Saturday, 30 July 2016

Sea Life London Aquarium (Review)

This week, the girls and I visited London to see the amazing Sea Life London Aquarium.

Going on the London Eye would have been a step too far for Sasha!

Steph's Two Girls outside the Sea Life London Aquarium

The London Aquarium is an amazing place. We had a booking time of 11am but were able to enter slightly earlier; there was virtually no queue which is definitely a bonus for us (and can be the make or break start to our day). Just after you enter, you get to walk on a glass floor and see the fish swimming below your feet! Then you go down a floor or two (no need to wait for the lift unless you have a buggy) and begin your wander through the colorful displays. You can take your time - we found it wasn't overly busy even though it was a drizzly day, and the whole experience lasted around an hour for us. That's with Sasha whizzing through though, I'd say to allow a couple of hours to make the most of it.

Huge variety of fish in the London Aquarium

There are a few huge tanks which host whole shoals of fish along with some giant turtles, and many smaller tanks with everything from jellyfish to Nemo and Dory. There's also an exciting part where you walk through a tunnel and the fish swim above your head. There's a whole area dedicated to penguins, and you can get up close and personal-ish...

Stephs Two Girls in the penguin enclosure
In the Penguin enclosure...

Sasha and I both got to stroke a Starfish - did you know they feel quite soft and fluffy?! We were all so impressed with the variety of fish on offer, and the information boards and displays which gave both fun and serious facts about marine life:

Info boards at Sea Life London
Plenty of learning opportunities

Sasha's favourite was probably the sea worm which made us all giggle:

Sea Horse at London Aquarium

If you are seriously considering visiting then look away now.... the experience I enjoyed the most was the surprise right at the end of our trip, when we got to meet polar bears and a killer whale!

The Sea Life London Aquarium is a fantastic place to visit, and is situated in a great area of London where there are many other sights to see - Big Ben and the London Eye were the girls' favourites, but of course Westminster, the Thames and the Southbank are all huge attractions too. Love London!

Steph and her Two Girls in front of Big Ben :)

Disclosure: we were gifted free entrance in exchange for a review, but all opinions and views of this attraction are our own. We wholeheartedly recommend this as a great day out for any family!
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Monday, 25 July 2016

Gravity Force: new park opening!

My girls were so excited when they heard that Gravity Force were going to be opening a new trampoline park in our area. To be fair, so was I - it's one activity guaranteed to be a success trip out for us, and the bonus of not having to drive too far for it now is much appreciated.

I was also particularly interested to hear of their weekly Adapative sessions, which will allow those with disabilities and additional needs to enjoy the park to its full extent. Noise and crowds, and having to wait in queues are all issues which can cause Sasha to want to leave a place early - and when she wants to go, we pretty much all have to go!

Gravity Force has a main area with wall-to-wall trampolines (literally - they go up the wall as well as all along the floor!) and the idea is that you can bounce all over and off the sides. Then there are basketball tracks and dodgeball courts, a foam pit to tumble into, and long tracks which look like great fun for the littlies:

'Gravity Jump' is the core session which gives access to all the facilities, but there are then some special sessions on offer. 'Gravity Tots' is a class suitable for toddlers up to 5 years old, accompanied by a parent/carer, and you will be able to book for kids' parties. This place is not just for children though; there will also be fitness classes for adults on offer, 'Gravity Fit' which sounds like just what I need - a high intensity, low impact structured fitness class that burns fat whilst building, toning and defining muscle.

The new St.Albans Gravity Force Trampoline park is opening on the 17th August and there is an amazing offer on now for 25% off selected bookings for St.Albans made before 16th August. To pre-book and receive your 25% off promotional code please visit or call 0845 498 9049.
Gravity Force St Albans

We have teamed up with Gravity Force to offer you the chance to win FOUR free jump sessions at the brand new St.Albans trampoline park.*
Simply complete the options in the Rafflecopter box below to be entered into a random prize draw:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*Entrants must be aged 18 or over at the time of entry and the competition closes at 00:00 on 15th August. The prize is 4 free Gravity Jump sessions. The winner will be chosen at random from valid entries. The prize will be sent to the winner in the form of a voucher containing a code that can be redeemed by emailing, phoning 0845 4989049 or in person at the park. It will not be possible to redeem the voucher using the online booking system. The free sessions will be valid for 1 year at any Gravity Force venue (visit for available venues). The free sessions can be redeemed together or individually and can be used by anyone.

Disclosure: Gravity Force have given us some free sessions for the girls in exchange for advertising their pre-booking opening offers.

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Monday, 18 July 2016

Hospital and health update

Over the past couple of weeks, several people have asked how Sasha is doing and it keeps reminding me that I haven't written the final update in our hospital saga; I left you some time ago with Hospital Stay Part 2.

So much has been happening since then (including finding us somewhere new to live, but that's a whole other story...) and now we are in the final furlong of the summer term, with even more events than usual as for us it's a Year 6 Leavers' special (for our eldest girl). So I'm not sure I have the time to do this post justice, but with a short camping trip looming and then plenty of house packing to do, I know that if I don't write it now I'll never write it.

A brief summary of parts 1 and 2 is that Sasha ended up in our local hospital after a 4 week spell of not being herself.  It all started with a cough, but progressed over the weeks to an ear infection and a puffy face, plus some vomiting, which led me to take her to an out of hours doctor who sent us on to A and E at 10pm on a Saturday evening.

We stayed on the children's ward there until Thursday as they did lots of tests to try and establish what the matter was. Pneumonia was their first thought, as the chest x-ray done in A and E (around midnight!) had shown a mass on the lung, but this was discounted after a day or two as Sasha didn't actually seem that poorly (as in, her temperature and blood pressure readings were fairly constant throughout). Sasha was hooked up to a drip for antiobiotics as well as having some orally, she had a couple of x-rays, blood tests, constant monitoring, needed oxygen, had an ultrasound on her chest and finally a CT scan. 

When I re-read that last sentence, it brings back the enormity of what an ordeal that must have been for our girl. Non-stop intervention when all she wanted was to be at home.

Sasha the day after arriving at the Brompton, when big Sis was allowed to visit - there'd been a whole day where they hadn't seen each other and Sasha cheered up visibly when Tamsin came back. Never underestimate the power of siblings!
So anyhow the heart ultrasound showed four leaky valves and it was that, alongside the baffling results not giving a clear diagnosis, which led to our transfer to the Royal Brompton specialist hospital in central London. We arrived there at tea time and were relieved to be shown to a side room which played a key part in helping Sasha's anxiety levels to fall again eventually. Within half an hour of arriving though, Sasha was lying down having both an ECG (Electrocardiogram) and Echocardiogram (ultrasound) of her heart. The worst parts of all that was Sasha being bored with having to lie still for around 20 minutes, followed by us trying to remove the sticky pads which hold wires on in around ten vital places. Imagine trying to get a plaster off but much worse! 

It helped to make things into a game for Sasha - so lucky old Mum got covered in the stickiest plasters known to man too...
The picture below, but without the smile, and with an ultrasound being done at the same time, gives an idea of what happened to her:

Random bloke having an ECG
As we knew we were in safe hands, with heart experts at the Brompton, we were very relieved when we realised the doctors weren't overly concerned about her heart. One moderately leaky valve, but three minor leaky valves, is apparently not all that bad, thankfully. It's funny how we think our hearts control everything, but there's actually so much else going on in our bodies that is just as important. Attention was then turned to the kidneys, as Sasha's urine began to turn worryingly pink. 

More X-rays and blood tests were carried out over the next couple of days - when one attempt at taking blood failed (we've been told Sasha has very thin veins, not so helpful) the nurse had to resort to squeezing blood out via a fingerprick and boy was that not fun for Sasha. All her toilet trips had to be monitored so they knew how much fluid was entering and leaving her body, to give an indication of how the kidneys were working. Probably the scariest time for me was having to watch Sasha be given extra oxygen via a mask at night times - the beep of a monitor alerting you to levels that are too low is very unnerving. Luckily the mask was just placed next to her face, not strapped on, as that would have been much more stressful for her.

Sasha at night time, with the oxygen mask
In all of this, I was acutely aware that there were really sick children all around us. Sasha probably didn't seem that poorly to others, with the puffiness being the only visible sign. As long as she had her ipad and wifi connection, she was distracted and kept quiet. Many doctors and nurses entered the room regularly to do tests and ask how she was, but knowing how anxious that was making her, I tried to field all questions and let only the most important tests be administered (by the way, it's pretty difficult for a non-medical person to work out what is necessary). There was a lovely play specialist at the Brompton who totally understood and made this sign for us:

The invaluable 'No Entry' sign which helped keep Sasha's anxiety levels down
This made a huge difference to us, and I'd advise any parents of autistic children to ask for similar, or for a reminder to be placed on the notes, so that unnecessary stress is avoided. Sasha's anxiety levels were obvious to me the whole time - one morning, when I had to nip to the bathroom myself, I asked the nurse stationed just outside the room to not let anyone in to ask Sasha questions. It was only when I got back to find Sasha in tears, with the nurse and another adult in the room, that I realised I had been too specific - I was thinking doctors, but hadn't reckoned on the cleaning staff who just walk in to clean the rooms. Sasha didn't realise that was what they were doing, and she was scared to have her space invaded by a stranger.

After three days at the Brompton, we had hoped to be going home, but with no diagnosis still the specialist heart doctors decided it was best to transfer us back to our local hospital. We then endured a very hair-raising ambulance (well more of a taxi, shared with another patient, so me, Sasha and a nurse squashed sitting in the back seat, with Sasha's oxygen monitor still attached) ride back through London. I almost wish I had the time or the energy to make a complaint about it. Back in the local hospital we were well looked after though and fortunately Sasha's spirits were kept high with constant wifi access (see my review of TEP). A minor blip then came in the form of a fire alarm going off for over 45 minutes on the children's ward one evening - which if you know about Sasha's fear of fire AND bells was not a good combination. Luckily it was 'just' smoke from the microwave in the parents' room (not me, your honour) so we didn't have to fully evacuate.

Two days later and a diagnosis was finally given - Post Streptococcal Glomerulonephritis. Basically a strep virus which had attacked the kidneys, leading to the further complications with lungs and heart. By then Sasha seemed much better, and we turned to the wonders of Snapchat to amuse her as we waited to be discharged:

Snapchat fun!
One last incident I can't resist recounting was the appearance of a pigeon who obviously wanted to check out the facilities for itself. It managed to fly in through this small gap in the outer window and luckily with some quick thinking we avoided it being let loose in the room by sliding the inner window shut pretty sharpish.

I'm still wondering how on earth the pigeon got in through this gap!

Phew, bet you're glad that whole hospital tale is over now. I certainly am. 

Two main thoughts have stayed with me; firstly that it must be unbelievably hard for those parents who find themselves stuck in hospital with very poorly children and no extra support. So please do consider donating to your local children's ward so that good facilities and distractions for the children can be provided. You can do that for the ward I was on here: Carer's Support Team, Starfish Children's Ward.

Thank you so much to all the amazing staff who came into contact with Sasha over this period (there were a lot!) and especially to the Carer's Support Team and one young nurse who told me she thought I was an amazing mum. Little things like that can boost confidence a lot.

Secondly, social media was an absolute godsend to me whilst I was stuck in hospital with Sasha for ten days. I didn't google the symptoms much.... but it was nice to have an inkling about what the doctors were talking about. Facebook enabled me to send updates out to hundreds of people in one go about how Sasha was, which was much easier than repeating a message over and over again. Thank you so much to everybody who sent messages or emails, or who 'liked' my posts. Knowing people care can make such a big difference to how anyone is feeling.

Since we've been back home, Sasha has been having regular nurse checks for her blood pressure and urine. She's now off all medication and seems completely well again. We will return to the Royal Brompton for another ECG and Echo (oh joy!) and have the trials of more blood tests and specialist kidney doctor appointment to look forward to over the summer. Oh, and a house move.... but that's another story ;)

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Sunday, 17 July 2016

Siblings ~ July 2016

This month's siblings photo is totally out of focus... but it's a happy memory of the girls having so much fun together so it has to be on the blog.

They were dancing round the garden and in and out of the sprinkler which clever grandparents had just bought us, and as usual Tamsin was being super kind and playing the game as Sasha wanted it.

Today we popped to visit their cousin in his new house and the girls loved helping him walk to the local park.

Nearly the end of term here; both the girls' reports were good but brought tears for different reasons. We are all looking forward to the summer holidays, although maybe not so much the packing and house move..... fingers crossed all goes smoothly! 

The Me and Mine Project
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Saturday, 16 July 2016

Bunch O Balloons (Review)

It can be a challenge for us to find activities that the whole family can join in together, but I'm pleased to say that the Bunch O Balloons we were sent to review was a huge success on that front!

We had a day of lovely weather (feels like months ago already) so we took to our new garden with our new toy. We'd never tried it before, so were intrigued to see how it worked.

Tamsin took charge and got all that we needed ready - a bucket and a hose. Yep, that simple.
The pack contains three plastic sticks, and each of those has a group of 37 balloons at the bottom. So you actually get 111 balloons, rather than the advertised 100, which allows for a handful of balloons which may not fill properly.

You simply attach the connector to the end of your garden hose, make sure you have a bucket to catch the balloons in, then turn on the tap. Watch the balloons as they fill up and expand, then once they get to a certain size they start to detach from the sticks themselves, or you can pull the attachment up quickly to disconnect them (there's a clever clip locking system which you can see in their online video on their website).

Battle commenced, with Dad being the main target of course. Grandparents were let off lightly this time I'd say! Some of the balloons didn't burst on impact, which meant twice the fun... although if you're standing a bit too close they can actually hurt, so beware of over-zealous players.

One worry I had was about the burst balloons lying around afterwards. However, I can confirm that they are biodegradable so you can put your feet up after the battle. Of course my girls loved the pinks and purples, but these do come in a variety of colours and the packaging is transparent so you can choose your own.

These packs are available online or in all good stores. For more information, check out the website

Disclosure: We were sent the above product for the purpose of this review. All the views expressed here are our own.

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Monday, 4 July 2016

The SEN road to nowhere....

Blogging sometimes feels a bit like walking on a tight rope. I'll admit that I have an almost-finished post written entitled 'to blog or not to blog' - I'll treat you to it some day soon hopefully.

In the meantime, I'm opening my blog up for others to share their stories. I've done this successfully before, with my series 'This is our PDA story' last year, and it was lovely to be able to hear from other families what living with Pathological Demand Avoidance meant to them.

The post below is from a writer who would like to remain anonymous. Parents of children with SEN (Special Educational Needs) can often feel that they have nowhere to turn and no-one to talk to when they hit walls in trying to access services for their children. Thanks to my work on our local parent carers forum in our county I've heard from other parents in similar situations as this, but many are afraid to speak up for fear of worsening the situation for their child. Most support for parents comes from other parents, so please do leave a comment if you can offer any words of advice.


The SEN road to nowhere...

After spending the evening on Twitter drawing Sean Harford's (OFSTED) attention to a Tribunal case where Cambridgeshire LA are trying to remove a diagnosis of Aspergers from a little boy, I am wondering how far we have actually come since the SEN reforms in 2014.

The media seems intent on paying lip service to ASDs (Autistic Spectrum Disorders), but the reality is and certainly manifests itself rather differently in respect to ASD provision. Not all ASD kids are quietly accessing mainstream with a pair of ear defenders.  You only have to look at recent bespoke research on statutory assessment and EHCPs (Education, Health and Care Plans) published on SNJ (Special Needs Jungle) to appreciate that.

It is my daughter's 8th birthday next week and it has taken us five years to secure a diagnosis of Autism.  She has inadvertently appeared to evade and perplex the majority of professionals because girls do not present in the same way as boys and very few seem to understand this.  There are some rather eminent ASD professionals who will remain completely nameless that have missed this point entirely but looking to the future, I cannot see how ASD diagnosis will really change things for us.

These unidentified needs have impacted her mental health to such a degree that she is now psychiatrically unwell. Our previous LA ignored psychiatric advice for 6 months despite her having an EHCP and despite not receiving full time education.  It took them six months to perform her annual review, by which time her psychiatric status had declined to such depths, she was no longer sitting on the corridor for her 3 hours a day of education; she was engaging in repetitive behaviours for 14 hours a day.  When CAMHS became involved, we were told it was behavioural despite her existing EHCP for complex needs.  We won't - just because of a new diagnosis - get access to the things she needs or access to services.  And after fending off our new LA attempting to statutory reassess her despite being psychiatrically unwell, it appears that we cannot even discuss potential placements if indeed she does recover.  My expectations of LAs have hit an all time low and the best that can be expected is to 'fight' them in tribunal over placement despite the fact she has failed four times in mainstream.  And yes, it is a fight, because the question of placement will be cost-based and not necessarily in the best interests of my daughter.  We have been told in writing that panel choose placement.

Although the Baker Small cat is now out the bag - as indeed are all the other domestic LA cats that perform the same function - the question will still remain concerning Ofsted SEN inspections; are they the cat nip that will help the LA tow the line and will they have the teeth of next door’s dog when they are misbehaving?

Clearly, the SEN system currently needs some strong leadership as the SEN journey at the moment is the road to nowhere.


If you have a story, point of view or experience to do with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) which you'd like me to share on my blog anonymously, please do contact me at
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