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

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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 Sasha 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

Sasha 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 Sasha 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 Sasha. Luckily I was there and able to help find it and calm her down.

For Sasha'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 Sasha 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 Sasha 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 Sasha 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 Sasha) to sit nearer the stage this time, and lucky Daddy had an aisle seat. Each time Sasha 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.

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

Not My Year Off

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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 ( 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!

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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!
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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 Sasha 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 Tamsin as our “normal” (shown 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? My view is that it doesn’t mean the opposite of abnormal. Normal to me 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 absolutely isn't right to say that our youngest Sasha is ‘not normal’, but it is true that she is different from the majority. 

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 main 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's wrong either way, and we should call people out if they use it.

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 much better than my clumsy 'normal'. 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, 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 Sasha HAS autism, or do I say Sasha 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 Sasha 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 Sasha 'has' autism almost makes it sound like she has something bad. It might sound as if she 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 say that Sasha is 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, Sasha is classed as disabled. 

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 Sasha 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?

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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.

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.
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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!

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.
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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! 

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