Tag Archives: summer

Back to School – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 25

After more days off school than we ever dreamed was likely, G and M have returned to school this week. As if the move to A-levels and GCSEs was not enough, they’ve also gone back with face masks, social distancing and a very different looking timetable as their new norm. Our annual first day of school photo showed other changes that have happened in the last 6 months – a growth spurt for M, a dramatic hair-cut for G and a mop of lockdown hair that has caused much debate in the household. With less than half an inch in it, G is adamant she is still the taller and only M hitting 5’6″ will convince her otherwise.

Summer Photo Round-up – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 24

A summer like no other, but still filled to bursting with sunshine, laughter and huge amounts of safe ice-cream!

Lockdown Exam Results – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 22

Exams aren’t easy at the best of times and there can be no question that this year has posed the current cohort of exam students challenges that no-one could have even imagined when planning for the GCSEs and A-levels to be taken this summer. G has been working hard for her GCSEs over the last 2 years and, since the true extent of her anxieties became clear, having additional tuition and learning mindfulness techniques to help her manage the exam sittings as best she could with increased confidence in her own abilities.

Add in the stress following the fiasco with the A-level results day this time last week and it is easy to see why it hasn’t been an easy week at home. G has obviously been massively impacted by the confusion over how her final GCSE grades would be calculated and the huge sigh she gave after the latest government u-turn was announced on Monday evening showed just how heavy that burden has been. She and I have spent a lot of time talking about her results and what they will mean for this next step in her life journey. G knows what A-levels she wants to study and is fortunate to have 2 offers on the table from our local secondary schools, but still has to make up her mind as to where she wants to go for the next 2 years. It is nothing short of a miracle that I have not turned more extensively to alcohol and chocolate to see me through, although there’s still time before we’ve finished ploughing our way through the chaos and reached final decisions!

In many ways the decision to use the centre assessed grades (CAGs) is good news for G as she hasn’t had to undergo the stress of the exams, but this is a concern in itself as she will have no direct experience of how to sit an exam when it comes time for her A-levels. However, we have time to work on managing those anxieties and will continue to work with her tutor to make sure she has the opportunity to experience timed assessments to mimic the pressure of an actual exam.

More importantly, G knows how proud Mike and I are of the hard work she has put in, including her decision to continue following her GCSE revision plan during the first few weeks of lockdown without any prompting from either of us. We hope that her results will reflect her efforts, but G knows that as always we have got her back and are prepared to fight her corner if needed to make sure her next adventure starts as she wants it to.

2020 will always be the year when the exams weren’t sat, but that shouldn’t distract from the hard work and effort put in by all these young people throughout their school careers and the hellish void of information that they’ve been living with since March. No matter what their results are, they all should be commended for their fortitude and determination to succeed in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

Holidaying from Home – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 21

Like so many others our summer holidays plans have been put on hold this year, first by COVID-19 and then by the loss of Mike’s Dad. After much discussion with G in particular, we had originally planned an epic Disney holiday through Northern Europe to mark the end of 2 years of hard work towards her GCSEs and it was a huge disappointment to us all when we had to cancel that trip. Instead, G, M and I have found ourselves on staycation this week and have been heading out on day trips within a reasonable distance of our home base.

The soaring heatwave has, at times, been almost unbearable, and there’s been much discussion about whether it’s been as hot as either our holidays to Portugal or Greece – it has – especially without the refreshing coolness of a pool or the sea to dip in and out of when needed. It has, however, also got us talking about places we’d like to visit in the future, destinations we’d like to go back to and truly appreciating the ease with which we’ve been able to travel and experience so many different cultures in the past.

This week we’ve explored an arboretum, been on a bear hunt (and other wild animals) and walked along our local pier. Both G and M have both met up with friends “in real life” for the first time since March and I’ve been brave enough to venture out a little more than I have done in months. The week has been filled with laughter, adventure and some hot weather stroppiness as well as building more memories and revisiting old familiar haunts too.

Camp in the Cloud – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 20

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!

End of Term – 7Y2D COVID-19 Diaries Week 17

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.

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!

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.

A Bluestone Birthday

What do axe-throwing, high ropes, tree-climbing, birthday cakes and family have in common?

Easy; my Mum’s milestone birthday – her 70th – and a family weekend spent celebrating in style at the fantastic Bluestone resort in South Wales. For those of you who have never heard of Bluestone, the resort is set in 500 acres of beautiful Pembrokeshire national park near Tenby with stunning views out to the Preseli hills and is a complete escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. As well as a site which is largely car-free, it is also absolutely jam-packed with activities and adventures to choose from and our weekend proved far too short to enjoy more than just a select few handpicked choices.

With 7 of us visiting, we stayed in one of their Grassholm lodges, which slept us all more than comfortably and included a fantastic open plan downstairs space with a generous sitting room, dining area and kitchen. Those of us who could booked bikes for the weekend and G and M had a great time racing around from venue to venue for each of the activities, although some of the hills proved a little more challenging for the rest of us. Over the last year, both children have really enjoyed every opportunity to go on bike rides especially as M’s confidence in his bike-riding has grown, and we can often be found spending a couple of hours exploring the country lanes near our house as part of a family ride. It’s also possible to hire a golf buggy to drive around the site, but we spent much of our time either walking or on our bikes whenever possible.

Needless to say, the children and Mike selected their activities for the Saturday with relative ease and I spent my time trying to grab action shots as G climbed to the top of a 40+ foot tree, whilst M and Mike took on the challenge of the high ropes course. Add in the demonstration of their Canadian roots in the afternoon with some axe-throwing skills and great fun was had by all. We even managed to squeeze in a quick early evening swim before heading out for a celebratory dinner at the Farmhouse Grill. Sunday was a little quieter with a morning at the Blue Lagoon water park before a late lunch at the Knights Tarfan.

All in all, we had a brilliant weekend and it came as no surprise when both G and M asked if we could go back another time. There were lots more activities that we could have tried, both indoors and outdoors, but we just couldn’t fit them in this time round. We would highly recommend Bluestone for a weekend, or week, away from it all and it certainly has enough to keep the most active of youngsters occupied for a good few hours anyway.

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!