Saturday, 31 August 2013


It was late in the evening of 29th December, 1996. I was lying on the sofa with my husband, watching the Judge Dredd movie on the TV and eating Quality Street left over from Christmas, when my waters broke. It wasn't a gush but it was considerably more than a trickle. My husband was slow to respond but he did eventually answer my plea for TOWELS!!!

I had a home birth planned so the most important thing was to stay calm. I got myself cleaned up and as the contractions were not particularly bothersome at this early stage, I decided to go to bed to try and get some sleep in preparation for the exhausting feat of labour I would soon be experiencing.

I slept as much as excitement and nervousness would allow, but I was at least resting.

By morning, the contractions were stronger. My husband was completely useless at emotional support but he was very good at the practical stuff - looking after our three children and contacting the hospital. This was my second home birth and I have to confess that the details of each are muddled in my memory. I suffered badly with depression at that time and there are huge chunks of my life that are lost to the fog of mental illness. I do remember watching The Animals of Farthing wood on DVD in my bed with the kids and when the pains came, reassuring them that it was OK, they were good pains - but I'm not sure which of the home births that is a detail from.

By evening, there was still no sign of the new arrival. The children were put to bed and eventually the midwife was called. As I still wasn't fully dilated, the midwife made herself a bed out of our spare duvet  in the corner of our bedroom and tried to get some rest herself. A tin of Christmas biscuits was on standby for when instant energy was needed.

When it got to 24 hours since my waters broke, the midwife spoke of the need to get me to hospital. Thankfully, she was quite relaxed and as things began to progress more quickly, she gave me a little more time to have the home birth I wanted. Things began to progress MUCH more quickly. The second midwife was called to attend the birth and only just got there in time. In the early hours of 31st December 1996, my daughter was born.

Right from the start I thought she was different from the three daughters I already had. Each of them had weighed in at around 7+ pounds. This baby was over 9lbs. The birth had felt different (much more painful) and she looked different - not just bigger but lacking the fragility of a newborn. The first sized clothes were instantly discarded in favour of the next size up. I remember asking my husband if she was alright. I don't remember him answering. I think he was busy taking the tea/coffee requests from the midwives.

The midwives left. Alone with my new baby, I fed her and fell asleep with her cradled in my arms. In the morning, I introduced Baby Charis to her sisters. The youngest took one look at her, said "I don't like Baby Carrots" and stomped off!

It wasn't long before she was a fully integrated member of the family with each of her sisters eager to share in the looking after. She was unfazed by the clumsy attempts of a three year old to comfort her by sticking a finger in her mouth.

Charis was placid and self contained. She didn't require very much attention.

As she grew older, it became clear that she was a little different. Her speech was not developing in the expected way and there were fears that she was perhaps not hearing properly. Thorough testing found nothing wrong with her hearing. It seemed that Charis was making the choice to live in her own little bubble of silence. It broke my heart to hear other children her age chattering away and imploring parents to "Look at me!!" as they played. Charis said nothing.

She had a habit of sucking the index and middle finger of one hand. She would not remove the fingers when drinking milk from her lidded beaker. She devised a technique whereby the milk would run down the channel between her fingers and into her mouth. She loved her milk. It was probably the first word that she uttered with any reliability - only she didn't call it 'milk', she called it 'moo'. We all began to call it moo!

When Charis started nursery school, I pre-warned the staff about her lack of language. After a few days, they assured me that there was no problem - she communicated perfectly. They probably thought I was some kind of neurotic mother. I will never know what really happened but Charis just talked as though there had never been a problem.

I stopped worrying about her language development but did find it peculiar that she would line all her toys up in size order and organise her drawers and shelves with military precision.

At primary school, it was remarked upon how she would listen intently and she thrived academically. However, it did become obvious that she lacked some social skills that seemed to come naturally to her peers and made literal interpretations that sometimes left her terribly confused. Poetry and flowery prose were a complete mystery to her.

One of her teachers suggested to me that she might fall under the autistic umbrella. I had long since suspected as much and it was reassuring to have my suspicions validated by an educational professional. I worked with Charis to help her make sense of her confusion and by observing and imitating social behaviour, she managed to fit in.

Charis grew very tall but without a hint of awkwardness. She possessed natural grace and poise. She excelled academically at secondary school and enjoyed the security of a close circle of friends.  She found a passion for music and drama and never failed to move me with her performances.

There were occasional obstacles to her success - poetry and prose continued to be a mystery that she needed help to unravel. I always felt honoured if I could provide that help somehow.

Charis achieved an outstanding set of results in her GCSEs and today, she took the next step in her journey when I dropped her off at the boarding school she won a scholarship to attend.

We have spent time over summer preparing for this moment. There were shopping trips that stretched my credit card to the limit. There were two days of sewing name labels onto every item of clothing. There was packing. There were goodbyes. Throughout it all, she was worried that she wasn't feeling anything - not nervousness, not excitement, not fear that she would miss us - nothing. On the drive to school, she suddenly felt it all - all at once. She had a five minute panic then calm was restored as she emerged ready for all the new challenges.

I could not have been more proud of the confident, excited young woman who settled herself in to her room (with her usual meticulous organisation) and introduced herself to fellow students.

As I left her to start the new chapter of her life, I wished her luck. I don't think she is going to need it.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Disney Cakes & Sweets

I was really happy when I was offered the chance to review the new Disney Cakes & Sweets Partwork that goes on sale September 4th. I love baking and my kids love Disney. Perfect!

I did imagine that with it being Disney, the Part work would be aimed at children. It isn't at all. It is a lavishly illustrated publication with a wealth of recipes to inspire adult bakers. The step by step instructions make even the more challenging projects seem achievable.

Each part comes with an exclusively designed Disney branded item. Part 1 includes a Mickey Mouse cookie cutter which I was keen to try out.

The cookie cutter was easy to use and I was delighted with my tray of smiling Mickeys. The children were enchanted with them just as they were so I didn't get round to icing them this time but I didn't feel daunted by the prospect. The ability to create professional looking results seemed totally within my grasp.

Unfortunately, my little boy was so excited by it all, that he managed to break my cookie cutter. I will definitely be keeping my eye open for a replacement Part 1 at the bargain introductory price of just 99p.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Balancing Cactus

I am a big fan of wooden toys and I absolutely love the Balancing Cactus I was sent to review from Plan Toys.

It is a simple strategy game whereby players aged from three years take turns to build the cactus without it toppling over.

The pieces are brightly coloured and very pleasing to handle.

It is very well made and the pieces fit together easily in a multitude of combinations into the base - some constructions offering more stability than others!

Both my little ones (and dad!) enjoyed playing the game, taking great care to position their pieces and with the predictable whoops of delight when the whole thing eventually toppled over.

From an educational perspective, the game certainly encouraged turn taking, manual dexterity, precision and planning.

My daughter was very happy to remove the competitive element and sit quietly on her own creating interesting designs.

I like how this toy looks so much I am considering displaying it as a funky ornament when the children are not using it. My environmentally conscious side was satisfied to see that it was made from chemical free, replenishable rubberwood.

We have had many toys that the children have enjoyed playing with, grown out of and have since been donated to our local charity shop. Unfortunately for the charity shop, the Balancing Cactus will NOT be finding it's way onto their shelves any time soon. This is definitely a toy I will hold onto for the day I  put together  a 'grandma's toybox' to entertain any future grandchildren in the years to come.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Goodbye Old Wellies, Hello V Festival

This weekend is the V Festival weekend. If the weather forecast is to be trusted it is going to be a WET one, which means - welly time!

These are my wellies.

They were part of the Tickled Pink range in Asda many years ago, raising money for Breast Cancer Charities. I fell totally in love with them. They were actually pinker then but time, muddy festivals, gardening and creosoting fences have all taken their toll. I would overlook the fading and the brown splodges but I could not ignore the big split that appeared, new for 2013.

Reluctantly, I had to accept it was the right moment to replace them.

I could not find a design to rival my beautiful 'black lace over girly pink' so I opted for shiny black wellies.

I found a pair of shorts in a local charity shop to wear with my new wellies which means I am ready for my weekend of live music and the horrifically churned up grounds of Weston Park.

I don't suppose the shiny blackness will last for long!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Electro Dough

The weeks of this summer holiday seem to be flying past far too quickly - but we did manage to squeeze in a moment for some frivolous fun with technology after being sent an Electro Dough Kit from Technology Will Save Us as part of a new campaign being launched by the charity Nesta.

The campaign Make Things Do Stuff  aims to encourage young people to be creators of digital technologies rather than just users.

My 16year old daughter, Charis, was happy to take on the challenge.

The kit contained an exciting mix of electronic components, some fun shape cutters and instructions detailing first how to make your conductive dough and then what to do with it!

Charis wasted no time getting stuck into making her dough and apart from dyeing her fingers blue with food colouring (slightly embarrassing for her as she was due to practise her piano duets later that day) the whole process was very straightforward.

Connecting the battery pack to the balls of dough and then completing a simple circuit gave us the satisfaction of seeing our first LED light up - a cause for much celebration!

Unfortunately, time ran out for Charis before she could really get to grips with the possibilities and unleash her creativity. As she headed off for her piano lesson, dad decided it was his turn to put his Physics degree to good use.  Five year old Addy was attracted by the blue dough and fascinated by all the intriguing little components. Between them they had lots of fun.

It definitely felt like doing 'proper' science with plenty of freedom to explore and try out your own ideas.

The Electro Dough Kit is available online for £13.50

The Make Things Do Stuff website which contains a wealth of information, including step by step tutorials, can be found at 
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