A summer like no other, but still filled to bursting with sunshine, laughter and huge amounts of safe ice-cream!
With the start of the new school term being just a week or so away now, the last few days have been a great end to the extended break from school for G as she has eagerly followed in M’s footsteps and taken part in this week’s Midlands Siblings Camp in the Cloud. She has been waiting patiently for camp to start and firmly put M in his place last week when he offered to help her explore the virtual campground and point out where cabin chat challenges would be set and so on.
Being the ages they are, both children had the same set of challenges, which you might have thought would make this second week less attractive, but in fact the exact opposite has been true. A couple of the craft activities set had proved challenging for M as he found some of the finer details frustrating with his dyspraxia and he spent much of his time browsing the virtual campsite and taking part in the online activities, rather than completing the practical ones.
G, however, has tackled the crafts with relish and with perseverance; and, having discovered that watching the online videos was key, created a beautiful origami crane mobile, a working robotic hand and whizzed her way through the clues for the “locked box” challenge. She has loved joining in the nightly cabin chats and has come more out of her shell as the week has gone on. Her blue team has connected via Instagram, and if the amount of notifications buzzing through to her phone is any indication, they’re a chatty and engaged lot!
With Storm Francis hitting us hard with rain and wind this week and wiping out our new-in-lockdown 16ft trampoline by taking down one of the trees in our paddock, this week’s Camp in the Cloud has been a welcome distraction. Even better, M has re-engaged with some of the free-flow activities he didn’t complete during his week of camp, which has kept them both quiet and occupied with something other than the inevitable screens. In a summer that hasn’t quite been what we were hoping it would be, Over The Wall has kept us all sane and given both children some much-needed smiles on some otherwise grey days.
Since their first camps in 2016, G and M have looked forward to the start of every year to find out if they have got a place at their choice of Over The Wall camps. The initial outcome of this year’s applications saw both children on the waiting lists for their respective choices and, in M’s case in particular, with fingers tightly crossed that they might be lucky enough to make it to the actual camp when the time came about.
Like so many other activities, the coronavirus pandemic understandably shut down the Over The Wall camps this year, something that we all understood although it did leave the children somewhat disappointed. However, no sooner had we been advised that camp wouldn’t be happening this year, than an email was sent telling us that they were looking into a virtual alternative and to keep an eye out for future updates to be sent. It didn’t take long for the final details to reach me and both children eagerly signed up to the first ever Camp in the Cloud.
M was first up with the online South Health Challenges Camp and about 2 weeks before the start of camp his Camp in the Cloud box arrived on our doorstep. He did a grand reveal and shared opening his box with my Mum and Aunt over Face Time on the Saturday afternoon. Hidden inside was a padlocked box, sealed envelopes labelled for each day, face paints, a stationery set and, most importantly, his team t-shirt revealing he’s risen to the heady heights of being a green boy. The box also included a pot of M-friendly hot chocolate for cabin chat. The note on the container reminded him he could make it with the dairy-free milk alternative of his choice – a small thing that showed just how much OTW focuses on the finer details for each and every camper in their care. They also followed that up with an email just before camp began to remind me to check the ingredients to make sure I was confident that it was safe for M to drink.
The week of Camp in the Cloud came at a perfect time for M. It was a good start to his so-say summer holidays and proved to be a great distraction from the sad news of losing Grandpa the weekend before. The daily challenges gave him a focused activity to try his hand at and he loved being able to explore the virtual campsite, searching for the hidden Newman’s sauce bottles and participating in all his favourite camp activities in one way or another. The highlight of each day was most definitely the camp chat via Zoom, which gave him around 45 minutes to meet his team mates, accept, or set, team challenges and just chat in a face-to-face context, something he hasn’t really been able to do since lockdown began.
I was intrigued to see what M’s response to the week would be and it couldn’t have been more positive. Whilst he commented that it obviously wasn’t as good as going to camp itself, he loved being part of it and having something different to do after so many weeks of the same old, same old. Being able to dip in and out of the online platform during the day worked perfectly for my usually active child and the evening cabin chats really made it feel like camp. M was so impressed with the camp that he even contacted OTW himself to suggest that Camp in the Cloud is something they could continue to do in the future. He loves going to camp and always feels the bitter disappointment when he isn’t successful in getting a place. M believes that being able to offer Camp in the Cloud to those children who aren’t able to go the physical camp would be a great alternative and would reach out to offer the fantastic OTW experience to even more campers than they usually can. Whether they consider doing that, we simply don’t know, but anything we can do to help make it a reality we will.
Now we’re onto the countdown for G’s Midlands siblings camp at the end of the month – and she just can’t wait!
And just like that it’s the end of the school year and the end of G’s secondary school career. From September she’ll have moved to the heady heights of further education here in the UK, although she’s still not decided as to exactly what she’ll be studying or where. It’s been an odd culmination of the last few years of hard work and has left us all feeling a little discombobulated. It’s not quite the end of the 7Y2D home-school as I have already warned both M and G that I fully expect them to keep up with some studies over the coming weeks and M has already been set some tasks by school to challenge him in preparation for his GCSE courses that will soon be starting.
They do have some fun activities planned for the summer too, with both children being invited to join Over The Wall’s “Camp in the Cloud”, something they’re both excited about as this photo of M opening his box shows. We will also no doubt take advantage of the freedom of more movement by embarking on a few hand-picked and carefully chosen day trips starting and ending at home. Our plans for a summer extravaganza to celebrate the end of G’s GCSEs have been put on hold for the foreseeable, but we will make sure that her results day is still marked in style. Truthfully it’s not the summer we had planned, but then 2020 hasn’t really been the year we were expecting it to be either. One thing’s for certain, this is a year unlike any other and we’ve all experienced life in a new way in the last 17 or so weeks.
Somehow we find ourselves at the end of yet another week in lockdown and, as I continue to listen to the daily government briefings, it’s hard to imagine when lockdown will start to ease and what that might even begin to look like. Nor do we really know when things can begin to return to even some semblance of what we now consider as life before coronavirus. Here at 7Y2D HQ we continue to try to follow a routine each day with G and M, who start with a morning of school, stop for lunch and then spend the afternoon outside or doing other activities such as playing board games or practising dance routines. Being stuck at home for 6 weeks has started to take its toll a little on everyone, so this last week has seen us joining in some virtual events that reflect activities that we would do normally do in our everyday lives.
First, was last weekend’s 2.6 challenge – a charity initiative to replace the annual London Marathon. Now, I’m not going to pretend we have, or ever have had, any aspirations to take part in the marathon itself, but we are avid fundraisers and this challenge was a great opportunity to get both children flexing their brain cells to think up something new to do. Our charity of choice was, of course, the fantastic Over The Wall, focus of our fundraising for several years now following G and M’s experience at their camps. The 2020 camps have had to be cancelled due to coronavirus, but they are seeking to #savethemagic and launch “Camp in the Cloud” for all camp applicants instead.
From last year’s indoor skydiving to G’s dramatic hair cut a few years ago, we’ve tried our hand at a lot, so it took some serious consideration for both children to dream up a new challenge. G quite quickly settled on 262 sit-ups (well a marathon is 26.2 miles after all) and eventually M chose to attempt 262 seconds in plank. Neither managed their challenge in one sitting, but they did it and should feel rightly proud that, even during a pandemic, they have found an alternative way to support a charity that has supported, and continues to support, them.
Our second virtual event of the week was yet another annual one, this time the awards ceremony for the Free From Food Awards 2020. Usually held in London, instead the fabulous organisers of the awards took to a virtual ceremony, which started with an amazing Zoom “drinks and nibbles” ahead of the main event itself. With over 80 participants at one point, the Zoom breakout rooms proved a great opportunity to network a little and meet some new faces as well as spotting old familiar ones from afar. The awards ceremony is always a glamorous affair and so the whole family decided to dress up for the occasion. Dresses were donned, make-up applied and jewellery was carefully picked out to compliment the outfits. I even convinced myself to put on a pair of heels for the first time in weeks, though I will confess they didn’t last for the entirety of the event!
G and M put to good use some of those cooking skills they’ve been honing over the last 6 weeks and produced an excellent free-from buffet, fit to rival that usually enjoyed after the winners are announced. We didn’t have many of the gold winning items* at home, though I did enjoy the dairy- and soya-free chocolate-dipped strawberries that were beautifully crafted with a little help from Mike and took me back to my confectionery judging in January, what now seems like practically a life-time ago. All in all, has been a good week and the introduction of these new activities added some much-needed variety to what has quickly become everyday.
It’s been a shorter week from a work and school perspective, although the lockdown continues and we’re following the government requests to #StayhomeSavelives. This week has been one of those weeks when I’m grateful for my inclination to prepare well in advance as there was no need to even contemplate venturing out of the house as dairy-free Easter treats had already been bought and squirrelled away far from the prying eyes and inquisitiveness of M in particular. Mum had also already bought some safe eggs for the children and they were left on our doorstep just as the lockdown was starting to similarly keep safe until Easter Sunday itself.
We’ve also allowed some leeway about the amount of school work being done on a daily basis. G has been brilliant at continuing her research and reading for next year’s A-level syllabus and I was impressed to receive a phone-call from her tutor, who was checking in on all students in the tutor group to see how they were coping in the current climate. M started the week off strong, but soon turned his focus to the most recent #familyfunfriday challenge from Over The Wall. He loved building a den like no other in our sitting room using a variety of household items including camera tripods, pegs and even the ironing board to create a den extraordinaire. In fairly typical M style, he then declared that he and G were to be quarantined within the confines of the den for 24 hours, allowed out only for bathroom breaks and the mandated outdoors exercise and even set the timer on his mobile phone to make sure they achieved it.
I’m looking forward to enjoying the long weekend, not so much because we have any plans or are heading off anywhere different, but simply for the opportunity to be away from my computer (and work!) for a few hours at least and spend some quality time with the rest of the family for more than a handful of minutes. I’ve even managed to uncover the plastic eggs I bought a few years ago when M had his NG-tube and am hoping to be able to set up an Easter egg hunt in our back garden for both children to enjoy.
I hope you all have a wonderful and peaceful Easter, however you spend it!
For anyone who hasn’t already seen this wonderful clip of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirming the status of the Easter Bunny (and Tooth Fairy), its definitely worth a look!
There’s no question about it, rainbows hold a special place in most people’s hearts. Whether you believe that they are a symbol of God’s promise to us to never again flood the earth to the Biblical proportions of Noah’s time, or simply a natural phenomenon that occurs when you have the perfect conditions of both sunshine and rain*; most people would agree that they are a wonderful representation of hope and promise to us all.
At what is one of the darkest moment of current times and an experience that few of us have ever even had to contemplate, yet alone live through, the rainbow has become a reminder that there are bright days to come again and that storms don’t last forever. Reportedly starting in Italy, and now spreading worldwide, in much the same manner as COVID-19 though at a much slower pace, households are creating rainbows and putting them on display in a show of solidarity.
In our village, the local FB group has been encouraging families to put their rainbows up and we have enjoyed spotting them when we doing our daily exercise routine. I will rapidly clarify that we are fortunate to live in a relatively small community and have rarely come across anyone else whilst we are out and about. And it’s not just our community that is inviting young people to get involved with sharing these uplifting images. Communities nation- and worldwide are seeing these images spring up and our favourite charity, Over The Wall, launched its first #MondayMayhem today with the challenge to create a rainbow and put it on show.
Never being ones to reject a challenge, and finding it a good alternative to the monotonies of an isolated life, G and M worked together to create their “alternative” rainbow – their teen years apparently wouldn’t allow them to be in anyway typical or predictable – which is now proudly in the spare bedroom window for all who travel the A-road past us to see. There were also some threats to paint one another’s faces rainbow-style when emotions ran a little high, but thankfully we’ve managed to avoid that, at least for a few days.
Have your children or you created a rainbow of your own to bring some inspiration and hope to others in your local area? Have you spotted any that have brightened your day? Please do share them.
*the “perfect” conditions include geometry, raindrops and being in just the right place with just the right refraction of the sunlight. There’s a much better explanation of it all here!
If I’m perfectly honest, G’s 16th birthday cake is an idea that has been bubbling for a few years, ever since I first saw it shared on Facebook, but it’s taken me this long to pluck up the courage to actually give it a whirl and be organised enough to start the decorations more than 24 hours in advance of her birthday. I was very nervous about whether I’d be able to get it to work, but the end result was much better than I hoped and G was absolutely delighted with it. That was especially important given this was the girl who just a couple of weeks ago said that she didn’t really want to celebrate her birthday and wasn’t bothered about having a cake!
To start with, I found a brilliant new recipe for a gluten-free, vegan sponge cake on The Loopy Whisk and, with a few tweaks to make it just as G finally decided she wanted – a vanilla and chocolate chip cake – and ended up with a wonderfully light and delicious birthday cake for her. I also whipped up a batch of cupcakes for my choir’s Christmas meet-up from the same batter and despite a few issues around getting the timing of that bake right, I was thrilled with those as well.
Next it was on to the most challenging step of all – to create a “snow globe” to encase the top of G’s cake to make it a truly magical masterpiece. The instructions on how to make the globe from high quality melted glycerine can be found here as well as my “step-by-step” photos you can see here. I attempted a larger globe than for individual cupcakes, which was successful, but much trickier to coat the balloon than the instructions suggest. Also, a word to the wise, don’t use balloons that have writing/images printed on them – the only balloons I had tucked away at home were Over The Wall ones and so G’s snow globe had an unexpected additional image, which delighted her, but wasn’t quite what I was aiming for!
I kept the design on top of the cake quite simple and attempted a new buttercream icing using goats’ butter as that’s something she can tolerate without a problem and that M can have a little of as a treat. I always find it difficult to make a dairy-free icing that is stiff enough to pipe successfully, but this batch was better than ones I’ve created before and I think it will need to be a case of continued trial and error until I find that perfect recipe. So, with a layer of desiccated coconut snow, a simply piped Christmas tree and the requisite “16” candles, G’s birthday cake was complete for another year. And this year I was only up to 1.30am finishing it off!
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.
…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.