{Navigation Bar}

Friday, 26 December 2014

Merry Christmas and Thanks Everybody!

Wow, I can hardly believe this year is nearly over. 

It's been a busy one as always, and far too many highlights to start talking about - just look at our memory jar which we filled this year for the first time. I'm looking forward to opening it with the girls in the New Year and looking back on all the fab things we did.


Next year will bring a lot more paperwork and fighting for Sophie I'm sure as I try to get a decent EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan) in place, along with some training for parents about PDA from me, and a very special trip to look forward to. So as usual there will never be a dull moment around here! 


For now I'd like to sit back and relax (ha! Like that's gonna happen, who am I kidding?!) and wish all of my readers who have read and listened and understood some of the crazy stuff which happens around here a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. Thank you so much for sharing and helping me 'spread the word' as it will all help Sophie to be more understood as she grows up, and hopefully help Tilly and us along the way too!

Currently I'm listening to one of my favourite songs ever, 'Happy', and looking at these photos makes me feel that way too, so I thought I'd share them with you. Happy 2015 to you all xx


read more "Merry Christmas and Thanks Everybody!"

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Christmas Show success!

'So her costume is just a plain white dress, with a bit of tinsel for a headband' said the TA to me.

I winced. 'Ah I don't think she'll wear the tinsel' I replied apologetically with a wry smile.

'Oh, she already has' said the TA. 'She was fine with it as long as I let her take it on and off whenever it was itchy'.

Two things jumped out at me from this. 

First, I should never underestimate what Sophie can do. As much as I think I know her inside out and understand her difficulties, she is still growing and changing and she is the only one that really knows what she is capable of.

Secondly, sometimes all it takes is for the person working with her to be understanding, and a bit more flexible, and miracles can happen. I never imagined she'd agree to put itchy tinsel on her head, but she did. Even if it was only for a short while, and she made a big point of scratching lots when it came off...

Stephs Two Girls

Sophie was a Dancing Angel in her Christmas Show this year. Apparently she had some words to say originally, but it all got a bit too stressful and dance was the answer. Having the added pressure of all the parents in the room means it is never guaranteed she will get up on the stage when the time comes. I still remember the Nativities and class assemblies each year in Infant school, and the sadness when she was unable to participate in some along with her peers, but as the years go by those feelings are less intense and I can be more matter of fact about the whole 'Show Time'. 

I went in both days pre-performance to help Sophie get into her costume, which definitely turned out to be a good thing - following the dress rehearsal (which she had missed due to being poorly), her costume hadn't been put back in the right place, and although it was less than a couple of minutes before it was 'found', that was enough to start distressing Sophie. Luckily I was there and able to help find it and calm her down.

For Sophie's first performance I sat at the back and side of the hall, right by where she was sitting with the class assistant until it was her turn to go on stage. She blew me a kiss as I sat down:


Stephs Two Girls

When the time came, she went up and wafted her arms like an angel beautifully! The dance went very well, especially considering a few of the original group weren't there on the first day - it made the formations and crossovers slightly tricky, but all the girls coped remarkably well with the 'gaps'. 

After that the play continued and at times there were a few whole school songs where Sophie stood up in her place at the back of the hall and sang along with her classmates - that was an achievement in itself for someone who doesn't like standing and joining in! 

Towards the end Sophie asked her assistant if she could go out for some 'quiet time' so they slipped out of the hall quietly. Unfortunately by the time they returned, the last finale song had begun and Sophie was supposed to be back on stage! She did make her way to the front, and she stayed a short while, but it became apparent that the space she should have been sitting in had been filled and for a child with autism, that change is quite difficult to take. She handled it very well though; she just made her way back down the aisle, and sat on my knee for the remainder of the show.

Day 2 and performance 2 and Daddy was able to attend with me this time. We were permitted (by Sophie) to sit nearer the stage this time, and lucky Daddy had an aisle seat. Each time Sophie made her way to and from the stage, she stopped and leant over to give Daddy a special big kiss on the cheek! That was definitely one of the highlights for us both.

Sophie's dance was perfect second time around, with no missing angels, and she also managed to make it back on stage for the finale songs. We've got some great videos which sadly I can't share with you as there are other children in them, but I know I'll be watching them over and over with a smile on my face. Instead here's a couple more edited photos of what turned out to be a very memorable show this year. I'm so proud of my little angel (and of course of my big angel who sang brilliantly in her own Christmas concert too!).
Stephs Two Girls

Stephs Two Girls

Stephs Two Girls

At bedtime after the shows, Sophie sighed and said to me 'maybe I can say a bunch of words next year Mum'. We'll see. Maybe she can, who knows?!

Ethans Escapades

Not My Year Off


read more "Christmas Show success!"

Thursday, 18 December 2014

PNP Portable North Pole review and Discount Code

For the past few years, I've used the PNP Portable North Pole (www.portablenorthpole.com) website to create a special video message from Santa for my girls.


The first time we showed them their personalised videos, I loved watching the amazement in their eyes as they listened to Santa deciding whether they had been naughty or nice. Now it has become one of our traditions and I can't imagine Christmas without it.


The videos take just minutes to create; you are led through some basic questions such as name, gender, age etc, and then you have the chance to upload photos of different events to make it even more special. Santa will mention your child's birthday, or holidays, or favourite toy, and you can watch the look of surprise and wonder on your child's face as they try and figure out how he knows their name and what they've been up to!


There are options on the website; you can send your child a free short video from Santa or you can pay just a little for the Premium option and your child will receive a longer 5 minute video. There's also the option to receive phone calls from Santa, along with an extra Christmas Eve video as he sets off and you can now download an App too. 

If you haven't heard of this website, you should pop over there now. It's a good example of how technology has advanced - I'm sure my mum would have loved to do this for me as a child too, but I'm way too old for it to have been invented!

For all my lucky readers I've got a special treat - use this promo code BLG20BKP to receive 20% off all digital products (exluding in-app purchases).


Disclosure: we were given access to the site in order to enable us to write this review; all opinions are honest and our own though!


read more "PNP Portable North Pole review and Discount Code"

Friday, 12 December 2014

Siblings {December}

Christmas is fast approaching and I wanted to try and get a photo of the girls with their Christmas hats on this month. We didn't quite manage it but I got the next best thing - on the Siblings photo linky day they were decorating their gingerbread houses together so that seemed like the perfect opportunity to grab a picture.



Of course I took the usual 20 or so snaps, saying 'thumbs down, please', 'can you try and look at the camera', 'Tilly you're going to have to keep smiling for longer than that', 'put your tongue away please', 'can you sit still!' and 'the sooner you both stay still, look at the camera and do a proper smile, the sooner you can go and play'. Every. Single. Time.

Despite the hassle, I have totally loved joining in with the Siblings linky, and am excited to be able to bring you (well, OK, it's for me in all honesty!) the 2014 Siblings round-up for Steph's Two Girls. I'll definitely be joining in again next year as it's a great way to document the growing up....




Merry Christmas everyone!
read more "Siblings {December}"

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Has Autism or Is Autistic, which would you choose?

I know it's nearly Christmas and we're all busy, so I don't want to get too heavy on you, but... I have a question.
Picture was taken in summer this year; I don't think it answers the question but I love this as you can see how truly happy she was!
Would you say Sophie has autism? Or would you say she is autistic? 

This year I've been helping to run some Early Support workshops for parents of children with disabilities (note I'm not using the phrase disabled children). At one of these sessions, I was challenged on my choice of language. Initially I felt slightly miffed that someone had picked me up on the words I had used, and I didn't believe I was in the wrong.

I can see now though that I had become lazy with my use of language; I had been referring to our eldest girl Tilly as our “normal” (said in that way where you use your fingers as the exaggerated question marks) child.

On the one hand, I’m almost ashamed to admit that, but on the other, in my defence, it seemed as if saying 'normal', along with the finger actions, had become part of a colloquial language, the sort of language that other parents of children with special needs would understand. Those parents would also mostly understand the term 'neurotypical' (typical brain) to mean the same. Personally I wouldn't use neurotypical in general speech, as it is not a common term. It feels quite 'medical' and unlikely to be known by parents of children without disabilities. 

I’ve been asking myself, what does “normal” mean? I’d argue that it doesn’t mean the opposite of abnormal. Normal describes a group of people who generally follow the same rules in life, those who can fit in with the crowd when they see fit, and not deviate too much from those unspoken social rules. Of course it doesn’t feel right to say that our youngest Sophie is ‘not normal’, but it is true that she is different from the majority – some like to say we are all different, all on the spectrum somewhere. 

Of course there are plenty who don’t consider themselves to be part of this ‘majority’ group, and will no doubt say whilst laughing that they are not “normal”. In reality those people are just running on the outskirts of the main pack. The real issue is knowing where that blurred line right on the outer edges starts and stops. I think most people could say truthfully whether they or their children fall inside or outside of that “normal” group? We may all be on a spectrum of sorts, and lots of us may show some traits which have links with autism (anxiety, lack of sociability, some sensory issues maybe), but I don’t think we can say we are all somewhere on the autistic spectrum.

Anyhow, I digress. The discussion here is over language and what is or isn’t acceptable. Times change. Most of you would be horrified I’m sure, if you thought that someone with a learning disability could still be called a retard in this day and age. Yet it still happens. Sometimes that term is used through ignorance, but sometimes sadly also with ill intent.

It was suggested by another mum of a child with a disability that I should use the term ‘typically developing’ for my eldest child. A bit of a mouthful maybe, but probably a nicer way to go about it. This mum was also very insistent on the idea that our children should be called ‘children with disabilities’ and not ‘disabled children’. It’s a subtle difference, but a very important one. I’m inclined to agree with her on that. It's called 'person-first' language. Our children have disabilities, yes, but they are also happy children with their own individual personalities. Their disabilities do not define them.

I wonder constantly whether I should say Sophie HAS autism, or do I say Sophie IS autistic? Does it really matter? Apparently it does matter, a lot, to parents and people within the autistic community. The lovely Jess who blogs over at Diary of a Mom has written a brilliant post about this, and I love her reasoning. In fact I love her whole blog as she has a girl (with autism, or autistic) older than Sophie and I feel like I can learn a lot from her experiences. I'll openly admit I don't write as eloquently as her though, and I do tend to go off at a tangent, so I'll apologise for that now!

I agree that saying Sophie 'has' autism almost makes it sound like she has something bad. It might sound as if Sophie has caught a disease. Does saying she 'is' autistic on the other hand, give the right impression that the autism was there from birth, and that it is not going away? Does it though also infer that that's all she is, autistic and nothing else? I think not. I think you can be autistic and also be musical, or autistic and good at sports, or autistic and confident, sociable, friendly... do you see where I am going with this?!

I struggle to ever call Sophie disabled – that sounds so serious and as if there are other implications. To be honest though, she is, and there are. Autism is a hidden disability. It's not something to be scared of, or to hide away. In society today, Sophie is classed as disabled, as if something is 'wrong' with her. It's not my favourite word, so I don't use it to describe her. 

I wasn't intentionally linking "normal" with 'not disabled', but I can see that by default I was doing so. I'm sorry for any hurt caused. I'm often putting my foot in it, and I frequently struggle to get my words out in the right way, but I do hope no-one holds it against me. 

In all honesty, I don't mind whether people describe Sophie as autistic or say that she has autism. As long as it is said without malice, and with some understanding, I'm happy with either; I'd rather folks talked about it than didn't mention it at all because they are too scared of upsetting me or others with disabilities. 

So I'm interested to know, how do you feel? Do you always know the right language to use? Do you believe in person-first language? Are you affronted by others' choice of words? Or are you simply not sure and scared of getting it wrong?




read more "Has Autism or Is Autistic, which would you choose?"

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Christmas gift idea for anyone - Dobble!

Are you still looking for those last minute Christmas gifts or stocking fillers? Well look no further, I have the perfect suggestion for you..... DOBBLE.


 This is a card game which comes in a lovely round tin, and which can be played by pretty much anyone (it says aged 6 and over, but I reckon you can still enjoy it with the toddlers - as long as you let them win).  It's a fast paced game, and there are 5 different versions which you can try out. Personally I think you could even play it alone!

There are 55 cards, with 8 symbols on each card, and over 50 symbols in the pack. All you have to do is be the first to spot the matching symbol on any two cards. Sounds easy, doesn't it? Well let me tell you, it's not. Sometimes our youngest can actually beat us to it, we don't even need to let her win!

We really enjoyed this on a rainy day whilst away at Center Parcs recently - the size of it, and the handy carrying tin, means that it is very portable and perfect for travel, so it can be played all year round. 
We even played it as a family whilst waiting for a meal (though we did have to try hard not to scream out loud!).

It's so good, it was named in the Telegraph's Five of the Best Board games.

You can read more about it on the Dobble Facebook page.

Retailing at around £12.99 (but there are some good discounts on at various retailers at the moment), I definitely think this will be well received by anyone, young or old.

Seriously, one of the best gift ideas I am ever going to give you. No need to thank me, I'm just kind like that.



Disclosure:
We were given the above product for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are honest and our own.
read more "Christmas gift idea for anyone - Dobble!"

Saturday, 6 December 2014

LED Hut Christmas Lights Review

I'm so excited about Christmas; it's definitely my favourite time of the year. It's just been made even more sparkly by the addition of some fabulous new festive lights for the front of our house.
Apologies for the quality; am still hoping Santa is going to bring me a decent camera!
There's such a great range over at LED Hut that I really struggled to pick just one option for new lights. There's a strong chance I'll be back for more. They have fairy lights, tree lights, candle lights, curtain lights and window lights, for both indoors and outdoors.

As a start for us though, I settled on the Outdoor Icicle Lights, which is a chain of Stars with a tree, santa, angel and snowman (as you can see above). Each light shape is 20cm high and they sit on a 5m long cable, so they are perfect for across your house, in a bush or round a tree even. They have a 2 year warranty and a 30 day hassle free return policy, though I doubt you'd need to use it. I also loved the Santa for inside a window, perfect for Christmas lovers like me!

The LED Hut website is vast and covers everything from bulbs to spotlights and garden lights as well as the great Christmas offering. Right now they have 35% off all Christmas lights (see code on the LED Hut website), so I definitely suggest you check it out as soon as possible!

Disclosure:
We were given the above product for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are honest and our own.
read more "LED Hut Christmas Lights Review"

Monday, 1 December 2014

Top 5 activities at Center Parcs Elveden Forest #CPFamilyBreaks

I *may* have mentioned before how much I love Center Parcs.... which is why I was so delighted to win a place in their Family Bloggers Club 2014.

Now, I don't know if you've noticed, but if you look up, right at the top of my blog page, there are some headers/tabs for different sections on my blog. They're not very noticeable and I really need to find some time to change this design (any offers of help gratefully received of course!), but in the meantime I'm drawing your attention to them. 

One of those tabs says 'We Love Center Parcs'. If you click on that, you will find every post (hopefully!) that I've written about Center Parcs. 
Just one small Center Parcs collage!
As a part of the Family Bloggers Club, we got a chance to experience a weekend family break to Elveden Forest in Suffolk recently. We were asked to create a video to share our experiences, and we enjoyed it so much that we actually made two. The first is our 'official' video showing our Top 5 activities at Center Parcs: 



and the second is a tour of the 3 bedroom lodge we stayed in there: 



I've absolutely no experience of editing or creating movies, but I hope you'll like these clips despite that fact..... I'm actually very proud of the second one, as the two girls starred in that without any briefing or preparing beforehand. They just worked together, without interrupting each other, and gave a clear account of exactly what was what. Or so I think anyway, but of course I realise that I'm slightly biased! 

Our Top 5 activities at Center Parcs are:

1. Swimming

The girls have LOVED the Subtropical Swimming Paradise at every Center Parcs we've been to (Sherwood Forest, Woburn Forest and Elveden Forest so far). We always spend a couple of hours in the pools on each day we are there - so Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday. The rides/flumes are amazing, with different options in each location but always a Wave pool and Rapids in each one we've been to. At Elveden, Sophie loved the Lazy River best and Tilly enjoyed all the slides and the Rapids. My favourite is the outdoor pool - amazing, especially at night-time when you can see the stars and even in Winter when it's cold outside!

2. Hiring bikes

A great way to get some family exercise in, especially if you don't get much chance to do it round your own home. The paths and roads are generally traffic free which means it's a safe place to be. You can choose from a variety of adult and child sized bikes, and tag-alongs or even tandems.

3. Outdoor Activities

Tilly was keen to do Tree Trekking again - she tried this for the first time last year with me at Sherwood Forest, very successfully. This time Daddy fancied his chances and they set off just as it began to rain for the first time during the whole weekend. She battled on though, and I was very proud watching her do the zipwires (have to admit I struggled with those myself last year). In other years across the parks we've had fun on boats on the lake, played Adventure golf, laser shooting and done a Treasure Trail. You can also play tennis and do laser shooting, amongst other activities.

4. Indoor Activities

This time we chose to do Roller Skating as a family for a change, and we had a laugh as we just about managed to stay upright. Previously we've attempted rock climbing, and enjoyed the Sports Hall, where you can play indoor bowling, table tennis, badminton, arcade games, pool and snooker or join fitness classes.

5. Outdoor Fun

There is just so much space for the children to run and play outdoors. At Elveden I counted at least 6 different playgrounds for children of all ages - and that was all in one area. Also worth mentioning is that some of the eating places have outdoor playgrounds attached so you can enjoy a leisurely meal, and there's also at least one with an indoor soft play and computers are - a real hit with our girls.


Another amazing activity is the Aqua Sana Spa in each Center Parcs, and the firework displays (I could go on all night). Seasonal activities are fab too - Winter Wonderland was on at this time of year and the girls got to visit Santa and see singing reindeers. There were also festive cupcake decorating and festive pottery painting sessions, along with sleigh rides in the woods. There are SO many more activities than I can list - check them out at Things To Do. I've not even had chance to mention the yummy restaurants and the shows and shopping...

For some more ideas of the endless possibilities that await you at Center Parcs, I'd like to invite you to pop over to my Pinterest page and browse my Center Parcs board #CPFamilyBreaks.

We've always enjoyed Center Parcs and what I particularly notice is that we have never seen anyone having a bad time there. Everyone looks happy and seem to be enjoying what's on offer. Staff are polite and go out of their way to be helpful. It's never too crowded either, which is important for us. We think it's a fab place to go with family or friends.



Disclosure: we were sent to experience a weekend break at Elveden and asked to produce a video clip, but not steered in any way about what to say in that vidoe or this blog post. These are our true and honest opinions - we love Center Parcs, and we will be going back! 

read more "Top 5 activities at Center Parcs Elveden Forest #CPFamilyBreaks"

Friday, 28 November 2014

Different, or Typical. Which is more amazing?

Yesterday, I had the chance to do some Christmas shopping in a place I love. Instead of doing that, I chose to indulge in my favourite occupation. People watching. 

I am always amazed by how different and individual people are (and boy do they look Different with a capital D down Oxford Street!). When we were first given the diagnosis for Sasha, one of the first things I did was to stop and marvel at how amazing Tamsin is, and all the other typical children like her. In fact, how amazing all adults are, as we've all obviously been through that childhood stage!

Typical children learn so much in their young years, and plenty of what we learn is without ever being specifically taught it. For example, who told you not to stand right next to someone, touching them, when you're talking to them? Who defined personal space for you? There are some unwritten rules, and on top of that there are rules which are not even spoken about.

I never told Tamsin not to throw a whole toilet roll down the toilet, yet she never did. She made it through her toddler years without having that urge, until she was old enough to understand that it was wrong and wouldn't do it for that reason. Likewise with drawing on walls. Sasha did both these things, because it never occurred to me to tell her not to. I appreciate that there are plenty of toddlers who are not diagnosed with autism who do write on walls; there are not so many who don't learn not to after the first couple of times of being told. 

Did you ever specifically tell your toddler that the person running the music session was in charge and therefore we should all do what she says? Well, I never had to tell Tamsin that, she just watched, and listened, and learned. Amazing, although I didn't think so at the time. That's what most children do, nothing special about that. 

It didn't work like that for Sasha though. Even when we explained these 'rules', Sasha never really understood why she should follow them. So she didn't mostly. If you're into neurology, I think it could be quite fascinating - something to do with the front left (or right?) of the brain not developing in the same way.

All the people I saw yesterday out on the busy Christmas shopping streets got me thinking. What is really so bad about being different? Everyone has something to offer, it's just a case of unlocking the potential. For some that is more difficult, but it doesn't mean they are any less worthy of a place in this world.

I just have to steer Sasha through the difficult school years ahead and protect her somehow from the inevitable bullying. I can help her by spreading awareness and helping others to understand her difficulties, and by not hiding her away. Maybe sometimes I will feel like hiding myself, but I'm sure I'll push on through.

Hopefully, at the other end of it, she will be loved and appreciated for who she is, once out in that big, bad grown up world. I hope she loves herself too. Acceptance is the goal.

As parents, isn't that what we all want for all our children?







Post Comment Love
read more "Different, or Typical. Which is more amazing?"

Monday, 24 November 2014

Nintendo for Christmas!

Have I ever told you that we LOVE Nintendo?! They make quality products, which keep my girls entertained for good periods of time, and the girls are always excited when there are new releases.



So when we were asked to trial the new Disney Magical World for the DS systems, we jumped at the chance (notice how it's 'we'? I'm a fan too!). In this, you get to create your own personalised character, then you go exploring the special town of Castleton. There, you can bump into all your favourite Disney characters, such as Mickey and Minnie of course, and Goofy, Pooh Bear, Cinderella.... over 60 of them in fact!

In the game you can decorate your own cafe and make recipes to entice other characters to your world, whilst also making them furniture and clothing, and selling items to gain more coins. There's plenty to collect, and new worlds to explore, which will keep you going for a long time. Disney Magical World is similar to Animal Crossing, but at the same time has key differences which mean it is not just a copy and it works well as a game in its own right, especially if you love Disney.



We were also invited to spend a day in London trying out all their fab 3DS products recently and as usual, it was a brilliant event. Mario and Luigi chased Tilly around briefly and then both girls enjoyed time on various consoles, playing some games they already had, then some which were new. It's fair to say that everything went down well with them! 



We've reviewed Tomodachi Life already - read this post: We love Nintendo: Tomodachi Life review  and we also loved Yoshi's New Island. All great picks for Christmas!



As you can see, there was also face painting and cake decorating and balloon making, and even a bit of time for some fun in the photo booth.






Thanks so much Nintendo for the fab day out, and for producing such fab products!


Disclosure: we went sent tickets for this event and gifted Disney Magical World, but haven't been asked to write anything specifically and all opinions expressed are our own.
read more "Nintendo for Christmas!"

My Magical Mermaid Review

Are you still looking for some items to ask Santa to bring for your children's stockings? Or have you, like me, only just started? Either way, let me help you out with a quick and easy suggestion.


My Magical Mermaid is a new toy from the makers of the very popular RoboFish from last year. I'm sure lots of little ones will love unwrapping these on Christmas Day. From the makers of the very popular RoboFish from last year

Normally I'd show pictures of my girls with the items we review, but as this is a great bathtime toy for us I'm not sure that's appropriate on my blog! So instead I'd like to give you the link to the special website for these Mermaids, where you can read some fun facts and see the different products on offer.


They swim with life-like movements, both vertically and horizontally (if you remove the weight from the tail area). Aimed at children over the age of 3, this product comes with batteries included - hooray for no panic on Christmas Day! An improvement has also been made with this technology; the toy goes 'to sleep' after a certain length of time of not being played with and this leads to a huge saving on battery life.


We reviewed the individual Mermaids which retail at around £9.99 (but there's a good offer on right now if you look closely), and the girls loved them! There's also a Water Wonderland playset for all-day round fun.

Disclosure:
We were given the above product for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own.
read more "My Magical Mermaid Review"

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. 


www.smugmug.com

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: www.stephstwogirls.smugmug.com 



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... https://secure.smugmug.com/signup?Coupon=jj0BYj45M4QJ2 



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.
read more "Have you heard of SmugMug?"

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.
Fireworks
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 her 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


Ethans Escapades

read more "Siblings {November}"

{Add This}