Tag Archives: summer

Mini Cycling Adventures

A month ago we spent our Saturday afternoon in what can only be described as a most unusual way for our particular family. It had all actually started a few days before, when Mike’s bike had developed a persistent flat tire that no amount of minor repair work was going to fix and he finally decided to take it to our local Halfords store for a complete overhaul. Unfortunately, the prognosis wasn’t good and sadly Mike had to come to terms with the terminal diagnosis that his bike just wasn’t going to make it and it was time to think of finding a suitable replacement. Not only did Mike need to urgently replace a crucial part of his daily commute, but my Mum had also been reminding me that I needed to actively do something to buy myself the bike that she has bought me as a birthday present for 2 years in a row, and so we headed back to Halfords to see what we could find.

If I was to say that G and M were not too enthused by the prospect of an afternoon investigating potential bike purchases for Mum and Dad, it would absolutely not be an exaggeration, but they really didn’t have much of a choice and so they begrudgingly came along, grumbling all the way. When we first arrived at the shop, it seemed fortuitous that they were having a end-of-season sale, but I really should have realised that being April Fool’s Day, the joke would ultimately be on us. Mike had already done some investigating into some options for me and I swiftly settled on a purple Apollo Elyse that would be everything I needed for future family cycling adventures.

And then the fun started. Whilst Mike explored the 2 floors to see what choices he had, both children took matters into their own hands and found bikes that would suit them too. We had been briefly discussing the fact that both G and M were starting to outgrow the bikes they had at home and the unquestionable allure of some great deals in their end-of-season sales plus a further negotiated discount because we were buying 4 bikes, instead of the anticipated 2, meant an attractive offer that we just couldn’t turn down.

It took a couple of weeks to pick up the bikes as they had to be ordered, delivered and serviced before we could finally take them home. Mike’s bike was pressed into instant service and the children were keen to get theirs out for a test run as soon as was humanly possible, so the Easter holidays came at the perfect time to allow them out on some mini adventures with Mike. However, I hadn’t had the same opportunity until last weekend dawned with the most glorious weather and with no homework left to do for either child. We decided to head out in a different direction than the ones they had been in before and cycled along the country lanes winding through the farm land and fields that surround our house. We cycled to the next village and back, not a huge distance by any stretch of the imagination, but a 5 mile introduction to what promises to be some great family adventures for 2017.

I scream…

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Ice cream: that perennial favourite of children everywhere. What image does ice cream conjure up for you? Summer sun and beach holidays? Bowls of jelly and ice cream at birthday parties? The necessary accompaniment to just about every dessert you can think of, from apple crumble to treacle tart and, if you’re British, the 99 – vanilla soft-whip ice cream in a cone and topped with a chocolate flake. Mmm, my mouth is watering just thinking of it.

For M, ice cream has been the one pudding he has missed most in the 2 years since he went elemental and it has taken a painfully long time to find and adapt a recipe to make the perfect M-friendly alternative to this popular frozen treat. I have long had an ice-cream maker as part of my essential bits of kitchen equipment as once M had gone MEWS-free, I quickly realised that the simplest way to find a dairy- and soya-free ice cream was to make my own. img_13421M and I are also big fans of sorbet and we have enjoyed some deliciously indulgent home-made lemon, orange or raspberry sorbet over the years. I even attempted a wine sorbet, thanks to the recipe book that came with my machine, but it was a disappointing disaster that really couldn’t be saved.

Over the last couple of years, I have tried an apple sorbet for him, but M was less than impressed and I struggled to get the consistency right as the sorbet failed to “set”. Since the summer, I have been determined to find a way to successfully make a safe vanilla ice cream and finally found a simple, vegan recipe with just a handful of ingredients that I knew I could easily replace. The discovery of a palatable rice cream last year was the key to my success and I shut myself into the kitchen in the lead up to Christmas in order to perfect my recipe in time for the festive period.

I struck gold in that very first attempt and I was delighted with just how close to the “real” thing this version came. M and G were absolutely thrilled with that first bowl of vanilla ice cream and it’s been a good alternative for Mike too, who is unable to eat a bowlful of dairy ice cream without suffering the consequences. I love being able to whip up this easy dessert in less than an hour and know that it will continue to be a favourite for a long time to come!16830691_10154166034751123_1184328170820370385_n

*Interesting piece of trivia – the song “I scream, You scream, We all scream for ice cream” was a popular song first recorded in 1927 as a novelty song, before becoming a jazz standard and part of popular culture!

Beating the Blues

Today is Blue Monday, the day predicted to be the gloomiest day of the year due to bad weather, the stark reality of our Christmas over-indulgence now affecting our dwindling bank accounts, the post-Christmas buzz that has completely disappeared from the horizon and our well-meant resolutions that are proving far harder to keep than we ever imagined. There are some New Year resolutions that you know will be difficult to keep beyond the first few days – abstinence springs instantly to mind – and then there are those that will never, could never be a challenge, but rather are an absolute pleasure to complete. Last year gave our family 2 amazing opportunities, experiences that were so life-changing, so extraordinary for both children and so liberating for us all that I knew that one resolution that I would not fail to meet was to write a post to not only recapture what are amongst my most favourite memories of 2016, but to also encourage others to get involved with what is a truly inspirational organisation.

9a78a65173e2885ea3a8c8b9d3ccd1acThanks to the amazing charity, Over The Wall, last year both G and M were able to escape from the reality that is their life at home coping with chronic illness and find a world where nothing could hold them back or stop them from achieving what might have previously seemed to have been impossible. G discovered a group of friends who could understand completely what life can be like when you have a sibling with serious health issues, but who got to know the unique, kind-hearted, gentle-spirited and passionate girl she can be in her own right and not simply as “M’s big sister“. Her confidence grew as she responded to the love, focus and encouragement that was given to her throughout her week away and she found a new and irreplaceable identity as a valuable member of last year’s Purple Girls at the South Siblings camp. Likewise, just a few months later, M was able to experience, for the first time ever, a week away from family, where he got to be as carefree a child as his school-mates are and could try out a whole host of new activities, confident and safe in the knowledge that his medical needs were being well-managed by the volunteer team surrounding him and he just needed to concentrate on having fun. Their time away from home taught them both that there is more to them than EGID and food allergies: Over The Wall truly gave my children wings to help them soar.

So, why write once again about the extraordinary adventure that is Over The Wall? Well, with a New Year comes new opportunities and you don’t have to have a child living with a chronic illness to be able to become involved with this organisation:

  • Application forms are currently open for places on the 2017 camps and be it the Siblings, Health Challenges or Family camp that meets your needs, now is the time to register your interest and find out if you can secure a place. Both children are glad to know that their forms have been completed and sent off, and it’s just a case of waiting to see if they’re back to the camp bubble this year
  • These camps depend heavily on the huge amount of time given to them by their team of dedicated volunteers. If you’re interested in volunteering your time and helping make a difference to young people impacted by health problems, volunteer applications are also now open. The medical team who willingly give their time are unquestionably invaluable, but whatever your skills, know that your presence will undoubtedly make a difference to the children that are there
  • OTW offer these camps free to those families who attend and to be able to keep doing what they do and successfully reach out to even more young people, they need your help in raising funds. As a family we decided to focus our fundraising efforts last year on OTW and will continue to do so for 2017. Thank you so much if you helped us make a difference in 2016. Cake sales, sky-diving, shaving your head or running a marathon – whatever your interest, please consider supporting this charity by raising sponsorship or making a donation

And just in case you needed a reason to support and spread the news about Over The Wall, here’s a few photos that capture the magic that transformed the lives of G and M in unimaginable ways in 2016.

From all angles

The last few months have been busy ones in all areas of our life, which I haven’t been shy in talking about, but the one aspect that I haven’t mentioned for quite some time is where we are health-wise with M’s EGID. You could view the reason for the radio silence as a good one – we haven’t really been making any significant progress and everyday continues to be a battle to see if we can reach and maintain some semblance of status quo for a decent length of time. I’ll be honest, since March things have been quite challenging as we have had little medical support and we have felt, at times, as if we’ve been cut loose and are paddling desperately to make some headway by ourselves. The reason for the missing input is that we are in the process of trying to build a shared care relationship between GOSH and our local hospital once again and at long last do appear to be making bmd6e7zcyaef7disome progress, albeit very slowly. We last saw M’s GOSH consultant in the middle of March, when it was somewhat reluctantly agreed by us that we would wait until November for his next GOSH appointment with the plan being that we would meet and then have an appointment with our local gastro team during the interim period.

It may well come as something of a surprise that we are even considering transferring some of M’s gastro care back to our local given the  numerous problems we’ve had in the past, but this time we were encouraged by the fact that his new gastro consultant is a registrar that we got to know whilst at GOSH and someone we trust implicitly when it comes to M and his health. Dr W, who has invited us and M to be on a first-name basis with him, was instrumental in getting M admitted 2 years ago when we made the decision to move to elemental feeding and so is someone who knows something of M’s background and understands where we, as his parents, stand when it comes to treating this disease. We are also keen to gain some local support for M because, when crisis hits, it is very difficult to get any immediate care from GOSH due to the distance we live from the hospital and the inability to just pop along there for them to review his current state of health. There is a standing agreement that we can phone and discuss him with any one of his consultant’s team, but sometimes that isn’t enough to resolve the issue as quickly as we all need. supportDr W had already agreed with GOSH that he was happy to meet with us and look at the potential possibility of taking over some of M’s care during last year’s disastrous admission and he understands that there is a trust issue between us and our local hospital that he and his team will need to work hard to re-establish – something that is so critical to M’s well-being.

With a little prodding, it didn’t take too long for Dr W to give me a call and then for an initial appointment to arrive on our doormat and Mike, M and I met with them in the middle of June. At this point, M’s broken leg had unleashed an unexpected level of havoc on his body and we were struggling to manage the ever-fluctuating bowel issues as well as his increasing reluctance to drink the E028 and huge disappointment that we couldn’t undertake any food trials whilst he was so unstable. The team was great, but it really was just a conversation about what we were looking for and what they felt they could do for us. A few interesting insights and suggestions about M’s diagnosis were thrown out, but there was no opportunity to ask questions about them and now, 3 months on, our reflections have left us wondering about what the next steps will be. What didn’t come as a surprise was the question mark over whether M is truly suffering from so many genuine food allergies or rather if there is an underlying problem with his gut and/or bowels which means that he is unable to tolerate so many foods at the moment. This has been a question that has been stumping his GOSH dietician too, who has freely admitted to finding M one of her most challenging patients ever and is hoping our local will provide a fresh pair of eyes when it comes to considering how best to treat him. Dr W also expressed a concern that 20150203_082342M would eventually stop drinking the E028 altogether and stressed that we need to find a viable alternative before we reach that point. This has proved to be remarkably insightful as it is now one of the biggest issues that we have had to contend with since that June appointment, with M struggling to drink even half of the required amount and with no new foods in his diet, there are growing concerns about both his weight and his nutritional intake.

Just before our Portuguese holiday, I contacted our GOSH dietician to discuss with her the lack of progress we’ve been making with M and asking for her input as to what we should do next. The email reply I had came as something of a concern as she explained she was under the impression that all care had been moved to our local hospital and she was surprised that I was looking to have a further conversation with her. I fired off a considered response, copying in both the GOSH and local consultants, advising that whilst we had met with the local gastro team in June, we had heard absolutely nothing since and really needed some medical advice once September started, although somewhat ironically we have had our next GOSH appointment booked – September 2017! Thankfully the strong relationship we have built up with this dietician since M first went to GOSH 5 years ago meant that S was happy to step in and gave me a call just a few days into September. She was as concerned as I was about the lack of medical care being given to M at the moment and during that lengthy phone conversation, worked with me to put a plan into place for food trials over the next 4-6 weeks. She also offered to chase both Dr W and our GOSH consultant to find out what was happening regarding the transfer of M’s care and try and speed up the process to ensure that M is seen before November if at all possible. I’m not quite sure what strings she pulled, but within a week of speaking to S, Mike received a phone-call from Dr W to tell him that a plan had been agreed between the two hospitals and an appointment would soon be forthcoming. Delighted to hear that a plan would soon be put in place, Mike asked whether we could be privy to the discussion they had had, so that we too were on board with whatever next steps they were expecting to make. Another lengthy conversation later and at long last, we finally had some idea of how M’s care will be handled until the end of the year at least.

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The most critical aspect of looking after M right now is that no-one really understands what is going on with his body, his bowels and gut in particular, and there doesn’t appear to be any logical explanation why we seem to be stuck at just 5 safe foods. Add to that the added complications of the massive downturn in his health that happened as a result of his broken leg and the resulting failure to find ourselves in as good a position as we were a year ago, the medics all agree that they are more than a little stumped. So, rather than rush into more tests or a radically changed approach to his treatment, our local gastro team have booked monthly appointments for the next 3 months, where they will be assessing and observing him without getting too involved in the medical decisions. Obviously any problems that we do encounter during that time will be addressed, they won’t leave M to suffer unnecessarily, but they are leaving us to work with GOSH in terms of his food challenges and medicine tweaks. They have also recognised the need for psychological support, not just for M, but for the whole family and are proposing that we start with weekly appointments, split into fortnightly appointments for M and the alternate weeks for Mike and me. We have long argued that the diagnosis of his EGID has a huge psychological and emotional impact on M and have frequently seen the outpouring of that in the home environment. The added stress of his SATs this year is already showing at both home and at school and so I am hopeful that with these regular sessions in place and the support of us and his teacher, we will ensure he makes his way through Year 6 relatively unscathed. With this kind of all-encompassing care in place and the availability of local support for any admissions or longer term treatment changes that might be needed, the strain on the family will hopefully be reduced a little too, although it will obviously never fully disappear. We don’t know what the future holds for M and that is the most daunting thing we have to face as a family. What is encouraging is that there is already an open dialogue between some of the many people involved in M’s day-to-day care and our hope is that can only prove to be the best thing for him.

Don’t be afraid to ASK

ask-boltonNot too many months ago, we happened to find ourselves near the beautiful town of Great Malvern and in need of a late Sunday lunch. Much to my surprise, given how small I’d assumed this town was, I discovered through a hurried internet search that Great Malvern itself hosts an ASK restaurant and quick glance at their online menu suggested that we’d be able to feed our dynamic duo there without too much hassle. It doesn’t fail to amaze me that we consistently find ourselves enjoying the food at Italian restaurants given their regular gluten-laden fare of pasta and pizza, but I suppose it should really come as no surprise given how many allergy-friendly foods we found on our recent trip to Italy. They almost always serve a chicken dish in one form or another, so whilst it is near impossible to get M a portion of plain rice to accompany his meal, risotto being their main rice offering, we are happy to eat there and I often recommend them on to others in the allergy community.

img_06291As always the children ordered their perennial favourites when we eat anywhere that has Italian food on offer. G opted for a gluten- and dairy-free pepperoni pizza with extra goats cheese, whilst M had his usual dish of grilled chicken breast and cucumber. Our waiter made sure he fully understood our allergy requirements as well as making a note for the kitchen and checked their allergen menu to make sure that everything we had ordered could be safely prepared for G and M. img_06261We’ve taken to ordering adult-sized portions of meals for both children these days and the generous amounts that arrived were more than enough to satisfy my ravenous pair, with both clearing their plates in impressive fashion.

As ever the allergy-offerings for dessert were poor and G was disappointed that they didn’t serve a gluten-free garlic bread or dough balls for a starter, something she’s become addicted to whenever we visit Pizza Express. We enjoyed our first meal at ASK and it’s always great to have another safe restaurant in our back pocket for future meals out. The Great Malvern restaurant is set in a beautiful location and we had a table looking out over the fantastic view from the upstairs windows.

G’s marks: 7/10              M’s marks: 7.5/10

A Survival Guide For School & Allergies

The end of August always seems to be something of a surprise in our household. We arrive home from our holiday feeling relaxed and calm and then almost immediately face a madcap race to reach the finish line of shoes bought, uniform named, PE kits found and bags packed before school starts. In years past I have also had to make sure provisions are packed, discussions had and medical notes updated for M, but, for the first time ever, this year I wasn’t trying to squeeze in a critical meeting alongside my own new start with a new job. img_11331I know that next year when M moves up to our local secondary school it will be a very different picture, but after 3 years of working with the teaching community at our junior school, and with no major changes to contend with, M was able to start in Year 6 without this over-anxious Mum hovering in the background.

Without a doubt we have been incredibly lucky with the amazing support given by the fantastic teaching staff at our local school, but we have also had more than our fair share of bad experiences and teachers who don’t care in the past and I can well remember the anxieties and hours of meticulous planning that heralded the start of every new school year. The novelty of not having to head into the classroom before the end of M’s first week back has still not worn off and I’m certain that it’s thanks to the hard work that’s been put in on all sides to formulate strategies that meet M’s needs and to develop a strong working relationship between home and school that is reliant on open communication that flows both ways.

Over the last few weeks, there’s be a lot of chatter in the online allergy community about the fears that surround the milestone of starting school and, with over 8 years of “parenting-a-school-child-with-allergies” experience under my belt, I’ve been asked what tips I would give to any parent facing this situation for the first time. In all honesty, M’s first few years at school were difficult and certainly not the positive experience we would have liked. We had to deal with a SENCo, who trivialised his allergies because they “…wouldn’t have to call 999 if he ate something he shouldn’t…” and refused to recognise how important it was to communicate his allergies and health issues to any member of staff dealing with him and not just his class teacher, which led to numerous occasions of him being offered food he couldn’t eat. His teachers lost their focus in teaching him because they felt he already had a lot to cope with with his regular appointments at GOSH and his education suffered as speech impediments, dyslexia and dyspraxia were missed by those who worked with him on a day-to-day basis.

Fast-forward to the start of Year 3 and all our negative experiences became a thing of the past. The year actually began at the end of Year 2, when I met with the Head, SENCo and class teacher of his new school to discuss all of M’s health and educational needs and worked with them to put practical solutions into place before the term started. They understood the value of seeing him as more than just his EGID and food allergies, circle-timebut also knew that his health problems were a big part of his everyday life and couldn’t be ignored. At the end of his first week there, M’s teacher held a circle time in class where she shared about M’s ill-health and restricted diet with his classmates. It was done in such a nurturing and non-confrontational manner that by the end of the session M was willing to answer any question that his new friends had about what they had been told himself and has being doing so ever since.

fabed1The information sheets that I had provided were given to the teachers and, combined with the notes they had taken whilst talking with me, used to draw up a healthcare plan for M that covered all possible situations. His on-going bowel control problems were sensitively handled and a contingency plan put in place to ensure that he always has access to a toilet wherever he is in the school. The HCP was written by the school SENCo and then sent home for my review before being published, shared with the whole teaching team and displayed prominently in the staff-room. Even better, every year since then I have been asked to review and amend his HCP to reflect any medical changes that have happened and the school continue to be sympathetic to his needs.

SAM_1175As for his swap box, it has proved to be an invaluable tool in the classroom setting and is something that is really easy to implement. The idea behind the swap box is a simple one – it contains a selection of safe items, be they edible or non-edible, that can be swapped for those unexpected treats that sometimes come into the classroom to celebrate birthdays or other special events. When M’s swap box came into being, it was filled with a mix of Haribo sweets and the odd Lego minifigure and the choice was his as to what he chose to take. Since going elemental 2 years ago, the box now contains Lego, trading cards and other fun small toys and ensures that M never feels that he is missing out when his friends celebrate. What’s more, his teachers have taken inspiration from it for their own purchases of small gifts at Christmas or the end of term and given him something he can enjoy.

I think the biggest secret to our great experience with our Junior school is communication. The lines of communication are always open and actively work in both directions between home and school through meetings, phone calls, e-mails and the home/school book. The willingness of so many of the school staff to learn to support M to the best of their ability has created a level of trust unlike any other and means that I am ea544311f5697d6334b2df7079ccedf9happy to leave M in their more than capable hands on a daily basis. It is a testament to their dedication to their work that, in the last 3 years, the only things that have caused an extended absence from school have been the annual hospital admissions at GOSH. They have always endeavoured to make sure that M is safe whilst at school and the fact that he was able to attend as normal with both his NG feeding tube and his broken leg is incredible. A truly remarkable relationship has grown over the years between our family and so many of the teachers and is something I really value.

They have also nurtured and encouraged M to talk about his allergies and EGID and have shown continued support as he has become an advocate for educating others about his illness. M has held cake sales, run playground games and created short films explaining the impact his diagnosis has on his life. He has developed a confidence in talking to others and 18 months ago was able to answer the questions asked by members of home-school-connectionevery class in the school. When he left his Infants school, he was a child reluctant to talk about his food allergies or hospital appointments because he was scared of being isolated and bullied because of how different he was to everyone else. These days he has an incredibly strong friendship group who look out for him during school hours and think about him when he’s had to be in hospital, and he never thinks twice to share what’s going on with his friends.

If I had to sum it up, I guess I would say this:

Be open, be honest, be available. Keep communicating and tell them how they can make it better if you need to. Do what you can to help them out and don’t forget to say thank you when they get it right.

Portugal Photo Round-up 2016

Our 10 days in Portugal were wonderful and just what we all needed. We had great fun, lots of sunshine, delicious food, family time and a chance to get a break from all that’s been going on at home. It’s been a busy few days, so these are just a few photos to share that capture our fabulous holiday:

Eating out with allergies the Portuguese Way

I’ll be honest, the last few months have been difficult in more ways than one. M’s broken leg has meant that we’ve been unable to trial any new foods since April, which has been tough for him especially as we’ve just marked one year since we last successfully introduced a safe food into his diet. I knew that his restrictions were taking an emotional toll on M, but nothing expressed more than one he recently apologised to me for feeling fed up and complaining about the fact that he has to eat the same 5 foods day in, day out. As we were preparing for our Portuguese holiday, we quickly realised that, without doubt, our travels abroad would stretch our keen foodie to his absolute limits and we needed to come up with a plan that would allow him to enjoy himself without too much pressure on his health.
This was particularly important as M had been frustrated to not be able to trial the couple of new foods we had pinpointed as pre-Portugal challenges because of his lengthy recovery and was extremely disappointed at the prospect of only eating his safe foods whilst the rest of us enjoyed seafood and fish galore. img_08971After much discussion, both between ourselves and with M too, Mike and I decided that we would allow him the occasional day off whilst we were in Portugal and let him choose a normally forbidden food or two to enjoy.

From the start we made it very clear that this couldn’t be an everyday treat and that between days he would have to keep strictly to his diet and so we planned accordingly. The holiday was split between a short hotel stint in the capital city and a longer stay in a self-catering apartment on the Algarve, which allowed us to cater for M and G as and when was needed. Our medical suitcase had been crammed full of a selection of safe foods for M including cartons of rice milk, cereal and rice pasta as I had no real idea as to what we would be able to find for him where we were based. img_10511Unlike our recent travels to Italy, where allergy-friendly offerings had been easy to find in the airport and service stations, safe foods were not so readily available in Portugal, but our trip to the Jumbo hypermarket just outside of Portimão proved to be a visit to a real Aladdin’s cave. My Mum and I were impressed with the array of dairy-free milks available and chose some new brands of rice milk for M to taste during our holiday. As for the selection of products on the freefrom aisle, I could easily have spent a lot longer than I did examining each and every one of them to see which were suitable for both children.  I managed to buy nearly everything we needed including cookies for G and rice cream for M and the only disappointment was that I couldn’t find a gluten-free loaf of bread for G. img_10521There was several bread mixes available, but there was no way I was ever going to entertain the thought of baking a loaf of bread for her in 35°C weather and so she managed with some delicious gluten- and dairy-free crackers I discovered instead.

M’s experience of eating out with allergies in Portugal was mixed to say the least with the resounding success of two dinners at the Hard Rock Café in central Lisbon in stark contrast to the disappointing first night meal of plain boiled rice and an apple and it was hard to predict what the rest of our holiday would bring. Our translation cards meant that language wasn’t a barrier to making our needs known, but we did struggle with well-meaning restaurant staff offering alternatives even though it was clearly stated that these were the only safe foods he can eat. To be fair, I can understand their difficulty in believing that M’s diet really is that restricted, but it was frustrating to deal with especially when the viable food options were diminishing before our eyes and a certain 10 year-old was hopeful we’d give up and give in and allow him another unplanned treat. For the sake of M’s health, we did have to insist that some of our meals out were strictly M-friendly and the offerings were often mixed. In the UK we frequently find that most restaurants are unable to provide plain rice and so M often ends up with a meal consisting of chicken and cucumber and occasionally some apple too, all supplemented by a bag of slightly crushed Rude Health Mini Rice thins recovered from the depths of my handbag. Portugal was surprisingly no different. We did discover a few restaurants that could cook plain, boiled rice, but sadly this was rarely accompanied by safe chicken and he ended up with some very odd meals indeed.

img_10841However, as well as the Hard Rock Café, we did achieve great success in 2 restaurants in Alvor, where not only was M well-fed, but G enjoyed some great dinners too. The first was at what has long been a favourite of ours, Vagabondo in Alvor itself, a place that the children were keen to go back to again this year. Every year since our first visit there, M and G have loved their chicken kebab starter because of the delicious peanut sauce it is served with and it’s a dish that they’ve asked me to recreate at home time and time again. Peanuts have never been a problem for M in the past, but I was anxious about him suffering an unexpected reaction to them and wasn’t keen to trial them for the first time whilst we were abroad. M was disappointed by my decision, but reluctantly agreed to eat his safe foods only. By the time it came to dinner there, he was still suffering from the effects of some of the other “treats” he’d enjoyed during the week and was happy to stick to his normal diet for the evening. Once our waitress grasped M’s exact needs, she was fantastic at sorting out his meal and advised us brilliantly about what would be safe for him from the menu. img_10851Unfortunately the wild rice was marinated with garlic beforehand so we chose not to order for M, but the plate that arrived contained a huge piece of chicken as well as some cucumber slices and a specially prepared apple from our thoughtful waitress. The apple had been cut and served to resemble chips and so M’s plate looked similar to G’s dinner of a chicken and bacon kebab and chips. It was a large meal, beautifully prepared and he managed to eat every single mouthful.
The second and surprise success of the entire holiday was our final lunch, which traditionally we have always enjoyed at the poolside restaurant at the hotel Pestana Alvor Praia. img_10871In the past the children have chosen gluten-free hot dogs and chips, but we had spotted that they served grilled chicken and rice and were hopeful that these would be safe for M. Once again, a well-informed, attentive and extremely helpful waitress advised me that there would be no problem in preparing these dishes to ensure they were safe for M and in the end both children enjoyed a delicious grilled chicken breast, which was served with chips for G and plain rice, cucumber and apple for M. We enjoyed our meals out on holiday and found all of the restaurants eager to help us as best they could when it came to encouraging M and G to eat out with allergies the Portuguese way.

Kids’ eye view of Lisbon

One of the attractions that M was keen to visit was the Oceanário de Lisboa, opened in 1998 as part of the last twentieth century World exhibition and which is the largest indoor aquarium in Europe. Having explored Old Lisbon on our first day, we were all happy to change pace a little and eventually made our way there via the beautiful Praça do Comércio and a necessary decision to hail a Tuk-Tuk, when our hop-on, hop-off bus couldn’t be spotted except as a dim mirage in the distance. By the time we arrived the main queue was dishearteningly long, but thanks to the helpful advice of our friendly Tuk-Tuk driver, IMG_0943[1]we instead joined the one for the ticketing machines and found ourselves moving through it fairly rapidly and were into the aquarium itself within little more than 30 minutes of our arrival.

We were directed to begin our visit with the temporary display before we cannily stopped for a relatively early lunch, which meant we managed to dodge any lengthy waits in the cafeteria. Both children were eager to head into the main and permanent exhibit, lured by the promise of manta rays and rainforests and we spent a glorious afternoon there. This was a truly amazing exhibit that took us on a 2-level tour around the world and around the incredibly impressive huge tank that formed the centrepiece of the aquarium. This tank was filled with all manner of fish and could be easily viewed from just about every angle as we made our way around the building. IMG_0955[1]G and M spent their time photographing or filming what they could see, racing between displays and tanks, and excitedly sharing the tidbits of information they had picked up along the way. From penguins to puffins, jellyfish to sunfish and sea otters to sharks, the kids got to see them all and were totally fascinated the entire time we were there.

Our second child-friendly stop was spotted as we left the Oceanário and meandered our way in the glorious sunshine to where we had been reliably informed we could catch that ever-elusive tour bus back to the main centre. M had actually already identified it as a possible place of interest, but it wasn’t until breakfast time of our final morning that we decided to pay it a visit. After an unsuccessful lengthy wait for the renowned Tram 28, Mike, the children and I decided to abandon the rest of our group as they continued to queue for it and instead headed off to the Pavilhão do Conhecimento or Knowledge Pavillion. IMG_1009[1]We have previously had great experiences visiting other interactive science museums such as the Science Museum London, @Bristol and the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto and G and M have loved every moment of them. I was confident that we would have similar success in Lisbon and couldn’t wait to see what experiments and activities were on offer there.

It was absolutely another day that was more than well worth the very reasonable entrance fee and we explored every inch of the place thoroughly. We started downstairs in the Viral exhibition, which looked at what contagion is and how it works, not just from a bacteria point of view, but also looking at the current spread of the social media trend. G and M loved the interactive displays from capturing and identifying different germs to seeing if watching others yawn can cause you to do the same , as well as whether they could incite a virtual audience to copy their clapping, dance moves and Mexican wave. IMG_0980[1]We paused for a quick lunch, which included a plate of rice for M and some gluten-free chips for G in the on-site restaurant before heading upstairs to tackle everything else the museum had to offer. M was particularly enthralled by the prospect of riding a bike across a high-wire suspended above the main floor of the building and successfully rode there and back, though G was a little more cautious and couldn’t quite brave it. Our afternoon was packed full of activity for us all and I was especially appreciative of the strategically placed armchairs spotted throughout the exhibits for those of us who didn’t want to be on the go the whole time! We filled the time we had there and managed to do most of the exhibits, though not quite all of them. It was a fun afternoon for the whole family and I wouldn’t hesitate to take G and M back if we had the chance.

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Hard Rock Cafe, Lisboa

Dinner out on our first evening in Lisbon was not as easy as we might have hoped and, in some ways, encapsulated our worst fears. By the time we had made our way from the airport to our hotel, we didn’t really want to hunt around with two tired children in tow, so simply headed to a local restaurant with our fingers tightly crossed and our recently acquired Yellow Cross translation cards clutched in my hands. IMG_0904[1]We found a restaurant that looked promising as it had grilled chicken and rice on the menu and sat down to peruse the choices for the rest of the family until it came time to order, when I handed over the cards and waited to hear their response.  The cards did their job, but whilst the restaurant staff were incredibly helpful in trying to provide safe food, poor M ended up with just a plate of plain boiled rice and an apple. At that point my Mum vowed that she couldn’t face another dinner out like that and so the search began for somewhere that could cater much better for M’s particular needs.

Lisbon_EntranceAs a long-time fan of the Hard Rock Cafe, I had been delighted to discover a couple of weeks before we travelled that there was one in Lisbon and had even managed to find a copy of their menu, including allergens, on-line. My e-mail enquiry about their ability to cater for M had gone unanswered, but I felt confident that there was a good chance they would be able to cook him some safe chicken at very least and so we headed there for our second meal in Lisbon. We were not disappointed. The Hard Rock policy is that all allergy enquiries and requests are dealt with by the manager and she came to our table to understand exactly what we needed. They weren’t able to provide rice for M as it’s cooked with vegetables, but an impressive plate of grilled chicken with apple and cucumber slices arrived and was quickly devoured by our hungry boy. G was also well catered for as they had comprehensive allergen listings available and could prepare all burgers and sandwiches using a delicious gluten- and dairy-free bread. She chose the classic club sandwich with fries and I was delighted to hear that they used a separate fryer to cook the fries to ensure that cross-contamination risks were kept to a minimum.

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The meal was such a success that when my Mum suggested that we go back for our final meal out in Lisbon, Mike, the children and I were quick to agree. Once again their service in meeting our allergy needs was impeccable and despite it being a much busier Friday evening, we were still confident that the food had been carefully prepared. We ran through M’s food restrictions with that evening’s manager and the resulting plate of food earned a well deserved 9.5 out of 10 from M. We did have a couple of small hiccups with both meals, but they were quickly dealt with and the staff were keen to make sure that we were happy. M’s food was re-plated on  a clean dish when I pointed out that the decorative strawberries included on the original plate were not safe for him, and G’s mayonnaise was replaced after she found an unidentifiable lump in the bottom of the small serving dish. It turned out to be a stray spoonful of coleslaw, but they apologised profusely and the manager even came back to the table to add her apologies and to ensure that the rest of our meals was everything we needed. It was great to discover that this old favourite of mine was so capable of preparing safe and delicious meals that both children absolutely loved and I’m now excited to discover what other locations we can visit on future trips.

A perfect meal for a little rock star!