Saturday, 31 May 2014

ZSA ZSA: MY LOST YEARS

Reader Zsa Zsa bravely opens up about what it's like to struggle with depression... a powerful, heartbreaking story.


Zsa Zsa says:
I was twelve when things began to go wrong for me. My parents were breaking up and the house was full of tension and screaming. I'd shut myself in my room and turn the music up to drown out the shouting. One night I climbed out of the window and went to a friend's house, but she was out... I won't say too much, but something bad happened that night and after that I began to have very dark thoughts. A year later I was off the rails, self-harming and running away a lot. The police found me one night trying to break into an abandoned building for shelter; they saw my scars and took me straight to the hospital. I was diagnosed with manic depression and spent the next four years going in and out of the psychiatric unit.

Medication didn't seem to help, it just made me angrier and I felt life was pointless. I bounced from one relationship to the next because I couldn't stand to be alone, and I'd fight anyone who got in my way. I was drinking and partying in an effort to numb the pain and my life had spiralled right out of control. I met someone I thought was special, but the relationship became abusive and although I clawed my way out, I was tormented by my past and overcome with anxiety and finally tried to end my own life.

I am eternally grateful to the friend who read between the lines and saw that something was wrong. They say you have to hit rock bottom before you can rebuild, and I certainly did. My friend supported me and together we found ways of coping - channeling my anger, meditation and writing were the things that worked for me. It has been a long battle - I may not have defeated depression, but I have learned how to manage it. Today my life is a world away from that angry, lost teenager, and I have many reasons to stay strong, including a child of my own... but my past has made me who I am.

My message to anyone feeling lost, alone or consumed with confusion over life events is to BE HEARD. If you feel you can't talk about it, write it down in a letter or journal... just getting your feelings out can really help. You don't have to deal with things alone - it tool me a long time to find that out and really believe it. Don't let fear of judgement stop you from reaching out, whether to friends or family. Most people just want to help, even if it's just a hug. I know myself that if I am having a down day, I don't always know why and I can't always talk about it... but a hug lets you know someone cares.
As someone who has been to the darkest depths and fought her way back up, here's MY virtual hug to you; there is ALWAYS someone who cares, even if you don't believe it at the time.

Names have been changed to protect Zsa Zsa's identity and pic posed by model.

Cathy says:
Zsa Zsa's story is so sad, but I love that after all she has been through she is still reaching out to try to help others with excellent advice and support. As for the power of the hug, I am totally with Zsa Zsa on that! COMMENT BELOW if you'd like to support Zsa Zsa... and if you are struggling yourself, please call CHILDLINE on 0800 1111 for confidential help and advice.

Friday, 30 May 2014

HEY, QUEENIE!

In 2010 I was crowned Queen of Teen, and held the title for two years... in 2012 American Mo Johnson won the crown... and now, in 2014, I am shortlisted again. C'mon guys, it's election time... cast your votes for the chocolate queen! ;o)

Cathy says:
There are two parts to this post... one is to tell you that I am shortlisted for the Queen of Teen award, in case you want to vote for me. Or for someone else, obviously... whatever! My manifesto is simple... free chocolate on the NHS (because it would make people happy, right?) and daydreaming on the school curriculum... yup. The world would be a sweeter, dreamier place, right? So c'mon, my loyal readers... cast your votes HERE and make some magic happen!

Seriously, though, the Queen of teen award is all about encouraging teens to read... it's an award with cupcakes, bunting and pink lemonade. It's cool. In the pics you can see me in the wobbly crown, and with my 2012 superfan Beth. I wonder who my superfan will be this year? I can't wait to find out! One of the pics shows me and my pal Jayde from Puffin books having a play-fight over the tiara in 2012... because pretty much everyone wants to be a princess, don't they?

Well, the thing is, life isn't quite like the fairy tales; a crown won't make all your troubles go away, but one thing I do know... you hold your head high when you're wearing a tiara. You have to, or it'd slip off! So... how about we go for invisible crowns, instead? Each and every one of us can hold our head high and wear our own sparkly crown; and even if others think we are dull and plain and ordinary, we'll know that secretly we're much, much more than that. We're kind and clever and cool and caring... all kinds of great qualities that I KNOW my readers possess by the bucketload. You don't have to wear pink frocks and flowers in your hair - this is 2014, a princess can be exactly who and what she wants to be. You ride a white unicorn or a 500cc motorbike, marry the prince or run off with the woodcutter or choose a career as a research scientist. You can be any kind of princess you want to be. Rock your invisible tiara with a biker jacket and DM boots or a vintage dress and flip-flops... be yourself. Be awesome! It's time we got brave and started believing in ourselves. Wear that imaginary crown with PRIDE!

Voting for the Queen of Teen closes on 7th July, so vote HERE if you'd like to. COMMENT BELOW if you'll be voting - and if you'll be wearing your own invisible crown! 

Thursday, 29 May 2014

HAZEL: CALIFORNIA GIRL!

Reader Hazel is home schooled... but she didn't expect to be finding out quite so much about life in the USA! She tells us what it's like to move from the UK to California...
Hazel says:
I've been home-educated all my life, along with my younger brother. My mum always felt that she learned more outside school, and felt that learning what you want, when you want, was a better way. There are so many good things about being home educated - no alarm clocks, no homework and we can study the things we want to, when want to. There's lots of spare time to read and play musical instruments and it's easy enough to make friends through Scouts, Young Rangers, choir, dance and badminton classes.

My mum is American and my dad is British so I have dual nationality, but I didn't expect I'd ever actually live in the USA. Then my dad's job sent him to work in California, not far from San Francisco, for a year. We came out to take a look in November so we'd know what to expect when we moved. I was pretty tired after the ten hour flight, but I do remember that our taxi from the airport to the hotel was a stretch limo - what a welcome! Our first night in California was spent in a hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean... we didn't just see the sun set over the Pacific, we also saw the moon set! Finding a home proved very hard - I lost count of all the places we looked at, but we've found the perfect house now and have just moved in. Before that we were staying in a hotel, and that was great... like being on a long holiday! The hotel had a pool and I could swim whenever I wanted. Bliss!

We are really just settling in right now, but there's so much I want to see - we're hoping to go Mexico and the Grand Canyon soon, as part of a road trip to New Mexico, Utah and Arizona... it all feels so exciting! My first impressions of California are good. As with all of America, it seems like everything is so much larger than home. I mean, isn't it a bit worrying when you have ten lanes of highway running through your town? And there's so much selection of everything! When it comes to food, the only major difference is the portions - most American portions are huge. We've eaten out a lot, while staying in hotels and trying to find a place to live, and I've found most American restaurants great. As for the books... the libraries here are huge! Within a day of being in California we joined the local library and there's a great selection of books... I am looking forward to discovering some new American authors!

I can't wait to really settle in and make some American friends, but right now our American adventure feels pretty amazing!

Cathy says:
Hazel's adventure really does sound fantastic... wow! COMMENT BELOW if you've ever visited California or have questions for Hazel - or message me here if you'd like to talk about where YOU live in DREAMCATCHER!

LILY & ROWAN: READ ALL ABOUT IT!

Starting a series of posts on readers with very cool mums... we meet LILY, whose mum, ROWAN COLEMAN, is a novelist... 

Lily says:
I'm twelve, and my mum is a writer. It's cool to have a mum with such an interesting job, although she is always on Twitter and calling it work! The upside of it is that I get to do cool things, like this interview, and I get a lot of free books to read... I've read some of mum's books, too, although most of them are for adults really. The downside is that Mum works very hard and we don't get to see her enough! 

I love English and love reading, and I sometimes write Hunger Games fan fiction with my friends, but I don't want to be a writer - I think I'd quite like to be a car designer! Mum reckons that what I've learnt from her is to be lovely... modest, huh? Seriously, I think I have learnt some good stuff about writing and also how to adapt to new and different situations in life. She also helped me with a recent essay i wrote on freedom, about the right for all girls to get an education. So... Mum, you are a good and lovely mum, please keep on writing your amazing stories. Oh yes, and while we're at it - GET OFF TWITTER!!!

Rowan says:
I've been writing books since 2002 and have written books for both teens and adults. I have five children, but Lily - the eldest - is my only daughter! We love going shopping together and are about to start running together so we can be more healthy! Lily takes my writing in her stride - I've been doing it since she was born, so it's just normal for her. She is a very bright, creative girl and when she puts her mind to it she can do anything. My main hopes for her are that she is happy, content and gets both joy and satisfaction out of life. I want her to know the thrill of making your dreams come true through hard work and dedication!

The other day Lily and I dug and weeded our allotment together, which may not sound too thrilling, but we had a great laugh. Afterwards I told her I was very proud of her because she was becoming such a very nice, kind and caring human being. I don't think I've told her that enough before, so I will say it again now... she really is a stand-out person.

Cathy says:
Awww! Such a lovely mum-daughter interview! Why not tell your own mum to check out Rowan Coleman's books, which include The Memory Book,  The Accidental Mother and Dearest Rose, which won the Festival of Romance Best Romantic Read 2012... and COMMENT BELOW if you have something to say to Lily or Rowan, or want to give a shout-out to your own mum!

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

DEAR MR GOVE...

GCSE student Millie was angry when newspapers reported that Education Minister Michael Gove planned to drop 20th century American novels currently studied at GCSE, to be replaced by much older classics written by English authors... find out why!

Millie says:
Michael Gove is always popping up in the news, and I cannot help but notice this, as I am a student and so affected by the decisions he makes. He seems to focus on upper class education rather than on ordinary teenagers and seems to be taking education back to the Victorian era. At the weekend it was announced he wished to remove classic American novels such as To Kill A Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men from the curriculum, replacing them with classics by 'English' authors.

I have read Of Mice And Men. It's a short novel, but this makes it accessible and it has an amazing plot with an intense story and great character development. We had some great class discussions based on our own opinions and other interpretations - the book is one of the best I've ever read. If American literature is removed from the curriculum as has been suggested, thousands of teens would miss out. I know that there are some amazing English classics too... but sometimes they take a while to connect with. I tried to read a Jane Austen book but I felt it was very hard going in comparison to the energetic writing in Of Mice And Men. I may feel different later on, but for now I know it's not for me... yet these are the classics Gove would make us all read, and many would struggle. Why take away books that open the doors of literature to so many teens?

Yesterday I signed three petitions to ask Michael Gove to step down because I feel so strongly about this; for someone who is Head of Education, he doesn't seem very bright to me.

Cathy says:
I too am very upset at the idea that Mr Gove has suggested removing such books. I love American novels and also Irish, Scottish and Welsh novels... novels from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa... even novels that have been translated into English. If English schoolchildren can study only English authors then we miss out on the opportunity to understand other cultures and countries. Literature unites us and shows us what we have in common; it opens our eyes, widens our perspectives. To narrow it down to a few government approved texts seems very much to be a backwards step. COMMENT BELOW if you agree with Millie... what would YOU put on the GCSE curriculum?


Tuesday, 27 May 2014

PONY TALES...

You loved our last feature on readers and their ponies... so here are some more! Like Coco in COCO CARAMEL, these girls are pony-mad!

Molly says:
I got into riding because my mum has had horses all her life; she has brought me up to ride from an early age. When i am on a horse I feel completely free and I love putting my trust in a horse and creating a bond between the two of us. The downs of horse riding? I honestly can't think of any! I love it so much. I guess it must be frustrating when you fall off but you have to just get back on and try again. You learn from you mistakes! Putting your trust in the horse you are riding is a big part of it - without that trust you won't get very far at all! This is Rosie, my friends' horse - I don't have my own pony at the moment, but I ride Rosie a lot. We do a lot of hacking together. I love reading horsey books... I'm currently reading 'One Dollar Horse' by Lauren St John. It's great so far!


Angel says:
A horse can be an amazing companion! They are always there, always listen, and they teach you something new every day. When you ride, you feel like you're flying - it's amazing! It is a lot of work, of course, especially cleaning out and lifting the bedding. Horses take a lot of time an attention. Isla is a cob, and she has these amazing feathery feet - but they can be hard to clean when they get muddy! I'm thirteen and Isla is four. I'd been riding for seven years and my parents surprised me buy getting Isla for my twelfth birthday... she's the best present I ever had!


Pippa says:
I do horse riding and I love it! I started riding when I was just three years old so I guess you could say it's second nature to me now. I go to a local riding stable once a week and Darcy, my favourite pony, is a gorgeous chestnut Polish Arab gelding. I have recently started learning to jump and can clear three foot fences, which I felt really proud of! My dad used to be a show-jumper and he got as far as being rated 103rd in the world at one point! He had the chance to take part in the Olympics at one point, but his country, Cyprus, pulled out. I'd love to have a pony of my own one day.

Sam says:
My horse, Merlin, lives on a farm owned by some of my family, and I go to ride him as much as I can... I help around the farm and then ride after! I used to share him, but he's all mine now, and I am trying to train him up. He's a retired riding school pony. I am hoping to get him cantering by the end of the year - that's what we are working towards! He's a white horse and I think he's beautiful. Keeping a horse is expensive but you gain a best friend for life... the bond you make is unbreakable.


Merryn says:
This is Dexter and I love him SO much you wouldn't believe it! He'd not fully my horse - I 'loan' him, which means I go up to the stable to ride him every weekend and anytime I can in the holidays. He's a 15-16 hands high bay gelding. My mom's friend owns horses and I used to ride them when I was little... I think that's where my love of horses began. With Dexter, there have been ups and downs. Once I was grooming him in the stable yard when he freaked out about something and fell backwards, almost on top of me. But once I fell off him riding out on a trail, because again something spooked him, but he raced off and then came back to where I'd fallen, bringing my friend who had been riding on a different trail, so that she could help me. That was an amazing thing - it proved how strong the bond is between me and Dexter. I'll never forget that day!


Have you ever dreamed of having your own horse? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Monday, 26 May 2014

IT'S A DOG'S LIFE...

A very special friend is blogging today... meet Orla, the library dog!

Orla says:
My name is Guide Dog Orla and I'm three years old; my owner, Lisa, is visually impaired and I guide her around, helping her to avoid obstacles. I was trained as a puppy in Manchester and then moved to Shrewsbury for more training before being matched with Lisa. We qualified together in August 2013!

Lisa has an eye condition that means she can't see with her right eye and has reduced vision and high myopia in the left. She was using a white cane before I came along, but Lisa says I give her confidence and am good company too! We go everywhere together; my favourite place is our holiday home in Ceredigon where I get lots of free runs. I also like to go to cafes and restaurants and to the park. I don't like puddles or mud but I'm getting braver in the sea and now go in up to my shoulders.

Lisa is a school librarian so I help her with that, and several student volunteers help out too. Lisa is organised and knows where to locate the books even though she can't see the words or pictures... but if she puts something down in a different place it can take ages to find! Lisa likes to read teen books on her i-pad or on audio so she can talk to the students about them - she says reading for pleasure is really important. When I'm working at school the staff and students are asked not to distract me, but I sometimes make it difficult for them with my big brown eyes and wagging tail! I go to reading group meetings at lunchtimes... it's fun, and sometimes there are crumbs on the floor! I am VERY good at helping with that little problem! ;o) Right now the group are shadowing the Carnegie Medal shortlist so there are often guests and visitors.

Lisa is involved with Wolverhampton Children's Book Group and in February I got to meet Cathy Cassidy when she came to Colton Hills Community School. She told us all about daydreaming - that was cool as I spend lots of time dreaming too! (zzzzzzzzz...) After we met, she even sent me a thank you card for looking after her so well! In my spare time I fundraise for Guide Dogs so that other visually impaired people can get the chance to have their lives changed by a dog like me. I also get lots of tickles when people put money in the bucket! Better get back to work now... I'm on crumb-checking duty...



Cathy says: 
I'd never met a library dog before, but Orla was so lovely I know I'll never forget her - or Lisa! If you'd like to raise money for Guide Dogs, you can find out more about the awesome work they do here! COMMENT BELOW if you enjoyed reading Orla's post!


Saturday, 24 May 2014

POPPY: EATING DISORDERS SUCK!

Reader Poppy talks honestly about how her life spiralled out of control... and how she is getting back on track.

Poppy says:
I happy at school until Grade Six; when my friends moved up to high school, I had stay behind because I was younger than them, and was put in a class where I didn't know anybody. They already had their friendship groups and I felt so alone. I changed the way I acted and dressed and finally made some friends, but I knew I was putting on an act - I just couldn't be myself around them. By the end of last year, I was really depressed; I tried talking about it but nobody understood. I began starving myself and over-exercising, and people began to comment on how skinny I was. My parents took me to the doctors and a few days later I was put in hospital, diagnosed with an eating disorder and told I had put so much strain on my heart I could have died. In hospital I was not even allowed to walk to the toilet.

I had to stay in for over a month and had to gain at least 1kg a week. If I didn't eat my meals I was given a high energy drink, either orally or through a nasal gastric tube. I am at home now and trying to get back to the things I love. I still find every meal difficult but I want to get better; I don't want to go back to hospital, and I am seeing my old friends again, which helps.

To anyone out there struggling with this illness, please DO NOT change yourself to fit in with others. It is the inside that counts - inner beauty shines through better than any other. If the people you are around can't cope with who you really are, then they're not true friends - be with people who accept you and make you happy. If you do feel you're getting hung up on weight and body image, see your doctor who can help you work out if there is a problem and offer support.

If you are uncomfortable with your body and aren't eating properly, please listen to me - EATING DISORDERS SUCK. They take up all your time and get out of control and end up with hospitalisation. When you are starving, you feel cold all the time, like a freezer, even when it's quite warm. You're tired all the time, you can't concentrate and your heart slows down to conserve energy. It can even stop. Mine didn't, but I got close... too close. There's a quote that has really helped me through all this: 'Don't lower your standards for others; instead, wait for them to rise to your expectations.' That's what I will be doing from now on.

Cathy says:
Poppy's story shows how quickly an eating disorder can take hold... and the damage it can cause. I think Poppy's been very brave in sharing her experience to try to help others. COMMENT BELOW if Poppy's story has struck a chord with you, or if you'd like to offer her your support and good wishes for a full recovery.

IT TAKES ALL SPORTS....

Are you a sporty type? Is there one particular sport or exercise that really has you hooked? Readers tell us all about their favourite get-fit activities!

Amy says:
I've done gymnastics since I was three, and I have always loved it. In many ways it's an outlet - I can lose myself in the sport and it has definitely encouraged me to be self-sufficient and creative. I've met some amazing people through the sport! It's scary to compete but also pretty thrilling - the adrenaline keeps you going! I usually listen to music beforehand to help me get into the zone and calm my nerves. Sometimes I feel like I spend too much time in the gym and not enough with my friends, and I hate it if I have to skip a sleepover, but I've made a commitment. It keeps me really toned and healthy - I love having a six-pack! - and has had a really positive impact on my life. I wouldn't change one minute of it!

Caitlin says:
I have been rowing for three years now, for a rowing club. It's really inspirational, as many Olympians row at the club and we get to see them on a daily basis - that's quite something! I am one of those people who have tried just about every sport, from squash to hockey to badminton and dance, but once I started rowing in 2011 I knew right away that this was the one for me! This is me with my crew - I'm the one second from left! It's very much a team sport - think of the phrase 'we're in the same boat!' You have to have rhythm and be able to support each other through hard training or losing a difficult race. It's a very demanding sport, but the fitness, friendships and training far outweigh the tough winter training!


Beth says:
I got into trampolining when my friend Charlotte told me about it. She had been going for years, so I went with her one time and that was it! I love trampolining because it is so much fun - I feel like I'm in the sky when I bounce! When i do my routines I feel determined to get better at each thing I do, and when I accomplish a new move I try to add new things to it because I like to keep pushing myself. Learning to perfect a move is great as a confidence builder and encourages me to aim higher and try for things I might not have gone for before.

Megan says:
I love tennis - I wish I could play all the time. I mean, sometimes I can't get myself out of bed for early practices, but that happens sometimes with every sport, right? I've been playing since I was eight years old - it was my grandad who first introduced me to the game. I saw some adults playing at the local courts and I thought, yeah, I wanna be like them. So i went for it. You know you love something when you start changing song lyrics to be able to sing about it. Frozen's 'Love is an open door' has become 'Tennis is my favourite sport,' as of this morning. I wish I could get to Wimbledon, that would be amazing - but right now I'm looking forward to my first tournament of the summer!


Amy, Caitlin, Beth and Megan clearly love their sports... and that enthusiasm is catching! COMMENT BELOW if you've been inspired to try a new activity - or if you'd like to tell us about YOUR favourite sport!


Friday, 23 May 2014

CAREN: I LIVE IN INDONESIA!

In another of our glimpses of readers around the world, we meet eleven year old Caren, who lives on Sulawesi Island in Indonesia...

Caren says:
I live on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia. Indonesia is made up of five big islands - Sumatra, Kalimantan, Jawa, Sulawesi and Papua, plus around 7000 smaller islands. There are several tribes in Indonesia - I'm part of a tribe called Minahasa. Because I live in a city, our home is a western-style house - outside the cities, housing can be very different. The weather here is definitely tropical - we don't have spring, autumn and winter, just one long hot summer and then a rainy monsoon season. I can't really imagine the changing of the seasons! 
My school uniform is formal, but it looks quite sporty - we wear skorts (a cross between skirt and shorts) and a white shirt with the school logo on. Our school is mixed, both girls and boys. My favourite subjects at school are English and art - they're fun! I have been learning English since I was six years old, so I speak it quite well now! At school we sometimes have a bazaar where we sell food at entrepreneurial events, which is cool. My ambition is to be an author one day, like Cathy Cassidy!
There are many kinds of national dishes in Indonesia, but in our city the most popular one is Tinutuan, a yellowish rice porridge containing spinach, cassava, pumpkin and other veggies. It is a healthy kind of breakfast!
As for clothes, we usually wear western styles for everyday, but there are traditional clothes too, which might be worn on Independence Day or any national heroes day. Traditional clothes are often made from traditionally made Batik printed fabrics, like my dress here.
There are various cultural traditions - one that's quite important where I live is 'Upacara Raba Puru' which is a ceremony for wives who are expecting their first child, to help them give birth well. In Indonesia there are five main religions: Christianity, Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism. There is a saying here, 'Bhinneka Tunggal Ika' which means 'unity in diversity' - that sums Indonesia up. Overall, I am proud to be Indonesian - there are many things that make my country unique. Even if we are different, we learn to unite!

Cathy says: 
I loved hearing about how different life is in Indonesia... what do you think about the tinutuan porridge and the batik print dresses? COMMENT BELOW to tell Caren what you think, or to let me know if you'd like to write about YOUR country for DREAMCATCHER!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

SCOOP! A YOUNG JOURNALIST TELLS ALL...

Have you ever dreamed of being a journalist but wondered how to make it happen? We talked to reader Lauren, aged 16, who is well on the way to making her come true...

Lauren says:
From a young age, I've always loved the English language - everything from reading a whole book in one day to writing story after story myself. As I got older, the interest deepened and my style of writing changed, but I still loved words.

The first time I ever wrote an article was for a competition with ChildLine - I was chosen as one of eight finalists and travelled to London where I met with other aspiring young writers and found out more about journalism. I soon realised that was what I wanted to do, and before long i was writing my next article. When i was published for the first time, it felt strange and amazing to see something I'd written in a national newspaper, knowing that millions of children could be reading it; that made me feel really proud of my achievement.

A year on, I am still writing for ChildLine's First News newspaper, as well as many others... B**P, Kettle and CultNoise. I love writing for different publications because they all require different skills, allowing me to learn different writing techniques and improve my ability as a writer. When Cathy Cassidy visited my school recently, I took the opportunity to get an interview with her. We spoke about where she got ideas for her books, and how she got involved in journalism, because Cathy had a magazine journalism background before she began writing books. As well as being displayed on my school website, the article was also published in B**P which was exciting!

I hope to go on being published in the future and also get into Oxbridge to study English, with a post graduate degree in journalism. Hopefully, at the end of it all, I may be able to write for some of the most popular newspapers and publications in the country!

Has Lauren's story inspired YOU to follow your own dreams? COMMENT BELOW to tell us, or to share your own stories of writing success!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

BETH BAKES... CARMELITAS!

Reader Beth loves to bake... and loves finding new recipes and treats to try out! We asked her to share her recipe for Carmelitas, which have the reputation in the USA for being the best cookies in the WORLD!


Beth says:
These are my Carmelitas! The recipe is an American one I found on Pinterest, and I've adapted the measurements and changed it a little. My passion is baking and these are my FAVOURITE thing to bake as they're soooo delicious! My tips: line the tin with foil before you start as it makes it easier to lift the Carmelita out of the tin once cool. When you take the baked mixture out, it will be wobbly and soft, but leave it to cool completely at room temperature and it will soon harden. I also put them in the fridge overnight once they'd cooled, and they tasted even better the next day!

CARMELITAS:
Main ingredients:
171g/6oz melted butter
165g/5.7oz brown sugar
128g/4.5oz plain flour
85g/3oz rolled oats
1tsp bicarb of soda
6oz choc chips
1/ Combine melted butter, brown sugar, oats, flour and bicarb of soda in a bowl.
2/ Press half the oatmeal mixture into bottom of an 8" x 8" baking tin lined with tinfoil and bake in oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees/ gas mark 4.
3/ Remove from oven and sprinkles chocolate chips over the base.
4/ Make the caramel mixture (see below) and pour over the chocolate chips.
5/ Crumble remaining oatmeal mixture over the caramel and return to oven for 15-20 minutes until edges are lightly browned.
6/ Remove from oven and cool completely to room temperature before cutting into squares. Enjoy!


To make the caramel...
397g tin of condensed milk
4oz margarine
4oz sugar
1 tbsp syrup
Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan over a low heat, stirring all the time. Bring to the boil, still stirring, until thick and caramel-coloured, then pour over the oat and chocolate base.
(Easy short-cut - buy a tin of ready made caramel!)

Cathy says:
Wow... these Carmelitas look and sound AMAZING! Do YOU love baking or are you a kitchen catastrophe? COMMENT BELOW to tell all!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

ARE YOU A WATER BABY?

Do you love swimming? Do you swim competitively or just like splashing about? We asked some readers why swimming is their favourite way of staying fit and having fun!

Catherine says:
I am a member of my local Lifesaving Club... I joined after seeing a poster at the swimming pool. It's fun, as we do a lot of rescues with ropes, sticks and containers - and we also do lots of emergency first aid and CPR. I have recently passed my Gold 3 Rookie Lifeguard badge which is the highest one I can achieve until I am twelve.
I also play water polo for a local team. I was approached by my swimming teacher who had recently qualified as a coach to try it. It's actually really hard work as it involves a lot of swimming and is also a hard contact sport - especially if you're playing against boys! I enjoy it, because it keeps me fit and I love swimming, so I guess it's the ideal sport for me!
Deborah says:
I started having proper swimming lessons when I was six as my parents knew someone who ran a swimming club. I went to a swimming club throughout Year Four and Five. I went from only being able to splash about to doing timed lengths in four different strokes when I was in the St Ignatius Club. The club made sure I knew all the basics and I built up my speed by competing with the other swimmers in my class. I only managed to get to the 'green' section in my school swimming club as I still haven't mastered a forward roll underwater, but I can do pretty much everything else; my teacher entered me into the swimming gala and our team won! I love swimming underwater and breast stroke and dolphin stroke are my favourites. I can even do a one-handed underwater handstand, which is cool!

Daisy says:
I loved swimming in primary school and now I swim in my spare time, whenever I can. I am not the best swimmer in the world but I feel comfortable in the water. Swimming is amazing because it's for everybody - no matter who you are or what you look like, you can always find a way to have fun in the swimming pool, whether it's swimming laps or playing around with the floating toys. And it's all good for you!

Eve says:
When I was younger, I used to be terrified of swimming and for ages I was the eldest in my swimming group. I eventually got over my fear of swimming and slowly got more confident in the water. I started to go swimming with friends and family, and eventually my parents trusted me to go swimming with my elder brother, by ourselves. It didn't work out too well. He was nervous and thought I was drowning - he called the lifeguard and I had to be 'rescued'! I was SO embarrassed but luckily it didn't put me off. Let's just say my brother wasn't keen to take me swimming again! I'm glad I stuck with swimming as it's a great skill to know and also loads of fun!

Kristina says:
I started lifesaving classes aged eleven or twelve - I'm now fourteen and still going! It's a really useful skill to have - I mean, the name says it all. It saves lives! So far, I've learnt how to tow people in the water and how to assess and resuscitate a casualty, and many other skills. My swimming technique has also improved greatly. When you're ready, you can take exams, and I currently hold a Life Support award and a Core Silver RLSS lifesaving award. I think everyone should be able to learn first aid and life support, just in case they ever have to use it. Who knows, one day I may be able to put these skills to a practical use and save someone's life!

Cathy says:
I'm not very sporty, but I do love swimming - it's something everyone can do if they try. I used to be very scared of the water when I was a child, but I'm so glad I persevered! COMMENT BELOW if you're a water baby too... 

Monday, 19 May 2014

THE ART OF COOL CAKERY...

Reader Izzy, age thirteen, has launched her own business designing and making the coolest cakes ever... read on to find out more!

Izzy says:
I started off going to a cake decorating class at a local cookery school; my teacher makes cakes for a living and I've always been fascinated with her amazing creations! After a year of learning new techniques I felt confident enough to start making birthday cakes for my friends and family. Their reactions really boosted my confidence to start trying more designs!

I got my first ever commission about six months ago and ever since I've been busy doing birthday cakes, wedding cupcakes and celebration cakes! I love it because it's fun, relaxing (sometimes!) and I love dreaming up designs for new cakes! The  hardest cake I've ever had to do was the fishing cake I did for somebody's birthday; it was fiddly and took forever because so much detail was needed! The cake I'm most proud of is my 100 years joint anniversary cake made for a family event. It's quite vintage - I think Skye Tanberry would approve!

When I get a cake order through I search the internet for inspiration and then develop those ideas to create my own design; I can always imagine how I want the cake to turn out. I decided to launch the cake making as a small business as I wanted to venture into getting bigger orders and because I just love cake decorating! When I'm older I plan to go on taking commissions and I'd also love to travel around America for inspiration and to look at the bakeries, as they have great bakeries and cake decorators over there!

My advice to anyone who'd like to try cake decorating is to take a class and learn some techniques. Then start by making cakes for friends and family and watch it develop from there! Also keep practicing! Just remember, never give up; cake decorating takes a while to get the hang of, but once you've got the skill you will always have it!

You can check out Izzy's Facebook Page here... 



Cathy says:
Wow... I think Izzy is amazingly talented and enterprising for thirteen - how cool? COMMENT BELOW to share your thoughts on Izzy's awesome business or to tell me about any hobbies YOU have developed into something more... 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

EMMA: I WANTED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Seventeen year old Emma was so upset by the kidnapping of the 274 Nigerian schoolgirls recently that she vowed to do something to help...

Emma says:
I live in a small town in Australia and go to a little school called Orara High, where I'm lucky enough to be school captain. When I heard of the ordeal of the Nigerian schoolgirls, I was appalled... not just at the kidnapping but at the lack of news coverage it received. I wanted to help - I started putting my opinion out there on social media, but it didn't seem like enough.

I met with the student council and knew they were feeling upset and helpless too; that's when this project was born. I left the meeting determined to make something happen and to give my classmates a voice and show the nigerian girls that people all over the world are thinking of them. A video seemed perfect. Within two hours, I had spoken to the principal, sorted the permission notes and hired the cameras. I had no time to waste; we needed to get the message out there as soon as possible. The video has three aims: to send our support to the Nigerian girls and their families; to raise awareness of human rights issues; and to show we are unhappy with the lack of coverage this incident has been given.

I was amazed by the support of students and teachers at school and also in awe of the many strangers who have seen the video and shared it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, to get the message out there to the world that we CARE about these girls and their wellbeing, education and rights. I'd like to thank everyone who has watched, shred or liked the video... if you haven't seen it, please do watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvnXbVVeqc0

The fight is not over; we cannot stop spreading the word until every one of the girls is returned home safe. Every small act counts in the greater act of bringing back our girls.

Cathy says:
Please watch - and share - Emma's video... it's so, so powerful. Would YOU like to be a part of a special #BringBackOurGirls slideshow? Send a pic of yourself holding the #BringBackOurGirls message (like mine, right,)  here or scroll back through recent DREAMCATCHER posts to see my recent post about the Nigerian schoolgirls, find their names and write one of them a letter of support. (Send in a pic of your letter for the slideshow!) Be inspired by Emma... and reach out a hand of friendship to the kidnapped girls. 

COMMENT BELOW to have your say...

Saturday, 17 May 2014

THOSE BOOTS ARE MADE FOR WALKING...

Do you have a fave pair of shoes that you just know you'll wear until they fall apart? We asked CC readers to share their fave shoe stories... and they are COOL!

Isobel says:
These are probably my favourite ever shoes. Designed by myself - nobody can have the same shoes as me! When they arrived seven weeks later (it was a long wait!) I fell in love with them. I put different coloured laces in and bam, I was ready! I waer them all the time - camping, guides, crew, theme parks and more. They are slightly muddy (I may have trodden in a bog) but hey, what would we do without a bit of adventure with our shoes? Mud means memories!

Emily says:
I had these shoes for almost two years. I bought them while I was shopping in town with my sister and they were quite expensive - £30 in a sale - so I took a while to decide. I am so glad I bought them, though, as I wear them constantly! The sides are starting to split as I wear them so much, so I have to be extra careful with them now! I've had lots of comments from people saying how cool they are. The design on them is by the artist James Rizzo - there are people, peace signs, and allsorts on them! Sporting his work on a pair of amazing shoes like these is just the best!

Blue says:
My favourite shoes are my New Rock boots, which suit every outfit from dresses to punky get ups. I wear them every day and they're great exercise as they're so heavy! These, though, are my TUKs kitten shoes - a friend of my sister's gave them to me and I wore them all the time when I was thirteen or fourteen. My classmates were divided on whether they were 'smart' or 'kid's shoes' - they are the former, obviously! The soles of the shoes have bone patterns on them which made walking in the snow/mud especially fun. The shoes are now ripped as my little brother (ironically bigger than me, even in shoe size) tried to stuff his feet into them... and failed.

Lauren says:
When I went on holiday to Bamburgh in England, we were doing some shopping when I noticed these shoes. They really stood out to me - I'd never seen anything like them before and I just knew I had to buy them! They are white boots with Union Jack laces and a Union Jack on each heel. I love them for the fact that they are quite unusual; I have yet to see another pair the same. They are also really comfy - and I always get compliments about them!

Heather says:
I was window shopping in my local town when these beauties caught my eye. It was love at first sight... it was like the shoes were screaming my name! I dithered for a while over whether to buy them - they were a bit pricey, but they were literally my dream shoes and so snazzy and quirky. In the end they were a must-buy and I have never regretted it - love them to bits!


Kiki says:
I first got my shoes about a year ago... they just really stood out. I slipped them on as soon as I'd bought them, and I pretty much haven't stopped wearing them since! I've worn them to picnics, to parties, to walks in the park and even on holiday! My shoes look a little worn now, but I wouldn't have them any other way because I've had so many adventures while wearing them - they've almost become a part of me! I could identify every little smudge and even tell you where they came from! It sounds silly, but I take pics of my feet every time I go somewhere I want to remember... one day I'll string them all together and make a GIF of all my favourite memories! There aren't many full-length photos of me, but when someone does take one, you can guarantee I will be wearing my favourite shoes!

Which shoes do YOU like the best? COMMENT BELOW and tell us - or let us know about YOUR own favourite pair of shoes!

Friday, 16 May 2014

LAUREN: I LIVE IN SOUTH AFRICA...

Ever wondered what life overseas might be? Reader Lauren tells all about her life in South Africa... 


Lauren says:
Right, scrap any imaginings you might have of people hugging lions and riding to school on an elephant - it's not like that! Life here is pretty normal, except that we have eleven different national languages, it is dangerous to walk anywhere because there's a very high crime rate and our government is far from perfect. Even so, South Africa is an amazing place to live! The timing of the seasons here is drastically different from most of the world: Christmas is in summer, so it usually ends up being a pool party, and Easter is in winter! But fear not, the sun shines anyway, to the point where people LONG for grey, rainy days.
We do have some traditional foods... pretty much every Sunday you can count on the fact that someone  will be braaing (grilling outside) boerewors; the word means literally 'farmer sausage'. And then there's milk tart, which can be eaten hot or cold and is delicious topped with cinnamon!

My favourite thing about SA is the landscape and the wildlife. The mountains in Lord of the Rings? They were based on the Drakensberg mountains, which my family and I visit every year! And though we don't hang out with lions, I did once live on a hill next to a nature reserve, and all kinds of incredible birds came into the garden; Egyptian geese, cranes and hornbills. The latter were so intent on nesting in our upstairs room that every year they'd come back and tap at the window, trying to break it. They broke up the wooden balcony by sharpening their beaks on it, too! There were also Vervet monkeys who'd sneak in through any open window to steal from bowls of fruit!

Now I live in a city called Pretoria, which is known as the jacaranda city - almost every street is vivid with the amazing purple blossom every spring. There are some things I'd like to change about South Africa - the crime issue is frightening - but I'm hoping SA will eventually pull out of this dark phase. The death of Nelson Mandela caused devastation throughout the country. It was sort of that he was our hope, and now he is gone. The Rainbow Nation he stood for is still strong in many areas but in others, there is still a long way to go. South Africa is many things, but one thing I know; it is ALWAYS interesting!

Cathy says:
Lauren's vivid description makes South Africa really come alive - and those photos are just amazing! COMMENT BELOW to share your impressions of South Africa or ask Lauren a question; and if YOU live outside the UK and would like to share a report about your country, let me know!