Category Archives: Family

Finding Gromits and Owls

Summer feels like something of a distant memory now and, I have to be honest, it passed in something of a whirlwind once again. As the children get older, we seem to squeeze more and more into every spare minute we can find, creating precious memories that I hope will last a lifetime. This year we had the added bonus of exploring just how to make the most of having introduced bananas into M’s diet as well as pushing the limits with a few more trials along the way too.

Our summer plans were originally to stay close to home, with my Mum helping out by looking after G and M for much of the time whilst Mike and I both worked. Things changed just after Easter and we found ourselves having to bring forward our plans for a Christmas trip to Canada and head back in the summer instead. However, between the end of the school year and our long-haul flight to Toronto, G and M took part in a rowing course and touch-typing course respectively and we also managed to find the time to head to the beautiful cities of Bristol and Bath for a day in each to explore their summer art trails – Gromit Unleashed 2 and Minerva’s Owls. We’ve enjoyed taking part in an incredible variety of sculpture trails over the years, including the Shaun in the City trail in 2015, so it was great to be able to dip into these 2 challenges, although M in particular was disappointed that we didn’t have time to find all of the sculptures that formed part of the trails.

The glorious weather made it a real pleasure to spend time outside on our feet, though M might disagree with me after our very hot day in Bath, where we had to resort to searching out a supermarket to find some allergy-friendly ice-cream and ice lollies to cool us all down. Food-wise, we enjoyed both eating dinner out at our all-time favourite, Wagamama and an idyllic picnic lunch catered by Marks and Spencer. One evening M even commented that it was just like being back in Syros because he was happily walking through the city in the evening wearing shorts and a t-shirt. All in all, those first couple of weeks of our summer were busy, but amazing and a great start to what the rest of the holiday would bring.

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Bananas’ Best Bits

One of the nicest things about adding some new foods to M’s limited list, other than the obvious of…well, you know, the addition of new foods to a highly restricted diet…is that just 3 new ingredients have added a huge number of new recipes for him to enjoy. Each one has brought something different to the cookery table, but the best one in many ways, or so M would have you believe, is the mighty banana. I first started playing with recipes back in March for M’s birthday, when I adapted an old favourite to bake a banana bread birthday cake with reasonable success. M wasn’t impressed by what he felt was an overwhelming flavour of nutmeg, so the recipe has had a few more tweaks to reach what is, by M’s exacting standards, almost complete perfection. It’s no exaggeration to say that the introduction of a 3rd fruit has been a game-changer in our household and so I thought I’d share the best bits about bananas with you all:

Banana Bread – it’s never easy to find recipes that can be adapted, and adapted well, to suit M’s restricted diet and these days vegan recipes are almost always my automatic go-to starter for 10. I found a wonderful vegan banana bread recipe on the BBC Good Food website and it took just a few subtle tweaks to turn it into a tasty, gluten-free, M-friendly baked treat that has been a big teatime hit. The latest twist has been to add some dairy- and soya-free chocolate chips to the dough, which makes the cake taste even more indulgent and a welcome addition to his daily packed lunch for school.

Banana & Chocolate Chip cookies – so often my recipes are a response to an unexpected need and these cookies are no different. One of M’s English lessons recently revolved around a tale of children stealing cookies from the staff office and his tutor group were given the opportunity to re-enact the story during a lesson. M came home from school very upset that he hadn’t been chosen to be one of these wannabe thieves and felt excluded because he knew he wouldn’t be able to share eating the cookies once they had successfully been taken. Fortunately, a quick call to the Head of Year 7 and an even quicker Google search found this wonderful recipe, which again required just a few tweaks to make a batch of M-friendly cookies that could be smuggled out of the school office alongside the ones for the rest of his class.

Banana, Apple & Lime Smoothie – one of M’s most precious possessions at the moment is the Nutribullet and Smoothies recipe book that my Aunt has given him as a memory of my Uncle. M feels even closer to him as he peruses the different recipes, trying to work out which he can safely make and enjoy and smoothies have quickly become a staple of his everyday diet. It’s even given him a great vehicle to trial raspberries as a handful added to the fruit mix works a treat. Despite his regular reluctance to get up and get ready for school, M can frequently be found whipping up a smoothie as an alternative to a more normal breakfast and he happily drinks it as he and G walk to school each morning. For a child who has always struggled with what to eat first thing in the day, these smoothies have been a real success story and a welcome break from the stresses that have all too often been a constant part of our morning routine.

 

Quick summer catch-up

So the last 6 weeks or so have been filled with these moments and memories. Lots of posts to follow to catch up on all that we’ve been up to.

Grief

We’re almost at the end of term and not just that, but also the end of the school year. As I said in my last blog post, it’s been a time of reflection about M’s health and his first year at secondary school as well as an opportunity to draw breath before we head into the chaos of a busy summer and swiftly followed by the start of G’s GCSE studies. Following the challenging start to 2018, when both Mike and M came down with a nasty bout of Aussie ‘flu, life continued to be incredibly difficult and the saddest of circumstances meant that my birthday, M’s birthday and the 5th anniversary of this blog passed quietly and with far less recognition than would normally be the case. I’ve sat down so many times to try and find the words that could even begin to explain my extended absence from my blog, but it felt for the longest time as if my creative well had run dry and only now am I beginning to emerge from the other side of a deep, dark hole.

Just a couple of days before my birthday, I received a message to say that my Uncle had been taken ill and rushed overnight to ITU. There was no question of my next move when I received that news and fortunately Mike was working from home that day, which allowed me to get home, pack a bag and drive to South Wales to stay with my Aunt for as long as I needed to be there. We were both extremely lucky to be working for understanding employers, which enabled us to adjust our working arrangements and commitments to accommodate the needs of all concerned, most especially G and M. Whilst this sudden downturn in health came as something of a shock, we had actually visited them both the previous weekend when my Uncle was first admitted to their local A&E with a stubborn chest infection that refused to go away. It wasn’t quite the visit we had had in mind, but now we are all so glad that we had the opportunity to spend a little time with him, laughing, sharing news from work and school and that the children could create memories that will stay with them for a lifetime. There are hopefully no regrets that they didn’t have time to come to say a final goodbye as they had that precious time with him before he was taken so ill.

Sadly, despite all our hopes and prayers, there was no coming back from the sepsis that had taken hold so unexpectedly and just a few days later I sat by his bedside with my Aunt, his sister and other niece as he passed away. He was just 63 and had been fighting MS, T2D and other health complications over the last 20 years, but this last battle was just too much for him to win. Mike continued to hold the fort at home, whilst I did all that I could to support my family in both places. The children have grieved in vastly different ways, just as we adults have experienced and dealt with our grief in our own ways and there have been no easy answers or quick-fix solutions in helping them cope with this, their first real experience of death.

My Uncle was, in many ways, a step-in Granddad for both G and M as my Dad passed away 14 years ago this year; and they both had a very close relationship with him. G has grieved quietly, keeping much to herself, whilst M has shed many more tears and been more open in showing his loss. Never was this so clear than on the day of the funeral itself, when G’s only wobble came as the hearse pulled up outside the house and we took our places in the cars. I was travelling with the women of the family, whilst G and M were both due to be travelling with Mike. It was at that point that G’s eyes filled with tears and we walked hand-in-hand to the car, allowing her some time to look at the flowers with the coffin before she travelled on to the crematorium.

In complete contrast, M was happy to travel with Mike and G, but as soon as we all arrived and it was time to go into the service, the tears started coursing down his cheeks and didn’t let up until long after the service had ended. The days since the funeral have had their ups and downs as you’d expect. In recent days, we’ve been able to talk openly about why their beloved Uncle was taken ill and died and they’ve had the confidence to ask us challenging questions, fully expecting us to be honest in our replies. I never really thought twice about whether they would attend the funeral or not, though we did give them the opportunity to say no if they really didn’t want to go, but they both wanted to have the chance to say their goodbyes and I’m glad that they did.

Devastatingly, this was the start of a tragic 6-week period for Mike and me. Just 2 days after my Uncle’s funeral, we found out that a close friend who we have known since Mike first met her over 20 years ago in Canada had passed away suddenly. She had emigrated to less than 20 miles away from us here in the UK with her family a few years ago and Mike and she regularly chatted on the phone. Jenn had turned 42 at the start of February, just 8 months older than Mike and a year older than me, and her 2 children are more or less the same age as G and M. Her sudden death hit us both hard and left us reflecting on just how fragile life can be.

Not long after we heard the devastating news about Jenn, Mike voiced out loud that one thought that had been playing in the background for us both – who would be the third? His throwaway comment was that he hoped a celebrity death would count and there have certainly been enough of those over recent months to more than count as our third. Unbelievably however, it seemed destined that we would be hit by a third death much closer to home and on Maundy Thursday one of my cousins got in touch to tell me that my 99 year-old Gran had passed away quietly at home that evening. Whilst we weren’t expecting this news then, she had lived a long and full life with 5 children including my Dad, 10 grandchildren, more great-grandchildren than I’m confident to count and even the odd great-great-grandchild. I spoke to my Uncle the day after, who was able to share with me that she passed quickly and peacefully at home in her chair.

It comes as no real surprise that death was a topic of conversation that peppered our Easter holidays as both G and M expressed their thoughts, questions and feelings about it and as we all dealt with our grief as best we could. The children were not as affected by their Great-Gran’s death as they were by that of their Great-Uncle as she hasn’t been more that a name at the bottom of a birthday or Christmas card for a few years. They understood that, whilst they didn’t feel particularly sad, I was and gave hugs and kisses whenever they thought I needed them. Helping our children to cope with death and grief both in the immediate, but also as it revisits at the least expected times has been an incredible parenting challenge. Death is sadly very much a part of life that has to be faced and I hope that we have given G and M the life skills to deal with their grief and to empathise with others struggling with it.

Scotland Photo Round-up 2018

“10 days” seems to have become a mantra for our holidays over the last few years. Be it Portugal, Greece or Scotland, we’ve had some amazing fun, making memories and just spending time together. Here’s the photographic proof:

Homeward bound

With our whistle-stop tour of Scotland almost over, there were just a couple of places left on our hit list before we finally got back home. Mike was keen to detour via the Angel of the North, whilst G was desperate to make Scarborough our destination for the last night of our holiday. The last 2 days we were spending away from home were very much going to be all about the travelling, so it was good to have a couple of pit stops already planned for the necessary toilet breaks, stretches of our legs and escape from the relatively small confines of the car.

We crossed the Scottish border around lunch-time and I just about managed to snap a quick photo of the 3 Scottish flags that were flying to mark our departure. It then took us another 2 hours to travel down to Gateshead, home to the impressive Angel of the North. For those of you who don’t know, this is another Antony Gormley sculpture and one that dominates the landscape albeit in a surprisingly unintrusive way. As always there was a small competition in the car to see which family member could spot the Angel first and as it so often is, M managed to beat G and spotted it first. We parked easily and wandered across the grass to stand beneath its incredible wingspan and just stare up at the clouds. There was a somewhat heated debate between M and Mike as to whether the wings were moving in the wind, whilst G and I left the boys to it and simply stretched our legs out before climbing back in the car for the next part of the journey.

It would be fair to say that most of us slept – except Mike as designated driver thank goodness – over the next few hours, until we finally arrived in Scarborough far too late to do much more than drive rather aimlessly through the town and look at what we could have explored if only we’d arrived a little earlier. It’s still something of a mystery as to why exactly G was so determined to visit Scarborough, but I rather suspect that it has a lot to do with the infamous song, “Scarborough Fair” and not really anything else. She didn’t have a plan for anything she wanted to visit whilst there and M’s rather fed-up quizzing of her motives resulted in nothing more than a cursory shoulder shrug and typical teenage smile.

We were all a little tired, a lot travel-weary and in desperate need of food. Thanks to a speedy bit of googling on my trusty i-phone, I managed to find a well-recommended fish and chips shop that specialised in gluten-free batter and we decided to push the boat out for one last time on our holiday and spoil us all with that little treat. The gluten-free menu at Fish and Chips at 149 in Bridlington was incredible and I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a great allergy-friendly meal. We each chose our fish and accompaniment of choice and then headed to the seafront to sit and enjoy our meal. The portions were huge, but much enjoyed and we finished the evening off with a much-needed and refreshing walk along the seafront. It was a wonderful end to a fantastic holiday, though we were all looking forward to being homeward-bound once again.

Visiting Edinburgh in every weather

There’s been so much going on in the last few weeks and I have a lot to catch you up on, including some fantastic new recipes that have been a great addition to my kitchen, but I wanted to make sure I also took the time to tell you about the last few days of our Scottish adventures back in March. Having started in Liverpool before travelling on to Glasgow and Inverness, via Falkirk and Loch Ness, it was finally time to start our long journey home and we simply couldn’t miss out the Scottish capital city itself, Edinburgh.

Mike and I have some amazing memories of Edinburgh as it was our honeymoon destination back in 1999 and we were keen to retrace some of our steps and share some of the wonderful sights with the children for them to experience too. We had chosen to spend an extra night there and given the weather we had, it was a good thing we had made that decision. On our first full day, we caught the tram from our hotel into the city centre, before jumping on to the City Sightseeing tour bus and heading towards the castle. Edinburgh is an undoubtedly beautiful city, but we struggled to convince G and M of that as we tramped our way up Castle Rock in the cold, sleety rain and rapidly darkening grey skies.

Despite our warm winter coats, hats, gloves and scarves, M got progressively colder and more miserable as we made our way between the different exhibits you can find within the Castle grounds. One of M’s godmothers is married to a lovely military man and both children were keen to learn more about the various Scottish regiments in the regimental museum. First exhibit done, we acknowledged the need for a temporary break from the wintery weather and headed into the cafe, where we enjoyed hot drinks, some safe lunchtime food and were in place to hear the 1 o’clock gun salute.

Having warmed up enough to bring a smile back to M’s face, we convinced them to traipse around a few more exhibits before we headed back down to the bus, stopping on the way for some dry wool socks and a brand new woollen hat for M. We had originally planned to stop at the Scottish Parliament, but the weather had quite literally put a damper on our travels and instead we completed a full loop and a half, before getting off and heading to the Hard Rock Cafe for an early supper.

However, the next day was almost a complete opposite to the day before and much to our surprise, M’s yearning for a day at Edinburgh zoo was an absolute success, despite the lengthy queue to get in, as we enjoyed a beautiful, sunny and surprisingly warm spring day. G and M were particularly keen to see the pandas, but we also had great fun spotting the lions and tigers and watching the penguin parade. We didn’t perhaps do all that we had wanted whilst we were in Edinburgh, but the children enjoyed the time we had there, even the snow, and would love to go back for another visit and the chance to see a bit more when it’s not so cold.

And so it continues….

After last week’s unexpectedly busy week, I was hoping that this week might slow down a bit; or at very least, enough to allow me to draw breath and properly put some thought into my blog posts! However, things often don’t quite work out as planned, especially when you’re me and I’ve found that the roundabout hasn’t quite slowed down enough just yet for me to get off. There’s been little time to stop and smell the roses…or the coffee…the latter of which is probably more apt as it’s been huge quantities of the black stuff that’s getting me through each day right now.

With work full of “stuff” – legal, finance and HR bits and pieces to get my head round; Mike slowly winding down to his last few days in his current job and both children back at home after a fantastic week away for G (hurrah!) plus rehearsals for concerts, fundraising plans to finalise for Over The Wall and some rather meaty health/education issues to tackle for M, I can honestly say I’m looking forward to a quiet-ish weekend to tackle the growing piles of ironing that just don’t appear to be shrinking.

Whilst we’re in the midst of dealing with the challenge of school not really understanding all of M’s educational, physical and mental health needs, I found this wonderful image this week, which truly summaries what I want both him and G to remember and hold on to as they grow up. They really are so much more than their school achievements and exam results #kindhearts #generoussouls #greatfriends

Quiet week…?

I wish!

I thought this week would be quiet as G is away at pony camp for her school’s enrichment week and M is busy doing “activity adventures” for his. I thought that would give me a week to catch up on writing some blog posts, finish the tales of our trip to Scotland over Easter and sort and store the photos from that said-same trip.

And then work just exploded and deadlines needed to be met – and still do to be fair – and life carried on with little consideration for my plans for the week.

Ah well, maybe that quiet week is just around the next corner?

The Hunt for Nessie…and other adventures

Inverness was the location for yet another flying visit on our whistle-stop tour of Scotland, but was one we all enjoyed hugely and it even saw both children expressing a surprising yearning to move North as they gazed at properties in the estate agents’ windows. Inverness itself was not the primary focus of our visit, but rather nearby Loch Ness, which M insisted was a place we absolutely couldn’t even consider missing out when we were practically passing right by the proverbial doorstep. Our time spent there was tight, but we managed to squeeze in everything we wanted to do and even found an unexpected bonus before we left again to travel on to our next destination.

It was whilst we were in Inverness that the snow that had been dogging our every step finally caught up with us, but it didn’t spoil our morning’s trip to Culloden, the site of the final battle of the Jacobite rising in 1745. Despite M’s reluctant traipse around the visitor centre itself, the rest of us enjoyed the interactive displays which carefully talked the visitor through both sides of the story and depicted the events that led to the final battle. It is not a part of British history that either Mike or the children really knew at all and I enjoyed brushing up on my rather scant knowledge too. Mike and G took their time reading the displays, whilst M and I moved at his usual faster pace as I desperately tried to cut through all the facts to capture his interest in the story itself.

Being the Easter holidays, there were some great children-friendly activities available for younger visitors and they appealed to both M and G, who were fascinated to learn more about the weapons used during the battle as well as glimpsing a small insight into the household essentials of the time. We even participated in the family orientated quiz that was held in the last exhibition space and M proved once again that although he moves fast, he’s able to pick up a surprising amount of information in a short space of time and was able to answer with ease questions that left the rest of our side scratching our heads. Once we had finished exploring all that the museum had to offer on the inside, it was time to wrap up warm and venture out onto the snowy battlefield itself. Despite the grey skies and intermittent snowfall, we managed to make our way all around the site, although the return journey back to the warmth was at speed. Neither child had been particularly interested in visiting Culloden in the first place, so to make a full morning of it counted as a real success in our book!

We enjoyed a picnic lunch in the car as we travelled from Culloden to Loch Ness itself and stopped en route to take a few snaps of the beautiful scenery we were passing. Our destination for the afternoon was the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition, which talked us through the history of Nessie and all of the scientific (and otherwise) investigations into whether she really exists. The children had the chance to investigate the photographs and evidence themselves and drew their own conclusions about whether the Loch Ness monster really exists. It was a fun and interesting exhibition and I particularly enjoyed the last room, which talked about other incidents and discoveries in the Loch Ness area, rather than focus on Nessie herself. A quick jaunt through the gift shop heralded the end of our day out and we headed back to the hotel for some much-needed sleep before moving on once again for the final destination on our tour of Scotland.