Tag Archives: camp

“This is my one small step, this is my walk on the moon”

I’m not quite sure how this happened. Two years ago marked the end of G’s Junior school career and now we find ourselves at the cusp of a new adventure for us all as M’s time at the Juniors similarly draws to an end. The past 4 years have been a true roller-coaster ride and the staff at our wonderful village school have been there for every step of the journey. From the moment we stepped through their doors, they have embraced the challenges of having M in the school and provided the whole family with the support we’ve needed to get the children through all those ups and downs relatively unscathed.

In some ways, the last 6 months have been the toughest of his school career, even more so than the NG-tube and broken leg we’ve dealt with in that time. He wasn’t able to attend his Year 6 camp because of poor health, but he found the joy in spending the day there getting muddy with his friends instead. We survived the stresses of SATS and celebrated in style last weekend when we found out just how well he did in passing them all. We’ve enjoyed the Year 6 production of The Wizard of Oz and are finally winding down to the Leavers’ Service at the end of the week.

This comment in his end of year report from his class teacher reflects the wonderful young man he is growing up to be:

He is an inspiration to his peers that in spite of his health issues, he participates fully in everything and does not use his illness as an excuse not to try….Thank you M, for being such a valuable member of the class this year. You contribute more than perhaps you realise!”

As we wave goodbye to the end of an incredible era, there will be more than one tear shed along the way, but we are preparing to embark on the next big adventure, building on the incredible foundation that has been put in place with great care, love and consideration over the last few years:

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.

 

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.

Limping towards the Finish line

bucket listDo you remember that long, long list of things that I was facing at the beginning of March? With the month-end in sight, I am, quite literally, limping towards the finish line, just thankful that the long Easter weekend ahead means the opportunity for some much-needed lie-ins and down-time; but how did March go in then end?

World book day and required costume x 1 – M decided on what can only be described as something of a left-field choice for your average 9 year-old and dressed up as Ford Prefect from Douglas Adams’ well-loved trilogy of 5 books, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy“. It was one of the easiest costumes he’s ever asked me to make and to our delight, he won a £5 book token for the best WBD costume in his class.'Oh yes we're very proud of him. He's in publishing you know!'

Parents evenings x 2 – Both evenings went extremely well and we are so proud of the strides both children have made during this school year. M has been working hard at beating the challenges of his dyslexia and dyspraxia and is developing some beautiful handwriting when he remembers to try. G has settled well into Year 7 and was described to me as a “conscientious, hard-working, empathetic and focused” member of her tutor group. I was delighted to hear that her confidence has grown throughout the year and that she is developing into a well-respected and natural leader amongst her peers too.

School book fairs x 2 – Attended and books bought.

M-friendly croissants – Recipe adapted, croissants baked and hugely enjoyed as part of the school’s French role-play activity. I achieved above and beyond what I thought was possible with so little notice.

Mothers Day – We enjoyed a quiet day together, although sadly my Mum was unwell and not able to come out for lunch with us. We ate at one of our favourite M-friendly restaurants and were once again impressed by the phenomenal memory of the restaurant manager and the care awarded to both children by all the staff. Well done Wagamama!

Riding lessons – G continues to ride every other weekend and her passion for this hobby is growing. Her latest lesson saw her not only trotting and cantering with confidence, but beginning some preparatory steps to get her ready for jumping – scary stuff but she’s loving every moment.

A 10th birthday and a class assembly – These happened on the same day and were both celebrated in style. It’s hard to believe that my little bean has reached the end of his first decade and I can’t begin to imagine what the next one will hold.IMG_1765

Birthday celebrations – M chose a reptile-themed birthday party and I braved holding a tarantula to help encourage G to beat her fears and do it herself. We combined the day into a double celebration and headed out to a local trampoline park in the afternoon with a couple of friends for a belated marking of G’s 12th birthday too.

Dentist and hair appointments – These both happened as planned and really there’s not much more to say.

GOSH appointment – Mike, M and I headed to London for our first appointment at GOSH since the disastrous admission last December. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, not least because the gastro department is currently in a state of great upheaval. M is doing well, even though we haven’t managed to introduce any more foods safely into his diet since last summer and continues to impress us all by drinking the 400mls of E028 necessary to supplement his limited repertoire of food. His weight has dropped on the centile charts and will need some careful monitoring over the next few months as we continue to search for some more safe foods for him. There is, at long last, a chance of some shared care between GOSH and our local gastro team, which would add some much-needed local level support for our family and the next step is really to wait and see when and if that happens.

School play – Thankfully M’s role as Poseidon meant that I could re-use his toga from Stagecoach last year, so that was one costume crisis off my hands. He was only able to take part in one performance as the matinée was on the same day as his GOSH appointment and unfortunately I wasn’t able to see his evening performance as it clashed with G’s parents evening. However, Mike and G went to watch and told me it was great fun and he did really well.

Performing Arts Exams x 2 – Taken by one very-tired G and one determined-to-do-well M. We won’t know just how well they’ve done until mid-April, but I’m told that they both worked hard and performed well on the day. Having watched their performances the week before, I can’t wait to see if all their efforts paid off and are reflected in their marks.index

Spa day – This was a late birthday celebration, a treat that Mike had sorted out for me and my dear friend, and M’s godmother, L. We had a lovely afternoon being pampered, drinking coffee and chatting without interruption by small people, before enjoying a delicious dinner and a few bubbles to mark the day.

Events linked to school topics – This term M’s topic has been India and part of the school experience was to share an Indian meal from a local restaurant. Thanks to previous experience from G’s time in Year 5, I had been anticipating this one for months and a few mini trials of herbs and spices meant that I’ve been able to create a curry-esque meal that’s suitable for M. A mix of cumin, coriander, ginger and rosemary combined with our new discovery of rice cream created the sauce for his staples of chicken and rice. It might not be an authentic dish, but he loves it and it’s meant that he has been able to join in a meal with the rest of his class.

Preparations for G’s sibling camp – I haven’t quite started on this one, but the weekend’s going to be busy as G goes off to camp on Monday. She’s been looking at the list of things she needs and chatting to a friend via e-mail as she prepares for a week filled with fun and activities away from the hustle and bustle of home. She also went to her first Young Carers meeting this week and seemed to settle in really well. There are some other girls the same age as G, including one from her school, who have just started too and she’s looking forward to an afternoon at a local trampoline park during the Easter holidays. Watch this space for more of an update once she’s back and has shared all the news with me!

Easter – Preparations are sorted, food trials are planned, eggs have been bought and I’m looking forward to a peaceful family weekend at home.

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Happy Easter!

 

March comes in like a lion

Ever had one of “those” days? You know, the ones where you’re already insanely busy and barely have time to breathe and yet everything that could conceivably go wrong, does go wrong to an unbelievable extent, plus those few extra and unexpected hiccups and challenges that appear along the way. After the last 48 hours, I appear to be heading into not just one of “those” days or even one of “those” weeks, but more realistically, one of “those” months. The next few weeks promise to be extremely busy and I’m beginning to wonder how I’ll get everything done on time and in the right order. You know it’s a sad state of affairs when we’re only on the third day of the month and I’m already counting down to the start of the next one.

Wales from space, courtesy of UK astronaut, Tim Peake

Wales from space, courtesy of UK astronaut, Tim Peake

The month started with our rather low-key marking of “Dydd Dewi Sant”, or St David’s Day for those of you not au fait with the Welsh language. Fortunately, this simply required some frantic scrabbling around my drawers hunting out the daffodil brooches that the children and I wear every year and remembering to pin them securely to school jumpers before heading out the door. The children were both keen and proud to wear their daffodils, though equally unimpressed that their friends didn’t know why they wearing them and so took the opportunity to quickly educate their classes. If I’d been more organised, I might have posted on the day itself, but I wasn’t and I didn’t, so this is me recognising that celebration of my heritage now.

But after that gentle start to the month, things have already started to ramp up. The next four weeks include:

Gotta love my left-field boy - who better than Ford Prefect from HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy!

Gotta love my left-field boy – who better than Ford Prefect from HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!

  • World book day and required costume x 1
  • parents evenings x 2
  • school book fairs x 2
  • M-friendly croissants (eek!) for French role-play at school with just 3 days advance notice to attempt adapting my MEWS-free recipe
  • Mothers Day
  • riding lessons
  • a 10th birthday (how did he get to be a decade old?)
  • birthday celebrations, including themed party and cake
  • class assembly x 1
  • dentist appointment
  • hair appointment
  • GOSH appointment
  • Easter
  • Performing Arts Exams x 2
  • school play, which translates into costume provision, rehearsals and performances
  • Spa day – a late birthday celebration which will be much-needed as it comes in the middle of the busiest week
  • events linked to school topics which will undoubtedly require some inventive cooking from me
  • preparations for a sibling camp for G, which gives her a week away with other youngsters in similar situations and, more importantly, a week away from M

gin-and-tonI’m sure that there will be things I’ve already forgotten and likewise, there’s no doubt that there will be more items added to my list as March passes by. Needless to say, I will be blogging about many of these occasions and just how I overcome the challenges of taking my M-friendly cooking and baking a step further than I ever imagined possible. Once all of these things are out of the way, it’ll be time for a well-deserved drink and, in case you’re wondering, mine’s a large gin!

“Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best!”

This is it.  After 7 years, and more schools than I care to think about, my beloved firstborn, the beautiful G, is finishing Year 6 and heading off into the next adventure of her school career. We’ve cheered at her last Sports Day, been entranced by the Year 6 production of The Lion King and enjoyed all aspects of the Year 6 camp. We survived the stresses and tears of SATs week (just) and this week celebrated an amazing set of results that we’re so very proud she achieved. Tomorrow is her Leavers service and I’ve no doubt emotions will be high, amongst the parents, even if not with the children themselves.  It’s hard to believe that this little munchkin is old enough to go to “big school” in September, but she is and I can’t wait to see what the next steps on her journey will bring:

 

G1st

 

The quote in the title is from “Oh the places you’ll go!” by Dr Seuss.

drseuss

 

 

Year 6 camp – the final verdict

Last week was a quiet week in our household as G was away at camp and M struggled without his big sister around.  With only one child under my feet, it’s undeniable that the everyday tasks were a little…ok,  a lot easier to achieve in a reasonable time scale and there was a noticeable lack of temper-driven disagreements and raised voices, but there was no mistaking the achingly big G-shaped hole in our family that nothing else could fill.

By bedtime on Monday, we had finally tracked down and ticked off the last remaining items on the list, the bag of food and snacks had been delivered to the safe-keeping of Miss K and I was certain that clothes were named…bags were named…in fact, water bottles, plastic mugs, wash-kits, you name it, everything was named and the all-important, precious piece of her blanket was safely tucked away amongst her things. DSC_0015 G was feeling happier as she now knew she was in the same activity group as one of her best friends and was equally delighted about the teacher who’d be looking after them for the week.  We convinced them into a relatively early night as Tuesday was an early start for us all in order to get to school for 8am, and even M managed to pull himself from his pit and eat some breakfast before we headed on our way.  Those last few moments before G boarded the coach and left for her week at camp were emotionally charged as M stood beside her, with his arms wrapped tightly around her waist and just hugged her quietly, barely admitting to himself, let alone to the rest of us, what was glaringly obvious to see – that he was really going to miss her whilst she was away.  He was by my side as we waved them off and then disappeared into the school playground with his friends, ready for the day ahead.

News took a little time to trickle back to those of us waiting at home to hear what our adventurers were up to, but when the reports finally arrived, everything sounded positive. The kids were having a marvellous time and challenging themselves with lots of new experiences. From clambering over and under logs to wading through deep mud, the activity week was everything they expected it to be.  campTo my delight, G tried her hand at everything, even the dreaded caving and whilst she didn’t venture as far as some of the others, I am thrilled that she conquered her fears and made her way through 2 of the 3 caves they explored, an amazing achievement for someone who had been adamant she wasn’t stepping foot into a cave, no matter what. She enjoyed almost everything they did and was quick to regale us with tales from the week. Her favourite activity was the Woodland Scramble, which involved donning a wetsuit and rolling head-first into a Welsh river as well as dunking her head under a waterfall. Their evenings were filled with headland walks, evenings on the beach, BBQs and a disco before the obligatory mug of hot chocolate and a good night’s sleep.

The week was a resounding success from an activity point-of-view and G chattered for hours once she was home about all she’d done.  Sadly though, it didn’t quite meet my expectations on the food front.  Despite providing a bag full of safe foods to get G through the week, it was returned to me on Friday with very little missing from it.  I gently quizzed her about what she had eaten and was disappointed to learn that whilst the dairy-free aspect of her diet has been well-managed, there were some significant failings from a gluten-free point of view.  G had been assured that the Kelloggs cereal was definitely GF (it’s not), had been given crisps that were covered with “May contains” and her hot chocolate was soya milk laden with cocoa powder and very little sugar to sweeten it: a taste so bitter that she struggled to drink it and after her friends had tentatively taken a sip, they understood why she was so reluctant.  There was a definite lack of inspiration in preparing her meals as GF pasta with tomato and basil sauce appeared to be the go-to alternative for any meal that wasn’t G-friendly and her only dessert was from the snack box I had sent along with her.  11027998_10152859810801123_7685022031085613332_oFortunately for all concerned, G doesn’t suffer extreme reactions to either gluten or dairy, but she was left feeling less than 100% by the time she got home and not just because of the lack of sleep.

In contrast, the only thing of note that happened in our household last week was a complete overhaul of G’s bedroom and whilst there’s still a little more work to do, it’s a room to last her through her teenage years.  And so the week ended as it had begun:  with M and I waiting on the grass bank outside the school for the coach to appear and deliver G back into our arms.

 

Year 6 Camp, here G comes!

This weekend has been a busy one, perhaps busier than expected for me given that Mike and the kids have been away on their “Dads and kids” camping trip.  Instead of taking time to spoil myself in peace whilst they enjoyed the glorious sunshine and camp activities, I sorted, washed, shopped and ticked things off a list, all in preparation for G’s Year 6 camp next week. She’s there for 4 days of adventure: from archery to rock climbing and caving to kayaking, and it’s promising to be an adrenalin-filled time away from home.  It will be the first time she’s stayed away for any length of time, apart from during school holidays with my Mum, and I know she’s been feeling a little apprehensive about it all.  The strain of not knowing in advance who she’d be sharing a room with took a bit of the shine off her excitement and she was anxious to confirm that she could opt out of the caving, the one activity she has said she doesn’t want to do since we first heard about camp back at the start of the year.

The one part of her week away that has not been of concern for her has been the one that I’ve been able to contribute to:  her food.  I’ve met with her teacher, Miss K, and the Head throughout the year to discuss the catering arrangements at camp and had an unprecedented 3 meetings the week after half-term as well as multiple e-mail exchanges to ensure the final plans were watertight.  Miss K spoke to the camp cook to discuss G’s dietary needs and was reassured that they are well-used to catering for children with food allergies.  We had talked about the types of food that would need to be considered for G – GF bread (Genius brown), DF spread (Vitalite Dairy-free) and DF milk (Rice dream) amongst others – and armed with brand names, Miss K has been able to confirm with the camp that these will be available for G.

Mr._WorryI am confident that breakfast and lunch will be okay, but it is still the dinner arrangements that are causing me mild moments of suppressed panic.  If G was “just” gluten-free, I’d have fewer concerns; if she was “just” dairy-free, I’d be only mildly worried, but the combination of both, whilst so much easier to manage that the multitude of allergies of others in our household, requires a little more forethought.  When discussing the menu with Miss K, I realised just how much planning is needed to make G’s meals safe, something that probably seems strikingly obvious to everyone else, but is so second nature to me that I’ve had to learn how to effectively micro-manage these finer details.  It’s not as simple as ensuring that GF pasta is cooked for lasagne or GF sausages provided for sausages and mash as she can’t have cheese or white sauce, mashed potato needs to be made with both DF milk and butter and there’s the hidden use of flour to thicken sauces.  Those are the little things that sometimes slip under the radar.

So, the school and I have reached a sensible arrangement.  I am providing some safe foods for the week for G for those “just in case” moments – cartons of rice milk, safe drinking chocolate, GF breakfast cereal and a loaf of GF bread.  There will also be a packet of GF pasta and a GF/DF curry sauce tucked in that will take up little space, but will give me some invaluable peace of mind. I’m also packing a special camp “swap box” as an alternative to the lure of the vending machines that her friends will undoubtedly be pillaging at all times of the day and night.  In there will be safe biscuits, snacks and a few bars of our ever-favourite Moo-free chocolate to ensure that she has the opportunity to gorge herself at midnight alongside her room-mates.

Today I handed over that precious bag of food and, tomorrow morning, as M and I wave her off on her adventures, I know that she’ll enjoy a mostly worry-free fantastic week away with her friends and my concerns need only be small.