30 Dec 2012

#SilentSunday - Winter Walking

Winter Walking
Picture available for free download along with my other images (credit required) from http://www.sxc.hu/gallery/tlst
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16 Oct 2012

The tumble dryer that felled "superwoman"

It was the tumble dryer that did it.
You know when you're going flat out and then something unexpected happens that suddenly overwhelms you? Well for me it was the tumble dryer packing up. On a weekend. When Son1 was away on a very dirty survival weekend in the Lake District.
You could say, well at least it wasn't the washing machine, and you would be right, but still, when you live with two boys and a husband who exercises, a lot, it's still pretty bad. Son2 also likes his clothes soft and cuddly, not stiff and line dried and when you have Asperger Syndrome, this matters a great deal.
You wouldn't think something as every day as a broken tumble drier could spark such a wave of knock-down exhaustion, but it  did.
I've been working pretty much flat out this year with my DysNet job, my Special Needs Jungle doing really well and being involved with the Surrey SEN pathfinder reform. I've been on business trips to Belgium and Sweden and met many new and wonderful people through my work  and I've enjoyed it all. Well, most of it, anyway.
I have been energised, flying. I've even been described a few times, rather amusingly, as "Superwoman."
But I bet superwoman wouldn't have been defeated by a tumble dryer.
Superwoman wouldn't have wailed so loudly that her husband hurriedly offered to take the pile of wet laundry to dry at the launderette.
"We live in Farnham!" I cried in response. They don't have launderettes! When people in Farnham's tumble dryer breaks, they just get a new one!"
He quietly picked up the pile of damp washing and hung it up on airers in the conservatory, flicking it out to release the creases like an expert.
I skulked into my study, checked my email and listened to Joss Stone on Spotify asking "Tell me what we're gonna do now." Well quite.
Well, of course, what I'm going to do, once I've got over my mini melt-down, is ring D&G and book a service call. Though the local people can't come for a few more days.
Problem solved, you might think.
So why do I feel like I've suddenly been run over by a truck? Why is it that a tumble dryer breaking has prompted all the not so good things that have happened in recent weeks to play on my mind?
All of a sudden, exhaustion has knocked me down like a tidal wave. I take a nap and wake up feeling like I haven't been asleep at all. Waking up in the morning feels like it's the middle of the night.
There is a tightness in my chest and eating makes me feel sick. The incredible workload that I was managing well now seems like I'm at the foot of Everest with not a Sherpa in sight.
I'm old enough to know that, in the end, this too shall pass. Maybe with the help of a spa day or a day out, if at all possible.
But it just strikes me as funny that the final straw can be something that you least expect.
And just in case you're wondering, AEG, your A-rated vastly expensive Lavatherm 59800 condenser dryer with heat pump, sucks. Had it four years and it's broken three times already. Considering it cost £500, that's something approaching rubbish.
Just sayin'

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25 Sept 2012

Online to real life - friendship made flesh

A couple of years ago, when I first published my books, I got involved in writers' groups. I 'met' some great people and among them, one writer whose books I would have read, whether or not we had connected online. Libby Fischer Hellmann writes the kind of books I read - American, female, detective/police crime novels.
Marcia Muller, Sara Paretsky, Linda Fairstein, Linda Barnes, Laura Lippman, Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell (until recently) and even JD Robb and Janet Evanovich, I've read and loved them all.
So, when I came across Libby and her character Georgia Davies, a former Chicago cop turned PI, I was thrilled.
Even better, she has a second protagonist in earlier books, Ellie Foreman, who reminds me so much of Libby herself. Libby is a great writer and I loved her books and, as she's written quite a few, I still have more to come.
Her latest, A Bitter Veil, set in 70s Chicago and revolutionary Iran, is a departure, but the writing is just as stellar and the story engrossing.
Anyway... last week, Libby came to visit as part of her solo trip around the UK. It was so wonderful having her to stay and we visited both Jane Austen's House and Waverley Abbey, neither of which I've been to before, even though they're on my doorstep.
In Libby, I have discovered an older sister who has wisdom, common sense and a side of wickedness that I love. I have always said that when I grow up I want to be Libby Hellmann, and after this visit, I think that even more.
This evening, as I was cooking dinner, I was wishing she was still here. She helped us celebrate our 15th anniversary and as I stepped into the kitchen on the evening of our anniversary party last Saturday and saw her expertly packing away leftover food, she was not just my sister but my (far too young to really be-) mother too. 
Here's a few pics from her visit:
Libby & Jane Austen - I prefer Libby

At Waverley Abbey. Leo is on an invisible lead..


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31 Aug 2012

So what's wrong with my lunch?

I was told twice this week that I needed to improve my diet and nutrition. 
Once by my new personal trainer and once by my MLD Therapist.

Just had lunch. Really, I don't know what they're talking about.


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19 Aug 2012

Silent Sunday - Simply Brothers

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5 Aug 2012

Silent Sunday - 'nuff said

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31 Jul 2012

Ben Taylor's new album coming soon.. steady ladies..

One of my very favourite artists, Ben Taylor has his new record out in a few weeks. It's called Listening.
I'm quite excited about this, and so is my husband who is sick of hearing the same Ben Taylor songs over and over and over....

Here's a sneak preview...REALLY not sure about the glasses though..

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1 Jul 2012

My nephew, Dylan's daily fight against his rare disease - please help raise awareness

This is a post to highlight a rare disease that has affected my young nephew, Dylan who lives in North Wales. He was diagnosed with a kidney disease, Nephrotic Syndrome, earlier this year and his mum, my cousin Sam Davies-Abbott, is trying to raise awareness and funds to help find a cure. Here Sam's tells their story. 


My young son was a welcome addition to our family making us the average 2.2 family (make that two cats and no dog) along with his big sister.  Life was full of fun and laughter, along with the usual ups and downs.  
Dylan before he was ill
But things changed significantly for us on 15th January of this year when we took our three year old little boy to hospital as his face and body had begun to swell up.  
The A&E doctor tried to fob us off with it being viral, but a response from myself regarding his non-committal diagnosis soon saw us heading down to the children's ward to see a paediatrician. 
That afternoon, we we were shocked to be told that our son had something called Nephrotic Syndrome - WHAT?  Apparently the filtering system of our son's kidneys does not work properly and allows protein to move from his blood to his urine.  This results in the oedema which had prompted us to be concerned.  
For some unknown reason our son's immune system now attacks this filtering system instead of any infection which has triggered it. The kidneys become scarred when they are attacked and the extent of this can be significant.  The cause of NS is unknown and consequently there is no cure for it.
NS is a rare syndrome with only 10,000 sufferers in the UK, with the majority of them being young children.  There are two main types and we desperately hope that our son has the type called Minimal Change, which would hopefully mean that he will grow out of it in early adulthood and suffer no longer term damage to his kidneys.  The other type FSGS results in dialysis and kidney transplants, often within a relatively short period of time. The ultimate cruelty of this syndrome is that in a high percentage of transplants the NS returns to attack the new kidney.
Our son has already relapsed twice and is now classed as a frequent relapser - we are unsure what this means for the severity of the journey that NS will take him on (and us as a family).  
He is currently prescribed high doses of steroid medication to suppress his immune system and stop it from attacking his kidneys.  If he relapses as the dose reduces, or shortly after he finishes taking it, he will be classed as steriod dependent and will have to undergo chemotherapy to try to remedy this dependence.  As toxic as these treatments are (and as horrific as the side effects can be) we are grateful that he continues to respond to them. The alternative is too scary to contemplate...
Dylan while taking strong steroids to fight his illness
Everyday life feels as though we are walking on egg shells waiting for his next relapse.  There is absolutely nothing that we can do to prevent it.  We all follow a salt-free, low-saturated fat diet (much healthier for us and so much tastier!) to try and help his kidneys to work at their optimum level in the hope that future relapses will be less severe for him.  We are slowly learning to enjoy each day that he is well and we are trying not to spend too much time worrying about about tomorrow may bring. 
We have tried to protect our young son from knowing when he has relapsed, explaining increased medications, injections and hospital visits as preventative treatments rather than reactive to NS.  
A few days ago we were discussing a sponsored walk which we have arranged to raise awareness of NS (with monies raised being donated to the Nephrotic Syndrome Trust and research into a cure) when he suddenly turned to me and said, every matter of fact, that "I might be poorly forever Mum".  My heart shattered into a million pieces.... 
My son's name is Dylan and he is three.

You can find Sam's Just Giving page here
And the Nephrotic Syndrome Trust here

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8 Jun 2012

Son2 brings a Raspberry Pi to life

Son2's (12) Raspberry Pi has finally arrived. It's a credit card sized motherboard that you can plug various wires into, connect to mouse, keyboard, ethernet and screen.
Then you download some software, install and off you go on your way to learning how to code python for yourself.
So, Son2 (who has Asperger's) asked me to help him set it up. Hmm, I said, maybe you should take it into your computer teacher...
Son2 gave me a disdainful look, suspecting his mother's computing skills might have reached the limit of their usefulness for his nefarious needs...
This morning, he wanders downstairs to my office wearing the same clothes he had on yesterday.
"Did you sleep in those?" I ask.
"I was too tired to get undressed. But come and look what I've done..."
It turns out he decided not to go to bed after all. Instead he'd got up and figured the Raspberry Pi out for himself, downloaded the software, followed some instructions in a magazine and installed it all. 
The child has overtaken the master....
Copyright Tania Tirraoro
Yes, it's scary..

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25 May 2012

Why being heartbeat aware can save your life - or your child's

This week is the annual Heart Rhythm Week, aimed at raising awareness for heart rhythm disorders.
This year, it should be even more in people's minds, with the near fatal collapse of footballer Fabrice Muamba and the death of Italian footballer, Piermario Morosini both from cardiac arrest.
These may seem rare, but in the years when I worked for the Heart Rhythm Charity, Arrhythmia Alliance, I can tell you that it's more common than you think.
For Heart Rhythm Week 2012, the charity aims raise awareness among the public of how to recognise the symptoms of a heart rhythm disorder and when they should seek further advice from a healthcare professional.
At least one in four of us will develop a potentially fatal heart rhythm disorder. The most common symptoms are palpitations, feeling faint and shortness of breath. The charity has developed a 'Your Heart in your Hands Checklist’ to help recognise the symptoms. 
The charity also has a campaign to increase the number of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in public places. If you saw the distressing scenes of Fabrice Muamba's collapse, you will know that it was only through prompt medical  intervention and the continued use of a defibrillator and CPR that he is alive today to tell the tale. 
I have seen many news reports (and I mean many) of school children collapsing from sudden cardiac arrest. It's not just athletes or at the other end of the scale, the unfit, that are at risk. SCA doesn't care who or what you are or how old you are. 
There are other heart rhythm disorders that are not immediately life threatening in themselves, but can also cause troublesome symptoms such as atrial fibrillation or reflex anoxic seizures. My own younger son had RAS as a toddler which meant he could collapse from an abrupt, but temporary stopping of his heart and breathing. This could happen up to three times a day and it is how I came to be involved with the charity STARS, which is part of Heart Rhythm Week.
We're just now awaiting the results of a 24-hour holter monitor as he has been experiencing dizzy spells and faintness. Because of my knowledge, I was able to convince his paediatrician fairly easily that he needed a cardiology referral. And that, of course, is the key - knowledge.
That's what Arrhythmia Alliance aims to do by its awareness campaign - give people knowledge and empower them to take their heart health into their own hands. It's not something you really want to leave to chance. 

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7 May 2012

Ask a silly question...

The other day I, somewhat foolishly, asked my husband what he liked the most about me.
I'm not sure why I asked, it was just an idle moment as we were sitting on our bed having a cup of tea. I was playing working on my iPad, he was probably fantasising about playing for Chelsea or something.
"Umm.." he said, thinking hard. "You're... very organised and you get things done."
"Oh," I said, a little surprised. "And what do you like most about your mother?"
"Well," he said, without hesitation. "She's kind and thoughtful and caring..." He trailed off as he saw the look on my face. It's true, by the way, his mother is all of those things. But 'organised'? That's the thing he likes the best about me?
I turned to face him. "So, your mother is kind and caring and thoughtful. And I'm 'organised'."
I could see from my husband's expression that it was slowly dawning on him he'd fallen into a hidden trap where lurked snakes and spiders and nasty things, all put in there by his, somewhat miffed, wife.
"Er... er.. that's not all I like about you, obviously..." he stuttered, wondering how he got into this mess.
In walks Son1 (14).
"Son1," I say. "What do you like most about me?"
"Well," he said, without hesitation. "You're kind and thoughtful and you do lots of stuff for me."
"Dad says that about Grandma," I said. "He said that he liked that I was 'organised'. I think he likes Grandma more than he likes me."
Son1 looks at his Dad and ruefully shakes his head at his father's schoolboy mistake. "That's not very nice. But then, Mum, wouldn't you like me to like you more than I like my wife?"
I considered this for a moment. "I suppose so, yes."
Then Son1 smirks. "At least, that's what I'd tell you."
One of these males has Asperger Syndrome. Right now, I'm not sure it's Son1.

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5 May 2012

Son2, The Boy Jedi

We've just rediscovered this little fella. My husband sculpted him a few years ago - it's a figure of Son2 with a light sabre in hand.
Needless to say, Son2 was delighted at his rendering as The Boy Jedi as he was Star Wars mad at the time. He's considerably bigger than this now and paints figures himself. What do you think?

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29 Apr 2012

Silent Sunday- Rain in the lane

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25 Apr 2012

A Healthy Lunch. Kinda.

I'm trying to eat more healthily but I'm also quite busy.. so this was lunch.
It was nice.. or at least it was after I added some salt...

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11 Apr 2012

Broadband Blues? Just Tweet @BTcare

So, I've, just hopefully, got a stable broadband connection back after several months of regular outages and the loss of service every evening at peak times. What finally worked was that I got fed up of speaking to the 'overseas' customer service team and I tweeted @BTCare. Within a short while, they'd sent me a link to an online form and shortly after that a very nice lady from Northern Ireland called me. She is my new favourite person and is the embodiment of what customer service is about.
I've just filled in a form about BT customer service...here are the highlights of my sad, sad story:

Donna and the BT social media team were great - she found the problem, organised an Openreach engineer (a third visit from an engineer since Jan) who then managed to find the problem and fix it. He has made recommendations regarding the replacement of a cable.

The technical support based overseas however have been another story. I'm sure it's not their fault as individuals and I do feel for them, especially as they are unfailingly polite in difficult circumstances.
However it just seems that no one knows what is going on, who's doing what or what to suggest if it isn't in the script. 
I do find it insulting that BT don't care enough to ensure (like the very fabulous First Direct do) that ALL their customer service is UK based for a UK based product. This would be a HUGE marketing plus and provide jobs here, where they are needed. I can't believe no one has the PR expertise to see this - it's a total no-brainer. 
All the 'overseas' people can do (though they are very polite) is uselessly ask if your socket has two screws in the middle (I have been asked this question too many times to count)
Then, when their basic checks reveal nothing and their remote fixes don't work, they put you through to the 'escalation' team, which is probably the poor weary chap sat next to them with a degree in astrophysics, who asks you again to confirm your identity (REALLY? Do you think I haven't done this already to get put through to you?) Then you're asked again if your socket has two screws in the middle. 
One actually asked me to unscrew the socket and use the tester socket. I'm not kidding. Then he suggested I buy ethernet cables and use them to connect all the laptops & computers in the house to my 'wireless' hub and BT would reimburse the cost of the cables. I'm still not kidding and it's a little tricky to do for iPods and phones.
Occasionally, they have tried my patience very sorely. When I told one customer service woman that it was nothing to do with the screws in the socket, she paused then said: So if you could just look at your socket...
We have had several outages and then this latest fault where we would lose any bandwidth in the evening. I knew what was happening - we're at the end of the exchange and at peak times the state of the line meant there was nothing left by the time it got to us. Would anyone 'overseas' listen? No, of course not, after all, I am just a customer, so if I could just check the screws in the socket...
Anyway, I got fed up so I, like I said, tweeted @BTcare. They sent me the link to the Twitter form and within hours Donna called me. She was going to take it over and I wouldn't have to deal with anyone else. Great!
The next day, CS overseas called and when I explained about Donna, they suggested she was a crank call, even though she knew my home phone number AND what she was talking about. I tweeted this to @BTcare who assured me (although I knew) it wasn't a crank call.
Donna called again made some adjustments to the line and organised an engineer visit. Now THIS is what customer service should be. I work from home as a PR and social media manager - I need to be online all day. 
Today the engineer came and was very thorough and now my speed is double what it was - though it's still only a whopping 4MB.
I'm STILL waiting for BT Infinity, which has been delayed three times. There's a box there, it just needs to be connected up and it's much closer to us, though if that cable I talked about isn't replaced the engineer warned it would impact Infinity speeds considerably.
So,  @BTCare team and especially Donna, are great. Fantastic. Bring your CS back to the UK, BT, and you'll be a company that deserves to have the word 'British' in its name.

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8 Apr 2012

Silent Sunday Buona Pasqua

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27 Mar 2012

Son2's leg pains are a severe vitamin D deficiency!

Son2 (12) has been suffering with leg pains for the past few weeks. He's been limping around, unable to take part in PE and has had a lot of time off school. He's also been very low and irritable for a few months and we had put this down to being part of his Asperger's, but I had him referred back to the paediatrician because I wanted to make sure that we weren't missing some other medical reason.
An initial blood test showed nothing but, some weeks ater, Son2's legs started to hurt. At first, we thought it might be a tactic to avoid school but when the pains got worse, I took him back to the GP.
She checked over the last set of blood tests and realised that the paediatrician had missed some important tests. and so ordered a fresh batch.
Now, Son2 and blood tests do NOT go together well. When he got to the nurse, to be told there was no anaesthetic or any kind, he hopped off the bed and decided she wouldn't be taking any blood from him today, thank you very much.
She instead, made him out a prescription for anaesthetic cream, which we had filled, applied and then waited 45 minutes for it to take effect. 
Armed with a test-distracting "Where's Wally" the blood was duly taken and within three days, we had the answer.
He had about half the level of Vitamin D in his blood that he should have. Severe deficiency can cause irritability, depression, muscle pains and in the very worst cases, rickets. Luckily, it hadn't got that bad.
He's now on a high dose of Vitamin D supplement for three months.
He's not alone in his deficiency either - parents are encouraged to slap Factor 50 on to their children and keep them out of the sun for fear of melanoma and the increase in fears over child safety and the explosion of computer and console gaming means kids are spending more time indoors. And of course, it's been winter, which doesn't help.
In fact, the BBC recently reported:
The chief medical officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, is to contact medical staff about concerns young children and some adults are not getting enough vitamin D.
Government guidelines recommend some groups, including the under-fives, should take a daily supplement. However, recent research found that many parents and health professionals were unaware of the advice.
There has been an increase in childhood rickets over the past 15 years.
According to Dr Benjamin Jacobs, from the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, links to heart disease and some cancers are also being investigated. The consultant paediatrician told BBC Breakfast that the hospital saw about one severe case a month of rickets - softening of bones through lack of vitamin D in childhood.
He said: "There are many other children who have less severe problems - muscle weakness, delay in walking, bone pains - and research indicates that in many parts of the country the majority of children have a low level of vitamin D."
The Feeding for Life Foundation report, published in October last year, suggested one in four toddlers in the UK is vitamin D deficient.
The problem with Son2 is that he doesn't like the outdoors much. He doesn't like to be near strangers - he doesn't particularly like being with people he knows either.
He prefers to spend his leisure time in his purple walled, black curtained, disco-balled TechnoLair and attempts to encourage him to go out are usually met with point blank refusal.
The GP, when she looked at Son2's results, said her son was the same so she was going to get him some Vitamin D supplement as well.
I am going to have to try harder not to just let him be in his room, where he's happiest and be tougher on getting him to go out. In fact, I'm just about to send him off to the post box for me on this lovely spring day and I might even go with him as I'm a bit concerned about my own Vitamin D levels. 
So, if you're concerned your own kids might be deficient, it wouldn't hurt to get them checked out, or just up their intake of VitD rich food and supplements. 
Thank goodness summer's around the corner!

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25 Mar 2012

Silent Sunday - The Colour of English Spring

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18 Mar 2012

Mothers' Day - cards no longer required

Today we'll be celebrating Mothers' day with my in-laws, who are bringing round a meal, ready cooked. I'm looking forward to it very much.
This is the sixth Mothers' Day that I haven't sent a card to my own mother. She passed away after beating, then succumbing to pancreatic cancer at the end of 2006. She was a bright and vivacious woman, intelligent and gregarious. She would have been the first to admit that she wasn't always the perfect mother - but then, are any of us? But she tried her best under sometimes difficult circumstances and that's all you can do.
It's been sixteen years since I sent a Mothers' Day card to my beloved Grandmother, the rock of my young life.   She always said she would never live to see my children and she didn't. I married my husband a year to the day after her death and my mother later took the bouquet to lay where her ashes had been scattered.
Today, I remember them both with a few of my favourite photographs of them. Happy Mothers' Day.
Mum and Gran c 1960

Mum and Gran in the late 40s

Mum and her two grandsons

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Silent (Mothering) Sunday

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13 Mar 2012

Why coffee mornings are good for the soul

Earl Grey and a restorative chat

Being a parent of children with special needs can be isolating. You may have found that your circle of friends has grown smaller as you've struggled with learning about and coping with your child's differences and finding the best help for them. 
Parents of 'normal' children haven't had to go through this and may find it difficult to understand. You feel like you're banging on about your disabled child and boring them to tears or, worse, making them pity you. So gradually, you withdraw and in time you may have found that you have few people outside your family to talk to - and even they may not understand.
You may even find you barely go out at all, because going out with your special needs child is like preparing for a mammoth trek across hostile terrain requiring such careful planning for unseen eventualities that you're exhausted before you get out of the front door.
Teachers may not properly understand or cater for your child's needs. Other parents, many of whom don't know you or your child, may stand in judgement of your apparently inadequate parenting skills.
You may start to feel depressed or unable to cope with the demands upon you. You may wake up every morning, open your eyes and think, "Here we go again". Some parents have described it as being like Groundhog Day and I can totally empathise with this.
I've come late to the party, but in the last few months, I've embraced a partial antidote - the special needs coffee morning. A place where no one pities you because you're all in the same boat. A place where you can discuss your child's behaviour without fear of judgement and where you may even hear some practical tips that have worked for other mums in a similar position. A place where you can talk with like-minded souls about the absurdities of trying to find the right educational provision and the hoops you have to jump through to get it. A place where friendly ears are guaranteed, along with a reviving cuppa and maybe even a yummy piece of cake.
This week (and it's only Tuesday) I've been to two - one I have been hosting at my house for NAS Surrey in Farnham and the other at St Saviour's Church in Guildford, where I was invited to speak about my Special Educational Needs Statementing book.
The women (mainly) at these groups are welcoming, determined, resilient and caring, despite the battles that they have fought or are still going through and the daily challenges that caring for often unreasonable, sometimes aggressive but always loved disabled children brings.
No one judges you, everyone swaps stories, tips, resources and support and it is such a relief to be able to share frank experiences with others, knowing they're not going to be shocked.
After I spoke at the Guildford coffee morning today, Psychologist, David Wheeler, gave a talk. He spoke about how many problems with children and adults are caused by their 'needs not being met'. We parents of special needs kids, more than most, spend so much of our time trying (and often failing) to meet the needs of our children that we have no time or energy to meet our own.
Coffee mornings like these are a good way to meet some of these needs to talk to others, share our stories and knowledge and let off steam.
If you are a special needs parent feeling isolated, why not join a group that has coffee mornings, some have creches - or if you know other parents of SEN/disabled children, have a meet up. 
If you run or know of such a group, why not leave details in the comments - you may well be helping someone.
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5 Mar 2012

Adding a G+ Badge to Blogger

Are you on Google+? See at the bottom of this post I have a G+, add to circles badge? Want one? Here's how: 1. Go to this Google developers page. Add your Google profile id (a string of numbers) into the box. It gives you the option to click a link nest to it to autofill for you, which is handy.
2. Then choose whether you want an icon or badge. It's previewed so you can see what it will look like.
3. You can then choose your size. If you want it in a sidebar, make sure you choose a size that's smaller than that.
4. Then, in the 'Get the Code' section, there are two parts to the code. The top part is to be added into your blog's section. Copy this piece of code, then go to your blog. It's always a good idea to back up your blog before you make any code alterations.
5. Next, go to Template> Edit Html (below the picture of your blog). Click that, then click 'Proceed'.
6. Scroll down past the code carefully until you see this:   . This is the closing tag for your code and you should paste the code you copied directly before this. Click Save Template.
7. Next go back to the Google developer page and copy the rest of the code. You are going to paste this where you want the badge to be, either in a text/html widget in your sidebar, or at the bottom of your post template. To post it in a widget, go to 'Layout' then 'add a gadget' where you want it and select the text widget. Paste in and save. I have added mine at the bottom of each post. To do that, I went to Settings> Posts& Comments>Post Template and pasted it there. Now every time I open a new post, the code is ready pasted in and I just add my post above it.

If you have a Google+ page, you can do the same; the customisation link is just above the profile link on the developers page.
Bear in mind, this is for Blogger. If you have a wordpress.com site, you cannot add javascript. Instead, just choose a badge image (scroll to the static badge section) and add it to an image widget in your sidebar with a link to your page - not as fancy but it still takes them there.
If you are on wordpress.org, you can find a plugin to do the job for you.
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4 Mar 2012

Silent Sunday

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18 Feb 2012

Baked Bean Chilli - great for kids

Here's another quick to make, delicious evening meal that your kids will love: Baked Bean Chilli.
Many kids aren't overly fond of kidney beans but most of them like baked beans. To make this recipe, use a mild chilli powder and swap the kidney beans for the baked beans. It's a regular favourite with my boys. I always try to use organic meat - organic mince isn't much more expensive than regular, but whatever you can afford is just fine.
No need to buy fancy ingredients - the point of my recipes is to make is easy to rustle up something tasty without needing to buy a whole load of strange ingredients. Mums are far too busy for that on an average weeknight!

Baked Bean Chilli with rice and cheesy sprinkles

Ingredients for 4.

  • 500g pack of mince (beef, lamb, pork or quorn - though lamb can be fatty so drain off excess fat after frying)
  • 1 Onion
  • Olive oil for frying
  • Clove of garlic, chopped or 1 teaspoon of puree from a jar.
  • 2 tins of baked beans
  • Mild Chilli powder
  • Stock cube to match the meat you're using. (I always use Kallo Organic cubes)
  • Sweetcorn, frozen or tinned (optional)
  • Salt, black pepper, a few mixed herbs to taste.

Fry the onions and garlic (if using puree, add when you add the mince). When softened, add the mince and fry until browned. Add one or two teaspoons of chilli powder and stir into the meat. It's always better to add too little than too much at this stage - if you can't taste it by the time it's cooked, you can always add more - but you can't take it away. Be guided by your kids' palettes.
Add the stock, dissolved in a small amount of boiling water.
Add both tins of baked beans and some water, if needed, to loosen the consistency. Add the sweetcorn if using - I think it always gives it a nice sweetness.
Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer for about half an hour.
Season during cooking with salt, black pepper and dried mixed herbs.
If it's too watery before serving, you can thicken it with some cornflour, or whatever you usually use as thickening.
Serve with rice, baked potatoes or even nachos with a sprinkling of cheese on top.

Even picky eater, Son2 who complains about most stuff, doesn't moan when he knows it's "The Bean Thing" for dinner!

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14 Feb 2012

My Cybher12 'Meet and Greet'

My writing pal, Mel Comley and I are off to Cybher12 in May.
Cybher12 is billed as the number one event for women who blog. As it's not just for Mummies, of which Mel has no desire to be, she's coming over from France so we can go up together.
I'm hoping that this trip, Asperger's Son2 might speak to her, or even look at her, as he managed to avoid it for the whole three days of her last visit.
Sian of Geek is The New Chic blog, is running a pre-Cyber12-event virtual 'meet and greet', so here's mine:

Name : Tania Tirraoro, aka The Special Needs Jungle lady
Blogs : NotAsAdvertised Special Needs Jungle
Twitter ID : @TaniaLT & SpcialNdsJungle
Height : 5'3" but Son1 claims I'm 5' 1". He LIES!
Hair : blonde and bobby
Five things you should know about me...
1.I'm always taking too much on then moaning about it
2. I used to read the news on the telly but now I write books. Sometimes.
3. I have loved James Taylor since I was 19 and have made my husband go to 5 of the 7 concerts I've seen. Even though he doesn't really like him.
4.I have two tween/teen sons, both with ASD. This can be exhausting.
5.My 2012 goals are to learn how to relax while still awake and to write a fourth book.
James Taylor -
quite a number of years ago
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13 Feb 2012

Forty minute meal - Chicken and bacon risotto

You know what it's like - you get home after school and the kids are starving. You could easily shove some good old nursery food in the oven - burger and chips or chicken goujons.. but here's something that takes only a few minutes longer and is much more delicious. And, as my boys have an Italian heritage, it's something I've honed from watching Nonno in the kitchen..
It's a great dish to customise according to what you like. Everything in the ingredients is available at any supermarket.

A family favourite, chicken & bacon risotto
  • Pack of quick cook chicken or turkey breast
  • Packet of bacon lardons/pancetta or streaky bacon cut into small pieces.
  • Arborio or carnoroli rice, enough for your family size. (see hint for measuring later)
  • One Onion (You can use frozen diced for speed, but it's a bit watery)
  • Garlic - 1-2 cloves fresh or pureed in a jar.
  • Dash of white wine (optional)
  • Frozen sweetcorn or peas or other diced veg, if desired.
  • Olive oil
  • Hot chicken stock - cube is fine. How much depends on how much rice, but if not enough you can always add extra water to the pan.
  • Salt, black pepper
  • Italian herbs, fresh or dried. (eg, oregano, marjoram, basil or a dried Italian herb mix in a jar)
  • Cream, Cream Cheese or Creme Fraiche, whichever you prefer.
  • Heavy risotto/paella pan or large frying or saute pan.
Fry your onion and garlic, if using fresh, in a good glug of olive oil  for a few minutes until softened. Then add the chicken, diced, and the bacon and fry for a few minutes.
Then add the rice. I measure it out by using the plates I'm serving the meal on - imagining it doubled in size, not forgetting the other ingredients. This way I can measure the correct portion for each person according to their appetite. Keep stirring the rice in the pan so it doesn't stick.
Then, add the wine, if using, or a small amount of your hot stock. If using pureed garlic you can add this now. Stir and when absorbed, add some more. Then when that is absorbed, add a larger amount - your ingredients should be swimming but not submerged.
Then you can add your seasoning and any vegetables you want in it- go easy on the salt as your bacon will be salty. Better to add more if needed than to have a salty risotto!
Simmer until the rice is soft - you may need to add additional water as you go. Do not leave it alone for too long in case the water is absorbed.
When the rice is soft and the water absorbed, add a wodge of cream cheese (any type), a glug of cream or a good dollop of creme fraiche, whatever you prefer. This makes it really creamy and my kids love it.

When you're comfortable with making it, you can change it up by adding different ingredients, different meats or no meat, just vegetables. You have to go with what you know your kids will eat, though I have been known to sneak tiny chopped up courgettes in it which they boys won't touch in a larger size...
Buon apetito!
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10 Feb 2012

Happy Birthday, Mum

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9 Feb 2012

Helping our teens learn money management

Up until last month, our boys, aged 14 and 12.5 received their pocket money in the form of a credit on a spreadsheet maintained by my accountant husband. Then, when they wanted something, they checked how much money they had and we paid for it from their balance.
This prevented them losing cash or wasting the money on sweets and it mainly worked well. However, it was difficult to check up at a moment's notice how much they had and Son1 regularly went overdrawn by using our registered credit card on Apple and Xbox to make unauthorised small amount purchases.
My husband recently decided to reorganise their finances, moving their savings to a higher interest children's ISA and we decided, at the same time, that they were old enough to have their own debit cards and manage their own money.
So, we've begun transferring their pocket money into new young persons' bank accounts from which we will be expecting them to buy their own magazines, withdraw cash as needed for things they want and register their cards for their own Xbox points and Itunes purchases.
This could go horribly wrong, but we think it's good to start them early on making their own small financial decisions rather than wait for them to head off to university with a freshly minted bank card and no common sense.
They have been instructed always to check their balances before making a cash withdrawal and to keep an eye on their finances using the online facility. We will also keep a watchful eye on this to make sure they don't end up overspending and their decisions are sound.
Somehow, I think that they will be much more cautious about using their 'own' money when they can see it disappearing from a bank account than they have been about watching it disappear from a spreadsheet, knowing that there are no consequences and they can always overspend. These debit cards have no way to go overdrawn, apparently, and in any case, they aren't often out and about armed with their cards without us being there too.
Still, I feel a little bit nervous about the whole thing, I have to admit, although this may be more to do with letting go of a little bit of control over their lives. This is something that, inevitably, must happen of course, it's just hard to "loosen the apron strings".
I'd be interested to find out how any one else has approached this... and what the results were.
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5 Feb 2012

Fun in the snow in Farnham

Thought I'd share a few pictures of fun in the snow. 
The good thing about having boys - and older ones at that - is that you can throw the snowballs as hard as you can at them. 
The downside is that they're better throwers than me. And hubby is ruthless.
Note dog hiding behind hubby...

Be scared.. be very scared...

Revenge for every time I've annoyed him in the last week
See how I'm not watching for the impending attack?

Boys in retreat

Dad on the rampage

And splat...
Son1 in Ninja gear
Boys go on the offensive

Dad comes out fighting...

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24 Jan 2012

Haircuts and Son2 - handle with care!

For most mums, going to the hairdressers is a treat. It makes you feel better, walking out of the salon knowing your hair looks good.
The same cannot be said for many children, especially those on the autistic spectrum.
For our boys, haircuts have always been a major undertaking often accompanied by teeth gritting, hand clenching and when they were younger writhing and screaming.
Now they're older they can cope better- but only if the haircut turns out to have been an imperceptible half an inch off. For a start they don't like having their hair touched by strangers and for seconds, the anxiety of it going wrong is almost too much to bear.
And Son2 isn't the only one
who hates haircuts...
When they were small we used to do it ourselves with clippers, but that usually ended up with everyone in tears, covered in hair and red in the face. Now they have longer styles and the clippers won't cut it, so to speak.
But unfortunately at times a haircut is unavoidable. I'm such a coward I make my husband take them to the local barber with instructions that it has to be out of their eyes.
Last weekend the haircut did not go well for Son2 and he still hasn't got over it. Neither has the barber who subsequently refused to do Son1's hair after the trauma of cutting Son2's
Son2 meanwhile has worn a furry Russian hat ever since, even in his bedroom. He only takes off inside at school because he is required to. I have no idea how long this will last - perhaps until it grows back into his eyes, which might be the summer. We may have to cover the mirrors - even catching sight of it in the reflection of the window is enough to spark fresh angst.
We can't go back to that barbers, I don't think. I'm now looking for a mobile hairdresser who is experienced with dealing with special needs kids. If you know anyone in North Surrey or North Hampshire give me a shout!
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21 Jan 2012

Grab a FREE romance from a great friend

Since I've published my novels on Kindle, I've made some great online friends. One, in particular has become a friend in the flesh as well.
Mel Comley lives in France but came to stay with me and my family last year when we went to a writer's workshop in London. It must have been a bit of a shock, staying in a house with two tween/teenagers!
Since we met online she has published nine novels and shorts and contributed short stories to several other books. This is all in the space of just over a year.
Mel is a Kindle success story - she's now making a living from her writing, something many people can only dream of.
We have a symbiotic relationship - I design her covers, which I enjoy immensely and Mel helps me every day with book promotion which I find difficult to squeeze in between working and looking after my two Asperger's boys.
She's kept me going in dark moments and I would have probably given up everything to do with writing without her encouragement.
Mel has three great thrillers out - the 'Justice' featuring Brit crime-fighter, Lorne Simpkins, and several romances.
If you'd like to try her writing out for free, she has one book, A Time To Heal, available for download right now completely gratis. If you don't have a Kindle, you can download it on Kindle for PC, Ipad or smartphone - just get the right app from the Amazon site.
Mel is a prime example how determination, grit and hard work gets results. She has driven her own success and even attracted a top New York agent to sign her up.
If anyone reading this is about to take the leap and publish their book onto Kindle, it would be a great idea to follow Mel on Twitter @Melcom1 and find out how much work you need to do once your book is finished to get it noticed.
Grab A Time To Heal while it's free - it won't be for long!
Click the right store for you and download it.

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