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Thursday, 28 November 2013

Win two Tikkers Watches: Review and Giveaway

Now my girls have reached the grand old ages of 8 and 6, they can both tell the time, hurrah! Recently they have both been asking when they can start wearing a watch. We've tried it once or twice before but they were definitely more for the 'fashion' rather than the practical side of things back then, so I'm hoping the girls are now ready to put their skill into 'proper' action.
The two I have which will be posted to one lucky winner in the UK!
We were very lucky to be offered the chance to review some Tikkers watches recently, and if you read on you could also be very lucky by entering my competition to win two watches for yourself (or for your daughter/s)! I have two to give away as a set - one pink and one purple, exactly the same as the ones we received (but we are keeping ours, just in case you are wondering). They come in a funky plastic case and would definitely make a great gift - and if you only have one girl, I'm sure you know a different family who also have a girl who you could surprise...
The watches are gorgeous. They are made from a soft rubber which is flexible and gentle to the skin (need to be for my girl with autism to agree to wear one!), and they have time-teaching faces which will be a great help to those starting to learn. Round the outside of the dial the numbers go 5, 10, 1/4, 20, 25, 1/2 (past) etc. As mentioned, purple and pink were the colours of choice for my girls, but in their full range (available on www.watchshop.com or www.watches2u.com) there are plenty of options. I love the detail on the watch faces - purple had a butterfly design and pink a little heart - and I am impressed with how clear and easy to see the numbers are. Big thumbs up from the girls!


I highly recommend these and see them as very good value at a retail of around £14.99 from the websites mentioned. Also available in the High Street from places like John Lewis, Debenhams and H Samuel (and more specifically if you are in these areas, Fenwick Newcastle and Bentalls Kingston).

So here's the bit you've all been waiting for - the giveaway! Please use the simple Rafflecopter form/box below to enter. If you're new to my blog, please do also try and read just one other post (at least!) for me - What Did You Expect When You Were Expecting? is a good place to start . Merry Christmas and Good Luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway
*Terms and Conditions: The prize draw is only open to UK residents.This giveaway will end on 6th December at midnight GMT. This promotion is not sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated in any way with, Facebook, Twitter,or any other Social Network. Entry is via the Rafflecopter widget above. The winner of the prize (2 watches) will be selected at random.The Prize will only be delivered to an address within the UK, and the winner will be asked to provide their address for this purpose.The winner of the prize draw will be notified within 7 days of the End Date. If the potential winner doesn't respond or cannot be contacted within 7 days, they forfeit all rights to any Prize, and an alternative winner may be selected.The Prize is non-transferable and no cash alternative is offered.I reserve the right to cancel or modify the prize draw at any time (and for any reason) without notice.*

Disclaimer: we were sent these watches for the purpose of this review, but all views expressed are our own.
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Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Elf On The Shelf ideas... but sssshhh! Don't tell anyone!

So it's almost that time of year again, when our lovely little Christmas Elf On The Shelf arrives to watch over the girls in the run up to Christmas. Lord knows I haven't got time to be watching them, I'll be too busy buying presents, and wrapping, and making up Elf antics... oh.

There is a 'standard' Elf on The Shelf, but as our family likes to be a bit different (and to be honest I found that one a bit creepy and decided ours should be cuddly) I plumped for this gorgeous fella:
cuddly Elf On The Shelf
Meet Elf Pepper Jollybells Winters!
In case you haven't a clue what I'm talking about, this is a fairly new tradition which has been started up, and which you have to be very careful about being sucked into will love to pieces. It involves the arrival of an Elf, as previously mentioned, who then sits on a shelf and watches your children to make sure they are good and that they therefore deserve presents from Santa.

OK, I know, I know, there are lots of arguments right there about whether this is a good idea or not, but to me it seemed like just a bit of fun, and so last year I took the plunge immediately (spontaneous, moi?!) and dashed off to acquire our family an Elf.

He came in a box with his very own passport, record card for himself and behaviour charts for the girls. The latter were not so well filled out to be honest. But Elf Pepper amused us all (mostly Chris & me) with his antics daily, and caused a couple of headaches and post-midnight panics as we remembered he had to 'do' something overnight and we hadn't yet decided what. Rather than list them all (as there are hundreds of websites out there with great ideas for you!) I thought I'd just give you a photo collage of our December last year. 
Elf on the shelf ideas

My favourite was probably the 'car parked badly' idea... he hadn't been drinking, he's just never learned to drive.

So if you do find that you can't stop yourself from dashing out to buy one, and that your brain is aching for all of Advent, please don't blame me. I did warn you.



If you're intrigued and want to know what the standard one looks like, you can check here - but only if you promise to leave me a comment first!!!
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Monday, 25 November 2013

Center Parcs Family Blogger Club November challenge; an Autumn poem and video!

I will have to admit that I was gutted when our last video entry to be part of the Center Parcs Family Blogger Club didn't quite make it to the top of the pile (who knows, maybe it was at the bottom, but shush, let's pretend it was a close call?!)
You cannot believe how much effort and careful timing it took to persuade both girls into the bath, at the same time, in their swimming costumes (but baths are for bathing mummy?!). Still, it looked like they were having fun I think.

Luckily for us, the fab people over at Tots 100 and Center Parcs have decided to give us all another go at being part of the Center Parcs Family Blogger Club! This time they requested that we write a poem about Autumn. Now, anybody who knows me will know that poetry is not my strong point, but I wasn't going to let that put me off encouraging the girls to have a go.

With the poem I also wanted to share some video (two vids actually, they were having so much fun!) of the girls doing what they love best on sunny autumnal days:




Autumn is definitely our favourite time of year,
partly because it's when Christmas draws near.

The leaves start falling down to the ground,
and we scramble to see if wellies can be found.

Leaf jumping in autumn is our favourite thing,
we love all the fun and happiness it can bring.

We pick up handfuls and throw them about,
and everyone can hear our squeals and our shouts.

We gather all the leaves into a really big pile,
and then we just look at each other and smile.

We run to the middle and jump up and down,
and end up covered in leaves red, green and brown.

Finally we collapse on to the leaves in a heap,
and pretend to our mummy that we've gone to sleep!

We were also asked to say which of the tips from their resident nature expert and Conservation Ranger (Emma) we liked best. Personally I thought they were all good (wink, wink) but if I have to pick one I'd go for number 2, play outside. Crunching leaves definitely inspires my girls and puts smiles on their faces!

I can't go without leaving you with a little photo collage of all our fun:
And one from the year before too, just to prove it wasn't a one-off!!

This is my entry to the Center Parcs and Tots 100 November challenge. If I'm chosen, I would like to visit Elveden Forest.
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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

PDA: Pathological Demand Avoidance. Have you heard of it?

I'm very excited because tomorrow I am going to London again. Feels almost like my second home at the moment, after a few different trips in to the 'big smoke' for events and visiting special people lately!

Tomorrow is an important day for me. I will be attending the Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) conference being hosted by the National Autistic Society.

Although Sasha's diagnosis on paper is autism, and we still agree with that, we have been fairly sure for some time now that she should probably be diagnosed further with PDA. That is why we visited Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) in June this year - to get a more detailed diagnosis.

Sadly, due to staffing issues and a higher than ever number of referrals to that particular department, we are still waiting for our return visit to GOSH when they will assess Sasha in more detail. We've been told that's now likely to be January at the earliest. Sigh.

In the meantime nothing has changed as far as Sasha's character goes, and she continues on in her own happy little world - when she is in control of life around her. We get on with the blips and misunderstandings, and lack of understanding which she encounters and work through it all.

I am very aware however, of how many people are still not 'on board' with the idea of PDA. The fact that research into this has been done more recently than for other conditions means it will take time for the information to be accepted. It doesn't help that our PDA children can come across as 'naughty' because they just don't follow the rules like other children. The difference is, that they 'can't help won't' which is a phrase I know I'll be hearing tomorrow. Meaning that they don't consciously choose to be different, but it's often their anxieties or fear of not being in control/not understanding life around them which makes them choose to try and control it in ways different to their peers.

I'm looking forward to hearing real experts talk about PDA tomorrow and feel I'll be doing a lot of head nodding as I relate their examples to our life. I'm so pleased that the main organisation for autism in this country is leading the way in creating awareness of this particular type of autism as that can only lend credibility to a new area of diagnosis. I'm fairly sure that there will be several (hundreds of) children in this country diagnosed with autism but for whom the standard autism strategies just don't work. For those parents who have not yet heard about PDA, I hope they do get to hear about it as I feel the whole way you approach situations with PDA children is important to learn - it's just so different from 'normal' parenting, or even from 'standard' autism parenting. These strategies also apply to education, and I'm going to post again the wonderful mind map which I believe to be a great starting point for getting the best from our children.

I do intend to feed back from the conference so I hope you'll come back to read more. I should then be able to give a wider range of examples of how to 'spot' a PDA child, as well as specific examples of how Sasha has exhibited these traits over the years.

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Friday, 15 November 2013

Learning Resources. Fun AND educational products!

Let me tell you about a great company, Learning Resources. Teachers will most likely have heard of them, but maybe not many parents. They have a website which is full of products which are educational and fun, and we have collected quite a few of these over the last 8 years. They have been much loved games and products which have stood the test of time. 

I think I discovered this company at some point after our younger daughter was diagnosed with autism, as she needed a bit more help with learning the basics. They offer plenty of educational and sensory toys which were just perfect for her. That said, I think they have a great selection of toys which can help ALL children to progress as they play.
Recently I was chuffed to be asked if I would review one of their products. It is called String Along, and it's fantastic for strengthening fine motor skills. Also good for hand-eye coordination, encouraging creativity and for improving concentration - all areas which both my girls (and lots of other children I'd imagine) can benefit from focussing on.

The idea is that you pick a coloured lace, thread it through the pen provided, punch into a hole and then string along to the next hole to make a pattern. Some help is needed to do the threading, but the rest of it is easy and not restrictive in any way.

The two of them spent a couple of hours (seriously - I was surprised at how long they went on for!) with their heads down together, making suggestions to each other, which was lovely to see. 

The set we were given was the String Along Lacing Classroom Set, which had 4 boards, 16 pattern cards, 4 punch pens, and 40 laces in 10 bright colours. Plenty to have fun with! 


The Learning Resources website is a really easy one to shop from, for parents or teachers - you can choose by age of your child, or by brand or category. Categories covered include Role play, Creative play, Maths, Literacy, Construction, First Years, Exploration, Puzzles, Active play, Educational games and Routine and Wellbeing. Rather than write a long list of suggestions, I thought I'd include just a handful of pictures of some products which  we have used and which I think are brilliant:


I defy you not to go on the Learning Resources website and find at least one product which you know your child will love. The bonus is that you can love it too because it's a toy with added learning capabilities!

Disclosure: 
We were sent the String Along kit for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own.
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Monday, 11 November 2013

#Blogfest 2013. A boob bumping bonanza!

So, #Blogfest, what was it all about then?

Contrary to popular opinion, it wasn't all about cake, celebrities, jam and the F-word.* Although Mumsnet did lay on a cracking full day with all of the above included.

For me, it was about meeting people. Blogging people. Sharing the good time with friends, old and new. Obviously I'm only saying that because I managed to miss out on all the delicious cake and cocktails which were advertised.**

No, really, I just thoroughly enjoyed the social aspect of the day and my favourite pictures were:

Top left: Kirsty from www.damsonlane.com, Penny from www.beingmrsc.com and Jenny from www.cheetahsinmyshoes.com 
Top right: Orli from Orli, Just Breathe, Jane from www.ethans-escapades.co.uk and moi
Bottom left: Claire from Diary of the Evans Crittens
Bottom right: me and the lovely Renata from www.justbringthechocolate.com

Extra mention to Janine from www.janmary.com and Joy from www.pinkoddy.co.uk who I was delighted to meet for the first time, and all the other fabulous ladies (no men bizarrely!) who I chatted with. All these lovely people chose to hang with me and keep me company despite my buzzing hyperactive state - thanks all, love you, mwah. They didn't even laugh when I posed fully clothed on a windsurf board (well at least this time it wasn't moving...)

Mark Warner offer amazing family holidays and have asked for top tips for a family holiday for the chance to win one, so nothing ventured and all that... my top tip would be to leave the children at home oops, sorry, I meant 'to try something new that you wouldn't get chance to do at home'. For more tips on how to entertain the kids on your travels, the kit you absolutely shouldn’t leave home without and more visit the Mark Warner Blog.

There was a focus for the rest of the day too though - plenty of informative and captivating sessions. I'd be hard pushed to pick my favourite, but if forced I'd say the afternoon's session on Blogging for Change was the most inspirational. Four amazing ladies who have used their blogs for great causes talked us through the whys and hows - please do check out their websites and see if you can help any further, or if in fact they can help you:

the wonderful Tania from Special Needs Jungle who has helped so many families with Special Needs children;
the caring Maddie from Gammon & Chips who set up a petition in memory of a 14 year old girl named Izzy Dix who committed suicide after being bullied, the passionate Laura from The Everyday Sexism Project,
and the honking (oops, sorry T) Mummy Barrow who will lead us all on a country wide relay for Sports Relief in 2014, along with Penny from Alexander Residence and Annie from Mammasaurus Blog. Here is Mummy Barrow with her new best friend:
Blogfest
The two T's together!
I thoroughly enjoyed the Think Bombs from Dr Sue Black (@SavvyTechmums fab idea, I'm in!), Prof Tanya Byron (tells it how it is), and Jon Ronson who made tears stream down my cheeks as he told and showed the story of how his identity was hijacked. Richard Bacon*** chaired the opening session enthusiastically as we listened to the horrific stories of bomb and death threats (and worse, believe me, there can be) as free speech and the terror of Twitter was discussed. I talked to some blog experts who reinforced what I already knew - my blog is in desperate need of an overhaul (hence the first little custom url step to www.stephstwogirls.co.uk - please change any links you have for me, Mum). Finally, I belly chuckled at Jo Brand who wrapped the day up in her own unique style.


The boob bumping refers to the slightly futuristic Blendology system of exchanging contact details, which actually involved bashing your badge on the badges of other attendees. I'm slightly disappointed I only managed 35 bumps and kind of wish I'd stuck to my original plan of running amok in the first half hour and accosting anybody and everybody. I wonder who won the competition for most bashing?!****

I'm not going to comment on the obvious other than to say I was delighted to finally be in the same room as @glosswitch. Think she forgot her Stig helmet though.

So I now have a million other posts to write following on from an inspirational day, and I'd like to start with a post on mental health and dementia. One of the sponsors of the day was Red and Yellow Care, who I stopped to chat to - they are trying to remove the stigma of dementia. Why should there even be one to remove I wonder?! Yet I still have so many questions on that topic myself. Time to talk about it. In my next blog post I hope.

So to sum up (phew! I can hear you say), #Blogfest, you were a blast. Thank you.

* that's Feminism, just in case you were worried Mum.
** but for once I did remember to pick up my goody bag and am now the proud owner of a jar of jam! (marmalade actually, but let's not split hairs, eh?!)
*** got a copy of his book in the goody bag and started reading it on the train on the way home - highly recommend it, I almost missed my stop!
**** there wasn't one, or at least, not that I know of... 
Just wondering, is there a limit to how many links you should include in just one blog post? Anyone?! 
Also, edited to add the word 'mimsywoowoo' and to see if anyone asks about it....

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Friday, 8 November 2013

An amazing morning! What made you happy today?

Sasha came into my bedroom just after seven this morning. That was a great start, as it tends to be closer to six normally.

She was carrying a basket, covered with her towel, and she plonked it down next to me on the bed.

She whisked the towel off, and inside were three things wrapped up beautifully in tissue paper.
I've seen a pasta necklace or two in the past few years, as I'm sure plenty of other mums with young children have, but this necklace and bracelet were extra special to me. They had been made with so much love, and that was bursting out of Sasha this morning. There was also a beautiful autumn picture, placed in a big envelope so it wouldn't be ruined by folding.

She described everything about her picture before letting me turn the 'card' over; how she had used all the red, brown, green, orange and yellow colours for autumn. When I turned over, this is what I got:
Sasha is 6, and she has autism. She rarely writes as she finds it too difficult - we believe the fear of getting it wrong is mostly what stops her. I knew she could do her name, but have never seen much more than that. So to see all this writing from her, and so neatly, was just amazing for me. Of course the sentiment is what mattered the most, and I'll admit the whole experience brought a tear or two to my eye.

I've been told that she asked to make these things especially - it wasn't a whole class activity. She took great care over them, and told me it was a present of love.

I am such a lucky mummy!

I wrote this post because this small act made me SO happy this morning and I wanted to capture it and always have something to look back on, remember and smile about. This made me decide to add a linky here, because I'd love to share in other people's happiness too (see, I'm greedy like that), but also because I think we should all take the time to reflect on happy times.

So please do link up and add a post; any post, from this week or last year, one already written or one you write specially, I really don't mind. About a time when something or someone made you really happy, big or small, serious or funny. I promise I will read them all and that they will add to the smile already on my face. Please then share so others can enjoy too. Let's radiate a rainbow of happiness!!
Rainbow
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Wednesday, 6 November 2013

What do you think the #dreamtoys for Christmas 2013 are?!

The list of the top 50 #dreamtoys for Christmas 2013 was published today. I was invited along to a showcase event in London for the grand unveiling, and we got to see the toys in action. 
As a previous toy buyer I am still fascinated by the industry, and even more so now that I have my own willing volunteers to test the products to the max. I wrote a post recently about the Christmas in July event, and offered up some options of what I thought were great products. I still stand by those of course, but this list is supposedly THE list - i.e. those toys which will fly off shelves everywhere and leave harrassed parents scrabbling round and having fisticuff fights in the big toy hypermarkets over the next couple of weeks (don't leave it any longer folks, these things have a habit of selling out!).

'Selected by a panel of independent buyers that represents 80 per cent of toy retailers from stores  including Hamley’s, The Entertainer, Argos, Smyths Toys, Toys R US, Toymaster and ToyTown, the Dream Toys list is independent and widely respected as the most accurate predictive list of the toys that will be most in demand this Christmas.'

So what's on it? Well the Top 10 are as follows:

City Coast Guard                                     LEGO Company
Doc McStuffins Doctor’s Bag Playset       Flair Leisure Products
Flying Fairy by Flutterbye                         Spin Master Toys UK
Furby Boom!                                           Hasbro
InnoTab 3S                                              VTech Electronics Europe
LeapPad Ultra                                          Leapfrog Toys
Monopoly Empire                                     Hasbro
Monster High 13 Wishes Doll                    Mattel
Nerf N-Strike Elite RapidStrike CS-18     Hasbro
Robo Fishbowl                                         Zuru-Geemac
Teksta Robotic Puppy                              Character Options


Of these, I'm leaning towards the Teksta (did you see the fab Space Jump I posted about?!), Doc McStuffins and the Robo Fishbowl. A Furby Boom! is also a distinct possibility.....

The rest of the Top 50 contains plenty of products under £25, which is great in these economically challenging times when we'd all still like to have a bit of fun. There's a great Moshi Monsters Poppet Secret Diary and the One Direction dolls are sure to fly off the shelves (mums buying for their daughters obviously, not for themselves....)!

So if, like me, you haven't been fed many decent ideas for what to get your children yet this Christmas (X-Box has been requested and then retracted here), maybe this would be a good place to start? You can see which other toys made it by clicking on this link and looking through the categories. Let me know what's on your (by that I mean your children's!) list!





Disclaimer: I was given a ticket for the event but not asked to write about this in any way; all views expressed are my own.
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Sunday, 3 November 2013

Book Review - Demon Dentist by David Walliams (age 9+)

When we were asked to review the latest David Walliams book, Demon Dentist, I knew it would be right up Tamsin's street.

Tamsin has read quite a few of his books now (see his website www.worldofwalliams.com for other titles), and is definitely leaning towards comedy as a theme in her reading. Walliams is a captivating writer and we read it together in stages over a few bedtimes - Tamsin would read some and then I or Mr C would read some.

It's aimed at 9+ and I'd say that's a good target market. There was drama, full-on action and plenty of sniggering, with a very sad bit towards the end (not wanting to spoil it for you but to be fair, it caught me unawares!). Maybe one to talk through with your children if they are particularly sensitive, prone to nightmares or already scared of the dentist....

If you are still trying to keep the tooth fairy story alive in your house, you may want to skip a page. I tried to read the words quickly as I realised what was coming but I fear the myth was blown. Still, she is 8, what age is the tooth fairy supposed to be good until anyhow?!


We really enjoyed this book and will look forward to his future novels. This can be purchased for a bargain £5 from Amazon right now (I can't control how long that price will last sorry!) by clicking here!



Disclaimer: we were sent this book for the purpose of this review, but all views expressed are our own.
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