Monday, 28 April 2014

Hotter Shoes Review and £20 Hotter voucher prize draw!

I was delighted recently to find myself invited to a small preview event in the local Hotter Shoes store. I'd seen the shop once or twice on my quick dashes into town, but I rarely have time to stop and shop for anything these days, so it was a pleasure to be able to join some other local bloggers and to be shown their new range of shoes.

Hotter are a UK company who still manufacture 80% of their shoes in the UK - surely unheard of these days that the manufacturing has not been shipped abroad wholescale for the cheaper labour costs? Don't be fooled into thinking that makes these shoes expensive though; I found them to be very good value for money considering the thought and materials which have gone into them.

Personally I hadn't heard of Hotter Shoes until they turned up in our town, but since posting pictures of the shoes, I've had plenty of comments from people my age who are big fans. The reason why? They are very well made, and extremely comfortable to wear. They use special technology in their soles so it feels as if you are walking on air bubbles. A couple of people have even admitted it feels like going out in your slippers!

It was explained that their business had been built on some classic styles, which are generally favoured by an older generation due to the comfort, but that they have now expanded and worked with designers to bring in a wider range suitable for all ages. They cover everything from sandals through to work shoes and sports shoes, and even some gorgeous wedges - but keep that all important #ComfortConcept for all of them.

I found a few styles to try on myself - my favourites were probably the ballet pump styles, which came in gorgeous aqua and pink colours, but there were lots of styles which I loved.

I eventually chose the Shake style (as below) in a lovely aqua, and did the school run in them the following day. SO comfortable, and I did get lovely compliments about them. Also couldn't resist doing the #shoesie - for those not in the know, that's a #selfie except it shows just your shoes!
Hotter #shoesie - possibly taken from too high up?!
Hotter Shoes also do gorgeous umbrellas, slippers and gloves, and their handbags are definitely worth a look if you're not after new shoes right now!

I'm pleased to be able to offer all my readers an introductory offer of 10% off plus free delivery when you order online from The code to use is PKCTEN (terms and conditions: 10% off plus FREE delivery is for first orders only. You are entitled to 10% off the total order value of any full priced items in the Hotter range (excluding shoe care products) plus FREE delivery. This offer cannot be used in conjunction with any other promotional offer or on Sale or Factory Clearance items and gift vouchers.)

For the chance to win a £20 voucher to spend in store at Hotter Shoes*, please enter via the Rafflecopter widget below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*Terms and Conditions: The prize draw is only open to UK residents and will end on 31st May 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 (£20 Hotter Discount voucher) will be selected at random.The winner of the prize draw will receive the prize stated. There is no cash alternative. Products purchased with Hotter gift vouchers may be exchanged, not refunded. Voucher will be posted direct to winner from Hotter.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. I reserve the right to cancel or modify the prize draw at any time (and for any reason) without notice.*

Disclosure: I received a pair of these shoes to take away and put to the test but all views on these products are my own honest opinions.
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Friday, 25 April 2014

Parenting outside of the 'norm' and challenging behaviour. #ThisIsAutism and PDA

Autism is everywhere, along with plenty of challenging behaviour. It’s all around us. It’s a ‘Spectrum’ – this means that it affects people to varying degrees. Some are called ‘mildly’ autistic, some are diagnosed with ‘high-functioning’ autism, or Asperger's Syndrome and others with ‘severe’ autism.
Rainbow (the Spectrum) as painted by Sasha aged 4
I knew pretty much nothing about autism before our younger daughter was diagnosed with it. I’d seen the film Rain Man, and the portrayal of one type of person with autism by Dustin Hoffman. At the time I probably thought that was what all autistic people are like. I say probably, as I didn’t actually give it much thought back then.

Roll on 20+ years and I don’t very often get chance to watch films these days. I’m not sure which recent films, if any, include stories of children or adults with autism. And yet, these individuals are all around us. After our daughter’s diagnosis, we discovered that a neighbour’s child also has a diagnosis, and one across the street, and one around the corner, and a few streets away... I spent a year working in a local charity (check out the amazing ADD-vance) which helps families with children diagnosed with ADHD and Autism, and I conversed with hundreds of families. It’s not a rare occurrence; 1 in 88 are said to have autism and recently in America this figure has now been adjusted to 1 in 68. My thoughts are that autism is being recognised/diagnosed and understood more, rather than that statistic meaning more people are now 'getting it' (of course, you all know that you can't catch autism, but that you are born with it, right?!). It seems, however, as though only those who are directly involved with autism have any real understanding of it.

The difficulty is that every person with autism is an individual. There is no ‘one size fits all’ with regards to strategies. I think the message to get out there is that it’s important to speak to anyone you meet and find out what matters to them, and how they like to be treated – surely this is the case for everyone, typically developing or otherwise? It saddens me that there seems to be so much ‘judging’ in the world; too many opinionated people who believe that their way is the only right way. Or who jump to the conclusion that it’s ‘bad parenting’ before they take a moment to consider the reasons behind the behaviour and what may have already been tried at home or in school with those children.

Sophie was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2 and a half. We believe she has a certain sub-type of autism called PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance). Some key symptoms of this are the strong need to be in control, and the high level of anxiety if doing something not of her own choosing. You can find a lot more information about this at Yes, this sounds like challenging behaviour, and yes, in some respects it is - but it's not the same as being intentionally 'naughty'. 

I do worry slightly about adding a new term (PDA) into the conversation and diluting any information already given around the word ‘autism’. However we also feel (having had 4 years of practice now) that the strategies given for PDA are the ones which work on a day-to-day basis for her, and that only some of the traditional autism strategies work for Sophie (things like visual timetables help for example, but are still open to changes being made by Sophie if she doesn't like what is on the plan!).

PDA is a relatively newly discovered sub-type of autism and so sadly it is currently extremely difficult to come across practitioners who truly understand it or even diagnose. The research is there though - do look at the wonderful NORSACA and its Elizabeth Newson Centre for more information. It saddens me to hear people trying to dismiss this as bad parenting, or even on occasion as Munchausen Syndrome

I started writing my blog Steph's Two Girls to try and explain to others around us how and why our girl’s behaviour was different. I’m grateful for having the experience of already bringing up another child who does respond to traditional reward and consequence type parenting methods, and who does soak up social rules like most of us, without having to be taught them directly. That is 'normal' parenting; more is to come in a future post about the use of this word, and language in the world of Special Needs generally. I can assure you that 'normal' parenting is a lot easier in most ways. 

Of course I do not believe I am the perfect parent, or that such a person exists. I may not always get it right, but I do teach right from wrong, and I'm proud to say that despite her difficulties, Sophie is growing up to be a polite and caring young girl. I am open to suggestions on parenting, but it's fair to say, I can't just 'make her' do most things; it simply doesn't work like that for her in the way it would for our eldest. We put a lot of effort into even getting out of the house for a simple trip to the playground on some days, but can maybe achieve a great family day out almost akin to that of a 'typical' family on others. The latter has taken a lot of practice and trial and error over the years though, and it's still like walking on eggshells constantly. I don't mind telling you it's exhausting.

For plenty of other families, the challenging behaviour which we experience is magnified at certain times. Sophie is at least constant all day - as in, she challenges the teachers almost as much as she does us! The upside of that is that people tend to believe our experiences, although it doesn't stop some from offering opinions on how to 'parent' better. 

Other families experience terrible violence from their children at the end of the school day as all the frustration at being crammed into a conformist system spills out. It's often described as being in a pressure cooker - the child sits simmering from 9 to 3, struggling with the anxiety of having to follow instructions from teachers, or trying to cope with all the sensory distractions which could be anything from flickering or buzzing lightbulbs to the other children's screeches. Once out of that environment, the child literally explodes (many recommend reading The Explosive Child by Ross Greene) and the families take the full force. It's so true, I think, that you generally hurt the ones you love. For many, being back in comfortable surroundings means they can really 'let it all out'. For Sophie, we see her de-stress when she first gets home by stripping down to her underwear, eating the same comfort late lunch every day, and spending some time watching video clips that she is familiar with. None of this hurts her, or us, it's just not what you would expect a 'typical' child to do.

We are lucky that Sophie is not violent - although I've often wondered if that is because we started using the correct strategies for her so early on. Others may say we are not being strict enough with her, or that we let her 'rule the roost' - but who's to say whose way is actually the correct one?! Supernanny is welcome to try but I'd not be hanging around to witness it. Every family manages as best they can with what they have, and as far as our home life goes we think we're doing an OK balancing act. I feel for those families though who are not shown or given all the resources which could help them manage their day-to-day lives in a happier way. That's why I believe strongly in trying to help spread the word about PDA and reaching out to other families who may be at their wits end.

So please, please, if you see a child 'misbehaving', consider the option that you are actually seeing a true meltdown, and don't judge. Maybe point them in the direction of this PDA information booklet. Offer help if you can, but not 'normal' parenting advice. It's probably been tried already.

If you've enjoyed or identified with anything in this post I’d love you to click through and follow me or say ‘Hello’ to Stephs Two Girls on FacebookPinterestG+ and Twitter, and click Subscribe to have posts delivered direct to your email inbox so you can see what happens next!

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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Magic Belles are fabulous!

Have you heard of the wonderful Magic Belles? If not, I urge you to check out their website right now! Aimed at young children, the website is a fantastic, magical place. There are stories, printables for colouring, recipes, facts, cute music videos and games to play, and your child can sign up to the Flutterbud club for some extras.

Sasha loves all of the Belles - there's Butterfly Belle, Star Belle, Flower Belle, Rainbow Belle, Love Belle and Cupcake Belle. Guess which one is my favourite?
We were so lucky to be chosen to receive a Magic Belles Special Make craft pack.
It contained some fabulous wooden bunting with a colourful rainbow ribbon to hang it from, some special decorating markers, hundreds of hearts, stars and butterflies, sequins and pompoms, and two gorgeous wooden rainbows. 

All perfect for Sasha who has always loved rainbows, and for Tamsin who loves nothing better than a bit of crafting! 

We spent a good couple of hours designing and making our colourful bunting, and the two girls worked beautifully together, heads down the whole time.
Our finished bunting took pride of place above our mantelpiece to keep us all cheerful! Thanks so much Magic Belles, we love you ;)

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Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Tots 100 and Center Parcs April Challenge: Easter Egg Nests!

When I saw this month's challenge from Center Parcs and Tots 100 to make an edible Easter Egg nest, I knew that ours would have to involve cake. Cereals don't figure much in this house generally but we all love to bake, so we were happy that we could get creative and have a Cake-nest fest!
Tots 100 CP April challenge

We were asked to take a look at the Center Parcs blog for some inspiration for our nests, and we liked all of their tips, but picked on the following one as an idea... 

Not a fan of chocolate? Twist multi-coloured liquorice laces together to create an edible nest, softening them in the microwave for 20 seconds to make them easier to mould. 

I did wonder who on earth is not a fan of chocolate.... anyhow we're not big fans of liquorice here so instead we found some blackcurrant laces which did the trick on our cupcakes! We'd also decided to use some mini mint chocolate sticks as we thought they looked like twigs (and the fact that they are yummy meant we HAD to buy two bags). Mini eggs were of course the finishing touch, joined by some fondant leaves and specially made chicks.

The girls helped of course; my little naked chef is brilliant at egg cracking and stirring.

We decided on one batch of vanilla and one batch of chocolate cupcakes, plus a mini cake with each recipe to make a slightly larger nest. Some cupcakes we mixed the vanilla and chocolate together, just to make a change!

The recipe was very simple, as always:

150g caster sugar
150g butter (we use unsalted)
3 medium eggs
150g self-raising flour
1 tsp vanilla extract

(for chocolate we used just 120g of self raising flour and added 30g of cocoa powder instead)
Spoon licking is obligatory and the best bit!
We baked the cupcakes for around 15 minutes and the larger cakes for an extra 10 minutes. It's always good to check when they're ready by putting a skewer through the middle - if it comes out clean, they're done! Then we piped or spread some buttercream on them, added the laces and other decorations and hey presto, some unique Easter Nests!

Tamsin's not in the pictures herself this time, but she loved making these chicks out of the ready rolled icing. I loved her creativity - the one with half a mini egg for a hat was her favourite:

This is my entry to the Center Parcs and Tots 100 April Challenge. If I'm chosen, I would like to visit Elveden Forest.

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Saturday, 19 April 2014

Interplay Wild Science Lip Balm Review

We received a Wild Science Lip Balm kit to review recently - perfect for our girlie 8 year old.
In the box was all the necessary equipment to make the lip balm and a good instruction sheet. Natural waxes and oils are included, along with colours, fragrances and flavours to make a variety of fruity and shimmery lip balms. There's also a very cute storage pot for the lip balm once made.
The instructions were very precise, but did involve some adult help (thanks patient Nana!) and the use of a microwave, so this is not a kit to leave the children alone with.

Tamsin wanted to try it out with a friend who had come to play, but to be honest it's more of a set for one individual. They managed the sharing and turn-taking very well though, so it did all work out OK! Here's some of the finished product:

There's some other great picks in this range of make-your-own science products, like bath bomb, rockets and perfume. Next on our list is definitely the Nail kit though!

At £12.99 suggested retail these are a great gift for tweenagers (suitable from age 8 up) and you can find more details here:

We were sent the above product for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own.
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Monday, 14 April 2014

The Andrex WASHLETS challenge Steph vs Chris

A little while ago, Mr C and I were given a little challenge/something to amuse us on a Friday eve. Well, I say 'us', but Mr C grumbled his way through it all and swore he'd never join in something so much fun again.

So here it is, our Andrex WASHLETS challenge (for more details see

Apparently, Andrex Washlets surveyed 2,000 British adults to analyse their conversation and found that nearly half of Brits (47%) shy away from having conversations about difficult subjects – more of us shy away from talking about bathroom habits than mental health and sex! The survey also found that women are generally much better at broaching difficult or embarrasing topics.

As you'll see if you click the following Tots 100 link Who's better at talking tricky topics?, Chris was overall Runner-up with 7 points - but I challenge that as I was the one who got the 7 correct answers!!

I'm still not sure what our clip proves - that Mr C is not so good at guessing, or that I am better at guessing, or that my words were more difficult?! ;) What do you think?! And how would you describe the word 'tense'?!
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Friday, 11 April 2014

Siblings {April}, #CountryKids and Linkys or Linkies?

Too many Linkys (or is it Linkies?!), too little time.

For my non-blogging readers, a linky is a post where the writer suggests a theme and invites others to write posts based on that theme. All posts are then 'linked up' in a wonderful technological way and shared so others can enjoy reading about them too.

In the great big Blog-o-sphere, there are literally hundreds of these Linkys now. Today I need to do one super-duper-lots-rolled-into-one Linky post. I'm very much hoping that is not frowned upon by the Community, and that no-one is affronted or feels left out... but I only have limited time, so I'm sorry but love it or leave it will have to be my motto for you today!

My post is all about the fab day out we had yesterday at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

My favourite Linky this year is the Siblings linky, which involves taking a photo of your siblings on the 10th of every month for a whole year, to document their relationship with each other. Here's my shot for April - the girls trying to stand taller than the #orbittower:
dear beautiful
I figured that despite being based pretty much in Inner City London, this post can fit into the wonderful #CountryKids linky, as the main thrust of that is to spend time outdoors with your children, and that we certainly did. Fresh air galore, with playgrounds and sandpits and views across all of London thrown in.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 
I think our day also sits under the Small Steps Amazing Achievements linky, as Sasha ordered and ate her very first shop bought '99'. Ice cream is a very recent achievement for a girl who no longer likes to try new foods - it may seem like a funny achievement to you but it brought a lot of happiness to me!

Ethans Escapades
Hence this post also fitting into Reasons To Be Cheerful (technically a Blog Hop rather than a Linky, but love them all the same) held over at Lakes Single Mum's blog and co-hosted by Ojo's World. I'm cheerful that Sasha tried something new, that I got to spend time with my lovely parents, that it was a pretty well-balanced family day out (with the sad omission of Mr C who had to be at work) and that the weather was just perfect for it.
Ojos World

Finally for now I'm also going to try and add this to the wonderful #PoCoLo linky this weekend, run by the fabulous Vic from VeViVos. I'd definitely appreciate a little comment love and will return the favour I promise!

Post Comment Love

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Saturday, 5 April 2014

Cra-Z-loom Bracelet Maker fun

Have you heard of Cra-Z-loom yet? If not, I'm sure you soon will. It's a craze which is sweeping the nation, apparently.
We received a set to review recently and I can confirm it has definitely swept along into this house, and looks set to stay. Proclaimed as 'the ultimate rubber band bracelet maker', the box contains the loom itself (a plastic strip with hooks on), a weaving hook, 600 rubber bands and 25 plastic 'S' clips (to join the bands and finish the bracelets). Also included is a full colour instruction booklet with plenty of ideas and easy instructions.

It's quite a simple idea - you stretch the elastic bands onto the plastic loom in whatever pattern you fancy, then hook them over or under until eventually they are all interlocking and the bracelet can be gently prised off.
Tamsin and her friend (aged 8 and 9) were initially slightly puzzled with the set, and needed some help to get going. They skim-read the instructions as they were keen to just get started, but soon realised they couldn't quite work it out. However, once they were helped with the instructions, they were well away and quickly produced two cute bracelets in colours of their choosing.
Since then, word has gone round the playground that there are great YouTube clips showing how to make different designs, and so Tamsin has branched out into some more complicated offerings for her friends. 
I think it's great that this has given her something to concentrate on and enjoy, and which also leads to pride in a finished product. I'd definitely receommend it as a gift for any girl over the age of 8. I've even heard that the boys quite like it too, even if some of them won't admit it in public!

At £14.99 this is definitely good value, and you can see where to buy here:

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We were sent the above product for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own.
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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

What is Autism, and what is PDA? Hoping for Autism and PDA Awareness, Understanding and Acceptance.

Today is World Autism Awareness Day and I thought now would be a good time to let you know what autism and Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) means for our family, and how life is for our 6 year old girl diagnosed with autism.
Today is also being classed as #OnesieWednesday by the National Autistic Society to highlight autism and spread awareness, so here's my pic of my two superheroes!

Having worked for a great local charity who support families living with autism and ADHD in our county (ADD-vance, in Herts, check them out as they offer so much help), I can tell you a lot about all the different ways which autism presents in children. I've met, and spoken with, a lot of parents (and adults) who are on this journey. Each child is unique, and yet they all share some features. They belong to a 'club', and this club is different to the group that typically developing children fall into.

Autism is a lifelong disability which affects the way people communicate and relate to others around them. It is a Spectrum - and by that we mean that each person has diffculties in different areas of life, to differing extents. For example, some are super-bright but are not actually verbal (see the wonderful Carly Fleischmann), whilst others are of average intelligence but don't understand social rules. Others struggle with an overload of sensory inputs, and some cannot break the rules or tell a lie. One person with autism could be all of these things, and more, whilst another may only have difficulty in one specific area.

The American Psychiatric Association recently decided that all types of autism should just be classed as  Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Previously a diagnosis would be given as either autistic disorder, Asperger's disorder or Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS, catchy, huh?!). I think we may see a move to call this Autistic Spectrum Condition in the future (ASC) as many believe that 'disorder' doesn't sound very nice. 

Previously, in this country, Great Ormond Street would give a diagnosis as follows:
Classic Autism (difficulties with learning)
Asperger's Syndrome (average or higher intelligence)
High Functioning Autism (HFA; late onset of language, IQ in or above 'normal' range)
Atypical Autism (similar to Classic Autism but no difficulties associated with special interests, sensory interests or flexibility)

You can probably tell that those individual diagnoses cover a wide range of people, and I can understand why people become confused about what autism is, or how you can help people with autism. I think the biggest factor linking them all is the lack of social understanding - a huge part of life which 'typically developing' children are not verbally taught, but which they somehow 'pick up' and become aware of. That still amazes me everyday, that the majority of people just 'get' why you shouldn't stand so close to someone, or call out whenever you feel like it.

We've never queried Sasha's diagnosis of autism. Saying that, I've not yet met another parent who has a child who sounds exactly like our youngest.

But I have found a closer description of her characteristics than the standard autism explanation. 

Our girl had a language delay, she obsessively resists demands, she appears sociable on the surface but lacks depth in her understanding, she has excessive mood swings, switching suddenly (often described as Jekyll and Hyde), and she is very comfortable with role play. All of these characteristics point to a lesser known sub-type of autism called PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance, another mouthful).You can read much more about this on the website.

It may seem like she is just not doing what she's told through choice, and it may appear as if I just didn't spend enough time teaching her right from wrong, but that's not the case. I'm grateful that we have a gorgeous older daughter who proves I was capable of 'good parenting'. The thing with our youngest, and with all PDA children, is that she 'can't help won't'. Demands completely overwhelm her and lead to further anxiety and an inability to pull herself back from that.

Our eldest daughter and I had a great discussion last night. We talked about stress, and how if we are rushing to get out of the house I still somehow manage to stay completely calm and happy with Sasha, acting as if we are not at all late and about to miss the start of school. That is not how I feel on the inside; I want to rush her along as much as I do our eldest. I've learnt though, that rushing or shouting not only achieves nothing, but it's very detrimental and culminates in total meltdown and inability to calm down for a long time. Tamsin came up with a great analogy; for typically developing children, their emotions are like the Jumping Jack ride at Paulton's Park. They take a long time to build up to that top level of high anxiety/upset, but once up there they can quickly blow over and then drop back down to the acceptable level again. With Sophie, it's more like the Ice Blast ride at Blackpool Pleasure Beach (used to be called the PlayStation back in my day!), where her emotions go from 0-10 in superfast time, and once up there it's a long process to calm her back down to the ground. 

Not being in control is likely to send Sasha's emotions sky-rocketing, as is insisting she carries out demands/follows instructions. This doesn't mean that we let her 'get away with' anything, or that we haven't taught her right from wrong. Funnily enough, our youngest is rarely intentionally naughty - if she does something wrong, it's often not with the intent of being naughty, but more likely because she's forgotten what she shouldn't do (scribbling on the floor is a great example of this - how many 6 year olds would do this and not realise the consequences? Toddlers of two, three or four, maybe....).

This why we spend much of our lives feeling as if we are walking on eggshells. It's exhausting, and yet we are the lucky ones. There are over 1,400 members of the PDA Facebook group (#PDAarmy!) who share how this condition affects their lives every day, and it can make for emotional reading. This is real life, this is how autism is for them. We can relate to that too. Our girl is generally fun, curious and happy as long as she is not being forced to do something not of her own choosing, and she melts down/withdraws (noisily!) rather than turning to violence. We are lucky to have her in our lives.

There is more info on PDA on the National Autistic Society's webpage.

Please share my post so that others may understand more. Even if just one more person is enlightened or understands a little more how different autism can be, that could help our girl's path in life to be a little easier. Education is key; why shouldn't Autism be part of the Curriuclum I wonder?

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