Advent 2018

I know that it’s super late to be talking about what we got up to over advent, but as I have said in some previous posts, we haven’t had the best of Winters… not that Winter is easy for anyone, but anxiety is especially high in our house from approximately October through to mid January here. And then we had loads of things happen like flooded house, car accident, emergency vets, a 3 am trip to A&E… on top of building works, it’s been quite a time. And this blog is primarily for me to keep a track of what’s occurred so I need to go through it all… no matter how late!

As we do every year, we arranged a calendar which gives the children a bit more focus and reduces the anxiety somewhat (well… it doesn’t reduce it, but it makes each day more manageable). The calendar is presented differently each year – sometimes in a series of envelopes, sometimes in little glass bottles. And in each one is a little message that says what today’s theme is.

There are days and activities that occur annually: Letters to Santa on Day 1, putting up the decorations on the first Sunday, Christmas Eve box .The rest generally follows this pattern (unless the above falls on one of those days:
Monday: Charity day
Tuesday: Craft/Challenge
Wednesday: Christmas food
Thursday: small gift day (basically, something we would have given for Christmas but they can’t cope with much so we spread it out).
Friday: Family movie day
Weekends – family related activities (such as visiting Santa, baking Christmas goodies etc.)

This year, as they are loving the whole West Midlands Safari Park idea, we did the Santa Safari for their annual Santa visit. We got an early slot, so that the kids could beat the busy atmosphere – we won’t usually go somewhere like this on a weekend at a “normal” time of year, let alone a busy one. We got there a little early, and they were first in to see Santa. It was definitely well thought out; they had the normal safari park stuff (no theme park during Winter) so access to the safari drive through, access to the walk around bits and sea lion show etc. but with an area setup for Santa. The kids go went through these little sections to break up the queue; a “sleigh ride” to the North Pole, a walk through a little winter Wonderland to Santa’s little lodge, where they get a photo with Santa and then through to the workshop to choose their toy. The ticket also included a visit to get one of Mrs Claus’ cookies and a hot chocolate. The kids thought it was amazing. Because we have done the safari park and the bits around, we didn’t stick around for the festivities as they really cannot handle it, so we leave on a positive note before they get too overwhelmed and have a meltdown. They loved every second of it.

This year, we added a new event to our advent setup that we think we will continue to factor into our yearly plans; we arranged a Christmas coffee afternoon. You can read more about it in our Christmas and New Year 2018 post… but this meant that one of our days was spent baking in preparation.

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”

Review: Avatar Bowling/Reel Cinema Kidderminster

Retrospective review… delayed due to Winter madness

Anyhow… back in October we found out that Avatar Bowling was opening in Kidderminster. So at the end of October we went to see what it was like (combined with a trip to the neighbouring Reel Cinema. I should note that the two establishments are completely separate but they are reviewed together as they happened in the same day.

I’ll start with the cinema, I won’t review the film, just the establishment. The cinema was small – just 4 screens. If you go in thinking luxury, modern cinema you may be disappointed. If you go in thinking small, independent cinema you will likely have your expectations met, or exceeded. The foyer was street level, where the tickets could be purchased alongside a reasonable selection of snacks (and actually as far as cinemas go, they had some offers that meant the food was slightly less expensive, still at a premium but slightly lower than prices you’d find at say Vue/Cineworld/Odeon). There was a wheelchair lift up to the screens (all upstairs), with toilets and a little area for children’s parties. The screening rooms were intimate and surprisingly comfortable. For a family of 4 with some snacks it came to just shy of £35. The staff were friendly, accommodating and knowledgeable. Overall, it was a great experience and we’d do it again.

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With regards to Avatar Bowling. The children had never been bowling before (well to our knowledge). So we just payed for them to bowl as we had no idea how long they’d take, especially considering their mobility/motor issues and such. The pricing was reasonable, and we had initially planned that if they got on with the first game that we’d play as a family for a round after and have food there and some drinks. However, the constant eyes on, and the suspicious looks as they were playing (even down to just getting a frame for Caitlin to use to roll the ball down as even the light ones were too heavy for her) was off putting and frankly uncomfortable. So we left, never to return. Funnily enough, not many weeks later they banned children from the establishment.

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In the background

I am doing things in the background, I really am – there are several posts (well perhaps several hundred would be a more apt description). I don’t hide that the last few months of the year are always a strain in this household, but this year has brought its own unique challenges. We are coming out of the other side now, but doesn’t change the fact that I am worn to the core, 7 weeks behind at uni (I just scraped in an essay on time – 48 unfocused hours to do 4 weeks of work, write the essay and get it roughly proofed and referenced), in the middle of more major work at the house (this time landscaping and flooring), trying to home educate and now, train a puppy… yes a puppy. There will be a post about him appearing soon enough I am sure!

But I wanted to come online and post a quick “Happy New Year, we are in the background, we’re not in a fantastic place, but we aren’t entirely broken either…” message. Once I have sorted us out here, I will get on it. In the interim you may see posts sporadically coming in… I keep dreaming of this time that I will be able to have a regular scheduled place and time to sit and study and write my blogs. It will happen. It WILL! I swear it. IT WILL! Hehehehe.

 

A new page… and our summer so far

So, many reviews have been going up – I have been concentrating on getting those up to date – so it’s clear we are up and about, though still not back at full energy capacity. However, whilst the summer holidays are in full swing, we are making use of friends and family being out and about to actually see people. After all we have had so many months of stress, illness and mundane priorities. Time for some fun.

I think, from the reviews it’s clear what we have been up to on the trip-front, but at home things have been a little different too. We have been doing less sorting and more fun, family tasks, learning and getting more into a fuller routine. We found a cleaner to try and take some pressure off me… yay! I don’t need to clean our bathroom and en suite any more – that’s so much pressure removed, and strangely just the removal of those jobs has expanded my capability to get back on track enormously. Plus, after some more regrowth in the garden, we are slowly getting back on top of things.

 

That said, shortly after moving in, we found out that part of the roof (covering the part that’s connecting the main house to what was an out building) is not fit for purpose. It’s just glass that has been tar painted (and cracked) with plasterboard underneath. The longer we have been here, the more its weakness is displayed in terms of leaks – with each rain fall we find that we have new puddles inside, in the direct vicinity of electricals and their outlets. But thankfully, a roofer has been arranged, and we are on our way to having that fixed.

 

In the interim, we have been trying to have fun, trying to establish more of a routine and doing less menial tasks (such as sorting/emptiyng boxes, clothes etc.) and more fun tasks like baking we actually have an oven that can bake through without burning the outer! YES! And things such as crafts like sewing and also using the Spielgaben.

 

Which ultimately leads me to our new page. As we go about the daily challenges of family life and home education, we encounter various different bits of equipment, kit, objects etc. that we use. I decided that (when searching for these and coming up short on reviews for some) that I would start making reviews of the new bits we get. It is here.

That pretty much concludes our update for now. I summary, we are up and about ;things have been straggling in the house (and we need a new roof); we are doing crafts and bits; we have a new page.

Review: Seaquarium Weston-Super-Mare

As Granadad and Nanny were in Burnham-on-Sea having a holiday, we decided, it’s really not all that far and we haven’t seen them in a while so we should go visit them. The plan was for a beach day, but we chose to go down on a day when the weather was drab. Though for us that’d normally mean “yay waterproofs”, Nanny and Grandad were on holiday with Ariella’s step brother Jamie. Jamie is on the ASD spectrum and doesn’t do much outdoors, and definitely not much that involves rain.

After much searching around for a plan, Jamie agreed that he’d be happy to go to Weston-Super-Mare and visit the Seaquarium. Again my inner (ethical) conflict came to the surface, but still we went. And I will try and review this without letting that come to the surface.

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The Seaquarium was well thought out, utilising different angles of the same tank as viewing space in order to maximise the size of the main tank (with tunnel). The tanks all looked clean and in good order and there didn’t seem to be overcrowding in any of the tanks. There was a good variety of sea life on offer and the aquarium offered up lots of opportunity for learning, not just of the view-able sea life on offer, but also about ecological and environmental stability.

As the ticket is valid for re-entry all day, we went around a second time. But the second time we did the treasure trail that we didn’t know was on until we got inside the first time. It was quite good, clues related to the sections of the aquarium. Each section had a board for them to go to so they could stamp it with a punch. And at the end they had a pirate related prize.

Situated on a pier of its own on the sea front between the Grand Pier and the old Tropicana pool, it is in a prime location. There is nearby roadside parking which is quite expensive (if memory serves, £10 for the day), but the nearby shopping mall was slightly cheaper so we parked there, which was a reasonable walk. It was by no means a cheap attraction, but was on par with other attractions of its type (£9.50/adult and £7.50/child). Discounts offered for carers and also (we found out) to West Midlands Safari Park pass holders (as they are operated by the same group).

Please note, this is a review based on our personal experience and opinion. The Seaquarium didn’t know we were going to write this review. 

Review: National Trust The Firs (Elgar Birthplace Museum)

The property is situated just outside of Worcester about a 10-15 minute drive from another National Trust property we visited on the same day (Brockhampton Estate). It is set just back off the road and is a relatively small property and has a relatively small car park and overflow.

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The entrance to the property itself is via the visitor centre where you can find a lot of information about Elgar, book your time slot to visit the cottage itself (they have to control the numbers in the cottage due to its size) and find out what’s happening on site that day. I shall not reproduce information about the property, details of it can be found here. I have to say, I really wasn’t expecting much out of this trip, but actually I was pleasantly surprise by how much was on offer, in terms of to see, learn and do.

 

 

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Like many other National Trust properties there are summer activities here for children. They had storytelling in the garden (free) and also puppet making in the foyer (£1.50/puppet). The lady, I forgot her name, running both of these on the day was lovely. Logan was really struggling with boundaries that day (as in restrictions on what he should/shouldn’t do and personal space), and she was very patient with him.

 

 

We also had quite some hunger after our little jaunt at… so I got me a pea soup and the children shared a cheese sandwich, between us we shared 2 slices of Victoria sponge and the children had a juice each whilst I had a Sicilian lemonade. The bill came to just over £21, 1 sandwich, 1 soup, 2 slices of cake and 3 drinks. I felt the prices for the drinks were on par with high end prices elsewhere, and the price of the soup/sandwich was reasonable. But the cake, at £3.25/slice; I was expecting more than just a dry sponge with a thin layer of jam. It really was quite stale.

However, was too tired to argue it and face the wrath of the children after the promise of cake. It was dry enough for me to need to go and get a glass of tap water, which is on offer in a dispenser. However, it was empty so I approached the counter to be met with an expression of displeasure and inconvenience. I had already paid for drinks, but nonetheless the feeling I got when I approached for tap water was very uncomfortable.

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It’s definitely worth a visit.

This is a genuine review and all opinions are based on my own experiences during the visit. The National Trust are not funding my visits, we have a year annual pass that was gifted by a family member as a Christmas present, hence our numerous National Trust visits. 

Review: National Trust Brockhampton Estate

The property is entered directly from the A44 between Bromyard and Worcester. About a 10-15 minute drive from another National Trust property we visited the same day (The Elgar Birthplace Museum – The Firs). The long, high wall on the outer of the property gives an indication of a vast estate, but it doesn’t prepare you for what you encounter.

After driving a few minutes down a single track road, surrounded by open countryside and grazing sheep you get to a lay-by and a little hut where you are expected to pull over. A National Trust member of staff comes to greet you and ask what your plans are for the day (so they can give you directions). It’s here that we found out we weren’t actually “here” yet… the actual house and gardens are a further 1.5 miles drive through the estate down this single track. The beauty cannot be escaped though – even the children were making sounds of awe as we turned the corner downhill towards the Lower Brockhampton estate. And then again as the road became tree lined. And then cheers of excietment when they realised we were at the car park and the much anticipated end of journey was nigh.

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The medieval manor house (entered by a cute little gatehouse) takes you through much history and is very well presented and provides a lot of information. This is a house with no roped off areas, so you can really get up close to the displays and furnishings. And in one of the upstairs rooms there’s a chance for dress up; though the children didn’t actually dress up on this visit, the house is a bit dark which added an eerie feel, they didn’t want to stick around too long upstairs. With short films available in a room at the back taking you through how the house was opened, archaeology days and the like.

 

 

 

 

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There is a lot more information to be found on various signs around the gardens and also in the courtyard by the Granary shop and kiosk (which we didn’t use on our visit, as we didn’t have need to). You can find a lot of information about the history and uses of the estate and some of the history of the chapel, as well as some information about agriculture.

 

 

 

 

The chapel is in ruins, but still has 4 walls and and is in good enough a state to get some kind of feel for space and layout. And previous archaeological digs have found remnants that give an indication of how it would have looked, so there are pictures of that too. The children thought it was very cool to see the font in position in the chapel. More history about the property and the site can be found at their website here.

 

 

 

 

The grounds are vast and as such we didn’t cover much of them, there are many walks but we didn’t come prepared for off-roading with Caitlin (we had the standard town-friendly wheelchair, and no carrier). We did try, but after rolling through a lot of sheep poop, and flicking it everywhere as the wheels spun, we decided to call it quits and hope that we may be able to get back there on another day for a walk (perhaps with Bruce, so he can share the carrying duties hehehe).

 

 

 

Whilst we were there, they were running the “Make do and mend” trail, where the children got to hunt for different things whilst learning about how people used to make do and mend. They found it both interesting and fun and were excited to chose their prizes at the end. It was an additional cost of £2.50.

This is a genuine review and all opinions are based on my own experiences during the visit. The National Trust are not funding my visits, we have a year annual pass that was gifted by a family member as a Christmas present, hence our numerous National Trust visits. 

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.