Sunday, 30 November 2014

CHRISTMAS MAKES: PEPPERMINT BARK!

We asked you for your fave Christmas recipes… and reader Hazel sent us this fab idea! Perfect to make for a prezzie, or as a cool Christmas treat!

Hazel says:
Peppermint Bark is easy and fun to make, and it looks great as a gift in a cute little box or bag. Enjoy!

You will need…

12oz (340g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
12 oz (340g) white chocolate, finely chopped
4tsp sunflower oil
1/4-1/2 cup of crushed peppermint candy cane

(Note: white chocolate varies in quality; make sure yours is made from cocoa butter or it won't melt correctly.)
To make…

* Line a 9"x12" cake tray with parchment paper; leave enough to go over the edges, as this will help to lift out the hardened bark.

* Put two teaspoonfuls oil into a bowl with the dark chocolate and gently melt over a pan of simmering water.

* When chocolate reaches a smooth, pouring consistency, pour it into your lined cake tray, spreading it evenly across the base.

* Refrigerate for twenty-five minutes or until hardened.

* Place set chocolate on the counter while you begin to melt white chocolate.

* Put two teaspoonfuls of oil in with the white chocolate and melt it slowly using the same method as above.

* When the white chocolate is fully melted, spread it evenly on top of cooled dark chocolate and sprinkle the crushed candy cane on top. You can add as much or as little crushed candy as you like.

* Bang tray on counter a couple of times to stop all the candy cane from falling off when you cut it up!

* Place peppermint bark in the fridge for another half hour at least.

* Once hard, remove from fridge, lift from tray and cut up on a cutting board.

This recipe makes around 25 medium sized pieces and can be stored in an air-tight container in the fridge for around two weeks… that is, IF you can resist eating it all right away!

Cathy says:
I love the look of this… and it seems reassuringly simple to make, too! Have YOU got a favourite Christmas recipe? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Saturday, 29 November 2014

GINA: I'M AT BREAKING POINT

Reader Gina is clever, gets good grades and is predicted to get excellent exam results… so why is she crying herself to sleep every night?

Gina says:
I have always done pretty well at school and enjoyed my work… I would happily push myself because I liked to get good marks and feel that I was doing well. When my parents suggested I sit the entrance exam for a private school I agreed, flattered that they thought I could do it. I passed with flying colours and things stepped up a level… new opportunities were opening up for me, new subjects and skills and possibilities. I was determined to give it everything I had, to make a real go of it. I wanted to make everyone proud.

I am not sure when or how things started to go wrong. The school is amazing, and my teachers are fantastic. I love the work… or I did, to start with. I had big ideas and all kinds of hopes and dreams to go to a top university and build a career doing something awesome, something that might change the world. And then, slowly, things began to change. I started to feel tired, weary almost. I didn't fizz with enthusiasm when given a new project. I didn't feel elated when I got a good report or passed a test. I stopped caring as much, somehow. I was going through the motions.

My parents have noticed I am a bit quiet, and they're worried, I think. They keep telling me to focus on school and work harder on my studies, and that it will be worth it in the end. They say if I get good exam grades and a place at a top university, then eventually I can relax a bit. But I don't think I will ever get to the point where I can relax. I think there will always be another exam, another pressure, another hurdle to clamber over. When I look at the future all I can see are exams and essays and projects going on and on forever and ever. It's like a treadmill I can never jump off.

I look around now and see my old friends from primary school days and they look happy to me - they have friends, and boyfriends, and they do fun stuff, and I know they still have worries and troubles but I bet they are not crying themselves to sleep because they hate the way their lives have turned out. I feel like I have made all the wrong decisions and I can't change my choices without letting everybody down. I can do the work…my grades are still good… but I feel so sad all the time, like I am missing out on what being a teenager is all about. I need some balance in my life but I have no idea how to get it. I can't tell my parents I'm at breaking point… they would be so, so disappointed and I couldn't stand that.  I'm trapped, and I can't see a way out.

Gina's name has been changed to protect her privacy.

Picture posed by model Molly, photographed by Emma Tunbridge.

Cathy says:
Gina's words show that beneath the surface, even the most successful life can look very different indeed. Is Gina right to say she is trapped and has no way out? What would YOU do in her situation? COMMENT BELOW to have your say...

LOLA: HAIR RAISING STYLE...

We asked reader Lola to tell us a little about her style… and about her amazing hair! 


Lola says:
Some people say that teenage girls are under a lot of pressure these days, but I don't think that's it - I think it's just that we like to look nice! I suppose I spend a fair bit of time and money on fashion, beauty and hair… I enjoy it, and I want to look good. Teens do get judged for the way they look, especially by people with different style choices, but that doesn't bother me - I dress to please myself and the way I look is just the way I am! I think that some teens who choose to look different from the crowd can get bullied, and that's not good - if I could change things, I would make it so that everyone could follow whatever style they want to.

My hair is completely natural… it's very curly and I suppose it is my trademark look, but it's easy to style. I just brush it through every morning and put some serum through it and that's it - done! I like my hair, but sometimes I like to have a change, and about every six months I will straighten it… it lasts for about four days. Other people love my hair and are always asking if they can touch it… I'm happy that people like it!

My hair is dip-dyed blonde at the moment - my mum did it for me and I am really happy with it. I once had loads of cane rolls put in my hair - little braids - and that was great. I haven't really had a disastrous hairstyle, although I did have a very short haircut when I was about eleven. I cut so much hair off - it could have ended up very badly, but it was actually loads easier to manage and I loved it for that reason! My hair does take ages to wash and dry, and I do spritz it a little every morning to make it easier to brush through… the ends get quite wet, though! I use Herbal Essences shampoo and conditioner. You could say I have a love/ hate relationship with my hair, but all the hard work is worth it in the end!

Cathy says:
I am SOOOO envious of Lola's awesome hair… it's fabulous! Do YOU have a feature you really love - or hate - about yourself? Or one that is part of your signature look? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

MY FAVE FICTIONAL CHARACTER!

I asked readers to tell me their all-time favourite fictional character… and here's what they told me!
Kiera says:
My fave fictional character is probably Niki Maxwell from the Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell because she is an ordinary teenage girl with a lot to say and a story that leaves you in utter shock. Such as… when Mackenzie Hollister (her enemy) does something awful to humiliate poor Niki; or when she has to cope with a big surprise from her best friends Chloe and Zoey, for example. Niki is just an ordinary girl trying to make her way through high school and get it over and done with… she can also relate (a little) to other people! The books are great and the character of Niki is just brilliant!

Jasmine says:
My favourite ever character has got to be Remy Lebeau from Marvel comics… in X-Men and also his own issues. I've been obsessed with Marvel and with superheroes since I was young, but Remy (also known as Gambit) always stuck out to me. He is from New Orleans so I always imagined his accent when I was reading out his words. His personality also appealed to me. He was witty, sarcastic, flirty and such a bighead! He possessed the power to use kinetic energy and could transfer it into any object - usually playing cards as he was a gambler. Remy wasn't like the other X-Men; they were heroes and he was a thief trying his best to be a hero, which I found fascinating. He has always been a favourite of mine!

Jess says:
My favourite fictional character (not counting CC characters!) is Patch from Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick. At first Patch seems quite scary, but he is a mysterious character with hidden, dark secrets… and by the end of the book, his secret is revealed...

Lorna says:
There are a couple, but Eowyn and Faramir from Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein are probably tops. They are a perfect couple. Both saved each other; Eowyn became the woman she needed to be and Faramir was allowed to let go of his issues. Both are beacons of hope. I also like Faramir's view on war: 'I do not love the bright swords for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.' Perfect!

Manda says:
Favourite… fictional… character? What, like just ONE? Out of all fiction ever in existence? SERIOUSLY? You would actually do that to me? OK, OK, I'll try. There's one character that's pretty awesome… oh, wait - that other one - no, hang on, what about… BRAIN EXPLODES. HEART EXPLODES from fictional character love. I can't do this anymore… don't make me choose… please, no, I can't do it, please don't make me! *hysterical crying* *runs away to corner to snuggle a random assortment of at least, like, thirty characters...

Blue says:
For me it's Esther Greenwood from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. She is an older, American version of me, so I feel very close to her. But… there are also the Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, from Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events… they are so charming and resourceful and I just want to hug them and give them cake and tell them I will never let Count Olaf hurt them. And then there is Amelia from Handle With Care - she has blue hair! And Jacob from House Rules… he reacts to social situations the same way I do. Oh no, I can't choose… retreats to Manda's corner, sobbing and holding my favourite characters. Except Jacob. He doesn't like to be touched.

Cathy says:
Wow… I love these posts! One of my favourite books is listed here, too… can you guess which one? COMMENT BELOW to tell us YOUR favourite fictional character!

CHRISTMAS CRAZY!!!

We asked readers what they think about Christmas decorations… should they be tame and tasteful or gloriously over the top? This is what you said…


Karla says:
I like it when people have lights up and have those light-up characters… reindeer, Santa, penguins, that kind of thing. I think it can be a bit much when there are so many decorations you can't actually see the house, though! Nobody on my street really over-decorates, but a few do go for outside decorations and that's cool!

Stilla says:
I LOVE Christmas decorations. We're decorating tonight!

Stephanie says:
Our cats always try to climb up the tree… and they are known for having endless play fights and nearly knocking it over!

Sydney says:
Decorations are awesome - they let everyone know it's Christmas! I love seeing houses covered in lights because it shows that everyone there is really getting into the spirit of it all. My tree is going up on Monday and I can't wait!

Ellie says:
It's great to see Christmas decorations, although I don't like it when businesses and companies commercialise it all; that ends up being all about money, which is completely the opposite to the true meaning of Christmas. I do love outside decorations, but I like the classic little white sparkly lights best of all.

Hannah says:
I love to see tasteful decorations but NOT before December! You get a bit sick of seeing the decorations going up in October!

Caitlin says:
My cat sits in the middle of the tree and ends up making a big gap! I like subtle lights but we have a red decoration theme this year… we have just put ours up! One of our neighbours has a huge inflatable Santa and sleigh on the roof, which is cool… and a friend has over thirty mini trees!

Jade says:
I loooove Christmas decorations! If it was my choice, they'd go up at the start of November in our house! I don't think there's ever such a thing as 'too much' when it comes to Christmas decorations, but sadly we are on a main road so nobody does too much with outside decorations.

Chloe says:
I love Christmas lights! My family have a tradition of driving around to look out for them all… I think more people should do that!

Martha says:
It's Christmas… it's OK to be tacky and festive as long as it's all lighthearted and fun. It's not all about the deccies, though - it's about coming together with friends and family…

Deborah says:
My family have a fair amount of decorations! We put up lights that flash to the tune of Christmas songs, and the house is always full of tinsel. There are so many lights you can still see the living room even when the main lights are switched off! My brother is in charge of the tree… he decides on a theme and the colours have to match perfectly! It's usually gold or silver but there will always be red baubles on there somewhere. I am always the first person to put presents under the tree… it makes the tree look nicer for longer!

Blue says:
We don't put the tree up until well into December… why make the house a death trap for our kitties or an annoyance to our neighbours? Christmas isn't about tacky decorations or flashing lights - it's about family and friends, not showing off. The house across the street has multiple flashing lights which flash and change colour in a most disconcerting manner… why? They can't see it because they're inside… it's us across the road who have to put up with it!

Lucy says:
You can never be too naff! A few people in our street have really great decorations that I always look forward to seeing. We put our decorations up on 7th December. My dog doesn't really bother with the decorations… but last year we dressed him up in a little elf outfit!

Charlotte says:
I adore Christmas decorations! Sometimes people can go over the top but there was a house near where I used to live that had an amazing display of lights outside and along the side of their house. It wasn't too much and it wasn't too little - just right! We used to go round the villages and look at the lights and see which ones were the best. Something changed, though - perhaps the people moved away - because suddenly one year there were no decorations at that house. Sad. We have a tree at home, and we have to be very careful of our dog Smudge - he attacks the presents under the tree and the first year we had him he nearly knocked the whole thing over! That's him in the picture… bad Smudge!

Jasmine says:
I adorrrreee Xmas decorations! It is the tradition in our house to completely fill the place full of them, streamers and all! The tree has almost everything on - it's packed with a little bit of everything. And after recently moving to a house with a porch, we will be filling the porch with reindeers and such too!

Thanks to reader Charlotte for the fabulous photographs!

Cathy says:
I love Christmas decorations… and I remember being taken out in the car as a small child to look at the Christmas lights in town! Have YOU put up your tree yet? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

LAYLA: EVERYTHING HAS GONE WRONG...

Another in our series of problem page worries - as answered by the Chocolate Box Girls. This week Honey replies to reader Layla…

Layla says:
I am keeping a massive secret and I don't think I can go on like this. All my friends are happy and excited about Christmas, but my life is literally falling to bits. My dad has lost his job and my mum only works part-time in a cafe. Dad says we might lose the house because we won't be able to make the mortgage payments unless he gets another job fast, but he isn't getting any interviews and he is really stressed. My friends are talking about expensive Christmas presents and I am crying myself to sleep every night because never mind the presents, we might not even have a house by then.

Honey says:
The first thing is, PLEASE don't keep this a secret. Your friends will support you if they know what you are going through; they'll be more tactful when talking about Christmas, too. It is scary when things go wrong like this. I was very upset and angry when my dad left, and as well as all the emotional stuff we were very skint for ages. We thought we'd lose Tanglewood, but Mum turned it into a B&B business and we managed like that for a while. I am not saying that would work for you, obviously, but what I mean is that although things may change you CAN find a way through. Perhaps your dad will get a new job or your mum will be able to go full-time and you will be able to stay in your home; perhaps not. Things may change and that will be difficult, but if you stick together and support each other you can survive. I am the first to admit I was not very supportive to my mum when things went wrong - I wish I had been less of a drama queen because the last thing she needed back then was me going off the rails. So be smarter than I was - ask friends and teachers for help and support, and remember that no matter what happens, you are an awesome and caring family, and you WILL weather this storm.

Cathy says:
Do you agree with Honey's advice? What would YOU say to Layla? COMMENT BELOW to have your say.

SWEET HONEY: MORE READER FEEDBACK...

Your feedback on SWEET HONEY is still coming in… here are a few more reader reviews to tempt those of you who haven't read it to take the plunge! It'd make a fab Christmas prezzie, y'know! ;o)

Imogen says:
I finished reading SWEET HONEY during a long car journey, and my eyes were glued to the pages with all the suspense! I loved seeing yet another side to Honey Tanberry - her true personality shines through and she has some very serious problems to overcome. Although the books may be aimed at a slightly younger audience, the language is mature and beautiful… I had to look some words up! SWEET HONEY has really opened my eyes to the dangers of the internet, much more than any website or video has ever done. Since coming home I have double checked my security settings! Thanks you for a wonderful read! I've been reading Cathy Cassidy books for a few years now and needless to say, they're all great - but Honey's story is the best addition to the series ever. I am so looking forward to FORTUNE COOKIE now!

Sara says:
Honey Tanberry: wild, carefree, born to be a rebel. Her life is a mix of ups and downs, just like any other. And then she pushes things too far. SWEET HONEY is about a fresh start, a new life. A chance to show your inner self in a new way. The book shows how you can change your way of life, break free from the usual. I thoroughly enjoyed this book from beginning to end. It was engaging, watching a rebel get hurt emotionally. This is definitely my favourite Chocolate Box Girls book - I'm a big reader, but this book stood out for me. It taught me to follow my dreams but not to get carried away. Life won't change for you - you have to change life and the way you live yourself.

Hailie-Jade says:
People always ask me why I read so many Cathy Cassidy books… I always seem to have one in my hands. The answer is, I find them full of excitement, dramas and cliff-hangers, so I never want to put them down. When I discovered the Chocolate Box Girls series, I found myself reading each book in a few days. It was great to read about characters going through the same issues any teenager might. The book that stands out for me is SWEET HONEY - I'd looked forward to it so much as I just couldn't figure out what I thought of Honey. I wasn't disappointed, not one bit. The book means a lot as it looks at cyber-bullying, an issue that I'd been through myself a year ago. Like Honey, it mattered to me what others thought of me and when I found nasty things about me on the internet, I felt the same way she did - devastated. Just as Honey made true friends in Tara and Bennie, I too made new friends, Hayley and Kathryn. I feel it's so important that there are authors like Cathy Cassidy out there who show us that we don't have to go through hard times alone.

Cathy says:
I love these reviews… and I love how my readers are connecting with Honey and understanding her just a little bit better! Have YOU read SWEET HONEY yet? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

MY STYLE - MY WAY!

We asked readers with a distinct personal style to share their views on what it's like to stand out from the crowd… this is what they said!

Lauren says:
I'd call my look 'flower-child style' and I like dressing this way because it makes me feel different, more free and unique! I love to mix vibrant and earthy tones to create a look that's very arty and cool. The skirt is my favourite - I love the rich pink, and all the patterns and textures! My long hair works well with this look; I can pin it back with little butterfly clips, make little plaits or just leave it loose and wild. Sometimes when my sister is looking for me in a crowd, she asks if people have seen 'the girl with the long hippie hair,' and even if I'm not dressed this way, people know exactly who she's talking about! This look is so individualistic… there is no right or wrong way to do it, so anyone who is drawn to it should go ahead and try it! That's how our own personal styles develop, after all… a bit of experimenting and working out what works for us!
Chloe says:
I live in Australia and my style is a goth/punk mixture. It evolved a few years ago when I was given a few of my sister's old printed t-shirts, which she no longer wanted. I soon came to realise that they were exactly the kind of thing I wanted to wear, and slowly my style developed from there. I phased out dresses, trainers and long skirts and bought black jeans, leather jackets, net skirts, frayed tights and black boots instead. I've never really had any negative reactions, though I do get a few odd glances, especially in the summer! I wear rock/metal band merchandise from bands I like listening to, like Shinedown, Slayer and Alter Bridge… I love alternative metal, and the clothes I wear make me look as if I'm permanently heading to a metal concert! I love the accessories, too… I have skull jewellery, chain bracelets, black nail varnish and a spider web pocket watch, to name but a few! This style just feels like me!

Eve says:
I enjoy standing out. I mostly wear hats - my school has a uniform but I try my best not to be taken over by it! I put badges on my blazer, my Doc Marten boots, my black glasses and even my skull fedora! I once attempted to make cat ears out of my hair, but that didn't quite work! I used to get lots of remarks about my hats, such as, 'Who do you think you are, Michael Jackson?' Original, huh? Some kids once took my hat but I just sat there stone-faced and they got bored and gave it back. My style shows that even if there are rules, you can still make them your own!

Blue says:
Punk, lolita, goth, casual boy's clothes… where do you want me to start? I don't have just one style, I have lots of them. They're all very important to me because they are a part of me and my identity. When I'm dressed up in my favourite clothes I feel confident and invincible, and I look good too! People wonder how someone as shy as me can dress so outlandishly, but weirdly, I feel like my clothes help me to blend in and feel less conspicuous. If I strolled into college in a skirt and vest top, everyone would stare at me, gobsmacked; but in my platform boots and oversized jacket, nobody actually gives me a second glance. It's what they expect from me! I like that I can use clothes and style to project all kinds of different images… and that they are all me!
Gemma says:
Well… I am going against the tide here, but I actually don't think that fashion style is all that important. It certainly isn't to me, anyway! Sure, it makes you look 'unique' and 'you'… but not everybody wants that. I prefer not to have a distinct style - I just dress in whatever is clean! Even if this means wearing yellow leggings, a black skirt and a fluorescent pink t-shirt. No kidding, I actually did wear this once! My usual outfit is either shorts or a skirt and leggings, or jeans or jeggings with an abundant supply of t-shirts. I honestly don't care what I wear unless it's a really big occasion. I have nothing against others following their own style, but I guess I'm just not a fashionista! I wear what I like and I enjoy the freedom of not having to follow fashions or styles to the letter.

Cathy says:
Interesting stuff! Do YOU have a distinct style you'd like to tell us about on DREAMCATCHER? Or do you agree with Gemma that comfort should be more important? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!


Saturday, 22 November 2014

I HAVE TO HIDE THE REAL ME...

We had so much response to our first feature on readers who 'hide' their true selves behind a mask that we decided to continue the discussion… with different readers, this time…

Charlie says:
At school, sometimes people comment that my hair is horrible or that I'm ugly. I laugh it off and pretend to just be weird and crazy so that people don't make comments like that - they just think I'm weird, and that is better than being branded 'ugly' or 'big'. Not many people know that when I go home I carry the hurt and pain with me and feel really upset; they only ever see the fun, crazy side of me.

Carolyn says:
Charlie, I so identify with that. At school I act so happy when I am with my friends that it would be impossible to guess at what goes on behind that bubbly persona. Every so often, at lunch or break time, when nobody is looking, I sneak away and lock myself in a cubicle in the loo and cry rivers. Sometimes I even punch or kick the walls, missing lunch because I feel too lost and too angry to face the world… and I don't even know why. Then, as soon as the bell goes for whatever the next lesson is, I wipe the tears away and wash my face and make up an excuse for where I disappeared to… I say I've been in the library, for example. I pretend I am happy and normal until I go home and sit alone within the four walls of my room. I pretend to do my homework but really I am just sitting there, hugging my legs and wondering why I have these terrible feelings. I'm scared.

Yasmin says:
Carolyn, there have been times when I have felt that way too, but ironically I feel like I am myself with my friends at school, and at home I have to pretend to be something I am not. It's like I am a jigsaw piece and someone is forcing me into the wrong place in the picture, but I have no choice but to try to fit. I am grateful that I have a group of friends who accept me for who I am, even though that is not perfect in any way, and care about me. I know my family love me too, but they have such high expectations that I  cannot even hope to try and live up to them any more. I have to hide the real me. At home I  play the part of dutiful daughter, hard working pupil, helpful sister. Nobody bothers to look beneath the surface and see the real me, which is so much more than that. This has been going on for a few years now and the strain is really getting to me. I have done exactly what you have done, Carolyn - shut myself in my room and hit the walls with my fists until they hurt. Screamed into a pillow. Cried until there are no more tears left. It feels like I am two people, or that I have two lives… and I live in terror that my family will find this out and if they do I don't think they will ever forgive me.

Jennifer says:
Yasmin, is there somebody at school you can talk to about this? A counsellor maybe, or perhaps a sympathetic family member like an older cousin? I hope you can find a solution to this. Me, I hide behind a 'fake' happy face to mask the fear and the desolate wasteland that is my mind, so as not to show the pain that is hidden there. I don't want people to see the pain. If people ask how I am, I switch on a big smile and say, 'I'm fine!' when in reality I should answer 'I am not OK. I just want to hide away from the world.' I have been doing this for a while now… I just mask the pain I feel in the hopes that others don't see.

Megan says:
I understand what all of you are saying. I hide behind masks. I live in a world of masquerade. I've been building a wall around myself for years. I am the shyest girl at school, the quiet one who never speaks. Well, I am quiet because I am scared that if people find out about the 'real' me they will hate her, even more than they already do. Each time I get hurt, I build my wall higher, make it thicker, and my mask seems to mould itself to me more than ever; it becomes me. I have been bullied, which is the reason for my mask. I am quite insecure. I wear a 'mask' because it is my way to hide, my way to survive.

Yasmin says:
It is like living a lie, isn't it? It feels some days like it is choking me, that it will destroy me or drive me mad. Jennifer, we do have a school counsellor and once I went up to her door and raised my hand to knock, but lost my courage and walked away. Maybe I will have another try, because there has to be a better way than this, doesn't there? I really hope so, because this really is no way to live.

Names have been changed to protect privacy; thanks to Charlie, Carolyn, Yasmin, Megan and Jennifer for their honesty.

Pics posed by model Autumn.

Cathy says:
These readers feel they have no choice but to hide away their true selves, but we cannot grow or form strong relationships until we learn to be honest, at least with those we trust. Have YOU ever hidden behind a falsely cheerful mask or concealed important things about yourself? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more or offer ways to change things...

Friday, 21 November 2014

ALL THE FUN OF THE (VINTAGE) FAIR...

Lots of you love vintage, but have you ever been to a vintage fair? There are lots of bargains to be had… here's what to expect!

Cathy says:
The other weekend I went to a vintage fair with my friend Fiona… we were looking for retro goodies and offbeat Christmas prezzies. Fiona took some fab pics as we shopped, and I thought I'd share them - if you've never been to a vintage fair, these should give you an idea of what to expect! This particular vintage fair was in the crypt of the Metropolitan Cathedral in Liverpool, which was a fab venue - and there was a vintage tea room, which we just HAD to sample! Then it was on to the serious task of treasure hunting…

This fair was very reasonably priced… the dresses were priced from £10 up to around £50 for the really  special pieces. We spotted a pink tulle ball gown and lots of velvet 1920s and 30s dresses which were just stunning. Skye would have approved! The stall holders were VERY cool, too… the lady in the pic above was goings for a very 70s look with the turban hat and fake leopardskin coat! My fave stall of all was run by a lady in an awesome Edwardian hat made with little silk flowers and netting and glazed dark straw, pictured right… she'd bought it that day from another stallholder!

I was instantly drawn to a stall selling lovely vintage children's books and annuals… I collect these, so i had a good rummage through, though I didn't buy anything this time. I was interested to see that some of my collection, books bought for 50p in junk shops long ago, are now worth £10 or £15! At a vintage fair, you need to be prepared to go through rails and rails of  items in search of something unique; sometimes, you just fall in love with something and that's that!

My friend Fiona had a good time too… she was on the hunt for Christmas prezzies, and we both agreed that these stunning 1950s mirror compacts (once used to hold loose facepowder) would be fab gifts for any vintage lover. There were lots of amazing silk scarves, too, often on sale for £1 each… also perfect gifts and the ideal way to add a taste of vintage to a plain outfit.

I ended up buying a black velvet coat, a diamante brooch of a fawn and a charcoal grey beret… I was tempted by lots of other things too, but I managed to hold back! The most jaw-dropping thing we saw at the vintage fair was this men's shirt, printed with pictures of lurid panettone - a kind of Italian Christmas cake. It was so hideous it was actually quite cool, and Fiona almost bought it (£10) for her husband as a change from the usual dodgy Christmas jumper. She didn't in the end, and she still hasn't forgiven herself!  Me, I'm still having nightmares about it…

Have YOU ever been to a vintage fair? Would you like to? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

HOLLY: A BUSHY TALE...

We meet young illustrator Holly whose first published book might just set her on the road to stardom…


Holly says:
I'm a lifelong vegetarian and have always loved animals. At school, I loved art and English and have always loved doodling and writing stories. I left school last year with three A grade A levels, but chose not to go to university because of the rising student debt situation. Instead, I took a part time job as a barista and launched my own mural business. For some years I've worked Saturday's at Formby Books - I even painted a mural on their wall with a fairy tale animal theme. My boss Tony has always encouraged my artwork and the manager, Bob, said he felt the characters in my mural had a story to tell. I think the mural is where the idea for the book started!

Red squirrels are famous here in Formby, and one of the main attractions for visitors. I designed a logo of a squirrel saying 'Save Our Shops' for local businesses to display; Tony nicknamed him 'Squish' (I wasn't too happy about that to start with!) and Bob suggested writing a story about him. Bob was easy to work with - he didn't give me deadlines for the illustrations, but I always had a new image to show him each Saturday. It was great feeling to finish the book and see the artwork alongside the text… it's a children's adventure book with a conservation feel so I think it will be popular. Copies of A BUSHY TALE are available from Amazon for £6.99 and from Formby Books, 5 The cloisters, Halsall Lane, Formby, Liverpool L37 3PX.
We can sign and post copies to anyone who is interested for that personal touch! On Saturday 22nd November we are having a book launch at Formby Books… if you're local, do come along!

My dream is to become a children's author and illustrator; it's what I have always wanted to do. When I was little I used to write books about animals and illustrate each one. I'd like to see my mural painting business take off, too… I've had some great commissions from schools and individuals so far. It's lovely to paint characters on the wall, bringing a room alive… and to see children choose their favourite parts of the picture! My long term dream is to open an animal sanctuary for rescued animals, have a little cottage and write and illustrate my books in a lovely countryside setting.

Cathy says:
I've met Holly and seen her fabulous bookshop mural… and I will be ordering a copy of A BUSHY TALE, too! Have you ever dreamed of illustrating a book? COMMENT BELOW to share your views!


Wednesday, 19 November 2014

LAUREN: THE VIEW FROM THE ORCHESTRA PIT...

Reader Lauren tells DREAMCATCHER what it's like to take part in a professional theatre production…

Lauren says:
Earlier this year, I had the amazing opportunity to take part in a theatre production called Full Moon. It was a fusion of ballet and African dancing, with music composed especially for it; that's where I came in! I was with the National Youth Orchestra down in the pit, just to the front of the stage. I was made Principal Cellist, which was all pretty nerve wracking. No pressure, then! We each had a microphone - I was very impressed with the fact that each one was made specifically for each instrument: I took a photo of mine, and there it is, clipped onto my strings so everyone in the theatre could hear what I was playing. It was the first time I'd been part of a professional production, and I really loved it!

It was a totally new experience to work with dancers… often we would have to speed up or hold back the tempo according to the speed of their movements, and we had to play so many things that weren't even in the music in order to fill in any gaps! It was a run of fourteen shows, and I really enjoyed the routine of it all. During the interval, we'd go to the restaurant in the foyer for drinks, then all of us (including the conductor) would rush back when the bell went! Of course, having a bunch of teenagers and young adults in a pit brings problems of its own. There was a full-on love triangle and other romantic entanglements, resentment between some musicians… and on the second last night of the show we had to call in the standby conductor because the usual conductor's wife had gone into labour!

The funny thing is that we orchestra players never actually got to watch the show, since we were so busy the whole time providing the music. Except for one guy, whose double bass string snapped halfway through a performance, so he was allowed to go see; he reported that the costumes, special effects (especially the giant swinging pendulum) and overall spectacle were amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the production and I met some wonderful people there; I sorely missed it when it was all over.

Cathy says:
I love Lauren's insight into life in the orchestra pit… a love triangle? Who knew! Have YOU ever taken part in a big show? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

KIA: DAD'S REPLACED US..

Another in our series of readers problems… as solved by the Chocolate Box sisters! Reader Kia has a question for Honey…


Kia says:
Three years ago my parents split up. They said they would stay friends, and although Dad left he promised to stay in touch with me and my younger brother. He did at first, but now he has moved to Wales for work and is living with a new girlfriend who has kids too. We are too far away to see him now. He hardly ever calls anymore either, and I am scared he will forget us. It was my birthday last week and all I got was a text in the evening and a promise he'd post a cheque, and I think that was only because Mum texted to remind him. I took the split in my stride but I feel like my heart is breaking now. I feel like Dad's replaced us.

Honey says:
Kia, I know how this feels. I was always Dad's favourite and I never believed he could let me down, but he did. I was devastated when he moved to Sydney, so I do understand how you felt when your dad moved away. When I went to stay with Dad I thought we'd get close again - he does love me, I know, but he isn't much good at being a dad. I am sure your dad loves you too, but he may be so busy with his job and his new 'family' that he doesn't remember things like birthdays. My dad is rubbish at all that stuff, too.
I don't think that your dad has replaced you, just that he may be like my dad and is not very good at keeping two lives running at once, so he concentrates on the new life and forgets sometimes about what he has left behind. This is hurtful, but he doesn't mean it to be, I know that. I stay in touch with letters and emails now, and Dad is getting better at staying connected. Find out which ways your dad likes to stay in touch - phone, text, Skype, letter - and use that. And remember that if he does let you down a bit just now, it won't be out of malice but just from not understanding how much you need him. I didn't really succeed at rebuilding things with my dad when I went to Australia, but I will try again one day. And meanwhile I will live my life, with or without him, and I will make that life as good as it possibly can be. I think you should do the same. And good luck!

Cathy says:
Do you agree with Honey's advice? Is there anything you would add? COMMENT BELOW to tell Kia what YOU would do in her shoes… 

Monday, 17 November 2014

BEHIND THE MASK...

Do YOU put on a mask for the world to see, yet feel that nobody knows or understands the real you? Readers talk about what it's like to hide your true feelings…

Gwen says:
I am actually a really shy and vulnerable person but I hide behind a loud and boisterous facade. I act like I don't care and pretend that I don't like people, that they don't bother me. It is a kind of armour that I wear. Beneath it, I am shy and sensitive and I like hugs and romance and cuddles… I am not sure people at school would always understand that though, from the way I act. It's a kind of self-protection.

Blaze says:
Gwen, I am like that too, but I never used to be. Something happened to me last year which was quite shocking and horrible for me, and I began holing up inside a little shell of fake 'confidence' and nobody can see that on the inside I am breaking down. I sometimes drop my guard and people notice - and then I feel quite vulnerable and scared. My life is SUCH a mess and I don't want people to see that.

Clare says:
Oh, Blaze, that sounds awful. Is there someone you could talk to about what happened? A friend? A teacher? You can't keep all that inside all the time. I hide behind a 'happy, carefree' mask sometimes, because I am a very private person and my friends are quite gossipy and they do judge people. Things are not great for me at home, nothing serious, but it's not ideal. And I don't want my friends to know all that. Seriously, though Blaze... I think you should try to confide in someone.

Blaze says: 
Thing is, Clare, I expect some people would comfort me. My friends, anyway… but others would sneer and be really mean to me about it. And I'd break down, I know I would. It would make things awkward for people… I can't really explain it any more than that, but that is why I hide behind a 'mask'.

Jo says:
Blaze… I can really identify with that. I quite often hide behind a mask when at school or with friends, because I hate the thought of being rejected  or judged. I self-harm and I know that people would judge me for that, and for the fact that I sometimes feel very low. For my whole life I have been judged for the way I act, the way I look, my weight… all of it. They never take the time to get to know me, they just make snap assumptions and often get things wrong. So… I put on a face that says, yes, I am strong… everything is fine… even though it really isn't. I'm breaking on the inside.

Clare says:
I am going to say the same thing to you Jo… you really do need to talk to someone. It's quite scary how  we don't know how other people are feeling just because they put on a brave face or a tough face. Maybe it's time we all became more honest with each other. But it's easy to say that… I suppose I will go on using my 'happy, carefree' mask because it's simpler that way. Safer. Does that sound crazy?

Jo says:
No, it's what I do, what we all do I think, so I understand. I am seeing my school counsellor and he is the only person I can talk to about the self-harm and eating issues. It helps to talk to him, but when I leave school I'll have nobody to go to when I need that little boost of confidence, that little push so I know I can do something.

Clare says:
You know what? We may only be chatting online, but we are being honest… that's important. And we're not judging each other, we are trying to help. Thanks for making me feel less alone, anyway… all of you. And good luck.

Many thanks to Gwen, Blaze, Clare and Jo for their honesty; names have been changed to protect identities.

Photos modelled/ styled by Charlotte & Emma.

Cathy says:
This is a sad and serious discussion, but it shows that we really can't judge others… those who seem happy or even loud and boisterous may be hiding a much more vulnerable side. Do YOU ever hide your true feelings? Is it a good thing, or a bad thing? COMMENT BELOW to have your say...

Sunday, 16 November 2014

YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE...

Some of you may have read on DREAMCATCHER about a campaign I have been part of, to stop the closure of eleven Liverpool libraries. Has this story got a happy ending?


Cathy says:
On Monday 10th November the Mayor of Liverpool went onto local radio to announce that all eleven of the threatened libraries would stay open. This is an amazing turnaround, marred only by some very nasty comments about the campaigners and an insistence that they had not influenced his decision in any way. I think it's safe to say, though, that the amazing people who worked together to try to save the libraries have done just that! Eleven year old campaigner Elysce created an online  petition which gained over 3000 signatures in a few weeks. She also encouraged her school to write 'love letters to Liverpool libraries' which were sent to the mayor to ask for the libraries to be saved. I caught up with Elysce to see how she was feeling about the library news!

Elysce says:
I wasn't sure when I first got involved whether I would be able to keep the libraries open, but I was hopeful that the Mayor of Liverpool would listen to everyone and understand that libraries are not just buildings. I didn't think he would break our hearts.
My friends and family were all very supportive. Some of my friends at school helped me to collect lots of signatures from classmates for my petition. My nanna also asked all of her friends to sign the petition and got lots of people to support me. It was a challenging thing to do, though. It was not easy to speak in front of so many people at the first demonstration, but I did it. I was also very nervous when I was interviewed for the radio, but it was all worth it, and fun as well!

I was overjoyed to hear that the libraries have been saved. I couldn't believe the mayor had actually listened to us. I am so proud of myself and of everyone who took part in helping to change his mind and make him realise that libraries are important to people in Liverpool. When I heard the mayor was being nasty about the protestors, I was outraged. He had constantly said the libraries were closing and that there was no money to save them. I think if we had not all stood together and made our voices heard, he would have closed the libraries so he is wrong to say the campaign made no difference. I was also very upset when he insulted the authors who helped us, that was really mean. All they have done is work hard to save our libraries.

I have learned a lot from this experience, but sadly one of the things I have learned is that people are not always truthful. Mostly, though, I have discovered that if you put your mind to something, you can make it happen. I have gained the confidence to believe that I can really make a difference.

Cathy says:
What would YOU campaign for if you thought you could make a difference? COMMENT BELOW to tell us!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

THE BEST OF FRIENDS...

Friendship is the glue that holds our lives together… no matter what our age!

Cathy says:
I've been thinking a lots about friends this year. Some of my best and loveliest friends have had big birthday parties this year, and going to each party has meant re-connecting with other old friends and even making new ones. I feel very lucky to have such amazing people in my life, because although these lovely friends are spread out all around the UK and beyond, they mean the world to me. And as a shy, lonely teenager, I felt like I might never meet people like this.

As a child, I was outgoing and confident… I had plenty of friends both at school and in the streets around where I lived. My first friend ever was Keith, the boy next door - that's him in the photo above, with me in a the tartan pinafore dress and his cousin Penny in the shorts. I remember really envying her beautiful red hair! Secondary school was harder… I had friends, and I'm still in touch with some of them, but I felt very shy and on the outside of things a lot of the time. By the time I got to art college, things were looking up, and I made some fab friends at that time. My best friend in those years was Lesley, one of a bunch of awesome young people I shared a student house with. Lesley taught me loads and I was devastated to lose touch with her in my mid twenties. Years later she tracked me down and we have stayed in touch ever since, mainly via the internet because she now lives overseas! In the picture above, Lesley is sewing something… and I have crimped hair! Some things never change! 

I met Helen, one of my best pals ever, on the day we both started work as teachers… she was teaching physics and I was teaching art, and we got chatting at the bus stop after school and bonded over hot chocolate fudge cake at a cafe in town. Although we no longer live in the same place, we see each other lots and I was lucky enough to be at her wedding (a second-time-around one) and birthday party this year. Then there's Sheena, who I met through another pal, and who quickly became a best friend also. 
She is a silversmith and now lives in France, but she means the world to me. One of my best pals when I lived in Scotland was Jessie - I am writing this in her house because I'm visiting for her party tomorrow! We live a long way apart now, but I know we will never lose touch. Other birthday party girls this year include Fiona, whom I've known since our days working on Jackie mag together, and Denise, an awesome Irish artist I have also know forever. There are so many lovely people I am lucky enough to call my friends… and I know that their love and support has got me through the hardest of times. So if you ever wonder if you're going to meet the 'right' friends, or find people who understand you… don't panic. You will, if you're open and honest and willing to give as much as you take. Friendship isn't always forever, but it can be… and it's one of the most important things in my life. Naaawwww...

And… the good news is that the wonderful MY BEST FRIEND ROCKS comp is going to be back and better than ever for 2015… yay!!! COMMENT BELOW and tell me why YOUR best friends are fab… and watch out for the comp next year!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

GONNA READ A CLASSIC...

Another look at classic children's books my readers really recommend... have you read any of these? Pick one and give it a try!
Kym says:
I am not 100% sure why Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is one of my favourite books… it's hard to pin it down! I actually saw the Disney film before I read the book. I have always loved stories with great imagination and something that steps away from 'real life'. I am also a sucker for good artwork, and this book is SO beautiful. Some of the editions of Alice I've seen really do stand out. Roald Dahl's Matilda is another one of my childhood favourites. I had a rough childhood and that book always brought comfort to me. I always keep my eyes out for Matilda books because I like to collect as many different editions as I can!

Hazel says:
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is my favourite classic book. My mom even has copies of the first two volumes, published in 1878 (and no, she wasn't born then)! The book is about the four March sisters and is set during the American Civil War. The sisters are Meg, the oldest, who is good and loves pretty things; Jo, the tomboyish bookworm and aspiring author; Beth, kind, shy but a brilliant pianist; and Amy, the youngest, stubborn, a bit vain and an amazing artist. The four sisters and their friend and neighbour Laurie get into situations that will make you laugh, cry and gasp. There are tears, laughter, hate, pride and even a touch of romance. This is the first proper 'classic' I read and I love it. I've now read it over and over and I don't think that will ever stop!

Gemma says:
I first read Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery when I was nine; it was confusing to begin with and I don't know how many times I read and re-read those first few pages. A year later, two other friends and I started to read it again and this time I loved it. It reminds me of my childhood, and it was the first classic I ever read… I've read heaps since then! I love it, because it makes me laugh every single time at Anne's antics. I did have a beautiful paperback copy that I got for my ninth birthday, but I lent it to someone and never got it back. For anyone who gets a chance to read this book, I highly recommend you do!

Lauren says:
Snow White and Rose Red is quite a special story to me, and mainly because of my mom - you see, this book was hers as a child, and when I was growing up she often read me this story and all the others in the book, such as the Twelve Dancing Princesses. The story is about two young girls who take care of a bear. In the end, it is revealed that the bear is actually a prince who had been put under a spell… so there's a marriage and a happy ending! However, what makes it special is that with our long hair, my blonde older sister and I somewhat resemble the girls in the story now! Also, red happens to be my favourite colour, so Mom often calls me Rose Red now!

Cathy says:
Oooh… is your favourite classic book here? If not, COMMENT BELOW to tell me about it… I may invite you to take part in a future DREAMCATCHER feature on fave classic reads!