Tag Archives: gifts

Supporting local business

As Christmas fast approaches, we are all in that mode of frantically searching high and low for the perfect presents for our loved ones, or, at very least, the best price for whatever it is they want. My two are complete opposites when it comes to writing their Christmas wish lists: M knows exactly what he wants, be it the latest computer console and games (PS4 and Fortnite), musical instrument (electric bass guitar plus amp) or the slightly more random Tempur mattress (just don’t ask). Whilst these all come with a significant price tag and the ongoing conversation about having any one of them as a joint Christmas/birthday present, at least we know what to look for, although I’m not convinced he’d be that happy if all he got was a new mattress!

G, on the other hand, is a little more challenging. For the last couple of years, her list has been small and fairly inexpensive, which is great from a financial perspective, but far more challenging given she’ll be turning 15 just 2 weeks before Christmas and various family members want suggestions for both occasions. Having given the best idea to my Mum, I’m not quite sure what Santa will find to leave in her stocking this year, but hopefully with some hard work, heavy head-scratching and even brainstorming, we’ll get there in the end.

One of things that I love to support is local business whenever possible and I’m sure I’m not the only person to have spotted the memes on social media asking folks to consider buying from small, local businesses at this time of year to find something truly unique when it comes to gifts. We’ve been doing our bit to support our local business community for at least 10 years and love discovering new opportunities to do so along the way. We started with buying our weekly groceries from our local food co-op, who source local meats, dairy products, fruit and vegetables, baked goods and even ready meals and deliver to our door. They work very much in the same way as some of the bigger names in this market, but with all the added benefits of locally grown and produced seasonal products, thus reducing our carbon footprint as much as possible. Our nearest big city has an active fruit and vegetable market too and so they can also offer the more “exotic” items, such as bananas, which means we’re not heading to a big chain supermarket for just a handful of groceries too often.

Over the last 15 months, we’ve been supporting another local enterprise and one which is bringing great health benefits to us all. A local farm has converted one of its unused buildings into an environmentally friendly swimming pool, using water from its own bore-hole and heated by burning grass grown on the farm. It has a limited occupancy due its size and so rents the pool out on a private basis to small groups, who can book a regular time slot to spend there swimming. Every Tuesday evening at 8.30pm, our family can usually be found eagerly splashing into the pool, ready and raring to go for 30 minutes swimming time. It is conveniently close to us – just 10 minutes from home by car -, impeccably kept and we have developed a passing acquaintance with the 2 groups, 1 family and 1 a group of friends, who swim in the slots before us. We are allowed access to the spacious changing rooms for the 15 mins before and after our slot and despite my fears that M and G would dawdle, they both manage to get themselves showered, changed, dressed and ready to go by 9.15pm at the latest.

Even better, not only does this local farm provide this fantastic facility which has seen M’s confidence in his swimming skills soar whilst G, but we are also able to buy fresh eggs from the farm door on an honesty box system and their Christmas offerings include beef and turkey. I have long said that we have the best of all worlds where we live, being just 8 miles from the centre of a vibrant city with amazing theatres, music venues and sports stadiums, but having a cottage on the edge of farmland and being able to see fields and green spaces for miles. The children have grown up with a dairy farm just across the road and are accustomed to seeing cows or sheep in the field next door whilst they’re bouncing on the trampoline in our “paddock”. I love being able to access so many things so easily, even the coastline is just 20 minutes away, and truly appreciate and understand just how lucky we are. Supporting the small, local businesses that are trying to survive and thrive in challenging times is just one way we can help our local community continue to grow for years to come…and hopefully will help me source some great presents for G in time for December!

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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!

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:

 

7 things to do in hospital when you’re 8 (& 3/4)

Two weeks in hospital is long enough to challenge the sanity of any adult, let alone that of an 8-year-old who is used to being on the go all the time.  As well as his daily visits to the hospital school, M was fortunate enough to have a number of other activities to take part in, which helped wile away the ever-lengthening hours.  I don’t know how many of these same opportunities, or others like them, are available at children’s hospitals across the country, but this is a selection of some of those M chose to do during his stay at GOSH:

Pets as Therapy20141209_131336We were lucky enough to have 3 separate visits from 2 of the amazing “Pets as Therapy” dogs, Molly and Woof.  These charming animals are specially chosen for their gentle manner and make regular visits into hospitals, care homes and special needs schools to bring a great deal of comfort and love to those in the greatest of need.  I wrote a blog post not so long ago about just how much calm and comfort M draws from our cats at home and I saw the same things happening as he was able to pet and cuddle both dogs in his own space in hospital.  G was lucky enough to also have the chance to meet and fuss Molly as she visited on both Saturdays whilst Mike and G were visiting, and both children were encouraged to offer her treats for her patient behaviour when she was with them.

 

ScoutsscoutsThe visit to the 17th Holborn Scouts and Guides at Great Ormond Street Hospital was one of the highlights of M’s last hospital stay in 2013 and since finding out he was due another admission, he had talked of little else.  His biggest disappointment was that he was admitted on a Wednesday as Scouts meet every Tuesday evening and he had to wait a whole week before he could go again. During the evening, they provide a range of different crafts and games which are tailored for the differing ages and needs of the children attending that week and even reward regular attendance, an important boost for those children who are there on long-term admissions.  Sadly, M only managed to make one meeting again this year, but is already asking when he can go to Scouts again!

 

Courtesy of gosh.nhs.uk

Courtesy of gosh.nhs.uk

Saturday Club – Every Saturday afternoon, the activity centre (located next door to the school) is opened to patients and their siblings and friends for a couple of hours of crafts, games and some much-needed time together, away from the constraints of the ward.  On our first Saturday in hospital, M wasn’t keen on venturing too far from his bed, but the arrival of 2 of the Saturday club play volunteers, who engaged him and G in some riotous games of “Extreme Uno” as well as giant snakes and ladders, convinced him to change his mind.  By week 2, both G and M were chomping at the bit to join in the fun and whilst the staff there helped my 2 celebrate G’s 11th birthday with some rather nifty face-painting, an elegant birthday crown and Christmas crafts galore, Mike and I were able to escape for a sneaky 45 minute catch-up over coffee and cake in the hospital restaurant.

 

Courtesy of scholastic.co.uk

Courtesy of scholastic.co.uk

ReadWell book trolley – This was a treat we almost missed during our first week as the trolley came round as we were enjoying the ballet at the Royal Opera House, but thanks to some near-perfect timing, we stepped out of the lift just as the trolley was about to leave the ward.  M was able to choose from the wide selection of books displayed on the trolley and took great pleasure in being able to spend some time before deciding on an author we had not come across before.  To his absolute delight, not only did he have a free choice of books, but he also got to keep the books he picked out and he has enjoyed reading them since we got back home.  M also had the chance to create his own story with one of the ReadWell workers, who came into the school and acted as scribe as he weaved his adventurous tale of aliens visiting earth.

 

20141214_105928Ward Playroom – Whilst this was not the biggest room in the world, it held a vast array of games and activities to entertain the most particular of children.  M played on the Wii, found new board games to master and was able to borrow a DVD player and DVDs to watch over the weekends.  We made Christmas decorations, painted pictures, experimented with creating circuits with a science kit and M even decorated a ceramic money-box as part of his Christmas present to G.  20141214_105916

 

Courtesy of magicfree,net

Courtesy of magicfree,net

Magic – As well as a fleeting hello to the Clown doctors as we passed them in the ward corridor, one afternoon was brightened by the promise of a visiting magician.  M sat enthralled with a small group of his new hospital friends as this talented gentleman performed one awe-inspiring illusion after another.  He invited both children and parents alike to participate in some of the tricks and wowed us with his skills.  He listened as the children asked him questions about what he was doing and even watched M perform a rope trick of his very own.  My Dynamo-wannabee loved every moment of the show and dissected the tricks at length afterwards, trying to work out the secret of how they’d be done.

 

20141219_184138Post – Last, but not least is an activity that had nothing to do with GOSH itself, but everything to do with the amazingly thoughtful family and friends who were determined to bring a little cheer to our dreary corner of the long-term gastro ward.  Messages came from around the world – Canada, Madeira and across the UK – and each was special in its own way.  M received get well cards, postcards, books, stickers, games and other gifts that were guaranteed to entertain him day or night.  We decorated his bed space with the cards and added a Christmasy feel with the decorations that we had made in the playroom.  Knowing that people were thinking of us, loving us and sending us get well wishes and prayers sustained us both during the most difficult moments of the admission and brought some much-needed sunshine on the darkest days.   From the Christmas card from M’s class at school, to 2 pages of messages from Mike’s cousin and her friends and colleagues in Calgary; from cards and presents from our friends at church, to a card from the lovely members of my choir; and the 2 extra-special gifts of Angry Birds Jenga from our fabulous FABED family and signed photos and scrubs for both G and M from Holby City, courtesy of Simon Harper, my man at the BBC; all the mail was gratefully received and enjoyed hugely by us both.

                        20141220_193939