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

 

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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.

FFEOA 2017

This week has been a busy week for me and, for the first time in very many months, my focus has all been on my blog and the allergy and freefrom community, rather than on my day-to-day job. Much to the disgust of both G and M, I abandoned them to my Mum for the week and headed off to London, on my own,  to the Foodmatters Live conference. My planning for these 3 days away was incredibly well-organised, though I suspect I actually have my Mum to thank for that, as I missed out on attending last year and so had apparently looked ahead 12 months and had put the dates on her calendar to make sure I could go. I had then promptly forgotten all about it until she pressed me to confirm whether the children would be staying with her for the week or not.

My main focus was the Awards ceremony on the first night for this year’s Free From Eating Out Awards (FFEOA 2017). Despite the chaos of our household right now as Mike and I are both trying to find a work-life balance that suits us all, I had been keen to be a part of the Judging team again this year and M and G were just as excited by the possibility of finding some new places to eat that would suit us all. Luckily for us, we were able to find a couple of restaurants that we felt could cater for M in particular and were delighted to put them through their paces and see just how well they could meet their allergy and freefrom promises.

The evening kicked off with a quick overview of the plans going forward for 2018, which included some new categories, a simplified entry process and the promise of a monthly newsletter. They also revealed the new interactive map, which shows all the bronze, silver and gold award winners for the last 3 years and links to the all-important judges’ comments, which can help any discerning freefrom diner decide whether to eat there or not. I think this will be a great addition to the FFEOA offering and certainly will be something I recommend to those I come into contact with in the allergy community.

Despite my best efforts on the night itself, my fingers weren’t quite nimble enough and I just couldn’t keep up with tweeting the impressive number of gold award winners that were announced in each category. For any I didn’t manage to congratulate then, my apologies, but from the sounds of it, each and every award was well-deserved. I must make special mention of the wonderful Cafe Nouveau in Frome that we judged last year, who succeeded in achieving another gold award this year and also the Bangkok Canteen in Gloucester, who also won gold this year. Mike, the children and I visited there as part of this year’s judging stint and a review will follow in due course. For a full list of this year’s winners, please visit the FFEOA website.

As ever the best bit of the evening came after the awards had been announced. I was able to spend some time chatting with a few of the lovely friends I’ve met through the allergy world over the past few years, including Natalie of Intolerant Gourmand, Ryan of Borough 22, Ruth of What Allergy? and the Free From Fairy herself, Vicki. All in all, a wonderful evening and a great start to 3 days of learning more about all aspects of the Freefrom and allergy world.

World Prematurity Day 2017

Another year passed and another chance to mark World Prematurity Day. It’s hard to believe that my preemies have gone from this…

to this….

Determined to win their fight every single day!

Workplace Bullying

When you hear about bullying, what does it make you think of? Does it bring back bad memories of your time at school?

According to research carried out in 2016 by one of the largest anti-bullying charities in the world, Ditch the Label, between 50 and 60% of young people aged between 12 and 20 in the UK will have experienced some form of bullying in the last year. That, to me, is a frighteningly large percentage, especially knowing that both G and M form part of those statistics; and so do I. Any child who has experienced bullying hopes that it will end when they have new friends, or find themselves in a new class, or when their time at that particular school draws to a close. You also assume that once you’ve grown up and have left education behind you, the bullying will stop, but sadly that’s not always the case. The statistics regarding workplace bullying are much harder to pinpoint, but a Forbes survey in the USA suggested that up to 75% of workers are affected by bullying and a 2015 ACAS study here in the UK revealed the undeniable truth that workplace bullying is on the increase and that many people are too afraid to talk about it.

Having struggled with bullying throughout my school years, I never dreamed that I might experience it again in adulthood and when I came up against workplace bullying the first time, it took me a while to realise and acknowledge it and then to find the courage to deal with it. M had just been born and, due to the difficulties of my pregnancy and his subsequent early arrival, I wanted to work closer to home, finding what seemed to be the perfect job in a small accountancy practice almost literally across the road from where we lived. Unfortunately, the reality of being verbally belittled and my capability as an accountant questioned in front of my colleagues on a daily basis was destructive and I eventually found myself seeking to escape that unhealthy work environment. It was only at the point of handing in my notice that I felt able to be honest with my boss about his bullying behaviour and whilst he was apologetic as he hadn’t realised his words were so damaging, that work relationship had been destroyed and I needed to move on.

I’ve been lucky since then to find myself in jobs working with some truly lovely people, who have been there to build me back up and consequently I have seen my confidence and self-belief soar. Despite what people might think, I am naturally an introvert and am most definitely not a fan of confrontation, but I’ve learned to stand my ground, speak out for myself and defend not just my decisions, but also those of my children and my colleagues. That shy, insecure little girl who wouldn’t say boo to goose still hides inside, but I’ve discovered a strength to speak up and speak out even in situations where my more natural instinct would be to run away and hide, hoping that someone else would be the one to voice their opinions.

Which is why it’s so difficult to believe that in the past year, I have found myself a victim of workplace bullying once again and in a position where it has been much more difficult to address than I could ever imagine. Sly comments questioning the professional ability of both me and my staff, carefully cloaked in phrases that could be excused away as being mis-construed by the individual they were aimed at as well as more blatant challenges of my financial decisions for the business in management meetings that have been ignored by our Executive Director have become an unavoidable part of my working week. Added to that is the deliberate exclusion of me and my team members from a number of workplace events and meetings, some far more significant than others. Exclusion is, without a doubt, one of the hardest types of bullying to deal with and whether I’m my insecure 12-year-old self or a more confident version at 40, it still eats away at what little self-belief I’ve managed to hold on to over the years.

These behaviours have left me struggling to be my usual positive and sunny self in the office, as inside I’ve been slowly crumbling to pieces. I do have a tendency to believe the very best of people, so it’s no surprise that initially I genuinely didn’t think this was a deliberate attempt to whittle away my self-esteem. The gradual realisation that nearly all of these actions have been carried out intentionally, although I still wholeheartedly think that they are reflective of the individual’s own insecurities and a need to defend her role in the business, means that I have distanced myself as much as I possibly can and will not leave myself vulnerable if at all possible.

Of course, my response now is far different to what it was as a child and yet the effects of those experiences are the same. I have been left feeling ignored, belittled and unappreciated and the deliberate decision by my direct line manager to whitewash over what is going on and excuse the behaviour of this bully as being stress-related has naturally impacted on the ongoing working relationship I have with both him and this workplace bully. I feel as if my concerns have been deemed ridiculous, unimportant and as an over-sensitive reaction on my part, which leaves me questioning just how long I can reasonably remain in this post. Unbelievably our workplace policy on bullying requires that “….Initially a member of staff should request that the bully should stop, explaining how it makes them feel either face-to-face or by writing a personal letter or email…“, something I honestly believe no-one being bullied would be able to do, especially when the most senior members of management so blatantly excuse and support the bully along the way.  It takes unbelievable courage to be able to talk openly and honestly about how you’re feeling about decisions being taken in the workplace and, in my opinion, remarkable cowardice on the part of management to dismiss what’s being said as an irrational response.

I don’t know what the next 12 months will bring when it comes to my career, but finding the courage to speak out both in the workplace and on my blog has empowered me more than I ever thought possible. Workplace bullying is real and we should never forget or ignore that truth.

All Different, All Equal

This week is Anti-bullying week and this year the campaign has adopted the tagline “All different, All equal” to promote difference and equality in schools. As the Anti-bullying Alliance’s website states, the idea behind this is to “…help children and young people celebrate what makes them, and others, unique and help them understand why it’s important that every child feels included in school able to be themselves without fear of bullying...” This has struck a particularly resonant chord with me as feeling different to classmates is something that not only do I recall from my own school days, but something I am aware both G and M have felt over the years.

For me, and let me be brutally honest right now, I hated every moment of living with T1D as a teen. Not only was I having to deal with the challenges of impending adulthood and puberty like all of my peers, but my T1D added another layer to the emotional mix that I really didn’t want to have to face. At school I felt like the odd man out. I didn’t really know anyone else my age with T1D and I was the first diabetic in my school. I suffered extreme teenage angst about not being able to buy sweets and chocolate from the break-time tuck shop and that seemingly small thing became a massive problem that I struggled to overcome. My friends accepted my differences far more readily than I did and yet I felt alienated from them. My own anxieties and poor self-image became mountains I just couldn’t scale, particularly when some of the other girls in my school year began to exclude me from friendships that had been there since I was little and threw cruel words in my direction which hit incredibly deep.  Whether they had truly identified my lack of self-esteem as an easy target for their unkind comments and actions or not, I can still recall just how devastating that time in my life was for me. I’m sure that I was not on my own with those feelings, but I felt isolated in a world that seemed to be quite happy without me.

Sadly, G struggled similarly during her Infant school years when so-called friends who had helped ease her move to a new school, discovered that her health issues could be used as a taunt against her and caused her unbelievable emotional pain. Thanks to a fantastic and supportive Year 2 teacher, G was encouraged to tackle the bullies and their behaviour head-on and she learned to stand up for herself, something I didn’t learn until I was much, much older. I know that her gluten- and dairy-free diet still makes her feel too different to the rest of her tutor group for comfort and she has struggled with sticking to the restrictions, especially when her friends are enjoying treats that she would love to be able to eat. We’ve worked to fill her lunchbox with foods and snacks that make her feel a little more “normal” and a part of the crowd, and I will continue to hope that this doesn’t become a cause for bullying as she moves her way through secondary school.

Likewise, M’s complex medical needs have left him being subjected to cruel words and unkind actions in the past, something that is not unusual in the world of chronic illness. Whether it is an obvious physical difference, or something more hidden like T1D or allergies, the sad truth is that children can, and will, be cruel. All children are fighting to find their place in the world and will look to find their footing without regard for those surrounding them and especially not for their feelings. As parents we need to teach our children about the beauty in diversity and encourage them to be kind in their thoughts and deeds. My children are wonderfully unique as are their friends and that is something to embrace wholeheartedly and without reservation. This year I will be making sure that they understand the truth in these words: All different, all equal.

I Am Not a Badge of Honour

I am not a badge of honour,

I am not a racist smear,

I am not a fashion statement to be worn but once a year,

I am not glorification of conflict or of war.

I am not a paper ornament or a token,

I am more.

I am a loving memory of a father or son,

A mother, a sister or daughter each and every one.

I am paper or enamel,

I am old or shining new,

I am a way of saying thank you,

To every one of you.

I am a single poppy, a reminder to you all,

That courage, faith and honour will stand where heroes fall.

– Paul Hunter –