Review: Kidz Barn

I won’t sit and debate my conflict of soft play here (you know that ugh! it’s useful, but ugh! headache…). Instead looking at soft play as a positive developmental tool I will review our experience of this particular establishment.

Initially, it was difficult to work out whether there’d be parking, as the establishment is down a little road past a car park for the football ground, which led to a residents only car park, and eventually a tiny car park for the soft play (enough for about 6 cars). However, as it was midweek term time we didn’t have a trouble with that.

On arrival we were greeted with a smile and the customer service was great; having established I wanted to pay by card and buy food too I was able to open a tab, instead of paying in small increments, and pay at the time we were preparing to leave. As someone who rarely carries cash (I spend and lose money waaaay too easily), this was perfect.

The cafe area and the soft play area appeared to be well cleaned and thoughtfully laid out. The staff were never idle, they were always busy serving, prepping or cleaning. All too often I find that staff in these places are busy gossiping whenever you need them. I don’t mind people being busy and not immediately available to me if they are working – I am someone with patience and respect, but it is a gripe of mine when the people are stood around gossiping. So bonus points always go to those soft plays where I am never subjected to it (and we’ve been a couple of times now so… can say this with some certainty).

The food wasn’t too bad either, the usual offenders and food stuffs generally associated with soft play. We were naughty and opted for chips with our meals… but hey! It was nice, wouldn’t shout from the rooftops and call it the most amazing food ever, but it definitely wasn’t bad! We would definitely order again.

Logan says “It’s fantastic”

Caitlin says “I loooooooooooove it”

The light never goes out…

… you know the one at the end of the tunnel. It’s still there, it’s just that the length of the pathway, the obstacles in my way and the stability of the road aren’t clear. And at the moment it feels very unstable and full of obstacles. Relentlessly so. I’m quite literally treading water with my energy, my body, my health. And I keep thinking “oooo, just gotta do x, y and z and then I can recover a little….” but then the list is scuppered by major dramas. Just to list a few to give an indication:

  • Major roof leak (on one section of the single-storey part of the house only)
  • Car drama – headlights stopped working, intermittently, couldn’t recreate scenario at the garage. Eventually got something sorted.
  • Logan’s sleep saga continues… although now we are back (begrudgingly) with Melatonin and this time we are actually seeing some more benefit than last time; it definitely hasn’t fixed the problem, but we are seeing more “good” nights (where there’s a more solid chunk of sleep).
  • Caitlin’s muscular issues have been fluctuating, and where we have had a more steady constant stream of physical activity, I am less able to predict what’s going to be too much (I am sure our super steep stairs do not help, some visitors actually get anxiety about coming down them).
  • Colds and Flu – I have SOOOOOOOOOOOO not been on top of our immunity routine. And although we have a very good diet, it just hasn’t been enough. Cue a series of colds, and what we think was the flu on the last batch.
  • Bank drama – 6 months after moving (5 months after no access to old house/address change) the bank decided to “accidentally” post some of our account details to an old address (I had been into the bank to change it personally as they wouldn’t do it over the phone/couldn’t online). So needless to say I am changing banks.
  • Therapy – each session seems to actually be leaving the kids feeling vulnerable afterwards and having an impact on behaviour for a week or two afterwards now. Which is good in some ways (it’s working, but it’s exhausting).
  • Uni – has started back up again, and I may have bitten off more than I can chew all things considered this year, but I’m the kind of person that makes things happen. I always have been.

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However, despite all the drama and exhaustion, we now have someone coming in to do the deeper clean of the bathroom, en suite and kitchen. And a volunteer from a wonderful charity called Home Start coming in to just give me a bit of human interaction once a week (and eventually we are hoping it’ll lead to respite for me, when the kids are able to trust her enough to listen to her whilst I am out of the room for long enough for me to just go read a bit, or soak a bit), and access to regular groups where the kids can just be themselves without me having to care.

AND on top of that, I actually got some me time. with a friend… a mini spa day (by mini I mean, no treatments just use of the facilities and a relax for a while). It was at the St Pierre Marriott Hotel and Country Club. I will not waste my time with a review – I will just say: we arrived to find staff talking about their desire to “get out of there” and travel and work cash in hand on the fly as they do, with little interest in us actually checking in/any queries. The facilities were tired and outdated. When we got in the jacuzzi, it was hard to relax for all the unregulated children running around screaming, and when they finally left I had a headache and couldn’t be bothered any longer. Got out to try and have lunch, and despite the bar being less than 25% seated, they told me food would be at least a 45 minute wait. Don’t even bother going. It wasn’t all to waste though, as I went by train so I got to enjoy listening to music on my MP3, whilst alternating between reading my Kindle and checking out the views!

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Regardless. I am here, plodding on, taking the obstacles as I come upon them. Some days life feels like it is moving forward. Some days it feels as if the weight of the world is against us (or rather me) and that I am fighting against it alone. But now it feels like we are balancing out a bit more, like the days moving forward are happening more. Still largely over shadowed by fighting and grief, but with a more constant presence of underlying peace and happiness.

 

Review: DIY Tribe – workshop and sewing kits

We were recently at the Green Gathering festival where The DIY Tribe came and gave some sewing workshops.

Jo was friendly and engaging, the children taking part in our camping group were aged between 5 and 10 and all came with us. Though there were adults and teens at the same session not in our group also enjoying themselves. The session was well prepped in terms of plan, supply of equipment and materials and back ups. If anyone was struggling Jo was attentive and encouraging in the way she approached helping them. She was also flexible to the members of the group who wanted to go in their own artistic direction (and come up with their own designs).

If I had an event where a workshop of this nature was suitable/required, I would not hesitate in asking for The DIY Tribe. More information about the workshops here.

The children were very excited to bring home their makes. They absolutely loved that it was “real sewing, stabby needles and all” instead of the “babyish needle sewing” they have in kits from friends and family. In fact, when I told them we had kits at home, from The DIY Tribe that I had previously got, they were very excited.

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The kits at home

The excitement from the workshop didn’t disappear when we got home. In fact, even though they have now completed their kits at home they are still very fired up in terms of creativity.

The kits came in very cute and neatly packaged little boxes, with the loose materials tied inside the main piece of fabric and then a good quality embroidery hoop, real needle and some paper instructions complete with templates. The kits are designed so that the children have a more real world experience of a sewing project; aside from having collect the materials (it’s all provided) they have to do everything from cutting templates right through to pinning the cut outs to the fabric to sew. All of the preparation is done by them. The only thing you need to add to the kit is a pair of scissors.

The kits are aged at 8+. Aged a little above and a little below that age with motor difficulties a little guidance was required (mostly help with knots) and they both pricked themselves (and me) a ton… but it’s all part of the development and learning process and left us all in giggles. No tears were shed. It was definitely suitable to both of their needs, they just both needed differing levels of support to complete it.

They loved watching their kits slowly evolving into their own little masterpiece and you could see the sense of pride and achievement grow with each stage. It also helped Logan, who’s very much a “I want it finished yesterday” kind of boy in understanding somewhat that sometimes it takes time to achieve what you want to achieve. But the level of difficulty in this kit means the end goal is attainable, though still has an element of challenge (in a positive-learning experience kind of way). And the different materials and stitches required meant that it wasn’t all just the same old technique which made it more fun.

 

In all it took about 1 hour to complete their projects (around 10 minutes prep, 40 minutes making time and 10 minutes clear up). The children are very proud of what they have achieved and cannot wait to frame their projects ready to present them to their grandparents for Christmas (yes, we are collecting our projects through the year to give to the grandparents for Christmas – so Grandparents, we hope you are not reading this).

More information about the kits can be found here.

NB. This is a genuine review. At the time of writing Jo and The DIY Tribe have no idea that this blog even exists (to my knowledge) let alone that they’d be reviewed.

 

Review: Green Gathering

Set among the beautiful scenery of Piercefield Park in Chepstow (adjacent to the racecourse) the festival is in an easily reachable location (easy access to M4, A48 and A40/A449). Only a short distance from the town centre of Chepstow itself and with views across the Severn (and the old bridge).

The children have never been to a festival before. Camping yes, but not at an event. So this was going to be their first taste; we knew we may not get the full festival experience (due to their issues), but none the less I grabbed the camping gear, and packed the essentials (and the essential essential oils – for use on cotton pads to disperse the likely moods giving us the best chance of staying). We packed all we’d need, and managed to get all of it (and ourselves) into the car with some success. Now just to get it all there and get pitched.

When I got to the car park, it was about 45 minutes ahead of gate opening. There were 2 attendants in the car park, directing cars, but very little information about “what next”. There were 2 areas of fencing, with a box office hut next to one. We assumed we needed to queue near the one for wristband exchange (we did) and that the other area of fencing was the bus queue (it was) but it was all guess work. So we dumped our bags in what us early arrivals had mutually decided must be a queue of sorts for the buses and headed over to queue for the wristbands at the booking office hut. Some clearer signage or a steward overseeing this would have helped, but it did all work out (though must mention here also – we were on the first bus – the bus drivers had no clue where they were going/if they’d fit etc. some extra communication to them may have been helpful).

Queuing, getting to the bus etc. actually helped ease my stress levels – suddenly I was able to see the warmth, kindness and character of the people I would be sharing the camp with for the next few days. And I was at ease. So many different types of people, yet the phrase going around in my head was “Community of strangers” (note the emphasis on unity). Everyone so friendly and ready to help everyone else.

This continued over into my access to the camp; pushing a wheelchair, carrying bags and supervising 2 children – I had help all the way. And then when pitching the tent (with friends) a teen boy approached asking if anyone needed help – known to the friends I was pitching with. He was very helpful indeed and was rightfully rewarded in snacks (despite his suggestions that offerings were unnecessary).

 

The camping facilities were ample. That is to say, they were festival-like; festival camping isn’t about the facilities, sure you have the basics a supply of water, a field and somewhere to toilet (in fact there were even some showers – which we didn’t use). Fire pits and barbecues are normally allowed but due to the heatwave the last minute decision was taken to ban any on site (for the safety of everyone). Thank you precious one ring stove… you saved us (not that we’d have gone hungry with the amount of food on site).

This is the bit where the toilets are discussed, cause let’s face it – it’s important… people of sensitive disposition should just skip right over this paragraph and onto the pictures below. Now, having been a seasoned festival-er (back in the day) I have seen many things toilet-wise, from cesspits with cubicled benches over, where you quite literally can see your neighbour’s poop dropping into the stinking concoction of blue chemical, poop, vomit and urine; or she-wees handed out for women to use urinals (and walking in to find people taking a poop in it)… I was ready for anything. But sightly worried about the reactions of my daughter who’s got sensory issues like mad. However, this was much more civil. Cubicled rooms, with a wheelie bin for waste and compost collection. And to be honest, if people are following the “1 poop, 1 scoop” rule, it doesn’t actually smell either. Regular cleaning and restocking of toilet rolls too.

 

 

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Though we didn’t really have much opportunity to get involved with the music performances, we did experience some of  the music and the atmosphere as we did our nightly walks, or from afar in the day; there was, for sure, much talent to be heard and the atmosphere was vibrant, happy and safe. The children really struggle where it is obvious there are drunk people; whilst people may have been drinking there weren’t any obviously drunk people, or anything to leave them feeling unsafe and vulnerable. So their comfort levels are an obvious indicator to me as to the safe environment created. There was a campaigns field, many talks and short films, music, crafts field, healing field a faerie glade (lit up beautifully at night time in a magical way).

The bit where we really got involved was with the wealth of activities for the children to be engaged in: drama workshops, story yoga, circus skills, puppet shows, bubble shows, aerial hoop/silks displays, play areas, story areas… mostly free. Things such as the bunjee trampoline cost a little extra but not a lot – £1.50/go. Stories and bunnies in the faerie glade. And just some free-range play (well as close as we can get to that with the issues these two have – but in general they needed far less supervision than is normally required on them because they felt safe enough to not be destructive, or overly anxious) and socialisation with other children.

The children really loved the story yoga (they did the story of Goldilocks alongside yoga – with movements representing the story). And they also loved the DIY Tribe sewing workshop (which they had kits of anyhow, so a separate review for that is available here). The drama workshop was fantastic – the children both have real issues with self regulation and staying engaged in activities that get them worked up – they often have to walk away and come back, the guys running the workshop paid no mind to this and just went about there way including them on their return but not acknowledging or drawing attention to them wandering.

 

 

With the ban of fires, our cooking plans (a fire wok) were slightly scuppered. However, a backup single cooking ring allowed somewhat of a “back on track” solution for this (even if we had to cook in shifts). There were plenty of eateries available. Food that’s vegetarian or vegan (and due to intolerance reactions, vegan food means I am a happy camper).

I was particularly excited (especially so considering the heat) to find the ice cream van stocking cashew based ice cream – THEY EVEN HAD MINT CHOC CHIP. I swear I could have eaten the whole tub she was scooping out of. It was amazing – the best dairy free ice cream I have eaten (and believe me, I have experimented with a load). And at £2 for a child’s ice cream, £2.50 for an adults, £3.50 for a 2 scoop – I was happy to keep going back.

And the falafel, I find it hard to enjoy because it’s always either dry or like sloppy stuffing. Here it was crisp on the outside and moist in the middle. Just great. I had both a pitta and a platter during the course of the time there, with the pitta coming in at £7 and platter at £9, I’d say if you are doing it pay the extra £2 and get significantly more.

So… to conclude.

A festival with an Spring Advance ticket cost of £100 per adult, £25 for car (and nothing for children under 11) is a bargain summer weekend away with the kids, even if 2 adults are going. (Earlybird tickets are on offer now for next year so it’d be even cheaper at just £90!!!) There are lots of things (mostly free) for children to do and play with, lots of beautiful scenery as well as campaigns, music, healing, crafts, campaigns and an air of magic to feed your soul. A safe atmosphere means it’s easy to relax as a parent, even as a parent of special needs children. And of course, plentiful supply of yummy vegan, or vegetarian, food. With the ability to dip in and out of as much as you want, the ability to self cater or completely rely on the food and drink supplies available and the freedom for the children it’s really a no-brainer for a stay-cation with an awesome twist.

NB. This is a genuine review of my opinions and experience. At the time of writing, and publishing The Green Gathering festival organisers and ticket sellers have no idea that my blog exists. 

Review: Creatimber wobble board

Having been thinking about a wobble board for a long long time, I was confused as to whether one would be big enough, last long enough, be useful, be strong enough, help or hinder the developmental weaknesses experienced here. I am never worried about spending money on something if I know it’s going to get used and would have a purpose or have the potential to help. I just don’t want to waste money, or even space, by buying lots of stuff we don’t need.

After a family member had one of the Wobbel branded ones, I realised that size and use wouldn’t be an issue. But still unsure of whether it’d get much use, I was reluctant to spend out the prices. I am not at all put off by the quality of their products, I have seen them and they have a good finish, I just don’t want to spend that much and then the children not use it. And then a friend said something about their Creatimber.  Which was lower in price enough for me to think “ok we’ll try one”. We opted to have one with no felt backing as we are carpeted throughout, so it should be fine.

 

 

So, our experience. Well, its quality means it is both heavy and solid (so dropping it on your toe is not advisable – it will hurt, there will be tears). But the usage. No question. The children were encouraged to use it “however they saw fit” and the uses we have had so far:

  • wobbling side to side from
    • standing
    • seated
    • crouched/crawling position
  • as a boat
  • as a bridge to walk over (upturned)
  • a tunnel to crawl under (upturned)
  • a stage (upturned)
  • a role play shop display (upturned)
  • walking lentghways from one end to the other as it curves around
  • a very unsuccessful, but highly humorous see saw (big gaps in weight difference, hasn’t worked out yet, but some spectacular dismounts)
  • as a hill (upturned)
  • as an object to bounce bouncy balls off
  • as an obstacle in a course both ways

And this doesn’t even begin to consider the variations of each of those listed (the extra toys they have brought into it, the games they have made out of it. It is definitely worth the investment, it’ll definitely get used here, and we’d definitely recommend to others. The wobble board was shipped from Budapest, and I received order updates and shipping information relatively quickly. The product arrived within a week.

NB – this review brings me no profit, I have not been asked to review this product by Creatimber for a discount on my goods.