Saturday, 22 November 2014

Have you heard of SmugMug?

I love photos. Always have. This is a great thing, as it means I have literally thousands (possibly millions?!) of memories to look back on which all make me smile. 
Siblings photos - these make me smile of course!
Someone on Facebook recently asked me to pick just five photos that make me smile. I nearly didn't do it, as I found it just too stressful. I mean, only five photos?! Crazy. I had to join in though, so I just picked any five photos after spending an hour or two pouring over some of the rest.

I've owned a compact camera for as long as I can remember, and the various versions of it have done their job pretty well along the decades (yes, I am THAT old). In recent years I've loved the introduction of smart phones, as they've made even more photo opportunities possible on a daily basis - I can probably count the number of times I've been out without my phone on one hand. I'm generally happy with the quality of snaps which can be achieved. On my Christmas wish list though, is a DSLR - a posh camera for those who have no idea what I'm talking about. Lots of people own them these days, and I LOVE the precision effects which can be achieved with them.

That's why I was so excited when I was offered the chance to attend a mini workshop with some other bloggers at the Nikon School of Photography. We were handed a 'posh' camera to experiment with, and there was a cute baby model on hand to snap away at.
The lovely Victoria from VeViVos and Mari from Mari's World

The event was actually being held to showcase the work of SmugMug.

I'll confess to not knowing about this company beforehand, but I came away super excited and impressed with their offering. The company was set up in Silicone Valley by a father and son team, and the business remains family orientated which I think is rare these days. They are all passionate about photography, and in their words they believe in 'service with a smile' and 'heroic 24/7 support'.

They gave us some top tips about photography which I hope to post in more detail soon, but the one that stuck in my mind was BACK UP following the 3-2-1 (Dusty Bin?!) rule. That means 3 copies of every photo, on 2 different types of storage (so hard drive and flash drive would work) and make sure 1 of those copies is off-site (ie if your house burned down you would still have them safe somewhere!). I have been guilty of not finding the time to sort backups out but it's now top of my priority list.

We were given the opportunity to try out their site and service and I can honestly say I am as impressed as I thought I would be. Customer service replies were super quick and very helpful. You can upload unlimited photos and video clips (up to 20 minutes per clip) to your own personal web page, and then customise that in any way you fancy, however many times you fancy! Each photo can be edited individually on the site and you can group your photos into albums of your own choosing.

You can have private or personal albums on there; the beauty of this is that you can choose to share with just your friends and family, whether that's everyday photos or special events, or you can showcase your work to the whole world.

So here's the link to my personal SmugMug page: 

As the (not very good, hastily snapped) picture above shows, you will be able to browse and see that I have two of my albums on show. In reality, I have several more saved behind the scenes which are not for public viewing. Clever eh? You can order prints, share to the usual photo media sites or send direct to friends, so it really is all encompassing.

Some of the features offered (too many to list!) are:

Customisable website, with responsive design
Fully hosted, unlimited traffic
No ads or spam
Unlimited uploads (each photo can be up to 50MB and video clip up to 3GB)
Gorgeous full-screen galleries
Embed photos and videos on other websites
Detailed stats and analytics
24/7 support (all across the world)
Create a completely personal homepage
Simple drag-and-drop site customisation
Every image backed up with Amazon web services

For the rest, check out their FEATURES page.

I was pleasantly surprised at the low cost for all these features - it is only $40 per year (about £26) which is actually much cheaper than some cloud storage I know of, and with so much more to offer. There are higher cost options for business use, but honestly the basic option will cover most people's needs. You can start with a free trial, that costs nothing....

A huge vote for SmugMug here, am happy to have them in my life! If you're tempted to try, please do use my referral code to sign up and then we can both benefit... 

Disclaimer: we were gifted an annual subscription to this service in order to trial it, but all opinions are honest and my own and were not influenced in any way.
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Monday, 10 November 2014

Siblings {November}

As we near the end of the year (yikes!), it's time for another Siblings photo. I've totally loved joining in this linky and I'm pretty sure I'll be carrying on next year too, as I think it's a great reminder to capture the changes as they grow older together.
Enjoying sparklers in the garden
This photo was actually taken last night, so one day early for the linky date, and I'll hold my hands up to the fact that it's not the best quality (you'll have to pop back after Christmas to see if Santa does bring me that posh camera I'm hoping for...). I'm thinking you'll forgive me though, as it was taken at the end of a slightly challenging week which highlighted the differences in my siblings once again.

We've had highs and lows this week, coming thick and fast on top of each other. I'll start with our first high... Brownies. It's not ideal that I have to attend every session now as Sasha's helper, but I'd rather that than Sasha not be able to attend at all. Sessions have been somewhat up and down so far, as Sasha struggles to sit and listen for any length of time. Colouring in or crafting? Great. Exercises or games? Great... as long as she can be first or decide what they are. Anyhow, you get the idea. 

This week Sasha took part in her Brownie Promise ceremony and became enrolled as a 'full' Brownie. I wasn't at all sure that we'd be able to do this with Sasha like we did two years ago with Tamsin; normally it involves the Brownie-to-be learning and then reciting the Promise alone whilst standing in the middle of a circle and being turned around and around by the other Brownies. 

The whole pressure of being singled out would probably have been too much for Sasha, and although she seemed unaware of what might be asked of her on her 'special day', she did manage to make it clear, even if we weren't able to discuss it in a straightforward manner, that she did want to become a 'proper' Brownie. Luckily Brown Owl came up with a cunning plan; all the Brownies (it's quite a small pack, which is actually a big plus for Sasha) were to stand in a long line and recite the Promise all together.
Sasha in the line up, trying to get her finger sign right
The whole 'ceremony' was just perfect for Sasha which meant she was able to join in and be one of them, differences forgotten at the same time as being inadvertently highlighted. I was a little emotional... but nothing new there!

Next was on to the end of the week and Sasha's first Junior School disco. I was quite surprised, but at the same time pleased, when Sasha told me the previous week that she would like to go to the disco. It's kind of one of those 'rites of passage' things I think, and a social experience which friends can enjoy together. Having helped out at one before when only Tamsin was at the Junior School, I knew how noisy and crazy they could get, and I was pretty sure it wouldn't be a great environment for her. But I loved that she was willing to give it a go - although to be fair, she didn't really know what it would be like. I didn't try to put her off by telling her! She picked her favourite My Little Pony outfit and we were all set.

We arrived early, and that was a smart move as I suspected, as the disco hall dance floor was empty, and the lights still on, and music playing fairly quietly. Sasha found a lovely friend from her class who was happy to dance around with her and she really enjoyed herself... for about 15 minutes. Then the lights were turned off, the lights started to flash and more and more children arrived (including more friends to dance with Sasha) - and can anyone tell me why they have to scream so much as they enter a room?! Sasha battled on valiantly for a while, but then pulled me to the outside hall area, where it was still so loud that I almost couldn't hear her. I could tell she was starting to get distressed at the huge sensory overload and she asked to leave, as soon as possible. So we did a Cinderella, leaving Tamsin behind to have masses of fun with her BFF... Sasha had managed 30 minutes in total, which was more than I thought possible. Differences highlighted and highs and lows experienced again.

Finally, at the weekend was our local organised fireworks display in the village near to where we live. We have tried this as a family over previous years, and last year I ended up walking home with Sasha about 5 minutes before the fireworks started, as she wasn't keen on the bonfire or the waiting. I watched the fireworks over my shoulder as I retreated and sighed inwardly, wishing I could have still been there to enjoy them with Tamsin (who had stayed behind with Daddy). 

I made the call to try again this year; I remember Fireworks night as a happy family outing during my youth, so I guess I'm trying to recreate that. We also had grandparents down this year, so I thought it was worth another try. It was a rainy evening, which wasn't the best of starts considering Sasha hates the rain and usually refuses to go out in it... but we managed to wait until it was only drizzly and then encourage her out without too much time to think about it. We made it to the large field where she was slightly interested in the burning bonfire, but it didn't take long before she was asking for home again. I worked hard at distracting and trying to keep her there until the fireworks began, even bending down and letting her sit on my knees, at huge risk of falling flat on my face in the mud!

So we stayed until the first firework went off, and then watched another four or five before Sasha declared it was definitely home time and she dashed off across the field. I took some photos as we retreated - not bad for a little old iphone, don't you think?!

I'm actually very proud of how Sasha has coped with all the sensory issues this week - the difficulties are obviously there, but she is working harder to overcome them where she can. At the same time I'm relieved and pleased that Tamsin doesn't experience these problems, and that she can go out and have fun with her friends and join in like all the other typical children. Tamsin would of course rather we were all together as a family, but she shows a great caring and understanding attitude towards her younger sister... most of the time!

Linking up with Loud n Proud and Small Steps Amazing Achievements too this week.

dear beautiful

Mama OwlEthans Escapades

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What would your children like for Christmas?

OK, there, I've said it. The C-word, Christmas. Fa-la-la-la-lah and all that. I love Christmas, it has always been my favourite time of the year. Having children made it even more magical, but as they grow older, I am finding it more and more difficult to know what gifts to buy for them.

As this time of year approaches, my brain tends to go into overdrive trying to work out what to get for them, and I like to try and get organised sooner rather than later. I find this is a necessary move to make sure there is stock of what is most wanted (Frozen toys, anyone?!) and that it helps you get the best prices too; we all love a bargain, don't we?!

I'm also a big fan of writing a list. If there's one thing I don't like at Christmas time, it's waste, especially knowing there are so many others out there who have so little. We always make an effort to pass on some of our 'pre-loved' (but in good condition) toys at Christmas to those who are less fortunate. You can do that at Argos, who are partnering with Barnardo's again this year, or try a local food back who may accept donations of toys. I've read today that there are estimated to be 90,000 children homeless this Christmas - that's quite a shocking figure, isn't it?

The girls are now aged 9 and 7, and definitely know their own minds about what they do and don't want. We are facing the common problem of the presents on the wish lists becoming smaller and smaller (yay!) but the price of them getting higher and higher. Luckily I know that they still do love and appreciate most toys, but there's so much choice out there that it's sometimes difficult for them (and me) to know where to start. 

That's why I was really pleased to hear that Argos had included toy reviews by children on their website this year. As a previous toy buyer myself, and now a mum, I know how important it is to see the toys in action and to get word from the 'horse's mouth' so you can be sure those doors don't drop off the first time the toy is played with, or that the product doesn't contain pieces that get lost too easily. No-one likes crying on Christmas Day, or even any time in the following weeks, do they?!

So if you have children, why not take a look at the great videos Argos have produced, which show some other children giving their opinions on some of the top toys out for Christmas this year?

My girls loved most of the toys shown and managed to find something to add to their own lists, without wanting everything (I'm impressed they didn't try to be greedy!).

For Tamsin it was the Little Live Pets, and Sasha most liked the My Friend Cayla doll. What do your children think?!

We had hoped to be included in the filming of these reviews but sadly it didn't work out this year. However I do know that another blogger's children were involved in these, and so I think it's lovely to be able to show her a bit of support! 
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Sunday, 9 November 2014

Dream Toys 2014: Top Toys for Christmas

Ooooh, have you seen that the list of Dream Toys for Christmas has been published? And with a certain retailer holding a 3 for 2, and another offering Boosts, I'd say now is a good time to make sure you place your orders and get stock of your child's much-wanted item. Sadly I don't think you can buy the life-sized Lego characters but that's probably just as well as I think they'd be a bit tricky to wrap up and fit under your tree....

As a previous Toy Buyer (have I mentioned that before?!), I like to keep interested in the toy industry, and this week I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Dream Toys 2014 exhibition. It takes place annually, is set in an old church, and is organised by the Toy Retailers Association. They announce the Top 72 toys which they believe will be heading up children's lists this year, and from that they select the Top 12.

So without further ado, here is the Top 12 and their Recommended Retail Prices (in alphabetical order):

Bop It! Beats                                                                        Hasbro                 £21.99
Disney Frozen Snow Glow Elsa                                          Jakks Pacific        £34.99
Disney Frozen Sparkle Doll (assorted)                                Mattel                   £16.99
Kidizoom Smart Watch                                                        Vtech                   £39.99
Little Live Pets Bird Cage                                                    Character             £19.99
Minecraft Figures (assorted)                                               Character             £7.99
My Friend Cayla                                                                  Vivid                     £58.99
Nerf Demolisher 2-in-1                                                        Hasbro                 £44.99
The Lego Movie - Benny’s Spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP!   LEGO      £79.99
Toot-Toot Animals Safari Park                                            VTech                   £39.99
Transformers Stomp & Chomp Grimlock                            Hasbro                  £89.99
Zoomer Dino- Boomer                                                        Spin Master          £99.99

Having had a closer look at a few of these, I can definitely recommend the Frozen Snow Glow Elsa. Great value and sure to make those Frozen fans super happy. 

My girls are both huge Minecraft fans so I know they'd be happy to see the Minecraft Figures in their stockings, along with the Little Live Pets which we've been lucky enough to review earlier this year. I was actually quite impressed with how much My Friend Cayla can do and although my girls have probably passed the ideal target age for this, I'm sure they would still appreciate one.

There are probably more toys of interest to us in the Top 72 rather than the Top 12 - you can read the full list of those at the website. Tamsin has been asking for the Teksta kitten... but seeing as we have real ones now, I think we will give this a miss!

2014 is predicted to be a bumper year for toy sales, the biggest since 2010. Are any of these Top 12 on your child's wish list for Christmas? For my girls, it's all about Minecraft, Sims, Shopkins and My Little Pony......

Disclosure: I was not given any payment or specifically asked to write this review. All views expressed are my own.

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Saturday, 8 November 2014

Ornaments With Love Christmas Product review

When I was offered the chance to review a Christmas ornament from the website Ornaments With Love, I'll have to admit to being a bit sceptical that all would turn out well. 

First, it's an American website, and I worried a little about delivery. Second, they have such a huge range that I wasn't sure where to start with choosing! You can have almost anything - categories range from babies to grandparents, pets to friends, and you can many ideas such as stockings, angels, words or the year date as your background.

Having recently received our sample ornament, I can tell you that the quality is amazing - I don't think their website does them justice if I'm honest. Hopefully my photo will give you a better idea:

If you like the look of ours, you can find it at and the base cost for this one is $15.99. There are other smaller items too; I also liked this Sweet Cupcake one which was only $11.99. Shipping is $9.95 and so it probably works out at around £16 - for a personalised item of such great quality, and a lasting gift, I definitely think that is worth it. The item came well packaged, in a sturdy box with enough bubble wrap to protect it. The customer service side of the website was also great.

This is such a fab idea for gifts for family and friends and I'm off to order a couple more myself (sssshh, don't tell them). Orders are normally delivered to most of the UK in 7-14 business days, but do please check with the website when ordering. Remember that you will need to order in plenty of time for Christmas!

Disclosure: We were sent an ornament for the purpose of this review but all views expressed are honest and our own opinions.
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Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Where is your Dream Destination?

It turns out that writing a post about my dream destination; where I've been, or want to go, is a lot more difficult than I thought!

I feel extremely privileged to have been able to travel to a lot of different countries in my life - for years as a young child,we flew out to join my Dad for our holidays. He worked as a Chief Engineer in the Merchant Navy, and was often away for six months at a time, so we went and joined him - and lived on the oil or gas tankers... but that's a post for another time!
On Grand Bahama beach with my siblings. Please excuse the part-nudity ;)
We went up and down the Mediterranean, through the Suez canal, all the way across to Canada and even down to the Bahamas. I returned to the Bahamas for my honeymoon and it would still be right up there as one of my favourite destinations.

We joined ships off the coast of Turkey, Gibraltar, Italy and many other fabulous holiday destinations, but rarely got to experience them as proper holidays. I am definitely not complaining though - wow what a life experience to have at that age.

The Bahamas would have to be joint equal with Barbados, where we went for a 'baby-making' holiday around nine years ago. Sadly I couldn't quite enjoy it to the full, as I discovered shortly before we flew out that I was already 7 weeks pregnant... and yep, the morning sickness kicked in big time on the flight. So I'd love to go back to Barbados and enjoy a different aspect of it.
Sunset in Barbados
The 'quiet place' I picture in my mind when trying to sleep/chill
As I got a bit older, I enjoyed living in Germany for a year and I still have an exchange partner there who I would dearly love to go back and visit. I'd do that as the same time as the Christmas markets ideally; the Germans do Gluhwein the best!

I also holidayed in the 'traditional' places as I continued to grow older - Ibiza, Majorca, Spain, France, Italy, Holland, Sweden and of course plenty of places around England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

With my job as a buyer, I got to fly Business Class (which is an amazing experience in itself!) to Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong (to visit China). The one place I can think of that I'd love to visit but never have is Japan.

My most amazing experience though, and my Dream Destination is... drumroll please.... Australia. Melbourne, Sydney, Cairns, Adelaide, Perth, it's all amazing. We were lucky enough to visit this gorgeous country twice and we linked the trips in with visiting New Zealand, Fiji, Singapore and California - all highly recommended too. 
The Sydney Harbour Bridge - we actually walked over the top of this!
Mr C doing his James Bond impression - good from a distance, eh?!
The Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road, Australia
London Bridge, in Australia 

Another marvel of nature along the Great Ocean Road
We did all that long-haul travel pre-children, so I would dearly love to go back there with my girls. We always had grand plans that we would take them when they were 8 and 6 (I think Chris had linked that in with cricket somehow....) but having children was obviously nothing like we expected it to be and we didn't exactly draw the easy straw. Travelling there with Sasha could be tricky for a few years yet so I think we've resigned ourselves to waiting until they are teenagers - but not leaving it too late so they don't want to holiday with us any more! Of course there is the little matter of saving up first too... wish us luck!

We've had so many memories and travelled on so many aeroplanes over the years, and I really hope our girls manage the same as they grow up. You can find out a bit more about flying at

This post is an entry for the #Flying100 Family Holiday Challenge, celebrating how flying allows us to make memories and ‘be there’, in association with #Flying100. Find out more at
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Britmums Carnival: November

Can you believe I'll have been blogging for five years in January?! Well, I can't. Some time earlier on this year, I thought I'd celebrate by jumping at the chance to join the Britmums Carnival Schedule and be the host of lots of new and exciting posts. Reading other stories and experiences online has been as much a part of blogging for me as writing my own posts, but I'm the first to admit I don't find the time for it often enough.

So I'm very glad to be able to bring you a wide variety of posts this month from Halloween to Fashion. Take your pick, or preferably read them all - and a little comment or two in the TV ad breaks would be massively appreciated I'm sure! Sit back with your cuppa and enjoy...

Funnily enough, I've actually done a round-up post of my own this month, just to explain a bit about little old me to any new readers. So if you've not dropped by before, please do make me even happier; read why I started blogging in my post Who am I? What is PDA?

First up I'm going to introduce a male blogger *shock! horror!*. Dave, who writes over at the DADventurer blog, has posted this amusing time schedule detailing his first weekend left 'holding the baby'. Quite literally. I love a bit of humour - hell, who am I kidding, I love as much humour as I can get, at any time. Read his post My First Weekend... and I defy you not to laugh or nod along.

Next up I'm very impressed with the amount of effort that Elisa from Mamma Wears Prada put into her Halloween party - where does she find the time, is my question?! If you love baking or entertaining, there are plenty of ideas and gorgeous photos in Our Haunted House Halloween Party.

Angie from Cakes, Photos, Life, is a blogger who is well known for all her hard work in helping others. This month she has come up with a great new ideas which involves your old Christmas jumpers and knits. Please do what you can - Christmas Jumpers - Can You Help?  

The lovely Emma who blogs at Emma and Three has made some big life changes recently... sounds like everything is going well so far judging by the smile! Pop on over and catch up on her First Half Term Reflections.

I'm going to have to admit that this is probably the first and last time you will ever see a fashion post on my blog... I love fashion, but mostly on other people - I don't have the heart for it myself :D Style Me Sunday is my go-to for a Fashion blog if I was ever going to have one though... check out her ideas in N Duo Concept

Then I visited the Big Fashionista blog. You'd be forgiven for thinking that was all about Fashion too, but it isn't, as I found out when I nearly died laughing whilst reading her latest post about parenting. . Now you need to go and check out what I mean - try Food Pets, Bob and Me to cheer yourself up any time. And yep, you read that right, Food Pets.

So pleased to have found Becci's blog called Swords and Snoodles - not least because she blogs about her two boys! That's a refreshing change from my two girls... anyhow I digress. I loved her recent post titled Be a YES parent, as that is definitely my philosophy. I was ever so slightly forced into it with the arrival of second daughter if I'm being honest, but I'm definitely in agreement that 'Yes' more often makes for a more positive life.

I think From a Whisper to a Roar's Meg must have known about the weather change - she had already written up this yummy Bean and Chorizo Chilli recipe to help warm you up. Cooking is another area alongside fashion where I need all the help I can get....

Claire from Diary of the Evans-Critten Family has posted lots of gorgeous photos in her recent post about her daughter's birthday and visiting Saundersfoot - we were there in summer so I know what a beautiful part of the British Isles it is! My favourite is probably the shell picture - I can almost hear the sea now.

One year of blogging and a hundred posts from Bek at Dillydrops - this is a great place to start to begin to understand all of the effort that goes into blogging, especially if you are thinking of starting one up!

Brilliant writing and a post I think lots of us parents can sympathise with if we've ever been lucky enough to travel abroad - Helen at Crumbs and Pegs wrote a letter to the man in front when she was Flying With Kids recently. Shame you didn't take along a portable printer, eh Helen?!

Last but by no means least is a post from the lovely Jenny Edspire, talking about World Prematurity Day which is on 17th November this year. It is amazing how much medicine has advanced and how many more premature babies are now given the help they need to survive, but more can be helped. Please read and help in any way you can - raising awareness is a good place to start.

Well that's all folks, it's been a long carnival, but an exceptionally good one I feel, so I do hope you've all enjoyed it as much as I have! Thanks to Britmums for the chance to bring all of these together.
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Monday, 27 October 2014

Craft Merrily Fimo Kits Review

My girls were so delighted to receive a little parcel at the start of the half term holidays, containing some fab craft kits from the lovely Craft Merrily website. To be quite honest, I was delighted myself - anything to help get the creative juices flowing which doesn't involve Minecraft for once has got to be a good thing, right?!

In the parcel were two Fimo Form & Play kits. There are 12 varieties of this product on the website, ranging from Fairies and Robots to Farms and Dinosaurs. We received Space (Sasha's particular area of interest) and Pets, and the girls could not wait to dive in and start creating.

In each pack there were 4 colours of Fimo, a sculpting tool, and an instruction booklet. I like how the Fimo is pre-moulded into strips as that makes it easier to judge how much or how little to cut off.

The most clever thing about the kits though, was that the packaging is easy to open, with a tear off strip, and once you have done that, the packaging itself turns into part of the product to play with - a backing scene to help fire the imagination!

We've not used much Fimo before, but I'd say this product is perfect for my girls' ages right now (9 and 7). It's easily mouldable, and lends itself well to small intricate detailing. Once made, the items can then be baked in a low temperature oven for 30 minutes. They come out set hard and make great permanent play pieces which I know the girls will treasure for a long while.

It's Lotus and Stampy, our very own pet replicas!

Tamsin was so excited to have a new product to review on YouTube (also on her own channel at Tamsa Curtis!); here's her Fimo pack opening intro for you. 

These sets we reviewed retail at just £8.95 which is a great price point for children's gifts. There are even other kits starting from £4.95, so I know I'll be going back for some stocking fillers soon. The Craft Merrily website has a huge variety of products, from Hama beads to Papercraft, traditional art products to sand art kits and plenty more modelling options. It's a really easy to use, intuitive website with great value price points, so please do pop over and check it out. Happy shopping!

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.
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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Halloween Cupcakes

It's been a while since I've baked, and I've realised that I am actually really missing it. Baking and decorating is something I love doing; it's like therapy. Only with lots of washing up afterwards. That's the bit I always wish I could miss out on.

Witches Hat cupcake
Anyhow, this post is really just a little update and reminder for me. I'm getting excited about half term you see, and the thought of being able to do some baking with my girls again. They are actually pretty good at the cake mixing bit, and they love decorating as much as I do.

I'll gloss over the fact that they never want to follow my instructions when decorating, and that they just want to chuck as many decorations on as possible whilst eating fistfuls at the same time, and that they obviously don't want to help with the washing up (but that bit I am definitely working on this half term). With my rose coloured specs on, baking with my girls is fun with a capital F.

Half term brings Halloween of course, and as Sasha has insisted on a small impromptu party at home whilst her big sister is out at someone else's, I've had to rally the (very obliging) troups and have borrowed a couple of minors to keep her happy help me out on the 31st.

Mummy cupcakes
They don't know it yet, but part of my party plan is to decorate some cupcakes for them to take home. 

As Sasha no doubt has other ideas of what will happen at the party (huh, whose party does she think it is exactly?!), I'm going to have to get some of this prepared beforehand (here's one I made earlier) so that the girls know exactly what is expected and they don't go off-piste too much or decide they'd rather have sweetie cakes. 

Of course I love borrowing other people's children for organised parties, as they do pretty much tend to stick to the rules, unlike my two. So whilst Sasha might be shouting at them from the next room for yet another round of Spooky Statues, I know that the visitors will listen to me and produce something lovely to take home (she says, hopefully).

So without further ado, here are some of the Halloween cupcake designs which I've made in previous years, and to those I am adding a couple more new ones to the repertoire. We are going to have some spooky FUN!!

Pumpkin Cupcakes

Spider Cupcakes

Spooky Eye and Tombstone Cupcakes

Cobweb, Pumpkin and Ghouls Cupcakes
Ghost cupcakes (these need a bit more practise!)
To see some more of my seasonal and every day cupcake 'creations', please do pop over and follow me on Pinterest:
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Friday, 17 October 2014

Who am I? What is PDA? What am I doing here?!

Just in case I have any new readers, and also for the benefit of all my lovely old (but young at heart) readers, I thought I should do a little update post.
Tamsin holding Sasha the month she was born.
I'm Steph, and I have two girls - Tamsin aged 9 and Sasha aged 7. Yes, over the years I have worried lots about whether I should have used their real names and put real information about them 'out there' on the big bad internet, but I guess it's a little late to try and remove it all now. So what you see is what you get. People can call me lots of things, but I hope you will always know that I am honest, and I try to be fair in everything I write.
Pre-diagnosis, in June 2008
Anyhow, I digress. I started the blog just after we got a diagnosis of ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) for our younger girl. Sasha was just 2 and a half years old at the time, and so much was running through my head that I thought it best to write it all down. I also thought it would be a good idea to share with friends and family, to try and help them understand Sasha's behaviour seeing as they couldn't be here all the time.
Post diagnosis, in June 2009
The name of my blog may not have been particularly inspired (I didn't really know back then what I was getting myself into with the whole blogging community thing, else I might have given it a little more thought...!) but I knew that I wanted these ramblings to be about both my girls. Autism involves the whole family, and I've always been just as, if not more, concerned about the way it affects Tamsin's life too.

So Steph's Two Girls was born, over 4 and a half years ago now, and of course there are plenty of posts to show what has been going on in all that time. Suffice to say we've had ups and downs, but on the whole we have been very lucky and found our way through the Special Needs Jungle quite well (see what I did there, Tania?! ;)).
The girls sitting still together for a change!
Sasha attends the same mainstream school as her older sister. I applied for, and received a Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN) for her just before she started Reception aged 4 years and 2 months. I managed that process back then with very little help; I had been told by local practitioners, just as so many other SEN parents wrongly are, that she 'wasn't bad enough' to get a Statement or any extra support in class. Last year, under a pilot scheme driven by big changes in the law (specifically the Children and Families Act), we agreed to change our statement to a new Education, Health and Care Plan. This is intended to discuss all the support which Sasha may need both at school and at home, and is a fairly lengthy process which can cause plenty of headaches. The law and language we have to learn as SEN parents deserves posts all of their own, so look out for those ones!

We initially had concerns just about Sasha's speech as it wasn't very clear, and she didn't seem to be developing sentences. It was then that we were referred on to a Paediatrician who gave us a diagnosis fairly quickly. Sasha's speech did develop but can still be a little unclear, especially if she gets upset, and she does sometimes have an unusual turn of phrase. An example of this was her sudden use of the phrase 'Take that, Punk' to an adult friend of ours in a jokey way this weekend - something she picked up from one of the Minecraft YouTubers. Another is when she replied 'oh, you mean snazzy?' when she was told she looked pretty and smart recently.

After much reading and research, we have come to the conclusion that Sasha has a particular sub-type of Autism called Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA). Asperger's Syndrome and Classic Autism are two other sub-types.

The central difficulty for people with PDA is their avoidance of the everyday demands made by other people, due to their high anxiety levels when they feel that they are not in control.
People with PDA tend to have much better social communication and interaction skills than other people on the spectrum, and are consequently able to use this ability to their advantage. They still have real difficulties in these areas though, mainly because they need to control the interaction.
The main features of PDA (and how it differs from other sub-types of autism) are:
obsessively resisting ordinary demands
appearing sociable on the surface but lacking depth in their understanding (often recognised by parents early on)
excessive mood swings, often switching suddenly
comfortable (sometimes to an extreme extent) in role play and pretending
language delay, seemingly as a result of passivity, but often with a good degree of 'catch-up'
obsessive behaviour, often focused on people rather than things.

Last year we asked for a referral to a specialist centre to see if PDA could be diagnosed, and we ended up at Great Ormond Street which you can read all about in my post GOSH - Centre of Excellence?. Their conclusion earlier this year after several tests and sessions was that Sasha has high-functioning Autism. However her avoidance and sensory issues mean she struggles to join in full-class activities; it takes her much longer than her peers to process instructions and she does lack social understanding of certain situations. A lot of her issues are driven by anxiety and the need to be in control. PDA is very different to ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) and I'm aiming to write a post about that too very soon. Sasha's behaviour can be described as challenging in many ways, but fortunately for us she is never violent, and since we began using the PDA strategies and educated others on them, we have far fewer meltdowns. Sasha is generally happy and curious, which has helped get her through school so far.

Now though, the serious work has stepped up, and more is expected from life at school. Sasha needs support most of the time, but even with that support available she cannot always be persuaded or motivated to take part. Tests or exams are not ever likely to be achievable under 'standard' circumstances, and we are currently evaluating what type of school or education might suit Sasha best going forward. Sadly we haven't yet found anywhere that can truly meet her needs for secondary level, and so my search needs to continue.

On a personal level, whilst I haven't been able to return to full-time work due to the extra challenges, I have managed to spend a year working in the offices of a great local Autism and ADHD charity. I've moved on from that to help run Early Support training sessions for other parents who have children with disabilities, I sit on the local Parent Carer Steering Board and I work as a rep, attending at council meetings and presentations, telling my story as a parent and trying to influence outcomes for other parents locally. I'm also currently attending Brownies as a helper for Sasha. I hope to be able to spread the news about PDA a little more in the future too - so many families out there just need a little more understanding.


So there is never a dull moment, but I do occasionally reflect back on what a different path in life I have ended up travelling. If you made it to the end of my ramblings, thanks for reading and hope I haven't put you off coming back some other time - it's not all usually this serious, honest! Now I must get off here and stop browsing old photos....

Linking up to the wonderful #PoCoLo

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