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Friday, 22 September 2017

The magic of Disney

A couple of years back, we flew to Disneyland in Orlando for an amazing holiday, and a photo from that time recently appeared as a memory in my timeline
Stephs Two Girls family shot in Magic Kingdom

It was the most magical holiday, and one which we'd all like to repeat, but at the same time it was difficult. With a capital D. I've always thought I would blog about it but never quite been able to face it, as I have such mixed emotions about it. 

Disney is supposed to be a magical place, every child's dream... and it is, for most children. I mean, how can you go to Disney and not love it? 

Well on our first day in Florida we spent roughly an hour in the Magic Kingdom, the most magical place in the world, before Sasha could take it no longer. It was a painful hour for all of us as we tried to make her happy, trying to convince her that it was fun. The queue to enter and get your bag searched by security was the initial anxiety hurdle and nothing improved from there. Too loud, too busy, too hot, too much walking and long queues. We had specifically picked a time of year to go which did not fall in any holiday periods (UK or US) in order to ensure quieter parks overall. We felt they were indeed quieter than they may otherwise have been, but they were still too busy for Sasha.

Part of the problem was the new accessibility rules which Disney had introduced not long before we went. I totally understand the reason for them doing this, sad as it is. There has apparently been a growing problem with cheats; people who are not disabled in any way but who don't want to bother to stand in a queue. As word got round more that those with disabilities could by-pass the queues, large numbers of people were pretending that they had difficulties in order to 'jump' the queue.

This is a hot topic, and one I blogged about briefly several years ago after a trip to Paulton's Park and Peppa Pig World. For those who have to endure the boredom of queues, but obviously don't really want to, it's hard to get across the reason why others may find them actually painful, or just impossible. 
Sea World Orlando

Disney tried to create what they felt was a fairer playing field. Their new policy is that if you have a disability, you can go to the front of the ride (usually via an exit point) and receive a timed ticket which will let you return in 40, 60, 100 minutes - whatever the time of the queue length at that point would be. For many, this is a great accommodation as it means they can go off and sit quietly nearby, or go on a quieter ride in the meantime perhaps, and are then let back in via the exit when their time is up. In this way, the crowded, busy, noisy queues which are difficult for many with sensory issues can be avoided, or for those who have a lot of pain standing around, they can relieve that pressure.

I think most would agree that the new system works OK for a fair amount of people with disabilities. It's true that it's not as easy as it used to be to 'skip' lines, but as I've explained, there's a reason for that. As Sasha gets older and learns more coping strategies, this system may even work fine for her. 

When we were there that time though, those new accessibility rules sadly made the rides inaccessible for Sasha. Her Pathological Demand Avoidance (type of autism) meant her anxiety levels were so high that by the time we'd asked for the first return ticket (on It's A Small World, a ride I think she would have loved), she wasn't wanting to do any rides at all. In fact it wasn't a case of simply not wanting, it was not being able to deal with the attention, and the wait, and the not knowing what the ride would entail, and the stress of a time to fill some other way.

Sasha trudged around reluctantly, becoming more agitated and stating often that she needed to leave. I marched everyone around, trying desperately try to find something which might make Sasha happy. The final straw came after I led us all to a far side of the park especially to find a splash zone play place which I was confident she would love - as our luck would have it, it was closed for the day to be repainted! So after an hour of trying to coax Sasha to try anything, and everyone else following me round almost on tiptoes, I gave in. I remember sobbing on my mum's shoulders; it's one of the few times I've properly cried about anything to do with Sasha. 

My parents and I left the park with Sasha, leaving my husband and older daughter behind; understandably though, their mood was also pretty low at this point. After settling Sasha back at our villa, I returned alone to the park later that afternoon to meet up with dad and big sis, and we made the most of our shorter time there. 

That's how most of the following days went; a split holiday. We'd attempt a park as a group with Sasha in the mornings, but she never lasted long. Soon after arriving she would want to 'escape' to a cafe with her ipad and headphone. Then someone would go back 'home' (to the villa) with Sasha, while others went and rode every ride there was in a short space of time. It was the only way it could work. Sasha did love the waterparks, but was reluctant to do any of the rides in them, preferring to just hang out in the wave pools or occasionally the lazy river.
Beach at Typhoon Lagoon

Just before we visited, Disney had also made some other changes to bring down waiting times. They introduced their FastPass+ system, which we thought worked brilliantly for most families. In a nutshell, this lets people book rides in advance, for specific times, and this cuts down queue lengths for all visitors, disability or not. If you want to find out more about that, there's a great explanation over on www.undercovertourist.com.

I'm so thankful that my parents were on holiday with us. It's not overreacting to say that the holiday would have been a complete disaster otherwise. I will say that Disney tried their hardest; on the first day I returned alone to the main desk to explain how it hadn't worked for us as a family. I could barely speak to them through my tears though as it was such a disappointment to me. That wasn't their fault though, it's just how Sasha is. Disney did their best to make it better.

I just kept thinking (and still do) how unfair it was that Sasha wasn't able to enjoy something that millions of other children do. We did go on to have an amazing holiday out there though, and I totally appreciate how lucky we were to go in the first place when many others never get that opportunity. The Disney and Universal Studios parks were too much for Sasha, but Tamsin absolutely loved all of them. She went on every ride there, no matter how high and fast! 
vertical ride at Universal Studios

The funny thing is that actually both girls would like to return to Florida - Sasha just for the villa with pool and waterparks though. Tamsin has a new found love for Harry Potter and so is desperate to explore all those rides in more detail. Not sure we'd get Sasha on the plane again to be honest, but that's a whole other anxiety story...

I couldn't do a Disney post and not share even more of our many our amazing photos with you.... there were hundreds! I'll be honest though, this slideshow is just as much for the family and my parents, to remind us of all the good times. Highlights were... well, everything. I do hope we get to return one day.







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Wednesday, 20 September 2017

#AutumnalBakes: Baking Bread and Pumpkin soup with Jamie Oliver

Now that it feels like Autumn is very definitely here, the time was right to pop along to The Jamie Oliver Cookery School to take part in a session called #AutumnalBakes, being hosted by Hotpoint and Currys PC World.
Jamie's Italian sign


Now it's true that I don't get out much, so it was news to me that Jamie Oliver restaurant just outside Westfield shopping centre near Shepherd's Bush also hosts The Jamie Oliver Cookery School
Jamie's Italian restaurant Westfield


It's a lovely big area inside, with many workstations, and plenty of shiny new Hotpoint ovens. If you check out the website, you can see many different cookery courses on offer, from Mexican street food to pasta making and even a taste of Japan.
The Jamie Oliver Cookery School sign


We were invited there for a bread baking session, called 'Knead to Know' - there were a few puns on the day! We had a very enthusiastic teacher who led us through shaping some bread rolls and making our own focaccia dough, and I think she managed to inspired a bit of creativity from us all.
Teacher at the Jamie Oliver Cookery School


Before she began the bread learning though, we were given some Hotpoint facts - did you know that the average length of time British families keep their ovens for is 14 years?! That's longer than most other gadgets in our homes, and of course there are many advances in technology over time. The latest Hotpoint models have multiflow technology which distributes the heat evenly, obviously a must for perfect bread rolls.
dough being stretched


So after watching the initial demonstration we were all invited to get sticky hands on with some white bread dough which had been pre-made for us. Recipe is as follows:
basic bread dough recipe


Our job was to knock the dough back and pummel it as hard as we could - great for getting rid of any built-up frustration! Then we were encouraged to shape it in any way we wished before adding a glaze - whisked egg for a high sheen or milk for a matt finish. A good tip was to use an oiled knife to slash the bread (on a baguette say, usually just done for design reasons) as then the dough doesn't pull. Finally, there were seeds to be added for decoration. I didn't go overboard with those personally as I love my white rolls plain and simple, but it would have been rude not to use a few... 
me shaping a bread baguette

I enjoyed making my plait the most; definitely harder than it looks though. Whilst the rolls were popped in the oven to bake (anywhere between 7-13 minutes roughly, depending on size) we moved on to making our focaccia dough. Ingredients are listed in the image below:
rosemary focaccia recipe


I do remember that we mixed with a fork rather than hands, and only added half of the wet ingredients to the dry at first to bring together before then adding the second amount. Once mixed, we needed to knead (see what I did there?!) the mixture for a good 5 minutes to make sure any small bits of flour were blended in. A technique of 'push forward, pull back' was recommended but in actual fact you can do this any old way you like as long as you are working the dough - and for as long as you like although you may find your arms tiring after a while.

Our mixtures were put aside to prove (baking term for rise) and we learnt that although this happens well in a warm room, you can actually let the process happen more slowly in a fridge overnight and then take the dough out of the fridge for a half hour to warm up if you prefer.
focaccia dough


We finished off by dimpling and decorating some pre-readied focaccia dough. Some bashing of rosemary with a pestle and mortar brought the session to a stress-relieving end and we were then able to sit and enjoy our freshly baked bread rolls for lunch. 
baked bread rolls



Not wanting to blow my own trumpet or anything (ahem) but they were the perfect accompaniment for the delicious pumpkin soup which was brought out for us.
roasted pumpkin soup recipe


I'm attaching that recipe for you all too as I'm very kind, and because I will definitely be making the soup again myself. And the rolls! There's also a butternut squash soup recipe over on the Currys TechTalk blog which is well worth checking out.
lunch with bread and pumpkin soup
I would definitely recommend trying these recipes for yourself, and booking in for one of the cookery sessions too. If you're feeling extra kind, maybe you could treat a friend to a voucher for the Jamie Oliver Cookery School - am sure they would thank you for it!
Hotpoint autumnal bakes sign



Disclosure: I was invited to attend this event for free but all words and thoughts in this post are entirely my own. Just in case you are wondering, Jamie himself sadly didn't have time to pop along, but it was still brilliant without him!


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Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Siblings {September 2017}

Siblings, siblings, it's all about the siblings.

siblings photo of Stephs Two Girls


With one out of school and the other doing full on school and after school stuff, it can seem like they have very separate lives. There's been so much going on for our family this year to be honest, and they've handled it all amazingly well.

I'd almost forgotten it was siblings photo time again, so when I did I wasn't overly hopeful that I'd get a photo of both of them in the same room. One other small challenge I generally had every month was that our youngest wasn't a fan of wearing clothes around the house. She seems to have a body temperature which runs on high permanently, and her sensory issues mean that seams or embellishments can really irritate her. Plain skin is best!

You may have noticed the tense I used there though - our happy news this week is that Sasha has just decided two days ago that at her age (she's 10), she should now be wearing clothes all the time - and nightwear to bed! It's a miracle. So far she has got herself dressed every morning and ready for bed at night. She's even made a special effort to put her own socks on when we go out (a simple task for some, but one which she has always found extremely difficult as the socks often don't 'feel right'). Fingers crossed that this new found interest in clothes lasts...

siblings photo of Stephs Two Girls
Back to Siblings.... our eldest accepted the challenge of the joint photo session and worked her magic on getting younger sister to join in happily! 

siblings photo of Stephs Two Girls

As per usual, there's not just one photo, as you can see. Due to constant movement (if I ask them to sit still, the smiles end up being so forced and fake) there was a fair bit of blurring and the odd weird expression.... but I love all those pictures too! Every one of them makes me smile and remember a fun time.

siblings photo of Stephs Two Girls






siblings collage of Stephs Two Girls



The Siblings Project - Dear Beautiful



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