to discover that it stretched enough to go over his head.  Please excuse all the boxes and crap in the background of the photo below.  I have taken on an Avon round, the detritus of which you cab see behind Richard (yes, an Avon round on top of everything else.  It should be me wearing a superhero costume really shouldn't it?)

We all LOVE this costume and it ticks all my fancy dress boxes by being a) handmade, b) colourful c) really well made and c) so so so cool.

You want to win one don't you?  WELL, YOU CAN!  Fill in the Rafflecopter form below to win your choice of either a glam rock mask (like the one Rory is wearing) or a star mask and cuff set.  Don't forget to take a look at the iwishiwasa Folksy page or their website to lust over more fancy dress costumes - you have to check out the capes and the Indian headdresses.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

PS Congratulations to Emma W who won last week's giveaway.  Your cards will be with you soon.  Anyone who missed out on winning and loved the gorgeous personalised cards from Clarkie designs, go buy some from here:  http://folksy.com/shops/clarkiedesigns

PPS I know it's not Friday.  I know I'm a day late.  Coughing boy had to stay off pre-school yesterday so I'm drastically behind.  Forgiveness?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Hots Dots Review (combined with some ramblings about parenting)

I love my parents.  They've made their mistakes (as all parents do), but one of the things I really admire them for is bringing my brother and I up to be who we wanted to be, not what they wanted us to be.  There was never any pressure for us to do well at school - only to behave well.  They helped us with homework and encouraged us at what we were good at.  If it was obvious that we weren't putting any effort in, there'd be the odd nag, but generally we were left to make our own mistakes and learn from them.  My brother and I are like chalk and cheese, but the one thing we have in common as adults is that we both work doing something we love (I write and he's an independent games designer).  We're both a bit crap at doing what idiotic office managers tell us to do, but we've definitely thrived on this environment of making our own way and not being pressured.

On the other side of the coin, are the type of parents who push from an early age and never stop.  Their children are pushed to do their best, be the best, succeed at everything and fulfil ambitions that are not their own.  They get rewarded with money for As in their GCSEs (or even their spelling tests).  They do stupid amounts of extra curricular activities.  When they want to relax, they are forced to play educational games or...even worse...watch BLUE PETER.  I feel really sorry for anybody who was brought up like that and have resolved that Rory will be brought up as I was - with support and guidance when it's required but enough of a free rein to be himself, make mistakes and learn from them.

Believe it or not, this is all relevant to this review - all will become clear later.

So, Rory and I were sent a Hot Dots card pack and pen to review.
Hot Dots is a self checking learning tool aimed at children between the ages of 3 and 11.  It consists of a box of cards relating to an area of learning, and a self checking pen.

The pen requires batteries and is MAGIC*. You read a question on the card, choose one of the answers, press the MAGIC PEN* on the dot next to the answer you've chosen and it flashes green if you're right and red if you're wrong.  You can also turn on the pen's MAGICAL VOICE*, which will cheer and shout out praise if you get an answer right and, amusingly say "err, no" if you're wrong.

We were sent 'numbers and counting' which was perfect for Rory as he's great at phonics but pretty poor at number recognition.  He quickly got the hang of using the pen to choose the answer, and got stuck in.  It's an activity that requires an adult's help for younger children as you need to read out the questions on the cards, but children who can read should be able to do this independently.

He liked the talking pen and the green and red lights, but after 5 minutes, he got bored and wandered off.  I put the box where he could see it and waited for him to ask to play with it again.  Four days later, I was still waiting and wondering how I was going to write the review.

Here's the thing:  I love this product.  I think it's great.  I think it's a fun way for children to learn and adults to assess what they know.  I think that children should love it.  But Rory didn't seem bothered.  And then I started worrying:  Was I turning into the sort of parent who pushes their child and has too many ambitions for them?  Was I going to make him watch Blue Peter, learn the violin and start paying him for getting his spellings right?  I had vague memories of the Little Professor (maths calculator type toy of the 80s that kids were supposed to love, but in reality got use once and then ignored because it was boring) and started feeling twitchy.  Then I let him eat five Party Rings in one go and watch Fleabag Monkeyface and felt better about myself.

The next day, Rory pointed to the Hot Dots box.  "Can we play numbers, please?"  I got it out, and he played with it happily for about 20 minutes.  This happened the next day too, and the next.  He's enjoying it now, and I'm really pleased to see how much it's helped already with his counting and number recognition.  I'm really glad I let him choose when to play with it rather than trying to force it on him though or he might not be so enthusiastic now.  Phew - parental smugness can resume.

To conclude, here's my list of pros and cons:

1. I love how portable this is -the pen will fit in the box, and the box has a handle of just the right size for little hands.  I think it will come into its own for things like waiting at the doctors or in a restaurant when Rory might otherwise get fidgety and impatient.

2. You only have to buy the pen once.  You can buy different sets of cards depending on what your child needs to work on and their age, so it's a toy that lasts a long time.

3. The self checking pen is innovative and fun.

1. Why isn't there an 'off' switch?  Or a lid?  the pen nib can get pressed down accidentally whilst in the box, making the batteries run down.

2. It would be tempting to try and force this on a child, which I think would result in resistance.  Buy it, show them how to use it, and let them use it in their own time for best results.


If you would like to win a set of Hot Dots cards and a Hot Dots pen, go here: http://www.facebook.com/LearningResourcesUK/app_198826126804423 to enter a Facebook competition to win one of five sets.  Good luck!

*It's probably not really magic.  I wouldn't know. I was rubbish at science and hated it and therefore my parents never pushed me (see above).  Therefore anything that I can't work out is 'magic'.  This includes magic painting books.  Seriously, how do they make them?  You may want to consider this before embracing my parenting technique.

I was sent a Hot Dots set of cards and pen free of charge to review.  All opinions are my own.  i was not paid for this review.

Friday, 2 November 2012

FOLKSY FRIDAY - Clarkie Designs Review & Giveaway

It's Friday, so it's time for another Folksy giveaway.

Last week, I introduced you to the fabulous Colour Me Fun and ran a giveaway for a set of 8 of their crayons.  Well done to the winner - Tiffany O.  your crayons will be with you shortly.  for those of you who didn't win and NEED crayons in the shape of cool stuff in your lives, check out the Colour Me Fun Folksy shop here: http://folksy.com/shops/ColourMeFun

This week, I'm featuring Clarkie Designs, run by designer, Emma Rogerson, who started out designing prints for her own children's bedrooms when she couldn't find any art that she liked for them.  The result is her shop full of child friendly prints and cards, many of which can be personalised.

Look at this cute personalised penguin card:

And this space wall art:

And (my personal favourite) a card that children can colour in themselves before giving:

I received these 2 cards to review:

I chose them for people I know who have birthdays coming up so they could be personalised.  They're great cards - the printing is very clear and the colours bright and fresh.  They're priced at between £2.25 and £2.45 which I think is a good price for a personalised card like these.  I chose the space invaders design for my brother, who is a games designer and the colour-it-yourself one for Rory's friend Eve, who loves to draw and colour (Rory is a bit crap at colouring in - if your child is equally cack handed, you could always include a little packet of coloured pencils or crayons in the card for the recipient so they can colour it themselves, which is what I think I'll do in this case).  Unfortunately, their birthdays aren't until after Christmas so I can't tell you what they think of them, but I'm sure they'll be suitably impressed.

On to the giveaway.  The winner will get to choose 3 personalised cards from Clarkie Designs of their choice.  Just complete the Rafflecopter form below for your chance to win. Please don't cheat and say you've fulfilled conditions when you haven't as I do check!  Good luck everybody.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

There's a Hole in my Judgey Pants

Rory went trick or treating on Wednesday night.  This was one of the many things that my child was never ever going to do.  There was a list of at least 100 of these things, mentally compiled before I had him, the vast majority of which have been mentally scribbled out with the words "fuck it" scrawled across the page over the last 3 years (coincidentally, this is roughly the amount of time that has passed since he was born).  The first thing to go was "My child will not watch television" which lasted until he was 2 months old and I discovered the soothing powers of Saint Justin of Fletcher on babies.  It was swiftly amended to "my child will only watch CBeebies", which doesn't entirely explain why he now seems to have an intricate knowledge of the characters on something called Fleabag Monkeyface, the plot lines of which revolve entirely around farts and toilets.

My brother and I were allowed to go Trick or Treating twice when we were very small.  I remember it being The Best Fun Ever.  After that, my parents decided that we weren't allowed to, although the reasons for this were rather vague with something about devil worship being muttered occasionally and frightening old people (which I never understood as we only went to our friends houses).  My suspicion is that not letting your children do it was simply the middle class thing to be seen to be doing of the 80s.

It's all very civilised around here anyway - teenagers don't do it, children are always accompanied by a parent and incredibly polite (as they turn up on your doorstep dressed as the Grim Reaper and a severed head) and the unwritten rule is that you don't knock on the door of any house which doesn't have decorations up.  I'm trying very hard to justify myself here aren't I?  The truth is, actually, that it looked like fun and I want Rory to have fun.  So off he went in his crappy home-made bat costume (cobbled together from 2 old black t-shirts and a hat that neither of us has any recollection of owning) and returned grinning and clutching a modest bag of sweeties.  And, yes, I let him eat a few sweets before he went to bed too.  That's another thing off the list.

The next day, Halloween paled into insignificance.  I found myself a) in McDonalds ("I will never feed my child McDonalds"), Rory eating the chips from a Happy meal and ignoring everything else ("I will never allow my child to eat only chips for a meal"), having got him there in the pushchair ("Tut. Children over the age of 2.5 shouldn't still be in pushchairs. Lazy.").  Also, I was not only singing along to the music playing while we were eating, but performing a duet of Tina Turner's Simply the Best between a french fry and Finn McMissile ("I will never buy Disney merchandise") for my son's entertainment.  "What are you Mr Chip? You're simply the best...".  This was followed by a rousing version of Scott Walker's Jackie performed by a Chicken McNugget on which I had drawn a face (come on - he was hardly going to eat it was he?). Eclectic play list in McDonalds these days.  Making junk food sing and dance wasn't ever on the list but I'm thinking now that it should have been.  Where are my standards?  Where is my dignity?  'Cute cute in a stupid ass way' indeed.

PS  Have just realised that I did at least stick to one item on my list: "My child will never have a dummy."  I loathe dummies.  No offence to those of you who use them - hey - you've got to do what you've got to do, and I'm a Nugget dancing, McDonalds dwelling, tv babysitting, pushchair toting mother who lets her 3 year old knock on doors and ask for sweets dressed in rags. I'm hardly in a position to judge).