Tag Archives: summer

Γεια σαυ Αθήνα

It could appear that I’ve been keeping our final summer holiday destination close to my chest, but hopefully the title of this post will have given you some idea of where we headed to get a healthy dose of natural vitamin D and a much-needed complete break from it all. We decided to head somewhere that the children had never been and a country that Mike and I had last visited close to 17 years ago: Greece.

For those of you not yet fluent in the Greek alphabet and language, the above words say “Hello Athens” and that was how we chose to top and tail our trip to this beautiful Mediterranean country, with a few days spent soaking up the history in the capital city. Our early flight from Gatwick meant that we had reached our hotel by mid-morning and were soon ready to get started on our explorations. We stayed at the centrally located Athens Backpackers hostel, which was only a few minutes walk from both the Acropolis and the Plaka. The double set of bunk beds in the bedroom might not be every family’s idea of a great start to a holiday, but we wanted something that gave us easy access to all we were hoping to see in Athens and were delighted with our choice. With a spacious living area, small, but well equipped kitchen and the all-important air-conditioning, this family studio apartment was everything we could have wanted to start off our holiday.

Following in the tried and tested footsteps of previous holidays, our first destination was to buy tickets for the Athens City Sightseeing bus tour and having stopped to grab a quick lunch, with mediocre success meeting the allergy needs of G and M, we set off around this ancient city to pinpoint exactly where we wanted to visit over the next couple of days. One of the highlights of our city stay was, without a doubt, the Panathenaic Stadium, site of a simple racetrack for the original Panathenaic games and latterly home of the first modern Olympics in 1896. It somehow felt fitting to visit this Olympic stadium following so shortly after our trip to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London for the 2017 IAAF World Championships and M in particular was keen to soak up the history by listening to their comprehensive audio tour. One of the hidden gems there for me was the small museum that housed a number of posters, artefacts and torches from several Olympic Games over the last 120 years. G and I took our time walking around this single room housing numerous treasures and delighted in spotting the posters and torches from all 3 London Olympics Games: 1908, 1948 and 2012.

The children also enjoyed our stop at the Monument of the Unknown Soldier in Syntagma Square, where we watched the changing of the Hellenic parliament guard, who are known as the Evzones. This ceremony is impressive to watch, not only for the incredible historic costume, but also the slow, careful and measured movements that the soldiers make as they take up their official posts for the next 60 minutes.

Travelling to Greece in August had its advantages. Not only did we enjoy constant sunshine and temperatures that could sometimes be stifling in the city, but most Athenians have also gone on holiday and so the queues and crowds were not as big as they might otherwise have been. The one downside was that our holiday coincided with the Feast of the Assumption on August 15 and we were warned that many shops would be closed on the day. However, we planned our day carefully by having a good supply of food in our apartment for lunch and fulfilled M’s desire to visit a local playground, which we found quietly hidden in the beautiful National Gardens located just behind the Parliament buildings.

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The holiday starts here

Our trip to London to see the World Athletics had been planned with careful precision to fit in with our much-longed for summer holiday. Whilst we usually try to fly from our local airport, which is a mere 10 minute drive door-to-door for us, we took advantage of being in the London area and instead arranged flights from Gatwick for early on the Sunday morning. I scoured the internet looking for a nearby hotel and parking package, which would allow us to get a few hours sleep before we travelled and included parking for the duration of our holiday. Much to my delight, I managed to find a fantastic deal giving us a night’s stay at the Holiday Inn Worth and valet parking at Gatwick’s North terminal – ideal when your Sunday morning flight requires you to be at the airport for around 2.45am!

It took us a little longer than hoped to journey across London from Stratford and out to Worth, so by the time we arrived, all we really wanted to do was move a couple of key belongings from one case to another, pack our hand luggage for the flight and have dinner before heading to bed for as much sleep as we could manage ahead of our middle-of-the-night wake-up call. Whilst I sorted the cases and G and M emptied, sorted and repacked their backpacks, Mike was tasked with the job of investigating the hotel restaurant to see if we could just stay put and successfully feed both children there, or if a quick internet search was required to find somewhere safe to eat in relatively close proximity. Thankfully the hotel restaurant, Lytton’s Bar and Brasserie, assured us they could cater for both children, despite the seeming lack of allergy-friendly options noted on their menu and so we settled down for an early dinner.

G opted for her perennial favourite of a medium steak with salad and chips, which we had confirmed would be okay for her, whilst the chef worked his magic to prepare grilled chicken with pilau rice and a side of cucumber for M. For those slightly more eagle-eyed amongst you, you might notice that there were some peas mixed into M’s rice, something that is definitely not yet on his safe foods list. We had agreed with our local gastro consultant that we would relax M’s restricted diet a little when away and whilst we might not have necessarily chosen to kick that trend off before we even left the UK, sometimes you just have to go with the flow and live life to the fullest. By the time we got to the end of the meal, both plates were more or less cleared and we were delighted to have once again found a great option for an allergy-friendly meal without too much hassle.

Mike quickly fell asleep, but the children and I decided to lie in bed watching the relay finals and celebrated quietly the huge success of the British squad, whilst commiserating over the unexpected injury of Bolt, who we had seen perform to his usual phenomenal standard that very morning. Excitement over, we drifted off to what little sleep there was left to grab before my alarm went off 1.35am and our holiday really started. We made it to Gatwick in good time and got ourselves checked in without too many problems around the extra suitcase of food and medicine that we had once again arranged to carry free of charge with Easyjet. Both G and M managed extremely well given our early start and we were soon to be found sitting in the airport Starbucks, enjoying our drinks of choice and playing a few rounds of the newly acquired Marvel Avengers Top Trumps and other travel games. Our holiday adventures were about to begin!

Being a part of history

August didn’t just mean the school summer holidays for our household. but also some much-needed time away from work for both Mike and me. We started our 2 week stint with a drive to London and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, home to the 2017 IAAF World Championships. We’ve long enjoyed watching the athletics on TV and ever since our visit to the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics have been waiting for the next opportunity to watch the sports live arrive. The announcement that this year’s World Championships was to be held in London caused great excitement and last August I joined the thousands of others hoping to be successful in the ballot and be offered tickets to the events of their choice. We were lucky enough to get both sessions that we had chosen, which then dictated the rest of our plans for our summer break.

Our start perhaps didn’t quite go according to plan, with packing for our trip abroad, accidents on the motorway and a necessary, but lengthy detour hampering the relaxed beginning we were hoping for. However, we got there in the end and with time enough to park our car and unload our suitcases into our Stratford hotel room before heading to the park itself. We had allowed enough time to explore Hero village, which was filled with athletic-themed activities, events, sponsor displays and the obligatory souvenir stands and I’m so glad that we had. The children had great fun competing against each other in triathlon themed challenges, trying their hand on a wheelchair obstacle course and racing the 100m sprint against Mike. It could have been so easy to have bypassed the village completely in favour of just heading into the stadium itself, but we all enjoyed the opportunity to soak up some of the Championships spirit and really immerse ourselves in all the glory of the event.

The Friday evening session was fantastic and we had the most amazing seats, which allowed us to watch the women’s long jump final with ease. The evening was filled with a great mix of field and track events including the hurdles, the hammer throw and the women’s steeplechase final, a race neither G or M knew anything about and found fascinating to watch, especially when 1 competitor forgot to go through the water jump on the second circuit of the track. However, as brilliant as that evening was, the best was yet to come and I’d be hard pressed to say who was more excited to be a part of what would become a truly historic occasion.

Since international athletics superstar, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt announced his retirement from the track following the 2017 IAAF Championships, I had been keeping my fingers tightly crossed that he would complete as part of the 4x100m relay team during the competition. Our second session was on Saturday morning and was due to include several more of the decathlon events as well as the round 1 races for all of the relay races –  men’s and women’s 4x100m and 4x400m. M in particular was incredibly excited that he might get see to his athletic hero race and the atmosphere was absolutely buzzing in the stadium that morning. It quickly become evident that we were witness to something spectacular and the whole family eagerly cheered the British teams who performed with enthusiasm and secured well-deserved places in all 4 finals. What wasn’t obvious at the time, but became sadly apparent at the finals that evening, was that we had seen not just some impressive races, but also what would turn out to be Bolt’s final track appearance as he sadly crashed out of the final with a heart-breaking injury that not only devastated him, but the watching world too. It was a great privilege to be to watch this inspirational man race and something we will all remember for a long time.

Shocking Customer Service

At first glance, these look like great plates of food. These reflect a restaurant that has obviously understood our allergy requirements and nailed it. Right?

Actually, these represent a lunch that almost didn’t happen. An experience that certainly left a bitter taste in my mouth and almost resulted in an outright refusal to stay anywhere that could treat an allergy family so badly. I’m a keen proponent of giving praise where it’s due, especially in the world of free from eating out, but rarely will I actively name and shame those who get it so absolutely wrong. However, I am so incensed by our bad experience that I just couldn’t stay quiet this time.

We recently found ourselves in the Somerset town of Street, home to the Clarks village outlet stores and decided to head in to see if we could pick up any last minute bargains ahead of our summer holiday. Having arrived and parked our car, both children started mumbling about a need for food and we decided to start our shopping trip on a good note and have lunch. Whilst the map indicated that G’s favourite, Pizza Express, could be found on the far side of the shops, we thought we’d give a brand new eating out experience a try and opted for Frankie and Benny’s instead.

It has been a long, long time since we last ate there and, to be perfectly honest, it will be an even longer time before I choose to step foot in one of their restaurants ever again. We asked for their allergy menu, made some key choices and then waited for our waitress to arrive to start the ordering process. G was keen to have their GF pepperoni pizza and eager to exert her new-found confidence by ordering her own complicated requirements. And that’s where the problems began.

G asked to have their GF American Hot, without chillis and replacing the mozzarella with goats cheese, something we do the world over and something that has never been a problem. The waitress said that wasn’t possible and, when we explained that we needed the pizza to be both gluten- and dairy-free, she shrugged her shoulders saying that the pizza wouldn’t be dairy-free if we replaced the normal cheese with goats cheese instead. I patiently explained that G has a problem with the cows’ milk protein and can in fact tolerate goats cheese ok. The waitress walked off to “check the label” in the kitchen, before marching back to triumphantly announce that the label said it contained milk, so we couldn’t make that change.

I’ll be honest, I was slightly frustrated by now and so asked if it was possible to either see the goats cheese they use or perhaps instead, talk to the manager. I was polite in both my tone and my words, but determined that dealing with the restaurant manager would be a safer option for us and so our waitress’ response stunned me. She told me that the manager had told her it wasn’t a safe alternative and when I asked again if we could talk directly to the manager as M’s needs were considerably more complicated, she threw her hands in the air and rather rudely informed me that she was refusing to serve us because of my attitude.

In another time and place, I would have insisted on leaving right then, but I had 2 hungry children to feed and I didn’t want to start the ordering process all over again. Mike took over talking to the manager and the resulting plates of food were the success we needed them to be. We received an apology for our waitress’ attitude and reassurance that they would be very careful in preparing G and M’s lunches. They arranged a special drink for M – lemonade with vanilla- and worked hard to ensure the rest of our experience went without a hitch. I can accept that perhaps our waitress was having a bad week, my work week hadn’t been the easiest either, but for someone working in the service industry to be so dismissive and rude to a customer with additional requirements is completely unacceptable in my book. It’s a shame because both children really enjoyed their meals when they arrived, but if I never go back to Frankie and Benny’s with them, it’ll be too soon.

Charity Cut

Whenever I write my blog, I am always conscious of not wanting to focus on any one emotion more than another, particularly when life seems pretty bleak to us. Yes, sometimes things feel overwhelming, but I know that in the grand scale of things life could be so much worse and I’m truly grateful that it isn’t. However, this is one occasion when I’m not going to apologise for shouting from the rooftops about just how fantastic both my children are in my eyes. They’ve both had brilliant end of year school reports and Stagecoach reports, which is a real testament to how hard they’ve worked this year, but this post is about something so much more than that and something of which Mike and I are incredibly proud.

In May, as part of National Eosinophil Awareness Week, M wrote to his Headteacher to ask if he could hold a “Dress as your Hero” day at school. Unbeknownst to me, M was invited to speak at one of the whole school assemblies about why he was running this fundraiser and took this opportunity completely in his stride. Both his class teacher and the Head have told me that he spoke confidently and with great articulation, able to clearly explain who Over The Wall are, what they do and the importance of these camps to him and to G. The school responded in amazing fashion and M’s hopes of raising around £100 proved to be a woeful underestimate of the final total.

Back at the start of the year, I wrote about our family’s New Year Resolutions  and mentioned that G had set herself a resolution that would be revealed in the fullness of time. It’s a real privilege to now share that resolution with you all. My gorgeous girlie decided that she wanted to cut her beautiful long hair before we travel abroad this summer and was keen to do it for charity if at all possible. So, for the past 7 months as G has been growing her hair as long as she could get it, she has been researching just how she could support a charity by doing so.

Two weeks ago, G faced her charity cut and had over 10 inches cut off to benefit 2 amazing charities. The 10-inch plait has been sent to the Little Princess Trust, who will use it to make real hair wigs for children across the UK who have lost their hair due to intensive medical treatments. Not content to leave it at that, G decided to join M in his fundraising efforts for OTW and asked family and friends for any sponsorship they were willing to give her to support her in her efforts. Regardless of any lingering nerves or uncertainties, G was excited to see her final look and I’ll be honest enough to say that we now have a teenage daughter that looks stunning and even more grown up than she did before. She really is rocking her new style:

Working together with this shared purpose, G and M have succeeded in raising more than a phenomenal £760  for Over The Wall, the charity that provides free camps for children with serious health challenges, their siblings and their families. As you’ll have read more than once on here, G and M have both benefited hugely from attending the Over The Wall camps and as a family we have chosen to support the work of this charity in every way we can. This really is a proud Mummy moment for me, seeing G and M be determined to raise awareness and financial support so that OTW can keep creating the magic they do every day at camp.

We are, of course, more than happy to keep collecting for this fantastic cause and you can add to the hard work of both children over the last couple of months by donating via our Virgin Giving website here. Thank you

“This is my one small step, this is my walk on the moon”

I’m not quite sure how this happened. Two years ago marked the end of G’s Junior school career and now we find ourselves at the cusp of a new adventure for us all as M’s time at the Juniors similarly draws to an end. The past 4 years have been a true roller-coaster ride and the staff at our wonderful village school have been there for every step of the journey. From the moment we stepped through their doors, they have embraced the challenges of having M in the school and provided the whole family with the support we’ve needed to get the children through all those ups and downs relatively unscathed.

In some ways, the last 6 months have been the toughest of his school career, even more so than the NG-tube and broken leg we’ve dealt with in that time. He wasn’t able to attend his Year 6 camp because of poor health, but he found the joy in spending the day there getting muddy with his friends instead. We survived the stresses of SATS and celebrated in style last weekend when we found out just how well he did in passing them all. We’ve enjoyed the Year 6 production of The Wizard of Oz and are finally winding down to the Leavers’ Service at the end of the week.

This comment in his end of year report from his class teacher reflects the wonderful young man he is growing up to be:

He is an inspiration to his peers that in spite of his health issues, he participates fully in everything and does not use his illness as an excuse not to try….Thank you M, for being such a valuable member of the class this year. You contribute more than perhaps you realise!”

As we wave goodbye to the end of an incredible era, there will be more than one tear shed along the way, but we are preparing to embark on the next big adventure, building on the incredible foundation that has been put in place with great care, love and consideration over the last few years:

Carnival Magic

Never being one to let something get in my way, I’ve tried to instill that same determination to succeed in both G and M. This time last year was the perfect example of this, when M took part in our local carnival parade, albeit in his wheelchair, and G stretched her self-confidence to become one of the dance captains leading their Stagecoach school as they danced their way along the carnival route. Kitted out in their 70s-inspired costumes, with the likes of Tragedy, Night Fever and Disco Inferno blaring out to get not just the kids, but all the spectators dancing too, they definitely captured an essence of Rio de Janeiro on the day.

This year we were back again, though our carnival offering really couldn’t have been more different to the party atmosphere of 2016. G and M were both keen to be a part of our church’s carnival float and relished the opportunity to choose the characters they wanted to portray from that classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. With her long dark hair, G was perfectly suited to playing the part of “Belle” and suited the yellow costume I managed to pull together in the 10 days leading up to the event itself. M in the meantime, conspired with his best friend at church and agreed that he would play “Lumière“, whilst C would be “Cogsworth“. M’s final outfit certainly did the job, though the glorious June sunshine made for one very hot and slightly grumpy child once the parade was over. The carnival float itself looked amazing and the children loved being able to sing along, dance and wave to everyone as it carried them down the street. I love being part of such a fantastic local tradition and can’t wait to see what next year brings for yet another repeat performance.

Bitter disappointment

Two years ago, M and I waved goodbye to G as she trekked off on the adventure that is Year 6 Camp and, as he had his NG-tube in place, we chatted about whether Year 6 camp was a possibility for him. I reassured him that Mike and I were both keen for him to go and would work hard with the school to ensure that his every need – medical, dietary or otherwise – was met as he needed, whether the feeding tube was still in place or not. Despite never having spent a night away from family, M wanted to go, to try out new activities and to challenge himself as opportunity offered.

One year ago, as I manoeuvred M’s wheelchair through the back gates of school and across the school field to his classroom, we breathed a sigh of relief that it was during Year 5 that he had spectacularly broken his left leg and not in the weeks leading up to the Year 6 camp. The slow reintroduction of foods following the removal of his feeding tube would not hold him back and once again I found myself reassuring him that, if needs be, I would bake a batch of M-friendly cakes or cookies to accompany him on the trip and that we would ensure that the camp kitchen could safely cater for whatever his food requirements were when he went. His week away at Over The Wall built his self-confidence as he realised that he could tackle anything he put his mind to and succeed.

For the last 2 years, M has been looking forward to this rite of passage, this week of school camp and practically counting down the days until it was finally his time to go. He has been in discussion with G about the different activities he might get to do and planning all that he would need to make the week the success he so desperately wanted it to be. I met with the school to talk over the arrangements for meal-times and sleep that would need to be in place and was confident that they would do everything in their power to make it a week to remember for him and all his class-mates.

And then 2 weeks ago, M had to make what has been, without a doubt, one of the hardest decisions in his life so far. The past 4 months of food challenges have taken their toll and when that was added to the stresses of SATS, we saw an unwelcome decline in his health that we weren’t sure could be overcome easily. Despite our best efforts and hard work since mid-May, M has decided that going away to Year 6 camp is not the right thing for him to do at the moment. To say that my boy is bitterly disappointed would be an understatement. For 2 years of longing and planning to come to nothing is heartbreaking for us all and has been a bitter pill to swallow. For M, life has just seemed incredibly unfair once again.

M is frustrated that he can’t go, but he has based his decisions on the health struggles he is currently facing and knows that ultimately it is the right choice for him. He has tried to remain cheerful in school and has been an active participant in the tasks set to his class as they have researched where they’re going and what they’ll be doing. Mike and I met with his teachers and arranged for Mike to take him to the camp today for a half-day*, so that he can join in an activity of his choice and not feel that he is missing out completely. What has made it even harder to bear is that he currently doesn’t have a place on this year’s OTW Health Challenges Camp and is instead on the waiting list, with his fingers tightly crossed that a place might become unexpectedly available.

I know that in the long-run, M will pick himself up and dust himself off and keep going, just as he always does, but it’s hard to comfort him when he’s railing against just how unfair life can be because, in all honesty, right now I agree with him and it’s hard to find the positive and that silver lining we so desperately need to cling to.

*I’m delighted to share that today’s morning has turned into a full day at camp with his friends. M enjoyed the mud assault course so much that he felt confident to stay on and try his hand at abseiling and anything else he could find the time to do.

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!