Category Archives: Friendship

Third year a charm

When the email inviting me to once again participate as a judge of this year’s Free From Food Awards dropped into my inbox a couple of months ago, I started the necessary planning to ensure I could get to London and be away from home for a couple of days. Mike was booked to work from home for my 2 days of judging, I arranged for a bed at the FFFA headquarters and my annual leave was booked from work. It seemed as if everything had been meticulously planned and since the start of the year, I’ve been counting down excitedly to the days themselves. Needless to say, and just in case you hadn’t picked up from the tone of my above writing, things didn’t quite go as expected and life once again proved that even the best laid plans can go awry.

First of all, my arrangements to go the night before my first day of judging had to be tweaked when Mike was due to be working over 2 hours away and wouldn’t be home before 7pm that evening. The thought of the 2 hour train journey late at night and then travelling on to the FFFA house with the likelihood that I wouldn’t arrive much before 10.30pm that night meant that instead I had a quick rethink and booked myself on to the 6am train the following morning. With the tickets booked, it looked like everything was back on track and it was full steam ahead once again.

And then ‘flu struck; and with 50% of the household taking to their beds, I suddenly had to rethink it all. I was reluctant to give up my third year of judging completely and so reached an agreement with my husband in his sick-bed that I would head off on the 6am train as planned, but instead of having some time to myself and staying in London, I would instead return at the end of the day and pick up my nursing duties where they had been left off over 12 hours before. It would mean a long day for me with not much chance to rest and recover, but I knew that the day itself would rejuvenate me as I spent it with the fantastic bunch of fellow judges that have become friends over the last couple of years.

My choice of category this was “store cupboard”, something I hadn’t previously judged and one that I had found quite intriguing in previous years. This category encapsulates a vast selection of products that could be found in your kitchen cupboard (flours and packet mixes), fridges (mayonnaises and sauces) or freezers (cook from frozen goodies). With 49 items to taste, evaluate and score, this is a long day, which contained a lot of laughter thanks to the people I was with. I’ve made no secret that the last 12 months at work have been challenging ones and it proved to be a real reminder of exactly what is important in life and provided a focus on just how lucky I am to have such opportunities away from the 9-5 drudgery of the day-to-day.

There were a lot of products for us to try and some were definitely better than others. I think it fair to also state that some were better received than others, with the occasional one leaving us all scratching our heads as to why exactly they’d been entered into the awards. With a choice of 49 different items to taste during the day, I wanted to bring you the highlights as I saw them and although not all were safe for M, they would all be an ideal addition for G. In no particular order, I loved these:

Orman’s Vegan Easy Egg – a fantastic egg replacement product that produced an omelette that not only tasted just like the real thing, but had a similar texture as well. I hadn’t come across this before, but I absolutely loved it.

Probios Mayorice – a rice-based mayonnaise that was a good alternative for regular egg mayonnaise and, even better, was pretty much M-friendly (allowing for the fact that we have no idea whether he can tolerate mustard or not!).

Thai Green Curry sauce – I can’t remember who this was made by (Co-op maybe?), but it was a delicious and aromatic version of this popular Thai dish. Marketed as gluten-free, but sadly not also dairy-free as the manufacturers had decided to use double cream to thicken the sauce. Despite that fact, I enjoyed the mouthful I had.

Spice Sanctuary’s GF Asafoetida – This is one I’d never heard of, but is a fantastic gently aromatic spice blend that can be used to replace onion and garlic in your cooking. Not an inexpensive option, but you only need a little to flavour your dishes.

I once again had a fab day finding new products and taking some great options away with me to experiment with at home. Judging finishes this week and the results will be announced at the Awards ceremony in a couple of months’ time.

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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!

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.

Charity Cut

Whenever I write my blog, I am always conscious of not wanting to focus on any one emotion more than another, particularly when life seems pretty bleak to us. Yes, sometimes things feel overwhelming, but I know that in the grand scale of things life could be so much worse and I’m truly grateful that it isn’t. However, this is one occasion when I’m not going to apologise for shouting from the rooftops about just how fantastic both my children are in my eyes. They’ve both had brilliant end of year school reports and Stagecoach reports, which is a real testament to how hard they’ve worked this year, but this post is about something so much more than that and something of which Mike and I are incredibly proud.

In May, as part of National Eosinophil Awareness Week, M wrote to his Headteacher to ask if he could hold a “Dress as your Hero” day at school. Unbeknownst to me, M was invited to speak at one of the whole school assemblies about why he was running this fundraiser and took this opportunity completely in his stride. Both his class teacher and the Head have told me that he spoke confidently and with great articulation, able to clearly explain who Over The Wall are, what they do and the importance of these camps to him and to G. The school responded in amazing fashion and M’s hopes of raising around £100 proved to be a woeful underestimate of the final total.

Back at the start of the year, I wrote about our family’s New Year Resolutions  and mentioned that G had set herself a resolution that would be revealed in the fullness of time. It’s a real privilege to now share that resolution with you all. My gorgeous girlie decided that she wanted to cut her beautiful long hair before we travel abroad this summer and was keen to do it for charity if at all possible. So, for the past 7 months as G has been growing her hair as long as she could get it, she has been researching just how she could support a charity by doing so.

Two weeks ago, G faced her charity cut and had over 10 inches cut off to benefit 2 amazing charities. The 10-inch plait has been sent to the Little Princess Trust, who will use it to make real hair wigs for children across the UK who have lost their hair due to intensive medical treatments. Not content to leave it at that, G decided to join M in his fundraising efforts for OTW and asked family and friends for any sponsorship they were willing to give her to support her in her efforts. Regardless of any lingering nerves or uncertainties, G was excited to see her final look and I’ll be honest enough to say that we now have a teenage daughter that looks stunning and even more grown up than she did before. She really is rocking her new style:

Working together with this shared purpose, G and M have succeeded in raising more than a phenomenal £760  for Over The Wall, the charity that provides free camps for children with serious health challenges, their siblings and their families. As you’ll have read more than once on here, G and M have both benefited hugely from attending the Over The Wall camps and as a family we have chosen to support the work of this charity in every way we can. This really is a proud Mummy moment for me, seeing G and M be determined to raise awareness and financial support so that OTW can keep creating the magic they do every day at camp.

We are, of course, more than happy to keep collecting for this fantastic cause and you can add to the hard work of both children over the last couple of months by donating via our Virgin Giving website here. Thank you

Carnival Magic

Never being one to let something get in my way, I’ve tried to instill that same determination to succeed in both G and M. This time last year was the perfect example of this, when M took part in our local carnival parade, albeit in his wheelchair, and G stretched her self-confidence to become one of the dance captains leading their Stagecoach school as they danced their way along the carnival route. Kitted out in their 70s-inspired costumes, with the likes of Tragedy, Night Fever and Disco Inferno blaring out to get not just the kids, but all the spectators dancing too, they definitely captured an essence of Rio de Janeiro on the day.

This year we were back again, though our carnival offering really couldn’t have been more different to the party atmosphere of 2016. G and M were both keen to be a part of our church’s carnival float and relished the opportunity to choose the characters they wanted to portray from that classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. With her long dark hair, G was perfectly suited to playing the part of “Belle” and suited the yellow costume I managed to pull together in the 10 days leading up to the event itself. M in the meantime, conspired with his best friend at church and agreed that he would play “Lumière“, whilst C would be “Cogsworth“. M’s final outfit certainly did the job, though the glorious June sunshine made for one very hot and slightly grumpy child once the parade was over. The carnival float itself looked amazing and the children loved being able to sing along, dance and wave to everyone as it carried them down the street. I love being part of such a fantastic local tradition and can’t wait to see what next year brings for yet another repeat performance.

Supporting our favourite Foodpreneur

Every now and then you stumble across something wonderful that makes an unbelievable difference to your life or that of those around you. Since I uncovered this brand at the Free From Food Awards 2016, I’ve not hesitated to sing the praises of this particular allergy superhero from the proverbial rooftop and finding myself in the position to do this once again, I’ve not hesitated in lending my voice in support. The best thing about this particular discovery is that M’s superhero has become a firm family friend in the 18 months since our first conversation and for all the right reasons. Not only did he lovingly create sweet treats that went beyond the wildest dreams of M and G and were deliciously safe for them both, he has also sent messages of love and support, not just when M broke his leg last year, but as he prepped for his SATS this year too.

Up until a month ago, I’d never even heard of the Virgin StartUp Foodpreneur 2017 competition, but I’m now eagerly waiting for the final results with fingers and toes tightly crossed for our favourite foodpreneur: the awesome Ryan, from Borough 22 doughnuts. The competition looks to recognise and celebrate UK-based food and drink startups, with the winner being offered mentoring from industry experts as well as a 6 weeks selling opportunity through joint sponsors, intu, who own shopping centres across the UK. From the hundreds of entries received, 15 were shortlisted for the first stage of the competition, where each startup were invited to give a 3-minute presentation about their business, why they started it and the direction they’re hoping to take it in the future. From a home-delivery wine service to vegetable- and fruit-infused water and vegetarian hot dogs to hand-crafted chocolates, there’s a lot of delicious options to choose from.

I was delighted to learn this week that Ryan has moved on to the next stage and is one of 8 semi-finalists, who will receive a week’s worth of pop-up shop space at one of nationwide intu’s shopping centres to introduce their wares to a new audience. Ryan has been given a kiosk at the Lakeside shopping centre in Essex and will be working 12-hour days, 10am to 10pm, from this Friday, June 30th to July 7th. If you’re in the area and able to stop by to see Ryan, taste his amazing doughnuts and show him some support, I know you won’t be disappointed with his fantastic freefrom ware.

And don’t forget to tell him that M sent you!

NEAW 2017 – No man is an island

Sometimes, when you’re stuck in the midst of the relentless demands and emotional turmoil of a chronic illness, it’s difficult to see beyond your immediate reality and nearly impossible to believe that anyone else can even begin to understand how you’re feeling at that moment in time. It is no surprise that the one with the diagnosis often becomes self-centred and self-absorbed as their illness dictates every facet of their life and it can take a long time to really grasp that there are others out there who can empathise because of their own struggles and experiences. It’s all too easy for the focus of family, friends and the outside world to be focused fully on the individual and often the others affected by the diagnosis are left to struggle on their own by the wayside.

Over the years we have worked hard to try to give G the attention she deserves and it’s heartbreaking to realise that there are more times than I care to admit where we have absolutely failed to get that balance right. M’s ill-timed admissions over G’s birthday for 2 years in row were a bitter pill to swallow for us all and nothing could really make up for the disappointment of spending her 12th birthday too many miles apart. Encouraging G’s involvement with our local Young Carers group and the GOSH YPF as well as applying for her to be a part of the Over The Wall siblings camps have all been important steps in recognising the impact that M’s health challenges have had on her over the last 13 years and supporting her to find her own identity that is completely independent from him. It is an ongoing process for us and Mike and I will continue to strive everyday to support G as much as she needs, especially as the emotional roller-coaster of her teen years starts.

Just as our family is affected by M’s EGID diagnosis, so too is the community that surrounds him. I have mentioned so many times the amazing village school that both G and M have attended and everyday am grateful for their unfaltering support. Since M arrived at their gates nearly 4 years ago, they have willingly taken on the responsibility of dealing with a child with complex additional needs, not just medical but educational too. They have allowed both children, and us, to promote NEAW and their continued support with our fundraising efforts has been fantastic. I regularly read about the problems other parents with EGID children are facing in their schools around the UK and I know that we’re incredibly lucky to found this little gem. M has been able to attend school with a feeding tube, a broken leg and an extremely restricted diet and his attendance is remarkable for a child who has been through so much in so short a time. His Year 6 teacher has been fantastic at encouraging him this year when the prospect of SATS has caused him unbelievable anxiety and she has put up with a plethora of emails as I’ve tried to iron out the biggest wrinkles in a stress-filled few months. His classmates have similarly been an irrefutable source of encouragement and his move up to secondary school in September will be eased by their presence in his life.

We do not live in splendid isolation and every action we take has a ripple effect that can stretch out further than we can ever imagine, especially as a child. We are extremely lucky to have a community that works with us to help both children have the childhood that they are entitled to enjoy, one that is all too often marred by the difficult reality of chronic illness. As G and M grow older, my hope is that the realisation slowly dawns that whilst everyone’s life is unique, there are moments that teach us all lessons that can help us reach out to and empathise with others. Going to Over The Wall camps has shown both children that, despite those times when they feel isolated, there are others in the bigger world that do understand what they’re feeling, what they’re living and who can perhaps help them learn to survive even the darkest of emotions; and that when they have survived their own dark place, they can reach out to others who need to be brought back into the sun.

This year we have decided to continue our support of the amazing charity, Over The Wall and their camps. If you’re able to donate even a very small amount, please follow this link to my Virgin Money Giving Page where your donation will help more children living with chronic illness like G and M by giving them and their families a chance to enjoy some much-needed time away from it all.

NEAW 2017 – Wings to fly

As a parent, one of the biggest challenges you face is helping your child grow in self-confidence, develop independence and to ultimately give them the wings they need to fly away from the security of the family home. There are so many obstacles to overcome along the way and when a chronic illness is thrown into the mix, it can feel almost impossible to let your child take those first steps on their own. Our determination to not let EGID define either child means that every day is an opportunity to let go of our own anxieties and concerns, and encourage them to make their own decisions regardless of the limitations that health, medicine and diet place on them. Of course, much as we work to equip G and M with the skills they’ll need as they grow up, I know that they need to learn so much more than what Mike and I can teach them on our own and so we always look for any opportunity to develop their learning from experiences that are beyond our ability to give.

That’s why once again this year, I completed the application forms for both G and M to attend the fantastic camps offered by charity, Over The Wall, knowing that their respective weeks away from home will be all about friendship and understanding and being amongst equals and building self-esteem and so, so much more. When G came home from the South Siblings Camp last year, she was a different child to the one who had left us just 5 days before. The time spent with others who have a similar home life to her was invaluable as she realised that her life experiences didn’t isolate her in those circumstances; and the focus on her and making sure that she had the best time she could helped G to find a self-worth that she had been struggling to develop at home and at school. Likewise, M had what could only be described as the best week ever as he was able to spend a week away from home without family for the first time in his life. He tried his hand at activities that had terrified him before and he too found great comfort in the realisation that he is not on his own in his health challenges.

We were all delighted when G heard she had a place at this year’s Siblings Camp and we couldn’t wait to hear all about her adventures there as a Green Girl. From the moment I dropped her off with some familiar faces, including the unexpected, but much welcome presence of G’s buddy from the GOSH YPF who was volunteering for the very first time, I knew that she was destined for another great week. Their unfailing attention to detail and care for the young people they were responsible for during the camp was impressive. We received a phone-call on the second night to say that whilst G was having an amazing time, she was struggling with the “fancy” gluten- and dairy-free food that the chefs were lovingly preparing for her and wasn’t really eating as much as they would like.  A quick catch-up to understand G’s food preferences and the reassurance that they would continue to keep an eye on her was all I needed to be certain that their care was absolutely everything I could want it to be.

M, Mike and I were all able to make the journey to pick G up at the end of her week away and were all immersed in the joy that is the camp bubble of OTW for the short time that we were there. Our Green Girl had tried her hand at most things, exceeded her own limitations and came away with a much-deserved pride in her achievements. This photo of a beaming G at the top of the climbing wall reflects her determination to overcome her self-proclaimed fear of heights and the pride she felt when she surpassed what she managed last year to achieve: more than she had ever believed herself capable of doing. Unlike the previous year, when she had been reluctant to take part in the Talent show, this time round, she went prepared with a routine she’s been working on during her school dance club and performed with a confidence and grace that reaped an impressive number of compliments as well as moving her YPF buddy to tears with her passion for her dance. G became good friends with several in her team and has been keeping in contact with them in the weeks following camp. She has developed a confidence and willingness to take on new challenges, knowing that, with a little bit of self-belief and perseverance, no mountain is too big for her to conquer.

It is thanks to Over The Wall that my children are becoming all that they can be and are learning that chronic illness doesn’t have to be a hurdle to anything they want to do. Over The Wall truly gives both our children wings to fly and our thanks just don’t seem to be enough.

This year we have decided to continue our support of the amazing charity, Over The Wall and their camps. If you’re able to donate even a very small amount, please follow this link to my Virgin Money Giving Page where your donation will help more children living with chronic illness like G and M by giving them and their families a chance to enjoy some much-needed time away from it all.

 

OTW Siblings #Take Two

This time last year, this happened:

and since the start of February, when the email finally arrived in my inbox confirming that G would once again be heading off to the depths of Dorset for the fabulous Over The Wall South Siblings Camp, the clock has been counting down. I’m surrounded by reminders of this amazing organisation wherever I look, from the screen saver on my phone to the calendar on my desk at work and it’s reflected every time I hear G or M, or sometimes both, bursting into a song from their time away at camp.

The next 5 days are going to be busy ones as I wash, iron, sort and pack G’s clothes for next week. We need to make sure she has enough for every eventuality – sunny days, wet weather, swimming, archery, arts and crafts, the talent show and the all important disco. Unlike last year, when she refused to even consider being part of the talent evening until she got there and then taught her team, the totally epic Purple Girls, a dance routine to Omi’s “Cheerleader” track; this year G is torn about which talent in particular she wants to perform. It could be a clarinet solo, which M would love her to do, or it might be a new dance routine, this time with costume. I’ve told her she really needs to have made her decision by the weekend, so I can ensure she’s got everything she wants with her when we set out on Monday. We’re so thrilled that G has the opportunity to benefit once again from the fantastic work done to support siblings of children with health challenges and I can’t wait to hear all about this year’s week away from home with OTW.

You may remember that since G’s adventures with Over The Wall last year, we have been raising awareness and funds for this incredible cause and I created this video to show our reasons for supporting them: