Category Archives: Parenting

Birthdays, exams and an awards ceremony too

The last 10 days have been busy ones and I for one am glad to be heading into the last week of term, though the dawning of the school holidays definitely does not equate to any time off work for me this year. Looking back at my blog posts from previous years, it does appear that March and April are consistently a hectic time for us and this year was no different. World Book Day passed surprisingly easy, with M heading to school in his own clothes for his school’s Roald Dahl-themed day as he chose to represent “…a material witness at the trial of Goldilocks, Mummy…” in Dahl’s version of that well-loved Fairy tale.

We seamlessly segued from my 40th celebrations to M’s 11th birthday and onto my 4th blogaversary before celebrating Mother’s Day in fine style too. School presented its own challenges to both G and M, with homework tasks, concert rehearsals and posters revising the finer details of grammar and punctuation – fronted adverbials anyone? – filling our evenings and weekends. Next came 2 sets of exams: Performing Arts exams for both children with their Stagecoach school, followed just a few days later by M’s Grade 1 Cello exam, which I’m delighted to say he passed despite a persistent reluctance to give much more than a cursory nod to his daily practice. Continuing with the music theme, G performed with the school clarinet group at her school’s Spring music concert last week, whilst M is singing with his school choir at a regional music concert involving children from Junior schools across our county this week.

On top of all of that, we also managed to squeeze in a trip to London for 4 and an evening spent celebrating the success stories from this year’s FreeFrom Food Awards. Once again held at the Royal College of Physicians near Regent’s Park, the evening was a glittering event designed to recognise some of the fantastic freefrom products nominated this year and was a great opportunity to not only catch-up with friends from the allergy blogging world, but also try those tasty treats that had pipped their competitors to the winning post. Hosted by the fabulous Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, director of the FreeFrom Food Awards, with a helping hand from restaurateur, celebrity chef and awards patron, Antony Worrall-Thompson, the Awards were a real testament to the changes brought about in the Freefrom world over the last few years.

The complete list of winners from #FFFA17 can be found here, but the big winners of the night were Irish bakers, Bfree, whose Sweet Potato Wraps are impressively top 14 allergen free and won high praise from many of the judges for being “…enormously versatile, beautifully soft and pliable, a lovely warm colour and tasting delicious…” This year was the 10th anniversary of the FFFA and to acknowledge this remarkable achievement, nominations had been invited to recognise a Freefrom Super Hero from within the industry itself. There were 5 very worthy nominees, all of whom are, without a doubt, heroes within the Freefrom world, but there could only be one winner and the inspirational Clare Marriage of Doves Farm was chosen for her unquestionable dedication to the production of numerous flour blends that have transformed the lives of those having to bake freefrom.

It was a fantastic night and it was wonderful to be able to mingle with the crowds of fellow freefrom foodies, rather than negotiate them with a small child in a wheelchair as we did last year! G not only enjoyed helping herself to a number of the goodies on offer on the Winners’ Buffet, finding a new gluten-free favourite with Kelkin’s chocolate-flavoured teacakes, but also found the courage to strike up a brief conversation with her very own Super Hero, Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne, the creator of G’s gluten-free bread of choice, Genius. I can’t wait to see what the year ahead brings for the Freefrom industry and am definitely looking forward to #FFFA18!

A fine Fish supper

With an unbeatable combination of good health all round, a new approach to food challenges and an accommodating restaurant, this year we had one of the best Mother’s Day lunches that we’ve enjoyed in a long time. Last year’s celebration fell flat, when my Mum was relegated to her sick-bed and left Mike, the children and me to savour yet another fantastic family meal at what has become one of our all-time favourites for allergy-friendly meals, Wagamama. However, a recent visit to our local Wagamama for M’s birthday tea meant we didn’t fancy a return visit quite so soon, after all it is possible to have too much of a good thing and as much as I fancied treating Mum to a late lunch at the amazing Cafe Nouveau, it was just too far to trek this weekend. Fortunately, the opportune coincidence of trialling prawns and our Sunday lunch plans meant we could visit an old haunt that received recent recognition as a gold award-winning venue at the 2016 FreeFrom Eating Out Awards.

Of course, we couldn’t just turn up on the day assuming that we’d be able to safely feed both children, so a preliminary phone call to not only book a table, but also run through all of our allergy requirements for the meal was an absolute necessity. We have been incredibly lucky in the past as we don’t always call ahead and have still found ourselves able to eat out as a family, but a special meal such as this one required a little forward planning. Our restaurant of choice was the marvellous Fishers Restaurant in Bristol and we had our fingers crossed that the inclusion of prawns for the day would make it possible for us all to enjoy a lunch at this great seafood restaurant. The staff were fantastic when Mike called and reassured him that not only could a safe prawn starter be prepared for M, but, as they were including chicken as a main course for Mothering Sunday, prepping chicken, rice and cucumber would be an absolute breeze too.

We had high hopes for our first 3-course meal in a long time, but the generous portion sizes left us all feeling full and satisfied before the dessert menu could even be properly considered. Fishers were able to adapt most of their menu options to be both gluten- and dairy-free to suit G and she was thrilled to be able to order calamari with a sweet chilli sauce, something that is an unexpected favourite with my oft-time picky oldest. She was also delighted by the gluten-free bread basket that she was able to enjoy whilst waiting for her starter to arrive and there was barely a crumb left by the time the calamari appeared. Mum settled on mussels, Mike picked smoked salmon and M and I enjoyed a similar starter of tempura tiger prawns, though mine came with a soy dipping sauce. I would love to be able to share with you the plate of prawns that M was presented with, but my joy at being able to watch my foodie savour every single mouthful meant that I forgot to pull out my phone until that plate was cleared.

G and M’s choices for their main course were a little more mainstream, with M being greeted with a fantastic-looking plate of plain rice, grilled chicken and cucumber batons, whilst G’s huge plate of gluten-free haddock and chips was enough to feed a small army. I was pleased to learn that they have a dedicated fryer to cook all of their gluten-free offerings and seemed to be very much attuned to the risks of cross-contamination for their freefrom guests. We had already confirmed that M could eat the lemon sorbet for pudding and were keen to see what was on offer for G. Sadly, this is when disappointment really hit as despite their brilliance in providing lots of gluten- and dairy-free alternatives for the savoury courses, dessert was a real let-down. The only choice readily available for G was sorbet, which she absolutely hates and when pushed, all the kitchen could offer was the apple crumble – without the crumble. We had heard that in the past, they had been able to go off-menu and cook a gluten- and dairy-free banana fritter, but we were told that they were no longer able to prepare that as an alternative. It was perhaps lucky that G and M were both full to the brim from the rest of the meal and didn’t really want to stick around any longer for pudding and so the rest of us willingly abandoned the sweet finale to our meal and instead travelled back to my Mum’s for a refreshing cup of tea.

Fishers was a great choice for lunch and we were impressed at their willingness to accommodate some tricky dietary requirements. However, the lack of an imaginative dessert menu for those with allergies was extremely disappointing and an area that could definitely do with some improvement to make it a truly excellent Freefrom restaurant.

Happy 11th!

Somehow it doesn’t seem real that another year has passed and we’re marking a certain young gentleman’s 11th birthday. When my challenging pregnancy resulted in a premature birth, I had no idea that this Japanese proverb would become the very mantra of our lives as a family of 4. Today we’re celebrating 11 years filled with love, laughter and the continued determination by our youngest to get back up each and every time life knocks him down.

Happy 11th birthday M, may your day be filled with everything you want and so much more!

 

Impractical Jokers – Birmingham 2017

The last month or so has been filled with an unusual number of opportunities for Mike and me to take a little time off from our jam-packed lives at home and have some much-needed time to relax, rejuvenate and re-find ourselves as a couple. We’ve been fortunate that, just as she did last June when we enjoyed my surprise holiday win to Italy, my Mum was willing to take charge of G and M for the duration and we’ve been celebrating our 40th birthdays in style. Our first treat involved a road trip to Birmingham, an overnight stay near the Barclaycard Arena (previously the National Indoor Arena) and an evening spent laughing, courtesy of the tickets I had bought for Mike as part of his 40th birthday present.

img_13471Just over a year ago we discovered the American hit comedy show, Impractical Jokers and have spent many hours curled up in front of the TV, often with the children added to the mix too, giggling and guffawing at the escapades we’ve watched unfold in front of our eyes. For those of you who have never heard of the Impractical Jokers, this hidden camera show follows 4 childhood friends from Staten Island, Sal, Joe, Murr and Q, as they play a series of practical jokes on each other and the unsuspecting general public. In a hyped-up version of “Truth or Dare”, they challenge each other to complete a string of ridiculous tasks, knowing that failure to complete or achieve the goal will result in the biggest loser of that episode having to undergo a punishment at the hands of their friends.

The Jokers usually do not know the details of the pranks until the moment they have to do them and are often pushed to say and do things that are well beyond most people’s normal comfort zones. From saying outrageous comments when serving customers at one of the many stores, fast food joints or cafes featured from New York, to having to convince strangers that they have met before in the most unbelievable set of circumstances, the pranks nearly always have us all laughing out loud. I’d be hard-pushed to say which part of each show we most enjoy, but the final punishments are almost always as funny as the pranks themselves and go from the sublime to the ridiculous. img_13531In many ways, it’s seeing the response that adds to the humour of the situation. My Mum freely admits that she can’t see what makes us laugh so much and perhaps it’s true you require a certain quirky sense of humour to enjoy the half-hour episodes.

Having missed out on tickets for their first UK tour in February 2016, I was determined to get some for January 2017 and was delighted when I managed to secure 2 great seats at the Birmingham Barclaycard Arena. It took some strategic planning with my Mum – well, I had to check she’d be in the country to look after G and M for the night! – but we got there in the end and I even managed to keep it a secret until the big reveal on Mike’s birthday in October. M was not so impressed with our planned night out, but Mike was as thrilled as I was and the time just flew past until we found ourselves taking an afternoon off from work and bombing down the motorway towards our final destination. We found a great place to stay – City Nites Serviced Apartments – within walking distance of the Arena that included a secure location to park the car and enjoyed a delicious dinner at Thai Edge before the show itself started.

We were hoping for a great night out and weren’t disappointed. The Jokers, also known as The Tenderloins comedy troupe, have been performing stand-up for years and their show was filled with a skillful mix of scripted jokes, some improv and the inevitable reveal of previously unseen clips from their successful TV show. I’ll be honest, a few long days and nights on UK tour had obviously taken their toll on all their voices and a heavy drinking session meant that one member of the group in particular was not as sharp as he usually is on-screen, but my favourites, Sal and Joe, were in fantastic form and made the night for me. Mike loved being at yet another live comedy show, having already enjoyed seeing Josh Widdicombe and Dave Gorman for previous birthday treats. It was a brilliant overnight break from the children and one that we both needed after the medical stresses that had stalked us at the end of last year.c2dvr6txeaan_op

Young Carers Awareness Day 2017

Today is Young Carers Awareness Day, a national day for the recognition of the estimated 700,000 Young Carers in the UK. I’ve written before about Young Carers and how G was finally recognised as one last year. She now regularly attends our local carers support group and has developed friendships with a couple of other girls who are in her year at her secondary school. Young Carers can care in a number of ways, the most obvious being giving physical help to family members, but, as we discovered with G, the emotional and psychological support given is just as important to recognise and can take just as big a toll on the young person. Organisations such as the Carers Trust, Barnados and Over The Wall all work to ensure that these young people are given the same opportunities as their friends and have time to be a child. This support is vital to ensure that G, her friends and others like them have as happy, healthy and balanced a childhood as they can.

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Top Chips!

You know you’re getting old when your Christmas presents start bordering on the practical, rather than the fantastical, and you know you’re a parent when those practical presents can be used to the benefit of your children rather than just for pampering yourself. I’ve been on the receiving end of the former for a fair few years now – welly boots and coffee machines spring to mind – but this year I received not one, but two of the latter, indicating that I really am well and truly heading towards a rather significant birthday celebration frighteningly soon.

Interestingly, whilst one was an item I’d requested myself, the second was actually a gift that M picked out for me, evidently in the hope that it would help me make some more interesting variations of his foods for him. Back in the summer, we attended the Allergy and Freefrom Show held over 3 days at the amazing venue that is Olympia Kensington for the first time in a couple of years. Whilst there we discovered the wonderful and tasty treat that is Emily’s Fruit Crisps, a great new snack which M almost instantly fell in love with and devoured so quickly that the dozen packs we bought at the show soon disappeared. img_13601I hadn’t got round to restocking the larder as M’s interest in the crisps appeared to wane and I didn’t want to fill my cupboards with yet another safe snack that would end up forming part of Mike’s packed lunch for months because M no longer wanted them.

However, the novelty of fruit crisps obviously hadn’t worn off as much as I thought it had and this was reflected in his choice of present. In the months leading up to the festive season, M spent hours, like most children his age, pouring over a variety of catalogues and gadget magazines searching for the perfect present that would tick all his boxes for what he could possibly want for Christmas and seeking a little added inspiration along the way for what he could buy for the rest of the family. With a little technical help from Mike which came, much to M’s disgust and dismay, in the days following Christmas day itself because somehow ordering my present had got swept up in the chaos of too many hospital appointments and health challenges to contend with, my present finally arrived at our address and M rushed off to check it out before handing it over, in all its unwrapped glory.

img_13551This week saw the first outing of this piece of kit as I finally got round to trying out my brand new kitchen gadget, the Mastrad Topchips Kit complete with a “slicer” to cut the fine slices needed to make the perfect crisps. We tried out both apple and pear with varying levels of success. The slicer was scarily sharp and I refused to let my somewhat clumsy child anywhere near it, rather preferring to take the chance of slicing my own finger and not his. The process is remarkably simple: peel the fruit, slice it, place single slices on to the rubber sheet and microwave for anywhere up to about 5 minutes, depending on the type of fruit or vegetable you decide to use. I did start with stacking both trays in the microwave as it suggested, but found it taking a long time to do…well to do anything, so instead started again using just 1 tray and allowing a little more time img_13591than suggested in the instructions booklet. The apple crisps worked well, though it would have been good to know that they aren’t immediately crispy when the cooking time is finished, but actually need a couple of minutes to stand and crisp up. Both children declared them as delicious and the plateful quickly cleared in front of my eyes. The pear was less successful as the one I used was evidently far too juicy to crisp up properly and we declared it an unmitigated disaster, although M conceded that it “…wasn’t bad for your first attempt Mummy..!” The trays are delightfully easy to clean and store, which is always an added bonus in my somewhat crowded kitchen.

Would I recommend the Topchips kit to others? Yes, I think I would, with the proviso to not be surprised if it takes a little practice to work out the fruit and vegetables that work best and the ideal cooking time in your individual microwave. Our first foray into making fruit crisps for M was a definite hit and I’ve no doubt that we’ll be using the equipment again, and soon.

Marks out of 10: 7.5 – a great result, but the instructions could be improved

Beating the Blues

Today is Blue Monday, the day predicted to be the gloomiest day of the year due to bad weather, the stark reality of our Christmas over-indulgence now affecting our dwindling bank accounts, the post-Christmas buzz that has completely disappeared from the horizon and our well-meant resolutions that are proving far harder to keep than we ever imagined. There are some New Year resolutions that you know will be difficult to keep beyond the first few days – abstinence springs instantly to mind – and then there are those that will never, could never be a challenge, but rather are an absolute pleasure to complete. Last year gave our family 2 amazing opportunities, experiences that were so life-changing, so extraordinary for both children and so liberating for us all that I knew that one resolution that I would not fail to meet was to write a post to not only recapture what are amongst my most favourite memories of 2016, but to also encourage others to get involved with what is a truly inspirational organisation.

9a78a65173e2885ea3a8c8b9d3ccd1acThanks to the amazing charity, Over The Wall, last year both G and M were able to escape from the reality that is their life at home coping with chronic illness and find a world where nothing could hold them back or stop them from achieving what might have previously seemed to have been impossible. G discovered a group of friends who could understand completely what life can be like when you have a sibling with serious health issues, but who got to know the unique, kind-hearted, gentle-spirited and passionate girl she can be in her own right and not simply as “M’s big sister“. Her confidence grew as she responded to the love, focus and encouragement that was given to her throughout her week away and she found a new and irreplaceable identity as a valuable member of last year’s Purple Girls at the South Siblings camp. Likewise, just a few months later, M was able to experience, for the first time ever, a week away from family, where he got to be as carefree a child as his school-mates are and could try out a whole host of new activities, confident and safe in the knowledge that his medical needs were being well-managed by the volunteer team surrounding him and he just needed to concentrate on having fun. Their time away from home taught them both that there is more to them than EGID and food allergies: Over The Wall truly gave my children wings to help them soar.

So, why write once again about the extraordinary adventure that is Over The Wall? Well, with a New Year comes new opportunities and you don’t have to have a child living with a chronic illness to be able to become involved with this organisation:

  • Application forms are currently open for places on the 2017 camps and be it the Siblings, Health Challenges or Family camp that meets your needs, now is the time to register your interest and find out if you can secure a place. Both children are glad to know that their forms have been completed and sent off, and it’s just a case of waiting to see if they’re back to the camp bubble this year
  • These camps depend heavily on the huge amount of time given to them by their team of dedicated volunteers. If you’re interested in volunteering your time and helping make a difference to young people impacted by health problems, volunteer applications are also now open. The medical team who willingly give their time are unquestionably invaluable, but whatever your skills, know that your presence will undoubtedly make a difference to the children that are there
  • OTW offer these camps free to those families who attend and to be able to keep doing what they do and successfully reach out to even more young people, they need your help in raising funds. As a family we decided to focus our fundraising efforts last year on OTW and will continue to do so for 2017. Thank you so much if you helped us make a difference in 2016. Cake sales, sky-diving, shaving your head or running a marathon – whatever your interest, please consider supporting this charity by raising sponsorship or making a donation

And just in case you needed a reason to support and spread the news about Over The Wall, here’s a few photos that capture the magic that transformed the lives of G and M in unimaginable ways in 2016.

New Year Resolutions

Two weeks into 2017 and, for some, their good intentions may already be beginning to waver as the grey skies, endless rain and post-Christmas blues sap away any enthusiasm that might have existed at that moment of pressure when they were asked by a well-meaning friend or work colleague what their New Year resolutions were. Love them or hate them,newyearsresolution you’ve probably got an opinion of them, even if it’s just that they’re not worth doing as only the very few manage to keep to their chosen goal.

Last year, Mike and I both had resolutions, though of very differing types and whilst I was fully aware of what Mike was planning to do, I set myself a goal that I chose not to share with anyone. Mike’s resolution for 2016 was to extend his previous challenges of giving up alcohol during Lent by trying to be dry every other weekend throughout the year. He sensibly took the approach that there would undoubtedly be occasions when he would want to drink 2 weekends in a row, so was flexible in managing it, sometimes choosing to abstain for 2 weeks before drinking for 2 weeks. It seemed to work well and he was delighted that he reached the end of the year having managed to stick to his resolution for the full 52 weeks.

In comparison, mine was a blog-based goal and one that I was secretly hoping to achieve and would monitor throughout the months to see if I was still on track to succeed. The one thing I love about the blogging platform that I use and something that really appeals to my accountant’s heart, is the statistics I can access and drill into on a regular basis. As well as showing me my daily hit rates and what posts are proving particularly popular, I can also compare and contrast my monthly statistics and averages since I first started writing nearly 4 years ago.  In my first 10 months, I achieved nearly 6,000 views, whilst the following 2 years saw me hitting the heady heights of over 11,000 blog post reads over the year. Last January I decided I wanted to break the 12,000 mark and set myself a target of 1,000 hits a month to reach it. Some months it was close with the lowest read rate being 1,030 in March, whereas other months were hugely successful including a 2016 high of 2,396 in August. My year-end goal of 12,000 was well and truly met and I can confirm Successthat I actually achieved over 16,000 hits in the year, something I never really thought possible when I started blogging in 2013. I haven’t set myself a NY resolution for years, so it was a fantastic feeling when I finally passed that last 1,000 mark in December and could quietly pat myself on the back.

This year our household has taken something of a mixed approach to the whole matter of resolutions, being firmly split between 2 distinct camps: those who do (Mike and G) and those who don’t (M and me). I’m not going to publicly share the resolution decisions of my loved ones at this stage in the game, though I promise to let you all know if they manage to achieve what they’re planning to do as and when they reach their end goal. As for me, well it’s not strictly true that I haven’t set myself a resolution, but rather a year’s goal that is to successfully juggle the new pressures of blog writing, awards judging, T1D managing, parenting and full-time working so that I can do enough in each area and hopefully fail at none. My focus is having to be sharpened at the moment to ensure that none of the balls is dropped and I guess only time will tell how successful I can actually be. Of course, I will undoubtedly share my progress on my blog.

How about you? Have you started 2017 with a resolution or goal in place? I hope that if you have you’ve managed to keep it so far and that you have continued success with it!

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Looking ahead

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The start of a New Year is always an opportunity to reflect on the things that have passed, but more importantly, to look ahead to the adventures that are yet to come. We had a 2016 filled with as many highs and lows as we’ve faced in previous years and I don’t doubt that 2017 will be equally challenging in ways that are both startlingly similar and scarily new. I’m looking forward to a year that will investigate new possibilities for M’s diet and seek potential answers for what’s going on in his body as well as watching as G tries out new opportunities and starts thinking ahead to the school subjects she wants to study for GCSEs – a conversation that has filled our end-of-holidays walk this afternoon. We don’t know exactly what this year will bring, but it’s always good to look back on everything that has brought us to this place: