2014 in First Lines

Again inspired by Annabel’s House of Books, a retrospective of the year’s blogging. Not that you can see last year’s any more because it’s set to private. As are 245 posts of the probably-twice-as-many that I removed in February when I had a bit of a crash. So some of these first lines are from the still-published posts, rather than the actual first posts…

January: Another year, a new set of stats! (Our Week in Books #1)

February: Oops, we seem to have acquired a lot of new books this week! (Our Week in Books #5)

March: It’s March. (Our Week in Books #9)

April: The plan today was to add books to Goodreads that aren’t there so I can update my picture books read list properly, take a photo of the books I’m going to giveaway for #300PBs and update Monday’s post at last, and write an update here of all the decluttering and tidying I’ve done in the last two weeks, with pictures. (Our Week in Books #14)

May: It’s almost like the Hoo’s Kids Book Fest programme has been made for the Chaos household. (Who’s At Hoo’s?)

June: This is a wonderful idea from Borough Press, an imprint of HarperCollins. (#BookADayUK Favourite Book from Childhood)

July: I haven’t blogged much for a long while it feels, and I’m still working out whether I’m going to return to diary blog or just write about books all the time, but writing is therapy so please indulge my rambles. (July Update)

August: It’s August already, and I haven’t finished June’s #bookadayuk. (Our Week in Books #31)

September: Another week, another set of excuses why I’ve not done much blogging again. (Our Week in Books #36)

October: A modern re-imagining of the traditional rhyme This is the House that Jack Built, with a boy playing building blocks in a farm setting. (The House That Zac Built by Alison Murray)

November: This November I am going to attempt to blog every day. (November)

December: It’s the first day of December. (Advent 2014)

Yup. I think that pretty much sums up 2014. Sigh.

Unwanted After School Activities

I’m sure I’m depriving my poor darlings of many opportunities by not signing them up to zillions of external after school classes, but the fact of the matter is I don’t drive and I have limited social energy so dragging kids on buses all over the place every evening just isn’t an option.

Besides, their tiny school does pretty well for after school clubs, even if they’re not as snazzy or well equipped as specialist clubs might be. So we have our routines, and we have help retrieving one child when the other child is ready to drop and doesn’t want to walk to and from somewhere to collect her sister.

But Christmas is different, and now Mighty Girl is in Year 3 and Danger Girl in Year 1, it’s been even more packed with after school commitments. Which, as I’m going through a period of quite bad depression, has been quite hellish.

I know many people do things after school as standard, but usually they do have cars to help. It’s dark by 4pm, it’s cold, and we have to walk everywhere, so this diary has not been fun:

Thursday 4th – see Thursday 11th, but in-laws collected MG as Mr Chaos at work.

Friday 5th – School Christmas Fair 5-7pm, both children attending and I went with them. Fortunately managed to convince them to leave at 6.30 as friends were leaving, otherwise it really drags at the end. Or after about 10 minutes in my case. And I was down to my last 80p at the time we left anyhow.

Monday 8th – Gym club for MG & DG finishing 4.15, back to school for 6pm for ‘Christmas Hour’, a mix of mini plays and poems that both girls were in.

Tuesday 9th – MG at friends’ after school, which she should have gone to the week before. Fortunately Mr Chaos can get home early from work to pick her up at 6pm, otherwise DG & I would have to bus there and back to get her.

Wednesday 10th – DG’s Nativity at 6pm. Although that ended up being taken care of by in-laws as we were ill.

Thursday 11th – MG at Art Club until 4pm, then Brownies at 5.30pm. This has been a nightmare all term, as by the time DG & I get home there’s about 20 minutes before we have to pick MG up (and DG will go very stubborn about going out again); then we have an hour before dropping MG off again (and DG will get stubborn about leaving, because she wants to stay at Brownies all the time.) Normally MG’s godmother (and Brownie leader) drives MG back at 7.30pm but she’s on a well-deserved holiday so Mr Chaos had to get back from work to pick her up, and Thursdays are a day he has an evening meeting every week so he’s back and forth to do that, but otherwise DG would have had to do four back-and-forth walks instead of three, which I usually have to carry her on because she gets fed up. I’m not a fan of Thursdays!

Friday 12th – MG’s after school disco at 6pm. Again Mr Chaos got back from work early in order to pick her up at 7.30pm so I didn’t have to drag DG out yet again.

Monday 15th – MG to Youth Club disco with friend. Fortunately no back-and-forth to drop her off with DG this time because MG went went home with friend after school. Disco 6-8pm. Phone call at 7.25pm because MG couldn’t take the noise and busyness of the disco any more. She basically sat in a corner the rest of the time anyway. I’m really proud of how she went to both discos though. Fortunately Mr Chaos was home in time.

Tuesday 16th – KS2 carol service, 6pm. MG is Mary in this one apparently. At least we can stay to this one, although not sure if Mr Chaos can get home in time.

Mr Chaos is the website department for an Oxford college, which involves creating all the content including photos and video and at this time of year he has lots of evening events to attend, which has made things even harder. Plus me being in a slump of depression adds even more strain.

MG and DG are exhausted. Mr Chaos is exhausted. I’m exhausted. We’re late to school every morning. I’m looking forward to the end of term…

Our Week in Books #50

Week 50? Seriously? Eek! Where has the year gone? Etc, etc…

I mostly updated Goodreads last week, but need to add this week’s and work out where I went wrong between spreadsheet and Goodreads (totals don’t match) but that can all wait. More review books I wasn’t expecting, which is lovely, plus the prize we won from Okido :-)

I then popped into Mostly Books just to say hello, and ended up taking advantage of the Christmas voucher. Oops ;-) Double oops, I also ‘accidentally’ took advantage of The Book People’s 20% off. But some of that is gifts, and it’s not arrived so it will go onto next week’s list.

I’ve not really been reading. It’s the depression mainly. Annoyingly I got stuck on a review book that actually I liked. But because it was the book I was reading when I got stuck reading, I’m finding it hard to finish. Which I feel bad about because the author sent it to me. But I’m going to have to just put it aside and read other books until I can start again and give it the attention it deserves.

Still not managing to get into the ‘Christmas spirit’. False joy doesn’t work for me. But excited children might. I’ll keep trying to get better.

Books added to shelves:
The Twelve Days of Christmas – Britta Teckentrup (review book from Little Tiger Press)
Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar – Emily MacKenzie (review book from Bloomsbury)
Dangerous – Tim Warnes (review book from Little Tiger Press)
Bug Detective – Maggie Li (competition prize from Okido)
Big City Explorer – Maggie Li (competion prize from Okido)
The Imaginary – A F Harrold & Emily Gravett (bought from Mostly Books)
Baby Aliens Got My Teacher – Pamela Butchart & Thomas Flintham (bought from Mostly Books)
The Matchbox Mysteries – Sally Gardner & David Roberts (bought from Mostly Books)
Pocket Fairy Tales: Little Red Riding Hood (bought from Mostly Books)
Cumulative: 604 (£978.60) (£3919.97)

Library books borrowed: none
Cumulative: 46

Books removed from shelves: none (6 still to give as gifts)
Cumulative: 167
50 eBooks. Net bookshelf gain 2014 cumulative = 387

Read 52 books finished this week: none

Year progress: 347/365 = 95.1%
300 Picture Book progress: 358?/300 = 119.3%
Read 52 progress: 75/52 = 144.2% (53/52 = 101.9%)

300in2014 A reading challenge from http://liveotherwise.co.uk/makingitup

Hand-stamped Wrapping Paper

I really like the lovely kraft wrapping paper you can buy at the moment, but we’re having a low budget Christmas and splurging £3.50 for 3m of wrapping paper isn’t an option.

A photo posted by Anne-Marie (@childledchaos) on

So I decided to make my own. Considering the paper is probably just going to end up torn and in the recycle, I’m not making much but it’s quite therapeutic.

All the stamps and ink are from my old ‘stash’ from when I used to do scrapbooking, so my only outlay to make these was a roll of brown paper for under £2 (I got mine from Tesco, but saw some in our local discount store after I’d got it, and probably can get at local post office – if you have one – or online.)

For small children, ready-mix paint and foam (or potato etc) stamps would work, and newspaper is an alternative to brown paper for recycled wrapping. But I wanted a kraft paper look!

Making hand-stamped wrapping paper #therapy

A photo posted by Anne-Marie (@childledchaos) on

Mighty Girl and Danger Girl have had a go making their own paper too, but they haven’t got the idea of wrapping paper as such so mainly end up painting pictures instead. Which is fine.

I also have a couple of plain tea towels and canvas shopping bags plus fabric paint for the grandparents presents…


Sometimes it sneaks up and you don’t realise that the long-term ‘head cold’ you seemed to have probably wasn’t that after all. I did have a cold for a bit too, which confused everything.

So I’m in depression mode. Have seen GP. Need to phone Talking Space (e-mailed saying I don’t like phones, really nice reply but I still need to phone initially) so obviously I’m avoiding that, which won’t help.

Another side-effect is not feeling able to thank people for nice comments. I guess because I feel I don’t deserve them. But it’s so rude not to. But I feel a bit sick thinking about trying to. So I stare into space. That’s not very helpful either.

I decided not to change my anti-depressants just yet. They may not be working to keep everything completely at bay but I’m too scared to go to the place I go to when I’m not on them, and GP said I have to wean off these to try another. With Christmas so close, I’ll stick with what I’ve got for now.

Self awareness helps. I am trying very hard to talk myself into doing something other than staring into space. I’ve not got there yet, but it’s getting close. Something creative will help.

Duvet Day

This morning went something like this: my alarm goes off at 7am, I ignore it, I stare at my phone for a bit to try to get my brain going, the children crawl into bed and fidget, I realise it’s 8am and we have 30 minutes to get ready but I don’t care.

I don’t care most mornings. I don’t want to drag myself out of bed, into the cold, after repeatedly reminding two children to do the same things they’re supposed to do every single morning but apparently forget.

Wash face. Brush teeth. Socks on. Shoes on. Coat on. Jumper on first. Did you brush your hair? Where did you leave your shoes then?

This morning, Mr Chaos was quite ill. And I felt like crud as usual. And MG (7) looked pale, was coughing, and didn’t seem well at all. Then DG (5) shouted “I’m poorly!” repeatedly and refused to get dressed because MG seemed ill.

I managed to convince them both to get dressed, but MG looked even worse and just curled up under a blanket with toast and milk. And neither of them ate their advent calendar chocolate. And DG still shouted “I’m poorly!” and there was no way I could carry her all the way to school with the way I was feeling, and she is so stubborn that she regularly just stops walking and refuses to go anywhere.

So I told the school we were all ill.

Then by 11.30am, both children were bouncing around the house and DG was shouting “please can I go to school?!” having realised that a day at home with two sick parents was really, really boring.

I’d slept most of the morning. Mr Chaos spent most of it in the smallest room. MG and DG had been wonderful. They made craft flowers together, and played games, and watched TV, and were quiet and self contained for two hours, but that was their limit.

Fortunately the grandparents came to the rescue. They picked up our daughters, fed them lunch, dropped them at school in time for afternoon registration, picked them up, fed them tea, and took them to DG’s nativity play in the evening (which I’d seen yesterday but Mr Chaos is gutted to have missed), dropping them home just in time for bed.

I slept until about 2.30pm, did some laundry, the dishwasher, put the online grocery shop away, put the recycling out, and basically felt a whole lot better for not having to do the school runs, and having extra child-free hours. Mr Chaos managed a bit of soup this evening, but is back in bed now.

As I read DG her bedtime stories she said, “Can we go back to school tomorrow?”

I think we can chalk that one up to huge parenting fail number several million and something. Tomorrow is another day.

P.S. I recommend everyone to read Merry’s post today. Her description of ‘improper depression’ is spot on.

99(ish) Picture Book Gift Recommendations

We read hundreds of picture books every year in the Chaos household, and have many favourites and treasures. We recommend many beautiful books but my best advice is that one single (hardback if possible) book related to the interests of the person you’re buying for will be treasured most. With that in mind, here are 99 illustrated books organised in themes.

Although I am linking to Amazon, I recommend your local indie where possible. The Amazon page gives you all the details for them to order the book in for you ;-) If you do buy via these links, I will earn a small commission.

Gift Recommendation Posts:
Christmas Gift Picture Book Recommendations 2014
Forget Black Friday Deals (fairy tale recommendations)
Books I’m Giving as Gifts 2014
Beautiful Picture Books for Giving
Treasuries to Treasure
Great Gifts for Nought to Five Year Olds
Great Gifts for Children
Gifts for Curious Children

Christmas Gift Picture Book Recommendations 2014

Following on from the Fairy Tales, Fables and Traditional Tales recommendations, here are the rest of the Chaos household gift ideas 2014 by theme.

Winter and Christmas

Every year I recommend David Melling’s The Tale of Jack Frost, and I will continue to do so. It looks like it’s out of print again this year, but perhaps it’s in stock locally or you can find it second hand. New for this year is Katie’s London Christmas, another stunningly illustrated instant classic from the talented James Mayhew. Starting in winter and taking a walk in the seasons is another beautiful gift book, My Hand in Your Hand. Although I’ve not seen either of these books I’m adding two recently published Twelve Days of Christmas books, one from Britta Teckentrup and one from Alison Jay. Given the illustrators (and publishers) of these two, I have no doubt they are well worth a look and either would make an excellent gift.

Animals and Pets

This is a very eclectic mix of books, but any would make an excellent gift. Betty Goes Bananas is a perfect observation of toddler tantrums, funny for parents and with repetition for little ones, this will get read again and again and again (or they’ll kick and scream…) Mad About Mega Beasts joins a series of bright and colourful collection of rhyming books from the team of Giles Andreae and David Wojtowycz, great for any little one who loves beasties! Hog in the Fog is a beautifully illustrated rhyming tale of a search for a missing friend that fans of Julia Donaldson will love. With simple-looking bright pictures, You Can Do It Bert encourages Bert bird every step of the way to jumping off his branch. Not only a fun read, but good for talking about facing everyday fears too. A line of 50 named animals, but what are they waiting for? Line Up, Please is wonderful for vocabulary, but has a fun tale to tell too – much more interesting than an animal word book. Sloths are surprisingly popular in picture books, but they are so cute! Both Sloth Slept On and The Lazy Friend use a sleeping sloth with the story unfolding around it unaware, but in very different ways. The Lazy Friend is wordless and animal focuses, Sloth Slept On focuses on a group of children who find a sloth and try to find out where it came from. Both are wonderful. I’ve also added Sparky, which I’ve not seen but looks beautiful. Finally, but certainly not least, Bears Don’t Read is just essential for all book lovers. And I’ve added Plumdog which I’ve also not seen but know will be gorgeous, as all Emma Chichester Clark’s books are.

Friendship and People

Hug Me is a beautiful book about the need to be loved, and to love. Felipe the cactus will be loved by young children and can be enjoyed on many different levels, just gorgeous. Memorial is quite deep and slightly depressing but full of hope, so actually it does work well for this time of year and anything illustrated by Shaun Tan is just beautiful, one perhaps for history students. Hooray for Hat celebrates friendship and how small things can brighten the grumpiest of days. Toddlers will relate to being grumpy, but this will appeal to all ages too. My Little Star would make a lovely gift for new parents. Nicola O’Byrne’s beautiful illustrations married with Mark Sperring’s text celebrating the love between parent and child is a perfect bedtime read. How To Catch A Star’s 10th anniversary book is a beautiful celebration of longing and perseverance told in Oliver Jeffer’s now-very-familiar style, the hardback makes an especially nice gift. Finally I am a huge fan of Tracey Corderoy and Joe Berger’s Hubble Bubble books so am adding one of the picture books, although I recommend them all as well as the early readers. Pandora and Granny’s loving relationship is one to cherish.

Interactive and Learning

Who’s in the Tree that Shouldn’t Be? is a lovely lift-the flap, but also consolidates learning about where animals belong. The rhyming is very clever, and beautifully illustrated too. Mr Tweed’s Good Deeds is a search book wrapped round a story – not that I’ve read the story because the book gets grabbed off me every time while my girls try to find all the objects in the pictures! Some of them are quite hard, but that just makes this book all the more appealing. Paul Thurlby’s art is well loved, and every page in Numbers could easily be framed. One for all ages, this isn’t your average numbers book. New York in Pyjamarama makes still pictures move with its clever acetate sheet. No interactive book list should be without Herve Tullet. Press Here is a masterpiece and belongs in every home. I’ve not seen Mix It Up, but I expect it’s just as wonderful. Any Herve Tullet makes an excellent gift.

Highly Illustrated Early Readers

I wasn’t sure what to call this section, but it’s for the small books with mostly duo-tone illustrations that are great as both read alouds and early readers. I can’t choose between them, I recommend every book from these series: Claude, Dixie O’Day, Hubble Bubble; and rhyming series: Mortimer Keene, Squishy McFluff, Woozy the Wizard. And black and white but also highly illustrated: Jolley Rodgers, Ottoline. I’ve included one from each series in the links, but they are all a delight.

Disclosure: Affiliate links. Book sources include publishers, own copies, and library.

Full Moon

Technically not a full moon tonight, but looked like it. We were walking back from one of the (seemingly never ending) after school Christmas-related events, just after 7pm so it’s quite dark. MG (7) was walking between me and her dad, DG (5) was walking between her grandparents a few steps ahead, and the following conversation happened:

Mr Chaos: Look at the moon, is that full? There might be werewolves.

MG: I’m scared of werewolves.

Me: Don’t worry, you’re the fastest, just let them eat us and run for safety.

Mr Chaos: There’s probably vampires too.

Me: <carries on thinking>

MG: I don’t like werewolves or vampires, or trees in the dark.

Mr Chaos: <rustles some branches>

MG: <jumps>

Mr Chaos: Sorry <looks suitably penitent>

Me: Basically, only you and Daddy have any chance. You both have long legs. Grandma, Grandpa, MG, and me will definitely be werewolf fodder. But you have a chance…

Mr Chaos: They must be nearly old enough for some Hammer Horrors soon?

MG: Can you swing me?

Luckily we didn’t bump into any werewolves or vampires this time, or get too injured with swinging the tall seven year old between us (I’m too short for her now!)