Big Bang Science Fair

Last weekend we travelled to the Big Bang Science Fair at the NEC, Birmingham for a day full of science, maths and electronics fun.  This isn’t an event we’ve been to before and I have to confess that it wouldn’t necessarily have been one that would have even registered in our consciousness before this year.  Since last September, M has been attending a weekly Electronics Club after school and he loves every moment of it.  During the past few months, he has learnt to program a Raspberry Pi, has become an expert with circuit boards, has written his own computer games using Scratch, built a crawling microbug and is now embarking on his latest project, a turning frog.

M getting hands on with one of the exhibits

M getting hands on with one of the exhibits

Electronics has quickly developed into one of the great passions in M’s life and his recent birthday gifts reflected this new-found interest. From solar-powered robots to salt-water cars and night-sky constellations to a build-your-own robot arm, there’s been an awful lot of “building” going on in our household on a nightly basis.  So, when the Electronics Club mentioned a possible day-trip to the NEC for the Big Bang Science Fair, M leapt at the chance and soon had the rest of the family on board too.  We arrived at around 11am, split into small groups and started making our way around the huge number of exhibits that were there.  There was a brief hiatus for lunch and then it was back to exploring the space before the show finished at 4.30pm.

G working hard to power the lightbulbs

G working hard to power the lightbulbs

Mike and M were in one group, whilst G and I were in another and we followed different paths around the hall.  G loved her opportunity to generate enough power to light up some lightbulbs through pedal-power, whilst my favourite exhibit was playing musical vegetables, thanks to a piece of music software and some clever wiring.  M, on the other hand, has been hard pressed to choose his favourite activity, although he is very proud of his memento of a rock-hard silicone glove, created by mixing some chemicals together (don’t ask me which, neither Mike or M can remember!).  He also become the subject of discussion with some university students working there, when a medical student spotted his NG-tube and called her colleagues over as they had never seen a tube in situ before.  Mike was also impressed that one of the nurses working on the ambulance display had not only heard of EGID, but also knew a little about it.

 2015-03-14 16.24.25It was a fantastic and fascinating day out and M has already requested a repeat visit next year, with just one proviso:  that we get there right at the start of the day in the hope those extra couple of hours might enable us to see everything there is to see.

“Magic never dies. It merely fades away.”

This time last week one of my heroes died.  I was saddened to hear that Discworld-creator and Alzheimer’s advocate, author Sir Terry Pratchett OBE had sadly lost his battle against this unrelenting disease and I was left with the sense that our world had become just a little less colourful as a result.  With typical Pratchett-esque humour, a series of tweets, written in his own incomparable style, announced his passing, taking a lead from one of my favourite of his characters, Death:

I first discovered the Discworld and its diverse cast of characters in the late 1980s and quickly found myself reading, and re-reading, his books as I waited, often impatiently, for the next one to be published.  My Dad and I shared a love for the Discworld and my Mum often commented that she knew when either of us was reading one of Pratchett’s books as they caused us both to laugh out loud, something no other author had ever done.  Our joint appreciation for Pratchett’s fantasy world is one of my fondest memories and even now, I find myself transported back 20 years, to times spent sharing our newest discoveries in his latest novel whenever I revisit these tales these days.

tPratchettIt’s difficult to explain what made Terry Pratchett’s books just so un-put-downable to me.  His clever play on words frequently made me laugh out loud – who can forget Twoflowers’ explanation of an “Inn-sewer-ants-polly-sea” in “The Colour of Magic“?  His unashamed use of characters or plots from other authors was delightfully skilled – and the 3 Witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth were not a patch on Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and naive Magrat Garlick in “Wyrd Sisters“.  His sense of humour was evident in almost every word he wrote.  I loved nothing more than waiting to see the plot twists and turns that each new storyline would take and spotting the sometimes obvious, sometimes more oblique references to popular culture.  And in every step of my adult life; be it at university, in the work-place, waiting at the school gates or in our EGID world, he has oft become the common bond that starts a friendship or fills a gap in the conversation.

In the days following his death, Terry Pratchett’s fans have given him tribute by taking ideas from his books to create a fitting memorial.  The first was a petition asking Death to “Reinstate Terry Pratchett” because Terry himself said that “There are times in life when people must know when not to let go. Balloons are designed to teach small children this” and already nearly 30,000 people have added their names to this request.

The second took an idea from his 33rd Discworld novel, “Going Postal”, which saw the advent of a communication system, somewhat comparable to the internet.  When a key character dies, a message bearing his name is sent down the lines on an unending journey to ensure that it is kept alive indefinitely because “A man is not dead while his name is still spoken.” Keen Pratchett fans have developed code that is being embedded on websites to ensure that his name is similarly forever encoded on the internet.x-gnu

In the past few days, I have started to revisit his books, many of which reside on my book-shelves, and have found myself to be once again amongst old, familiar friends.  The humour never fades and with each reading, I discover a small nuance that I hadn’t noticed before.  Rincewind, Granny Weatherwax, Captain Vimes and the Discworld have been a part of my life for nearly 30 years and I look forward to introducing both G and M to these adventures in the not-too-distant future.

luggage

“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…”

– Reaper Man

Photographic evidence

It was a busy weekend.  So busy that I haven’t had time to write it up (yet), so I thought some photo evidence might be in order.  From the successful face-painting for Friday’s Comic Relief to the Big Bang Science Fair on Saturday and Mothering Sunday, there’s photos of it all!

Just one more dress-up challenge!

20150301_144602These past 2 weeks have been filled with one dress-up day after another for our household. Of course, it all started with the Cluedo party we held to celebrate G and M’s birthdays, where we invited guests to come in optional fancy-dress to match their character if they wanted.  The key word was “optional” as I was well aware that not all of M’s friends are as big a fan of fancy-dress as M is, but we were impressed with the range of costumes that arrived on that Sunday afternoon.  We had “Reverend Green” sporting a dog collar and a striking pair of bottle-green jeans; “Earl Grey” in pinstriped waistcoat, bowler hat and monocle and “Admiral Azure” had a home-made pair of epaulettes that would cause envy in the heart of any member of the armed forces.  Not to be outdone by the costumes of the boys, many of G’s friends joined in, wearing dresses to reflect the glamour of “Mrs Peacock”, “Mrs White” and “Lady Lilac”.  Dress-up challenge #1 – done.

20150305_083738Just a few days later came the first of our dress-up days at school, World Book Day.  Refusing to give in to M’s demands for a custom-made costume this year, I instead insisted he wore the army captain’s costume that we had bought for his representation as “Captain Emerald” at their birthday party and suggested he went as “Captain Nicholls” from Warhorse by Michael Morpugo.  We have recently enjoyed the stage production of Warhorse whilst it was on tour around the UK and M had bought himself the book for his admission to GOSH before Christmas, so he leapt at this chance, though in typical M style, he chose to be the lesser-known “Major Stewart” because he “got to ride Topthorn and not Joey, Mummy.”  G also wore a costume she had in her wardrobe and despite dicing with the idea of being “Dorothy” (Wizard of Oz) for the 3rd year in a row, ended up going as the “Princess” from Aladdin, wearing the Disney outfit from our Florida holiday last year.  Dress-up challenge #2 – tick.

20150306_154905The day after World Book Day, M had his Roman “Wow” day at school, requiring, naturally, a Roman costume.  He had originally toyed with the idea of going as a Celtic slave, but when the morning dawned, he had a change of heart and out came my trusty needle and thread, one of Mike’s white t-shirts, G’s plaited belt, M’s old white karate trousers and one of my red pashminas.  Less than 30 minutes later, our very own Roman-esque citizen made his way up to school – not bad for a quick Google search and 15 minutes of hurried sewing!  Dress-up challenge #3 – survived by the skin of our teeth!

 

20150311_210916I had a quick breather over the weekend, which was time enough to celebrate M’s 9th birthday itself and to gather the necessary base materials and trimmings for the next fancy dress requirement – a Greek toga each for the end-of-term Stagecoach performance.  Fortunately we were provided with a set of instructions on how to make a simple toga and G had acted as a model during Stagecoach a couple of weeks ago, so I had already had a sneak preview of how to put the costume together.  The togas themselves were simple enough to make, but then came the lengthy task of adding trim to suit the needs of my demanding duo and the trickier job of making the togas fit.  It might have taken a (very) late night, but the end result was fantastic and I can’t wait to see them perform on stage at the end of March wearing these masterpieces.  Dress-up challenge #4 – future success.

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And so it’s on to just one more dress-up challenge as tomorrow is Comic Relief and the challenge to “Make your face funny for money”.  The costume is the easiest part of the day as they just need to wear their own clothes to school, but the challenge will come early tomorrow morning, when we need to be up at the crack of dawn to give me time to face paint them both.  G wants a tiger and lion on her cheeks, so we’re going to cheat slightly by using M’s tiger feeding friend stickers on one cheek.  I’ve promised her a lion’s face on the other side as long as she’s happy with a cartoon style decoration.  If we have time, I’ll also do her hair in a funky style and, fingers crossed, both will last her throughout the school day and tomorrow evening’s Stagecoach session.

Courtesy of blog.partydelights.co.uk

Courtesy of blog.partydelights.co.uk

M’s face will take a little more work, but I wanted to do something a little different to his tube for the day.  The plan is to cover his tube with both the tegaderm dressing and then a layer of safe micropore before I get to work with the face-paints.  We’ve agreed on a snake design, which will hopefully see me camouflaging his tube as the snake’s tail as it winds around the back of his head, with the snake’s head, complete with sticking-out tongue, appears on the opposite side.  Whether it will work or not, we will just have to wait and see, but I promise a photo if all goes well!  Dress-up challenge #5 – still to be decided.

9th celebrations

“Sometimes,” said Pooh, “the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”

- AA Milne

I can hardly believe our beautiful, cheeky and courageous little man has turned 9.  He continues to amaze us and I have no doubt that this year, just as in years past, he will carry on stepping out bravely with his indomitable spirit intact.  Happy birthday little bean – we love you.

Piece of cake

20150225_231442 sr_162935_largeThese photos are of the supplies I needed to create this year’s  birthday cake masterpiece for Master M as, after all, this had to be a birthday cake like no other I’ve ever baked before.  In the same way that I had discussed my plans for the food we would serve at their Cluedo party with M, we sat together to talk about the various options for his birthday cake.  I could bake a “normal” cake for him to give to his friends, I could use polystyrene dummy cakes to create an authentic-looking, but totally M-friendly cake or we could try something completely different.  A friend had suggested using small bottles of 7-up to create a tiered cake and then giving every party guest a bottle to take home, which I thought an inspired idea as it’s one of the few things M has been able to enjoy since his NG-tube was passed, but M disagreed.  He preferred the idea of the polystyrene “fake” cakes and we headed off to the shops over half-term to source the cakes, decide how many tiers he wanted and get all the art supplies I might need.

20150225_200407Every year I try to create birthday cakes that either echo the themes of the parties themselves, be that mini-golf, magic or minions; or that are innovative and something the children have never seen before, such as last year’s pinata cake for G.  This year’s Cluedo theme offered me a wealth of ideas and I just needed to decide how to put them into action. I settled on a black base layer and ever-grateful to avoid the nightmare of icing a free-from cake, attacked our 3 tiers with a sturdy brush and bottle of black paint.  “Cakes” fully covered, I liberally sprinkled some silver glitter over them all before the paint dried, positioned the silver 9 on the top and added an emerald green ribbon trim for that touch of old-fashioned glamour and to fit with M’s role as party host, “Captain Emerald”.  I stuck the tiers together using PVA glue and then inserted some wooden skewers, just to make sure there was no chance the cake would fall apart before the day itself.

20150225_210001Next came the fun part of adding the decorations.  I had previously printed out silhouettes to use for the characters and images for each of the murder weapons and had a number of them left-over after I had prepared the cards for the party itself. Choosing carefully, I glued the weapons to the bottom layer and a selection of characters to the middle layer, making sure I included the image of G’s character, “Countess Pearl”.  My final step was to stick Captain Emerald’s silhouette to a piece of black card that I had already covered generously with more silver glitter and added this, leaning against the top-tier of the cake, before leaving it all to dry.

20150227_132323M’s cake sorted, I moved on to the preparation of a cake for G.  Much as I had enjoyed exploring the “crafts” side of my personality, this was the moment I’d been waiting for since Christmas.  Not so much the baking of a cake, though I love decorating birthday cakes to wow my children, but more because I finally got to use the best Christmas present I had received and one that was completely unexpected.  I’ve been drooling over the KitchenAid food mixers for years, imagining one gracing my kitchen counters and last year started saving towards buying one of my own.  To my delight, and absolute surprise, my wonderful Mum invested in a Ice-blue model as my Christmas/birthday present and it’s been sitting in the kitchen, taunting me daily with its absolute beauty, whilst I’ve waited for a chance to take it for a test-run.  All I can say is thank goodness I needed to whip up 24 G-friendly cupcakes as well as the birthday cake itself as I flew through the first task and loved every moment spent doing it!

20150227_141709My birthday cake challenge was easier this year as although G has allergies of her own, I was able to use eggs, an ingredient I haven’t baked with in over 3 years.  I used a simple gluten- and dairy-free recipe and then split the mixture between 5 bowls.  Inspired by both the colourful characters in the Cluedo game and a recent episode of Great British Comic Relief Bake-Off, I added 5 different food colourings – 1 to each bowl – and then marbled the cake mix in the baking tins.  20150228_114150As I waited for the cakes to bake, I turned to my trusty laptop to search out some ideas for how to decorate G’s Cluedo cake and settled on recreating the board itself out of icing.  Working late into the early hours of Sunday morning to finish this final part of the party preparations and when I finally fell into my bed at around 3am, I was delighted with the end results.

The big reveal of my “showstopper” cakes was a huge success.  Both G and M were thrilled with their cakes and liked the fact that even though they were completely different, they both fit our Cluedo theme perfectly.  The cakes had pride of place at the centre of our Dessert buffet table and were a real talking point for children and parents alike.  A job well done, though I’m not rushing to make 2 cakes for the same occasion again any time soon – my nerves just can’t take it!

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A Whodunnit birthday!

In the past 3 months, we’ve conquered Christmas, survived the return to school, managed the mysteries of the NG-tube and, most recently, started to tackle the tricky business of food re-introductions,  Now it was time for my biggest challenge yet:  M’s birthday party.

20150301_143337As G turned 11 back in December when M and I were in GOSH and we didn’t get to mark it in any great way,  I wanted to make sure she could celebrate her day with her friends albeit belatedly.  By the time Christmas had passed, the new year was in and we got round to making plans, half-term was fast approaching with M’s birthday hot on its heels.  I tentatively suggested we threw a joint party, not at all sure what response I might get and was delighted when they leapt at the chance.  Next came the trickier job of agreeing what to do and even though many ideas were bandied around, we struggled to come to a compromise that suited them both. With M keen to do LaserQuest or rock-climbing and G hankering after bowling, a final decision seemed impossible to reach until, in a rare moment of like-mindedness, they put their heads together and came up with the idea of a Cluedo-themed birthday party.

20150210_225626The first step was to set the scene for the murder of Mr Black by choosing enough character names, crime scenes and potential murder weapons to accommodate 16 children.  We started with the original lists of the game itself and added to them, ending up with 10 weapons, 10 rooms and 16 characters, which G and M allocated to each of their friends in turn.  I designed and then created the invitations to be handed out at school, inviting the children to join in the birthday celebrations for Captain M Emerald and Countess G Pearl.

Naturally, the finer details of exactly how the party would be run were left to me, but I loved the idea of a murder-mystery style party based on this classic board-game and have spent much of the last 4 weeks planning, preparing and perfecting each element of the day.  The children had lots of ideas about what they wanted to do and we ended up with a series of games, activities and refreshments that would prove to keep the most picky of 11 year-old girls and most active of 9 year-old boys happy for 2 hours.  Each game was attributed to one of our 16 characters, so the guests had the opportunity to test their skills with a Nerf gun at Colonel Mustard’s Shooting range or joined in the pottery painting classes run by Mrs Peacock and Lady Lilac.  We wanted the children to still experience the original aim of the game and work out the who, where and how of the murder, so every activity they did gave them the opportunity to reveal more cards to eliminate suspects from their lists.  This could be as simple as decorating a cupcake for Reverend Green’s church fundraiser to see 2 cards, or as revolting as delving deep into Mrs White’s giant trifle to pull out another one. Everybody had a chance to try their luck at each of the games and they all had a whale of a time.

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As M is still very limited with the foods he is currently able to eat, I decided to avoid a traditional party tea and instead served a dessert buffet, which included pineapple and Foxes glacier mints, both of which are safe for him.  He was also involved heavily in the decision-making about which cakes, biscuits and sweets would be on offer to his friends, which meant he was aware of what his friends would be eating and was happy to sit with them and chat as they all helped themselves to the selection of treats.  20150301_155523The final party game was “Pass the revolver”, which saw the children completing forfeits to see the final 2 Cluedo cards before they had to reach their conclusions and share the results of their investigations.  Nobody successfully worked out all 3 murder cards, though there was a small cohort who managed to work out 2 of the 3 elements correctly.  We finished with the traditional rousing renditions of “Happy Birthday” and then sent our guests on their way.  Both G and M loved every moment of their Cluedo birthday party and the text messages I’ve since received have assured me that their friends had a great time too.  In the words of one of M’s friends, it was “the best birthday party EVER!