Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween- Expectation vs Reality

Halloween is one of my favourite times of the year. I love getting dressed up, cosy nights in watching spooky movies with the kids, having an excuse to eat sweeties, beautifully carved pumpkins glowing on the hearth...  what's not to love? But sometimes, despite your best efforts, things don't always turn out quite like you hope.

Here are some of my Halloween expectations vs the realities.

  • Costume
Expectation - You have had an idea for an amazing costume running through your head since last October, which you are going to hand make because it's going to look really unique and spooky and your kids will definitely be the best dressed at the local halloween party.

Reality - You end up desperately searching the town on October 30th for a costume in your childs size. 3 sizes too big is fine right.... I mean, they could wear it next Halloween too? When all else fails, a black cape and an old broom will do... or the old classic, a black bin bag tied at the neck.

  • Pumpkins
Expectation - Sitting around the table as a family carving spooky scenes in to your pumpkin. As you hollow out your pumpkins all of the seeds are collected to later be made in to a delicious healthy snack.

Reality - Your children find the most complicated image they possibly can for each of their pumkins and then they leave quicker than you can say jack-o-lantern. You are left trying to scrape out the mulch with a desert spoon. with most of the seeds ending up in the bin because you can't bring yourself to sift through the disgusting pulp. When you start carving the Disney Castle on to your first pumpkin, the carving tool you bought from the pound shop snaps in your hand . You curse yourself for not buying this, and spend the next few hours trying to carve intricate designs with a kitchen knife.

  • Baking
Expectation - Cupcakes beautifully decorated with vivid orange frosting, with little hand made witches hat placed neatly on top of each one.

Reality -You make a delicious  butter cream, but ruin it trying to add enough food colouring to actually bloody colour it! You will not admit defeat and will continue to pipe the runny icing all over cupcakes. You realise you cannot make fancy Halloween sugar decorations to save your life, and cover your cupcakes in some kind of spooky haribo instead.
Nailed it!

  • Trick or Treating
Expectation - The big day arrives and it's time to go trick or treating in your fancy home made costume. Pumpkins line the paths towards the front doors of the houses, you will stroll around enjoying the spooky festivities and the kids will get a nice bucket of sweets that they can enjoy as a treat over the coming weeks.

Reality - As you dodge your way through groups of teenagers with bangers you realise it is starting to rain. The face paint you spent ages applying is gradually melting away, with your bin liner cape blowing in the wind. When you get home the kids eat half of their body weight in tang fastics and spend the rest of the night running around the house screaming and jumping from the sofa's.

Despite some pretty crap costumes, and even crapper pumpkins, you can't help but love it. So I wish you all a Happy Halloween and hope you have a fabulously spooky time, whatever you are doing!

The Reading Residence
Mums' Days

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Dundrum Castle in Black & White

I don't often do black and white photos but have been following the Black & White Photography Project for a little while now and have been mesmerised by some of the beautiful B&W shots.

I got my new camera this week which has really inspired me, and it felt like the perfect week to join in.

I've photographed Dundrum Castle so many times in the past, but seeing it in black & white totally changes it.

Linking up with The Black & White Photography Project over at PODcast. Head over for some more B&W loveliness.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Word of the Week - Photography

For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed taking photos. As a young teenager I was in and out of the photo processing shop every weekend to pick up my latest snaps. Those were the days when cameras didn't have screens, and you bought a disposable camera in a little plastic wrapper to capture your memories.

I can still remember the buzz you felt as you went in to pick up your photos, and everyone would gather around in excitement to see how the pictures had turned out. Getting a good photo on one of those things was pot luck, and usually half of the pack was blurry, but you still bought one for every occasion.

I remember getting my first digital camera, a 2 megapixel, and thinking I was the bee's knees. I took that thing everywhere with me, taking photos of anything and everything.

It's no surprise then, that when the kids were born I went a bit nuts and took photos of everything.. 'Aww he opened his eyes, take a picture!', 'Aww look, he closed them again, take a picture!'. If you look through Neil's baby pics you will find a few hundred of the same photo, just with different clothes on. My laptop is filled to bursting with 1000's of baby pictures, and family snaps.

But while I have always enjoyed taking photos of my life, I have never really given much thought to the photos, if that makes sense. You know, if it's in focus and you haven't chopped off any heads you are winning.

And that has worked fine for me until recently. When I started blogging in January I started to think seriously about my photos for the first time. Looking at other blogs in awe of their stunning imagery, I hoped one day I could take such beautiful pictures.

 This week I finally took the plunge and got myself a Nikon DSLR, and it's completely dominated my thoughts since it was orderd.

So my word of the week this week is....

Literally every spare second I have had this week has been spent reading guides, watching videos on youtube and messing about with the settings. There is so much to learn, it's impossible to take it all in at once. Shutter speed, aperture, it's all totally alien to me! It has been fun playing about and seeing what difference changing a certain setting will make to the photo. Most of my attempts have been pretty awful so far but it's all about learning what works and what doesn't.

I'm excited to get properly stuck in and start learning all there is to know. If you have any tips for a wee novice like me, please do share!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The After Diagnosis Limbo

Since my son received a diagnosis of ASD in June of this year, there has been so much going through my head. I want to help him over come his difficulties and reach his full potential, and most importantly make sure he is happy, but there is still so much I do not know about ASD, which makes it pretty difficult for me to really help him.

I had been feeling like we'd been given a diagnosis , and then been sent away to work things out for ourselves. Yes, we were given a bit of bumph to read at home, leaflets and such, but most of them just wrote about things I had already found out myself. I don't exactly know what I was expecting, and maybe I was a bit naive to expect anything at all, but I just thought there would be more support initially. The few months after diagnosis can be challenging. No, diagnosis does not change your child, and yes things will go on as they did before, and having the confirmed diagnosis definitely gives you a lot more to think about. There are so many questions I would liked to have asked, but didn't know who I could contact for advice, other than parent groups.

During the summer I was invited to a 'parent training workshop', and I was excited to learn as much as I could, but came home disappointed. The content of the training was purely about what the condition is, basically the stuff that was in the leaflets they had given at diagnosis, just with a bit more padding. All of it was things I had already learned via the National Autistic Society website, or books that I head read.

At our very first appointment with the pead, when the first mention of autism came about, I will admit I knew very little about it. We were given the name of an ASD specialist who had published some very informative books, which I borrowed from the library the next day. As the months passed by, and more and more arrows started pointing to ASD, I spent many an evening on the NAS website, trying to gain as good an understanding of the condition as I could, so that when the diagnosis finally came, we knew what we were dealing with.

Isn't this is what most parents would do? Surely no one is getting through the lengthy diagnosis progress without doing a bit of investigating for themselves?

Maybe the training would have been helpful to families who had recently been referred for diagnosis to learn a bit more about what they were being referred for, but I just feel that for families who had already received a diagnosis, it was a bit too basic. Or maybe there's something wrong with me, and I spent too much time reading about ASD, I don't know? Maybe I'm being ignorant to the fact that other parents may not have knows quite as much as me? Either way, I left feeling totally disappointed. ( I should add, the training day would have been perfect for other family members, like grandparents, to learn more about ASD, because it was full of information, just not the right info for me.)

Some months before diagnosis, Neil was referred for Occupational Therapy, who can help with motor skills and sensory issues. At the time the OT couldn't accept him because he was under the radar of some organisation who were working with the school who could offer similar services. It didn't seem to matter that this organisation wasn't actually giving him assistance, so we were kind of stuck in limbo. Thankfully, once we received a diagnosis, we were re-referred to OT and accepted.

Neil had his second session with the occupational therapist today, and he has been assessed to determine what kind of help they can offer. I also received and invitation to a sensory workshop which is taking place next month, and I can't wait to see what that's all about.

Hopefully we are now heading in the right direction, and we will finally be able to further support Neil, and get answers to the questions going through my head!

Super Busy Mum

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A World of Activities... Twinkl Review

I try to take an active role in my children's education and learning, and I'm keen to continue building on what they have learnt at school when they are at home.

Since Neil started school last year I've tried my best to help him achieve his potential, and try to work on things at home that he struggles with in school.

I have often spent evenings looking for fun activities and resources to help him, and came across a site called Twinkl on numerous occasions. I always liked the look of the resources on offer at Twinkl, but most of the content I wanted required a paid subscription, and I'm a bit of a scrooge with my money so usually just closed the page and moved on.

It wasn't until I was given the opportunity to try a platinum Twinkl account that I realised what I had been missing all of those times.

For those of you wondering what I'm going on about when I say Twinkl, it is a website full of educational and fun resources for primary school children, which can be used by teachers, home schoolers and parents who simply want to do a bit extra at home.

Setting up an account on the site was very easy, you can sign up and be ready to get stuck in in a matter of minutes.

What first struck me about the site is the sheer amount of resources available, and it's all so beautifully presented. The colourful headers clearly mark out sections of the site, making it very easy to navigate. The settings are arranged so that you can choose your resources depending on what stage of the primary system your children are at - Foundation, KS1 & KS2, and there is a section for Special Educational Needs. Dropdown menus then allow you to choose which type of resource, such as literacy or numeracy.

One of the things I really loved about Twinkl is that they seem to have a theme for anything your child might be interested in, be it dinosaurs, superheroes or princesses. There's even a section for you to create your own, if you can't find something you are looking for.

To begin I printed some dinosaur themed number formation sheets for Neil and some pencil control sheets for Caitlin.

The printouts are so colourful and eye catching, perfect for children. My two couldn't wait to have a go at the activities.

So far we have tried to use work sheets which complement the work that is being done at school. Neil struggles with his fine motor skills so writing and formation is something he finds difficult. Using these worksheets is a great way for him to practice his writing, but in a way that doesn't feel too much like work.

Not all of the resources are purely educational based, there are a wealth of craft activities, colouring pages, party packs, recipes, reward charts.... in fact, I've only scratched the surface on what is available.

We all know the addictive qualities of Pinterest...well this is just as addictive, only you print things you like instead of pinning them. You only log on 'to print one thing' and half an hour later you've run out of ink... and paper.

Twinkl has three levels of subscription: Free, which as the name suggests, is free... Gold which works out £2.08 a month... and Platinum which works out costing £3.33 a month. You can find out more about what each of those levels allows you to do here.

Subscriptions must be paid upfront for the year ahead, which is something to be aware of. I would have liked to have had an option to possibly pay monthly, or even quarterly, because £39.95 to spread the cost a bit. When broken down, £3.33 a months is a fabulous price for what you are getting, but some people may be put off having to pay the price in full, and the option to choose a payment plan would be a fantastic feature. I must add though, this is not something that would put me off getting a Platinum account. I know for sure when my year is up I will happily pay for another year because I'd be lost without it now.

My advice to people looking at the site for the first time is to have a nosey through the 'parents' section and go from there. The amount of worksheets and resources available is so vast it can be a bit daunting, but this section is a great starting point to help you get to grips with the site.

There is so much more I could say about Twinkl. I've barely touched on the SEN section of the site, which we have found absolutely invaluable with Neil. So much so, that I'm going to dedicate a whole post to how we use twinkl for Neil's ASD, so keep an eye out for that next week.

You can find Twinkl by clicking here. Alternatively, you can find them on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Family Fever
I was upgraded to a Platinum account free of charge for the purpose of an honest review of the service. All opinions are my own.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Word of the Week - Poorly

Wow, it's Friday again, how did that happen? We've all been struck with the dreaded lurgy, so my word of the week this week is...

I wasn't feeling my best last week, and I was working all weekend so didn't get a chance to rest, and so I've felt rough all week. I thought it had missed the rest of the house but at the start of the week my hubby and Neil started feeling a bit rough too. Neil has been off school since Tuesday with a high temperature, headache and nasty cough.

We've done so little it feels like we've lost a whole week.

Caitlin seemed to have been lucky as she didn't catch our man flu, but last night before bed she complained her tummy was sore, then she threw up at 1am. I hate when the kids are sick in the night, because you can't sleep with worry that they might be sick in their sleep and choke. I spent the night sitting dozing in and out of sleep on the sofa next to her, darting up at the slightest sound. She must have just eaten something that upset her tummy a little bit, because other than a slight temperature this morning she has been ok.

I'm feeling better, it's nice to not have a headache for the first time in over a week! Hopefully the rest of the clan will be feeling better over the next couple of days so we can get out and about, feels like we've been stuck indoors forever.

Here's to the weekend, hope you have a fabulous time whatever you are all up to!
The Reading Residence