Tag Archives: Christmas

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!

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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?

Getting into the Christmas spirit

Now, you might have guessed that our recent sojourn at GOSH wasn’t the perfect lead-up to Christmas I would have planned, with more highs and lows than those promised by a seasonal episode of Corrie, but please don’t imagine that our extended stay was completely devoid of any festive inspiration. Despite the noticeable lack of anything more than a mere nod to Christmas on the decoration front and the unseasonably mild weather that meant my trusty raincoat was relegated to the tiny locker provided for all the worldly belongings we might need during our 20-day incarceration, M and I did enjoy our fair share of festive activities, which helped infuse a little Christmas spirit into our otherwise grey days.

The Nutcracker – The Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House Covent Garden:

11202603_10153139468196123_6743350134362470955_nOur first treat was the chance to see the final dress rehearsal of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” danced by The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. It came as a complete surprise on that first Monday morning and was one that M and I just couldn’t turn down. Last year, M had been given tickets to see “Alice in Wonderland” at what was the first visit ever to the Royal Opera House for us both and I never even imagined that this year’s admission would see a repeat opportunity. M didn’t have to be asked twice and almost immediately started the countdown to when we could leave the ward and head off in a black cab to reach our destination. Timings were such that we were only able to watch the first half as we had to be back at GOSH for M’s lunch and the first of his food challenges, but he was delighted that we got to see the battle between the tin soldiers and the rats, his favourite part of the entire ballet, and we had the best view of it from our seats in the Royal box!

Christmas decorations & crafts – Play-workers and School: 

M had the opportunity to decorate, make and create a plethora of decorations and Christmas-themed crafts thanks to both the Hospital school and the tireless team of play-workers linked to Rainforest ward. Christmas-decorations9Since this time last year, the school has introduced a family session on a Friday morning, which allowed parents or carers to join their child in the schoolroom for an hour to enjoy an activity together. M and I spent the first week working with Fimo to create some tree decorations, a real blast from my past as this was a craft I loved doing as a child, and the second making what I think was called a “Spanish star” from paper. The latter was beautiful and I even managed to get it back home in one piece, where it was much admired by my Mum, who asked if we’d bought it from John Lewis! When not at school, M spent a lot of his time colouring-in a huge number of ceramic decorations provided by the play-workers on ward. Armed with a technicolour array of ceramic pens, M decorated sleighs, bells, gingerbread men and chinese dragons as well as a gnome and an owl pot, all of which formed the greater part of his gift to friends and family for Christmas. Not only did these activities help us feel a smidgen of festive spirit, they also provided a great distraction for an active 9-year old confined to the hospital buildings.

Carols by Candlelight, St George’s Holborn:

23567358210_2327dd548d_mAfter one particularly long day on ward and a much-needed break from it all, I wandered back to the hospital to be greeted by the sound of carol-singing from outside the main entrance. I had been missing my weekly choir sessions at home and stopped to listen to the strains of carols that filled the air. This group had come from nearby church, St George’s Holborn to spread a little festive cheer and 23104290053_5ffd34741a_zoffer mince pies to anxious parents, extended families and harried medical staff as they rushed through the doors of the hospital. As I chatted to some of the members, I was invited to their Carols by Candlelight service on the evening of G’s birthday and was delighted to be able to attend, although sadly M wasn’t allowed to come with me. The service was beautiful – lit by candlelight, with smiling, welcoming faces all around me and filled with a peace that I really needed that evening. I sang every carol, grateful to be able to take part in this simple act of worship that proved to be invaluable therapy to me and which brought healing to my troubled heart.

Hospital school’s Christmas activities:

As well as the wonderful crafts mentioned above, the hospital school had a series of wonderful activities planned for the last 2 weeks of term. Sadly, due to the unforeseen hiccups that arose during his admission, M wasn’t able to take part in as many as he would have liked, but those he did do, he really enjoyed. From experiencing a Victorian Christmas with the V&A museum to themed artwork with the National Portrait Gallery and the beautiful Christmas service held in the hospital chapel and which we enjoyed so much last year, there was just so much on offer. M was particularly disappointed to miss the service as he had been asked to 20151215_121720read at it, but the necessity of Klean prep made it impossible for him to attend. However, the one activity I put my foot down about and insisted he do was the chance to once again do some cookery with one of London’s head chefs. M loved every minute of that session and came out proudly bearing a box full of goodies from chocolate cupcakes to gingerbread angels and even 2 items he could safely eat – spun sugar and an apple swan!

The Snow Ball – GOSH’s Christmas parties: 

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Martha from #GBBO

Every year GOSH put on a series of Christmas parties for patients and their families at nearby hotel, The Royal Britannia. M and I attended our first Snow Ball last year after learning about it during his admission and had such a good time that I vowed to make sure we repeated the experience this year and to take some extra-special guests with us if at all possible. Despite initial fears that the unexpected need for Klean prep part-way through his admission might get in the way, I managed to negotiate with his doctors and won him an afternoon’s reprieve from the stuff so we could attend. Once again we enjoyed all that was on offer – free food and drink for those who can eat, a soft toy for every child attending and a whole host of attractions including a Formula 1 racing car to sit in and sign, cupcake decorating, various photo opportunities, face-painting, science experiments and entertainment galore. M was particularly excited to meet both Iron Man and Martha from 2014’s GBBO and I would be hard-pressed to say who he was more impressed to meet! Thanks to the understanding and support of G’s amazing secondary school, Mike was able to bring her to visit M on that day too and so she was also able to come along and enjoy the party. Both children left with an amazing goodie bag each and wonderful memories of a great day in the midst of a difficult time.

Carol singing around the hospital:

This has to be one of my favourite Christmas events of our whole admission at GOSH. On our final Sunday there, Mike, M and I headed down to the hospital chapel for their Carols by Candlelight service. The chapel was packed out with patients, their families, staff and members of the local community who had come together to celebrate this service. As it drew to a close, and we disappeared back to the ward, I spotted that later that evening a group would be singing carols at various locations throughout the hospital. Having missed the carol services at both school and our home church, M had expressed several times that it didn’t feel like Christmas as we hadn’t enjoyed the usual buzz from all the preparations at home. This seemed like an ideal opportunity to find that missing Christmas spirit and given that all 3 of us love to sing, we determined to join this choir if we could. IMG_0069I later discovered that this group was from All Souls church, Langham Place and the members had travelled from various locations across the greater London area to spend an hour singing carols around GOSH. We were welcomed with open arms and it was wonderful to see M take part with real gusto as he was finally free of the Klean prep drip and starting to feel a little more like himself. The choir and musicians started in the main reception area before heading to The Lagoon and then on to 2 floors of the Octav Botnar wing to serenade patients and staff alike. It was a truly magical evening and a fitting end to the tension-filed admission we had experienced so far.

 

 

“Run, run as fast as you can…”

“…you can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!”

To be perfectly honest, the last couple of months have been challenging ones. When we made the decision last year to move M to the elemental diet, we did so hoping that it would be the answer we were looking for and that he would finally find some relief from the years of chronic pain and constant bowel problems he’d barely been surviving. The great news is that his symptoms improved dramatically and for the first time in a long-time, M felt healthier and happier than ever before. However, despite the best hopes of GOSH that his NG-tube would only be needed for 2 or 3 months, Mike and I held the opinion that it would more realistically be in place for at least a year, if not longer, and we are rapidly moving closer to that 12-month mark. Of course, what none of us had anticipated was the struggle we would have in reintroducing foods back into M’s diet and over recent weeks, he has found the constant disappointment of failed food trials and the frustration of not being able to eat the same as everyone else almost unbearable to live with. With the agreement of our amazingly supportive dietician, we decided to take an extended break from the challenges, allowing M some much-needed time to come to terms with the realities of life right now.

shutterstock_190648280Having had that much-needed rest, M started to lose that haunted look that had been plaguing him for a few weeks and we finally seemed to have turned the corner and be back on track. We agreed on a new short list of foods to challenge in the run up to Christmas and had finally restarted where we had left off, more or less. However, last weekend, with another 3 unsuccessful attempts at reintroductions to chalk up to experience, tensions started to build and emotions threatened to overwhelm the tenuous calm that had just begun to settle. The final straw broke when G asked Mike and me to taste and review her cupcakes for her Food and Textiles homework. With hot, angry tears cascading down his cheeks, M crawled on to my lap to fitfully confide that it “just wasn’t fair” that everyone else could eat cakes when he couldn’t. Gently stroking his back, I offered to whip up a batch of one of the few sweet treat recipes I’ve managed to adapt for him in the last 12 months: Rice krispie treats? Cupcakes? Scones? Sugar cookies? Nothing seemed to quite hit the necessary mark, so I put my thinking cap on, did a little research and came up with the perfect pre-Christmas treat – Gingerbread!

Thanks to a few sneaky “mini” challenges, we have been able to add some extra flavourings to M’s diet and the most recent success was the addition of ginger to the humble pear crumble, so gingerbread seemed to be the logical next step. I started pulling the ingredients from the cupboards and, 20151121_162110as I weighed and measured out everything I needed, M’s interest was piqued and he pulled up the step-stool to stand by my side and help out. He rolled up his sleeves, washed and then floured his hands and, having selected an interesting array of cookie cutters, brandished my trusty rolling-pin to roll out the gingerbread dough on my pastry board. He chose to use the Christmas cutters as well as the odd one or two Mr Men ones, which have survived from my childhood and spent hours planning out to most effectively cut the shapes from the dough in front of him. We ended up with an impressive batch and I am heartily assured by my trustworthy taste-testers that they more than fit the brief and hit the mark!

Shoe Box Appeal 2015

I feel a little as if I’m on “Appeals” overload at the moment, but as both these causes are extremely worthwhile in my opinion, and with deadlines fast looming, I just had to squeeze them both into the same week. The first was the Teal Pumpkin Project that I mentioned in my last blog post and it’s not too late to sign your household up and help provide some peace of mind for parents of allergy children. You can pledge your support through this link and make a big difference with just a few simple steps. If Halloween isn’t your thing, once it is done and dusted this weekend and the pumpkin spice lattes disappear from the coffee shops, your attention will no doubt start to turn towards the final big celebration of the year, Christmas. imagesNow, for various reasons including the need to meet a last posting date of October 13th for Canadian surface mail, I am rather spectacularly “on top” of the Christmas present buying this year and must confess to feeling unashamedly pleased with myself! Of course, this level of organisation almost definitely won’t result in a calm approach to December as there are still gifts to buy for the 3 most important people in my life and both G’s 12th birthday and our 16th wedding anniversary need to be celebrated before the big day itself.

The one advantage of being so prepared is that I have been able to focus my attention on preparing some Christmas shoe-boxes for this year’s Blythswood Care Shoe Box Appeal. Our church has been supporting this organisation for a number of years and in years past, G has also helped support this cause through her school. Last year was our first to actually prepare 2 shoe-boxes at home and this year G asked if we could fill 4 – 2 from her and 2 from M – a request I was more than happy to meet. As with the Teal Pumpkin Project, once again the idea is a simple one and will make a huge difference to those who receive one of these boxes this Christmas.213375_21bce6818a3b4276b1fd5c518dcd2914.jpg_srb_p_316_335_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srb

What is the Shoe Box Appeal?

Blythswood Care, as well as many other organisations, ask for donations of filled shoe-boxes, which are sent to individuals and families in need in some of the most destitute countries of the world. They are often the only gift these people will receive this Christmas and bring some seasonal joy in otherwise difficult and dismal situations.

What do you need?Checklist_Layout 1

  • an empty shoe-box
  • some Christmas wrapping paper
  • same basic toiletries: soap, toothbrush and toothpaste are the bare minimum
  • a pair of winter gloves and either a hat or a scarf, or both
  • sweets
  • a selection of small toys, make-up, stationery and other bits and pieces to make your box an extra-special present to receive

The above items all need to be new and there are clear guidelines to follow in terms of purchasing sweets and toiletries/cosmetics for them. You can choose who you want to fill the shoe-box for and just need to clearly indicate the intended gender and age of the recipient.

What sorts of things should I add?

The choice of how to fill them is yours and really yours alone. As long as each box contains the basic toiletries and winter clothing requested, everything else is at your discretion. The nice thing is that you can spend as much or as little as you want and can afford. G, M and I visited our local pound shop and I encouraged them to pick out items that they thought their target audience (2 boys and 2 girls of approximately their age and younger) would enjoy opening on Christmas morning. Between them we ended up with bags of sweets, pencils, stickers, toy cars, Lego, Where’s Wally books, small puzzles and toy ponies.

Where do these boxes go?

In the case of Blythswood Care, the shoe-boxes are delivered to mainly Eastern European countries such as Albania, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. They are then distributed locally to low-income families or families identified as having a particular need, who are unable to buy gifts themselves and are otherwise unlikely to be able to celebrate the Christmas season.

20151017_185003Why fill them?

In our family, the children have chosen to fill these boxes because they both know how lucky they are to be able to count on a pile of presents to open on Christmas morning. Throughout the year, G has been sorting through bits and pieces in her bedroom and has kept asking to put things to one side to add to our boxes. We’ve taught them that these gifts are really something small that they can easily do and which will truly have a big and lasting impact.

How long do I have to fill my box?

The deadline is as fast approaching as Christmas itself, with many locations collecting boxes by November 6th 2015. If you want details of where to drop off your filled boxes, you can look at the collections schedule here or contact them directly on 01349 830777.

Are there other options?

Of course, there are a number of other charities and organisations out there that do similar work in a whole host of countries and for different individuals during the Christmas period and you might wish to support one of those instead:

Finally, if you want to see more about the difference these boxes make, please watch Blythswood Care’s video:

 

Christmas without food

foodIt’s not until you find yourself in a situation where you need to avoid food that you realise just how much of our everyday lives and how many social occasions revolve around meals or other food-based activities.  Just think about it: birthdays are celebrated with a mix of party food, cake, treats for your friends and – when you’re turning 9 – party bags filled with sweets; Easter inevitably includes the requisite chocolate egg plus Easter biscuits and Simnel cake; a catch-up with old friends often starts with coffee and cake and may well move on to drinks and dinner; and Christmas is, quite simply, the time when we all over-indulge and go mad, filling our cupboards and fridge with chocolates, biscuits, mince pies and brandy butter in a manner that suggests there’s a genuine risk that we might run out at any minute.

Our plans for this Christmas itself were relatively simple.  My Mum had suggested that we served a buffet over the festive period, rather than having the traditional mid-afternoon sit-down feast that we’ve all become accustomed to, which seemed a great alternative and allowed us to cater for everyone’s needs.  Much to my surprise, M was keen for the rest of us to sit at the table for supper on Christmas Eve, whilst he sat in the other room watching some Christmas TV and sipped his glass of full-sugar 7-up, one of the few treats he’s allowed alongside his elemental feed.  By Christmas Day, he wanted to have company in front of the TV and Boxing Day saw us eating in shifts, whilst the others played board games or watched films with M. We quickly learned to let M decide where he was happiest being at meal-times and included him in as many traditions as we could – pulling Christmas crackers, sharing the jokes, wearing paper crowns and making the time as normal as possible without focussing all our attention, and his, on the food.

Courtesy of abcnews.go.com

Courtesy of abcnews.go.com

We thought we had covered all the bases this Christmas, or at least, all those we considered to be the biggies, but it was the little things that crept up and caught us unawares.  Our Christmas stockings always include chocolate treats (dairy- and soya-free naturally), a box of tic-tacs, a handful of nuts and a satsuma pushed down to the toe, but none of those could find its way into M’s stocking this year.  I had bought Moo-free chocolate advent calendars and selection boxes for both children before we knew he’d be going into hospital and whilst M had managed to have 4 advent chocolates before his admission and G enjoyed the rest whilst he was in, I had to work out how to give G the selection boxes without rocking M’s world too much.  This was one of those small things that needed a lot of late night planning on Christmas Eve. slices

In stark contrast, Mike and I had considered beforehand the treats that usually adorn the coffee table at home and deliberately didn’t leave out the boxes of Turkish delight or the dates or the orange and lemon slices in their normal home.  Instead, we stored them in a safe corner to be pulled out once both children were in bed as we didn’t want them to be a constant reminder of what M couldn’t eat and yet he objected more to us hiding these goodies away than leaving them on display. “It just isn’t Christmas, Mummy” was his feeling on the matter, without these seasonal delights out for all to share and enjoy.

I’m not sure I know that we didn’t get everything 100% right, but given that we were very much thrown in the deep end with little advice on how to survive the day, I think we did okay.  The biggest lesson learnt was to be flexible on a daily basis and not to expect one day to be like the next, both at home and at school.  Some days M sits and chats with G at the dinner table, enjoying a Foxes glacier mint (another small treat allowed) and a glass of 7-up whilst she eats her meal and yet the next will find him close to tears and hidden away in another room for the duration.  There is no pressure for him to constantly be a part of every meal-time and as long as he spends some quality time with the rest of the family, I’m happy to give him the time-out he sometimes so desperately needs.