Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Minecraft, YouTube, Stampy and an Animation.

It's official, Tamsin is in Stampy's Love Garden!
I'll take you back a step, as I guess the non-Stampy/Minecraft lovers among you may well be confused. Minecraft is a very popular game for all ages these days. It is a building game where the users can build almost anything out of blocks in their very own 3D world. It can be played on Xbox, on iPads, on computers - and that's about where my expertise ends.

My girls both got hooked on Minecraft a few months ago, and shortly after finding the game they found YouTube videos made by other users, talking viewers through the weird and wonderful worlds they had built themselves.

The King of all these YouTubers is a young man affectionately known as 'Stampy'. His icon/avatar is that of a ginger cat (a bit like Top Cat, which is Tamsin's initials, so we do like that link!) and this will explain why we are now on the lookout for a real ginger kitten to join our family (can you guess what it will be named?!).

Stampylonghead (his YouTube channel name) has over 1.3 million subscribers to his account, and he has listed 163 videos showing different aspects of his Minecraft world so far. The girls have watched them all. In his world, he has created a 'Love Garden' which shows a sign (check at around 1:28 on the video below) on which he displays the names of anybody who has done, or made something nice for him.

Obviously, with over a million subscribers, he can't publish or mention everyone's name, so it has to be something extra special that they have made for him. Here's where Tamsin comes in.

Our clever 8 year old set about making some Stampy characters out of clay, and then made a short animation, complete with talking, all by herself. We uploaded it to YouTube and then let Stampy know it was there. A week or so later, Tamsin had come downstairs early and was watching Stampy's latest video, when all of a sudden she spotted her name in the Love Garden!

She was, of course, over the moon just to be there and see her name. What has made it even more exciting for her is that over 22,000 people have now viewed her video on YouTube, and she has 155 subscribers to her YouTube channel. Bit of pressure now to make her next Oscar-winning animation! I know you're all dying to watch it, so here it is in its full glory.

I'm really proud that both my girls have enjoyed creating their own amazing Minecraft worlds. No idea how they do it to be honest!! One last tip from me though, is to think carefully before using social media. Some of the comments we received were less than complimentary, and several not exactly suitable for an 8 year old girl. Oh, and even if you remove the comments from YouTube on your home computer, they still show up on an iPad. That said, I still think it was OK to do as long as you talk it all through with them - after all, they are all now growing up in the ultra-digital age. Feel free to leave any pleasant comments after watching yourselves!

I did mention Tamsin's latest achievement briefly in my #SpreadALittleHappiness post, but I also wanted to blog this separately to be able to join in with both Ethans Escapades Small Steps Amazing Achievements linky, and the new #minicreations linky hosted over on the Kids GL Loves site.


Ethans Escapades
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Monday, 27 January 2014

How To: #SpreadALittleHappiness

What a lovely idea, I thought - #SpreadALittleHappiness. 
I'm all for doing that, as often as possible. 
It's true that I wasn't exactly invited to take part (I think the idea originated on The Reading Residence but I'm not blaming her). Luckily though, I'm now officially an Orli, Just Breathe stalker (read her blog by clicking on her name - she's fab, honest) and so I stole carried on the idea from her.

Does this make you happy?
Or this?
Or how about this?
Well, it's true that I am a dog lover and so all of these pictures make me happy. Luckily though, I also love cats, so these push my buttons too:

Oops, sorry, excuse the French mum.

Anyhow, my happy news is that we are on the look out for two new babies to join our family - KITTENS I meant, kittens! Yay! I've compromised as Mr C refused a dog point blank (*sadface*) so he's compromised by agreeing that we will have two pets (he just doesn't know that yet).

This is great and happy news, but as always, there is a BUT. Sasha, our youngest with autism, has already decided what colour kitty she wants. Note that it's not 'would like', it's wants and will not have anything else. So we are now on the look out for one ginger kitty who could come with a sibling who is tabby or black and white or grey (anything except ginger is Tamsin's request). The ginger cat will, of course, be named Stampy. Have I told you about the girls' love of Minecraft and watching the wonderful Stampylongnose videos on YouTube? Did I also mention that Tamsin got into Stampy's Love Garden by making her own animation and uploading it to YouTube (it's since had 18,795 hits and let's not talk about the comments)? If you have no idea what I'm talking about, there's your own reason to be happy right there.

We could be waiting a while for our new feline friends I fear. Do please share and shout out if you know of any kitty-cats meeting the requirements!

This is a Blog Hop; hopefully you can smile at some of the other lovely posts included below:

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Saturday, 25 January 2014

Curtis Family: Center Parcs and Tots 100 January Challenge #CPFamilyBreaks

I have to tell you now, I am going to carry on writing about the fabulous Center Parcs every month until they agree (pretty please) to give us a little break. I've entered before to try and win (even wrote some poetry, unheard of for me, and I'm still quite proud of it), but then I've been gutted every time I've heard we haven't been lucky.
This image above is an artist's impression of how the new Woburn Forest village will look - it opens soon, and is near us, squeeeee!

If I had to choose anywhere to go on holiday, it would be any one of the amazing Center Parcs settings in the UK - yes, I'd choose that even over a holiday abroad where there is guaranteed sun. People who know me know how much value I place on a bit of sun. That pales into insignificance however, compared to going to a place where we know the children are safe, and where we know our young girl with autism is completely happy because it's familiar to her.

Tots 100 are kindly giving us this chance to win a break at Center Parcs with their January Bloggers Challenge.

Let me start by letting you into a secret. My perfect day at Center Parcs would have 60 hours in it. It's a fact that I'd like every day of the week to have 48 hours to it, in order to do everything I dream of, but there is SO much to do at Center Parcs that I'd definitely need the extra!

We'd start by waking up in the extra comfy beds at 9am and listening to nothing. Well, nothing apart from the wildlife outside. I'd put the kettle on for a morning cuppa and we'd all sit out on the patio, watching the birds and ducks and squirrels run up for our crumbs.

Next we'd head on off on our scooters to the Subtropical Swimming Paradise where we would splash and scream a good two hours away, enjoying the waves, the rapids, the sprudel and plunge pools and most excitingly the Tropical Cyclone ride. I've always wanted to try scuba diving and aqua jetting so I'd definitely fit that in too. We'd then stop for a quick snack (chips of course) in the pool bar before heading outside to the play areas on our way to the Lake for a spot of sailing followed by kayaking. The girls would spend a good hour collecting pebbles and playing on the beach before we then headed for a mid-morning break at the Pancake House.

Next we'd be off to get the girls' hair braided, then slow it down a bit with some relaxing pottery painting and a session at a Toy-making workshop (I used to be a Toy Buyer BC, have I told you before?!).Whilst we left the girls doing that, Mr C and I would fit in a quick Aqua Sana Spa session and come out refreshed, revitalised and raring to go.
We'd probably not want to stop for lunch so we'd grab a bite at the Sports Cafe whilst we had a go at one of our fave family activities, bowling. Next we'd run over to watch the girls on the indoor climbing wall, as they love it so much. Then it'd be back outside for some Adventure Golf before we all tried our hands at something new - archery and fencing are on my list for 2014, how about you?!

Tree-trekking would probably just about finish us off for the day, but what a fab way to end it!

For the evening we'd return to the Pancake House (I know, but you can never have too many pancakes) and enjoy an extra special Magic Show (Tamsin fancies herself as a Magician, along with probably nearly every other 8 year old there is...).

We'd finish the day off with all the other friendly guests watching an amazing firework show over the lake, and then scoot happily back to our extra comfy beds where we'd have sweet dreams and pray that we could do it all again the next day.
All that and I've not even mentioned Quad Bikes, Laser, Clay shooting, Paintball and Segways, or Badminton, Tennis and Roller Skating (and ice skating in winter time!).

I absolutely love the new Center Parcs TV adverts - I find the music so inspiring, and love seeing all the different activities. My Family, My Time is such a great strapline, as it envelops everything great about Center Parcs - it's such a perfect place to enjoy quality family time.

My favourite video is 'Three Families Go Away Together'. The name swung it for me, as that is how we have been enjoying Center Parcs for the past four years; with great friends. Joining in the Facebook competition brought back many happy memories too as we were able to make our own mini video complete with the special music (you may have to turn your sound up though!).

This is my entry to the Center Parcs and Tots 100 January challenge. If I'm chosen, I would like to visit Elveden Forest.                 
Please keep your fingers crossed everyone!!
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Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Great Ormond Street visit; High Functioning Autism or PDA?

Yesterday was a big day for us. We returned to Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) for some testing for our younger daughter. We've waited about seven months ago since our first visit, which came about after we asked for a referral to the National Centre for High Functioning Autism.
Sasha on the train, on her way to GOSH

Sasha, now 6, was first diagnosed with autism or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) when she was 2 and a half. That seems like such a long time ago already!

We have never disagreed with this diagnosis, as Sasha does have some autistic traits. However, we always felt there was something more, or something else which described Sasha, as lots of the standard descriptions of autism didn't seem to fit her, and the usual autism strategies brought varying degrees of success. Whilst Sasha liked to see a visual timetable when younger, she didn't like to be told she had to stick to that. She was happy to swap and change what was happening on a whim - as long as it was HER whim. 

Sasha is highly sociable, but refuses to participate in group activities frequently - which obviously makes schooling difficult. She is always very polite, but doesn't follow rules. She sees herself as a mini-teacher, not the same as her peers - but she is unaware of her differences. She has always hated the word 'no' if said by another (yes, it was her favourite word to use herself from a young age!) and so we have learnt to 'say no in a yes way'. She is not obsessive about any thing in particular, other than the need to be in control. It sounds like she is naughty, but in fact she 'can't help won't' - her refusal to do things is generally driven by fear of not being able to, or fear of getting it wrong, or a lack of understanding of what is being requested. She rarely says no just to be awkward (although she does have her moments, but maybe not as many as other children).

So yesterday we spent 3 hours at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Chris and I were 'interviewed' in one room while Sasha was taken off to another with a lovely lady to do some 'playing'. What that psychologist was actually trying to do was complete two sets of testing - cognitive testing to assess Sasha's abilities and ADOS testing which is an observation of social and communication behaviours.

Sasha came back to visit us after the first hour and I could instantly tell she wasn't happy. She agreed to return to the room with the female psychologist after a short break though and spent another two hours in there. Towards the end they returned to our room again, and the psychologist asked if I would sit in to try and get the last answers completed. By that point Sasha was extremely tired though, and in full-blown avoidance mode - head on table, saying she couldn't because she was too tired and her energy had gone, deliberately not listening etc.

It transpired that Sasha had only answered about half of the first test - so in 3 hours she had only agreed to do what most other children would finish in about 45 minutes. I think the psychologist was almost as exhausted as Sasha after trying to persuade her to co-operate! Now she knows how I feel.....

On a serious note, this is both good and bad. Good that they did get to see the 'real' Sasha and appreciate that we don't make up how difficult she can be (yep, I know she's gorgeous but she IS difficult!), but not so good that they couldn't actually finish the testing. Their plan now is to visit Sasha at school and see if she will complete the tests in a more informal setting; I've warned them not to hold their breath.

Proud mum moment worth telling you all about though - the one session of the test she did agree to complete fully was the non-verbal reasoning section. That's where they showed her pictures and would question around them to try and assess what she could understand or infer from them. Sasha scored much higher than her peer group generally would for this. Think we can safely say she is high-functioning then!

When we came across the description of PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance), which is a sub-type of ASD, it fitted Sasha exactly. The criteria for diagnosis are:

1. passive early history in first year
2. continues to resist and avoid ordinary demands of life, with strategies of avoidance being essentially socially manipulative
3. surface sociability, but apparent lack of social identity
4. lability of mood (described as Jekyll and Hyde), impulsive, led by need to control
5. comfortable in role play and pretend
6. language delay
7. obsessive behaviour
8. neurological involvement

For any other parents who might recognise this list of characteristics in their child, please do take a look at website for lots of useful information. Also look at The PDA Contact Group or feel free to contact me directly. Sasha could actually have high-functioning autism AND PDA...... Excuse the rough and ready scribble, but this is how I see PDA fitting in with the ASD diagnosis:
We were told at the beginning of our appointment with GOSH that they have moved to be in line with the new DSM-5 medical regulations which have come out (please excuse all the acronyms, but this is my life; I've had to get used to them! Click on the links if you'd like to understand more). 

In a nutshell, this means they now only give a diagnosis of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) rather than state which sub-category (such as Asperger's or HFA High Functioning Autism or PDA) the child falls under. This means we are unlikely to get a changed diagnosis for Sasha unless we decide to visit the ENC (Elizabeth Newson Centre) in Nottingham for a private referral. (For anyone interested professionally or otherwise, they are holding a PDA seminar on 19th/20th March 2014 - for information click here.)

However, I'm hopeful that the detailed reports produced by the experts at GOSH will still help back up what we as parents have known about Sasha for a long time. It's the sad truth that most professionals rely on the opinions of other professionals more than they listen to the words of a parent with daily experience of their own child. We have been extremely lucky to date with our school placement for Sasha, but as she is set to join a new school in September, this will mean training new people in the 'ways of Sasha'. It's going to be another busy year!

If you do have time for just one more click, I'd be so grateful if you could share this post in any way. More sharing means more understanding for Sasha and thousands of others like her. Thank you. 

Linking up with the wonderful Victoria for some PoCoLo (Post Comment Love)!
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Friday, 10 January 2014

Siblings {January}

Brilliant, I thought. There's a new linky going round, set up by ten beautiful people, which I'd really like to join in. It's all about siblings. The idea is to capture your siblings on the 10th day of every month this year (mental note: must add to calendar) and publish the photo(s).

Whoops, I thought, at 7pm this evening when I first saw the linky idea. Today is the 10th! So with a sense of foreboding in my heart, I thought I'd give it a go anyway, after our youngest got out of the bath.
Unsurprisingly, it wasn't the biggest of successes. The usual 16 photos in succession (well, I don't always stop at that number..) with requests to 'Please look at the camera', 'Please stay still for a second so you're not blurred', 'Please smile... naturally, no, not that forced grimace' were all met with total disregard. Hey ho, at least they're consistent.

If I'd have used my crystal ball I could have seen that this exercise would pretty much end in tears but it's all OK, they said sorry to each other (there was a misunderstanding over what constituted a dance pose, with Sasha insisting that was Superhero and Tamsin really should have plumped for something more like Irish Dance pose number two...) and are now sleeping soundly. 

Phew. Glad that's over for another month.
dear beautiful
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Tilly and Friends: App Review

Tilly and Friends is a fairly new CBeebies TV series which Sasha has only really seen in passing. The programme follows the adventures of Tilly and her five animal friends. It looks so sweet that I didn't want to pass up the opportunity of letting Sasha have a play with the brand new Tilly and Friends app which has come out.

Featuring characters created by leading children’s author Polly Dunbar, rich art and animation from the successful CBeebies TV series and the voice of Alex Kelly (who plays Tilly in the show), the Tilly and Friends app allows children to play along with Tilly, Pru, Tumpty, Doodle, Hector and Tiptoe in a fun series of 32 mini games. 
The wide range of games includes educational, creative, memory and action based activities, such as Find Tilly, Stop Tiptoe, Don’t Crash, Tumpty’s Box, Spell My Name, What’s Biggest, Simple Sums and many more. There are 3 difficulty levels which the player is encouraged through. It's aimed at preschoolers, and what I most liked about this app was the fact that there are no in-app purchases. There's also the lovely graphics and the very child-friendly encouragement screens.
The app currently costs £1.99 in the App Store and I think it's a great source of entertainment and education for young ones.

Disclaimer: we were sent a copy of this for the purposes of this review; all views here are our own.

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Thursday, 9 January 2014

Woolly and Tig App: Review

Sasha loves the CBeebies programme Woolly and Tig. So much so, that Tamsin's Christmas present to Sasha this year was the cuddly Woolly Toy, which Sasha was SO pleased to receive!

Just in case you have no idea what I'm talking about, Tig is a little girl, and Woolly is her friend - a very colourful spider. 
Just recently, a new app has been introduced with this loveable spider in. It aims to help children with some simple tasks as well as providing entertainment.
The app has some great features; the one that Sasha loved the most is the free play section, where you can stroke Woolly to sleep, or tickle or hug him. You can also make him tumble across the screen or do counting - a favourite for Sasha.
Then there are some structured mini games such as teeth brushing, face washing, or getting Woolly dressed up in the right clothes for either sun or snow.
Sasha also loved being able to build a snowman, and has revisited that bit several times!
There's a hidden parent mode where you can set a reminder for your child, as if Woolly is talking, to let them know when it's time to do simple everyday tasks like getting dressed or brushing teeth. We haven't really played with this, because, if I'm honest, I'm just not that organised. I also wondered if it might freak her out a little, or if she might believe that it was Woolly 'talking' too much, and I'm not a big fan of those kind of lies (I mean, Santa just about gets away with it....). However I think for some children younger than Sasha it could work wonders!

The app is £2.99 from the App Store and I think it's perfect for pre-schoolers who may need some gentle encouragement to do those 'boring' everyday tasks.

Disclaimer: we were given a copy of this for free, to trial and review for the makers. All views are our own.

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Wednesday, 1 January 2014

So This Is 2014. Scary stuff, huh?! Resolutions, or Goals?

I couldn't let today go by without a quick post and a photo. We have achieved a family photo on the first day of the year for 3 consecutive years now, and it's no mean feat, let me tell you! Here's today's photo:

I don't really 'DO' New Year Resolutions (or duvets... that's an old Trev and Simon joke, if you're not getting it you're obviously way too young, or too old, but I'd still like you to carry on reading please...).

However at the start of the year I do like to think about what we might be heading for, and what I or we could achieve. So I've put together a little list (except not on paper, because I have too many of those already and they always get lost, crumpled, or scribbled on by others).

My first goal is to spend less time cooped up in our study in front of the computer. I'm not always Facebooking though, which is what Mr C likes to believe. A lot of life these days revolves around the computer, including a million and one emails to arrange appointments, keep in touch with non-FB friends, get the odd bit of online shopping done etc. Plus the computer is of course good for storing, editing and sharing photos, and browsing t'internet for research and resources to help both girls. In order to achieve this task, I need to physically go shopping, so I can at least carry the computing bit on in the lounge whilst being a bit less anti-social. So that's tomorrow's job.

My next task will be to conquer social media. Well, that's a bit hopeful maybe, but I am going to do my best to streamline it - understand what I'm working with and what audience I'm reaching. Twitter is a great resource and Google+ needs my full attention so it may be time to edge back from the wonderful world of Facebook that is my safety blanket and devote some time elsewhere. I also need to avoid writing and then publishing so late at night, when no-one is around to read. Must remind myself of that schedule button. All of this is working towards my third wish for 2014.

I'd like to spread some more PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) awareness. I know most of my lovely current readers are with me on this and don't need reminding of how real a condition it is. Regardless of whether Sasha gets the definitive diagnosis this year, there are still others out there already with a PDA diagnosis. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a fair amount of children diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Diagnosis) who actually have this sub-type of autism, and it's important to know that there are different strategies which can be used very effectively. So I don't want to 'bang on' about it, but I do want to try and reach out to new readers and build that Minecraft mountain (you can tell what goes on a lot in our house with that analogy). I hope any regular readers might feel able to share a post or two with some new friends, via Facebook or Twitter or Google+ or any other media site you're a fan of! Or word of mouth or email also work well...... There's a great website with lots of info in at

On that topic, can I please point out that if you've come to this post via a Facebook share, or even a Twitter update, it would really help if you entered your email up at the top right of my blog to get posts sent to you that way (where it says 'Please enter your email to get my posts sent direct to you'). Sadly Facebook doesn't always work in the way we'd like it to. The powers that be want people to pay to promote posts and so they don't always enable everyday posts to reach everyone you hope they will. I promise not to write too often, and try and avoid the drivel, but I know you're all on the edge of your seats waiting for the oil tanker holidays post (coming soon) and I'd hate for you to miss that.....

For me, more views equals more awareness and greater understanding, which will of course help Sasha, and also Tamsin.

So that's my short and sweet list. Of course there's all the other stuff like losing weight (exercise more, eat less, I know, I know, it's not rocket science...) and being happy and maybe taking at least one bath (I'm not smelly, I do shower, but a soak in a tub sounds like a lovely thing to do, I've just forgotten how).

Now I'm off for my cheese, biscuits and port, so Cheers! to you all again and wishing you all a very Merry New Year.
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