Autistic – Not Naughty

As many of you who follow my blog will know by now, I have 3 children under 6, the middle one who is autistic.

After his diagnosis 4 years ago it become evident to me that autism is an area along with many “invisible disabilities” that need more awareness and people to understand the effects of autism not just on the person with autism but also all those living with that person e.g. parents, carers and siblings.

On our journey as a family I have been overwhelmed with the amount of support I have received from friends, family and the local community. Unfortunately I have been equally as disgusted and saddened by some attitudes from the general public in regards to others with autism and behaviours they may display. Why people ever feel the need to comment on another parent’s child or to pass judgemental comments is beyond me. However I have been subjected to many a sly comment in passing whilst my son may be in a distressed state whilst out in public. Therefore in this post I will be discussing 3 main behaviours and emotions which an autistic child may display and what they actually mean when they occur and what to do if you come across a parent you see struggling with these circumstances.

Meltdowns

Firstly a meltdown is not the same as a tantrum. Often people will describe a child’s tantrum and an autistic child’s meltdown as the same thing, or not be able to see the difference. Unfortunately there are some major differences.

A meltdown is defined as a complete loss of control brought on by a sensory overload and feelings of being entirely overwhelmed. A meltdown will present itself in behaviours such as screaming, crying, violence or/and an attempt to run away and escape. Meltdowns can cause the person having them to come to physical harm or harm to anybody nearby.

An example, to highlight the difference, is when we went to a Christmas Fayre in our local church. He was excited at first but after being in the church a short time, which he had visited many times prior, I started to notice him acting differently. This is what some may call the “rumble stage” this is the build up to a meltdown. If you are able to spot these signs in your autistic child then you may be able to help prevent a meltdown by using reassurance, calming strategies that the child responds to and removing the child from the situation to a quieter place. Unfortunately at the time I was just beginning my journey as an Autism parent and wasn’t fully aware of how to spot these signs and what may trigger them. Likewise sometimes he may have a meltdown and I still have no idea what may have caused it.

On this example I know now it was the crowds, the noise, the different smells and the fact the church would have looked nothing like it usually does. Nowadays I always fully prepare him for an outing with the aid of social stories, the Internet to show him pictures and discussions of what to expect. This helps ease any anxieties about a visit to somewhere new or where there may be a change.

I noted he was starting to cover his ears, squint his eyes until they were almost closed and rub his face into me so that he couldn’t see anything. Finally he ran from me through the crowds, me running as fast as a heavily pregnant woman, at the time, could chase a 3-year-old. He physically lashed out at everyone he passed and threw gifts off the stalls and table tops. Of course alarmed passers-by tutted and shook their heads in disapproval. He hid under a table, screaming, crying and rocking back and forth. After some coaxing he let me hold him and we stayed like that, under the table, for some time until he was calm enough to be led out of the cathedral and to a more peaceful environment. The whole experience is always distressing for both adult and the child whether it be in public or at home

An example of a tantrum is my two-year old screaming, kicking and laying on the floor, refusing to move if they don’t get the pack of milk buttons he wants so badly. Still as distressing in some cases but ultimately if, for example we were in the supermarket, and I said mid tantrum “OK let’s finish the shopping then you can have the buttons” or “Oh look can you put some yoghurts in the trolley for mummy” he would negotiate and the tantrum would end. A tantrum is a means of trying to gain control unlike a meltdown which is a loss of control.

I have lost count of the amount of times a member of the public has addressed me and my son mid meltdown and commented on his “bad behaviour” or a sly comment of “we never behaved like that in my day.” Luckily I have learnt quickly to completely blank and ignore people but at times it is still infuriating. Thankfully on other occasions members of the public have seen the situation I’m in and offered help. I remember one time struggling to push the Boss Baby when he was a newborn in the pram and attempting to support and console Louie during a meltdown in the middle of the street. My main fear was that Louie would run for the road and I was starting to panic how to steer the buggy and hold onto Louie at the same time. Thankfully a lady came along and offered to push the pram while I helped Louie. She walked home with me pushing the pram and Louie now calm but clinging to me. I remember not being able to speak, such was the lump in my throat due to the overwhelming kindness and gratitude that small gesture had made to my day.

Stimming

Stimming is defined as self stimulatory behaviour. It is usually displayed as repetitive actions, words or physical movements. Something I didn’t know until I had Louie was that “Stimming” can be caused by positive or negative feelings. Examples of stimming can be:

  • Rocking
  • Spinning in circles
  • Flapping arms
  • Verbal repetition of words and phrases
  • Humming or noise making

Sometimes when Louie is very happy he can make repetitive screeching noises. Recently we visited the sea life centre and Louie was so happy and excited and consequently let out this ear-piercing, high pitched, short, sharp scream consistently around the first walk of the centre (admittedly every time he did, he made a member of the public jump and I had to stifle my laughter.)

Stimming is a common sign of Autism. It is also a way my son and autistic people soothe themselves when they are needing a sensory input or are experiencing a sensory overload. A theory about stimming is that it releases “beta endorphins” which act like an anaesthesia to calm your body and mind. Many people use techniques like this for example biting the top of a pen, tapping your fingers when you are agitated, pacing etc. These all types of “stimming” albeit a lot more subtle.

Anxiety

I first realised Louie was experiencing anxiety when he would talk of a scrunched feeling in his belly. It made me so sad to realise he meant he was feeling nervous and anxious about something but it was groundbreaking for us at the time as he was starting to communicate his feelings to us. Autistic children and adults experience high levels of anxiety.

Changes can be one of the main things which causes anxiety for Louie. This does not necessarily mean negative changes. For example last week the school were having a mother’s day lunch at the school. This involved me going to the school and sitting with him and my daughter in the lunch hall. This seemed such a lovely simple idea but for Louie it was huge and such a big difference to his normal school day. The school wrote a social story, a short simple story of what will happen, to prepare him for the day and read it a good week in advance, each day to him. I also spoke to him about it at home. However, even with all the input we gave him, he was anxious and his behaviour was extremely challenging and volatile in the lead up to the day. He told me his stomach hurt constantly, lashed out at me violently, particularly that morning and he didn’t want to go to school. I felt so upset about going but didn’t want to let my daughter down. I myself was filled with anxiety about what lie ahead on the day. Fortunately it was a great experience, we sat and ate lunch together happily, chatting and then when he had finished his food he stood and out of the blue wrapped his arms around my neck and gave me the biggest cuddle before saying “OK mummy I go play now” and running for the playground. I rarely receive voluntary hugs or affection from my son and so of course I cried silent, happy tears into my school dinner!

I hope this post has helped to inform others of some of the behaviours perhaps evident in autistic children and adults. Autism is a “spectrum condition” meaning that although some areas of autism will be similar in autistic people, ultimately each person with autism is different. The behaviours I have spoken about above may affect many autistic children but may display themselves completely differently to how my son may present them. I hope in this post I have been able to raise some awareness in regards to some of the behaviours featured and to help people understand more fully what actually may be happening in a child and parents lives, where some may perceive a child as “naughty” before knowing the bigger picture.

Lockdown with Additional Needs Children

The build up to any half term or school holiday is, for a lot of autistic children, well prepared for. Perhaps a week or so of social stories, new timetables, discussions with your child etc. will begin on the lead up to the break up of term. Even then half terms bring such a change in routine that many autistic children or children with additional needs find the transfer from school 5 days a week to home life difficult to say the least. Therefore the abruptness of lock down and quick change around of routines and lives in general will have obviously had an effect on many of us, sending the whole world into a confused state of uncertainty.

I won’t lie, there have been times during lockdown where we have been low. Caring for an autistic child and having to explain what’s happening with the world, set new routines and keep fears and anxiety at bay for him is one thing. Combined with his own needs there are my other two children and the sudden lack of respite they now have. School being their time out and release with their own friends and space. This seems to have been a common concern for other parents I have spoken with.

Social media has been a scary place during lockdown and I have made the decision at times to take myself away from it for a couple of days here and there. However it has also been a great way of communicating and reaching out with other parents in similar situations. Having other parents that understand what it’s like to have a child with additional needs at home has been a lifeline, to be able to talk through bad days and share our own successes and funny anecdotes.

Lockdown has come with little instruction or guidance on how to handle our new way of life. The school have been great with keeping in touch and sending over any social stories or guidance that may help with the current situation with the whole family.

Before lock down life was busy and hectic in different ways. I was training for the London Marathon, running every day, working on radio and having time to complete all the other jobs that seemed to be there. When lockdown hit all of the respite running and radio gave me stopped abruptly. People have sent many messages “Make sure you have some ME time.” And I felt like screaming. How could I possibly have ME time with three young children and a husband working as a key worker. It felt impossible. With an established routine everything has become a lot more settled and I may not be marathon ready anymore but I appreciate my daily cycle or walk more than ever before.

The diversity of needs within each family both with additional needs and without has outstanded me. Some parents have spoke openly about the effect the lock down has had on their child’s mental health, the anxiety and fears whilst others seem to have flourished at home. The social element is the main worry I have. Both for my eldest and youngest who are desperately missing their friends but also my middle son as socialising is an important target for him and one we can not realistically practice in lockdown.

During lockdown I have connected with a few old friends and sharing stories and jokes from “back in the day” has kept me smiling. One of whom was Christelle one of my best friends from secondary school who, still living in London, has three young boys. Before lockdown she was waiting for news on her sons autism diagnosis and assessment. During lockdown she has started her own blog on autism parenting and Christianity called Guardians of the Precious. Here is what she has written in regards to receiving her son’s autism during lockdown.

From the blog – Guardians of the Precious.

During lockdown my son received a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It did not come as too much of a surprise as he already expressed autistic traits. This stemmed from his initial diagnosis of Vein of Galen Malformation. For which he had 3 separate embollisations (brain surgery) to correct an abnormality present in his brain.

However, we still felt a sense of disappointment. Not because it’s the worst thing in the world but because we simply want what’s best for him. We are also well aware of what being labelled with an SEN can mean for a child.

Although, we must admit there was also a sense of relief as we are now able to put as many helpful measures in place. Life in lockdown with a newly diagnosed autistic child hasn’t changed much as we are still isolated and yet to receive any support. All SEN departments are operating at a much slower pace due to the ongoing pandemic. We can only keep going and do the best we can for our son and family.

Guardians of the Precious can also be found on Instagram and Twitter.

#toocoolforschool

For now we will continue to take each day as it comes. I have decided not to disrupt and change my son’s routine any further until September. This is our own personal decision as a family but know many other families with children with additional needs who have took the decision to send their children back, as the places have become available.

Every family and circumstance is different there has been a lot of speculation on sending children back too early and what’s the best thing to do. I think as a parent only you can make that decision and it shouldn’t be forced on you from anybody else’s opinion. Each family has their own different needs and it’s important we support one another in whatever we choose for our own children.

Sending you much love and positivity.

The Cockney in the Countryside

Xx

AD – Blume Baby Pops and Blume Dolls

An exciting treat arrived for the children today in the form of our package from Blume Dolls. The dolls are brand new to the UK and the children were so happy to be playing with them today.

The packaging was bright and vibrant full of exciting ideas on the front of what may lay inside the plant pot type toys. The theme of the toys are flowers and plants and each Blume Baby and Blume Dollcame inside a little flower pot.

We first opened theBlume Flowerpot Girls which came in a pretty pot and once we opened the packaging we see a lidded top. The instructions were to take the little watering can which was included and sprinkle the papery lid with the water. I figured this would take forever considering the size of the pink watering can but in just a few squirts the Blume Doll erupted from her pot which the children loved! Along with the packaging was an identification leaflet showing all of the other Blume Dolls available to collect. The children quickly identified theirs as Kimberly with her foamy, soft blue hair. Next we removed the inner case of the pot and was able to open up the plant pot case to find her accessories inside including a full outfit along with Doc Martin style boots, a handbag and a magical miniature friend (we received twinkle.)

Next we moved onto theBlume Baby Pops. In their planter style casing we could see 5 stems protuding from the planter. Each child plucked the stem, heard the satisfying pop of the Baby pop and inside the little pod was a Blume Baby along with a cuddly outfit. The Blume Baby Pops come with a guarantee of three Baby Pops however some packages come with an extra one or two. We were luckily enough to have an extra one in ours and the final pod contained some great accessories for our babies such as an extra snuggle blanket and some sun glasses.

If the Baby Pops weren’t enough excitement yet again the inside of the pot/planter held even more fantastic accessories. The inside part which could be removed then transformed into the Baby Pop nursery with a Baby Pop bath, bed and play equipment including a pool and slide. The children had so much fun playing with their new Baby Pop toys and exploring their new accessories. As an added touch of magic the toys also had a special “gender reveal” element whereby when they went into water the diaper would either change to blue or pink!

Along with the toys the amazing people at Blume Dolls sent us some soil and seeds to fill our now empty planters with to create our own garden for our Baby Pops. This was a lovely idea and the children got to work planting and setting the seeds and decorating the pots with our Baby Pop stickers.

The children have had so much fun out in the garden today with their new baby pops creating adventures and tales for them in the flowers and grass and role playing different scenarios.

You can find Blume Baby Pops and the Blume Dolls atinstagram at @BlumeDolls and find out more about them. You can also buy them from Smyths, Very and Amazon.

https://www.smythstoys.com/uk/en-gb/toys/fashion-and-dolls/blume/blume-baby-pop-series-1/p/186989

https://www.smythstoys.com/uk/en-gb/toys/fashion-and-dolls/blume/blume-doll-assortment/p/173990

The Truth about Pets and Children

It is inevitable that as a parent one day your child will ask if they can have a pet. As a child I constantly asked for an array of different animals that I could call a pet to which my mother denied me the chance sending me to desperate measures such as keeping caterpillars in jars in my room. As it happened “Slimy” the pet caterpillar metamorphosised into a beautiful butterfly on my 6th birthday after weeks of leaf feeding and love.

Eventually, my dad planted completely by accident, a kitten appeared in our shed to which my dad promised to look after and gently swayed my mother into keeping as it was a “poor lost stray.” “Poor lost stray” soon strayed into relations with next doors Tom cat and by the age of 7 I had a big cat and four kittens, one of which we kept, and they both lived to the grand old age of 21. Hooray I had pets!

However pets are not to be looked upon as an easy decision to partake with children. Each with their own pros and cons here we investigate the secret life of pets and whether they would be suitable for your children and family.

Those of us who remember our primary school days and those of us who then went on to teach primary school children will remember the same monotonous exercise you would have had to use as an example in the English Debate part of the curriculum…”should we have a class pet?” Of course a class pet also can come with its’ own pros and cons. Health and safety and its now extremeties being at the forefront in most head teachers minds. One of my classes and I campaigned quite vigorously for a class pet eventually for it to be allowed by the head teacher. We waited patiently and excitedly for the arrival of perhaps a fluffy rabbit or even a cute rodenty gerbil. We were given a stick insect. Stick insects are probably the least exciting pet on earth and yet my little class loved them dearly and low and behold we were blessed with tiny stick insect eggs and babies as they hatched half way through my first Ofsted inspection.

Choosing a family pet is a complex decision and not something to be rushed into without discussion. Once upon a time the Irishman, somewhat irresponsibily returned home with a tiny puppy he said was given to him. The puppy was said to be a pug crossed with a terrier. Having always had cats I hadn’t the faintest idea what a dog, especially a puppy, would entail and so took to Google to find out exactly what we would need for this new member of our family. Fast forward a year and I have a medium sized dog, identified as a spaniel/Jack Russell and the most bonkers animal you will ever meet. As much as I love Bertie I will never ever own another dog, preferring a new born baby to the sleepless nights and neediness that pup gave me the first year of his life and continues to do so.

So what are the pros and cons of having a pet in the family? Here we explore the very myths and lies children tell us parents in order to obtain a pet.

It gives the children a sense of responsibility

This is the number one reason stated in most parenting forums etc for bringing a pet into the family. Children most definitely use this reason the most as they know the yearning you feel for them to accept responsibility for something in their lives and not lay everything at your feet. They will promise to clean the cage, to walk the dog, to feed the cat but ultimately that is short lived. Do not be fooled into thinking any responsibility for this pet will be fully undertook by your child, not even moderately supervised. That pet will be your full responsibility. Realistically you are not going to let your pet die or become ill because you have left its’ feeding and care to your child. Therefore after the initial flurries of excitement of this new notion of responsibility and you trusting them, it will dissipate quickly leaving them with a wonderfully parent – cleaned hutch and a cute well maintained Guinea pig to enjoy.

Having a pet teaches children valuable life lessons e.g. Mortality

For some reason I always thought this was a pretty valid reason for having a pet in a morbid kind of way. Death is not a subject you want to teach your child but ultimately a topic that needs discussing at some point and will be raised along the way. When we bought hamsters we were told by the store that as the creatures only tended to live just two years they would be apt at teaching this life lesson. Odd when I think about it now. Also today, as I secretly buried our first deceased rodent in my garden, our children have been left unaware with a brand new identical hamster happily gnawing in his new – still warm- cage thanks to my quick dash to the pet store. Why did I not tell them he had gone to heaven? Because its heartbreaking and I don’t want them to suffer that.

A running family joke was of my cousin’s canary Sunny who was seemingly the oldest living canary in the world. She once even asked me aged 25 whether he would make the Guinness Book of World Records. Therefore I feel this reason should be disregarded as a pro for a pet as death is never a positive!

A pet is a companion for a child.

I like this reason for having a pet as I’m all for friendship and companionship. That being said the friendship I have with my dog is somewhat stifling and needy (even to my extent) and not something I look for in a friend. He is there for every second of my waking moment, wants attention from anybody else that visits and makes sexual advances towards them. He’s not the type of companion I would have chosen. However he is amazing with all children he meets and a loyal family member.

Nonetheless would the same be said of all pets? Would a pet stick insect, as we had in our classroom, have the same companionship as a dog? This rule can surely not be applied to all animals you welcome into your home. I am a self confessed cat lover but cats are fickle as well as conniving and cunning. Cats don’t always make the best of companions, choosing their family members, avoiding noisy children, picking and choosing when they want to be loved. The same can be said for hamsters, with two hamsters in our home, one I could have easily picked, petted and loved (the dead one) the other would happily razor blade my hand as soon as I lift the lid to feed the furry little ball of rage. Therefore this forced companionship can not always be applied to all animals and pets and comes around once again to what type of pet would be best suited for your household.

Along with the above reasons are various scientific studies showing that children’s behaviour is better with a pet (they definitely haven’t met the Boss Baby) Along with the comfort of having a pet and lower blood pressure. So, if like us you do decide to bring a pet home what should you consider first? Here are some things I think are hugely important to consider if you are going to make that leap:

Expense: Pets are expensive. A goldfish will obviously be dramatically less expensive than a dog but pets in general all come with a list of things they need to be a part of your home along with regular maintenance payments.

Time: If I wasn’t a stay at home mother when our dog arrived, life would have been difficult. I know many people do work around their jobs and see to new puppies but I had NO idea the amount of attention and work was needed to settle a puppy and to stop it attacking my home when I wasn’t present. Lots of dog training YouTube channels and reading later I have a slightly tame dog in terms of he doesn’t eat the sofa when I pop into town.

Sleep deprivation: I’ve already addressed the puppy sleep routines, however many other pets can cause just as much sleep deprivation. You wouldn’t know you had a hamster until the moment you close your eyes to sleep and hear it trying to tunnel out of its’ cage or furiously gnaw from its’ metal bars. I found this out the hard way and have finally adjusted to their bedtime antics but definitely something to remember – the small rodenty types are nocturnal!

In my view pets are a positive thing to have in the home with children if you have the time, space and equipment needed. The pdsa have a great guide to choosing the right pet for your family which you can access here. https://www.pdsa.org.uk/taking-care-of-your-pet/choosing-a-pet

All pet stories, pictures and comments welcome over at my social media accounts and in the comments. 💗

Safer Internet Day – Social Media

This year on Tuesday 11th February we have National Safer Internet Day. A day in which the aim is to inspire a national conversation about using technology responsibly, respectfully, critically and correctly.

As a parent the Internet and social media in particular scares me. Therefore days like Safer Internet Day are indeed very much needed to have those important conversations with our children be it simply about how to keep safe online, what to do if somebody has sent them something unsuitable or simply to reassess our own activity on social media and how it may be affecting our lives in general.

Somewhat accidentally over the last 18 months I have grown a modest following on social media which despite my protests of “hating social media,” which of course sometimes I actually do, has also been a great tool in sharing writing with fellow bloggers, connecting with local people and also forming friendships with people worldwide of whom we have common interests.

I used to think I didn’t like social media because people were nosey and I didn’t like everybody knowing my buisness. Now I write a blog about my life I can hardly preach that preach. Lately I have thought a lot about social media and the different characters I have come across, of which there are many weird and wonderful. Through these musings I have came to the conclusion that the reason social media bothers me is due to its affect on people’s mental health and the negative affects it has on people’s behaviours and personalities.

Of course online bullying and trolling is at the forefront of “bad Internet.” There’s something seriously weird about a person behind a screen deliberately wanting to cause upset. From the general vile insult, to the mundane grammar checking trolls and the “offended by everything” troll who retorts their offense to every single debate they take part in. It does lead me to wonder if these annoying relentless people are actually like this in real life? Do they go around their everyday jobs with the same grating attitudes or do they simply enjoy this as a recreational pursuit each evening in the depth of their squalored pit of negativity whilst sitting in a sweaty onesie, hopefully drinking weak tea. These people puzzle me but there are many more social media users that have also come to light which intrigue as well as confuse me.

Instagram in particular seems to be a breeding bed of people slating each other for their need for followers or the way they go about achieving those followers. Some exercise their imaginations by creating or recreating humourous photographs and reenactments which always make me laugh, others ramble on stories and just their personality shines through and it’s enjoyable even just to hear about their trip around the supermarket. Whilst others grumble and moan about the lack of followers they have despite their best efforts to achieve a large following through outrageous posts, desperate cries for attention and perhaps behaviour which is bordering with the trolls. I find the whole thing confusing as I’ve watched these people pass my news feed day after day for the past 18 months. It kind of takes me back to when I watched reality TV such as Big Brother and at first the person seemed lovely and genuine but as the weeks pass by you see that false pretence can’t be kept up for any length of time, your true person and purpose will always shine through eventually.

I wonder at a world whereby people simply make it their purpose to gain following from people they don’t actually know? I wonder what the reason behind their need for this amount of likes and followers are. Of course I appreciate the following I have on my social media accounts and my blog but I have also had this number of followers questioned by people who follow me on Instagram as to why I have so many followers? What makes me so special seeing as I don’t parade around in a funny outfit for likes or put on shows, or even feature photos of my children? I have answered these people with the simple reason being that I blog honestly about topics that matter to me and to raise awareness. Likewise followers that do message me I always make time to message back when I can, especially those in similar situations to myself. As in all friendships it’s not about boasting about yourself and your own personal life but listening also and I feel that’s a fundamental failure of certain people’s social media accounts.

Social media and children in general worries me. I have had some comments about my physical appearance and my life in general which perhaps 10 years ago would have bothered me, perhaps affected me. I can see how the affect of these strange troll like humans may have on younger or more vulnerable Internet users. I think it’s vital we address internet behaviours with our own children. Teaching children to be able to discuss what they have seen if it has made them feel uncomfortable or is potentially harmful is half the battle. From there we can discuss what it is that is harmful or inappropriate from what they’ve seen and tackle it together rather than leaving them with uncomfortable images they feel worried about.

We were raised as children not to speak to strangers yet the world of social media is a dangerous ground for those strangers to creep in around our children and indeed ourselves as adults. Sad humans posing as others with fake accounts. I wonder at these people who, even if not for predatory use, are sitting there thinking up fake profile names, false hobbies and likes and profile pictures all in the hope of creeping on somebody else. I sometimes wonder what they may look like and how they carry out their lives focusing and obsessing with someone else so much so that they’re own miserable lives tick past them. I think this is also an important message to get across to our children and children we teach to be able to recognise a fake account and potential predator. Of course some will be a lot easier to spot than others as some people simply lack the mental capacity to even create a half believable false account. However the knowledge and the questions should be there in our minds when accepting a friend request from a potential stranger and hopefully in our children’s too.

I think the Internet and social media can be a positive place for many people if used correctly. A place where interesting content can be created and shared. Life stories and communication can be established with like minded people. However all these can only occur when the person is being real to themselves and their followers and if they are being as happy in real life as they are for the Internet. Also its important to remember that everybody is facing their own personal battles behind that screen and so kindness should always be first and foremost in any form of communication both in person or on the Internet.

With love

The Cockney in the Countryside

Blippi UK Toy Launch – Review

The world is fast changing and the average children’s TV programme and channels such as CBeebies, although still popular, have some competition. Birthdays and Christmases have been hard to cater for when my youngest’s favourite thing to watch became You Tube star Blippi’s channel. With his catchy songs and colourful educational videos he quickly became a firm favourite in our house a couple of years ago. However finding any merchandise to buy my youngest has proved extremely difficult up until now.

This week saw the launch of Blippi Toys to the UK. We were so excited to receive our specially dressed Blippi box in the Blippi signature oranges and blues!

Inside, there was even more excitement as Boss Baby began discovering what lay inside. My Buddy Blippi was instantly pulled from the box. The Blippi doll came in full Blippi attire with a soft body which repeated 15 popular Blippi phrases and sounds when you squeeze it’s tummy. It has not left the Boss Baby’s side since we received our gift and I was shocked by the amount of parents stopping and asking me where I purchased the toy from, as their child too was a Blippi fan.

The Blippi vehicles were also great fun with four different varieties available. The box also included 3 Ball Pit Blind Boxes which featured collectable Blippi figures all dressed as different themes such as a  milkman, pizza maker and farmer.

Boss Baby enjoyed seeing the similarities and links of the toys to his favourite you tube channel. The Box 10 Suprise Boxes were much like miniature versions of his popular videos where he picks up coloured boxes and discovers the contents. Each coloured box contained it’s own Blippi accessory which were both educational and fun.

The box also contained a Blippi dress up outfit complete with hat, glasses, bow tie and orange suspenders. It didn’t take too long for Boss Baby to be fully dressed as his favourite YouTube star!

Blippi Toys from Jazwares have now been released in the UK. You can purchase your very own Blippi Toys at Smyths Toys, Argos, Entertainer, Amazon and Asda.

This was a gifted promotion.

Schwartz Seasoning and Blends – Classic BBQ Review

Schwartz have sent me (this product) for review, but all views are my own.

Winter is definitely well and truly here to stay with dark cold nights finding us earlier and earlier. However one thing which is sure to make my family and I feel a lot better about a chilly winter’s night is coming home to a plate of comfort food.

Schwartz Seasoning and Blends have always been firm favourites in my spice rack and one of my most used being the Schwartz Classic BBQ Seasoning. BBQ flavoured dishes have always been one of my families favourite meals and the Schwartz Classic BBQ Seasoning makes creating tasty family meals easier and quicker in a busy household.

It’s a versatile seasoning with a delicious BBQ kick which adds a great warmth to meal time on these cold winter’s nights.

My slow cooker is my best friend throughout the winter. Is there anything better than coming home to a cooked and prepared meal with minimal washing up at the end of the day? One of my family’s favourites is the slow cooked BBQ beef brisket. This is the perfect meal for a busy family and one which can be served with a variety of options if there are fussy eaters in the household!

The great thing about slow cookers is marinaring is not always necessary. The meat is left to soak into the flavours of your seasoning as it cooks and due to the meat being in the cooker for such a length of time it is essentially the same as marinating. This Seasoning is perfect for using as a rub for the brisket before placing into the slow cooker for up to 8 – 10 hours. If you don’t have a slow cooker this can also be cooked for 5 hours in a normal oven at around 160.

To create a homemade BBQ sauce; mix vinegar, ketchup, Worcester sauce and garlic along with some more Schwartz BBQ Seasoning and combine in the slow cooker also. After the 8 to 10 hours you can remove the brisket from the slow cooker and place for a couple of minutes in a preheated very hot oven to caramelise the crust. While the brisket is caramelising use this time to bring the BBQ sauce to simmer in the slow cooker until it is a syrupy consistency.

After removing the brisket from the oven carve it into slices and serve. My husband and children love this meal with mash and smokey Southern style beans with the barbecue sauce on top. Alternatively in thick, crusty bread as a hot sandwich with the barbecue sauce drizzled across is always a winner!

The seasoning has so many different recipes it can lend itself to in our house whether it’s over potato wedges, in a soup to give it a subtle warmth or simply to marinade chicken.

Toy Review – Magic Box – Moji Pops

Christmas had came early in our house with the arrival of the Moji Pops from Magic Box. The wonderfully fun collectables are the perfect stocking fillers this year with their blind bags with over 90 Moji Pops to collect. The Moji Pops are everyday objects such as shampoo and other household objects transferred into superheros and supervillians.

The Moji Pops bring hours of fun and imaginative play on their own without the accessories and play equipment that comes with them. The Moji Pops have two sides showing a different emotion which my youngest loved and also helped with as it allowed him to talk about what emotion the facial expression was conveying and role play different scenarios. The Moji Pops proved brilliant at evoking and developing their story telling skills through play.

After opening the Moji Pops blind bags the children were eager to play with their characters. With three colourful play areas for the Moji Pops to inhabit and play in the children were hard pushed to decide what to play with first; The Moji Pops Tree House, The Moji Pops Pool Party or The Moji Pops Ferris Wheel.

The Moji Pops Pool Party came with fun sunscreen Moji Pop “Crimy” and drink Moji Pop “Flav” the children loved all of the different areas their characters had to explore in the Pool Party. With a chill out zone, pool bar and dance zone the children loved playing with the Pool Party and making up their own stories. The various accessories such as the water slide, life guard chair, inflatable pool toys and sun loungers helped further the children’s imaginations and play!

Next the children explored the Moji Pop Tree House which I feel was their personal favourite. The brightly coloured tree house came with Moji Pops Heggar and Vulfin along with more great accessories to assist their play such as pizza and popcorn for the characters to snack upon when they had their make believe pyjama party and eye masks. When the Moji Pops weren’t having their chill out time there was plenty more to do such as swing on the tree swing house, have a tree top picnic or even star gaze. They especially enjoyed the rope swing which you could wind and pull your Moji Pop up with into the different levels of the tree house!

Finally the Moji Pop Ferris Wheel sparked their imaginations, especially my daughter’s whose work this term at school has all been based around theme parks. The four – carriage Ferris Wheel not only came with an ice cream stand and prize stand but another two Moji Pops, Lony and Icy and their accessories also.

The Moji Pops are fun, brightly coloured magical toys which my children loved exploring and I know will continue to play with for a long time to come. They are already asking for more Moji Pop characters and wanting more of the Magic Box collectables from Santa in a few weeks time!

You can get your own Moji Pops at:

On the Magic Box website https://www.magicboxstore.co.uk/product/mojipops-pool-party-playset/

Or at the Entertainer: https://www.thetoyshop.com/brands/mojipops

Christmas Decorating with Children

One of the first conversations my husband and I discuss when moving into a new home is… Where will the Christmas tree go? However now with three children in tow discussions around Christmas decor are more along the lines of “how will we save the tree this year?”

Posing a series of questions over at my Instagram account I was happy to find that the majority of parents have the same Christmas catastrophes when it comes to decorating their home and that actually it’s not just the children that are troublesome to Festive decor. Pets and other half’s also came close seconds to the anguish of Christmas preparations.

So as we prepare for the Christmas period here is my survival guide for decorating your home with children.

Timing

I love Christmas and love nothing more than the cosy feeling the twinkling fair lights at the windows create in my home. Each family has its own approximate date for “putting up the Decs” and for us it’s a modest December 1st, the beginning of advent therefore an acceptable time in my mind for the decorations to go up. December 1st also gives the tree just enough time to survive and the whole place not to look like a ruin before the actual day.

Of course we have all seen them… The photos of trees which have been up since mid October, the owners proudly boasting how much they love Christmas and wanted to start early or the opposite end of the scale… those who bring a tree home on the 24th December and decorate the night before Christmas.

The Tree – Real vs Artifical

Apart from in my classroom as a teacher I have never owned an artificial tree. As children the magic began that day we ventured out on a full day excursion with my parents into the wilderness of the Essex countryside to those “farm shops” we had little experience of, only at Christmas and hunted for the perfect Christmas tree. My parents would have almost every tree in the shops free of their netting, much to the owners despair. My dad would be made to stand holding the tree afar as my mum would stand back and inspect whether it was the “right” tree and then swap and have my brother and I hold the tree as my mum and dad then discussed the prospect of taking the tree home.

This was an all day event but one with much fun and fond memories. The tree would always be huge and massively misjudged in terms of getting it into our home and once we were in my dad would then spend an hour sawing some from the trunk and some off the top to make it fit into the living room.

As a family tradition on our dad’s side everybody has a real tree. One year my uncles decided to go to a “pick your own” tree place whereby they sawed the tree down there and then. If my mum and dad misjudged the size of the tree with them clearly marked with sizes at the shop then my uncles definitely had zero chance with this tree. They brought the tree home to my nans home and assembled what could have only been described as a forest as it took up the whole of the living room. My nan stood proudly by her tree looking tiny in respect to the twinkling forest behind her.

Of course artificial trees are uniform with branch size and symmetrically beautiful plus there is the added bonus of not having pine needles needing hoovering but for me that smell of a real Christmas tree and the search for one are what marks the start of Christmas officially in our home!

Retrieving the Decorations

The first stress in my household is where on earth we put the decorations the previous year. Normal people would just remember where they put their Decs but my husband and I are disorganised humans and so even if they are in the place we thought they would be, by this time of year they are buried under a mountain of other stuff which we have dumped in the loft/outhouse across the year. I can see my husbands patience waning as he realises that actually I didn’t put the decorations away in an accessible, sensible place as I told him the year before and this is before he’s even come across the lights… The lights which I also promised to store correctly yet in my haste screwed into a knotted ball and shoved in a Quality Street tin.

Christmas Tree Decor

In a poll on my Instagram 80% of parents let their children decorate the tree in the knowledge they will redecorate and arrange after. Of course the obvious problem with children is that they can only reach a certain height therefore the bottom of the tree becomes ladened and weeping immediately with the 17 baubles hung per branch. Likewise after they have hung every bauble they will set about rearranging themselves from an early age.

My youngest was 9 months for his first Christmas so with the aid of a baby walker we have had him dismantling the tree from his first Christmas. A few people messaged me to once again give me guidance on how to tell my child not to touch the tree and methods to stop them. I don’t know what children these humans have parented but they are not mine and I guarantee any hints and tips will not defer my Toddler in his quest to pull every decoration from the tree.

Christmas tree decorations change as your children get older. As an anxious parent I soon noticed the pure danger in some of the smaller baubles and decorations which could easily be swallowed by my youngest who has always seemed to investigate everything by shoving everything in his mouth.

Outdoor Decorations

We never had outdoor lights when I was growing up except a candle in the kitchen window. After much nagging one year my dad relented and put some old Market lights up on the front of our home. We stood back for the big reveal only to all burst out laughing at the shameful show of lights compared to next doors. Shouting “quick turn them off before anyone sees them” dad took down the light and we never spoke about it again.

If you’re going to do the outdoor Christmas lights it has to be a) tasteful or b) significant. My husband and I have also resigned the children to some simple window lights for all eternity so we don’t have the pressures of assembling and competing with the rest of the neighbours. Because competition is exactly what it is whether you openly acknowledge it or not you will be judged on outdoor Christmas lighting!

Pets

Decorating your home with your children is bound to be problematic but add a pet into the equation and you have full on chaos. Kittens and cats see the many hanging, swaying objects as fair game to attack and pounce on and dogs are a rule unto themselves. Our dog spent his first Christmas frequently marking his territory up against the tree. My aunt also received a buy one get one free with her real tree as she opened the netting at home to a family of mice!

Enjoy decorating your home this Christmas, admire it briefly as the children fall asleep from the excitement and joy Christmas brings and then Brace yourself for a whole month of rearranging and Christmas tree guarding!

Lying to my Husband and Acqua Alta – Venice

The Lies

It started in January, the secrets and the planning. I began to search the Internet extensively, reading forums and finding the best possible outcome. I squirelled money away for months in my son’s shoe box under the bed and made countless secret phone calls making arrangements.

As the date to leave came closer it was harder to keep my secrets and my plans. My husband started to ask endless questions and I felt the pressure mounting.

Finally a week before, he found out the secret escape I had been plotting. I owned up to the fact that the following week we would be flying to Venice for a long weekend for his birthday.

Unorganisation

Having not been abroad since I was 20 (14 years ago) I was starting to feel more than a little anxious and doubtful of my own planning. Possibly being one of the most unorganised humans on earth I had spent many nights up until our trip checking I had actually managed to plan this accurately. Amazingly I seemed to have pulled it off and started to relax once my husband knew my plans, assured that any minor hiccups would be left in his hands.

Two days before the flight my husband called me from work to inform me I had in fact booked two tickets for myself… Yes he wasn’t booked on under his name…Some might be sent into a meltdown over such an error but for me this is par and course of how my life rolls and was something I expected to happen at some point along this journey. Hours on the line to British Airways and a newly purchased ticket in my husbands name and we were good to go once more!

Acqua Alta

The Tuesday before we were due to leave news headlines began to flash with headlines such as “VENICE FLOODING” “KILLER FLOODS” and “VENICE’S WORST FLOODS IN 50 YEAR’S” To say this heightened my anxiety was an understatement. Sometimes I long to be that carefree 20 year old who didn’t seem to care what life threw at her but the truth is I become terrified of even the littlest things and how they will affect my family, therefore major flooding sent me into full on panic mode!

However after arriving in Venice I began to realise that actually it was nothing like what I imagined. Acqua Alta which occurred the days before we arrived is typically caused by the tides and normally lasts 3-4 hours before it starts to go down again. Venice is in a lagoon and when the water level of the lagoon rises 140cm or more above the standard sea level this is classed as Acqua Alta. On Tuesday the water level reached 187cm above the sea level. It was clear to see the damage the flood had caused and there was sadness reflected in many of the local shop, restaurant and business owner’s faces as they worked hard to have their businesses ready for opening once more. Throughout our time in the city we see many mattresses, kitchen appliances etc stacked neatly outside the various establishments which had been destroyed by the earlier floods.

St Marks Square was still pretty flooded when we arrived there on our second day and some of the galleries and places of interest were closed due to the flood damage. We went well equipped with wellies and used the makeshift walkways put in place to avoid deeper areas of flood water.

What We Did

If you came to read about the art galleries and other highly cultures places of interest I visited I’m afraid you will be disappointed. Many people said to me prior to our trip that it’s a shame so many places were closed due to the flooding and I received many tweets and messages along the same lines. “Sorry you’re there when it’s flooded” “it’s such a shame”

However I felt far from disappointed with my visit. This trip was never about visiting art or developing myself culturally, it was about spending time with my husband just he and I in a beautiful city. What could be more perfect than wandering from pub to pub with a handsome Irishman in a floating city! Obvious winning elements to the trip were of course eating hot meals, drinking alcohol and undisturbed sleep due to the temporary break from my three hooligans.

The Irishman and I walked for miles along the narrow winding streets across the hundreds of canal bridges and simply caught up with eachother for what can seem impossible when you are busy parenting! We finished all of those half conversations we began over the last months which may have been cut short by a screaming toddler and were simply happy to be together.

On our only real full day, on the Saturday, we bought a day travel pass for the water buses which run many different routes and lines and simply hopped on and off of it around the city. Stopping off at bars and nosing around the streets. We also visited quite a few of the Catholic churches and places of worship.

Catholicism

Something I have battled with over the last 6 months or so is the feeling I have lost my faith. Brought up Catholic I have always had a strong sense of faith and felt God’s presence near me and something I’ve been able to turn to. In my times of need and loneliness in the past simply entering a church has made me feel at ease. However recently I felt that ebb away and disappear and it scared me. I have tried countless times to sit and pray in local churches, lit candles and even spoken to members of my local church about my worries to all avail.

Losing my nan a few months ago I sat in the church at her funeral and felt nothing but anger and hatred at someone or something who could take someone so precious to our family away from us when there are so many evil people in this world. That anger sat with me and I figured that perhaps this was how my life would be, that my faith had gone.

This weekend however as I walked around the Catholic churches I felt the feeling I had longed for so long. I felt my faith returning and was almost winded with the sudden emotion and happiness I felt at having that belief and faith return to me. It’s hard to put into writing the feeling that overcame me and I know many who don’t believe may not understand it but for me it was something which made this trip even more memorable and special to me.

As I sit on the train back to my countryside abode I watch the Thames and Tower Bridge pass me by on our route through London, my home town. It’s hard as a Londoner to find a city which matches or even comes close to your own city but I can safely say Venice has come close this weekend. It has been an unforgettable weekend of love and laughter with memories made in which I’ll cherish forever.