Old-fashioned manners

My kids aren’t perfect – believe me I know – and all too often there are those moments when I wish they’d remember the manners we’ve strived to instill in them over the years. They’re not always brilliant at doing the littlest of things that would make a big difference and I know that’s something that can frustrate my Mum (Hint: it does frustrate her and she might have mentioned it just once or twice to me in the last couple of weeks) Both G and M are a quirky mix of grown-up attitudes – due to their life experiences with chronic health problems – and a lack of rational thought because they’re both still very much children at heart. They’re tentatively challenging the boundaries set them by family members in particular; and sometimes not so tentatively at all; whilst very much toeing the line outside of the home, which inevitably leads to tears and meltdowns, and not necessarily just from them. Insecurity, uncertainty and lack of self-confidence is overcome with bold talk and bravado, which can be misinterpreted as arrogance and rudeness, when the truth is that the child beneath it all is struggling with anxiety and striving to find a different face to present to the outside world.

However, the one thing that I insist happens every year without fail is something that almost certainly falls into the category of “old-fashioned” manners in this day and age. Just a few days into the New Year, I shared this photo of G and M sitting at our kitchen table working hard to write the thank you notes for the Christmas presents and, in G’s case, birthday presents, they had recently received. It may not be their favourite task in the world and it may take a little persuasion to get them started, but they both know that this is a non-negotiable part of the celebrations for both Christmas and birthdays and always buckle down to write them, often treating the job as a competition to see who can finish writing all their notes first. These are no great literary pieces, just a simple acknowledgement of those family members and friends who have remembered them at this time of year and taken the time to buy and send presents that are always gratefully received.

M views me as being a particularly evil Mum because I won’t let him type out his letters, but rather insist that we take advantage of the opportunity to draw faint pencil lines and practise his best handwriting. Why? Well, I suppose I just think there’s something a little more personal and thoughtful about receiving a handwritten note of thanks, though frankly I would be happy to receive even an email rather than absolutely nothing at all. No acknowledgement leaves me wondering if the gift has arrived at its final destination and I have been known to threaten to not send presents again when weeks have passed by and I’m still uncertain whether they’ve been received or not. Does this make me old-fashioned? Maybe, but good manners don’t cost anything and it’s important to me that my children develop an attitude of thankfulness for all that they are lucky to have.

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Taking Over once again

In November 2016, G and M were lucky enough to be invited to participate in the first ever Takeover Challenge at GOSH. They spent the day running the Development and Property services department at the hospital and even managed to somehow convince the staff to take them onto the building site of the new research centre being built opposite nearby Coram Fields. One of the jobs they had undertaken during that Takeover Day was to help design the hoarding to surround the building site and we were delighted to see it in place when we visited GOSH for the Big Youth Forum Meet-Up in mid-October as both children got to see their hard work actually being used in real life.

 

So it will come as no great surprise that the minute they heard that there would be another opportunity to Takeover at GOSH this year, both G and M leapt at the chance. Unlike last year, when they opted to be part of the same department, this year they determined to do different things and each took on very different roles with G joining the ICT department as an ICT project manager, whilst M became a clinical scientist for the day. We were fortunate that their secondary school recognised the value in them attending this day and were happy to authorise their day off, something that M in particular was delighted about. I was already in London for the week attending the Foodmatters Live conference and so Mike set off from home extremely early on the Wednesday morning to get the children to the GOSH reception area in time for their respective days to start.

We had arranged that I would meet up with them for tea and over an early supper at Wagamama in Leicester Square, I was regaled with excited tales about the adventures of their day. G’s day was spent learning about how the ICT department is involved in the day-to-day running of GOSH and more specifically understanding how the staff ICT helpdesk is run and looking at solutions to common IT problems. G had an opportunity to visit different hospital departments and help resolve the problems some staff members were experiencing and even managed to successfully close a couple of cases herself. Her final task of the day was to visit the brand new clinical building that has recently opened at GOSH and understand how the decisions around what ICT equipment to provide for patients are made. One of her mentors for the day also took her to visit one of the laboratories in the hospital knowing that M was based there, although she didn’t spot him during her visit.

M’s day was focused on understanding the role of the clinical science team at GOSH and in particular learning more about gene and cell therapies as well as the research that is undertaken in the hospital. He was keen to take on this role because of the rare status of his own condition, EGID, as it demonstrated just how important this type of research is. M spent the day  learning how to split blood samples into different cell types, preparing the cells for analysis, generating DNA fingerprints and analysing DNA for mutations. The team also showed him what eosinophils look like when they’re put under the microscope and gave him an insight to what his scopes might have looked like prior to his diagnosis. As usual, M learned a lot from his day and when he and I attended our local hospital a week later for a set of bloods to be taken, he was keen to explain to the nurses there just what would happen next with the samples they were taking from his arm.

Both G and M had an amazing day at GOSH and we are, as ever, extremely grateful to the YPF and youth liaison team who not only offered them this fantastic opportunity, but also made sure the day was a huge success for them both. I know M already has his sights set on Taking Over yet another department next year, but we will just have to wait and see what happens!

A Winter-themed weekend

For the 4th year in a row, I found myself not only in London, but also spending a little time at GOSH during the weekend closest to G’s birthday. Thank goodness that this year there was no admission attached to what is fast-becoming a December tradition, instead, just like last year, our reason for going was the December meeting of the GOSH YPF and with both G and M now active members of the YPF, we decided to make a weekend of it and round off the birthday celebrations in style, whilst gently kicking off our Christmas ones as well.

In the lead up to a previous YPF weekend, I was lucky enough to stumble across the Travelodge in Hounslow, which has quickly established itself as our destination of choice whenever we need to head to London for the weekend. A lot more affordable than central London prices, it is a short walk away from a secure car park and both the East Hounslow and Hounslow Central tube stations, making it an easy commute into GOSH in particular as all are stops on the Piccadilly line. This close to the end of term, we were able to take advantage of the fact that the out-of-school activities have now finished and headed to London on the Friday evening once G and M’s school day was over, and even managed a reasonable night’s sleep before our busy winter weekend began.

It started with our morning commute to GOSH, where we dropped G and M, both kitted out in their Christmas finery, for a YPF meeting filled with a whole host of activities and treats, including a hotly challenged Christmas quiz. Once the children were settled, Mike and I set off on foot towards Covent Garden and spent our day meandering the streets, exploring the shops and even managing to pick up the odd present or two as well. We stopped for a light lunch at the amazing Cafe in the Crypt at St-Martin-in-the-Fields, just off Trafalgar Square. This is fast becoming one of our favourite spots whenever we are in London as the food they serve is simple, yet delicious, they serve a few allergy-friendly snacks too and is a place I would heartily recommend to anyone looking for a peaceful break from the busyness of London itself.

Lunch done, we started our trek back to GOSH along Shaftesbury Avenue and stumbled across this group of festive, charity bike riders as we turned the corner towards our final destination. It really was a sight to behold as we were surrounded by Father Christmases as far as the eye could see and lovely to watch excited small children wave and shout out Christmas greetings as the cyclists sped past.

 

There was one last stop I wanted to make before we met G and M and that was at the Baileys Treat Stop pop shop located not far from Covent Garden. It was only open for 2 weeks and I was determined to take advantage of our trip and pay a visit there for a Baileys-inspired hot drink. The queue was long and it took over 40 minutes to finally get into the shop itself, though our patience was well-rewarded by the plethora of treats that was brought out to keep those waiting happy – chocolate eclairs filled with Baileys-infused cream, cups of popcorn and chocolate covered Baileys fudge and toffee. I finally made it to the front of the queue and having never tried their Pumpkin Spice version and not fancying a treat-laden hot chocolate, I decided to customise a Pumpkin Spice latte instead. I think the server was a little disappointed with my rather tame selection of “just” chopped nuts and wafer straws, but despite his best efforts, I held firm to my decision, which I maintain was absolutely the right one. However, the latte itself was incredibly disappointing and absolutely not worth the time and money I’d spent to get it. What I hoped would be a small Christmas treat for me really wasn’t and we wasted close to an hour with that detour.

However, the rest of our Saturday went according to plan and was a fantastic ending to G’s birthday celebrations. Both children had a great day at the YPF meeting and came away with some small and unexpected gifts and treats. G was really keen to have a Chinese meal for dinner and so we chose to double up M’s medicines throughout the day and then allowed him to relax his diet for the evening. Mike and I had done scouting around Chinatown during our day and we headed to the Feng Shui Inn for a few carefully selected dishes which the whole family enjoyed. From there, it was just a stone’s throw away to the Prince Edward theatre where we were treated to the delights of Agrabah, the fantastical quirks of the Genie and the addition of a handful of new songs to Disney’s Aladdin. This was G’s choice of show and I knew she’d enjoyed it when she asked at the end if we could see it again! It was an amazing production and we were incredibly lucky to see Trevor Dion Nicholas in the role of the Genie, a role he was reprising after a successful stint on Broadway.

Sunday morning saw another tube ride into London, though this time our destination was the Tower of London where we had booked an ice-skating session on the rink set up in the moat. Both children were keen to have a go at skating once again and Mike was just as excited. It took a little while for G and M to find their feet, but they were soon off and even attempting to get around on their own, away from the barrier. The session only lasted 45 minutes, but that was more than enough for all of us and M and I even left the ice a few minutes early due to the uncomfortable hire skates we were wearing. All in all, we had a fantastic and fun-filled family winter-themed weekend and it felt like a fitting end to what has been a long school term.

Reaching our majority

Another year on and we’ve finally reached our majority! 18 years of marriage, which according to this website, requires a trip to either China or Denmark. We enjoyed our nod to the first when we ate dinner in Chinatown, London on Saturday evening, but today will just be about a meal at home once the children are in bed, a glass of something cold and probably not too much else!

Happy Anniversary Mike – love you always

14 already?!

I really don’t know how we got to this day as it doesn’t seem like a year since we celebrated her becoming a teenager and certainly not 14 years since we welcomed her into our lives. 14 years filled with love and laughter, tears and tantrums, moments of great pride and times when we’ve wondered if we were getting the whole parenting thing even vaguely right. Today we have a beautiful, sensitive, generous and kind-hearted young lady as an invaluable part of our family, even if we could do without the slamming doors, stomping feet and looks of pure disdain that do radiate from her almost weekly without fail.

Happy 14th birthday Floss – you are our whole world. Love you always xxx

 

Unexpected Christmas treat

Whenever I write a review and share it on my blog, I do so because I’ve found a product or place that I’m impressed with and want to spread the word throughout the allergy community. Sometimes I’ve been fortunate enough to have received a freebie or two in advance for us to taste test and review – something you will always see declared on my posts – and I guarantee that we will always be honest with our opinions. It’s true that I rarely share things I don’t rate, although when I’m less than impressed with the service we’ve received, I will always make sure I shout that from the rooftops too. However, I never review with an expectation that we will receive something afterwards, though I’m honest enough to say that it’s always nice when we do!

That’s why, when I wrote about my discoveries at the FoodMatters Live conference a couple of weeks ago, I did so because I was just thrilled to have some new goodies for M to safely enjoy, which is always fantastic especially in the lead up to Christmas. What I didn’t expect was this marvellous parcel that was sent on to me just a few days after my post was published:

M spotted it propped up against the front door as we drove onto our driveway after school on Tuesday and was eager to be the first out of the car and to the door to pick it up and discover what had been delivered. His glee when he spotted the “Freedom Mallows” label on the front was unstoppable and he couldn’t wait to get it to the kitchen table and open it up. I had been in the know, as Elvin had contacted me asking for a postal address, but I’d only expected a small bag, or maybe 2, of mallows which I could sneak into their stockings on Christmas Eve. The treasures hidden within this box are immense and no stocking in our household is big enough to hold it all. Without a doubt, the excited squeals of both G and M which shook our house reverberated around our village and I just wish I could adequately capture that moment of absolute joy to share with you all.

A big thank you to Elvin at Freedom Mallows – you’ve made 2 not-so-small-anymore children very, very happy!

On the 5th Day of Christmas…

There’s nothing I love more than decorating the house for Christmas, although the last 3 years have each carried their own challenge to being able to achieve that, with admissions to GOSH 2 years in a row followed by a health scare with my eyes last year. This year we’ve all been at home, all been in reasonable health and have all had a part, however small, in bringing the Christmas spirit into our home. Sunday was the day to “deck the halls” at home and M in particular couldn’t wait to get started on trimming the tree. With Christmas carols playing in the background, mulled wine warming on the stove and the advent candle burning down on the mantlepiece, the Christmas season really has begun.

I always feel particularly nostalgic when it comes to pulling the decorations out for our Christmas tree as each bauble evokes its own precious memory. Every year we buy at least one new decoration for each child for the tree and frequently they end up with more than one depending on our travels and on friends and family members who also buy and add to our collection. By the time G and M are ready to fly the nest and have their own homes to spend the festive season in, they will each have a boxful of decorations to trim their Christmas trees. As we unwrap each ornament, the memories of time spent together and journeys made wash over me and there are often stories to share as we reminisce about times past.

It’s hard to pinpoint my favourite decoration as there are so many happy memories encaptured in the beauty of our tree. There’s the small gold bauble with a red ribbon that marks our wedding as I hand-wrote enough for every guest to have one as an alternative wedding favour to celebrate the day. I have 2 handmade snowflakes from a German Christmas market, which my Dad brought back from a business trip and that have a special place in my heart. There are many from our holidays both before and after G and M arrived in our family – China, Australia, Ireland, Canada and even Greece to name but a few. Amongst the most precious are those the children have made over the years, from simple paper and sparkles in their nursery days to the hand-decorated ceramic ones that M made during his last hospital admission.

Today is the 5th day of Christmas and I’m looking forward to the memories we’ll be creating this year as we count down to the big day itself.

Foodmatters Live 2017

Whilst my primary focus for my recent London stay was the fantastic Free From Eating Out Awards, I took full advantage of the opportunity to explore the Foodmatters Live conference, an event I had never been to before and knew very little about until I arrived. I had spent some time perusing the lengthy list of conferences, seminars and stands that would be there over the 3 days and marked a few key ones that I knew I didn’t want to miss. I didn’t plan my stay to the nth degree and instead decided to see how things panned out and what drew my attention whilst I was there.

I arrived in London by lunchtime on the first day and headed across the city on the DLR towards the huge ExCel Exhibition centre. This was my first visit to this impressive space and walking the length of the centre to find the specific room for Foodmatters Live clocked up a fair few thousand steps. I had a simple plan for my first afternoon at the conference: to wander the exhibition space investigating and tasting some of the products on offer and chatting to the producers about them. I knew enough to realise that this wasn’t going to be like our previous visits to the Allergy and Freefrom Show over the years, but I was hopeful that I might stumble upon a few that we had yet to discover.

I wasn’t disappointed and found 4 new products, 3 of which M could try, although sadly they’re not all yet available in shops. It’s hard to know where to start, but with 3 sweet treats to describe, let’s begin with the single savoury snack I found.

Peckish Salt & Vinegar Rice Crackers

These have been on the market for a little while, though they’re not something I had seen before. Made predominantly from rice-based ingredients and containing only a very small amount of vinegar powder (1.1%), the rice crackers are gluten-free and therefore something we were happy to let M try. This baked snack is absolutely delicious, melts in the mouth and is incredibly more-ish, something M discovered after his very first taste. They come in 4 different flavours, though the salt and vinegar ones are the only flavour safe for both M and G, and even better, are readily available at most of the mainstream supermarkets. M declared them an instant hit and a ready replacement for crisps in his daily lunchbox.

M’s marks: 9.5/10

Freedom Mallows

One of the best bits about attending a show like Foodmatters Live is that you are able to speak directly to the product developers and producers and have your most taxing questions answered. It was a pleasure to meet Elvin of Freedom Mallows, another allergy-friendly product that has been around for a little while, but which has flown under our radar until now. He was able to reassure me that there is a very small percentage of maize starch in these marvellous freefrom and vegan marshmallows. The white mallows are vanilla in flavour and Elvin was kind enough to give me a bag of the pink and white bites for the children to try. We carefully split them into a pink pile for G and a white pile for M – piles that didn’t last very long in either case, a sure sign that they were a big hit.

M’s marks: 10/10

Push Chocolate

This was a truly unexpected find and a treat that has already revolutionised M’s somewhat narrow dietary existence. Push chocolate is made using cocoa butter, rice protein and sunflower lecithin – a list of ingredients that was absolute music to my ears. We don’t know for certain whether M will be able to tolerate a lot of cocoa butter, but having a small treat every now and then will boost so much more than just his energy levels. Sadly this chocolate is not yet available to buy, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for an announcement to say where and when it will be out on the market.

M’s marks: 10/10

Mr Kipling’s GF Chocolate Brownies

The final sweet treat is sadly not M-friendly, but is a wonderful new product that is just brilliant for G. Every time we visit one of our favourite coffee shops, G is drawn to the gluten-free chocolate brownies, which all too frequently are not also dairy-free and therefore not something she can choose to enjoy alongside her soya milk hot chocolate. Whilst these are branded as being gluten- and wheat-free, I discovered through discussion with the knowledgable staff on the stand, that they are also dairy-free, but cannot currently be marketed as such because of the factory environment they are produced in. Premier Foods, the company behind the Mr Kipling brand, has developed a small range of gluten- and dairy-free cakes including chocolate brownies, almond slices and cherry bakewells and will be looking to extend their offering by adding some of their other most popular cakes in due course. The cakes looked great and I’m reliably formed by a certain young lady in our household that Mr Kipling does, indeed, make exceedingly good cakes!

G’s marks: 9.5/10      (because apparently even chocolate brownies can be too chocolatey! Who knew?!)

Big Youth Forum Meet-up

In the middle of October, a group of over 80 young people from across the country gathered at Great Ormond Street Hospital for the first ever national Young People’s Forum (YPF) meet-up. Organised by members of GOSH’s YPF, the event looked to provide an opportunity for discussion about the practical and emotional issues that impact young people when they are in hospital as well as running workshops teaching a variety of skills from basic first aid to how to run a successful national awareness campaign.

Never ones to miss a great opportunity, we checked the proposed date for the meet-up and signed both G and M up to be a part of the day as soon as we could. G has been a member of the GOSH YPF for over a year, whilst M had been counting down the days to his 11th birthday so that he could similarly join the group. He finally attended his first meeting earlier this year and was thrilled to be able to be a part of this inaugural event, especially when he revealed that they were hoping to invite a celebrity to take part in the event too. It proved to a real learning experience for them both as they were invited to take part in the planning for the day itself via conference calls, a life skill that I never imagined them learning before their careers kicked off. We sat around the kitchen table, discussing conference call etiquette, the need to keep your phone on mute until you actually wanted to speak and the importance of listening carefully to what the others involved had to say.

After weeks of careful planning, the day finally arrived and we made our way across London to GOSH bright and early on the Saturday morning, following the signs that had been chalked on the surrounding pavements to help the visiting youngsters find their way. Mike and I were excited to learn that their celebrity guest was comedian Alex Brooker, star of “The Last Leg” and himself a former GOSH patient. G and M were less impressed, neither knowing who he was and whilst M was initially quite disappointed that his own top pick, magician Dynamo, was not going to be there, he very much enjoyed the opening talk that Alex gave to the group of young people attending the Big meet-up.

From what they told us afterwards, the day just flew past and they were keen participants in every activity, including covering their arms with a selection of temporary tattoos recently designed by GOSH Arts with the help of a few members of the YPF. G decided to attend the First Aid workshop, where she learned the basics of CPR as well as how to deal with anaphylaxis and administer epi-pens. She was particularly delighted to learn this latter skill as it was something that she and M had requested be a part of the First Aid training given. M, on the other hand, opted for a workshop ran by consultant paediatric surgeon, Ross Fisher teaching practical presentation skills, which he has subsequently put to great use at school. All in all, G and M had a fantastic day and are already looking forward to next’s year national meet-up, which is being hosted jointly by the Nottingham and Derby YPFs.