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Third year a charm

When the email inviting me to once again participate as a judge of this year’s Free From Food Awards dropped into my inbox a couple of months ago, I started the necessary planning to ensure I could get to London and be away from home for a couple of days. Mike was booked to work from home for my 2 days of judging, I arranged for a bed at the FFFA headquarters and my annual leave was booked from work. It seemed as if everything had been meticulously planned and since the start of the year, I’ve been counting down excitedly to the days themselves. Needless to say, and just in case you hadn’t picked up from the tone of my above writing, things didn’t quite go as expected and life once again proved that even the best laid plans can go awry.

First of all, my arrangements to go the night before my first day of judging had to be tweaked when Mike was due to be working over 2 hours away and wouldn’t be home before 7pm that evening. The thought of the 2 hour train journey late at night and then travelling on to the FFFA house with the likelihood that I wouldn’t arrive much before 10.30pm that night meant that instead I had a quick rethink and booked myself on to the 6am train the following morning. With the tickets booked, it looked like everything was back on track and it was full steam ahead once again.

And then ‘flu struck; and with 50% of the household taking to their beds, I suddenly had to rethink it all. I was reluctant to give up my third year of judging completely and so reached an agreement with my husband in his sick-bed that I would head off on the 6am train as planned, but instead of having some time to myself and staying in London, I would instead return at the end of the day and pick up my nursing duties where they had been left off over 12 hours before. It would mean a long day for me with not much chance to rest and recover, but I knew that the day itself would rejuvenate me as I spent it with the fantastic bunch of fellow judges that have become friends over the last couple of years.

My choice of category this was “store cupboard”, something I hadn’t previously judged and one that I had found quite intriguing in previous years. This category encapsulates a vast selection of products that could be found in your kitchen cupboard (flours and packet mixes), fridges (mayonnaises and sauces) or freezers (cook from frozen goodies). With 49 items to taste, evaluate and score, this is a long day, which contained a lot of laughter thanks to the people I was with. I’ve made no secret that the last 12 months at work have been challenging ones and it proved to be a real reminder of exactly what is important in life and provided a focus on just how lucky I am to have such opportunities away from the 9-5 drudgery of the day-to-day.

There were a lot of products for us to try and some were definitely better than others. I think it fair to also state that some were better received than others, with the occasional one leaving us all scratching our heads as to why exactly they’d been entered into the awards. With a choice of 49 different items to taste during the day, I wanted to bring you the highlights as I saw them and although not all were safe for M, they would all be an ideal addition for G. In no particular order, I loved these:

Orman’s Vegan Easy Egg – a fantastic egg replacement product that produced an omelette that not only tasted just like the real thing, but had a similar texture as well. I hadn’t come across this before, but I absolutely loved it.

Probios Mayorice – a rice-based mayonnaise that was a good alternative for regular egg mayonnaise and, even better, was pretty much M-friendly (allowing for the fact that we have no idea whether he can tolerate mustard or not!).

Thai Green Curry sauce – I can’t remember who this was made by (Co-op maybe?), but it was a delicious and aromatic version of this popular Thai dish. Marketed as gluten-free, but sadly not also dairy-free as the manufacturers had decided to use double cream to thicken the sauce. Despite that fact, I enjoyed the mouthful I had.

Spice Sanctuary’s GF Asafoetida – This is one I’d never heard of, but is a fantastic gently aromatic spice blend that can be used to replace onion and garlic in your cooking. Not an inexpensive option, but you only need a little to flavour your dishes.

I once again had a fab day finding new products and taking some great options away with me to experiment with at home. Judging finishes this week and the results will be announced at the Awards ceremony in a couple of months’ time.


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.

Unexpected Christmas treat

Whenever I write a review and share it on my blog, I do so because I’ve found a product or place that I’m impressed with and want to spread the word throughout the allergy community. Sometimes I’ve been fortunate enough to have received a freebie or two in advance for us to taste test and review – something you will always see declared on my posts – and I guarantee that we will always be honest with our opinions. It’s true that I rarely share things I don’t rate, although when I’m less than impressed with the service we’ve received, I will always make sure I shout that from the rooftops too. However, I never review with an expectation that we will receive something afterwards, though I’m honest enough to say that it’s always nice when we do!

That’s why, when I wrote about my discoveries at the FoodMatters Live conference a couple of weeks ago, I did so because I was just thrilled to have some new goodies for M to safely enjoy, which is always fantastic especially in the lead up to Christmas. What I didn’t expect was this marvellous parcel that was sent on to me just a few days after my post was published:

M spotted it propped up against the front door as we drove onto our driveway after school on Tuesday and was eager to be the first out of the car and to the door to pick it up and discover what had been delivered. His glee when he spotted the “Freedom Mallows” label on the front was unstoppable and he couldn’t wait to get it to the kitchen table and open it up. I had been in the know, as Elvin had contacted me asking for a postal address, but I’d only expected a small bag, or maybe 2, of mallows which I could sneak into their stockings on Christmas Eve. The treasures hidden within this box are immense and no stocking in our household is big enough to hold it all. Without a doubt, the excited squeals of both G and M which shook our house reverberated around our village and I just wish I could adequately capture that moment of absolute joy to share with you all.

A big thank you to Elvin at Freedom Mallows – you’ve made 2 not-so-small-anymore children very, very happy!

All Different, All Equal

This week is Anti-bullying week and this year the campaign has adopted the tagline “All different, All equal” to promote difference and equality in schools. As the Anti-bullying Alliance’s website states, the idea behind this is to “…help children and young people celebrate what makes them, and others, unique and help them understand why it’s important that every child feels included in school able to be themselves without fear of bullying...” This has struck a particularly resonant chord with me as feeling different to classmates is something that not only do I recall from my own school days, but something I am aware both G and M have felt over the years.

For me, and let me be brutally honest right now, I hated every moment of living with T1D as a teen. Not only was I having to deal with the challenges of impending adulthood and puberty like all of my peers, but my T1D added another layer to the emotional mix that I really didn’t want to have to face. At school I felt like the odd man out. I didn’t really know anyone else my age with T1D and I was the first diabetic in my school. I suffered extreme teenage angst about not being able to buy sweets and chocolate from the break-time tuck shop and that seemingly small thing became a massive problem that I struggled to overcome. My friends accepted my differences far more readily than I did and yet I felt alienated from them. My own anxieties and poor self-image became mountains I just couldn’t scale, particularly when some of the other girls in my school year began to exclude me from friendships that had been there since I was little and threw cruel words in my direction which hit incredibly deep.  Whether they had truly identified my lack of self-esteem as an easy target for their unkind comments and actions or not, I can still recall just how devastating that time in my life was for me. I’m sure that I was not on my own with those feelings, but I felt isolated in a world that seemed to be quite happy without me.

Sadly, G struggled similarly during her Infant school years when so-called friends who had helped ease her move to a new school, discovered that her health issues could be used as a taunt against her and caused her unbelievable emotional pain. Thanks to a fantastic and supportive Year 2 teacher, G was encouraged to tackle the bullies and their behaviour head-on and she learned to stand up for herself, something I didn’t learn until I was much, much older. I know that her gluten- and dairy-free diet still makes her feel too different to the rest of her tutor group for comfort and she has struggled with sticking to the restrictions, especially when her friends are enjoying treats that she would love to be able to eat. We’ve worked to fill her lunchbox with foods and snacks that make her feel a little more “normal” and a part of the crowd, and I will continue to hope that this doesn’t become a cause for bullying as she moves her way through secondary school.

Likewise, M’s complex medical needs have left him being subjected to cruel words and unkind actions in the past, something that is not unusual in the world of chronic illness. Whether it is an obvious physical difference, or something more hidden like T1D or allergies, the sad truth is that children can, and will, be cruel. All children are fighting to find their place in the world and will look to find their footing without regard for those surrounding them and especially not for their feelings. As parents we need to teach our children about the beauty in diversity and encourage them to be kind in their thoughts and deeds. My children are wonderfully unique as are their friends and that is something to embrace wholeheartedly and without reservation. This year I will be making sure that they understand the truth in these words: All different, all equal.

Living the Good Life

Are you more “Tom and Barbara” or “Jerry and Margot” when it comes to your approach to life? There’s no way I could let a reference to this unforgettable 70s British sitcom pass without a gentle nod in their direction, but my blog post is actually all about our exceptional retreat in Syros during our recent Greek holiday. Somewhere that embraces the self-sufficient lifestyle of the Goods and yet provides an experience that even the pickiest Leadbetter would struggle to complain about.

The Good Life Greece is owned by the charming and laid-back Nick, who, despite having called Greece his home since 2004, still speaks with a distinguishable Australian accent and, with the help of his sons also set up a number of small businesses in Athens, including our base whilst we were there, the Athens Studios. Escaping the noise and busyness of the capital city, the Syros villas match the peaceful beauty of their location and gave us a chance to recharge our batteries whilst embracing the simplicity of Greek island life.

Our home for the week was the idyllic Balance villa, a traditional stone house surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. Carefully designed to be sustainable and eco-friendly, the villa was simple with an understated luxury that we all enjoyed. The children were welcome to pick vegetables, hunt for eggs and harvest the figs on the nearby trees; and enjoyed every moment as they explored the grounds around the villa. With 2 bedrooms, a kitchen I’d love to have at home, bathroom and spacious living/dining area complete with TV and DVD player, there was more than enough space to house us all without risk of getting in each other’s way. A beautiful stone patio circled 2 sides of the house with amazing sea views, which we enjoyed on our quiet Sunday “at home” when we spent the day playing card games, listening to music and soaking up the sun in absolute peace.

Before we arrived on Syros, Nick and I had exchanged a couple of emails and I gratefully accepted his offer of a pack of local foods to welcome us to the island. I was so delighted by this decision when we discovered the wonderful array of goodies that filled the fridge and pantry. Fresh fruit and vegetables, goats’ cheese, yoghurt and milk for G, local sausage, cooked meals and chicken kebabs for M as well as eggs, fresh bread and, most importantly, local beer and wine gave us everything we needed for the first few days. Nick also hosted a wine-tasting evening mid-week, where he introduced us to a number of fantastic Greek wines accompanied by a spread of delicious local foods. We met our Dutch next-door neighbours, whose 11 year-old son quickly became great friends with both M and G as well as a willing partner-in-crime!

We loved every moment of our holiday on Syros and would go back in a heartbeat. I am particularly tempted by the thought of a Christmas spent there and, who knows, maybe we’ll make it back before too long.

Marks out of 10: 10/10 without hesitation

Brave New World

If you’re on any social media platform, be it Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, the chances are that your timeline will have been flooded this week with the ever popular first day photos like this one, on what an old friend humourously terms “National Stand in Front of your Door Day”. The start of every new school year always brings a list of tasks that need to be completed, which includes for us more than just name-labelling the new school uniform and buying huge amounts of school stationery that will potentially have disappeared by the end of the first week, but also making sure that we’ve dotted the “i”s and crossed every single “t” relating to the health needs of both children.

This year felt like even more of a challenge as M moves up into the same secondary school as his big sister and we find ourselves dealing with the reality of different teachers for every subject, a year group that’s bigger than the whole of his junior school and the need to educate the school in the world of M. The good news is that having reached the end of the first week, things have not gone horribly wrong and on the whole, it has all been a huge success. Every evening, M and I have looked through his timetable for the next day to discuss what he might need to do to make sure all his needs are being met as they need to be. I was as delighted as he was to discover that his educational needs have been noted on the tutor group register and so his teachers are aware that he needs extra support in relation to his Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. We still need to iron out the finer details of note-taking in class and how he prepares his homework for each lesson, but our unexpected find of yellow-tinted sunglasses whilst on our summer holiday have been an added bonus to helping him read the worksheets he’s given.

Disappointingly, though not altogether surprisingly, the level of awareness about his EGID and food restrictions has not been what we hoped it might be, but whilst my hopes were high, my expectations were truthfully quite low and we knew there would be work to be done in this area. He went to the Student Services with his medicines on the first day and by day 2 was confident enough to ask for a set of yellow cards, which gives him permission to leave class early to take them, jump to the front of the queue with 2 friends when it comes to lunchtime and go to the toilet whenever he needs to without having to wait and ask permission. Our biggest challenge was the one we feared it might be, that of the Food and Textiles classes that he will be taking this year. His cookery teacher was not aware of his dietary restrictions or just how important avoiding the cross-contamination risk is for M and so I’m waiting to talk to her after school on Friday to discuss just how we go forward with the lessons**. We are all keen for him to take these lessons and learn to cook, but Mike and I are very aware of the need to protect his fragile mental health and so will be working hard to make sure the cookery lessons don’t become a challenge too far for him.

As for G, my big girlie quietly and confidently started in Year 9 and is looking forward to the year ahead. She’s a little anxious already about making her GCSE choices later this year, but we have been spending time reassuring her that she won’t have to make those decisions on her own and that we will help and support her every step of the way, as will the school and her teachers. This year is a little different for G as they are now splitting a number of her classes into sets and her hard work over the last couple of years has stood her in good stead as she has been placed in the top 2 sets for almost all subjects.

It really is a step into a brave new world for the whole family and I can’t wait to see what the year ahead will bring for us all.

** So that conversation has happened today and I’m delighted to say was a really positive one. Mrs J has agreed that M can use ingredients and adapted recipes that are safe for him wherever possible and will work at his own station to help reduce the cross-contamination risks for him. She is as keen as we are to make the lessons a positive experience for him and will be regularly touching base with me to make sure we’re all getting it right.

Charity Cut

Whenever I write my blog, I am always conscious of not wanting to focus on any one emotion more than another, particularly when life seems pretty bleak to us. Yes, sometimes things feel overwhelming, but I know that in the grand scale of things life could be so much worse and I’m truly grateful that it isn’t. However, this is one occasion when I’m not going to apologise for shouting from the rooftops about just how fantastic both my children are in my eyes. They’ve both had brilliant end of year school reports and Stagecoach reports, which is a real testament to how hard they’ve worked this year, but this post is about something so much more than that and something of which Mike and I are incredibly proud.

In May, as part of National Eosinophil Awareness Week, M wrote to his Headteacher to ask if he could hold a “Dress as your Hero” day at school. Unbeknownst to me, M was invited to speak at one of the whole school assemblies about why he was running this fundraiser and took this opportunity completely in his stride. Both his class teacher and the Head have told me that he spoke confidently and with great articulation, able to clearly explain who Over The Wall are, what they do and the importance of these camps to him and to G. The school responded in amazing fashion and M’s hopes of raising around £100 proved to be a woeful underestimate of the final total.

Back at the start of the year, I wrote about our family’s New Year Resolutions  and mentioned that G had set herself a resolution that would be revealed in the fullness of time. It’s a real privilege to now share that resolution with you all. My gorgeous girlie decided that she wanted to cut her beautiful long hair before we travel abroad this summer and was keen to do it for charity if at all possible. So, for the past 7 months as G has been growing her hair as long as she could get it, she has been researching just how she could support a charity by doing so.

Two weeks ago, G faced her charity cut and had over 10 inches cut off to benefit 2 amazing charities. The 10-inch plait has been sent to the Little Princess Trust, who will use it to make real hair wigs for children across the UK who have lost their hair due to intensive medical treatments. Not content to leave it at that, G decided to join M in his fundraising efforts for OTW and asked family and friends for any sponsorship they were willing to give her to support her in her efforts. Regardless of any lingering nerves or uncertainties, G was excited to see her final look and I’ll be honest enough to say that we now have a teenage daughter that looks stunning and even more grown up than she did before. She really is rocking her new style:

Working together with this shared purpose, G and M have succeeded in raising more than a phenomenal £760  for Over The Wall, the charity that provides free camps for children with serious health challenges, their siblings and their families. As you’ll have read more than once on here, G and M have both benefited hugely from attending the Over The Wall camps and as a family we have chosen to support the work of this charity in every way we can. This really is a proud Mummy moment for me, seeing G and M be determined to raise awareness and financial support so that OTW can keep creating the magic they do every day at camp.

We are, of course, more than happy to keep collecting for this fantastic cause and you can add to the hard work of both children over the last couple of months by donating via our Virgin Giving website here. Thank you

“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:

Carnival Magic

Never being one to let something get in my way, I’ve tried to instill that same determination to succeed in both G and M. This time last year was the perfect example of this, when M took part in our local carnival parade, albeit in his wheelchair, and G stretched her self-confidence to become one of the dance captains leading their Stagecoach school as they danced their way along the carnival route. Kitted out in their 70s-inspired costumes, with the likes of Tragedy, Night Fever and Disco Inferno blaring out to get not just the kids, but all the spectators dancing too, they definitely captured an essence of Rio de Janeiro on the day.

This year we were back again, though our carnival offering really couldn’t have been more different to the party atmosphere of 2016. G and M were both keen to be a part of our church’s carnival float and relished the opportunity to choose the characters they wanted to portray from that classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. With her long dark hair, G was perfectly suited to playing the part of “Belle” and suited the yellow costume I managed to pull together in the 10 days leading up to the event itself. M in the meantime, conspired with his best friend at church and agreed that he would play “Lumière“, whilst C would be “Cogsworth“. M’s final outfit certainly did the job, though the glorious June sunshine made for one very hot and slightly grumpy child once the parade was over. The carnival float itself looked amazing and the children loved being able to sing along, dance and wave to everyone as it carried them down the street. I love being part of such a fantastic local tradition and can’t wait to see what next year brings for yet another repeat performance.