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Sunday, 22 October 2017

Siblings {October 2017}

This month is probably the most behind schedule I've been with a Siblings photo, after another crazy few weeks and just the odd flashes of stress..

The girls can definitely manage to lift my mood when they're on top form though, and that's exactly what happened when I whipped my 'posh' camera out again for a super quick paparazzi session.

Stephs Two Girls Oct 17

You know it's always so difficult for me to pick just one, so, as always, here are the rest of the crazy images for you to chuckle at. They were all taken while the girls were upside down on the sofa - traditional posing is obviously overrated! They definitely put a smile on my face anyhow, hope you like them (though I'm obviously not likely to win any photography competitions any time soon.....).

Stephs Two Girls Oct 17
Stephs Two Girls Oct 17

The Siblings Project - Dear Beautiful

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Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Playing The Game #WorldMentalHealthDay

So yesterday was #WorldMentalHealthDay and I found it somewhat ironic that I needed to take the day off social media in order to protect my own mental health. 

Last Friday we were given the news that we will now have to battle in order to ensure the Local Authority provides Sasha with a suitable education. She is entitled to this suitable education just as much as all her peers who are currently sitting in classrooms in her old school.

Sasha in her beloved Center Parcs... but which path will we be taking now?

The past few days have been very draining; whilst trying to enjoy a much-looked-forward-to weekend away at Center Parcs with friends there was of course been a constant whirl of thoughts in my mind. Since coming back home there have been many phonecalls, lots of reading and plenty of scribbled note writing. 

To be honest, I've felt the most down I ever have. I would have gone to the doctor for a 'chat' if it wasn't for the fact that getting out is difficult when you have a child at home all day and no cover for them, and of course it's not the kind of chat she could come along and listen to... 

I've never reached this low before and yet I know how common it is for parents of children with autism, Pathological Demand Avoidance or any other additional needs to take some kind of medication to keep their lives stable. Many swear by it, and although I haven't felt like I needed anything before now, I knew I would consider it when necessary. No stigma attached to getting help as far as I am concerned, whatever sort of help that might be. However when you can't get out, it's easier said than done. My help generally has to come from support online. 

So I'm still at home, swimming against what feels like a rising tide, but absolutely determined that they can't break me because I am the one who needs to protect Sasha's mental health. 

So far, we have been extremely lucky that Sasha is blissfully unaware of the full situation. We haven't told her this latest news yet as I know just how devastated she would be, and we want to make sure that we know what happens next before we confuse her. 

Sadly, there are many children with these high levels of anxiety who are more 'switched on' than Sasha; they understand all that is going on around them and question everything. My heart sank when I read this post over on PDA parenting blog this morning - a 5 year old who says they want to kill themselves? How can that be? 

And yet I know it's not just this one parent. I've spoken to several parents locally who have also experienced this level of utter distress from their children. There are many more nationally, and lots of those are children with Pathological Demand Avoidance, just like this girl, and like Sasha. The anxiety and despair are pushing children to a point where they want to end their lives. 

I feel like we are walking on an even thinner knife edge now; I desperately hope things never get that bad for Sasha. I will do all I can to prevent it, but sometimes we are powerless. Sometimes we are forced to play a game that we just don't want to play. It's not right, it's not fair, it's not humane. Sasha's future matters as much as any other child. 

For more reading and understanding about Pathological Demand Avoidance, please look at the following resources: 

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Monday, 9 October 2017

The Monday Motivation Linky #5 - 9/10/17

Some days, it can be very difficult to pull yourself together and make a start on what needs to be done. Motivation is hard to find when all the challenges seem to be stacked against you.

Last night though, I came across a tweet which gave me renewed energy:

Every child does indeed have the right to an education, and it has to be one which is suitable for them. Not all children can learn in the same way. 

My children are my motivation and I will do the very best I can, for both of them.

I would be so happy if you enjoy reading my blog and would consider nominating me in the BAPS blogging awards - nominations for me or any other amazing SEND blogger can be made on this page: www.myfamilyourneeds.co.uk

Full details on what BAPS are in my recent post 'What on earth are the BAPS?'

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Friday, 6 October 2017

BAPS Awards 2018... what on earth are they?!

Super excited over here today because hot on the heels of my recent cruise ship tour comes the news that nominations for the BAPS awards are now open!

So what are the BAPS, I hear you say? To some it might conjure up images of bread rolls, whilst others might perhaps think of those body parts that mums feed their babies with.... Well, let me tell you more.

BAPS was the brainchild of the super inspiring Debs who writes her blog at Chaos in Kent, and BAPS stands for Bloody Awesome Parents Awards. The My Family Our Needs website explains more; that they are for parents and carers who blog about their children with additional needs.

Like me, Debs has been blogging for what feels like a very long time, about her family. There are actually many amazing bloggers writing about their families with children with complex needs, and these awards are a chance to recognise and salute them all.

The BAPS first took place last year and there were some pretty amazing winners, along with an inspirational host in the form of Sally Phillips who has a son with Down's Syndrome. You can read more about last year's awards and winners on the Bringing Us Together page

Last year I helped judge one of the categories and I was proud to be involved. Sadly I couldn't attend on the awards night itself due to a rather important and stressful house move at that time. I was disappointed because I so wanted to meet all these passionate bloggers who manage to move other people with their words whilst also dealing with challenging days and nights themselves.

I was over the moon to hear that the PDA Society had won the award for Best Practical Support for Families last year. They have obviously helped so many, including me, and the recognition was well deserved.

This year I am judging the Best Community Blog category along with some others, but I'm sure you'll be delighted to hear that that doesn't preclude us from being nominated in other categories #justsayin'. The list of categories is: 

Best Newcomer (I don't fit here, shame...!)
Best Microblogger - for those who use social media sites such as Facebook to tell their story
Blogger Making A Difference
Best Practical Advice for Families
Most Entertaining Blog
Most Supportive SEND* Blogger
Blog Post that made the biggest impact
Best non-parent Blog Site to write for

So if anyone out there does appreciate what I'm doing (she says, squirming in her seat because I don't like asking for things) then feel free to follow this link and pop my details in...  the link for nominations can be shared too! 

If you'd rather vote for someone else I won't be offended at all; in fact I know there are so many amazing bloggers out there that I'd like to see them all get a mention. If you're not sure who you'd like to nominate, then there is a fairly comprehensive list of SEND bloggers** on the Bringing Us Together website, all of whom would be very worthy winners in my eyes. 

Having just found out that the guest compere for this year's BAPS ceremony will be Gethin Jones, I reckon we are all winners anyhow.....

Happy voting!

A recent pic of Steph's Two Happy Girls. Remember, it's all for them.... ;)

*SEND = Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. Just a term which brings together a group of parents and carers of children with various complex needs.
** If you would like to be added to this list because you also blog about your child with additional needs in some way, do get in touch with Bringing Us Together.

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Thursday, 5 October 2017

On Board with MSC Cruises

When the opportunity to visit the MSC Preziosa recently landed in my inbox, I did a little squeal and clapped my hands. Board a cruise ship and explore? No way did I want to miss that! I did have to work a little for my ticket, but it was all worth it.
MSC Preziosa cruise ship in dock

This was our first view of the enormous MSC Preziosa as we drove into the docks in Southampton.  It's a long time since I've been on any sort of ship... I *may* have mentioned it before (look at this old post if you want more info) but did you know I lived on an oil tanker when I was nine years old?! Or that I've been on the 10th biggest ship in the world?! It was 378.4m long - the MSC Preziosa is 333m long, so a little shorter but still fairly huge!
Burmah Endeavour oil tanker
Credit to John Jones and shipspotting.com for this photo of the Burmah Endeavour

Anyhow, oil tankers are a million miles away from the gorgeous MSC cruise ships. I just had to take loads of photos to show you all how magnificent life on board these ships can be. The MSC Preziosa is ranked one of the Top 5 cruise ships in the world and the photos hopefully show why.
MSC Preziosa staircase

The most impressive area is without a doubt the huge reception lobby with Swarovski crystal staircases - each step worth from 8-10,000 euros apparently! 
MSC Preziosa swarovski stairs

I know my girls would be transfixed by these, and I was quite a fan myself. My converse definitely didn't do them justice but I can imagine the glamour of sweeping up and down with a floaty dress and equally sparkly shoes.

In my short video of our time on board (made with Instagram Stories, my new favourite toy so bear with me - no idea how to change that bright image above sorry but the video is better I promise!), you can see them in their full glory - when our 12 year old watched this, she gasped 'oh but that lift though!' (tween speak for 'that's pretty cool').
Safari Lounge on MSC Preziosa

I wandered around with my jaw open as we moved through several themed areas on the main decks - the Safari Lounge was a favourite, but I loved the Green Sax Jazz Bar too!
Green Sax Jazz Lounge

I know that if we were away at sea I'd want to spend any time I wasn't staring at the horizon actually in the pool on board, so I couldn't wait to see that area. I wasn't disappointed - not only a big pool out on deck with several jacuzzis, but also a spa indoors which was equally inviting.

Outdoor pool MSC Preziosa

Indoor spa MSC Preziosa

Our day was rounded off by an informative talk from the Managing Director of MSC Cruises Ireland and UK, and his passion for the ships inspired me even more. They have 13 ships already in service and plans well underway for another 11 by 2026. Most important news though is that they are now introducing kettles in cabins on all their new ships, as they are keen to attract more UK customers - now that's what I call fully researching and understanding your market! From Southampton you can travel around Europe on the MSC Preziosa or the MSC Magnifica, and more routes are due to be added soon. Full details of what's on offer from Southampton can be found on the website too - and I was pleasantly surprised at the cost once I had researched it, especially having tasted the delicious food which is included on board.

I think there is a tendency to assume cruises are for the older generation, but MSC cruises have put so much effort into making their ships an attractive proposition for young families too - collaborations with Lego and Chicco in their activity rooms, along with the amazing Doremi Castle water area, 4D cinema room, virtual games play places, bowling lane and many more options for fun. 
Doremi Castle MSC Preziosa
Photo borrowed from the MSC website as there was so much to see that I sadly didn't make it this far - how much would the little ones love this though?!

I know I've over-used explanation marks already in this post but it's my way of describing my excitement at being on board so I hope you'll forgive me. Everything you could possible want is on board - delicious food and drink, shops selling everything from handbags to camera equipment, great entertainment and activities for children, spa and relaxation areas, and a huge theatre for evening entertainment.
theatre on MSC Preziosa

Cruising offers the chance to visit several different countries without having to pack and unpack your bags, and an exciting life on board to boot too.

There is a great 360 virtual tour of the MSC Preziosa on their website and I definitely recommend it for the wow factor! In fact I love their whole website - there's so much information, you can see detailed plans for every ship and work out what facilities and what routes would suit you best.

Huge thanks to Tots100 and MSC Cruises for offering us this great opportunity. On Board is the place to be! I do love meeting other bloggers at these events, and of course bubbles help the chatter flow...

Here's two lovely ladies I was happy to get the chance to chat with, Kelly from It's A Tink Thing and Laura from Mum On A Mission:
Bloggers Steph Kelly Laura

and my stripey co-workers for the day, super friendly Afra from Mad Mum of 7 and Sarah from Toby Goes Bananas!
Bloggers Afra Sarah Steph

I'm editing this post to add this fab Tots 100 bloggers group photo which MSC Cruises UK have just tweeted out:

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