Tag Archives: Over the Wall

A Night of SeriousFun

It’s no secret that I absolutely love listening to our local radio station. It’s a great opportunity to hear about local people and stories as well as the national and international news. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to hear a friend or acquaintance being interviewed and I’ve even been on the radio 4 times speaking about M, G and the impact that his EGID diagnosis and restricted diet have had on our family. One of my favourite times to listen is in the morning, when the regular presenter hosts his phone-in on a wide variety of subjects from the sublime to the ridiculous and it was this morning’s topic that triggered my thoughts for today.

Today is World Children’s Day, a day to focus on children and more specifically, according to the UN, To recommit to putting children first. For every child, every right: the right to be a child, the right to play and the right to be safe.”

And this made me think.

It brought to mind an event that Mike and I attended in London last week, the annual gala dinner for the SeriousFun Network, the global family of camps for children with serious health challenges, their siblings and families. We were there to support Over The Wall, the charity that runs the incredible UK-based camps that both G and M have been fortunate to attend over the last few years. Those camps work hard to help those children who go to feel “normal”, often for the first time in their lives and to realise that they are not as isolated in their experiences as they so often can feel, whether as the child living with the chronic illness or as their sibling.

I’ve spoken so many times about the impact that OTW has had on both G and M since the first time they went and those effects are long-lasting. Friendships have grown with those they’ve met at camp and for G in particular, those same people have become her tribe. Time and distance has made no difference to those connections they’ve built and each camp sees them re-establishing their friendships from where they left off in years before.

The gala dinner was a great opportunity to celebrate the work that the SeriousFun Network camps do across the world. Much to Mike’s delight we were seated, purely by chance, with a group of Canadians connected to OTW through their corporate giving and they managed to spend half the evening talking all things ice hockey with great enthusiasm. It is thanks to individuals, groups and companies like these that OTW have managed to increase the number of campers they take each year and, having broken their target of 1,000 campers this year, have now got ambitions to reach 1,200 children in 2020. We were entertained by a variety of great acts including 2019 Britain’s Got Talent winners, Twist and Pulse, singers and musicians Damien Rice, Charlie Siem and Diane Birch and comedian Steve Coogan as well as a few of the SeriousFun campers who have performed at Stage Night at their respective camps.

It was a lovely evening, spent with people who all have the same goal to support and bring a touch of the usual to the lives of children who are anything but. We feel privileged that since 2016 our children have benefitted so much from the extraordinary efforts of the surprisingly small handful of staff members and the huge army of volunteers working for Over The Wall. In a reality where M’s health challenges have been an unwelcome, yet prevalent feature, it can never be underestimated just how much of a difference OTW has made to both G and M, and Mike and I are already planning to join the party again next year.

This truly is an organisation that has committed to putting children first and focuses on that right of each child to be a child, no matter what else life has thrown at them.

Hair today…

…and gone tomorrow!

It’s an old joke, I know, but it sums up perfectly the start of the new school year for G. For those of you who’ve been following me for a while, you may remember that 2 years ago G took the plunge and decided to cut her beautiful long hair for charity. She donated the hair itself to the Little Princess Trust, who use it to create real hair wigs for children who have lost their hair due to intensive medical treatments. G also took the opportunity to raise funds for Over The Wall and it turned into an impressive occasion, leaving her with a very grown-up hairstyle as well as raising £500, which was then match-funded to create a staggering £1,000 fundraising total.

Over the summer months, G has been talking once again about wanting to cut her hair – I think the hassle of combing numerous tangles and knots out of it had all become too much – and so at the end of her second day back at school, she headed to our local hair salon and once again braved the cut. Mike suggested to her that she consider donating to the Little Princess Trust once again and as soon as she realised that there was enough length to allow her to do it, there really was no stopping her.

This time round she’s gone a little shorter than before, but it’s still an absolutely stunning style for my fast growing-up firstborn. We are so proud that she didn’t think twice about making the donation and even more so when she said that she wants to continue to donate her lengthy locks whenever she can. To paraphrase G, she wants to “…donate my hair, just like Dad donates his blood” – a fantastic ambition and who are we to argue.

Summer Photo Round-up 2019

Summer 2019 was all about home-grown entertainment and experiences before heading into a year of GCSEs – both exams and options!

Heading North for the Bank Holiday

No sooner had we arrived back from London, than G and M disappeared off to South Wales with my Mum and my Aunt for the week leading up to the August bank holiday, leaving Mike and me at home to work, wash clothes and start to sort out what was needed for our bank holiday adventure in Manchester. We travelled to South Wales on Friday evening to pick the children up and spent the night there before heading off to Manchester the following morning. We decided to try and avoid as much holiday traffic as possible, so wended our way across mid- and North Wales to reach our final destination and that decision proved to be the best one we could have made as we saw very little traffic at all. We reached Manchester, and one false start later – who knew there’d be so many Premier Inn hotels in the Salford area? – had arrived and were ready to start our visit.

Sunday was dedicated to the IWM North (that’s the Imperial War Museum for the uninitiated) to support G’s GCSE History studies about the rise of Hitler in the inter-war years and the Cold War period, and proved to be an excellent exhibit to visit. Their audio-visual short films shown every hour were a great addition to everything that was on display and there was a nice mix of interactive elements for the children to do as well. The sections covering the time periods of most interest to us were, perhaps, not as in depth as we would have liked, but overall we enjoyed the time spent there. G and I also took some time to walk around their special exhibit about the Yemen crisis, although M had definitely had his fill of all things history about that point and abandoned the galleries for the cafe with Mike. It was fascinating to see G’s reaction to the photos and displays about this more recent crisis and she was keen to express her thoughts about the responses of politicians and their excuses for not doing what they knew was needed.

Originally we hadn’t planned to do anything for the rest of the day as we weren’t sure how long we would spend at the IWM, so over our lunch, we investigated and discussed where to head next. M was keen to do something “fun as a family” and so was delighted to learn that we could visit EscapeHunt Manchester and try our hand at one of their themed escape rooms. We were lucky to get a booking for their “The Last Vikings” challenge and had just enough time to walk our way from Mediacity across the city to the escape rooms. It’s the first time we’ve attempted an escape room as a family, but is definitely something we will try our hand at again. We had lots of fun, although we failed at the final hurdle and were in the midst of solving the last clue when our time ran out.

Our decision to go to Manchester were twofold, the first being the IWM North, but our second was perhaps the more exciting, especially for G and M. This was the day for their indoor skydive in aid of Over The Wall and despite a somewhat grumpy start from our youngest, we arrived at iFly Manchester with 2 very excited children. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to participate due to a shoulder injury I sustained at the start of the year, but Mike was keen to try his hand too, so we had booked them a family session which allowed them to split 10 minutes “flight time” between them. I was impressed at what appears to be the natural skydiving skills of my husband and children and the smiles on their faces said it all. Mike and M are both keen to go back and do it again, but G is less convinced, though glad she gave it a try in the first place. All in all, it was a fantastic bank holiday weekend and we were back home for a rest before school went back the following week.

Time to stop and smell the roses

New job, end of term, fundraising plans, health challenges, summer holidays… sometimes it really is nice to be able to stop and smell the roses, especially when they’re as beautiful as this bunch of flowers currently gracing G’s windowsill. A thank you from her Stagecoach school for all her help last week at their summer school – a small acknowledgement of her efforts and one that has very much been appreciated and enjoyed by us all.

We’re all taking a little time this week to slow down and appreciate life. With a couple of days off planned for the end of the week, I’m winding down to just spending some much-longed-for family time together and am wondering if I can convince the children to give up their technology for at least some of that time too. M is spending the week planning 101 things he wants to do with G before we have our break, whilst G tries her best to ignore him and focus on some gentle revision instead. Mike and I will complete as much work as we can and anything left outstanding will quite simply have to wait until we head back to our desks on Monday morning.

I hope you too get the chance to stop, take a breather and appreciate life in its fullest this week.

20 years of #mischiefandmagic

A lot can happen in 20 years.

In the years since our wedding in December 1999, our family has doubled in size and we’ve moved schools, houses and jobs at a rate that has to be seen to be believed. We’ve survived illness and loss within both our families and our friends, and continue to do so on a daily basis thanks to some long-term diagnoses that have oft-times caught us when we were least expecting them. Chronic illness has become a much bigger part of our lives that we could ever have imagined, but with that has also come some amazing friendships, connections and opportunities that we never even dreamed would happen and that, in many ways, I wouldn’t change for the world.

One such relationship that we have all absolutely come to value is the one with the charity, Over The Wall. They have been a phenomenal support to G and M since both first attended their camps in 2016 and are, in an almost unbelievable stroke of serendipity, also celebrating 20 years since they were first launched by UK businessman Joe Woods following in Paul Newman’s footsteps and the development of the Hole in the Wall Gang camps in Connecticut USA in the late 1980s.

So what are we doing to make this a year of note?

As far as our anniversary goes, I’m hoping that Mike and I might manage a night out somewhere special, though celebrating the week before Christmas can make that difficult as we negotiate the huge numbers of office Christmas parties that we inevitably encounter when trying to book a table anywhere without a lot of forward planning.

And, of course, it will come as no surprise that we are also working hard to raise awareness and funds to support Over The Wall’s ambitious plans to take a record-breaking 1,000 children to camp this year. Mike started the year in style with a sponsored polar dip on New Year’s Day and we’ve turned our hands to a few other things – some old, some new – to see just how much we can raise. We followed the “sparking joy” fashion and adopted a Marie Kondo approach to clearing out our wardrobes, committed to giving a regular amount each month and even stood in the entrance of our local Tesco superstore a couple of weeks ago to collect what we could and spread the word about the camps too.

We’ve taken OTW with us wherever we’ve travelled, sporting branded t-shirts, hoodies and bandanas with aplomb and almost quite literally went “over the wall” with them during our visit to Berlin.

G and M have obviously been a big part of many of our efforts, but are now launching an appeal of their own. Their yearning to do something truly spectacular has unfortunately been somewhat hampered by not yet being quite old enough to participate in the activity of their choice, but they have instead picked the next best option in their eyes and will be taking part in a sponsored indoor skydive at the end of this month.

How can you help?

Well, it goes without saying that any sponsorship you can give would be very gratefully received by G, M and OTW, especially if you can help them meet their fundraising target of £200 – scaled back somewhat from M’s original suggestion of £20,000 – by visiting their fundraising page here.

If you’re not able to donate, but live near a Tesco store in one of the following areas*, OTW is one of their Bags of Help Centenary Grants recipients until the end of August and by adding your blue token to their box, and encouraging friends, family and fellow shoppers to do the same, you will help them receive a significant grant that will be genuinely life-changing. Remember “Every Little Helps”, even if that’s by a blue token!

Finally, sharing the OTW message of #mischiefandmagic with friends and across your social media channels will not only help the charity reach even more of the estimated 50,000 children and young people living with serious health challenges across the UK, but sharing our fundraising page will hopefully bring even more cash donations pouring in to help them achieve their goals not only this year, but in the future too.

Thank you!

*OTW is currently starring in stores across: Perth & Kinross, Angus, Stirling, Fife, Clackmannanshire, South Ayrshire, East Ayrshire, Dumfries & Galloway, Scottish Borders, East Lothian, Midlothian, Somerset (inc Bristol), Wiltshire and Swindon.

Easter travels

I thought that time flew by when the children were young, but these days I’m finding it passing even quicker and this Easter holiday has been no exception to that rule. G and M have split their time between Over The Wall and my Mum for the most part as, for Mike and me, it has very much been a case of business as usual during our working week. However, we have made the effort to take advantage of the opportunities created by a break from performing arts and dance classes as well as the long weekend to squeeze in some fun family days out where possible. Despite their seeming reluctance to go for a walk, we’ve found that adding new locations to the mix has made the challenge of keeping our 2 teens engaged much easier and I wanted to share them with you:

National Botanic Garden of Wales, Carmarthenshire – nestled away in South Wales, this is a place that we’ve visited a few times over the years, but it had been a while since we had last ventured in that direction and neither children could particularly remember our last visit there. The Gardens are home to the largest single-span glasshouse in the world, which houses some of the most endangered plants from around the world. M really wants to travel to Australia and whilst that isn’t currently on our holiday plans for the immediate future, he was thrilled to explore the Australia area in the glasshouse. In turn, that led to a very interesting family discussion about where we’d really like to go and revealed those we already knew – Australia for M and Japan for Mike – as well as the previously unheard suggestions of Greenland and Russia from G. On the day we visited there was a display of various bugs and creatures for the children to investigate and we enjoyed the opportunity to chat to the Botanic Garden’s very own “Butterfly Ranger”, which is definitely the best job title I’ve ever heard.

Uncertain of what food might be available on-site we had taken a packed lunch with us, which proved to be the best decision as there was only a handful of gluten-free offerings available in the café. We did supplement our lunch with a portion of chips for the children and Mike to share and took advantage of the tables set up inside the glasshouse to sit inside and enjoy our lunch. Lunch finished, we then headed around the rest of the grounds, although there was a lot more we could have discovered if only we’d had more time. Both children enjoyed stretching their legs, playing in the play area and generally just burning off their energy by running along the pathways. It was a great afternoon out and one we’d certainly revisit again.

Longleat Safari Park, Wiltshire – We haven’t been to Longleat since M was a baby and as we drove past the main entrance en-route to taking G to this year’s South Siblings OTW camp, I thought it was definitely time for a return trip. Unsurprisingly neither child has any memory of being to this amazing estate before and were happy to agree with my suggestion as long as we drove through the safari park (M) and tried our luck in the hedge maze (G). Our visit started with the safari park and both G and M were delighted with all of the animals we spotted on our way round, especially the antics of the monkeys as they clambered across our car roof and down the rear window. Mike had stopped to remove the radio antenna from my car before we entered the park and the children could quickly see the reason why when the monkey on the car in front of us bent their aerial almost in half and started chewing on it! Hunger pangs hit G and M when we were about half-way around the park and so they took the opportunity of sitting in the car to munch on their sandwiches whilst trying to spot lions and tigers…(and bears? Oh no!).

Safari finished, we then headed into the main estate itself and insisted on what was meant to be a quick pitstop for Mike and me to eat our packed lunch before we tackled the challenge of the maze. However, having spotted an array of gluten-free offerings on the café menu, we couldn’t turn down the chance to feed the children a second lunch and so M filled up on yet more gluten-free chips, whilst G enjoyed GF sausages and chips. The hedge maze was a lot of fun and we were surprisingly successful in reaching the centre far quicker than we were expecting. The view from the top of the central tower was incredible on such a beautiful spring afternoon. From there, it was time for a quick runaround the castle play area, a trip to see the koalas and then back to the safari park, this time stopping at the African village near the entrance to satisfy G’s yearning to get up close to the giraffes, thereby unwittingly recreating a photo from her last visit at age 2.5!

Margam Park, Port Talbot – this was our final day out over the Easter Holidays and we picked the perfect time to visit with the glorious sunshine that bathed the country over the Easter bank holiday weekend. It was the first time Mike and the kids had been to Margam Park and both M and G have already expressed a longing to return there in the summer – though I suspect the lure of the Go Ape Rope Adventures might well be the biggest draw. Once again we had taken a packed lunch with us and we found a great picnic table near to the Castle to sit and enjoy our meal in the sun. From there, we wandered around the park: past the boating lake, through the farm and along some of the trails before arriving back at the mansion itself.

M had spotted the go-karts and so we decided to hire 3 -one each for Mike, G and M – who then spent 30 minutes pedalling around and navigating more of the trails, whilst I took the opportunity to wander alongside the lake before finding a bench to sit peacefully and enjoy a little more sun. We rounded out the day with a walk to the Orangery and through the monastic ruins before we headed back to the car.

All in all, we enjoyed some magical days out together and would really recommend all these places for a fun family day out.

Young Carers Awareness Day 2019

Today is Young Carers Awareness Day 2019 and the purpose of the day is to raise public awareness of the challenges faced by young people because of their caring role, and to campaign for greater support for young carers and their needs. Young Carers often struggle with mental health problems of their own due to the strains they can find themselves under, hence the launch of their #CareForMeToo campaign.

I was recently invited to write a blog for Over The Wall about the impact of their camps on our family and I chose to particularly focus on the importance of the siblings camps for children like G, who is recognised as a Young Carer locally. I thought I’d take the opportunity to share my thoughts here too.

 “…when one person in the family has a chronic illness, the whole family has it…”

Jamie-Lynn Sigler

When you live with chronic illness you know that it is about so much more than just the disease itself. Pain, exhaustion, medicines, appointments and hospital admissions are often accompanied by a loss of self-confidence, doubts about self-worth and mental health issues that need time, patience and understanding to come to terms with and overcome. As parents to a child with a rare illness that is little known and little understood, Mike and I have had to find a resilience and strength within ourselves to not only support M as he finds his way to understanding his condition and living his life to the fullest, but also to fight those battles that he is not yet ready to tackle himself.

For the last 8 years, since our appointment with M’s first gastro consultant, our focus has been on finding answers and researching ways to give him the best quality of life we can despite the challenges he faces. As he now heads into his teens, we are seeing the fruits of those endeavours as M begins to make his own choices about the foods he eats, knowing full well the reactions he may experience, and taking on more responsibility for his medicines.

You could say that we’re achieving what we set out to do when we got his diagnosis: to raise a young man who won’t let his illness define or constrain him and who believes that he can be successful no matter what; but we have not been alone in supporting M. Family, friends and our local community have walked every step of this journey with us, helping us in more ways than we could ever imagine was possible; but there is one person who has been there since the very beginning, without any choice and yet who loves M unconditionally and is an indisputable rock for him, even when they don’t always see eye to eye.

She is, without a shadow of a doubt, the unsung hero in our family story.

Since the day her baby brother arrived prematurely in her world, G was determined to help out whenever she could. She put up with his incessant screams from what we now realise was undiagnosed pain and looked to comfort him however she could – making him laugh, giving cuddles, reading stories or just bringing him “Cat” when nothing else would do. Like so many siblings to children diagnosed with chronic illness, G has inevitably been side-lined when that illness has dominated family life and despite our determination to make sure she doesn’t miss out because of it, I know there are times when we haven’t got that balance right and given G the attention she deserves and needs.

From the interruption of frequent hospital appointments to badly timed admissions over her birthday 2 years in a row, G has had to take the back seat to M’s illness more times than seems fair and these are not the only ways in which her life has been affected by his diagnosis. We cannot ignore the reality that having a chronically ill sibling has had a massive impact on G and her mental health too. Anxiety, panic attacks, facing fears and anger management issues are all inextricably tied up with the role of being a young person caring for another and it has been crucial we find a supportive environment for her that has taught strategies for dealing with her yo-yoing emotions and provided a safe and understanding outlet for them. Encouraging G’s involvement with our local Young Carers group as well as applying for a place at the Over The Wall Siblings camps have been important steps in recognising the impact that M’s health has had on her over the last 15 years and have helped her feel that we really do understand and appreciate all that she has had to put up with and sometimes give up too.

That time away at OTW was a week for her to be herself, not defined or viewed in her role as M’s big sister and encouraged and allowed her to take time to focus on herself without worrying about him. G came home a different child to the one who had left us, having realised that her life experiences didn’t isolate her in those circumstances and she had found a sense of self-worth that she had been struggling to develop at home and at school. G’s second camp experience saw her develop a confidence and willingness to take on new challenges, knowing that, with a little bit of self-belief and perseverance, no mountain is too big for her to conquer. OTW brought G out from the shadow of M’s ill health, helped her rediscover who she is as an independent individual and gave her her childhood back – and for that I can’t thank them enough.

Polar Dip

Despite the assertions of some Canadian friends that it couldn’t be a “real” polar bear dip without having to break some ice, in the middle of December Mike decided to take part in our local New Year’s Day polar swim. With just a smidge over 2 weeks to prepare for this madness, you wouldn’t be blamed if you thought Mike was completely mad – believe me when I say it was something that went through my mind too – but the reason for it is actually a fantastic one.

You have all heard me talk a lot about the amazing charity, Over The Wall, who provides free therapeutic camps for children with serious health challenges as well as their siblings and families. G and M have been fortunate enough to go to these camps twice each over the last 3 years and the difference it has made to them both is incredible. Since G’s first trip to the South Siblings Camp in 2016, we have taken every opportunity we’ve been able to find to raise awareness and funds for them – from M’s presentation at school to G’s sponsored hair-cut. I’ve talked to more people than I can even begin to count about just how special this charity is and in the last year have been delighted that 2 fellow EGID Mums were successful in their applications for camps too.

2019 marks 20 years since OTW’s first camp in the UK and they are looking to mark that anniversary by being able to send 1,000 children, young people and families to one of their camps. We want to help them achieve that goal, knowing from firsthand experience just how invaluable their camps truly are, and will be spending the year finding new ways to support them just as they have supported G and M.

And that’s why Mike kicked off our fundraising year in style with his Polar swim. He chose to swim in 9° water for 20 minutes – 1 minute for every year that Over The Wall is celebrating this year – and we set a tentative target of £200. Thanks to the generosity of friends and family, Mike not only more than managed his New Year’s Day dip, but also raised a fantastic £223!

If you’re able to give even a small amount, I know that Over The Wall will make very good use of it and you will be helping enrich the lives of young people living with health challenges, just like G and M. You can donate via their special 20 years donation page here.

Welcome to 2019

It feels a little strange to be putting fingers to the keyboard and sharing news with you all once again. Since the last time I wrote, we’ve celebrated Christmas, seen in the New Year, made some big decisions about future plans and the children have headed back to school. Mike kicked off the New Year in style – something I’ll share more about in my next post – as part of our family commitment for 2019.

To be honest I was glad to see the back of 2018, which had challenged us all from almost the beginning of the year, thanks to a nasty bout of Aussie ‘flu and…well…everything else that then followed on from that. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad and there were also lots of highlights from our year to celebrate too. Unfortunately and almost unbelievably, 2018 finished in much the same way it started with the sad news that one of my Godmothers passed away just before Christmas and 2019 obviously didn’t get the memo that it needed to improve on our experiences and kicked off with further news of ill-health for both friends and family.

However, I’ve learned some important lessons in 2018 and will be taking them forward into our New Year. I have some wonderful freefrom finds to share amongst other news and I’ve no doubt there will be discoveries and adventures to write about as 2019 unfurls.

Here’s to a year of discovery and wonder for us all.