Saturday, 31 January 2015

KELLIE: SOMETIMES, I'D DISAPPEAR...

Reader Kellie didn't understand why she was getting into trouble at school… until she was diagnosed with Petit Mal epilepsy...


Kellie says:
I don't know when the Petit Mal started, but it was probably when I was eight or nine. I started getting into trouble in class. I wasn't sure why, but my teacher told me I was insolent, had a bad attitude. Sometimes, in dance class, the teacher would shout at me for not paying attention, for stopping short in the middle of something.

All I knew was that sometimes I disappeared… just vanished, went away. I couldn't explain it and I thought it was just my imagination, because at nine years old I knew you couldn't really just 'vanish'. It was a strange feeling, but I imagined it was something that happened to everyone. Then one morning I was getting ready for school when the vanishing thing happened again; when I came back to myself, Mum was yelling at me, tearful, asking me why I was being so rude, so obstinate. It turned out she'd been asking me to get ready and I'd just been sitting there, staring, completely ignoring her. I started to cry too, and I tried to tell her about the vanishing, and that seemed to scare her. That afternoon she took me to the doctor's and he said he was pretty sure I had a thing called Petit Mal epilepsy.

Getting a proper diagnosis took ages. We had to wait for a series of hospital appointments, and by then I was getting 'vanishing' episodes twenty or more times every day. I'd be reading out in class, or doing something in gym, maybe talking to friends… and suddenly I'd go still and silent and blank. I'd 'wake up' and find people shaking me, or cross at being ignored. I wasn't allowed to take my cycling proficiency test because I blanked out in the middle of riding and fell; once I stopped in the middle of a zebra crossing and 'woke up' to find all the cars beeping at me. Pretty soon, I wasn't allowed to do anything in case I had a blank-out.

At the hospital, I was given an EEG test with wires and sensors stuck all over my head. The doctor flashed strobe lights at me and measured how many times I blanked out. Afterwards, I was told I had Petit Mal epilepsy and put on meds to control the episodes. I hated taking them… I was only nine and Mum had to make sure I remembered… but gradually, the blank-outs stopped. I didn't tell my friends what was happening… I thought they'd judge me or laugh at me. If I went on a sleepover, I'd hide in the bathroom and take my pills there. I just desperately wanted to be normal. I'm fourteen now, and two months ago I was able to come off the tablets. The doctors want to see if I have grown out of the Petit Mal, and so far it seems that I have. I am so relieved not to have to take the meds any more, and also very grateful that the blank-outs haven't come back, because I know more about epilepsy now and I understand how serious it can be. I'm glad it's all behind me now, but I'll never forget the days when I used to be able to disappear…

Picture posed by model Lois: many thanks!

Cathy says:
Do YOU have an illness or a medical condition that controls your life? COMMENT BELOW and tell us more…

Friday, 30 January 2015

RHODA: I MODELLED FOR JACKIE MAGAZINE!

Another in our fab series all about being a teen in a different decade… we talk to Rhoda, who who grew up in the sixties and early seventies… 

Rhoda says:
I was a teenager from 1965 to 1971… great years; Beatles years! I dyed my hair red because I wanted to be Jane Asher… she was a model and she was dating Paul Mc Cartney from the Beatles. All I ever wanted to do was draw fashion illustrations… it was the only thing I was interested in at school (apart from dying my hair red - and BOYS!)

I bought my first copy of Jackie magazine in 1966 - Sonny and Cher were on the cover. I found out that the magazine was published by DC Thomson, a company based near to where I lived, and I applied for a job and joined the firm in 1968, two months before my sixteenth birthday. I worked in the Art Department there for ten years… I did fashion drawings for Bunty and Nikki magazines, and beauty illustrations for Jackie and Romeo. I started modelling for Jackie mag soon after starting in the Art Department… and it carried on for the whole time I was there.
We would go away for the day, with a carload of clothes and have an absolute ball! Fab days indeed. We - the photographer and me and perhaps another model, and whoever was styling the fashion shoot - would go to fairs, churches, beaches, hotels… I even had my picture taken with a bull back in the early days. Yikes! I had never expected to be a model, but finding myself on the cover of a national magazine was pretty cool.In other ways, apart from being lucky enough to have the only job I'd ever wanted, I was just a typical 1960s teenager. I loved the glossy mags of the time, like Honey and Petticoat, and I was addicted to all things purple. I couldn't live without Mary Quant eye shadow in purple and yellow… worn together, of course! I did my eyes like Twiggy, the most famous 1960s model of all. As well as fashion and beauty and music, I loved discos and was crazy about dogs… and I even saved up £40 to buy my first car.
I LOVED my teenage years, but I think I'd love being a teenager just as much now - I don't think it's the times that are so memorable so much as the fact that you're a teenager! I am sure my granddaughter is having just as much fun! One thing I wasn't expecting was to wake up forty years down the line to find my photo on the front of our local newspaper, advertising 'Jackie the Musical'! Someone had made a musical of the legendary teen mag I had once modelled for, and used my picture in the publicity. The musical was amazing, and I now have a six-foot poster of myself under the bed… lol! Once I left the Art Department at DC Thomson, I carried on freelancing for them, drawing fashion pages for the various magazines  for a long, long time afterwards. Such happy memories… and unexpected opportunities. I'm lucky enough to have the photographs and magazines to remember it by, too!


Cathy says:
Rhoda's story is just awesome… all the more so, because I remember buying some of the issues which she modelled for! Can YOU imagine growing up in the 1960s? Or modelling for a national teen mag? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Thursday, 29 January 2015

CHLOE: CHOCOLATE BOX GIRLS TRUFFLES!

Reader Chloe has some cool ideas for how to adapt a basic truffle recipe to suit the sisters in the Chocolate Box Girls stories… how cool?

Chloe says:
I thought it would be fun to make some variations on a basic truffle recipe to suit each of the sisters in the Chocolate Box series. The ingredients are simple!

Basic Truffles:
200g chocolate
75ml double cream

Extra Ingredients:
Cherry Crush: A small pot of glace cheries
Marshmallow Skye: Lots of sweet, sugary mini marshmallows
Summer's Dream: Flaked almonds & raisins for a healthy truffle… or chopped fresh strawberries!
Coco Caramel: Caramel toffee, roughly chopped
Sweet Honey: A Crunchie bar, smashed into small pieces

To Make:
1. Break up the chocolate and place in a heatproof bowl resting on a pan of simmering water; stir until the chocolate melts and add the cream until a glossy mixture is formed. Remove from heat.
2. Add in your chosen special ingredient and mix well.
3. Place mixture in fridge for 30 minutes so that the mixture begins to set but is still malleable; roll into truffle shapes.
4. Coat in cocoa powder and place in the freezer for a short blast to firm; abracadabra, they're done!

Another fab recipe for Chocolate truffles can be found on Cathy's website… take a look!
http://www.cathycassidy.com/assets/0001/5922/Paddy_s_Easy_Truffle_Recipe.pdf

Cathy says:
Yum! Chocolate truffles are my favourite… and I will definitely be testing these out! Do you have any cool sweet or savoury recipes to share? COMMENT BELOW to tell me more!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

KERRY: MY FRIENDS DON'T APPROVE

Reader Kerry has a problem… can Summer Tanberry help?

Kerry says:
I have been doing ballet and jazz dance since I was about four. I love it - it makes me feel alive, and my lessons are the happiest points in my week. The problem is that my friends don't approve. They think that ballet and dance in general is babyish and silly, and they think it's especially funny that I love it because I am not a typical dancer shape. I am quite tall, 5' 9", and also quite strongly built. If I didn't work so hard at my dance I would probably be overweight, but as it is I still stand out as being the 'big' one next to my friends. They tease me and make nasty comments and it is really getting to me. Do you have any advice?

Summer says:
I think your friends need a reality check. I bet they have no idea how much hard work dance is - and I'm pretty sure there is a bit of jealousy tied up in their attitude, too. Do they not have hobbies, or are their interests limited to making nasty gossip? Sorry, but with friends like this, who needs enemies? Their constant sniping must be chipping away at your confidence every day. You have a choice; either face your friends and tell them to stop putting you down all the time, or walk away from these girls and find some mates who respect you and the things that matter to you. As for not being a dancer's shape, so what? 99% of us who love dance will not end up being professional dancers, but trust me, it doesn't matter because we LOVE it. Dance is expressive and  empowering, and that's true whatever your shape might be. If dance matters to you, hold your head high and make your sure your friends know that it's a part of you… whether they like it or not. Good luck!

Cathy says:
Do YOU agree with Summer's advice? What would YOU add to it? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Monday, 26 January 2015

ANNE FRANK: I STILL BELIEVE THAT PEOPLE ARE REALLY GOOD AT HEART...

Another in our series of girls who made their mark on history. January 27th is Holocaust Memorial Day… a fitting time to remember a brave teenager whose voice still resonates with people today. Reader Cate tells us more…

Cate says:
Anne Frank was born on June 12th 1929 in the German city of Frankfurt, to a loving Jewish family; four years later, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. Nazi Germany was not a good or a safe place for Jewish families, and by 1933 Anne's parents, Otto and Edith had moved to Amsterdam in Holland, where they hoped their family - Anne and her sister Margot - would be free from persecution. Anne was a lively, bright and energetic girl with many friends; she loved school and had a strong sense of fun.

Sadly, this freedom was short-lived; in 1940 the Nazis invaded Holland and restrictive, unfair laws soon made life very hard for Jewish people. In 1942, on her thirteenth birthday, Anne was given a notebook bound in red and white checked cloth. She decided to use it as a diary and began writing in it at once. Addressing her diary entries to the imaginary 'Kitty', she wrote about her hopes, dreams, fears, crushes and much more. In July 1942, not long after her birthday, the family moved into hiding. Otto Frank left a note suggesting they had fled to Switzerland, but in fact the family, along with several others, lived a secret existence, hidden in an annexe in the attic of Otto's business offices. Non Jewish friends helped them to survive, bringing food and supplies in secret; the families had to stay silent during the day so as not to alert workers in the offices below. Anne passed her time writing, and her words are intimate, intelligent and very real, even to this day.

In 1944, after 25 months of hiding, an unknown person informed the Nazis of the secret annexe, and the Frank family were arrested and sent to separate concentration camps. Anne and her sister and mother were sent to Auschwitz; many Jews were killed on arrival at the camp, but the Franks were selected for slave labour. Later on, Anne and her sister were sent to Bergen-Belsen camp. Their mother stayed behind, and died of starvation. In 1945, just weeks before Allied Forces liberated the camp, Anne and her sister Margot died, probably of typhus. Otto Frank survived the camps and spent his life bringing Anne's words to the world.

Please read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. It is powerful and moving, but also very real and relateable. It is also full of hope. I will finish with my favourite quote from the book: 'In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.' 

Cathy says:
The story of Anne's life is so moving; through her diary, Anne comes alive and we can share her hopes and dreams and feelings -she was a girl just like us. Speaking out against injustice, hate and cruelty is as important today as it ever was. Have YOU read Anne Frank's diary? COMMENT BELOW to have your say.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

READ ALL ABOUT IT!

A new reading initiative is putting books right at the heart of both school and home life - find out how YOU can get involved!

With fears that children in the 21st century are reading less than previous generations, the Read For My School project aims to get children in schools across the UK to read one million books between now and March. To encourage readers to take part, the project is offering Reading Culture awards and prizes worth £1000 to winning schools. Students can enter a book review competition, and winners will get the chance to interview a successful children's author and see their interview published in children's newspaper First News.

So… how can your school get involved? It's easy - tell your teacher about it and ask them to log onto http://www.readformyschool.co.uk - they can then set up pupil accounts and access lots of materials and resources to get ready for the competition. 

Pupils are provided with a collection of books which are all available to read online, for free, via the Read For My School website. How cool? You might even find a Cathy Cassidy book on there! Of course, you can read books offline too, as long as they fit into one of the categories listed on the website… and fear not, there is lots of choice! 

Any initiative which encourages kids to get reading has to be good so why not tell your class teacher, English teacher or school librarian about Read For My School and get your school involved? It's lots of fun, and those prizes are well worth having, too!

Cathy says:
Does YOUR school take part in READ FOR MY SCHOOL? Or does it have other ways to encourage reading? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

SORCHA: I SWITCHED OFF

Reader Sorcha was a confident girl until bullying wrecked her self-esteem; and there was nobody she could tell…


Sorcha says:
I was quite confident as a small child. At primary, my reports were good, my teachers like me and I had plenty of friends. I was excited about starting high school; if only I'd known how things would turn out.

It started on my second day. The school didn't have a strict uniform policy, just a basic colour code, so I'd worn a black scarf in my hair. One of the teachers, Mr Cole, stopped me in the corridor and yelled at me in front of my friends… I was so shocked I didn't know what to say or do. He seemed to think my silence was insolence, but I was just trying my hardest not to cry. He pulled the scarf out of my hair and threw it into the bin, and he told me he didn't like my attitude and that he'd be keeping an eye on me.

He did that, all right. Over the next few years, Mr Cole made my life a misery. He went out of his way to find fault with everything I did, everything I wore, everything about me. Other kids were getting away with murder, yet I was punished just for breathing… or that's what it felt like. He sent letters home about my poor attitude; Mum  didn't stand up for me like she should have… she thought I must be doing something to provoke things. The worst time was Year 9, when Mr Cole was my maths teacher. I didn't stand a chance. He once ripped my homework up in front of the class and told me I was worthless, an idiot.


I didn't tell anyone… who'd have believed me? He had turned the other teachers against me, and slowly I switched off, stopped trying. I felt hopeless all the time, worthless, just like he said I was. I left at sixteen with poor GCSE grades and started a course at 6th form college. I stopped feeling scared… started to try hard at my work again. My grades improved and it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I'm studying for A levels now, exams he told me I'd never be able to take.

Last week, I bumped into a friends' big brother. He asked how I was getting on and I told him I was loving college, that school had been a nightmare. He told me that Mr Cole had bullied a boy in his year, too, and made his life a misery, just as he had for me. Everyone knew it, but nobody spoke out. It made me think… who will be next? I've written a letter to the Head Teacher setting out what happened to me. I don't know if they'll believe me, even now, but I have to try.

Names have been changed and pictures are posed by model.

Cathy says:
Sorcha's story is a perfect example of how bullying can destroy confidence and ruin lives… and it's especially scary to think that the bully can be a trusted teacher. Have YOU ever been picked on by a teacher? COMMENT BELOW to have your say...

Friday, 23 January 2015

CHERYL: I LEFT SCHOOL AND DYED MY HAIR PINK...

Another post in our new series about growing up in different decades… we talk to Cheryl, who was a teenager in the early 1990s…


Cheryl says:
If I coud pick my favourite age, it would be 1995 when I was nineteen. A few years before that, at school, I had been very unhappy. I loved bands like The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees and was a real goth. I lived in a small town and got bullied a lot for my alternative style, even from adults in the street! I felt very isolated. The internet was still in its infancy and had to go through the phone line, which cost a fortune, so magazines were still the best way to connect with like minded people. I found some penpals through the Cure fanclub and it was always so exciting to get letters from other places.

As soon as I left school, I dyed my hair pink and went to Liverpool. I couldn't believe the difference a city made! I studied drama at a YTS place called the Oh Five One; everyone there was either in a band or liked the same stuff I did. It felt like something was changing, as the alternative scene was slowly becoming more mainstream. I got into
grunge music, bleached my hair and started singing with local bands. My friend and I started publishing fanzines and ended up running the Debbie Harry fan club! We made some amazing friends through letters and meeting at concerts. It felt like a magical time for creativity - music, films, books - so many of my all-time favourites are from that time. It felt like we could do anything we dreamed of.

The only thing I regret is that we didn't have the technology and social media of today. I think I would have felt much less isolated and 'different' in my small town school years if I could have reached out to other teens like me.

Cathy says:
I LOVE this post… and I love Cheryl's adventurous outlook and creativity! Cheryl is now a businesswoman and a mum, and lives on a tiny island… still pretty cool, y'see! Do YOU identify with Cheryl's ideas and feelings? How would you have coped with teen life in the 90s? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

KYM: EASY CHOCOLATE FUDGE!

Reader Kym shares a recipe for yummy chocolate fudge… a perfect weekend treat!


You will need:
400g chocolate
397g tin of condensed milk
100g icing sugar
25g butter
50g chopped nuts or 50g chocolate chips (if desired)

non stick saucepan
20cm square tin (line with baking parchment)

1. Break the chocolate into small pieces and place into a non-stick saucepan with butter and condensed milk. Heat ingredients gently over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth and creamy.

2. Sift in icing sugar and mix with a wooden spoon or electric whisk if preferred.

3. Press fudge into tin and smooth the mixture down using the back of a spoon. Sprinkle on nuts or chocolate chips if required.

4. Refrigerate fudge mixture for one hour until set, then cut into squares. The fudge will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a fortnight…

Kym says:
Chocolate with around 50% cocoa solids gives a great result… and don't worry, the fudge won't last long. It's so gorgeous, I end up having a bit every time I go through the kitchen. Which is why these days, I only make it for special occasions! Enjoy!

Cathy says:
Mmm… this sounds amazing! Do you have a foolproof sweet-treat recipe? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

SISTERS: A WINTRY SHORT STORY BY LILMISS

You'll love reader LilMiss's fab wintry fanfiction about Honey and Skye, inspired by this pic of two sisters in cool hats… and with a few additions from me! Make yourself a hot chocolate and curl up for five minutes of escapism!

The world is swirling with snow as I walk through the village with my big sister Honey. It looks magical; Honey's hair, shorter than it once was after she cut it in a flurry of anger a couple of years back, is intertwined with snowflakes.
We walk past one of my favourite shops - a newly opened vintage shop - and I just can't help but notice a winter sale. Honey doesn't really like vintage - not like I do, anyway - but she doesn't complain when I drag her into the warm shop.
'Mrs Valestro!' I cry warmly, throwing my arms around the owner's stout body. 'Good to see you!'
She passes me two of the sweets she keeps in a jar on a high up shelf, a toffee penny for me and a strawberry cream for Honey. I can see Honey's mouth open to tell me off for dragging her into a shop full of old clothes, but the strawberry cream enters her mouth at just the right time and her complaint is silenced.
'What are you needing, girls?' Mrs Valestro asks. 'A silk shawl, a fifties frock, a 1930s brooch?'
Honey wrinkles up her nose, unimpressed.
'We have a big reduction in hats… 1960s ski hats, just in from America…' She lifts one, a subtle purple with lilac tones. It's looks like new.
'Honey, shall we get hats? Stay warm in the snow?'
I raise my eyebrows, trying not to laugh. Honey is toying with a pink hat with an intricate pattern, lips pursed to criticise… but the words have been swept away. She likes it; more than that, she loves it.
A sign on the wall says all hats are reduced to £3.50, but as I fumble in my pocket and bring out a tenner, Mrs Valestro pushes the money back at me.
'On the house,' she whispers.
The two of us thank her and pull our hats on, Honey still smiling like a Cheshire cat. We head back out into the snowy street.
'Why did we come out again?' Honey asks, linking arms with me.
'Mum wanted wholemeal flour and baking powder,' I reply. 'Plus marshmallows and honey and cocoa powder… we walked right past the shop!'
We turn around and head back to the grocery store, collecting everything we need and handing over the money. Outside again, we begin the ascent to Tanglewood. No longer are our ears cold; the hats hug tightly, keeping us warm. It doesn't take long to reach the top of the lane, but suddenly I don't want the walk to end.
'Hey… it was good to hang out with you, Honey,' I say. 'Walk in the snow. It was… sort of special!'
'We should do it more often,' she replies. 'It was fun. We can start a new tradition!'
My eyes blur suddenly with tears, but they're happy ones.
'I'm so glad you're back, Honey,' I whisper. 'Last year… well, nothing was the same without you. Never leave again, OK?'
'OK,' my big sister laughs.
We clasp hands and wander along the drive to Tanglewood, shopping in our arms and hats on our heads.

Cathy says:
I love this sweet, snow-themed fan fiction - and it was fun to add my own extra touches too! Hope you enjoyed it - COMMENT BELOW to have your say!


BEST FOOT FORWARD...

Have you ever wondered which style of dance would suit YOU? We talked to a bunch of dance-crazy readers to find out...


Louise says:
I used to do tap when I was younger and I've also done ballet and modern for several years. Street dance is special, though - it's a dance of expression. It's different to other types of dance as your moves are not precise... you can lose yourself inside the music. It's an imperfect way to let go of your imperfections! The music varies from pop and R&B to Dubstep and even crossed music - I love it. It helps you imagine a place a million miles away where everything is OK and always will be OK. Street dance is different and unique - just like me!

Betty says:
I started ballet about a year ago. I'm in Grade Four and do two lessons a week, but I plan to do more... and soon I hope to start Intermediate Foundation. I love ballet because it's like speaking with your feet - I love moving around in time with the music and being able to jump really high. Jumps are my favourite thing to do! I started doing ballet because I fell in love with the Cathy Cassidy book Summer's Dream! It's never too late to start, and you can make good progress in quite a short time!
Scarlett says: 
I've been doing Irish dance for six years, and I love it. I started it as a way to keep fit, and it definitely does that! I enjoyed my classes, but some dancers came to do a demo on Irish dance from another school, and I was hooked... I joined that school and I haven't looked back! Sometimes I take part in competitions... in one recent Feis (competition) I won four medals overall and came second in two sections!
Alexandra says:
I love ballet and I do two 45 minute lessons a week. I have just taken my inter-foundation exam which is the grade after grade five. Some people continue to do grades six, seven and eight, but my teacher prefers the inter-foundation route! I have to do point work as well, which I love. On a Friday I do a tap and modern class, and I'm taking my grade four exam in that soon... I'm really nervous about that! I love ballet, but I know it won't be a career for me... it's just fun.

Chantel says:
I go to a theatre school and study dance there - I do musical theatre, modern, street and jazz and I do some  tap and ballet at home too. My jazz shoes, in the picture, are multi-purpose and really comfortable. I absolutely love attending my dance classes as they are really fun and a great way to make friends. Dance is so expressive and a great workout, too!

Do YOU love to dance? Email via the link on www.cathycassidy.com if you'd like to tell us about it for DREAMCATCHER - or COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Monday, 19 January 2015

PIPPA LATOUR: UNDERCOVER SPY!

The first in a new series all about the fabulous, feisty females who helped to change the course history… as written by the lovely Ruth, my brilliant P.A. Enjoy!


Ruth says:
This fabulously brave woman combines two of my favourite interests - female spies, and… knitting! During World War Two, Pippa Latour joined the WAAF and was asked to join the SOE - the Special Operations Executive, a brave group who would spy on the Germans and pass information back to their country to help Britain win the war. She had an expert knowledge of French - her father had been a Frenchman. It was incredibly dangerous work but the SOE members thought nothing of risking their lives for their country.

In training, Pippa learnt how to make codes so she could send secret messages and was even taught by a real life burglar how to get into dangerous places and escape without being caught. Using the codename Paulette, she pretended to be a poor French teenager and rode round on her bicycle collecting information and passing it on to other British secret agents. Her codes were written on silk, and she cunningly wrapped them around her knitting needles and tied the coiled silk into her hair with a shoelace! During her time in Normandy, Pippa sent 135 secret messages - invaluable information on Nazi troop positions which was used to help Allied forces prepare for the D-Day landings and the subsequent military campaign. Pippa continued her mission until the liberation of France in 1944.

After the war, Pippa married and lived in Kenya, Fiji and Australia before eventually settling in New Zealand where she raised four children. It was only in recent years that she revealed to them her previous career as a spy. She holds an MBE and the French Croix de Guerre medal, and in 2014  was presented with the Chevalier de l'Ordre National de la L├ęgion d'Honneur, France's highest decoration, for her courage in helping to liberate the country from Nazi tyranny.

Cathy says:
Wow… what an amazing story! I can't wait to read more about girls who helped to change the world - do YOU have any suggestions for who we should include? COMMENT BELOW if you've enjoyed reading about Pippa!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

ELISE: WE WILL ALWAYS BE FRAGILE...

Reader Elise explores the subject of looks, confidence and society… and comes up with some unsettling conclusions…

Elise says:
Looks and confidence… people say they don't matter and it's what is on the inside that counts, yet these same people plaster themselves with make up so that nobody sees what is underneath, nobody sees the true 'them'. Why? What are we afraid of?

We have been brought up in a harsh and horrible society which scares us into doing as it wants us to. For example, if you are overweight, society says you are ugly and tries to sell you weight loss pills; if you have teenage spots, society tells you you'll never find a relationship and tries to sell you skin cream. We all know it's fake and we know it's all lies, but we fall into the trap over and over again.
We have grown up in a society where we are bullied and judged for our looks, and we blame society for this… but we ARE society! We will always be judged on our looks; it is the way it's always going to be for us. We try to find a way out, but we always fall into the trap of being lied to, or lying to ourselves just to feel better. It's a never ending circle of lies.

We can say, 'Don't judge a book by its cover,' or 'It's the inside that counts,' but we need to BELIEVE it too, and that's where we have to start from. The sad truth is that people are bullied and put down all the time because of their looks. Sometimes we are so broken that we glue all the pieces together with make-up, but we will always be fragile. Our lives will continue to be broken and difficult and sometimes this has less to do with pain and more to do with beauty. I see things very simply and I try to avoid lies like 'it's the inside that counts,' but people get caught up in this lie and others like it. People either hide their true selves or perhaps are scared to show it… what we see is often fake, unreal. Do we ever really know what other people are like inside? Can we trust that what they show us is the real them?

Pics posed by model Rebekah, photographed by Karen: thanks to you both!

Cathy says:
This is a powerful, heartfelt opinion piece, but very sad… do YOU agree with Elise, or do you think we can break free of the lies and be true to ourselves? COMMENT BELOW to have your say...

Saturday, 17 January 2015

THE FIRST BOOK I EVER LOVED...

Do you remember the first book you really, really loved? Readers recall their favourite books from early childhood…

Kym says:
Mr Tickle was my favourite book. My mum used to read it to me and every time Mr Tickle tickled, she would tickle me. She also used to read me The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton… those stories were truly magical to me as a child.

Jasmine says:
We have an old book called Fern Hollow; it's twenty four years old and we've kept it in the best condition we could. My dad read it to my eldest sister when she was a toddler and did the same with me… there'd be all four of us sitting with my dad listening to this story. It's about a group of animals who do various human-like things… baking, bonfires etc… and it goes through the seasons. Dad would read the Halloween chapter at Halloween and the Christmas chapter at Christmas and so on. We all know the scenes by heart now and it means so much to my sisters and I… I'm sixteen now and I still love it! My eldest sister is twenty five now and has a baby of her own, and she ordered the book from America so she can read it to her!

Grace says:
My dad used to read me the Pippi Longstocking stories when I was little. Pippi was a nine year old girl with fiery red hair in sticky-out pigtails and she wore long pointy shoes and odd stockings, and she lived alone with her monkey and her horse. She was super-strong and had amazing adventures, and I always wanted to be like her because she was so cool!

Gemma says:
One of my favourite childhood reads was Martin Wanted More, a story about a small sheep who wanted to grow and ate everything he could find. I also loved a book about a fairy who got stuck in a bramble bush and was rescued by a sheep… there's a bit of a sheep theme here, isn't there? She granted the sheep a wish and he wished for wings… that always made me smile. When I was little my parents always read to me, even when I could read by myself.

Cheryl says:
I was given a copy of Cinderella when I was four which is still very precious to me. I couldn't read it myself, but the illustrations were stunning! My grandmother was very ill and bedridden back then and I would get into bed with her each night so that we could read together, usually Little Red Riding Hood. 'Why Grandma, what big eyes you have!' I used to make her do the wolf bits, too…

Emily C says:
I read a book early on in primary school called The Happy Tree. It was about a house plant owned by a little boy, and it grew so tall it towered above everything. I loved it, and when I had some problems with bullying a little while later, my mum took me out and we bought our own 'happy tree' which still stands in our living room now, growing taller and taller by the day!


Emily T says:
When I was small, it was a tradition in our house to read The Night Before Christmas book on Christmas Eve. We would sit curled up by the fire and listen to my father read out of the magical book. Every time I hear it now, I know it is the most magical time of the year…

Natalie says:
My favourite childhood books were Milly Molly Mandy and My Naughty Little Sister, and then later on, The Naughtiest Girl in the School. Now I read to my own daughter Gracie - she loves the Alfie and Annie Rose stories by Shirley Hughes and also Owl Babies!

Cathy says:
Aww… some of these bring back happy memories for me, too! What was YOUR favourite childhood book? COMMENT BELOW to tell us!

Friday, 16 January 2015

WHEN I MET CATHY...

More readers tell us about when they met Cathy Cassidy...

Amy says:
I've met Cathy once, at the Children's Book Festival in Cardiff, in 2014. It was amazing! I went with my best friend Angharad and her little sister Lowri; oh, and my mum and sister too! They all said it was fantastic! Cathy was talking mainly about her life and her new book COCO CARAMEL and how she gets ideas and develops them into stories. I queued up to get COCO CARAMEL and MARSHMALLOW SKYE signed. I have loads of others but Mum didn't let me bring those as she said it might be too many! I love reading Cathy Cassidy books... as part of the talk there was a quiz to see which Chocolate Box Girl you are most like, and I was like Skye. She's my favourite character so I was happy with that! Cathy was really chatty and friendly and I can't wait to see her again!

Chloe says:
About a year ago I contacted Cathy to say I'd be attending an event in Edinburgh. It was going to be a birthday surprise for my friend Shavonne. I told her we were going to Edinburgh for the day and we went to the bookshop. We saw the display of SWEET HONEY books and there was a sign saying Cathy was there. My friend was got so excited she hugged me, so the surprise was a good one! We queued and when we met Cathy she knew who I was, and I remember being so amazed I almost knocked over a huge pile of books! We would both love to meet Cathy again… maybe for tea and cake!

Molly says:
My brother Harry and I met Cathy at a signing in Waterstones in Bluewater - she signed a big pile of books for us! We asked about the next book and asked if she would ever write a book about a boy and Cathy said she already had (LUCKY STAR) but that another book from a boy's viewpoint was being planned and that it would be called FORTUNE COOKIE! I asked if she would include my brother Harry in the book… not sure if that will happen but you never know! I had sent Cathy lots of emails and she'd always responded, so I said thanks for that, and for reading the stories I sometimes send. We had a great day!

Piper says:
I met Cathy at the Bath Literary Festival in the autumn of 2014. I went along with my mum and we attended the SWEET HONEY talk which was great… Cathy's favourite book from school was WATERSHIP DOWN which was my mum's favourite, too! I had been looking forward to the festival for ages, but then I broke my ankle badly a few weeks before the event and I was so upset as I thought I might not be able to travel… but my mum and gran made sure it happened and we all had a fantastic weekend in Bath. Afterwards I even wrote up a feature about the day for the DREAMCATCHER blog-zine!



Cathy says:
Meeting my readers is one of the very best bits of my job… and in February I'll be on tour again, meeting lots more awesome readers! Have you ever met me on my travels? Where? And if not, where would you like me to visit next time I'm doing signings? COMMENT BELOW to let me know!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

NELL: WAR HAD BEEN DECLARED...

The first in a new series about growing up in a different decade… we talk to Nell, now eighty-eight years old, about what it was like to be a teenager during World War Two.

Nell says:
I was thirteen when war was declared, and I was with my mam and dad, visiting relatives in Liverpool. Us kids were told to go outside to play because there was an important radio broadcast expected; we knew something was wrong, and when we got back up to the house it turned out that war had been declared. Travelling back home to Coventry later that day was frightening. The railway station was full of soldiers and the trains were filled with troops. I couldn't understand how they were ready to fight so quickly, but of course the war had been expected and training had already begun.

When we got back home, it was after dark and I remember Mam trying to light a fire and put the kettle on for tea. Minutes later, there was a banging on the door - the ARP warden was at the door yelling because we had no blackout curtains up, telling us to put out the lights, in case they attracted German bombers. So we spent that first night of the war in darkness, in the cold, with no food and not even a cup of tea.

The war disrupted everything. Dad decided we should go to stay with his sister in Hove, Sussex. Her late husband had been quite well off compared to us - my dad was in his sixties by then and often out of work. Sadly, Mam was treated like a servant there so things didn't really work out. Soon we were back in Coventry, but while we were away, my school had been evacuated… those of us left behind were crammed into another school, and lessons were often cut short by air raids. One day we were sent home because air raids were expected; some friends and I went to the roller rink and skated all afternoon. We didn't hear the sirens and Mam was terrified I'd been killed… I didn't do that again. We had a small air raid shelter in the garden, but one night, the night before my fourteenth birthday, the bombings were so bad the ARP wardens told us to come to a big shelter down on the highway. Much of the city was destroyed that night and there were several unexploded bombs in our street… it was known as the Coventry Blitz. Miraculously, our house was untouched but I remember being upset that day because there was no post… no birthday cards!

I left school at fourteen with no exams. I had a job lined up at a local dry cleaners, as a delivery girl, when I heard there were jobs in the aircraft factory office. I applied at once and was trained on an accounting machine to work in the wages department. It was a dream job to work in an office… I didn't realise until later that the opportunity was there because so many men were away in the war. Looking back, it was strange to be a teenager in wartime. Everything was rationed… sugar, tea, clothes… I didn't drink tea so Mam would send my tea ration to her sisters in Liverpool. Liverpool was badly bombed too, and several cousins came down to rent rooms in our street in Coventry, which I liked. Clothes had to last, so we knitted a lot of our own things, and social life was limited… we did put on a play at work, though, which I loved!

When the war was over, Coventry had to be rebuilt… and our lives did, too. There were lots of celebrations, but lots of sadness too, for all those who had not come through. I was eighteen when the war ended, but in many ways it felt like life was just beginning for me…

Cathy says:
Nell's story is a very special one for me, and a familiar one too, because she is my mum… that rented house in Coventry was my first home. I have a lot of respect for anyone who lived through such dangerous times. Do YOU know a relative or neighbour who lived through WW2? Or can you imagine how it might have felt? COMMENT BELOW to share your thoughts... 

Sunday, 11 January 2015

AMBER: A CHOCOLATE LOVER'S QUIZ!

Think you're an expert when it comes to chocolate? Reader Amber is about to test your knowledge… sweet!


Question ONE:
Which country produces 40% of the world's cocoa?
a/ USA
b/ Peru
c/ Ivory Coast
d/ Scotland





Question TWO:
Which drink uses cocoa beans as one of the main ingredients?
a/ Chocolate
b/ Mocha
c/ Chocolate milkshake
d/ All of the above?

QuestionTHREE:
Which type of chocolate is the healthiest?
a/ Milk chocolate
b/ White chocolate
c/ Hot chocolate with marshmallows
d/ Dark chocolate

Question FOUR
When was the Cadbury's Creme Egg first launched?
a/ 1934
b/ 1971
c/ 1890
d/ 2001

Question FIVE
Which Quality Street chocolate is triangular?
a/ The Green Triangle
b/ The Orange Hexagon
c/ The Blue Square
d/ The Strawberry Dream

HOW DID YOU SCORE?
1: c  2: d  3: d  4: b 5: a

Cathy says:
I think Amber's Quiz is fab! How did you score? COMMENT BELOW if you're a chocolate expert… and check out my Chocolate Box Girls series, I think you'd love that too!




KAROLINA: DON'T BE AFRAID TO BE A FEMINIST!

Do you think that girls and boys have equal opportunities and are treated alike? Reader Karolina has her doubts…

Karolina says:
Feminism… that's one of the words that comes into my mind when I think of equality and equal rights. Most people these days believe that both sexes have equal rights, but is this really the case? I believe it isn't! You are probably reading this and thinking, this girl is just fourteen, how does she know so much about a subject like this? Why does she have such strong feelings and arguments supporting it?

Well, from a very young age I could tell that something was wrong. Girls were and still are judged for their looks and the clothes they wear; boys were judged more on their abilities. As for the 'pink' and 'blue' colours to separate boys and girls… that's just wrong. If a girl dresses in clothes that a boy might choose, she's labelled a 'tomboy' and judged for it. If a boy wore a pink t-shirt, though, it would be OK - or would it? Perhaps he would be judged too… called gay, or told he was 'girly' as if being like a girl were a bad thing. Doesn't that seem sexist? And sexism is damaging to boys and men as well as girls and women. Want another example? If two people, a man and a woman, apply for the same job, the law states they should be paid the same. Yet over and over it turns out that women are paid less for doing the same as a male counterpart. Doesn't that seem unfair?

When people ask me, 'Are you a feminist?' I reply, 'Yes!' It may seem harsh in certain aspects, but I think the term is often misunderstood. It doesn't mean I am against men. It purely means that I want women and men to be able to hold hands and say, we are a family, we are the same, we are all equals. Don't be afraid to be a feminist like I am; it isn't a bad thing. It's just showing that you want the world to be a better place, that you want your children to have a brighter future knowing that they will not have to face the same problems you did.

Cathy says:
I think Karolina raises some important issues. We have come a long way since I was fourteen in trying to make things more equal for the sexes, and that's great, but sadly sexism is still alive and well and it affects girls and women everywhere. What do YOU think? COMMENT BELOW to have your say, or email me via the link on my website www.cathycassidy.com if you'd like to write a DREAMCATCHER post on the subject...

Saturday, 10 January 2015

NEW YEAR, NEW YOU?

Have you made a whole lot of New Years Resolutions… and broken them already? Take the pressure off and make January a time to take stock, look ahead and try to be the best you possibly can be…

Celine says:
I seem to make the same resolutions every year… and never stick to them. It's always something about giving up chocolate and keeping my room tidy, and I never seem to last more than a few days. This year I thought I'd try something different - after all, why give up chocolate when it's something I like so much? And why feel bad for having an untidy room when I actually like it better that way? Instead, I decided to do more exercise and be more helpful around the house. So far, so good… I'm going swimming with a friend and when the weather brightens up we plan to play tennis and go running. It's fun! As for helping around the house, it's mostly making cups of tea or loading the dishwasher, so at least I get some thanks! It's got to be better to make resolutions you have half a chance of keeping, right?

Pippa says:
My plan for the year ahead is to be more confident. I am trying to believe in myself and stop putting myself down all the time… I can be my own worst enemy and I want to stop that because how can I expect others to like and respect me if I can't like and respect myself? I know it is early days still but I am very determined to keep to this plan because it matters so much to me. If I succeed it will change my life.

Demi says:
My resolution this year is to think of others and not just myself. I am lucky - I have a home and family and enough to eat, friends, education and opportunities. Not everybody is as lucky. I want to raise awareness and also raise money for those who are not so lucky. In December I took part in a project where you pack a rucksack for a homeless person and hand it in to be passed on. I included a sleeping bag, a scarf, tins of soup, gloves, a toothbrush and handwipes. It really made me think and I have decided that this year will be about doing things for other people. It doesn't matter if I don't change the world, but whatever I DO do will help others, and that is what matters.

Carmen says:
I have decided to be a better friend for the year ahead, and a better daughter and sister. I think it means learning to be less selfish and think of other people more, and if I succeed I will probably be a happier person!

Molly says:
For the year ahead my resolution is to conquer my fear of water. To show that I am serious, I have signed up for a beginners swimming class, and even if it takes all year I am determined that I will do it!

Cathy says:
I love these resolutions… what have YOU got planned for 2015? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!


Thursday, 8 January 2015

BACK TO SCHOOL BLUES...

Struggling to cope with the new school term? Readers offer their best tips on making the most of school…

Rachael says:
Count down the weeks to the next holiday… the weeks will go faster than you think! Help the time go faster by signing up for fun activities after school or at the weekends - join a new club or arrange to see friends - and stay organized with homework and revision. If you're chaotic about study, you'll feel like you're not on top of things and it will just add to the miserable feeling. Finally, take time out after school or at weekends to chill a little - we all need that sometimes.

Grace says:
School can be fun if you make an effort to make it memorable; if you're finding it hard to get back into the swing of things, try not to think about it too much and stay busy. The time will go faster than you think! Focus on your favourite subject and make the most of your friends… if you get on well with classmates, arrange to see them at weekends too; the friendships will deepen!

Amber says:
Don't think of school as a chore - it's a chance to learn and have fun! You get to see your friends and take classes with them; if you don't know anyone in your classes, see that as a chance to get to know someone new! I have struggled with school in the past and worrying doesn't help… try looking for the positives with each subject and make the most of it!
ART - have fun drawing and getting creative...
ENGLISH - learn how to write and read awesome stories...
SCIENCE - find out how the world and everything in it works...
HISTORY - learn about our ancestors and see how lucky we are in the 21st century...
DT - create amazing, practical things...
MUSIC - express yourself in sound and song...
PE - a fun way to get fit…
DRAMA - recreate your fave movie scenes…
Enjoy school, you'll miss it when you leave!

Kelsey says:
I used to not enjoy school at all, and I found it very hard to make friends. I wasn't bullied, but I felt so miserable, like I didn't fit in. Then we had a student teacher I really liked, and she talked to me about making the most of school and taking charge of your own life, and it changed my approach. I started getting more involved with things. First drama club, which she was running; then netball and chess club. I made some new friends and together we decided to launch a film club, and that  has been brilliant and helped us get to know kids from other schools as we work with other young people in the region now. That student teacher has long gone, but she did me a huge favour and I wonder now what I found so difficult about school. I think I was shy and that meant I was often on the sidelines. Now I am much more involved in things and more confident, and if something isn't happening, I am happy to be the one to make it happen - like getting a group together to organise a Christmas prom, for example. You only get one shot at school… make it count!

Cathy says: 
Good advice! Do you find school hard going in winter? Or do you have any tips for making it fun? COMMENT BELOW to share your views!

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES!

One of my favourite New Year traditions for the last few years has been to make a memory jar… it's a simple and powerful way to stay focused on the positive for the year ahead! You can make one too… here's how!

Cathy says:
My memory jar is a vintage cut-glass jar with a patterned tin lid, found in a junk shop long ago… but you can make a jar from any nicely shaped jam jar; just soak the jar in hot soapy water and scrub to remove labels. You can then make a new hand-drawn label for your jar, or simply write onto the jar using a black Sharpie pen. If you want to decorate your jar, go for it… paint on stars or flowers using acrylic paint or collage the jar with scraps of tissue paper and a scattering of glitter or stars all smoothed on with white PVA glue. Add a ribbon if you like! Use your imagination and make the jar look cool. Thanks to readers Charlotte and Piper who sent in these fab pics of their own versions of a memory jar - how cool?

To use your jar, prepare a little stash of paper squares and leave them close to the jar. When something cool, happy, unusual or just plain lovely happens, scribble it onto a scarp of paper and pop it into the jar. Even on the dullest of winter days, make yourself look for something good to record… whether it's a bar of chocolate eaten while watching your favourite TV show, a new pair of fluffy socks or the pattern of frost on the window on an icy day! Small, insignificant things can add up to lots of happy moments… and after a while you'll find you've got the habit of looking for the positives in life!

On New Year's Day next year, open up your memory jar and read through your happy memories… I guarantee it will put a smile on your face, and I bet you'll want to do the same again next year! Good luck - and go for it!


Have YOU ever made a memory jar? COMMENT BELOW to share one happy thing from your day below… go on, I dare you!




Sunday, 4 January 2015

OLIVIA: YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE PERFECT!

Reader Olivia has some very powerful and thought-provoking views on confidence, looks and media pressure… this post is a must-read for all of us.

Olivia says:
From around the age of twelve, and sometimes even younger, girls are really vulnerable to the messages the media send out. From the second we wake up in the morning, we see images of thin, perfectly made-up girls on TV, in magazines, adverts and more. We have nobody to tell us to ignore these, to educate us on how airbrushed they are. In fact, strong role models like mothers, aunts and older cousins will talk about diets and 'bad' foods; people will comment on the way we look. These messages are drummed into us from such a young age that some girls cannot help but copy the behaviours, trying to meet these unattainable ideals. We are shown images of women with literally no flaws, edited and photoshopped beyond recognition, and then fed adverts for weight loss products and make-up to cover up our own 'flaws'. 

This dependence on looks has been around for a very long time and will probably be extremely hard to break, but there are ways girls can be taught to love and value themselves, irrespective of appearance. There should be more assemblies and PSHE lessons on self-confidence, and not just at high school level… girls need to be taught all this from the very beginning. Girls shouldn't be drawn into playing with toys like Barbies at such a young age, because they imprint the message that we must strive for a look which is physically impossible to achieve. If Barbie was real, she would be unable to walk except on all fours; her legs simply couldn't carry her weight. Her neck would be twice as long as the average woman's and her waist would be thinner than her head, leaving only enough room for half a liver and a few inches of intestine. Girls need to see that these 'ideals' are really really not achievable and should not be aimed at in any way.

I also think girls should be complimented on other things apart from their appearance, for example, 'You are brave and strong'; 'you are intelligent and worthy'; 'you are kind and caring.' Girls should know they are worthy in themselves, and not just reflect the opinions of whichever gender they're attracted to. Many teenage girls want to 'look good for boys' and feel bad about themselves when not accepted by them, but this is so wrong. We need to love and accept ourselves, no matter what others may think. Some magazines call a size 12 'plus size', yet this is the size of an average woman; models of all sizes need to become commonplace. I have seen the effect the media can have; a twelve year old girl not able to leave her hospital bed and almost at the point of death because of anorexia. Something NEEDS to be done to change this before more young people suffer… and soon.

Pictures modelled by fab reader Alex; thank you for your help!

Cathy says:
I totally agree with Olivia's words… I too have seen the damage the unrealistic expectations and media images can do. Do YOU feel pressured by magazines and TV to look a certain way? Does this ever make you feel insecure or unhappy? COMMENT BELOW to share your views...

Thursday, 1 January 2015

KAYLEE: LUCKY STARS!

Reader Kaylee tells us how she started making origami stars… and what their meanings are!


Kaylee says:
If you've heard of the '1000 Paper Cranes' legend in Japan, the 'Lucky Stars' legend is similar; it involves someone making origami stars to give to their loved ones. I looked up some tutorials and found them really easy to follow… then all you need is a jar to put the stars in! The meaning of the stars varies depending on their number:
1 star: the only one
2 stars: happy couple
9 stars: love for a long time
55 stars: love with no regrets
99 stars: may the friendship/love last forever
101 stars: you are the one
365/366 stars: whole year blessing
520 stars: I love you
548 stars: can't stop loving you
999 stars: endless love
1314 stars: love for all eternity
I think the meanings are quite cute in their own way… and they mean a lot to the person you give the stars to as well! You don't need anything expensive to make the stars - A4 printer paper or coloured paper is fine. You start out making long strips… wider strips make bigger stars and thinner strips make smaller ones… a variety of sizes and colours looks amazing! The tutorials tell you to use your thumbs when 'inflating' the stars but I find that gives them a softer look. If you want pointy ends to your star, use your nails instead! I am using different papers… metallics, patterns, sparkly… you can tailor it to fit the person you are giving to. A personal touch makes the gift extra special!

A jar full of stars would make a great New Years present, and it's faster to make than you may think. I've made 112 stars in four hours, though your hands do hurt a bit after a while! I love the stage where you start to fill up the jar… it's like filling it with actual stars… or maybe that's just me! You can also sprinkle a little glitter into the jar or even tiny fairy lights. And don't forget to tie a ribbon around the jar! I think I am going to be making some of these for myself too… once you start, you can't stop!

This is how I made my stars…
http://www.origami-instructions.com/origami-lucky-star.html

Cathy says:
I LOVE these… a fab New Years project to spread a little sparkle and shine in 2015! What are YOUR plans for the New Year? COMMENT BELOW to tell all!