Tag Archives: preparations

Breaking the curse

Reaching today feels like something of a landmark moment. We’ve had our fingers crossed that we’d get to yesterday’s date without so much as a hiccup to stand in our way and we’ve not only reached it unscathed, but have surpassed it with no sign of looking back. Saturday was December 3rd and we were all feeling more than a little nervous about it. The date might not ring any bells with you, but in our household, hitting midnight on the 3rd at home felt like a huge achievement. For the last two years, that date has signalled the start of a hospital admission for M and we were desperate that history wouldn’t repeat itself for the 3rd year in a row. Of course, in both 2014 and 2015 we knew that the admissions were planned and it was just a case of waiting for a bed to be available for him, but nothing prepared us for the unlikely scene of déjà vu when the phone-call came summoning us to London once again, exactly one year to the day of the previous one.

There was no reason to think it would happen again, not least because there are no further admissions planned at GOSH and we had already told our local hospital that we wouldn’t even consider a December admission this year, but the fears of our “December 3rd curse” were there anyway. I’d like to say that the weekend passed without event, which is really what we would have preferred, but as ever in the 7Y2D household that isn’t quite the case. There have been unplanned hospital visits and unexpected procedures discussed for family members other than M over the last week, and the implications of those are still being mulled over as decisions have to be made and soon. However, most importantly, today is December 5th; M and G are at school, Mike and I are at work and that’s just the way it should be.

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Now we can start to enjoy Christmas!

Getting into the Christmas spirit

Now, you might have guessed that our recent sojourn at GOSH wasn’t the perfect lead-up to Christmas I would have planned, with more highs and lows than those promised by a seasonal episode of Corrie, but please don’t imagine that our extended stay was completely devoid of any festive inspiration. Despite the noticeable lack of anything more than a mere nod to Christmas on the decoration front and the unseasonably mild weather that meant my trusty raincoat was relegated to the tiny locker provided for all the worldly belongings we might need during our 20-day incarceration, M and I did enjoy our fair share of festive activities, which helped infuse a little Christmas spirit into our otherwise grey days.

The Nutcracker – The Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House Covent Garden:

11202603_10153139468196123_6743350134362470955_nOur first treat was the chance to see the final dress rehearsal of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” danced by The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. It came as a complete surprise on that first Monday morning and was one that M and I just couldn’t turn down. Last year, M had been given tickets to see “Alice in Wonderland” at what was the first visit ever to the Royal Opera House for us both and I never even imagined that this year’s admission would see a repeat opportunity. M didn’t have to be asked twice and almost immediately started the countdown to when we could leave the ward and head off in a black cab to reach our destination. Timings were such that we were only able to watch the first half as we had to be back at GOSH for M’s lunch and the first of his food challenges, but he was delighted that we got to see the battle between the tin soldiers and the rats, his favourite part of the entire ballet, and we had the best view of it from our seats in the Royal box!

Christmas decorations & crafts – Play-workers and School: 

M had the opportunity to decorate, make and create a plethora of decorations and Christmas-themed crafts thanks to both the Hospital school and the tireless team of play-workers linked to Rainforest ward. Christmas-decorations9Since this time last year, the school has introduced a family session on a Friday morning, which allowed parents or carers to join their child in the schoolroom for an hour to enjoy an activity together. M and I spent the first week working with Fimo to create some tree decorations, a real blast from my past as this was a craft I loved doing as a child, and the second making what I think was called a “Spanish star” from paper. The latter was beautiful and I even managed to get it back home in one piece, where it was much admired by my Mum, who asked if we’d bought it from John Lewis! When not at school, M spent a lot of his time colouring-in a huge number of ceramic decorations provided by the play-workers on ward. Armed with a technicolour array of ceramic pens, M decorated sleighs, bells, gingerbread men and chinese dragons as well as a gnome and an owl pot, all of which formed the greater part of his gift to friends and family for Christmas. Not only did these activities help us feel a smidgen of festive spirit, they also provided a great distraction for an active 9-year old confined to the hospital buildings.

Carols by Candlelight, St George’s Holborn:

23567358210_2327dd548d_mAfter one particularly long day on ward and a much-needed break from it all, I wandered back to the hospital to be greeted by the sound of carol-singing from outside the main entrance. I had been missing my weekly choir sessions at home and stopped to listen to the strains of carols that filled the air. This group had come from nearby church, St George’s Holborn to spread a little festive cheer and 23104290053_5ffd34741a_zoffer mince pies to anxious parents, extended families and harried medical staff as they rushed through the doors of the hospital. As I chatted to some of the members, I was invited to their Carols by Candlelight service on the evening of G’s birthday and was delighted to be able to attend, although sadly M wasn’t allowed to come with me. The service was beautiful – lit by candlelight, with smiling, welcoming faces all around me and filled with a peace that I really needed that evening. I sang every carol, grateful to be able to take part in this simple act of worship that proved to be invaluable therapy to me and which brought healing to my troubled heart.

Hospital school’s Christmas activities:

As well as the wonderful crafts mentioned above, the hospital school had a series of wonderful activities planned for the last 2 weeks of term. Sadly, due to the unforeseen hiccups that arose during his admission, M wasn’t able to take part in as many as he would have liked, but those he did do, he really enjoyed. From experiencing a Victorian Christmas with the V&A museum to themed artwork with the National Portrait Gallery and the beautiful Christmas service held in the hospital chapel and which we enjoyed so much last year, there was just so much on offer. M was particularly disappointed to miss the service as he had been asked to 20151215_121720read at it, but the necessity of Klean prep made it impossible for him to attend. However, the one activity I put my foot down about and insisted he do was the chance to once again do some cookery with one of London’s head chefs. M loved every minute of that session and came out proudly bearing a box full of goodies from chocolate cupcakes to gingerbread angels and even 2 items he could safely eat – spun sugar and an apple swan!

The Snow Ball – GOSH’s Christmas parties: 

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Martha from #GBBO

Every year GOSH put on a series of Christmas parties for patients and their families at nearby hotel, The Royal Britannia. M and I attended our first Snow Ball last year after learning about it during his admission and had such a good time that I vowed to make sure we repeated the experience this year and to take some extra-special guests with us if at all possible. Despite initial fears that the unexpected need for Klean prep part-way through his admission might get in the way, I managed to negotiate with his doctors and won him an afternoon’s reprieve from the stuff so we could attend. Once again we enjoyed all that was on offer – free food and drink for those who can eat, a soft toy for every child attending and a whole host of attractions including a Formula 1 racing car to sit in and sign, cupcake decorating, various photo opportunities, face-painting, science experiments and entertainment galore. M was particularly excited to meet both Iron Man and Martha from 2014’s GBBO and I would be hard-pressed to say who he was more impressed to meet! Thanks to the understanding and support of G’s amazing secondary school, Mike was able to bring her to visit M on that day too and so she was also able to come along and enjoy the party. Both children left with an amazing goodie bag each and wonderful memories of a great day in the midst of a difficult time.

Carol singing around the hospital:

This has to be one of my favourite Christmas events of our whole admission at GOSH. On our final Sunday there, Mike, M and I headed down to the hospital chapel for their Carols by Candlelight service. The chapel was packed out with patients, their families, staff and members of the local community who had come together to celebrate this service. As it drew to a close, and we disappeared back to the ward, I spotted that later that evening a group would be singing carols at various locations throughout the hospital. Having missed the carol services at both school and our home church, M had expressed several times that it didn’t feel like Christmas as we hadn’t enjoyed the usual buzz from all the preparations at home. This seemed like an ideal opportunity to find that missing Christmas spirit and given that all 3 of us love to sing, we determined to join this choir if we could. IMG_0069I later discovered that this group was from All Souls church, Langham Place and the members had travelled from various locations across the greater London area to spend an hour singing carols around GOSH. We were welcomed with open arms and it was wonderful to see M take part with real gusto as he was finally free of the Klean prep drip and starting to feel a little more like himself. The choir and musicians started in the main reception area before heading to The Lagoon and then on to 2 floors of the Octav Botnar wing to serenade patients and staff alike. It was a truly magical evening and a fitting end to the tension-filed admission we had experienced so far.

 

 

Year 6 Camp, here G comes!

This weekend has been a busy one, perhaps busier than expected for me given that Mike and the kids have been away on their “Dads and kids” camping trip.  Instead of taking time to spoil myself in peace whilst they enjoyed the glorious sunshine and camp activities, I sorted, washed, shopped and ticked things off a list, all in preparation for G’s Year 6 camp next week. She’s there for 4 days of adventure: from archery to rock climbing and caving to kayaking, and it’s promising to be an adrenalin-filled time away from home.  It will be the first time she’s stayed away for any length of time, apart from during school holidays with my Mum, and I know she’s been feeling a little apprehensive about it all.  The strain of not knowing in advance who she’d be sharing a room with took a bit of the shine off her excitement and she was anxious to confirm that she could opt out of the caving, the one activity she has said she doesn’t want to do since we first heard about camp back at the start of the year.

The one part of her week away that has not been of concern for her has been the one that I’ve been able to contribute to:  her food.  I’ve met with her teacher, Miss K, and the Head throughout the year to discuss the catering arrangements at camp and had an unprecedented 3 meetings the week after half-term as well as multiple e-mail exchanges to ensure the final plans were watertight.  Miss K spoke to the camp cook to discuss G’s dietary needs and was reassured that they are well-used to catering for children with food allergies.  We had talked about the types of food that would need to be considered for G – GF bread (Genius brown), DF spread (Vitalite Dairy-free) and DF milk (Rice dream) amongst others – and armed with brand names, Miss K has been able to confirm with the camp that these will be available for G.

Mr._WorryI am confident that breakfast and lunch will be okay, but it is still the dinner arrangements that are causing me mild moments of suppressed panic.  If G was “just” gluten-free, I’d have fewer concerns; if she was “just” dairy-free, I’d be only mildly worried, but the combination of both, whilst so much easier to manage that the multitude of allergies of others in our household, requires a little more forethought.  When discussing the menu with Miss K, I realised just how much planning is needed to make G’s meals safe, something that probably seems strikingly obvious to everyone else, but is so second nature to me that I’ve had to learn how to effectively micro-manage these finer details.  It’s not as simple as ensuring that GF pasta is cooked for lasagne or GF sausages provided for sausages and mash as she can’t have cheese or white sauce, mashed potato needs to be made with both DF milk and butter and there’s the hidden use of flour to thicken sauces.  Those are the little things that sometimes slip under the radar.

So, the school and I have reached a sensible arrangement.  I am providing some safe foods for the week for G for those “just in case” moments – cartons of rice milk, safe drinking chocolate, GF breakfast cereal and a loaf of GF bread.  There will also be a packet of GF pasta and a GF/DF curry sauce tucked in that will take up little space, but will give me some invaluable peace of mind. I’m also packing a special camp “swap box” as an alternative to the lure of the vending machines that her friends will undoubtedly be pillaging at all times of the day and night.  In there will be safe biscuits, snacks and a few bars of our ever-favourite Moo-free chocolate to ensure that she has the opportunity to gorge herself at midnight alongside her room-mates.

Today I handed over that precious bag of food and, tomorrow morning, as M and I wave her off on her adventures, I know that she’ll enjoy a mostly worry-free fantastic week away with her friends and my concerns need only be small.

Perfecting Christmas stuffing

With Christmas now less than a mere 3 weeks away – and counting – our preparations are in full swing.  Christmas lists have been created; letters to Father Christmas written; Christmas cards written and very nearly sent; presents bought, wrapped and squirreled away until the tree is up; and my attention has now turned to the small matter of the food.

Courtesy of mirror.co.uk

Courtesy of mirror.co.uk

A couple of weeks ago, I was given the job of cooking a Sunday roast for my Aunt whilst she was staying with Mum.  As I prepared the chicken and veg, I felt a sudden desire for stuffing to accompany the meal.  I have fond memories of delicious home-made stuffing on Sunday lunch-times as a child and realised, with a pang, that G and M would have no such recollection due to their food allergies.  As a family, stuffing disappeared from our table two and a half years ago when M first started on his MEWS-diet.  It has made the occasional reappearance at Christmas for us adults, but never in a M-friendly format.

Inspired by the pleasing aroma of chicken seasoned with sage that was drifting from the oven, I decided then and there to find a recipe for stuffing that I could tweak to meet G and M’s food requirements.  I sourced a vegan recipe for Sage and Onion stuffing and set about pulling the necessary ingredients from my Mum’s cupboards to start the mixing process.

20131117_120041 20131117_120358                                                                    M helped create the perfect breadcrumb

Despite my fears that this would turn out to be an unmitigated disaster, the final outcome was delicious.  Sadly, I was unable to convince G to even try a tiny morsel, but M set to with gusto.  He enjoyed the flavours, though he complained it contained too much onion for his tastebuds.  My final recipe can be found here and I am hoping to add recipes for other varieties for Christmas as I try them at home.  It was a great result for a Sunday morning’s work and I’m looking forward to tweaking more recipes to accompany the Christmas turkey.  The only question now is which one to adapt first – Chestnut, Sausagemeat, Cranberry or maybe all 3?

Unfortunately, I forgot to photo the final product and we ate the lot, so you'll have to be satisfied with a photo of the pre-cooked version!

Unfortunately, I forgot to photo the final product and we ate the lot, so you’ll have to be satisfied with a photo of the pre-cooked version!