Monday, 5 October 2015

Gino D'Acampo 'Bake With Me' Pizza Bases now available!

Did I tell you about the time I went to cook in Gino D'Acampo's house? No? Possibly one of the most surreal experiences of my life, walking down a leafy suburban street to knock on the door of a famous TV Chef and Celebrity Juice Team Captain.

Pizza and Prosecco for lunch really is the story of my ideal day. What's more, I can now recreate it at home myself, yay! Shame that I won't always have Gino with me to make it perfect, but I'll just have to live with the memories I guess.

Gino has launched a new range of chilled, ready rolled pizza bases, and we were there to test them out for him. Such a hard job, but somebody had to do it. 'We' was a group of around ten lovely bloggers who are all known for being honest, and I'm sure I spotted a bead or two of sweat on Gino's forehead as he strived to impress us (either that, or it was very hot with so many people in his lovely kitchen and all the ovens on). Sadly the heat also steamed my phone camera up as you can probably tell - not quite as damaging as the toilet water a week later, but that's a whole other story....

Seriously, these pizza bases are the best idea I've seen since sliced bread. Sadly another one that won't be doing my waistline any favours, but it may improve my sanity so I'll call that a win.

The pizza bases come ready rolled on baking paper, so you just uncurl, leave on the paper and put both straight onto a baking tray (a cold one, preferably, especially if you are creating with children). Then you spread your choice of tomata sauce on top, leaving a finger width free at the edge. If you'd like to be all Italian, you then brush some olive oil around the edges before adding your cheese - mozarella in rustic torn off pieces was the authentic style Gino showed us, but of course you can slice or grate if you prefer. It was suggested that buffalo mozarella is not the best choice though as that is likely to make the base go too moist (and nobody wants a soggy bottom, do they?).

We were given the very useful tips that most toppings should only be added for the last minute or so of cooking time (unless they are 'strong' ingredients such as peppers or pepperoni), and that all pizzas taste better with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on top - who am I to argue? Only 15 minutes in the oven and I can confirm that the base turns out lovely and crispy, the perfect texture.

Gino then took lunch a step further, by baking us a sweet pizza. His rectangular base can be spread with Nutella, loaded with sliced banana and then wrapped in a roll. Cut the roll into slices, lay them back out on the baking paper and pop into the oven for a totally delicious sweet treat perfect for parties or good for freezing (if you can restrain yourself).

All of the bases are preservative free and have an amazing 2 week shelf life which means that if you are slightly disorganised on the cooking front like me, you can keep them in your fridge ready to pull out at a moment's notice. They can also be frozen, and the packaging is well designed so they take up little space. I loved the fact that Gino has obviously put a lot of thought into this range; tasty and great value would be my topline review comment.

There are Thin & Crispy bases in the range which are 200g and round in shape, or the Family bases which are slightly thicker, 400g and rectangular. For super speedy (or lazy) shoppers and chefs like me, the family base also comes in a kit with its own plain tomato sauce. The range is called Gino D'Acampo Bake With Me and is available from today at Asda. We were amazed at the great price points (RRP starts from £1.50), and I can let you know that there is some pretty strong promotional pricing for the first few weeks, so you may want to stock up. Look out for additional options in the coming months too, such as brown bases.

Thanks so much to Tots for this great opportunity and thanks to Gino for a lovely lunch!

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Thursday, 1 October 2015

Super Mario Maker Nintendo Wii U Review

Nintendo have brought out another amazing game for the Wii U - Super Mario Maker. My girls played it happily for ages and have given it a huge thumbs up, so I decided to treat myself to a little play just now while they are out at school to see if I could catch up.

Nintendo Super Mario Maker

Nintendo Super Mario Maker
Create mode
It's fascinating and so simple to do; you just drag the items from the tool bar at the top of the screen and place them exactly where you want. Brick blocks, Toadstools, Question mark blocks, Venus fly trap plants; lots of game play pieces that you might find in other Mario games, in abundance. Honestly, so easy to use - if I can do it, anyone can. The Wii U GamePad and stick is used to create the course and it tickled my girls that you could watch that happening on the big screen - complete with view of hand doing the dragging!

Nintendo Super Mario Maker

We love the creativity that has already been inspired by this game and of course the children love being in control of their own destiny. below is the beginning of a course which our eldest has created:

Nintendo Super Mario Maker

An added twist is that you can save all your courses and upload them so that others on the web can try them out too. They can be given ratings so you can play the most popular, or just any random new course, which in turn could give you new ideas.

There is also the Mario 10 Challenge, which gives you 10 lives to play on pre-loaded courses, but the real highlight of this game is of course the ability to create your own course.

Amiibos can also be used for extra gameplay (but are not vital). Super Mario Maker has been such a huge hit in our house that even the cat wants to join in... it's available now, in a variety of formats from simple download via the Nintendo estore to those packs and bundles including Amiibos or the main Wii U consoles. Happy creating!

Disclosure: we were sent this product for the purpose of this review. All opinions expressed are honest and our own.
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Monday, 28 September 2015

Baking update. Cupcake special!

It's been a while since I blogged about my second love (after my family) so I thought I'd better write a quick post now. The reason 'why' will become clear in the following days (she says with a HUGE grin on her face).

I don't know how many people know, other than those at school who've previously seen me stagger through the gates laden down, but I do love a bit of baking.

So I'm shamelessly pulling together a picture post of some of my efforts in the past, all of which can no doubt be improved upon. I try to do themed birthday cakes for the girls each year, but cupcakes are my true love. Personally I don't know how anyone can eat them with all that buttercream piled up on top, but I know they do. Either that or they just tell me they do so as not to hurt my feelings.....

Anyhow, I still need to work on my photography skills so apologies for the lack of style and arrangement, but here in no particular order are some of the cupcakes I've made:

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Thursday, 24 September 2015

PDA Society Conference; Truly Inspiring!

Wow, wow, wow. Yesterday the PDA Society held their first ever conference for parents and carers of children with Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA).

Over 240 adults attended, from all walks of life, but with one thing in common; the desire to learn and understand more about Pathological Demand Avoidance. The hugely positive feedback received by the team all day during and after the event suggests that the objective was achieved, and in style!

Lucy (my roomie) and I arrived the day before the event to help out, but to be honest everything had been organised so brilliantly, from the individualised planner check-in sheets, to the table plans (genius to try and group families from the same geographical areas together!), and down to the lovely finishing touches such as ribbons at every place setting, that we knew there wouldn't be any major problems on the day.

The conference kicked off with a slide show of PDA family pictures along to the music track by Kelly Clarkson - 'what doesn't kill you makes you Stronger'. The theme of the conference was 'Stronger Together'. Committee members came up with the great idea to provide paper chains on all tables; attendees were then asked to write on them anything which made them stronger. Examples such as family members, or coffee and biscuits were given - hubby of Living Life Our Way blog writer suggested 'days like these' which I thought summed the day up beautifully.

Founder member of the PDA Society, Margo Duncan, took to the stage to introduce the first speaker; Phil Christie, the man who worked with Elizabeth Newson and who knows all there is to know about PDA. His speech theme was the 'State of the Nation' and he talked through a short history of how we have got to this conference, followed by discussing where PDA sits under the banner of Pervasive Development Disorders* (now known as Autism Spectrum Disorders, although this is not a term which is in the manuals) and then onto looking at diagnostic criteria for PDA (listed here on the PDA Society website). He noted how the National Autistic Society has recently updated its information, agreeing that PDA is best understood as one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders.
(*that diagram can be found in the list of extra resources here or on my last blog post discussing PDA and ODD)

He was followed by a very positive presentation on Resilience for Life by Dr Jo Clarke, who is apparently the only person in the UK who is trained and licensed to present The Explosive Child Strategies. I suspect she will be in huge demand for a long time to come! Other speakers included Jane Sherwin, who wrote the book My Daughter Is Not Naughty and Neville Starnes, producer of the Blue Millicent videos which have helped so many. Both of these individuals are experts in PDA; I heard so many comments saying each of them was inspiring and that sharing their stories has really helped others. A special shout-out (did I really just use those words?!) from me to Max who appeared on the Born Naughty programme recently; I applaud her loudly for also sharing her story very publicly and it was such a pleasure to meet her finally.

In between these speeches there were nine different workshops running during three different session times. They were: Resilience, De-escalation techniques, Education Law (thanks to the wonderful Evelyn Ashford), Sensory Issues, Siblings, Sleep, Working with schools (mainstream) and working with schools (specialist). From what I could see, nearly every session in every time slot was full, and I think thanks to some careful planning, most parents were able to see the ones they had the most interest in (resilience and de-escalation featuring highly at the top of people's lists!).

At the end of the day, the 'Stronger Together' paper chains were linked together and a second video was shown, showing comments from people who wanted to thank others who had helped them along their PDA journey. The paper chains were then sent over heads from the front to the back of the room; an inspired touch which I know lots of attendees will remember for a long time.

Well done to the venue (Park Inn by Radisson in Northampton) which was another great choice; plenty of tea, coffee and snacks, delicious hot and cold buffet and the hotel conference staff were all very willing to help set up exactly as needed as well as deal with last minute matters quickly.

All the committee names and those who helped to start the PDA Society (formerly PDA Contact Group) were mentioned in the video several times over, and all the speakers, but also others such as Jo Jones, Cathy May and ADD-vance, even CAHMS Doncaster which is pretty amazing! It's so good to hear that several professionals are already on board with PDA and after the conference I'm sure more will follow suit.

'It's so good to just be in a room with other parents who get it' is a phrase that has been repeated many times. It may sound dramatic but to not feel alone and to not have your parenting skills challenged but to have them accepted by so many others who understand and who are in the same position is actually life-changing.

The whole event was so inspirational, especially considering the PDA Society is entirely made up of parents who are volunteers and who share the stresses of having children with PDA. I think we should give the team a few days rest before they are asked to start planning the next one..... Special thanks to the committee members Paula, Debra, Tracy, Mark, Neville, Rebecca and Margo who all worked so hard to make this the truly amazing day that it was.

Linking up to the lovely Vic who I am sure will like this, over at #PoCoLo :)

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Sunday, 20 September 2015

Challenging Behaviour: ODD or PDA?

At our very first meeting with a paediatrician, the word 'oppositional' was used in reference to our younger daughter. 

Her diagnosis is written as:
1. Autistic Spectrum Disorder and 2. Oppositional behaviours/pathological demand avoidance behaviours.

Much as I loved our paediatrician for just 'getting it' (and by that I mean spotting the signs of autism straight away), and for giving us a quick diagnosis (not that I was pushing for one, it was all somewhat of a surprise to me), this diagnosis is what I would actually call sitting on the fence. Reasons for that are slightly complicated, but in a nutshell PDA is a relatively new diagnosis in medical terms and so not 'in the manuals' for diagnoses.

After a few months of searching for general information on autism, we experienced our 'lightbulb moment' when we stumbled across Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA). We could tick almost all of the diagnostic criteria for our girl; the language delay with catch-up seemed particularly relevant. She was passive, resisted demands, led by a need to control, sociable and comfortable with role-play. The last two characteristics are not often associated with classic autism or Aspergers, and that is where we saw (and still see) the most difference.

We were lucky, I feel, to escape the suggestion of Oppositional Defiant Disorder as a diagnosis. It wouldn't have been right, but it would have been an obvious choice given that the word oppositional was being used.

Oppositional she may have been, but she definitely wasn't defiant. She also wasn't naughty. There may not have seemed to be a rhyme or reason for her refusal to do the most basic of tasks when younger, but we soon learned that there was. She didn't refuse to wear socks just because she wanted to be awkward, or just because we'd asked her to; it was a sensory issue. She didn't get irrationally distressed when we walked a different way to nursery just to annoy us; her fear of not being in control and not knowing what was happening was the cause of that.

In fact, we've come to learn that many of her refusals are sensory led. Others are anxiety driven; going to new places or the fear of being sick in the car prevent us from getting her out as much as we'd like. Of course many children have these worries, but they are not autistic, and the difference to us (having one older child who is also not autistic) was the extreme distress which it would, and does, cause our younger girl, and the long-lasting knock-on effects if we choose to force the issue.

So back to my original question: what is the difference between ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) and PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)?

This diagram below, made by the PDA Society (, shows that PDA falls within the circle of Autistic Spectrum Disorders, whereas ODD does not. There are other common co-morbid conditions in the green circle which likewise do not require an Autistic Spectrum Disorder diagnosis to be valid.

A child (or adult) can be given an ODD diagnosis without an autism diagnosis; however every child/adult with PDA is autistic. There are various tests for Austistic Spectrum Disorder/Condition which can be found elsewhere online; the National Autistic Society is the best place to start looking for information on those.

Children with ODD are often described as having 'emotional and behavioural difficulties', or 'conduct problems'. They may have experienced difficult social environments and use behaviour as a means of attention, an outpouring for their anger or to hide their lack of self-worth. One difference often quoted between those with ODD or PDA is that children with ODD are less keen on embarrassing themselves in front of their peers; they are keen to fit in and can socialise in a typical way. Children with PDA on the other hand, are more likely to have unpredictable outbursts, even in front of their peers, and they tend to try and control all social interaction without understanding why their peers do not like it and then shun them.

It is possible to be autistic (whether that's Asperger Syndrome or Classic Autism) and have a co-morbid diagnosis of ODD. It is probably true to say that demand avoidance is there for most children with autism, especially when they are resistant to changes in routine. Children with PDA may enjoy some routine as it can lessen anxiety, but they are also keen to have control of their environment and so can be largely unpredictable. 'Jekyll and Hyde' personality is often mentioned in conjunction with PDA.

The diagram below shows the family of pervasive development disorders specifically, in a different way:

ODD is not mentioned above as this diagram is purely information on autistic spectrum disorders, which we have established ODD is not (ODD may be present in children/adults without ASD). There is crossover possible between most of these diagnoses however; you could for example, have a child diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome who shows PDA traits. It would be unlikely I feel (though certainly not impossible), to have a child diagnosed with PDA and ODD.

My worry is that some children are labelled ODD unnecessarily. There is a huge difference in the strategies which can be used successfully with either diagnosis and that's why I'd urge all parents to read up about all these conditions and what strategies there are. 
For PDA, I'd start with Strategies listed on the PDA Society page, or Behavioural Strategies produced by Autism West Midlands. For ODD, take a look at Contact A Family's page. There is also a fantastic Facebook page called the Autism Discussion Page where many different strategies are suggested for varying situations and I thoroughly recommend it.

The term 'can't help won't' is often used to describe PDA. Traditional parenting methods, such as rewards and consequences, are not generally effective over a sustained period. They may work once or twice if all other conditions are favourable, but not when the need to avoid demands is strong. Maybe if you've tried the ODD strategies and they are not working, take a look at the PDA ones, or vice versa.

There's a more detailed post over on the blog Understanding PDA for those who crave further reading on this subject, and another post there which includes mention of Conduct Disorder.

This is a topic which is likely to continue to draw much further discussion over the coming years as it is not a clear cut area. I think you need to remember that parents are experts, and no-one knows your own child as well as you. Go with your gut instinct and what works for your child and your family. The diagnosis DOES matter as it can back up your choice of strategies and a diagnosis will help educate others, but what is immediately more important is making sure that all those around your child are using helpful and consistent strategies.

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