Monday, 25 August 2014

Ideas for a Rainy Day: Have you seen Great Gizmos?

Today is very much a typical British Bank Holiday kind of day. It's moved from a medium drizzle this morning to heavy non-stop rain this afternoon and there's no signs of the heavens letting up just yet.

So what would I recommend for a rainy day? Crafting, of course. I'm not saying it's going to lower your blood pressure or anything (is it just me who sighs inwardly when the tub is tipped again? I mean, they're 9 and 7 now, not toddlers...) but it always gives them great pressure so it's worth a go.

If you are only semi-creative (like me), and are never quite sure what to do with the oodles and stacks of 'bits 'n' pieces' shoved in a cupboard, I'd suggest cheating for a change. The website is choc full of great activities for the children (adults allowed to take part too) and we've been having fun with quite a few of them over the past few months.

Today has been a mammoth effort with fairy and pet making, and flowerpot painting - such fun! as Miranda's mum would say.

Take a look at the girls' efforts (I abstained, but only because I had to be on standby with the wipes):

The Great Gizmos website is really easy to use; everything is categorised such as 'Make and Create' or 'Magnet' or 'Creative Play'. There are also wooden toys, soft toys and science sets along with musical instruments and lots of lovely other items.

All these products are good value with the majority of craft kits ranging from £8.95 to £11.95. They make great party gifts too, worth bearing in mind for when the term starts again (ssshh, naughty words!). A great way to while away a few hours!

We were sent the above products for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own.

read more "Ideas for a Rainy Day: Have you seen Great Gizmos?"

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Dear Diary: Center Parcs’ August blogger challenge

Did you know that Center Parcs are offering the chance to become part of their Family Blogger Club if you enter this month's competition - check it out over at the Tots 100 page?!

August's challenge is an easy one - they are asking to be told about your great summer moments. Surely we've all had some of those, in between the moans of 'I'm bored', 'it's too hot', 'do I have to have suncream?' and 'it's too cold!'?!

Steph Tilley, the Center Parcs Community Manager, has made some great suggestions on their blog about ways of recording your fun instead of just the usual diary style entries. My favourite tip of hers was:

'Write down your memories and pop them in an empty jar. Hang onto the jar until next summer, and you can open it and reminisce, or even get some inspiration!'

Funnily enough, we've been doing this jar since the start of this year, not just for summer, so I'd feel a bit as if I'd cheated by just sharing that one with you. 

Another tip was capturing a special moment with video, and as I seem to have a computer full of those, the only difficult bit is deciding which one to share with you! This is a very quick clip of the time we went to feed the fish in a local store; always makes me smile at the memory of it:

As I haven't got around to my post-holiday round-up blog post yet, now seems like the perfect time to bombard you with all (well OK, just some) of those photos of our holiday in Tenby this year.

Photos are my favourite way of keeping the memories alive. As soon as the children are back at school, I'll be creating a new photo book to add to my pile of memories from previous years' holidays.

I’m a Center Parcs Family Blogger and will be visiting Elveden Forest village with my family. If you want to enter to win a place as a wildcard winner just go to the challenge page to find out how: Center Parcs Family Blogger Challenge #CPFamilyBreaks
read more " Dear Diary: Center Parcs’ August blogger challenge"

Saturday, 16 August 2014

#Lollibop2014 The Fab Family Festival!

I feel like I ought to write this post in two halves - part a) where we go to the fabulous Lollibop 2014 festival and have oodles of family fun and part b) the trials of being there with a child with PDA. Both would be true, so actually I'm just going to dive in and tell you about our day as it happened.

Last year we attended the Lollibop 2013 festival at the Queen Elizabeth Park, and we had a great family day out. So this year, when I heard it was going to be held at a new venue close to us, I couldn't resist visiting again to see what was new.

Hatfield House is the great venue for Lollibop 2014; a huge expanse of grass and a few trees meant there were several different areas to explore, and access to everything was easy. The main stage had plenty of space around it and several benches laid out in front of it - although right in front of the stage there was also plenty of standing room. During the time we were there (Friday morning) it wasn't overly busy and so it was easy to find your own spot with a good view of the stage. Very well organised parking with masses of spaces added to the good experience overall.

We headed through the rainbow entrance arches (nice touch, rainbows make everything seem fun) and the girls were greeted with big smiles and a Peppa Pig sticker, always a bonus. We were also handed some free Bear snacks as the girls posed for a picture with a Bear which they would have liked to bring home. 
Happy memories of our fab 'day' (2 hours or so!) out at Lollibop 2014
We knew that Sam and Mark were due on the main stage shortly after we arrived, so we didn't stop at much on the way in and made our way there fairly quickly. It wasn't a long walk, but by the time we got there Sasha was already dragging her heels, and almost as soon as Sam and Mark appeared she was saying she wanted to go home (sorry guys, nothing personal!). I think it was more to do with the sound than anything - big speakers or music she is not familiar with always seem to unsettle her.
The very funny Sam and Mark
So I left the bigger girls to sit where they were and watch the show (with strict instructions not to move a muscle, which of course they followed, ahem..) and I wandered off with Sasha to try and find something to recover her mood. She had been excited about going in whilst we queued in the car to park, and we'd spotted someone blowing giant bubbles. Sadly not even the thought of this could persuade her we were going to have fun, so I had to think hard to keep egging her along as we walked to the far end of the site in search of something, anything, to make her happy. Personally I was hoping to sneak into the meet and greet with Mr Bloom, but the queue was snaking around and Sasha sadly wouldn't indulge me. I had to make do with sneaking a peak through the tent 'window', but it was too blurry to be of any use as a window.

A free pack of haribos helped Sasha's mood, but only marginally, and then we visited the Skylanders area (but Sasha was still not impressed). Next to that though was the Heart radio stand, and praise the Lord they had balloons! On sticks! So one of those did the trick and I managed to persuade Sasha to climb into their giant deckchair for what turned out to be one of the best shots of our day. Sasha followed that up with some colouring-in before we headed back to find the others and see what food there was for lunch. Seemed to be lots available but mine settled on chunky chips, of course.

Sasha was finished quickly and still asking to go home, but she then remembered that we had seen a 'Sports Day' set up right by the entrance and she decided she fancied a go on that. I sneakily distracted her as I took them all in the opposite direction to explore a different corner of the site, and we spent some time on the Kia stand playing outdoors Jenga, noughts and crosses, and a bit more painting and colouring-in. There was a great River Island stand where the older girls would have loved designing their own T-shirts I'm sure, but there was a small queue; sadly Sasha is not a fan of queues. Instead the girls chose to clamber all over the Beano sign (which made for great photos) and we then moved on to the Nintendo stand. My girls are huge Nintendo fans and I was pleased that the team had thought up a fun character hide and seek for visitors to do rather than just having the electronic games to play on. Of course Mario Kart, Golf, Kirby and Pullblox were all played on too, and Sasha enjoyed hunting for the special ball in their ball pool! 

It was at this point that the first teeny tiny raindrops fell, and although there were only a handful, it was enough to start stressing Sasha again. So with the promise of now heading straight to the 'Sports Day' attraction she wanted on our way home, we set off (with just a quick detour through the Thomas Sodor set-up). 
You can see how happy she was as the rain began to spot
I'm not sure what Sasha was expecting from the Sports Day, but the idea was that it was organised games at certain times of the day. The lovely people manning the stand were a little taken aback when we said we were on our way home but would like a quick go - most people stay at the Lollibop festival all day and there's certainly plenty to do there! They were very understanding and agreed the girls could have a go - on seeing the Space Hoppers though, Sasha did another about turn and marched off saying the rain was coming back (it wasn't!) and she didn't want to get a wet bottom. So she watched in a grump from afar as the big girls enjoyed their own mini races up and down the course. 

For me, the end of our Lollibop time was just another indication of how Sasha's avoidance stops her from enjoying herself. No amount of trying to point that out to her is going to change things sadly. As she was safe this time, and for a change she didn't carry on walking out, I let her be, half hoping she'd come back and join in, but knowing it was unlikely. It's generally difficult for us to enjoy family days out like this as Sasha can be so unpredictable and has a very short attention span, but it's nice to be able to go somewhere new if only for a short time. For four people Lollibop would have cost us £82.50, which I think is actually good value when you get to meet and see TV characters on stage, collect a few freebies along the way, have faces painted, get to take part in fun activities and stay and play all day. For us though, having to leave places like this early is a regular affair and we just wouldn't get the value out of the tickets that other people do. I remember only too well spending an hour in the foyer of Wembley as Tamsin sat and watched Disney on Ice with Daddy - and that time we had spent a lot of money on front row seats in the hope that Sasha would be enthralled.

Enough about us though; Lollibop 2014 is on again for one more day tomorrow (with Justin Fletcher as the star guest, along with many other great names) and I'd thoroughly recommend getting yourselves down there if you can! I hope we can enjoy a little bit of this experience again next year.

Disclaimer: we were very gratefully given these tickets for free, but all the views expressed here are our own!

read more "#Lollibop2014 The Fab Family Festival!"

Friday, 15 August 2014

Walt Disney World Florida with autism

Today I've written a guest post for the lovely Michelle over at The Purple Pumpkin Blog.

Michelle and I share a common love for Disney, and you can find some news and top tips from us by clicking on the following: 

Planning a Walt Disney World Florida Holiday For A Child With Autism

Here's a sneak preview of the photo involved, but you'll have to pop over there to find out more.....

read more "Walt Disney World Florida with autism"

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Is getting out easy to do?

Do you know what I hope?

I hope that my friends 'get it'. That they understand that when I invite them round to our place for coffee, or lunch or a BBQ, it's not because I have an innate desire to always be the host, and it's not because I don't want to visit their beautiful houses which are all less messy than ours for sure. It's not because I don't want to go out, and it's not because I don't want to make the effort.

It is simply because it is easier for me to feel relaxed and enjoy the company of others when I know I don't have to be on high alert. Sasha is comfortable in this house and can escape to her own space. Here, I don't have to field her getting upset/overwhelmed and demanding to go home every few minutes, and I don't have to worry that she is going to pick the paint off someone else's wall (ahem. Sorry holiday home).

So does this mean we can never go out, or that we never try to do different things?

Back in the toddler days, I had to gradually admit defeat and stop attending Dinky Dancers or the music sessions that I took Tamsin along to because of the interference from Sasha. I began to feel like a prisoner in my own home. Isolated. Like an outcast, unable to socialise. Boy, I wanted to socialise. Still do, always. That's a part of me, as much as the autism is a part of Sasha. I could never be described as the life and soul of the party, but I love people - watching them, being around them, interacting with them. All of those activities are generally very difficult for people with autism as many of them have not learnt the same 'social rules' which typically developing children seem to learn by osmosis.

Any simple trip out of our house involves forward thinking and planning. Getting Sasha 'in the right mood' is not a simple task. The planning generally starts in advance, talking her through it, providing options, always having a plan B. Occasionally though, telling her at the last minute proves to be a better strategy so she doesn't have time to worry or get too confused about the week's activities. It's a guessing game as to which of those strategies (advance warning or last minute) is best. 

Using the right language and never being rushed (ha! every morning before school) - more specifically, never giving the impression of rushing, is key. Even when you are late, there needs to be a smile on the face and an 'oh well, it doesn't matter' tone to your voice, or else you are going nowhere. Children with PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) cannot be 'made' to do things you want at the instant you want them to; they can dig their heels in harder than the 'average' child. Leaving the house in the first place is just one example of a difficult time.

It is still difficult for us to arrange a meeting with other people outside of our own home. Sasha loves swimming and would probably agree to go to any new swimming pool (in her own time of course), but other activities can be limited. She loves crazy golf - but not the one with the big dinosaurs which make a noise, or the one where the queues are too long. Quiet, indoor places are generally worth a try if there is some activity that holds her attention (looking at exhibits or reading information boards doesn't fall under that category funnily enough) but we're never likely able to stay for long. 

As much as Sasha loves being outdoors, she hates rain with a passion (even little drops, as she told me yesterday). So we have to be sure it's dry before we go, or that it will be fine, or that we have raincoats, umbrellas and an escape plan. Walking up a hill to see the view, having a pub lunch, or ambling round a pretty village looking at craft shops or enjoying an afternoon tea are activities I would do myself quite happily, but which just don't work with Sasha. She is now seven, not a toddler; I'm pretty sure though that she won't be agreeing to do that type of relaxed activity any time soon, if ever. Our eldest, Tamsin, may also not naturally choose to do those activities, but could easily be persuaded to without much trouble and would do it happily to join in and just be with friends.

Summer holidays tend to reinforce these feelings of not being able to live the life I wish I could. I guess when I post pictures of us in different places, or on holiday, others see us having fun, and think 'how hard can it be?'. We do go out of course, and we do try different places and new activities, but we try and judge when the time is right and when it might work best. We have to use strategies for Sasha which I never would for Tamsin; an ipad or a visit to that famous chip shop before going for tea have been used and appreciated more than once.

I hope that our friends understand that I would love to be joining in with group picnics, and meetups in the park, attending festivals and going to the zoo or any other such group activities. I sometimes say no to suggestions because I don't like the idea of being flaky; of turning up somewhere but possibly having to leave 10 minutes later due to mass meltdown. I hope I'm not judged as being lazy or not trying hard enough. Sometimes I'll say yes because I'm desperate for me and Tamsin to try and enjoy a day out just like other families would be doing. Other times I have to be non-committal and last minute - very difficult for someone like me who yearns to be organised and plan ahead. The 'other' me would always offer to car share, would always be planning days out with friends to somewhere new and exciting, would rather be free and easy. 

As a family we've all learnt how to manage Sasha better. We know what her stress factors are, we know what she likes to do and how she can be persuaded - some of the time. The best skill we've learned is how to 'run with it' and be flexible. Getting out of the house has become easier with Sasha but it's still not as easy as it would be with just Tamsin. I just hope that friends can understand that.

read more "Is getting out easy to do?"

Monday, 11 August 2014

Siblings {August}

Okay, it's here, only a day late this time.... my monthly effort at a photo of my two girls to join in with the fab Siblings linky.

Siblings {August}
I grabbed them at a quiet time, middle of the day, both in good moods - so no pain, but lots of snaps to try and get the holy grail perfect one as usual! The above is the one I'm sticking with for this month (you'll find the out-takes below as usual).

I also realised that we have more siblings in house now, so I thought it only right that they should join in too - so here you go, welcome to Stampy and Lotus, now 4 months old!

Stampy and Lotus have used up quite a lot of my camera clicks in the 2 months they've been with us, so I'm sure you will see a blog post all about them sometime soon. In the meantime, they do have their own Facebook page now - so for more cute pics, click on Stampy Kitten! As I'm so nice though, I will treat you to a teeny tiny extra kitten picture or two....

The girls are still cute though, right?!

dear beautiful
read more "Siblings {August}"

What's It Like?

This week I was invited to write a guest post for the lovely Victoria who writes her blog over at Verily Victoria Vocalises

Victoria is an amazing lady who puts a lot of love and energy into the blogging world; she welcomes everyone and helps to spread the word. She is also extremely understanding, which is why I wrote the post I did.

You can read it by clicking on What's It Like?.

What's It Like?
What's It Like?

read more "What's It Like?"

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Was it really only seven days?

Oh Blog, how I've missed you. Was it really only seven days?

If only I'd realised before I left that we would be truly parted, separated for seven whole days. I'd have left you with some memories, something to pass the time, some extra special words for that lone reader out there.

It was an unexpected estrangement and not a welcome one. I battled on valiantly for the whole week, with only a trip in the car where we briefly passed through a larger town providing some respite.

Blog, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Couldn't really say who I missed the most. No being nosey, no catching up on everyone else's lives, no sharing of my happy moments. It was tough.

No wifi, no 4G - not even a hint of 3G! Where was this strange world I found myself in?

Wales. South Wales. 

Another country, where the food tastes different according to Sasha. Welsh Weetabix and milk are in no way the same as home Weetabix and milk, apparently.

I love you Wales, you were the home of my father and his family and you have some brilliant beaches. But please, please, jump into the 21st Century before I return next time.

Everyone else, brace yourselves for the follow up posts with more holiday pictures. 

read more "Was it really only seven days?"

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Little Live Pets interactive toy

There's a new interactive pet in town, perfect for anyone whose children are asking for birds. Luckily as we've just got two kittens, my girls are sorted for now, but I agreed they'd love to trial a Little Live Pet from Character Options anyway!

There are six different birds to choose from, and two bird cages they can live in. We were sent Sweet Sophie and she very quickly became a part of the family. The best thing about this pet? It doesn't need clearing up after. Although the casing is plastic, it's covered in some soft rubbery material so she feels very soft to hold.

On the top of Sophie's back is a touch sensor pad, which makes her whistle and tweet when you stroke her. Almost as if she is growing, the more you stroke and pet her, the more singing she learns to do - there are around 30 different songs to 'achieve'!

There is also a button on her chest which you press to record your own voice. This recording then plays back when you press the button again - so you can pretend to make the birdie talk! When I say you, I mean your child obviously (cough, ahem). There is an on and off button which is always a bonus to help save batteries; this toy takes two AAA batteries, which are not included.

These are only £9.99 retail, available on the Character Options website, and I think they'd make a great gift! My girls both love her.

We were sent the above product for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own.
read more "Little Live Pets interactive toy"

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Center Parcs Family Bloggers! Yay! #CPFamilyBreaks

You know how we've been entering a Tots 100 competition to become a Center Parcs Family Blogger every month for the last, like, forever? 

Well..... drum-roll please.... we've only gone and done it!

Yes, yippeeee, woo-hoo, yay-hay and so on, I am very proud to announce that we are now part of the Center Parcs Family Blog Club 2013/14. I feel almost famous. Definitely happy - in fact I'd say ecstatic was a better word!

This means that we will be getting the chance to review a short stay at one of the Center Parcs locations. We've chosen to visit Elveden Forest and our trip will be later in the year, possibly when Winter Wonderland has started in the village. We'll be sure to bring you an update on it all, and even more excitingly (is that even a word?!) you will get to see a family video of our break there!

In honour of our win, I've decided to group all of my #CPFamilyBreaks Center Parcs competition entries into a page of their own, which if I've done it right, you can hopefully see up there at the top under the words 'We love Center Parcs'. Even before we go, I know that Center Parcs is a fantastic place to have a relaxing family break, so I'm thrilled to be able to spread the good news!
read more "Center Parcs Family Bloggers! Yay! #CPFamilyBreaks"