Tag Archives: Christmas

Every little helps

This week marks the start of the 2018 Free From Food Awards (#FFFA18) and another stint of judging, something that has become a real highlight of my year, especially as it brings a highlight to an otherwise grey and somewhat miserable month following the excitements of Christmas. Ever since the list of fellow judges reached my inbox, I’ve been looking forward to the day itself as I will be a judging a new category to me with a group of fantastic bloggers and friends that I’ve got to know over the last few years and I’ve no doubt it’ll be a day filled with laughter and chatter and good-natured banter.

However, with the FFFA just around the corner, I’ve realised that I owe an apology to a fellow judge from last year’s awards, who gave G in particular a great opportunity after we met and who I never got round to thanking via my blog. Mike and I were fortunate to meet Nicki, a Brand manager from Tesco, who was keen to send some samples of the then new range of Freefrom chilled meals that Tesco were about to launch. A cool box of meals arrived with us and G, Mike and I all enjoyed trying and tasting the variety available to anyone looking for a gluten-, dairy- and egg-free ready meal. They weren’t all to G’s taste, but it was wonderful to see the selection she was able to choose from for dinner.

From traditional Chicken Hotpot with stuffing and Beef casserole with dumplings – both of which G loved – to the more exotic flavours of Katsu Chicken curry and Green Thai Chicken curry – which became firm favourites with Mike and me – there really is something for everyone. G is not always the bravest when it comes to trying new dishes and some of these really did push her taste buds to their absolute limit, but I was impressed, for the most part, with the quality of the meals as well as their flavours. The biggest disappointment was the two Italian dishes: Chicken, Bacon and Mushroom pasta and Pulled Beef and Red Wine Ragu with Spaghetti, neither of which survived being frozen and then recooked at a later date. Both the pasta and the sauces became watery and were, in our opinion, frankly inedible by the time they reached the table. It was disappointing as pasta is usually a favourite in our household, but having had surprising successes with some of the other meals, my overall review would definitely be positive about this new range. As much as I love to cook from scratch, and usually do, the opportunity to be able to keep a few firm favourites in the freezer for those unexpected times when being able to throw something into either the oven or microwave is much-needed is absolutely invaluable to me as a working Mum and I’m grateful to Tesco for creating these dishes.

Just the other day, I was reminded once again of just how far the supermarkets have come with their allergy-friendly offerings since our freefrom journey started, when I spotted this fantastic array of dairy-free choices in the fridges of our local Tesco. It was an absolute delight to be able to take my time exploring all that was there to see what treats I could find for G to enjoy at the end of her meals. These are exciting times for those of us in the allergy community as more and more shops, cafes and restaurants strive to improve and increase what they offer to those on restricted diets and I’m delighted to be a part of it.

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Old-fashioned manners

My kids aren’t perfect – believe me I know – and all too often there are those moments when I wish they’d remember the manners we’ve strived to instill in them over the years. They’re not always brilliant at doing the littlest of things that would make a big difference and I know that’s something that can frustrate my Mum (Hint: it does frustrate her and she might have mentioned it just once or twice to me in the last couple of weeks) Both G and M are a quirky mix of grown-up attitudes – due to their life experiences with chronic health problems – and a lack of rational thought because they’re both still very much children at heart. They’re tentatively challenging the boundaries set them by family members in particular; and sometimes not so tentatively at all; whilst very much toeing the line outside of the home, which inevitably leads to tears and meltdowns, and not necessarily just from them. Insecurity, uncertainty and lack of self-confidence is overcome with bold talk and bravado, which can be misinterpreted as arrogance and rudeness, when the truth is that the child beneath it all is struggling with anxiety and striving to find a different face to present to the outside world.

However, the one thing that I insist happens every year without fail is something that almost certainly falls into the category of “old-fashioned” manners in this day and age. Just a few days into the New Year, I shared this photo of G and M sitting at our kitchen table working hard to write the thank you notes for the Christmas presents and, in G’s case, birthday presents, they had recently received. It may not be their favourite task in the world and it may take a little persuasion to get them started, but they both know that this is a non-negotiable part of the celebrations for both Christmas and birthdays and always buckle down to write them, often treating the job as a competition to see who can finish writing all their notes first. These are no great literary pieces, just a simple acknowledgement of those family members and friends who have remembered them at this time of year and taken the time to buy and send presents that are always gratefully received.

M views me as being a particularly evil Mum because I won’t let him type out his letters, but rather insist that we take advantage of the opportunity to draw faint pencil lines and practise his best handwriting. Why? Well, I suppose I just think there’s something a little more personal and thoughtful about receiving a handwritten note of thanks, though frankly I would be happy to receive even an email rather than absolutely nothing at all. No acknowledgement leaves me wondering if the gift has arrived at its final destination and I have been known to threaten to not send presents again when weeks have passed by and I’m still uncertain whether they’ve been received or not. Does this make me old-fashioned? Maybe, but good manners don’t cost anything and it’s important to me that my children develop an attitude of thankfulness for all that they are lucky to have.

A Winter-themed weekend

For the 4th year in a row, I found myself not only in London, but also spending a little time at GOSH during the weekend closest to G’s birthday. Thank goodness that this year there was no admission attached to what is fast-becoming a December tradition, instead, just like last year, our reason for going was the December meeting of the GOSH YPF and with both G and M now active members of the YPF, we decided to make a weekend of it and round off the birthday celebrations in style, whilst gently kicking off our Christmas ones as well.

In the lead up to a previous YPF weekend, I was lucky enough to stumble across the Travelodge in Hounslow, which has quickly established itself as our destination of choice whenever we need to head to London for the weekend. A lot more affordable than central London prices, it is a short walk away from a secure car park and both the East Hounslow and Hounslow Central tube stations, making it an easy commute into GOSH in particular as all are stops on the Piccadilly line. This close to the end of term, we were able to take advantage of the fact that the out-of-school activities have now finished and headed to London on the Friday evening once G and M’s school day was over, and even managed a reasonable night’s sleep before our busy winter weekend began.

It started with our morning commute to GOSH, where we dropped G and M, both kitted out in their Christmas finery, for a YPF meeting filled with a whole host of activities and treats, including a hotly challenged Christmas quiz. Once the children were settled, Mike and I set off on foot towards Covent Garden and spent our day meandering the streets, exploring the shops and even managing to pick up the odd present or two as well. We stopped for a light lunch at the amazing Cafe in the Crypt at St-Martin-in-the-Fields, just off Trafalgar Square. This is fast becoming one of our favourite spots whenever we are in London as the food they serve is simple, yet delicious, they serve a few allergy-friendly snacks too and is a place I would heartily recommend to anyone looking for a peaceful break from the busyness of London itself.

Lunch done, we started our trek back to GOSH along Shaftesbury Avenue and stumbled across this group of festive, charity bike riders as we turned the corner towards our final destination. It really was a sight to behold as we were surrounded by Father Christmases as far as the eye could see and lovely to watch excited small children wave and shout out Christmas greetings as the cyclists sped past.

 

There was one last stop I wanted to make before we met G and M and that was at the Baileys Treat Stop pop shop located not far from Covent Garden. It was only open for 2 weeks and I was determined to take advantage of our trip and pay a visit there for a Baileys-inspired hot drink. The queue was long and it took over 40 minutes to finally get into the shop itself, though our patience was well-rewarded by the plethora of treats that was brought out to keep those waiting happy – chocolate eclairs filled with Baileys-infused cream, cups of popcorn and chocolate covered Baileys fudge and toffee. I finally made it to the front of the queue and having never tried their Pumpkin Spice version and not fancying a treat-laden hot chocolate, I decided to customise a Pumpkin Spice latte instead. I think the server was a little disappointed with my rather tame selection of “just” chopped nuts and wafer straws, but despite his best efforts, I held firm to my decision, which I maintain was absolutely the right one. However, the latte itself was incredibly disappointing and absolutely not worth the time and money I’d spent to get it. What I hoped would be a small Christmas treat for me really wasn’t and we wasted close to an hour with that detour.

However, the rest of our Saturday went according to plan and was a fantastic ending to G’s birthday celebrations. Both children had a great day at the YPF meeting and came away with some small and unexpected gifts and treats. G was really keen to have a Chinese meal for dinner and so we chose to double up M’s medicines throughout the day and then allowed him to relax his diet for the evening. Mike and I had done scouting around Chinatown during our day and we headed to the Feng Shui Inn for a few carefully selected dishes which the whole family enjoyed. From there, it was just a stone’s throw away to the Prince Edward theatre where we were treated to the delights of Agrabah, the fantastical quirks of the Genie and the addition of a handful of new songs to Disney’s Aladdin. This was G’s choice of show and I knew she’d enjoyed it when she asked at the end if we could see it again! It was an amazing production and we were incredibly lucky to see Trevor Dion Nicholas in the role of the Genie, a role he was reprising after a successful stint on Broadway.

Sunday morning saw another tube ride into London, though this time our destination was the Tower of London where we had booked an ice-skating session on the rink set up in the moat. Both children were keen to have a go at skating once again and Mike was just as excited. It took a little while for G and M to find their feet, but they were soon off and even attempting to get around on their own, away from the barrier. The session only lasted 45 minutes, but that was more than enough for all of us and M and I even left the ice a few minutes early due to the uncomfortable hire skates we were wearing. All in all, we had a fantastic and fun-filled family winter-themed weekend and it felt like a fitting end to what has been a long school term.

On the 5th Day of Christmas…

There’s nothing I love more than decorating the house for Christmas, although the last 3 years have each carried their own challenge to being able to achieve that, with admissions to GOSH 2 years in a row followed by a health scare with my eyes last year. This year we’ve all been at home, all been in reasonable health and have all had a part, however small, in bringing the Christmas spirit into our home. Sunday was the day to “deck the halls” at home and M in particular couldn’t wait to get started on trimming the tree. With Christmas carols playing in the background, mulled wine warming on the stove and the advent candle burning down on the mantlepiece, the Christmas season really has begun.

I always feel particularly nostalgic when it comes to pulling the decorations out for our Christmas tree as each bauble evokes its own precious memory. Every year we buy at least one new decoration for each child for the tree and frequently they end up with more than one depending on our travels and on friends and family members who also buy and add to our collection. By the time G and M are ready to fly the nest and have their own homes to spend the festive season in, they will each have a boxful of decorations to trim their Christmas trees. As we unwrap each ornament, the memories of time spent together and journeys made wash over me and there are often stories to share as we reminisce about times past.

It’s hard to pinpoint my favourite decoration as there are so many happy memories encaptured in the beauty of our tree. There’s the small gold bauble with a red ribbon that marks our wedding as I hand-wrote enough for every guest to have one as an alternative wedding favour to celebrate the day. I have 2 handmade snowflakes from a German Christmas market, which my Dad brought back from a business trip and that have a special place in my heart. There are many from our holidays both before and after G and M arrived in our family – China, Australia, Ireland, Canada and even Greece to name but a few. Amongst the most precious are those the children have made over the years, from simple paper and sparkles in their nursery days to the hand-decorated ceramic ones that M made during his last hospital admission.

Today is the 5th day of Christmas and I’m looking forward to the memories we’ll be creating this year as we count down to the big day itself.

Celebrating Christmas 2016

It may only be the second week of January, but Christmas already feels like a lifetime ago and the memories are already fading fast. December was yet again an interesting month for our family and whilst we had irrefutable success at keeping M out of hospital, we had enough other medical crises to more than meet our quota for the year. As I have already shared, December started with a huge scare about my remaining sight when I was incorrectly told that I needed urgent laser surgery to sort out the developing diabetic retinopathy in my right eye. The hugely positive outcome that in fact the diagnosis was wrong and no treatment was required was a massive relief, but those first 2 weeks of Christmas planning were overshadowed by the frightening threat of surgery that loomed over the household.

img_3185Our medical dramas didn’t stop there. Mike took a tumble from his bike back in October when he was cycling to our local train station on his way to work and has been complaining of severe pain in his left shoulder ever since. The initial thoughts were that he may have torn his rotator cuff and so was referred onto a physiotherapist who, as well as recommending a heady combination of co-codamol and naproxen to ease the inflammation and pain, made his own referral for an MRI to be done as soon as possible. Mike had that MRI at the start of December and by the middle of the month had received a letter stating that it looked like he had a possible “avulsion fracture of the greater tuberosity of the humerus“, but that it would need to be reviewed by a consultant to confirm diagnosis. That diagnosis has now been confirmed and further complicated by the onset of frozen shoulder, a common occurrence following this type of injury. Last week Mike was treated with a cortisone injection and is already beginning to feel some of the symptoms beginning to ease a little, though we have been told it could take a number of months for his shoulder to recover completely. He struggled with taking the co-codamol and a switch to Tramadol has helped massively there. Unfortunately, despite skipping a dose of the Tramadol so that he could enjoy a glass of something with Christmas lunch, the alcohol and painkiller combination didn’t really work and he spent a lot of Christmas Day asleep, which didn’t go down well with most of my family!

img_13241As for M, well he was looking forward to celebrating his big sister’s birthday at home with her for the first time in 3 years as well as taking part in all of the end-of-term Christmas activities being held at school. Unfortunately, once again his health took a nosedive as he came down with both ‘flu and tonsillitis during that last week and was really quite poorly for a few days. We knew he wasn’t well when he decided not to go to our local pantomime with us and instead stayed at home and in bed with my Mum for the evening. The necessary course of antibiotics took their toll on his system and we found ourselves taking a few steps back from our hard-won gains from the last few months. M has gone back to school recovered to generally good health and eager for the term ahead.

img_13361Despite these small hiccups to keep us on our toes, we celebrated the festive period in style. Christmas was spent with my family down in South Wales, where we were able to enjoy a refreshing walk around the nearby reservoir in fine Boxing Day tradition. Both children were thrilled with the presents they received and have been engrossed in listening to their new CDs – Olly Murs for G and Pentatonix for M – or reading their new books, as well as the inevitable time spent playing on the Wii U that was M’s main present. This last has proved to be a real opportunity for the children to work together and pool their resources as they were keen to buy a Disney Infinity starter pack with additional characters and spent a lot of time researching and budgeting before asking me to help them buy their final choices with their pocket-money. We’ve been ice-skating, saw New Year in with friends, managed a return visit to the pantomime so M could see it too, gone on walks and spent time together as a family. All in all, the perfect end to 2016.

Enjoying a little Olly Murs!

Enjoying a little Olly Murs!

Thermos-inspired lunches

There are 2 things that are promising to totally transform the look of M’s packed lunches for school in 2017. The first is the reintroduction of parsnips to his diet as I’m finally able to cook a crisp-like addition for his lunchbox, which makes them seem a lot more like those of his friends after a long time of feeling so very different. 9270635_r_z002a_uc1440961The second was thanks to a somewhat last-minute Christmas present from good ol’ Father Christmas, which M is absolutely thrilled with and can’t wait to try out now that the new term has started – an individual thermos flask complete with a folding metal spoon tucked neatly into its top.

He’s been considering the matter at great length and has already come up with a long list of meals that he is keen to try out over the coming months. From pasta dishes including lasagne, to risotto and stir-fry, the options are endless, but today’s maiden meal was new-found favourite, parsnip and apple soup. This simple meal is beautifully easy to make, which is something I’m extremely grateful for now that I’m back to work full-time and every second saved cooking is a second gainfully employed somewhere else. Even better, the range of herbs and spices that I can safely add to M’s meals means that I can img_12781create enough subtle flavour differences to his soups to provide some much-needed variety and keep him engaged in the novelty of his first hot school lunches in a long time.

For the launch of our experimental hot meals at school, I made a spicy apple and parsnip soup and included a few of the Rude Health mini rice crackers that have become an integral part of many of M’s lunch and snack times. Whilst nothing can really compare to the unquestionable delight of dipping some crusty French bread into a bowl of rich, creamy soup, the portion of homemade, and safe, parsnip and apple soup accompanied by a handful of rice crackers was everything that M was longing for it to be and that meant it was a resounding success. Over the coming weeks I’m looking forward to experimenting a little more with texture and flavour and will be looking at replacing the apple with pear as well as changing the herbs added to each bowlful. Most of all, I’m hoping that M continues to be excited about the prospect of enjoying a mix of hot and cold meals during the next few months of the school year.

Giving something back

23567358210_2327dd548d_mAs we counted down the days to Christmas within the confines of GOSH last year, one of the seasonal highlights for both M and me was the carol-singers that we encountered during our stay. Hearing the gentle strains of familiar carols outside the main entrance, within the beautiful chapel and along the hospital corridors helped us feel a part of the excitement building in the outside world, even though M was ward-bound for so much of the time. I was fortunate enough to be able to go to the Carols by Candlelight service at St. George’s Holborn, a church just across the road from the hospital itself 23104290053_5ffd34741a_zand M, Mike and I had great fun another evening joining the choir from All Souls Church, Langham Place as they sang their way around GOSH, serenading patients with their cheerful Christmas singing.

Knowing how much those experiences lifted our spirits during a difficult and emotional time away from home, I leapt at an opportunity this year to give a little back. One of the choirs I sing with was invited to spend an afternoon singing carols and Christmas songs at a regional Children’s Hospice, whilst one of the local football teams delivered presents and spent time talking to current patients and their families. It had been an occasion that I’d been hoping to take part in last year, so as soon as I heard we were invited back this year, I knew that I just had to be a part of it if at all possible.

img_13021Yesterday was that day and what a truly magical experience it was. A small group of just 9 of us gathered and spent the afternoon singing carols and Christmas songs to the children and their families, who are so dependent on this Hospice to provide some precious moments of respite during the year. I took the opportunity during our visit to speak to staff members, parents and even some of the children themselves and gleaned just a small insight into how important this Hospice is to them all. There were no tears yesterday; just a celebration of the individuals gathered in those rooms and an opportunity to make memories that will last a lifetime. When favourite songs were requested, we gladly sang them to bring a little extra cheer to what was already an amazing party. I gently persuaded – ok, 15578155_10154311119488790_2228089488536286007_operhaps, more honestly, I coerced with a cheerful smile and a little Christmas spirit – some of the footballers to join us for a rousing rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, which ended with friends, family and staff also singing along and sharing in the joy of that moment.

We received thanks for our attendance again this year, but the truth is that we received from the experience far more than we gave. It was a huge honour to be able to be even a small part of a fantastic event and, for me, a real opportunity to give something back to families that are living through a reality that reminded me just how lucky our family truly is. Not everybody can sing; not everybody will be able to offer practical help, but if you can find a way to #givesomethingback this Christmas season and beyond, please do.

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Breaking the curse

Reaching today feels like something of a landmark moment. We’ve had our fingers crossed that we’d get to yesterday’s date without so much as a hiccup to stand in our way and we’ve not only reached it unscathed, but have surpassed it with no sign of looking back. Saturday was December 3rd and we were all feeling more than a little nervous about it. The date might not ring any bells with you, but in our household, hitting midnight on the 3rd at home felt like a huge achievement. For the last two years, that date has signalled the start of a hospital admission for M and we were desperate that history wouldn’t repeat itself for the 3rd year in a row. Of course, in both 2014 and 2015 we knew that the admissions were planned and it was just a case of waiting for a bed to be available for him, but nothing prepared us for the unlikely scene of déjà vu when the phone-call came summoning us to London once again, exactly one year to the day of the previous one.

There was no reason to think it would happen again, not least because there are no further admissions planned at GOSH and we had already told our local hospital that we wouldn’t even consider a December admission this year, but the fears of our “December 3rd curse” were there anyway. I’d like to say that the weekend passed without event, which is really what we would have preferred, but as ever in the 7Y2D household that isn’t quite the case. There have been unplanned hospital visits and unexpected procedures discussed for family members other than M over the last week, and the implications of those are still being mulled over as decisions have to be made and soon. However, most importantly, today is December 5th; M and G are at school, Mike and I are at work and that’s just the way it should be.

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Now we can start to enjoy Christmas!

Christmas Countdown

The beginning of December has finally arrived. With it comes freezing temperatures, roaring log fires, Christmas trees, pantomimes, carol-singing and, in our household, some frantic last-minute plans for impending teenagehood and a quick anniversary celebration if we can only find the time to squeeze it in. And yes, we perhaps didn’t plan things too well – can you guess that I’ve heard those comments just the odd once or twice before?

These days most children seem to expect a chocolate advent calendar as a necessary part of the Christmas countdown, but what do you do when your child has allergies and can’t enjoy something that’s the same as all their friends? M has asked if we can bake enough of his safe gingerbread cookies for him and G to enjoy 1 everyday between now and the big day itself. It is, without doubt, one of those things that always features highly on any allergy parents’ to-do list at this time of year as it takes some time to find the perfect, safe alternative, but there are some really great options out there and I thought I’d share some of my favourites with you:

And not forgetting one for those much-deserving Mummies out there (it contains gin in case you couldn’t work it out)!

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Giving young people a voice

ypfI mentioned a couple of months ago that G has been invited to become part of the GOSH Young People’s Forum, or YPF as it’s more readily known. When I wrote that post, she was just about to attend her first meeting and was excited to see what the YPF was all about. For those of you who perhaps can’t quite remember the finer details, it’s a group of approximately 40 young people aged between 11-25, who are all either current patients at GOSH, previous GOSH patients or siblings of patients. As well as being one of the youngest in the group, G is, I believe, unique in that she is the only member who is the sibling of an existing GOSH patient, which makes her comments valuable coming, as they do, from a completely different viewpoint.

The purpose of the YPF is to improve the services provided by GOSH to their young patients, whether inpatients or outpatients and focusing on the teenage patients in particular. It is very much a two-way process, with the hospital asking for input on important issues or developments that are happening on-site as well as the YPF members developing their own projects to improve the experiences of patients and their families. man-speaker-1Members get involved in all aspects of hospital life from inspections such as the PLACE assessment and providing valuable feedback on projects planned by hospital staff, to writing content for the TeenGOSH community webpages and helping design areas of the hospital such as the reception area, which was redeveloped in 2014. You can read more about what the YPF members have been up to through their blog here.

The Forum meets 6 times a year at the hospital and each meeting lasts for the full day, with lunch and snacks provided by the GOSH catering team. They have been brilliant at providing safe food for G, although there are still a few glitches to iron out such as making sure her lunch arrives at the same time as everyone else’s. The 2 meetings that G has attended so far have been extremely different, but overall her experience has been good and she’s keen to continue her involvement with the YPF for the time being. At her most recent meeting – the minutes of which you can find here – they really did cover a whole range of different aspects of hospital life. G has now become something of an expert on the subject of the recruitment process and was able to share what they had been told about the different areas that needed to be covered when GOSH is looking to recruit new members of staff. A professional photographer went along to take photos for the new publicity campaign to raise awareness of the YPF and its role within the hospital and G is looking forward to seeing which photos are chosen for the final published materials. They were also lucky enough to go on a couple of tours of some little known areas of GOSH, including the various sacred places that provide spiritual support for those families from a number of your-halloween-party-2014-in-paris-sizel-161421-649-420different religions and a sneak peek at the Morgan Stanley Garden that was displayed at the Royal Chelsea Flower Show earlier this year. The particular highlight for G was the discussions held around arrangements for the teenage attendees of this year’s Halloween and Christmas parties and she had great fun inventing gory names for the food on offer at Halloween.

Cheese and Onion Skin flakes anyone?