Tag Archives: parenting

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.

Keep Calm and Curry On!

There’s nothing better when visiting a new place than finding a local market to explore and uncover any treasures hidden amongst the stalls. Manchester proved to be no exception and we were tempted by the vast array of produce, handcrafted gifts and other knick-knacks on offer. G was drawn to the trays of sparkling jewellery, whilst M investigated the various food items to see if anything was M-friendly and worth considering. He was delighted with the fresh fruits on offer as well as the multiple flavours of Turkish Delight that seemed to be calling his name, whilst G was drawn to the jewellery stalls, particularly the rings. We found a variety of small items to pick up for future occasions, well Christmas is fast-approaching after all, but the out-and-out winner for the day has to be the amazing “Curry On Cooking” Korma curry kit

Company founder, Veena Josh was on hand on the market stall and more than willing to spend some time chatting to me about their curry kits, which are fantastically top-14 free and definitely worth a try at home with the children. G isn’t the biggest fan of curry, but M loves Indian food and I was hoping that this would give him a more authentic taste than the concoction I usually manage to scrabble together for dinner from whatever spices are lurking in the back of my cupboard. Veena shared with me that not only does each pack include a recipe on the packaging, but also either she or her sister try making their curries using a variety of milk alternatives to check that the curry can be prepared to be as allergy-friendly – and delicious – as you want and need it to be.

Having bought a kit and brought it home with us after the indoor sky-diving adventures, it was a case of waiting for the perfect opportunity to give the recipe a whirl and just a couple of weeks later, we decided on a curry for our Saturday night family dinner. M read through the ingredients listed on the inside of the pack, made a note of anything we needed to buy to make it and then helped prep and cook the meal itself. A delicious meal was prepared and served to our discerning family audience. M, Mike and I all very much enjoyed the flavours of the curry and whilst G was far more reluctant to give it a glowing review, she did manage to finish her plate,eventually!

The curry kit has since been used to make another dinner for the children as well as a handy safe alternative to the biryani spices needed for M to cook with at school. We will definitely be trying out some of the other curry kits available and seeing just how far we can push that spiciness factor!

Mini Adventures for October half-term

Last week was October half-term for us and, after an almost painfully long term, it was definitely needed by us all. Our plans meant that both Mike and I took the week off work to spend on some mini adventures from home as well as finding the time to complete the inevitable bits of homework that G and M had been set for the week.

And what a week it was:

Monday: Homework squeezed in around orthodontist appointments and blood donations amongst other less-than-interesting things.

Tuesday: A lazy morning in before heading off for a 15-mile bike ride along a local cycle path. We had great weather for it and even took a packed lunch to enjoy on our way. What better way to round off our day, but an evening glued to the Great British Bake Off final and, thank goodness, complete consensus on the final winner!

Wednesday: An early start to drop Mike’s car off for its service before we headed to Hampton Court Palace. This was the first visit for Mike and the kids, who enjoyed the House, the gardens and the Maze, despite their initial reluctance for a visit to “yet another” place to keep Mum happy. We stayed overnight at a nearby Premier Inn, but had a very disappointing dinner at the attached Beefeater restaurant – somewhere I definitely wouldn’t recommend to anyone visiting with allergies.

Thursday: A mixed day today. Halloween is always difficult for me because it’s the anniversary of losing my Dad, but our plans for a fun-packed day at Chessington World of Adventures helped make it a better day than it might otherwise have been. It was surprisingly quiet at the park considering we were in the middle of half-term and the extra hours at the end of the day meant G and M could revisit some of their favourite rides several times as the dusk crept in. We were very impressed with the allergy information available and enjoyed a pizza dinner, with specially-prepared gluten- and dairy-free pizzas for the children. Definitely somewhere we’ll look to visit again.

Friday: Back home for a quieter day, which was just as well given the torrential rain that hit us hard. It was very much a day for curling up in front of the favourite and enjoying some TV before the weekly Stagecoach run for G and M.

It was a lovely week, filled with a little bit of everything – although possibly not quite enough sleep to see us through the next 7 weeks of term until Christmas.

Fishy Fridays

Like so many, I was brought up in a time when the tradition of eating fish on Fridays was prevalent, but the increasing restrictions on M’s diet over the last few  years have meant that it was something we didn’t really continue as a family as M couldn’t share in that meal. Add in the challenge of cooking something substantial quickly enough to meet G and M’s increased appetites after 3 hours at Stagecoach on a Friday evening, and I frequently found myself opting for something frozen I could pop in the oven before we picked them up. I often chose allergy-friendly fish-fingers for G, so there was at least a nod to my upbringing on occasion.

M loved fish and seafood before his diagnosis and so getting them back into his diet if at all possible was always an ambition of ours. I remember both G and M tucking into plates of just about every seafood you can imagine when they were small, with M declaring that the only one he absolutely didn’t enjoy was the oyster! G is a little less adventurous these days, though she still loves calamari if it’s ever on offer. We have attempted a few different fish since he was tube-fed, but it is only really in the last 18 months or so that we have been able to find a small but tasty selection that he can tolerate on a reasonably regular basis.

Tuna and prawns now appear on the menu every couple of weeks, but there really is only so many ways that you can prepare these to create any variety in serving options. With M being keen to increase his repertoire of meals, just imagine my delight when I discovered at our local supermarket a safe version of one of my all-time favourite pub dishes, scampi, for G and M to try at home. Whitby Wholetail Scampi is amazingly gluten-, dairy-, egg- and soya-free and the breadcrumb coating is predominantly rice flour, which ticks so many boxes for us. We were pleasantly surprised by the portion size of a box – just the right amount to feed my two – and the texture and taste of the crumb is excellent. This scampi has been a big success in the house and makes for a delicious, quick and traditional dinner for any Friday night!

Bluestone Photo round-up September 2019

A great weekend celebrating a milestone birthday with family. Food, fun and fantastic weather – what more could we ask of South Wales in September?

Eating Out with Allergies at the Bluestone Resort, Wales

Our stay at Bluestone ticked the boxes in so many ways, not least because it gave us access to a great kitchen which meant we could eat breakfast and lunch safely “at home” and still have the opportunity to try out a couple of the restaurants on site. I had been in touch with the resort team a few weeks before our stay and they had sent through to me a great allergy information document, which detailed each restaurant, all of the food items on their menus and showed clearly which allergens were contained in each dish. Usefully, it also indicated those dishes that could safely be made gluten-free, which made it easier for G and M to choose what they wanted to eat.

Farmhouse Bar & Grill: As we knew we’d be arriving late on the Friday night, we booked our first meal out for the Saturday evening and chose the Farmhouse Grill, which seemed to have a good selection of meal choices for even the pickiest members of our party. G opted for the baked goats’ cheese salad with blueberries, cherries and a mix of toasted nuts as well as a side of chips, which we were assured were cooked in a separate fryer to make sure they were safe. She enjoyed the meal, although learned the important lesson that it’s always worth asking for the dressing to be put on the side as the strong balsamic vinegar dressing was a little too much for her taste-buds. M decided that a gammon steak with pineapple and chips was the perfect dinner and loved every mouthful he managed, although the generous portion was a little too big even for my hungriest child. There were no safe desserts for them on the menu, but with more than enough birthday cake to eat, the puddings weren’t missed at all.

Knights Tafarn: For our Sunday lunch, albeit it a late one due to a morning spent enjoying the slides and lazy river at the Blue Lagoon Water park, I suggested the Knights Tafarn, the on-site “local” pub. We were lucky to find the restaurant fairly quiet by the time we were ready to order and it had no problem in catering for the 7 of us in good time. Having chosen something a little more unusual *for her* on Saturday night, G stuck to an old, but familiar favourite of ham, eggs and chips. Once again we were reassured that the chips were safe and she certainly enjoyed every single mouthful. M, on the other hand, decided he wanted to have a slightly lighter lunch of gluten-free ham sandwiches with a small salad and a side of chips. I say small, but afraid that it wouldn’t be enough to satisfy M’s almost insatiable appetite at the moment, Mike had actually ordered a double portion of sandwiches and so we ended up with a few leftovers. The food was good, although not remarkable, but it was simply great to be able to eat out for a Sunday lunch with our extended family.

All in all, I was impressed with the food offerings at Bluestone. We didn’t have time to try the Oaktree Italian restaurant, although I had spotted that they had GF pizzas on the menu. The small convenience shop stocked an adequate supply of freefrom foods in case needed and I was impressed to see an array of safe breads, biscuits, cakes, pasta and chocolate for sale as well as the increasingly popular vegan Magnum ice-creams. The selection was small, but good and I loved that they had a number of local suppliers available as well as the bigger name brands.

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!

Eating Out with Allergies in Manchester

When planning our weekend in Manchester, I started as always with a quick bit of research to see if there were any hidden gems that we could visit for some delicious meals. I knew that we would have our pick of the plethora of safe chain restaurants to fall back on if we needed, but it’s always a great treat to be able to eat somewhere different and new, and we were especially lucky with the choices available to us. We found 3 great restaurants for dinner and even had unexpected success for lunch, which was fantastic.

Marco’s New York Italian, MediaCity   – I had high hopes for our Saturday night dinner and they absolutely didn’t disappoint. My research showed that they had a gluten-free menu available, but I couldn’t find a copy online, so emailed about a week or so before our trip to ask if they could email a copy to me and also enquiring if they would be able to cater dairy-free too. Within an hour and a half of my first email, their reservations manager, Hannah, replied with the GF menu attached and told me that she had asked their chef to confirm the DF options that would be available to G and M. If I’m honest, I didn’t expect to hear back from them again, so was thrilled when a second email popped into my inbox a few days later with the list of DF meals they could offer.

Their service from the beginning of our meal to the very end was absolutely impeccable. The manager arrived at our table with a form to complete, but this was simply to record our contact details and what the allergies were so that every meal coming out of the kitchen could be recorded and checked before it was brought to the table. For the first time in an awfully long time, G and M were able to have a 3-course meal and every bit of it was absolutely delicious. G started with garlic bread, then enjoyed an American pizza and finished with a bowl of vegan vanilla ice cream; whilst M opted for New Orleans Shrimp, Spaghetti Bolognese and apple crumble with ice cream.

The staff were attentive, the food incredible and the care to detail brilliant. We wouldn’t hesitate to eat at Marco’s NY Italian again and give it a well-deserved 10/10 for not only the wide range of menu options available, but also the fact that they had allergy-friendly desserts other than fruit.

IWM North Café – Lunch when we’re travelling can always be tricky, especially when we’re not staying somewhere with a kitchen to allow us to take and prepare packed lunches. I had spotted on the IWM North website that their café had GF options available, so I thought we’d see what they actually had on-site that might suit G and M before heading off for a snack somewhere else nearby. To my delight, they had a ready supply of GF/DF/EF bread rolls and hot dog sausages, which constitutes a great treat for both children. They were thrilled to be able to have hot dogs for lunch, which might not have been an exciting menu option, but were delicious, whilst Mike and I stuck to the more traditional sandwich and pasty offerings. They did also have a couple of GF and vegan cakes available, but unfortunately none that would suit our particular allergy needs.

Sweet Mandarin – a last minute addition to our itinerary, thanks to a random tweet I spotted the Wednesday before we went. This Chinese restaurant has a separate GF menu and the children were thrilled to be able to choose whatever they wanted from it, more or less. M suggested they shared some starters of spring rolls and salt and pepper chicken wings, and they then each opted for their own sweet and sour – G picked prawns whilst M decided he wanted chicken. As is so often the case, we ended up with far too much food for the 4 of us, but enjoyed a leisurely and delicious meal before heading back to the hotel for the night. Another excellent recommendation, though it only got a 9/10 from the children.

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.

Eating Out with Allergies in London

I wouldn’t usually think to write about where we’ve found to eat out in London as over the years we’ve often frequented one of the very many chain restaurants that we’ve come to know and love, but this time we spread our wings a little bit further and I thought it worth sharing our latest mealtime experiences.

Our Thursday evening dinner was courtesy of that old favourite of ours, Pizza Express, who were conveniently located less than 5 minutes from our hotel in Southwark, though there are many branches you can choose from no matter which part of London, or the rest of the UK, you’re in. In the 8 years or so that we’ve been frequenting their restaurants, we have only had a poor experience on one occasion, when they had run out of gluten-free pizza bases but failed to inform us until we were placing our order. Thankfully, even then, the restaurant staff worked hard to prepare other safe food for both G and M and both children managed to eat well. G  is very much a creature of habit when it comes to her food, so I knew she was likely to order the GF dough balls followed by an American pizza with goats cheese; and so she did. M loves to peruse the menu whenever he gets the chance, but this time chose a meal almost perfectly matching his sister’s, simply changing her goats cheese for the vegan mozzarella instead. The order came quickly, the food was delicious, there was no confusion or hassle about their orders and we left the restaurant with our appetites pleasantly sated,

Breakfast on Friday was a typically low-key affair and eaten in our hotel room as we had done our usual and carried travel containers filled with safe cereal for G and M to eat. M and I managed to find a small Sainsbury’s near to the theatre on the Thursday evening, so had popped in after the show to pick up a carton of rice milk. We have found that this is a routine that works really well for us and reduces the stress of choosing safe breakfast options for both children to eat. M’s only apology was that he had forgotten to research the nearest Starbucks to our hotel so that I could start my day with a coffee, but was quickly reassured when we reached the Globe theatre to spot one just across the street from it.

No sooner had we finished our Globe theatre tour, than M was clamouring for lunch even though it was only around 10.45 in the morning. This was not the result of an overwhelming hunger on his part, but rather great enthusiasm from both him and G as we had discovered a Subway sandwich shop near the Tower of London which stocked GF bread, which was also dairy- and egg-free, and they couldn’t wait to give it a go. During our holiday in Canada last year, we had seen GF bread available at the Subway on Toronto Island, but had not opted to buy one as 1) we had a packed lunch with us and 2) we had rather foolishly assumed that we would be able to buy it at other stores too. We were very much wrong in that assumption and have spent the last 12 months trying to find a shop serving GF bread somewhere in the UK, so you can just imagine how excited they both were to finally try a sub.

We were impressed with the service provided and care taken, even during a fairly busy lunch service during the summer holidays. The staff changed their gloves before handling the GF rolls for the children’s sandwiches – without me having to ask – and there was detailed allergy information available indicating the top 14 allergens present in all of the sandwich fillings and toppings. It was a strangely emotional experience as I watched G and M decide what sandwiches they wanted to try and pick out the toppings they wanted to add to make their perfect lunch. Here were my 15 and 13 year-old children, who have never been able to order at a Subway before because of their allergies, finally eating just like their friends. The look on both their faces as they made their decisions was priceless and their verdict on lunch – perfect!

We had booked tickets on a late train home to give us enough time to enjoy our planned excursions as well as the unplanned ones, and the final trip of our day was to one of our family favourite places to eat, although we hadn’t yet tried the London branch. Do you know where we went? Well, I’m afraid that’s a story for another post.