GIVEAWAY AND REVIEW: Lego Batman 2 DC Super Heroes game for XBOX 360

I really wanted to call this the Hamster Ball of death and other Batman powers...


A week out and the excitement was building.  My son was spending every spare minute googling the  new Lego Batman XBox 360 game.   Within days, I knew more than I ever wanted about The Penguin, Poison Ivy, Cat Woman and the rest of the huge cast of characters.  "And you can explore the whole city of Gotham City!" he told me as we strolled out to get the Sunday papers.

By Monday evening the emails had been checked a dozen times to see exactly when the game would arrive.

"So it should arrive on Friday, Mum?"  and other variations on this question punctuated the week with monotonous regularity.

And this is what did arrive:

The Bat Box
THE REVIEW

In aspie boy's own words, as I don't play video games.  I don't even play Farmville, so it's over to you, son..

What is the game about?

"Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor are competing for the Man of the Year Award. When Bruce goes up to get it, the Joker appears and crashes the party, and Batman and Robin have to stop him causing chaos. Lex Luthor breaks the Joker out of Arkham Asylum and asks the Jokers to help him to win an election. Batman and Robin have to stop him.

"It is all set in Gotham City, except one level which is set in Metropolis.

"Batman and Robin have to stop the Joker and Lex Luthor getting kryptonite, destroy a giant cloud robot and join up with the Justice League aka the DC superheroes from the Marvel comic series."

What are the good things about the game?

"It's fun, and it would take a long time to complete. Like the other Lego games you have to collect gold bricks and fight villains, like the Joker, General Zod and Sinestro.

"It's a great game to play for the family, it's child friendly, with good humour, and there's voice acting which is a new feature of the series.

"You can finish the story in about 9-10 hours, but there's lots more to do in the game, including exploring Gotham City. Every level has 10 mini kit pieces and when you collect 10 you get lots of studs (money) and you also get a different version of your vehicle.  The story is very exciting, and when you're flying around Gotham City it's awesome.

"You can play straight through the game and just collect 7 characters, but there's another 43 available by exploring Gotham City. Characters like Martian Man Hunter, Superman, Supergirl and Catwoman.

"There's a handy map system in the game that helps you to find things that are well-hidden - unlocking  Gotham City gets this.

"Batman and Robin have 4 different suits each that change how you control them, and give them different powers, eg electricity and superstrength, batsuits for gliding and the x-ray suits that offer x-ray vision.  Robin has this acrobat suit, that gives him access to the hamster ball of death.  He climbs into it, rolls into people, and they die!"

So do you want the game now?  If so, you have enter the giveaway...

THE GIVEAWAY

Everything in the Bat Box is available in this giveaway, including an unopened copy of the game, just not the bat box itself.  UK and Ireland addresses only.

How to enter

On the blog: leave a comment below that enables me to contact you if you win.

Email: send an email to stilllookingforbluesky@gmail.com.

Facebook: has strict rules about competitions and giveaways that I really can't work out, so I'm not accepting comments on any of my Facebook pages as an entry, but comments are still gratefully received!

Twitter: post a tweet about the competition as an extra entry.  Just make sure to leave a comment here or mention @c_oreilly in your tweet so that I know.

Closing date for entries is 8pm on Friday 3rd August, 2012

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Disclosure: This game was provided to me for free to play and review.

Staycation

Looking for blue sky?
It was a whirlwind of a week.  My brother and nephew breezed in last Friday, and life speeded up.  Summer made a brief appearance; out came the suncream and the shorts; farewell facebook, hello food festivals, parks and playgrounds.

Angel in the sun
New toys were tried.

Where's my kite?
There it is!
Old skills were tested.

Someone's grown..
There was also fixing, chatting, cooking, playing, bouncing, lots of eating of lovely food at home and out, walking, running, sleeping...well not much of that!  Staycations aren't so bad you know, we all had a great time.

And my special girl? Well she enjoyed every second, including her first ever picnic.  Who knew that mashed spuds stayed warm for so long?

Smiley :)

Silent Sunday July 2012




Silent Sunday

The memory box

It's almost 22 years since the ex and I arrived at Dublin Port in a rented Transit stuffed to the roof with everything that we hadn't sold.  Security took one glance in the back and decided it was time for a tea break.  We were waved through.  So began my life as an ex-pat.  But I never thought of it like that until I discovered other Brits in Ireland, and now I'm in touch with lots of people who no longer live in their country of origin.  Including Kiwi expat Vegemitevix, who published a lovely post describing the top 5 things that she would put in a memory box to evoke her years living in Britain and asking her readers how they would capture their years overseas in the same way.  Well it got me thinking and thinking, because once you ignore the photographs of friends and family, it's quite a challenge to sum up a country with 5 things that would fit in a memory box!   And Ireland is now my home, and I've no plans to leave, but things change, and who knows what will happen in the future?  So here is my list, and I may have cheated a little bit and got a little bit cheesy...

1. A sign post - I would love my very own traditional Irish sign post.  It would remind me of the scenery, the little towns and the getting lost.  The years spent balancing maps on the steering wheel, circling roundabouts, and parking up to read signs.  You wouldn't want to be in a hurry to get anywhere, and if you're not, the Irish signage system is simply charming and picturesque, and it has improved in recent years.

2. A pair of MBT- To remind me of the most successful PR campaign that I ever managed and protect my back!

3. A palm tree - I love the Irish weather, really I do!  Well except that the drizzle gives me bad hair days.  But it's never too hot and (almost) never too cold.  And I've taught my children to be thankful that they live on a beautiful island that rarely suffers from natural disasters,  Of course most of the palm trees died after the ridiculously cold winter in 2010, but mine is shooting back up again...

4. A blaa or two - My big career breakthrough in Ireland was in 1994 when I got my first PR job here. But it meant a year of biweekly four-hour round trips to Waterford in the pre-motorway days.  And Angel was only two at the time.  And I didn't yet have a mobile phone.  The breakfast blaa and coffee at the end of the journey was one of the things that kept me driving...  There's actually lots of yummy food in Ireland, from sea-food to soda bread to Superquinn sausages and I would certainly miss all of it if I had to leave.

5. The PACUB Banner (if the group would let me have it!) - I've always been interested in politics, attending anti-nuclear meetings as a teenager, going on rent strike in the 80s as a student and making friends on marches in Dublin in the 90s.  But after I lost my job, politics took on a sharper focus, and I made new friends and learned new skills as I helped the PACUB campaign against cuts in child benefit.  Between my blog and twitter I now have as much involvement in politics as I want.  It's amazing the things that can change your life for the better and I'd love to bring the banner with me as a reminder of that...


The first day of the holidays #rant

With the morning came rain, lashings of it.  But after being stuck in the house with an anxious aspie boy for large chunks of the weekend, I was not going to let a rain shower deluge stop my plans.  You see my boy claimed to be worried about the water sports activity at his summer camp today.  And I am too soft and too afraid of meltdowns to simply tell him he's going.  The compromise was that I agreed to go into the school and explain how he feels about wrinkly fingers and stuff like that, and ask them to accommodate his needs.  I also needed a walk, and Smiley needed to get out.  Solution?  Aspie boy went on the bus to school and I walked there with Smiley.  Rain was not part of my plans, especially since the buggy got broken.

Well the good news is that I got the buggy back.

The bad news is that Smiley has grown again and it really is a bit small now.  I think it will be for emergencies only from now on, sadly.

Cue tearing of hair out in handfuls.

Even I could see that she is now more comfortable in her moulded seat prescribed by the occupational therapy team.  But I have persuaded them that the current wheelchair is simply too big, for the car and for the house, sooo it has been agreed that a new, smaller frame will be ordered to support the seat.  And I plan to ensure that it is as practical and buggy-like as possible, with a rainhood and other accessories, taken from her current buggy.  Now all I have to do is wait.

But in the meantime it hasn't stopped raining.  So this is what I tried today.



It took more than an hour to walk to the school and back, and by the time we got home Smiley was completely soaked.  In the buggy she would have been bone dry.  She did giggle all the way home though, and it has been a warm day, so I don't feel too guilty...

When we got back I toileted Smiley and changed all her clothes, bagged the nappy and took it out to the bin....only to discover that the maggots were back :( And it's only been 1 1/2 weeks since the last bin lift. So instead of more fun, or summer camp, Smiley had to watch videos all afternoon while I emptied and scrubbed out the bin and then myself.  Topping off a great start to the holidays there was an incident later with constipation and floor that needed cleaning, say no more I think.  Looking on the bright side I got lots of exercise and fresh air and halted a maggot invasion - for today at least.

Can the holidays get any better? I really hope so!

My daughter's last day

Smiley arrived in the door, smiling as usual.  The bus has just left, and it will not return for seven whole weeks.  School is finished, and so is summer camp.  In many homes this would be a cause for celebration and plans for holidays and days out.  But not here.  I've mentioned before about the conflict of interest between my son's wish to stay in (asperger's syndrome), and my daughter's need to go out (cerebral palsy).  This always comes to a head during long school breaks.  And this year the summer break is longer than it has ever been before.

Let me backtrack a little.

Until 2007 Smiley had a full service, everything that a child with complex special needs could want, and lots of family support too.  As well as the school, there was a holiday service or summer camp when the school was closed, if she needed it, and respite on demand.  The dismantling of this service began with a change of management and continued as the cutbacks began to bite.

This year the summer camp only lasted for two weeks.  And it was perfect for her, with lots of fun and activities with other children and adults that she knows and likes, finishing with a disco and cake today.  But now there is nothing.  I was offered July provision for her.  I laughed.  A tutor?  For Smiley?  A stranger coming to the house to 'teach' her stuff?  My daughter won't even look at strangers, let alone do things for them.  Anyway it's the holidays, and she doesn't want lessons, she wants entertainment.  But tutors are not even allowed to take her out.

I have told her that it is holiday time, I've tried to explain, but as she has no words I do not know how she will be when the bus does not come on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and on and on and on.

I love having her at home with me but I cannot be everything to my child.  I am her Mum.  That means I have a hundred different roles already, from playmate to advocate.   But I cannot provide expert OT, SLT or PT*, or why did these therapists study for so many years?   Nor can I provide all the facilities and experiences at home, that she can get at school.  A swimming pool? Sure, I'll just dig up the back garden.  A special appearance by The Coronas?  Perhaps I should tweet them.  A disco?  Yeah we have them in the kitchen, but it's not quite the same with just two people.  

It's a taste of what may be ahead. She will be 18 in two years time, and if things don't change she will be affected by the same waiting list lottery that is affecting this year's school leavers with learning difficulties.  Their last day is past, and for some their future is currently empty.  Only some will get an adult service in the autumn.  What will happen to the others?  What will happen to my daughter when she gets to 18?  Will her last day then really be her last day?

*occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, and physiotherapy

I share my name with...


My name is Candi.  There I've said it.  And I'm often called Cathy, as many of you on twitter will know.  It's a name that provides lots of entertainment, especially for other people.

"My dog is called Candi!" Yes I've heard that.

"Sweet as candy!" No not really.

"Do you wash like a Candy?" Better!

There has never been a film that featured a businesswoman called Candi.  I wonder why?  For some reason my name tends to attach to less salubrious occupations.  Perhaps this is why my career stalled..

Things are a little better in song, and of course there's the wonderful Candi Staton, who can actually sing.

Digging deeper into the internet I found out that I also share my name with the following:

A Hindu Mother Goddess.

The Grand Candi Hotel in Indonesia.  I like that one :)

And this morning I discovered that the most famous Candy in Ireland is.....a penguin.

So fess up, who or what do you share your name with?

How do I cope?

** Repetition warning: if you're a regular reader, a lot of this will be very familiar...**

It's not just me, others have noticed that the lives of so many bloggers are far from average.  They are living with challenges such as serious illness, supersize families, grief, domestic violence, special needs, and these are often the impetus to start a blog.  And so it was for twin mum Rebecca English who blogs at Here Come The Girls.

'Since having the twins the question I’m asked most frequently is “how do you cope?”', she says, and now Rebecca is asking other bloggers the same question.  In fact she's asking several questions, and here are my answers:

1. What is it about your life which has made someone ask how do you cope?

I'm a separated lone parent of three wonderful children.  One adult, one teenager with severe cerebral palsy and an undiagnosed disorder, and an 11 year old boy with asperger's syndrome.  Home is Dublin, but I have no family support here as they all live in Wales.  I was out of work, but now at last I have a job, although that brings its own challenges.  Throw in the loss of my parents and fairly relentless health problems, and sometimes it all seems just too much for one person.

2. What is the best thing about the situation?

There's many good things, and it would be hard to name just one.   Maybe all the friends and amazing people that I've met through special needs.   

3. What is the hardest thing?

That varies from day to day.  The biggest problem today, is the biggest problem today.  It might be behaviour, lack of time, illness, tiredness, something breaking, bad news, no-one to ask or no-one to tell.

4. What gets you through the day?

You'd expect me to say coffee, children, chocolate, wine and the internet perhaps?  They're my treats, my rewards.  What gets me through the days is pig-headed stubbornness and determination.  I am not about to let any challenge ruin my life.   

Then there's the great example set by my parents: My Mum, who was fit and fabulous until her final illness, and my Dad who had the energy of someone 20 years younger and never stopped being positive, even in his final days.  I have a tradition to carry on, you know!

5. What would you change if you could?

I would like more awareness and tolerance for disabilities and additional needs.  I want people to understand that these challenges can happen to anyone, and they should have compassion for those affected.  They deserve to enjoy a fulfilling life too, and with a little help, everyone can make some contribution to society, even if it's just by smiling and making people happy.

6. What piece of advice would you give to someone finding themselves in your situation?

Never ever give up hope.  Everything will pass, things can always get better and you will find help, often in unexpected places.  

Written in support of the blog carnival: A Mile in my Shoes  

mile

Africa through my daughter's eyes


Under the cloudy Tanzanian sky two football teams are playing on a dry and dusty pitch.  The white lines are barely visible, but the children are all smiles, energy and enthusiasm, and the game barely pauses as a motor bike roars down the road that runs through the middle of pitch, belching black smoke in all directions...

Of all the stories that Angel brought back from volunteering trip to Africa with an Irish charity, this is the one that stuck in my head.   And there were a lot of stories.

When she arrived home last week, the words just tumbled out.  From the long flight after I waved her off in the middle of the night to a very happy reunion in Dublin airport a month later, there was a lot to tell!

Stories of airports that had never seen an e-ticket, luggage that disappeared for a week, hanging onto the sides of overcrowded buses, cheap diesel fumes clogging the air, and that was just the transport.

Angel and three of her friends stayed in a well-appointed hostel, they even had some access to broadband. The food was good and plentiful, but the water was not.  All drinking water was bottled, there was no washing machine and the shower was just a trickle, so clothes and skin needed lots of cleaning when they returned home.  Even Western-style toilets were rare, apart from the hostel and a handful of the restaurants.

In the mornings they headed across town to the orphanage and school.  It could be an interesting journey as the terrain was tricky, with pot holes and open man hole covers at every turn, mud and dust and piles of burning rubbish outside the low-rise buildings.  Bizarrely the street signs were all sponsored by Coca Cola.


All the children were eager to learn and interested in everything their visitors could share.  They spoke in Swahili and Angel's sentences are still peppered with words that she absorbed.  I'm actually not sure who learned the most!  Did you know that there are 15 different varieties of bananas?  And that Tanzanian oranges are green?  That caused lots of confusion when trying to teach English to the children.


After a late lunch the girls helped the kids with their football training and matches, but only till around 6, when dusk begins. It is pitch black by 6.30.  Their evening were spent eating and playing cards.

The friends also squeezed in a couple of touristy trips too, a safari and a jungle trek.  All of them had an amazing time and are vowing to return again next year.



And Angel? Well she left Ireland as a teenager, and returned as a confident young woman.  More helpful and more thoughtful.  She's questioning the life that we take for granted, and the stuff that we think we need.  Like milk frothers.

"They don't worry so much in Africa," she says, "they just soak up the joy of living."

There's a lesson in that for all of us.  Perhaps I should go there too... 

How to get your child to eat curry : a recipe for success

I have a brood of picky eaters, who would live off roast chicken, chocolate cake, and pizza if allowed.  Now and again I vary their diet, and last week I bravely produced a curry for dinner.  Not just any old curry though, but my fail-safe recipe that even children tend to like.  I'd forgotten all about it until the Tom Dunne Radio Show started searching for the best curry recipe in Ireland.  This would not win that competition, but it's a great introduction to curry, and it worked here, at least with some of my children.  One is still indicating that she prefers chocolate cake though....

Chicken and Banana Curry

Serves 4

4 skinless chicken breasts
25 gms butter
1 onion
1/2 green pepper
1/2 red pepper
500 ml good chicken stock
a squeeze of lemon juice
2 bananas
salt and pepper
2 tsp medium curry powder (or to taste)
large pinch mixed spice

1. Chop the onion and pepper very finely - but do not grate.
2. Melt the butter over a lowish heat in a large frying pan.
3. Add the onion, pepper and chicken.  I prefer to cut the chicken up in the pan using scissors, but you could probably leave the chicken breasts whole.
4. Cook until soft and just turning in colour.
5. Add curry powder and cook for 1 minute, stirring.
6. Add the mixed spice, seasoning, stock and simmer gently for 30 minutes, turning the chicken occasionally.
7. Add the chopped banana and lemon juice and cook for a further 10 minutes.
8. Serve with plain boiled rice.



This post was not sponsored by anyone, not even Fyffes...

Building family traditions : the hot dog hunt

There was the big scary bonfire that belched out red bits and choky smoke like a baby Welsh dragon.  The warm still afternoons spent raking up grass and being Laura with a sunbonnet  batting my shoulders.    I had a lovely old-fashioned country childhood, a million miles away from the 21st century Dublin version that my kids are getting.  And I want them to look back with a smile.  Just as I do.  I've written before about making memories, by organising special outings that they won't forget.  But I can't manage that every day.  And my son with Asperger's wants a life that is predictable.  Surprises are not welcome in this house, sadly.

So what to do?  Especially with the summer holidays starting tomorrow...

Well, there are the daily routines that have to be got through, and then there the empty hours that will be filled with console-playing and video-watching if I do not organise something else.  So I'm trying to create family traditions, just like the ones that I remember from my Welsh childhood.  But they have to be based something.  Anything will do.  And for this one I've used my son's love of hot dogs.  Not mine, you understand.  He keeps telling me that I am the best 'baker', but is not enthralled with my healthy home cooking.

It all began thanks to the annual appearance of the hot dog stands in nearby streets during the summer months.  You see we live near a major sports ground, and right now there are matches every Sunday, and some Saturdays too. Parking and driving around the area become difficult. So we don't. We walk instead.

This means that both my younger children get a bit of fresh (ish) air and aspie boy gets some exercise, especially when he takes turns pushing his sister's wheelchair.  The hot dog hunt takes us in the same general direction each time, but you never know where exactly where they will be.  And usually there are several, which means that aspie boy has to overcome his anxiety and choose from which stand he wants to buy his hot dog.  On a very good day he might even order and pay for it himself.  So it's all good.  Including the hot dog itself.


And what does Smiley get out of it?  Well she just gets caught up in all the excitement and activity :D