Tuesday, 30 September 2014

NOA: I WANT TO BE AN ECO WARRIOR!

This week, reader Noa has a question for Coco Tanberry - will you agree with Coco's advice?

Noa says:
I just do not get along with girls my age… I honestly do not care about One Direction, lipstick or boys. My interests are the environment, rabbits, cats, horses, playing violin, reading, writing, craft, cookery… just like you! People think I'm immature, but I disagree… I'm just different! I feel sad as I have no real friends at school, and I'd love some advice on changing this. And some tips on saving the planet, too, if possible!

Coco says:
We really do have lots in common! I feel your pain - I do have friends, but they think I'm crazy a lot of the time! Who cares? I am true to myself and you should be, too. You CAN find some friends… it's just a case of finding kids with similar interests. This term I've started a Green Club at school… I asked my art teacher if I could use her room and made some posters, and we meet every Monday lunchtime. I have actually met some new people this way, who are on the way to becoming proper friends. Every week we talk about a different issue and plan ways to raise money or make posters or campaign to change things. Sometimes it's something big, like writing to the Prime Minister to stop the badger cull, and sometimes it's smaller stuff like getting the school to recycle paper. We are also raising money to sponsor a horse at a local sanctuary. So whatever your interests, you can find out more and get involved in trying to change things. Remember that friends don't have to be perfect, or have to agree with you on every issue or interest… be flexible. Friendship is a two-way thing, and sometimes you can get on with people who are very different as long as both of you are willing to accept the other. Good luck!

Cathy says:
Good advice from Coco… would YOU add to it? If you have tips on making new friends or saving the planet, COMMENT BELOW to share them with Noa!

LAURA'S ORANGE FAIRY CAKES!

Get the 'Bake-Off' vibe and rustle up some lush and zesty orange fairy cakes… reader Laura shows you how!

Laura says:
I have been baking ever since I was a toddler - as soon as I could stand up, really. I generally just licked the bowl - well, doesn't everyone? Normally I bake simple Victoria sponge cakes and cupcakes, but now I am branching out and trying more things. I have baked for my friend's Macmillan Coffee Morning, for my dad's running club and for the Christmas Fair at my old primary school. My next projects are lemon and blueberry cupcakes and red velvet and chocolate marbled cupcakes! I'll keep you posted on how I get on, but meanwhile I think you'll love this recipe!

You will need...

for the fairy cakes:

100g caster sugar
100g soft margarine
2 eggs
100g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Grated rind of 1 orange


for the icing:

225g icing sugar
juice of 1 orange (the one you grated earlier!)


Method:

Pre-heat oven to 200c/400f/gas mark 6. Place about 18 paper cake cases in bun tins. I only had a tin for 12 so I just made really big fairy cakes - it worked great!)
Measure ingredients into a large bowl and beat well for 2-3 minutes until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Spoon into the paper cases so they are half-full.
Bake for 15-10 minutes until cakes are well risen and golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
Place icing sugar in a bowl and add orange juice until the icing is fairly stiff and smooth. Spoon on top of cakes. I added some grated orange rind on top to make them look nice!

Last but not least - enjoy!

Cathy says:
These look and sound gorgeous… I imagine they would work really well with lemon too! Do YOU have a favourite cakey recipe? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

STEPHANIE-JADE: THE STEPS!

Is a family split the end of the world, or is there life after divorce? And what happens when you have half brothers and sisters? Reader Stephanie shares her experience of being part of a 'blended' family…

Stephanie-Jade says:
My mum and dad split when I was very little, so I don't remember the details and I didn't completely understand what was going on. As I've got older, I know it's because they argued a lot and wanted different things. I live with my mum, but my dad has a new partner now and they have three children together - which means I have three half-siblings! We live several hundred miles apart, so we don't see each other very often - a=maybe three or four times a year - but we are most definitely a family!

I was around six when Rosie, the eldest, was born. As the years went on, Alfie and Poppy were too. My main worry at first was about how often I'd get to see them and whether they would treat me as a sister, but I needn't have worried - they do! It's a little scary to know that your family are not all together, but we all cope; we talk to each other on the phone and are in contact a lot. At the moment, Dad is in Italy for work and we are all missing him like mad - I wish we could be there more for each other to talk about it and support each other, but we do our best! It helps that I like Dad's new partner… she is very supportive of me and we all get along really well.

Poppy is the youngest of my three half-siblings… whenever I see her she is desperate to spend 24/7 with me and loves taking selfies with me! She understands why I can't see her as often as I'd like but she says she would pay for me to visit more! Little briber! Poppy is a mini-me… she is addicted to loom bands and loves hugs. She is adventurous for her young age and always wants me to style her hair, although she always ends up styling mine in the end! She's the youngest, yet she has the biggest imagination!

Alfie is the only brother so having three sisters may not be his favourite thing ever! He's a typical boy… he loves nerf guns, motorbikes and is a daredevil, attempting to climb every tree he sees. He gets into lots of arguments with Poppy and Rosie, so when I'm around I have to be the peacemaker! It's worth it for when they do get along, and that's the time when I get to see them all being happy and we feel like a proper family. Alfie would like a brother, but he says I'm all right, so that's what matters!

Rosie is the eldest of my half-siblings and tries to take charge a lot. Like Poppy, she likes loom bands and girly things, but likes to be independent too - and that gets her into trouble when she tries to boss the other two around! She looks after the younger ones well though, and lets me take charge when I see them. Rosie is really into Moshi Monsters… sharing time learning about Katsuma is always fun. Rosie does test you, so pay attention!

Being a split family does not affect our love for each other, and when we do get together it's like we saw each other only yesterday. They are always smiling and I am so proud to call them my siblings!

Cathy says:
Families come in all shapes and sizes… as long as there's love to hold it all together, that's what matters! Are YOU part of a blended family, or have you been through a family split? COMMENT BELOW to share your experience or to give a shout-out to Stephanie-Jade!

WHEN SCHOOL'S A NIGHTMARE…

School can be pretty awesome… but what happens when it's not? When we asked if any CC readers had ever dreaded going to school, we didn't expect quite so many responses. Here, some of the girls discuss their experiences…

Gina says:
I hated school for ages when I was in primary because there was one boy who was absolutely horrible to me. I was small for my age and he'd chase me with sticks and twigs and once got me in a headlock with his arm around my throat. Luckily my mum was picking my sister up from morning nursery and saw him. She marched over and screamed at him, and I never had any bother with him after that.

Sandie says:
Bullying is the problem for me too, Gina. I'm in High School, but it's an exam year so I have to keep on going in. I put on a fake face to get through the day sometimes - not for myself, but for others. Other people don't need to see the broken person behind the mask. All I can think about is leaving school altogether… there's no other way out.

Karen says:
That sounds awful, Sandie. Have you tried telling a guidance teacher? For me it wasn't so much bullying… I began dreading school when my dad got ill. I was so worried about him I couldn't concentrate on schoolwork, and I'd get really anxious and have panic attacks. School seemed to trigger it, but thankfully things have eased off.

Ashleigh says:
I can identify with that. I have panic attacks and there was a time last year when I was only managing two lessons a day. It was everything - the bus, the lessons, the classmates. This year is making me feel anxious already, as many classes have changed around and there are some aggressive people in one  group. Last year I had what we called a 'get-out-of-class-free' card, which meant I could escape when I felt an attack coming on. I also went to maths club at lunchtimes and that helped… better than facing the dining hall.

Lindsey says:
I'm having a problem right now. It started with a jokey comment - I thought I was being funny, but my friend didn't. I apologised the next day but she hates me now and has got all our mutual friends to blank me. I spend break and lunch alone and nobody wants me tagging alone. I'd rather be at home curled up in bed than at school and feeling so alone. I wish I could go back in time - I'd never have said anything.

Kate says:
Lindsey, a joke can backfire, can't it? I hope things get better for you. My story is that I was bullied really badly - I got so scared that I'd make up excuses not to go to school, pretend to be ill. I never knew why the bullies picked on me; maybe because I was small or maybe because I never talked? I don't speak much because I'm shy… I'm scared to. I can speak to people if I've known them for ages, but otherwise I just don't speak. It's called elective mutism. If I had to go to school, I'd sometimes just go to the girls loos and sit there and cry.

Biba says:
I was pretty much the same, Kate. From the age of seven to fourteen, I was bullied really badly - when I was eight, my teacher actually bullied me. She picked on me for being deaf and made me afraid to speak in class, put me in a lower maths and reading group than I should have been and generally made my life a misery. I used to throw up from nerves every morning. My mum spoke to the school but nobody was willing to help me. I had one close friend, but that was another source of bullying as people labelled us gay. By twelve, things were going downhill and I often feigned illness because I couldn't face another day of bullying. At thirteen, I had a breakdown and took some days off school… when I returned, the main bully was super-nice to me. She was terrified she'd bullied me so badly that i was going to kill myself or something. I was referred to CAMHS (Child & Adolescent Mental Heath Services) and began going to counselling - that did help, but I also learned to deflect comments with wit, sarcasm and clever observations.

Kate says:
I still go to CAMHS counselling, Biba. I don't think my bullies would have cared if I had tried to kill myself… I never spoke, so they probably didn't know how scared I was. I'm at college now and things are better - nobody really bothers with bullying here. We're probably a bit too old for name calling.

Biba says:
I'm at college too, and I'm not bullied any more either… I get stared at quite a lot, but I can live with that. I guess I'm just too gorgeous not to be stared at! You may think your bullies didn't care, Kate, but they would have been in pieces if you'd harmed yourself. They will have been aware that they were being cruel, but nobody ever thinks they'll be the one to push someone that far. It does happen, though, and it's horrific when it does. And not just the bullies, either - everyone you knew would have been devastated.

Kate says:
Thanks for saying that, Biba. I think things are settling… I just blend into the background and nobody seems to notice me at college, but I kind of like that, to be honest. It works for me, and I do have a good friend. I wish I'd know back then that things would get better.

All names have been changed to protect identities of the posters. Pics posed by models.
Photos by Laurel S. Models: Heather, Katie, Roisin and Laurel.

Have you been struggling with problems of bullying or anxiety? Tell your parents and confide in a guidance tutor, school counsellor or any trusted teacher. You can find help and support outside of school, too… try these support groups:
BeatBullying: www.beatbullying.org
ChildLine: 0800 1111
Young Minds: www.youngminds.org.uk

Cathy says:
These true stories show that school isn't all plain sailing… but also that there IS hope, if you speak out and ask for help and support. It may not be an instant answer, but as Kate says, things often do get better, and meanwhile there are lots of places which can help. Have YOU ever dreaded school? COMMENT BELOW to share YOUR experience or show your support for the girls in our discussion...

Friday, 26 September 2014

EMMA WATSON: WHY YOU SHOULD BE A FEMINIST

Emma Watson spoke out recently out on what being feminist REALLY means… Cathy explains why Emma's speech to the UN is so important. Please do read on and watch the link. This is awesome.

Cathy says:
Sometimes, when I say I'm a feminist, people frown. They think that being feminist is about hating men, burning your bra or wearing your hair in a buzz-cut. They think it means that you can't like the colour pink, or wear a cute dress or fall in love with a boy. They think that we're already equal, that there's nothing left to fight for, that rocking the boat will just cause trouble.

Wrong. Being feminist is NOT about hating men. Seriously. And actually, the coolest men I know are feminist too… my husband, my son, my lovely male friends. Being feminist is about valuing both sexes equally, about being seen as a person and not just a sex object, about being treated fairly, and about having the freedom to be whoever you want to be.

You can't tell who is or isn't a feminist from the outside. It might mean wearing Doc Martens and dungarees one day and a vintage dress the next; it might mean wearing your hair in a shocking pink mohawk or having ringlet extensions down to your waist or maybe a hijab. It could be me, and it could, I hope, be you. If you are a feminist, you believe that women should be respected, listened to, paid equally, given the chance to be educated and to make decisions about our own body, our own life. Men and women should have equal rights, equal freedoms, equal opportunities and equal respect.

Emma Watson was invited to the United Nations to speak about this, and about why men need to get involved in fighting sexism too. We are not an equal society, an equal world - every day, in countries all around the world, women face inequality, violence, ignorance and abuse. Emma invites men to join us in supporting equal rights in her #heforshe campaign. Emma's speech is powerful, moving and honest. I wanted to share it with you here…. please take ten minutes to watch and listen:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0Dg226G2Z8&feature=youtu.be

Emma's speech is awesome, but some people did not agree with her message of equality. Almost at once, Emma was threatened by internet trolls who said they had obtained embarrassing photos of her, and would publish them online. They were trying to bully, shame and humiliate Emma, to punish her for speaking out… and they have shown how scared some people are of allowing women, who make up half of the population of the earth, to take an equal place in society.

Bullies, however, just show their own cowardice and fear when they try to silence those who speak out for what is right and fair. In the days that have followed, Emma's campaign has gathered more support than it ever would have before. Celebrity men have come forward to support Emma's #heforshe campaign, including author Neil Gaiman and actors Russel Crowe, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Pegg, Chris Colfer (pictured) and Douglas Booth.

I am proud to say that I am a feminist; that I too stand up for the rights of girls and women around the world. How about you?

COMMENT BELOW to share YOUR views on Emma's speech… and on the spiteful internet trolls who tried to silence her. What do YOU think?

Thursday, 25 September 2014

MARYAM: I DON'T KNOW WHO TO TALK TO...

Reader Maryam asks Summer Tanberry for advice… because she doesn't know who else to turn to...

Maryam says:
Please help. Ever since the start of the summer I have been feeling weird, not quite myself. There was no real reason for it, but I found myself spending a lot more time on my own and making excuses not to see my friends because I knew I wouldn't be able to pretend everything was all right if I was with them. Now that school has started again, it's worse. Some days I don't want to get out of bed, and every night I lie awake crying although my logical mind knows that there's nothing to cry about. My friends know something is wrong, but I can't talk to them because they'd just tell me to cheer up or get a grip. I think they will stop wanting to hang out with me; I don't blame them. I don't seem to care about anything anymore. This week I have missed four days of school because I pretended I had a bug, but I'm not sure Mum believes me. She is a single mum and works hard for us so I tell her how I feel - it's the last thing she needs.

Summer says:
Oh Maryam, this sounds so like the way I felt last year. It's was a bit different for me, because there was an eating disorder involved as well and people did notice that, but I had the same sense of 'switching off' from what was going on around me. I think you'd call it depression. You might think that your friends won't understand, but try them - they care about you, so talk to them and let them support you. They may even come along with you to talk to a guidance teacher - or, if you don't have one, choose a teacher you like and trust and ask to speak to them privately after class. Teachers often seem busy but they DO care about what's going on with their pupils and they will try to help. You also need to talk to your Mum. Keeping quiet so as not to worry her is NOT an option… this won't go away on its own. You need help and support, and your Mum can help you sort that.

My mum was also a single mum for a few years so I totally get the anxiety of not wanting to add to her worries, but you MUST talk to her. She can arrange for you to see a doctor. Depression is just as serious as any physical illness… and help is available. You feel like hiding away but TALKING and asking for help is the most important thing of all… it's your only way to change things, to make life better again. It may feel impossible right now, but I too felt very lost and very hopeless not so long ago. Things CAN be different. You've found the courage to talk to me… now take it further and tell your friends, teachers, Mum, doctor. I wish you all the luck in the world.

HELPBOX
Call ChildLine on 0800 1111
Young Minds: youngminds.org.uk

Cathy says:
Summer is right… Maryam needs to speak out about how she is feeling before things get any worse. Do YOU have any advice for Maryam? COMMENT BELOW to share your suggestions...

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

VICTORIA: I'M RUSSIAN ORTHODOX

Another in our occasional series about readers' religions… we talk to Victoria who is a Russian Orthodox Christian…

Victoria says:
I'm thirteen and I live in Denmark, but I was christened in St Petersburg in Russia, which is where my mum comes from. I was christened as Russian Orthodox, which is a major religion in Russia; it is also very widespread throughout Eastern Europe and is common in some Middle Eastern countries too. Having said that, my family have never been very religious, and we very rarely go to church… but it is still a faith I feel I belong to!

The Russian Orthodox faith celebrates Christmas on 7th January according to our calendar, but our New Year is December 31st/ January 1st. A second Christmas is celebrated on December 25th and a second New Year on January 14th. Easter is celebrated a lot in Russia, and we fast on pancakes before Easter. My dad is Catholic, although his dad was a Polish Jew… when we visit Poland we go to church with our family there, and I admire the Catholic religion very much. Having said that, if I could choose another religion, I think I would choose to be Jewish!

Although I don't know very much about the Russian Orthodox religion, I love to read about it and when I visit the beautiful Orthodox churches in russia I feel very secure and at home. I am glad to have been christened in Russia rather than in an Orthodox church here in Denmark, like my brother! The picture shows the beautiful church where I was christened. One main difference between the Catholic and Orthodox religions is that we believe that Christ gave himself voluntarily to the cross - he died willingly, and for all.

Cathy says:
I loved Victoria's insight into the world of the Russian Orthodox faith… fascinating stuff! Do YOU have a faith or religion which means a lot to you? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more, or to comment on Victoria's post. As always when talking about religious beliefs, remember to be respectful of others with different beliefs!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

SISTERS - A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP?

Do YOU have the best sister ever? Or does she drive you to distraction? We talked to some readers honestly about sisters… and how it feels when she isn't always on your wavelength!


Blue says:
Don't get me started on big sisters! This is a photo Mum found of my sister and I as kids. If you think I'm mean for pulling her hair, you have to remember she stood on my face when I was a baby (explains a lot!). She also gave me the chicken pox that ruined my hearing and she spent the majority of her teenage years telling me I ruined her life by being born. My little brother is awesome, but my sister and I don't get along, even now.

Marjolaine says:
I have an older sister, and I've always hated being the youngest - she's better academically, too! We used to fight all the time - Mum says we have the relationship of two young brothers, all rough and tumble! I still have scratch marks on my arms and she has teeth marks from where I bit her when I was six. We still fight a little, but not as much. When I started staying at Dads, she was the one who would protect me and act as a 'little mum' so that helped to bring us closer. I now consider her as a rather annoying friend - she'll waltz into my room shouting 'Onesie swag!' and take embarrassing selfies…

Ella says:
My older sister Maisie is not exactly my perfect picture of how sisters should be, She is just like Honey Tanberry - but worse! Yet ins spite of that, when I am upset or anxious - for example, when I started secondary school recently - she is always there for me with excellent advice. She's in Sixth form now, and I know I can rely on her if I ever need help. A lot of the time I hate her… but a lot of the time I love her, too!
Emily says: 
I have a twin sister, just ten minutes older than me! Sometimes we argue, but that's typical really… everyone argues sometimes, don't they? Most of the time we get along really well! We are interested in a lot of the same things, which is cool, and I have some of the best memories with her - we've shared so much. Sadly we now live an hour and half away from each other because we are studying at different universities. That's been quite difficult to get used to. We have always done everything together, and now we actually live in different countries! I do love having a twin sister, though. It makes life a lot more fun!

Cathy says:
I love these sister stories… even the less than perfect ones. I never had a sister myself, which may just be one of the reasons I wrote the CHOCOLATE BOX GIRLS series! Do YOU get on with your sister? COMMENT BELOW to let us know or to pass on your feedback to the girls!

Monday, 22 September 2014

ANNA: CHOCOLATE BOX CRAZY!

Reader Anna is a big fan of the Chocolate Box Girls books… so much so that she made these cool avatars for each of the main characters. Read on to find out how…

Anna says:

When I was in primary school, before I had ever heard of Cathy Cassidy's books, I saw a friend reading a copy of MARSHMALLOW SKYE. The cover looked so appealing that I went over and asked about the book - my friend told me more and I instantly wanted to read it. I couldn't find the book to begin with, but then the school book fair arrived and SUMMER'S DREAM was on sale there! I bought it and read it and loved it, and that was it, I was hooked. I managed to buy MARSHMALLOW SKYE soon afterwards and thought that was brilliant too, and now I have all the Chocolate Box Girls books and I totally love them all.

Not long ago, I decided to design and make some avatars. I used a phone app which had lots of options for designing… you could choose the types of eyes, the skin colours, hair colour and style, the nose styles, the background and even what each character holds. I have always loved drawing people, making up characters and drawing or designing my favourites characters from books, so this seemed perfect… it was a way of bringing the Tanberry-Costello sisters to life, and a perfect summer project for me to try!
I imagined the sisters in my head, based on how they had been described in the books, and then began to create them. I made Summer first, with a pink background, a pink dress and blonde hair in a bun. I gave her a white headscarf and showed her holding a heart, with a pink polka-dot background After that, I made Skye, with a cute vintage dress, plaited hair and a blue flower in her hair… she was holding paints and I gave her a blue polka-dot background… that's how I imagined the twins to be, somehow.

To start with, I planned just to make the twins, but making the avatars got quite addictive so I decided I'd try to make Cherry next. I gave this avatar black hair in bunches, coffee coloured skin, dark eyes and red flowers in her hair. She had a Japanese dress - a kimono like the one in the story - and I gave her some candles to hold. I love that the books have so much detail and description, so there are lots of clues when you want to bring one of the characters to life! It was fun to imagine and then create the images.

I did Coco next, the youngest of the Tanberry sisters. I made her with very small bunches, a panda t-shirt and a wide smile. She is animal crazy, of course, so I gave her a rabbit to hold and had her feeding the rabbit with a carrot! I gave Coco and Cherry the same background of pink hearts on a white backing. Last of all, I did Honey, who is my personal favourite. I gave Honey blue eyes with mascara, lipsticked lips, a beauty spot, a denim jacket with a wonky tie and a stripy background.

I have just started secondary school and I've also begun reading SWEET HONEY. It's an amazing book, and I know just how Honey feels learning to settle in to her new school! I will be getting more of Cathy Cassidy's fab books in the future - I am really looking forward to FORTUNE COOKIE and intrigued to know what comes next in the Chocolate Box series. And of course, I hope to design more characters too!

Anna used the FaceQ app to make the avatars

Cathy says:
Wow… Anna's imagination and attention to detail is just plain AWESOME! Do YOU like bringing your fave fictional characters to life by drawing, painting or using computer apps? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more, or to give Anna a shout-out on her fab creations!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

JADE-LOUISE: HOLD ON TILL MAY!

Reader Jade-Louise and nine of her friends have put together an awesome student theatre company… dedicated to raising money for an amazing charity. Read on to find out more…

Jade-Louise says:
In the summer of 2012 I lost my cousin to suicide. Since then I have always wanted to do something for a charity which works to help prevent suicide. I've never managed to do anything alone, but now I am at college studying Performing Arts, and I have met a great group of friends. I decided to pitch the idea of a charity theatre group to the rest of the girls, and they were all right behind the idea, 100%. They have been incredibly supportive and that is why we are so determined to raise both awareness and money.

'Hold On Till May' is the name for a multiple series of events set up by Reflections Theatre Company, a group we set up as part of our college course. Our plan is to raise money for PAPYRUS, the national UK charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide. Our company aims to set up some showcases - the first one just before Christmas. If this is a success, we'd like to move on into larger venues. We have lots of idea... jam sessions and even improvised flash mobs, too.

The name 'Hold On TIll May' is the name of a Pierce The Veil song which is about love but also suicide; the boy is trying to get the girl to hold on through winter and make it through to May when summer begins and life gets better. We are covering this as the main song in our showcase. It seemed like a relevant name for the project - and of course, Mental Health Awareness week is in May.

As a company, we believe that people think suicide is a taboo subject - something that shouldn't be spoken about. Of course, if people can't or won't discuss it, those who are struggling with depression and contemplating suicide will feel that they can't talk about it. So, part of what we want to do is to raise awareness so that nobody has to suffer in silence. We are trying to do this in an uplifting way, offering escapism to young people in this situation and also helping others to understand what they may be going through.

We have made a Facebook page here for our project… the more people who join and support what we are doing, the better! You can also support the project by donating to PAPYRUS through our Just Giving page… you can find more about that on the Facebook page too. The project is at an early stage… we have a lot of hard work to do, but we are all committed to the idea and full of ideas and enthusiasm. PAPYRUS does such good work and it is really worth supporting… and we will do everything we can to help them.

Facebook: Hold On Till May

Cathy says:
I love the creative thinking and determination of Jade-Louise and her friends - I really admire what they are doing and am happy to support them! COMMENT BELOW if you like their project, or to tell us of any fund-raising ideas YOU have had!

Friday, 19 September 2014

PRIYA: THE FRENCH EXCHANGE!

Does your school offer the chance of a school exchange trip? When reader Priya was offered the chance to take part in a school exchange to France, she jumped at the chance… read on and see how she got on!

Priya says:
I decided to get involved in the French Exchange trip as some friends - and my teacher - recommended it! It was a cultural exchange, but there was plenty of sightseeing involved and I was particularly excited to go to Paris. I had already met my exchange student, Axelle, when the French students came over here in March, but I was really looking forward to seeing her again, and almost all of my friends were going on the trip too.
The journey was amazing - we went by coach and we had to go underground on this very big vehicle which had the capacity to carry all the coaches! I go to a girls school and we combined with a local boys school for the exchange trip. It was so much fun - we had a sweet fight, played card games and told spooky stories in the blackout! My first impressions of France were that everyone seemed much more relaxed about time and driving and drinking and smoking… their health, I suppose.
I missed home a bit, and I was away for Father's Day which was strange. Axelle's house was big and I had my own room, which was great. The garden and the adjoining land was massive, but you still feel a little like an outsider in the family home - this was never intended by the families, I think it was just a state of mind my friends and I had now and then. It may have been because we couldn't speak the language as fluently as we'd have liked… we craved time with our classmates just so we could have long or complicated conversations! This wasn't hard to handle, though, and luckily it was the closest we came to feeling homesick.
I loved the excursions and my favourite place was the Eiffel Tower and the view from the top; we saw some amazing art galleries;  I also loved visiting all the little towns and villages and getting to meet new people… oh, and eating macarons! It all felt so different - it wasn't just that I was overseas, but also that I was visiting all these iconic places without my parents, but with some of my best friends instead. I will never forget any of it - the journeys, the places, talking to my French family and the fact that I got to live like a French girl for a week - it was pretty amazing.
If you get a chance to go on a school exchange, I would advise anyone to take that chance. You will get over any fears and worries - just do it, because life is short and an adventure like this is something you will NEVER forget. I loved meeting Axelle and her family. It's not often you get to experience true family life abroad, so it felt like a real gift and a rare opportunity. I thank my lucky stars I got to go!


Cathy says:
Have YOU ever been on a school exchange - or if not, would you like to? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!


ELYSCE: SAVE OUR LIBRARIES!

Reader Elysce was horrified when she found out that ELEVEN local libraries in her home town of Liverpool were threatened with closure. And she wasn't about to stand by and let it happen…

Elysce says:
I am eleven years old and I live in Liverpool. My favourite thing to do in the world is read; I hope one day to become an author and that people will read the stories I have written. I have read hundreds of books and I love finding new ones in my library. I think it would be an awful thing to take books and libraries away from people. People should be able to visit libraries whenever they want to.

When I found out that the libraries were closing I was deeply upset and felt that I had to do something to stop it. I decided that something had to be done, and that's why I started the petition, in the hope that my favourite place will not be taken away. I wanted to do something more than just sign a petition so I started my own. Because it is online, people can share it around between their friends and the signatures are growing. I never thought so many people would sign, but we need more signatures so that we have a real chance of keeping those libraries open.

I love visiting the libraries in Liverpool, and my mum was happy that I spent a lot of time in the summer holidays visiting them. I also went to a two-week camp called 'Book It' and my mum has told me that the council paid a lot of money for people to go, and that they are partners with the people who organised it. What I don't understand is, why encourage children to read and spend a lot of money getting them interested in it, and then all of a sudden take it away? To me, and to many others, a library is a place that you can just come to and read and take a few minutes away from the world… and now those minutes will be gone. I decided that something had to be done, and that's why I started the petition… in the hope that my favourite place will not be taken away.

Please, please, please support and help me to stop the libraries from closing in Liverpool, I could not imagine how boring life would be if we had no books. Someone once said: 'In the library, one often finds, people close their mouths and open their minds.' I really think that this is true.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN ELYSCE'S PETITION TO KEEP ELEVEN LIVERPOOL LIBRARIES OPEN - THANK YOU!

Cathy says:
I am so, so impressed with Elysce's determination to do whatever she can to keep these libraries open. To close ELEVEN of Liverpool's well-used and much-loved local libraries is no less than a massacre, so please, PLEASE sign the petition and SHARE it to your Facebook/ Twitter pages so we can gather more support show Liverpool Council that we love and need these libraries. Your signature can make a BIG difference! COMMENT BELOW to tell us what libraries mean to you, and to pledge your support for the protest. THANK YOU!!!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

THE PURR-FECT PET...

We asked readers to tell us about their favourite pets… and this is what they said!

Vicky says:
Billie was brought home in late September 2007. She is a purebred Jack Russell Terrier and some people think that this breed of dog can be dangerous, but that's not true - Billie has a great temperment. Billie is my best friend; I used to read her some of my books when I was younger, and snuggle up with her. Also, I was obsessed with her ears - I used to put bobbles on them as if they were hair. Not the best thing to do, but she was always very patient! Billie has always been there for me when I'm feeling down, and I am there for her in return if she's feeling unwell. I love her so much!

Blue says:
I have so many stories of my cat Finn (named after Finn in DIZZY.) Like how he used to sit on my shoulder as a kitten or how he used to climb the doorframe to get to the shelf where he liked to sleep, and taught the other cats to do the same. How we took him for walks around town, where he'd be fussed by everyone we met; or how he purred so loudly the whole house could hear him. He purred when he ate, he purred when he slept… he purred all the time. Or how, when he was about to be put down two months after his second birthday as he was ill with a progressive bladder problem, he sat perfectly still on the examination table as I held him and sobbed. It was like he knew what was happening and wanted to reassure me he'd be OK. I don't have any pictures of us together - I only have about three pictures of him because I lost my phone a few months after he died. So I'm posting this picture, the little tub with a tree pattern and 'Finn' plaque on the lid that contains his ashes, and the forget-me-not locket with a snippet of his fur in it. I miss my baby.

Kiera says:
We got our dog Pepper (female!) in 2006, and we were all so excited - I'd never known anything like it.  When my mum and brother arrived home with Pepper, I was dying to see her. My brother has always said that he didn't choose Pepper - she chose him. I think that's such a cute way to put it, rather than saying, 'I saw a dog and it fell in love with me,' or something along those lines. Pepper has been the best dog ever, although she is getting older now. When her time comes, I will be extremely sad, but I will always be incredibly grateful for everything she has done for me!

Heather says:
My dog Ozzy is probably the best pet I have ever had. He is bouncy, lively and extremely cute. He goes for runs in the woods every day and loves to dive into refreshing, cool and sometimes swampy rivers as a way to cool down! He loves to cuddle up and watch TV, and he even likes to join in and have a cup of tea and a slice of toast! His characteristics are cheeky and mischievous but loving and friendly as well. He's brilliant!

Mary Joy says:
I got my pet rat Lucky in 2008. She was very small and soft and she got her name as I remember thinking how very lucky I was to have her! I held her all the way home and couldn't stop smiling. I'd had another pet rat before Lucky, so I had some experience in caring for a rat; Lucky had a two-storey mansion cage at home to roam about in. When she first arrived there were a few issues - she bit Mum and also Mum's cousin, and there came a point when we felt it might be kinder to let her go - to give her chance of living in the wild, so she didn't bite other people. One night we opened her cage and waited for her to run away… but amazingly, she didn't. She sniffed Mum's shoe and climbed back into her cage; she had chosen to stay with us. The biting stopped. We discovered that she was probably scared and that we'd unwittingly been frightening her, and after that we all got along much better. We also learned that you can't release a pet into the wild, not even a rat, so I'm glad she didn't go - she wouldn't have managed alone.) Lucky was dark brown with a white tummy and little socks; she was so cute when she ate her food and cleaned behind her ears. We had an amazingly close bond between us and I loved her a lot. Lucky passed away peacefully at the end of 2010, but the good memories are locked in my heart forever.

Cathy says:
Awww… so many happy and sad stories! Animals can mean so much to us… I know that mine do to me! COMMENT BELOW if you'd like to have YOUR say - or just tell us about your own purr-fect pets!

KIARA: I LIED ABOUT MY SUMMER ROMANCE...

Another in our occasional series of reader's problems… this time, reader Kiara has a question for CHERRY COSTELLO…

Kiara says:
I don't feel like I fit in at school - my friends seem to be growing up faster than me and are always talking about crushes and boyfriends. I know they think I am babyish. When we went back to school, they were talking about holiday romances. I don't know why I did it, but I blurted out that I'd had a holiday romance in Wales, where I spent three weeks in the summer. I just didn't want to feel left out, but the lie has spiralled out of control and they want more details all the time. They keep asking if he's written or messaged lately... they want to see letters and texts and messages, and ask why he isn't on my Facebook. I wish I'd never opened my mouth.

Cherry says:
Lies… they start out as a kind of self-defence sometimes, don't they? I used to make up stories about my mum when I was younger, and the things I said were things I wanted to believe - but they weren't true, and in the end it all backfired on me. I think people knew all along I'd been making things up, and it got to the point where they just didn't trust me at all. I've learned from that mistake and when I moved south to Kitnor I made a fresh start and drew a line under the 'little white lies'. It feels a lot better that way.

So… how do you get out of this mess? You have two choices. You can come clean and admit that you made up the holiday romance because you wanted to be like your friends. Let them know you're feeling insecure and unsure of the friendship these days… and that you wanted to regain their attention and interest. Truth can hurt - your friends will be upset that you lied to them and their trust in you may be dented, but if you explain why you did it they might just understand.

Your second option is to tell them your boyfriend has finished things, and that you'd rather not talk about him anymore. Yes, it's another lie… but it closes the door on the whole episode and allows you to keep some dignity. Don't be drawn into discussing things - just insist you want to put it all behind you, pretend it didn't happen.

Whichever choice you make, LEARN from this mistake and stick to the truth in future… your friends won't care how many boyfriends you have or haven't had, they like you for YOU. Remember that - and remember that lies lead to trouble. Good luck!

Cathy says:
Do you agree with Cherry's advice? What would YOU say to Kiara if you had the chance? MESSAGE BELOW to have your say!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

HOW TO BE BEST FRIENDS… FOREVER!

Are best friends forever? Not always, alas, but sometimes they can be. Readers share their top advice on being a great mate and making friendship last…

Samiksha says:
Loyalty and understanding are the things that keep a friendship strong. Misunder-standings lead to fights, fights lead to not talking to each other… it becomes a vicious circle. Talk to your BFF and ask her how her day has been, if she's feeling down. Listen to what she says and make her feel better. Don't ever betray her - she's awesome.

Saffie says:
Never talk about a friend behind their back; even if you're saying nice things, it can easily get twisted.

Angela says:
Always plan lots of things to do together so that you have lots to talk about… and try to make each other's lives fun! Avoid arguments and if you are in a group of three of more, be careful not to leave anyone out. If you're sharing a secret, do it with the whole group or none at all.

Merryn says:
Hang out with your friends! It sounds obvious, but this is the simplest and best way to stay close. If you're away on holiday, bring them back a small friendship gift and plan sleepovers and get togethers - I love to have movie marathons with my friends! Even if you're moving, a friendship can stay strong if you make the effort to stay in touch.

Eloise says:
Just have a good banter - talk about anything and everything! When me and my friends fall out, it's never for long and we're always stronger as soon as we make up. Remember to be the first one to apologise, even if it's not your fault - someone has to make the first move!

Lucy says:
It sounds odd, but don't spend twenty-four hours a day with them - it can be too much of a good thing and may trigger arguments! If your friends have worries and problems, pay attention and do what you can to help - give them a hand to resolve the problem or just listen to their worries. Sometimes that's all that is needed… and they'd do the same for you, after all.

Hannah says:
Don't try too hard! True friendships are about personality and having a laugh. If you're faking things to try to fit in, the friendship will never last.

Chloe says:
Be yourself. Joining clubs that interest you is always a good way to meet others with the same interests. True friends will be there through everything, because they care, but remember that in life you will make loads of friends over the years and not all of them will be forever. There is no rule for knowing which friends will last and which will not, but if you work hard a friendship you can overcome most things!

Kellie says:
Don't let shyness stop you from making new friends… be the first to talk and eat at the same table at lunchtimes.

Kiera says:
Don't overdo it! Show them how your personality stands out as an individual spark, but don't try too hard or be too in-their-face all of the time. Just be yourself - there is nothing worse than knowing that someone doesn't like you for you, but for someone you are pretending to be...

Pics posed by models: 
Top pic, photo by Tika, models Daisy and Jaz;
Bottom two pics, models Hailie, Hayley and Kathryn. 
Words: with thanks to the readers on my Facebook fanpage!

Cathy says: 
Awesome suggestions that should keep your friendships strong and true! For more friendship advice, check out my non-fiction book LETTERS TO CATHY which has lots of advice on friendship… check it out! COMMENT BELOW to add YOUR top tips for a lasting friendship!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

THE GREAT DEBATE: EATING VEGGIE!

I've been a veggie since I was fourteen years old and love it… but I was curious to see how my readers felt about the vegetarian diet. I asked a few of them to discuss the issue…

Lillie says:
I've been veggie for just over a month. I'd been thinking of going veggie for a while, as I find the idea of killing and eating animals wrong. I was too scared to say I wanted to be vegetarian so I cut out all meats but chicken, pork and fish, and finally asked my parents if I could go veggie. They were hesitant at first but they soon adjusted - I think they just want to be sure I am eating a balanced diet. They've been great, cooking me some delicious things, so I haven't missed meat at all. My brother and sister tease me a bit, waving a sausage under my nose now and then… my brother even threatened to disown me, but he was just mucking around - I hope! They think it's a big joke but I think they'll respect me once they know I'm serious about it. My friends teased me a bit too; none of them thought I would keep it up, and I even had a bet with one of them! I am determined, though - I will stick with my beliefs.

Fay says:
That seems cool, Lillie… but there are many reasons I am not a veggie:
1/ I don't eat vegetables. No, seriously, I hate them all except peas.
2/ I don't eat fruit either.
3/ I can't imagine a roast dinner without meat.
I think vegetarians have a good idea but I could never be one, even though I only eat a few sorts of meat - fish, chicken and pork. I am pretty sure that in the cave-man days nobody was veggie - I am not saying one way is wrong and another right, just that we were designed to be meat eaters in my opinion. The longest I have ever gone without meat is four days, at a school camp - I didn't eat anything except a packet of crisps each day because I didn't like the food. As a result I got super-cold and had to be given a hot chocolate and a packet of chocolate mints (torture because I hate mints, but still…) to give me extra calories. I don't think I'm fussy at all, but I do have a strict policy - I won't eat something I don't like!

Lillie says:
I totally respect your opinion, Fay. I thought it would be hard to be veggie but there are lots of replacements for meat which taste similar or even better than the original. I agree that we were most likely made to eat meat to give us the protein we need, however we have plenty of other ways now to get the calories we need. You also need to eat fruit and vegetables to be fit and healthy and though cavemen did eat meat they also had to eat their greens! Now that I am veggie I find I like some vegetables I didn't like before, which makes it easier. there's such a huge variety of vegetables you are bound to find something you like! It's not all vegetables, either - I love rice, pasta, couscous and all sorts of beans and pulses. My dad makes a great moussaka with soya mince and who doesn't like a jacket potato with cheese or beans? I totally agree about not eating anything I don't like, but for me this means I can't imagine eating something I like and want to protect!

Rhia says:
A vegetarian is someone who doesn't eat meat, poultry or in some cases fish. I do eat fish as it is good for you, so strictly speaking I am what is called a 'pescetarian'. This is something I have always wanted to try and it has been on/off for years, but I have now stuck to it properly for seven or eight months. It started when I saw a book in the library about being vegetarian - it described how animals were bred for food and how they were treated and how they were slaughtered. Let's just say it wasn't pleasant at all. I went off meat there and then and told my parents the same night; they accepted it pretty well. I've managed fine since then; I eat a lot of quorn… most quorn products are really nice.
Aimear says:
Well done, Rhia… it must be hard giving up foods you've been used to eating! I'm eleven and I've been vegan all my life… that means I am a very strict veggie, I don't eat any meat, fish, dairy or eggs. Why? My parents are vegan and so it seemed natural for all of us to be; and also because of all those poor little animals who are slaughtered and sent to supermarkets and end up on our plates just because people want to eat meat. They haven't done anything wrong and we don't need to eat them. Unfortunately, people have a bit of a block about eating vegan food but it's delicious - really! I love being vegan!

Rhia says:
Wow, that's strict! I wouldn't last a week without dairy or eggs, but I can see the logic in a way. I might try some proper vegan food in the future. Do people ever try to tease you about being vegan?

Aimear says:
I don't mind being strict, but I am realistic as well. Where I have the choice, I don't wear leather, but there have been a few occasions where I didn't have any option… I am not going to beat myself up about that. Sometimes people at school try to get me to change my views by telling me how nice meat is, but that doesn't work, obviously! Sometimes I have a vegan chocolate bar and they'll tease me and say I can't eat it, but that's just a bit of fun. I can eat chocolate and Mum makes great vegan cakes… I am happy with my way of life. It's a part of who I am!

Cathy says:
I love how Lillie, Fay, Rhia and Aimear have all been so positive and accepting of each other… how cool? Over to you now - could YOU ever be veggie? Or vegan? Why… or why not? COMMENT BELOW to have YOUR say!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

TERESA: DEPRESSION IS AN INVISIBLE ILLNESS...

Reader Teresa has battled depression, self harm and an eating disorder over the last few years - and she believes that many of the kids in her school year are struggling too…

Teresa says:
My story starts ages ago… I've never fitted in, right from the start of primary school, and I have always been bullied. I've always had a problem with my weight, and this made me a target for bullies and made me long to be skinny. By the time I was in Year Four I was restricting what I ate, but I was happy apart from that. I had no idea how bad things would get.

By Year Six, the bullying had worsened and I began self-harming. By Year Seven I had started secondary and made new friends, getting away from the bullies. Even my eating disorder was under control. Suddenly it all went wrong - I lost my friends, boys I'd seen as friends turned against me. By Year Eight things were better again - I had a boyfriend and a group of friends who always made me laugh, and my problems seemed to be fading. Then I found out my boyfriend and friends had been using me… and my world crumbled all over again. One day I broke down at school; I couldn't hide the pain any more and the teachers spoke to my family. That could have helped, it didn't; my family didn't want to face the problems or accept that I was in trouble. They chose instead to ignore it all, pretend it wasn't happening, and so nothing really changed.

I have new friends now and a guy I like… things started off great but he has problems similar to mine and things went bad for him. My friends also have problems like this and things went bad for them too. I'd say around a third of the kids in my year have issues like mine, and yet these mostly go un-noticed - they are invisible illnesses. I have found some things that help - reading CC books have shown me that people do care and that things can get better. I like DRIFTWOOD and SUMMER's DREAM especially - they're books that show me I'm not the only one to have feelings like this. I am not sure why so many young people are unhappy these days, but it scares me sometimes. I am getting to the point where I feel like I need to ask for help, and if my family can't face what's happening I will go to the doctor by myself and get support and help from some of the websites and support groups out there.

I don't want to feel this way. I want to feel that life is good… I hope that one day it will genuinely feel that way.

Name has been changed to protect Teresa's identity, and pic posed by model
Photos by: Gratia C Model: Iona

HELP: If you're struggling like Teresa, please reach out and get some help and support...
Young Minds: www.youngminds.org.uk
Beat: www.b-eat.co.uk
ChildLine: Call 0800 1111 or visit www.childline.org.uk
BeatBullying: www.beatbullying.org

Cathy says:
Teresa's story is sad and shocking, but not as unusual as it should be… and I think she is right, there are many young people struggling with invisible illnesses and issues. Have YOU ever been bullied or encountered any of the issues Teresa has? COMMENT BELOW to share your story or offer support and reassurance to Teresa.

Friday, 12 September 2014

TWO GIRLS GO VINTAGE: 2: STYLE IT UP!

The second in our special two-part feature about teen reporters Erin & Erin (yes, yes, I know… really!) who are on the hunt for vintage bargains… this week, the girls show you what to choose and how to wear it!


Erin says:
So… the two of us were in Liverpool for the weekend and there was vintage shopping to be done! We looked at all kind of amazing clothes and styles, like the cool tie-dye t-shirt above, but we're only thirteen and money was definitely an issue - the sad truth is that we couldn't afford all the lovely things we saw. Instead, we were determined to make our money stretch… and that meant steering away from the real statement pieces because they're the things that are pricey! Both of us like casual things that can mix and match with the Top Shop type basics we already have… these were the kind of items we were looking for. They needed to be good value and a little bit different to the high street. We had a plan!

We each bought a shirt… a great black, white and grey man's checked shirt to wear layered over vests, t-shirts and shorts, jacket-style… this cost £3, and I've had lots of wear out of it since. Bargain! We also found a women's paisley shirt for £4 and again the plan was to wear it as a layer - Erin had a black body-con mini dress and the shirt looked great with this. You could also wear it on its own, with the lower few buttons undone and the two ends knotted up to show your belly, with shorts or jeans maybe. A very 50s look! Along with the shirts we got a plain white t-shirt for £3 - the kind of thing you could wear anywhere and with anything, really. I know it will be a wardrobe staple, but if I ever get bored with it I might experiment with tie-dyeing it to see if I can get the effect of the awesome pink tie-dye t-shirt we found but couldn't afford! Vintage pieces have already had a few lives, and who is to say they can't have a few more? When something costs so little, you feel free to adapt and experiment or even change it totally… get creative!

My biggest spend was on these vintage Levis cut-off shorts, from one of the vintage boutiques… they cost £25 but they had so much more character than a new pair would have. I love them! I bought them on the Saturday and wore them out on the Sunday, which is when I found the shirt… it was a great, cool cover-up. I could wear shorts and a crop top but with the shirt on top it was all very relaxed and cool, a fun, summer look. I couldn't resist accessorising with my vintage style sunshades and a fab fedora hat!

Trying on hats was one of the best bits of the weekend, and taking pictures of our shopping trip was brilliant - a few people asked what we were doing and we were able to say we were taking pictures for a teen blog-zine! We had a great weekend, and we learned that really there are no rules for vintage shopping: if you see something awesome and you have the cash, then go for it - it will probably be unique. Otherwise, choose pieces you love and know you'll get lots of use from. Oh… and try on lots of hats wherever you go!

Cathy says:
I've loved this fab two-part feature - it feels like we've all been along for the shopping trip with the two Erins! They make vintage shopping seem fun and easy… will YOU be tempted to give it a try? COMMENT BELOW to tell us!