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.

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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 – 

   

The Newest Addition

Back at the start of this year, Mike and I managed to escape the UK and headed to New York for the week to celebrate my 40th birthday. It was a fantastic trip where we had so many fabulous experiences and yet a single event managed to interrupt our time away from home and left us having to consider how to break some very sad news to our youngest once we were back.

M’s beloved cat, Ginger, who had proved to be an invaluable part of our family as he brought so much comfort to M at some of the most difficult times of his treatment over the years, was hit and killed by a car on the main road near our house. My Mum, who was looking after G and M whilst we were away, somehow managed to keep this news from them both, even though they were checking in at home every couple of days to feed the cats and M’s dragon, Leo. I knew that this would be hard news for M to hear and feared a similar reaction to when we discovered one of our twin black cats had suffered the same fate 6 years ago when M was just 5. Back then, M had spent the entire evening and much of the night in tears and refused to eat for nearly 24 hours, an experience I hoped we’d be able to avoid.

Both children were upset when we finally broke the news, and although G’s response was fleeting, M struggled almost as much as we had expected. Much to my relief, the effects of this loss were not so long-lasting and within days M had moved on to what was obviously to be the final part of him coming to terms with the situation: the request for a new kitten. Knowing our son as well as we do, this didn’t come as any surprise to either Mike or me and we had already agreed on our answer. We would consider getting him a new kitten, but it would need to wait until we had got through SATs, past our summer holiday in Greece and were settled into the new school year.

Much to our delight, M could see the sense in this suggestion (something that doesn’t often happen) and happily agreed to delaying our search until the end of the summer at the earliest. Over the following weeks and months, G and M discussed at length what they were hoping for in a replacement pet. It had to be a kitten (because they’re cute), it had to be ginger (because Ginger was) and it had to be a boy (because…well…just because). Almost as soon as we arrived home from Greece, the search began and I spent the next couple of weeks online to find out what kittens were available in one of the many cat rescue centres in the area. To our delight, my enquiry about a different set of kittens led us to the discovery of the delightfully named “Bill and Ben”, a pair of ginger toms who were both looking for a new home.

Despite the best entreaties of G, who fell in love with “Ben” when we met them for the first time, and the surprising expectation of both Mike and my Mum that I would come home with both kittens, I managed to stick to what we had originally agreed and so it was that “Bill” joined our family at just 10 weeks old. He has been a source of great joy and many giggles since he first joined us at home, though his current tendency to bite everything in sight, particularly ankles and feet, has led to some frustrated shouts of pain too.

Now at nearly 4 months old, I take great pleasure in introducing you to the newest addition to the 7Y2D household: Biggles!

    

Halloween Pumpkins

Ok, so it might not be Halloween just yet, but I thought I’d share some photos of the pumpkins that Mike and the children have spent time designing and carving over half-term. Halloween has never been a time to celebrate for me and was certainly never a significant time of year when I was growing up. My childhood was spent making a Guy for Bonfire night, rather than carving a pumpkin for Halloween and I never imagined it would become a regular part of our household’s routines. However, 20 years on from when I first met Mike in Canada and experienced trick-or-treating North-American style with my university friends, Halloween has become a family time with the children not only carving pumpkins with Mike, but often also with my Mum during half-term.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of Halloween at all. We don’t go trick-or-treating with the children, though I absolutely support the work of the Teal Pumpkin Project which encourages households to provide non-food treats as a safe alternative to sweets for allergy children, so they can be a part of the experience alongside their friends. And I spend most of the week leading up to the day itself in an increasingly dark mood as October 31st is the anniversary of losing my Dad. It is always a difficult time of year for me, but I’m glad that the children are able to enjoy some fun time being creative with Mike and carving the pumpkins helps them celebrate their dual heritage in a unique way.

 

 

 

Greece Photo Round-up 2017

Making the most of our 10 days in Greece was everything we needed it to be this summer. It’s been a big year: with me changing job, G becoming a teenager, M taking SATs and the move to having 2 children at secondary school; and we all appreciated the chance to escape from the day-to-day and spend some precious family time together relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. From the ancient monuments in Athens to the beauty of Syros, Greece was an amazing holiday destination and one place we would love to return to again.

Unexpected Greek Treats

We might have packed a suitcase full of a variety of allergy-friendly foods to keep us going during our 10 days in Greece, but, as ever, we kept our eyes open for any M- and G-friendly Greek treats that we could spot in the supermarkets. delicatessens and local shops in Athens and on Syros. I had no doubts that we could find the bare essentials of soya milk, goats’ cheese and rice, but it’s those unexpected finds that make all the difference when we’re travelling as a family.

The first fantastic find, and one that we found ourselves stocking up with to last the duration of our stay, was this unassuming pack of smoked chicken fillet that quickly became a firm favourite with M. Mike had ventured out of our Athens studio one afternoon and found a delightful small deli less than 5 minutes walk away. They had a huge selection of fresh and dried olives, oils, cheeses, breads and cooked meat, but it was the smoked chicken that caught his eye as we had been struggling to find an appetising way to cook and serve chicken for M, who is not the biggest fan of cold chicken at the best of times. The smokey flavour was something new to him and whilst he was prepared to let the rest of the family have a small taste to see just how delicious it was, he insisted that the remaining slices were his and his alone. Mike also discovered these brown rice cakes with pink Himalayan salt, a surefire hit with M and the perfect base for his smoked chicken fillet sandwiches that became a lunchtime staple.

As we had expected, we had no problem in sourcing goats milk, butter and cheese for G in Athens and were also delighted to find both almond and hazelnut milk there too. She quickly fell in love with the traditional Greek Feta cheese and ate it as frequently as M devoured the chicken fillet for lunch. We also found a small selection of gluten-free crisps that they both enjoyed on occasion as just a small snack when needed. However, it was on Syros that we were truly amazed by the unexpected plethora of allergy-friendly foods we found in the very small supermarket in the seaside village of Finikas. When we ventured inside on our first day on the island, we were hoping that we might be lucky to find some soya milk for G to drink and were completely blown away by this astonishing selection of dairy-free alternatives, from almond milk to chocolate soya milk, goats cheese, butter and yoghurt, and the one item we had never expected to find there: rice milk.

This tiny treasure trove also stocked a small, but comprehensive selection of gluten-free products including rice cakes for M, gluten-free pasta, bread and biscuits. We bought a couple of different flavours of the allergy-friendly biscuits that quickly became a favourite with G. These were a welcome treat and alternative to dessert for her especially when accompanied by some small slivers of Feta, whilst M enjoyed the opportunity to pick and devour fresh figs from the trees surrounding our villa at the Good Life. Having discovered these unexpected Greek treats, we made an effort to buy a few extra packs of biscuits and rice-cakes alike to bring back home with us to keep the memory of our Greek adventures alive for just a little longer.