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Monday, 29 February 2016

Mega Marshmallows - Review

When I heard there were new 'Mega Marshmallows' around, I knew exactly who would be best placed to test them out... a bunch of Guides, of course. There can be nothing better than toasting marshmallows round the campfire... apart from toasting MEGA marshmallows!



Luckily, Tamsin already had a trip away with her Guide pack planned for half term. She wasn't going far, only around 20 minutes drive away, and it was only for 3 nights, but I knew we'd miss her terribly. And her us - so I wondered if the marshmallows might soften the blow and help her make some new friends quickly.


The Guides assured me that they are 'extra tasty, extra fluffy and extra large' as per the marketing materials. Not that the Guides should be worried about it, but just in case I get my hands on any more in the future (why on earth didn't I hold a couple back, I wonder?!) I am delighted to know that they are only 84KCal per serving and 0% fat. The perfect treat!


I'm actually looking forward to when I have an excuse to do some more baking as I'd like to try some marshmallow toppings for a change... and with an edible pen these Mega Marshmallows can be turned into some interesting characters!

Here's the melting snowmen I made last year (but with a slightly smaller, inferior version....) and there's some more ideas of ways to decorate on the Innovative Bites Facebook page...



Available now from various stockists, including Tesco, Sainsburys and PoundWorld.


Disclosure: We were sent the above products for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own.

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Friday, 26 February 2016

House Renovation 2016 - Part 3

This week's update is probably only partially more exciting than watching paint dry... but for us it's a record of the start of a long period of work, so it is important.



I loved the fact that the girls came over and helped a bit this time. Sasha really likes the wallpaper stripping - I think she finds it quite therapeutic, like I do. Tamsin's more keen on just enjoying the space in our new house to dance around in... but that's fine by me too.



At the end of this video I think I sound pretty shattered - proof that I did put some hard work in, even if it doesn't seem very much in the grand scheme of things! We're back again to do more work this weekend (and every weekend for the next 9 months I reckon) so I think I'll do a bit more playing around with the timelapse video thing. I'm actually quite pleased I'm gaining video editing skills as we go along too - hopefully you'll start to see some improvements there.

Pretty soon I'll try and share with you some ideas of what our plans for this place are. There's a whole story in that though, it may not be a short video....!

For the other posts in this series, click on the links below:

House Renovation Part 1

House Renovation Part 2

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Wednesday, 24 February 2016

New Pathological Demand Avoidance info website launched

Just flying in today to tell you about a new website which has been set up for anyone looking for more information on PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance).

It's called PDA Guidance and you can find it at pdaguidance.wordpress.com.


It's the sort of information website I'd have liked to create but as you know, I never have enough time... not sure where the amazing Jane, author of My Daughter is Not Naughty, finds the time but she's somehow managed!

There are lots of great resources on here, covering everything from diagnosis through to education - both at school and at home. There's detail on experiences with siblings, sleep, transitions, anxiety and lots more, plus explanations of the differences between PDA and ODD or PDA and classic ASC presentations.

For more strategies and resources, you can also visit the PDA Society website.
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Monday, 22 February 2016

The Girl at the End of the Road - Book Review

There's a new book about to be published, called The Girl at the End of the Road, by K A Hitchins.


I'm going to admit that I've previously considered joining a book club, but only so that I could go and drink wine with some friends. I used to enjoy reading but somewhere along the way, as the mountain of books on my bedside table about Autism grew, I switched to spending more time in front of a computer screen (this darn blog has a lot to answer for...).

There's not been many books that have piqued my interest enough to make me pick them up, and there's several where I've only got past the first couple of chapters before giving up.

So when I was given a copy of The Girl at the End of the Road to review, I knew it would have to be good for my blog readers to ever see my thoughts on it. So here we are.

It wasn't just good, it was brilliant! A real page turner; I had finished reading it in only two nights, which must be a record for me.

The story is told through the eyes of Vincent, a financial salesman who finds himself out of a job and no longer able to afford his luxury life in London. He has to return home to live with his parents whilst looking for new work, and once there he is reminded of his younger years and friends from that time. Vincent gradually begins to enjoy the slower pace of life; walking the dog, helping his parents, and looking after his grandmother. In the library one day, he bumps into a girl who was in his class when they were at school, and he is intrigued by her unusual outlook on life. When he offers to give Sarah driving lessons, a friendship of sorts is rekindled and his values from his fast-track life are seriously questioned.

The language in the book is so descriptive and just draws you in; at the end of each chapter you want to immediately dive into the next. The characters are very likeable and the life situations very imaginable, covering everything from young relationships to old age issues and health. Vincent is forced to take a good look at himself and some might say he ends up a better person for it; Sarah remains the same unique person with the same idiosyncracies throughout. Autism is in this book but is very delicately approached and makes for an interesting read whether you have experience of it or not.

I wholeheartedly recommend The Girl at the End of the Road, out now. You can buy it at Amazon.


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Saturday, 20 February 2016

House Renovation 2016 - Part 2

Hot on the heels of my last post, House Renovation Part 1, comes an update, and the tour of the house we will be renovating. You could say I'm not known for being particularly patient; that's something I'm going to have to try and work on over the next year...

Here's a couple of pics of the house when we first got the keys, back in December:





It was a comment on my first post which made me realise that it would help if I filled you in on where we are in this process now - which is, in a nutshell, not actually living in that house we own. Yet.

Hopefully this next video explains everything a little more for you but do leave me a comment somewhere if you have any more questions!




Home Etc
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Friday, 19 February 2016

House Renovation 2016 - Part 1

If you didn't know me very well, you'd be forgiven for thinking that I have time on my hands, and that I spend my life wondering what to fill it with.

Ahem. I don't. Can't remember the last time I sat down to watch anything on television for longer than 5 minutes, there's always something to be done. So go ahead and call me crazy for thinking up this wonderful idea last night... a new vlogging series about our house renovation!


I'm just too excited about this idea to not do it, especially when I consider all of you, knowing that at least half of you must be as nosey as I am. We bought a house recently that needs a fair amount of work (and the rest) doing to it, and so I thought it would be extra kind to share that excitement with you.

It'll be part-blog, part-vlog, and I'd really appreciate any feedback you have along the way - there will be many questions of choice further down the line, possibly in a panic at a later date.

So here's the first part to kick this project off; please do subscribe to my YouTube channel www.youtube.com/c/stephcurtis for further updates if you're interested (or maybe even if you're not, as you never know what else I may put up there)....



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Thursday, 18 February 2016

Siblings ~ February 2016

Time flies when you're having fun... or even when times are a bit tougher, apparently. I can hardly believe we're over half way through February already... not long now until we find out what secondary school our eldest has been allocated, yikes.

We couldn't take our siblings pic on exactly the right day this month as Tamsin went away on a Guide camp for part of half term. So we chose today instead as there was nothing else planned, and as usual I've ended up with a million (only a slight exaggeration) different photos which all make me smile, but you probably had to be there to get the jokes.

It's so hard to pick a favourite. It could be either of these snaps where the girls fancied a spot of photobombing....



or else this perfect model pose one....


Or the one of them racing each other up and down the garden....


Or the out-of-focus one  (why oh why do the ones which would have been the best always end up blurry?!) of them hugging in our new garden...


Take your pick. I'm going to sneak in this final one as I know it's not strictly only siblings, but it will remind me of the fun time we had wallpaper stripping in our new (old) house today.


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Steph's Two Girls modelling dresses by Joules (Review)

Quality clothing brand Joules recently approached us to ask if we'd like to review two dresses for the girls from their new Spring collection, and I thought it'd be a great idea. The girls thought that a spot of modelling at home could be fun, and indeed it was.

See, modelling can be fun!
Due to sensory issues, Sasha very rarely wears anything other than short-sleeved soft jersey dresses. I've always been amazed that she's agreed to wear school uniform in winter (summer dresses come back out around the beginning of March and last until November for us) but she shrugs the uniform quickly off every day, the second she walks back in the door after school. She has a very high body temperature, so long sleeves are a no-no, and she is aware of every stitch and seam so embellishments, or lace, or embroidery etc are generally forbidden. As she grows so quickly, and lots of dresses shrink too much in the wash (grrr), I feel like I'm forever on the hunt for the next size dresses across all the street shops and supermarkets. There are so many I have to discount due to fancy bits and textured fabric etc that it can get quite disheartening.

So we took a look at the new Spring dresses by Joules and were pleased to see short sleeved jersey dresses in the mix. We chose the Lara dresses in a blue stripe and multi colour stripe. I knew even before they arrived that they'd be great quality, and they were - I think you can tell that from this close up:


The dresses are 100% cotton, and a lovely heavy weight which means they hang well, and will also wash and wear well. You may have spotted that there is indeed a pretty petal embellishment, but these are stitched in very carefully with soft thread and don't cause any itching on the inside, so they're a winner in our book. They have capped sleeves and a cute little hare embroidered at the bottom of the skirt (it's chest areas which are mostly a problem as they touch the skin).

Sizing is always tricky online, I find, but most places these days will exchange without much fuss. My girls are aged 10 and 8, but both are tall and Sasha has been wearing clothing for ages two sizes above her for some time. So we chose age 9-10, wondering if they might be too small, but found them to be a pretty good fit - maybe even slightly on the large size, which means they will last longer, hooray!

Tamsin isn't really a fan of dresses any more; she also frequently struggles with clothes not feeling 'right' and prefers to live in T-shirts and leggings now. I do miss the girlie days when they both used to wear a nice frock (any excuse to include an old photo):


Both girls loved their Joules dresses and I know I'll be checking the site again myself in the future for any more new releases.

You do know that I can never take just one photo though, right? So here's a handful more which hopefully show just how much fun we had today....

Steph's Two Girls model Joules dresses... with style!

Disclosure: We were sent the above dresses for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the pictures and opinions expressed here are our own. 

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Monday, 15 February 2016

Flora can help your child be #PoweredByPlants!

#PoweredByPlants is the new marketing hashtag for Flora. I'll admit to sighing inwardly myself at hashtags, being old enough to remember growing up with good old print and TV advertising and not a hashtag to be seen.... but I will concede that they are actually quite a clever invention.


Mumsnet invited me along to a breakfast meeting at The Grain Store in London, in order to learn a little more about Flora and the thoughts behind their new marketing campaign. We enjoyed a healthy breakfast before settling down to watch the new Dinosaur advert. The idea is to grab children's attention (the dinosaur is cute, and funny) so parents can start the conversation with their children about how tasty and good for you plants are (as in, dinosaurs lived on plants and grew up to be the biggest and strongest animals around).


The whole #PoweredByPlants strapline can help teach our children where food originates from, and that eating plant based products is actually better for our planet overall. Did you know that there are over 20,000 edible plant species, and yet the average person only eats 20? We all tend to rely on convenience foods these days, and they are often animal based foods. We heard from a local farmer who spoke passionately about how important it is that we value our land and understand how to maintain it. We also learnt that both the world's strongest and oldest men were vegetarians, so it's a myth that meat makes you grow up stronger.


After the talk we were given a demonstration of how easy it is to make spread yourself. I enjoyed having a go at making my own (plenty of garlic in mine), and it was very tasty! Now, if I'm ever bored with the girls at home (chance would be a fine thing) I can teach them how to do it too.


Did you know that Flora is lower in saturated fats than butter, and provides a source of healthy Omega 3 and 6? It's actually made up of simple ingredients, and you can make your own spread at home by following the recipe below:


Great news for vegans and those with dairy allergies - Flora have just released their first dairy free spread called Flora Freedom. It's available right now in Sainsburys and will be rolled out soon to most supermarkets.


The packaging for Original and Light Flora has changed slightly as below but they keep the same great taste:




I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network Research Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity. I have a received a voucher as payment for this post.
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Sunday, 7 February 2016

Pet loss, Depression and Mental health issues

It's been a tough week, and it culminated yesterday in a day where I began to feel the beginnings of real depression.

The family upset from death of a much loved pet, late bedtimes and broken sleep at nights following that, neighbours putting in an objection to our new extension, dance class funding pulled, secondary school allocation thoughts, an unexpected school meeting and a very-near school refusal on Friday, the day I was to start my new job, all contributed to the stress and unhappiness levels rising and the mood sliding to somewhere below where it has ever been before.

Today the sun has come out and with it a little bit of worry has lifted; enough for me to see my way through the fug again. But it's left me thinking of all those other people who will be having difficulties, today and next week, and wishing I could help.

I was feeling depressed, and it's the closest I've been to not being able to drag myself out of it, but I wasn't actually depressed. Many people see their GPs and request medication to help them function every day. In the world of 'Special Needs', I have come across many mums (and probably dads) who are struggling to get through every day thanks to the additional challenges they face. It's not just in the Special Needs world though; there are many reasons others have challenges which they feel unable to face too. It's nothing to feel bad about, and there is some comfort and safety in numbers, and knowing others are in that place too.

One thing we can do, is to talk about it. Mental health is such a wide and varied topic, but if any forms of it can be discussed out loud, more can be understood. Mind.org.uk is a great charity with lots of information and resources, and their website is a good place to start. There's advice and support on everything from anxiety and panic attacks, depression, seasonal affective disorder and schizophrenia to sleep and self-esteem issues and it's well worth a look. Another charity I hadn't heard of is SANE, and they also have a great website. It's good to reach out to real people though

It could be that the quiet mum at school has a lot on her plate and doesn't know where to start; maybe she is feeling lonely and as if she has no friends. Either way, a coffee and a chat may be all she needs - sometimes even a smile is enough. I'm fine, this post isn't to get people talking to me, I just hope that we can all be a little more tolerant of, and helpful to, others around us.


I'm dedicating this post to our beloved Stampy; our adventurous ginger cat, gone too soon.




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Monday, 1 February 2016

Disney inspires our Healthily Ever After moments with Frozen and Inside Out

Disney has played a huge part in our life as a family ever since our eldest was born and she first grabbed Pooh Bear. So when we heard that Disney were launching a campaign to help inspire families to be healthy and active, with the hashtag #HealthilyEverAfter, we were very keen to be a part of that.

The campaign features this video below and Disney hope that you might watch with your children to kick-start a conversation around healthy living:


There are lots more activities and ideas on the Disney Healthy Living website, such as workouts with their favourite characters, and crazy fun food ideas to inspire the children to eat more vegetables.

Our first personal challenge was to write about times when we have been inspired by Disney to play together.

Inside Out was such a huge hit for our family - it's the only film that Sasha has been able to sit and watch the whole way through. More than that, she knew about the film before it was released (thanks to YouTube!) and it grabbed her imagination even before we went to see it at the cinema. It helped us look at emotions from a different point of view; something that can be difficult for children with autism to grasp. We have, of course, managed to collect several items of merchandise, from soft toys to talking dolls to playsets, and all of them fire the imagination on a regular basis. This time though, Tamsin was keen to create a little movie with a story based around getting outside.


Sadly when it was time to film the video, Sasha decided she'd rather not be behind the camera. No matter; we weren't trying to create a film star, we were just aiming to come together as a family for some play, and it definitely worked. The girls had so much fun coming up with ideas for this, and then enjoyed a good bounce together outside in the (chilly) sun!

We were also asked to think about how our children inspire us to get active. Thanks to Sasha's love of water, we swim regularly together as a family but I decided that it would be too easy to write about that and link it to Finding Nemo (one of my favourite Disney films). So instead, I thought I'd share two instances which the film Frozen could have inspired, involving skating and snow.... 

Disney's film Frozen is all about two sisters, one of whom is a little bit different, and the other who battles through adversity to keep them together. It's a very sweet message which is particularly poignant for our family I think. The girls have unwittingly identified themselves with the relevant character and the Happy Ever After ending always gives hope. 

Just after Christmas, we decided to get a little active in the cold like Anna and Elsa by going skating together as a family. We loved it so much that we went back two days later with friends! A few days later the girls were so excited at the first snowfall of the year, and it inspired us to all spend time outside. Not quite enough snow for a decent Olaf, but we did play a little snow cricket. 


So now we'd like to know how you inspire your family to be healthier and more active? It would be great if you can let Disney know on @Disney_UK using the tag #HealthilyEverAfter.



This post is part of Disney's #HealthilyEver After campaign with BritMums, sponsored by Disney. Share your stories and be inspired at DisneyHealthyLiving.co.uk and live Healthily Ever After (#HealthilyEverAfter).
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