Mama OWL Blog: December 2015

These streets will make you feel brand new, Big lights will inspire you | #NYCSheps

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Christmas morning in our house is spent in a sea of discarded wrapping paper, watching the children tear through several hours (and a bad back's) worth of wrapping in about an hour, nursing a coffee in my jimjams and snapping the occasional picture of a delighted face (or five). Long gone are the days when I expect anything other than a pair of slippers, some smellies or a box of chocolates, or perhaps a bottle or two of fizz. I don't need or want anything, because making sure that the children are treated to all of the things on their Christmas lists is - quite genuinely - more than enough for me.

Every year the Mister and I agree not to buy each other gifts because Christmas shopping for five kids is expensive enough as it is, and every year he goes behind my back and enlists the help of our eldest to shop for me. I have had make up, perfume (my favourite), a beautiful etched glass photo of our children, spa vouchers, jewellery and all sorts, despite me telling him repeatedly that he doesn't need to do it. This year I wasn't about to be caught out again and I roughly calculated the amount he usually spends on me, and spent that amount on him. I again told him, please do not buy anything for me.

We got to Christmas Eve and I hadn't had any sort of indication from A that there was any sort of gift coming my way. Indeed on questioning her, she didn't seem to know anything or be hiding anything, so I was satisfied that he had done as I had asked. Later that night I was aware of him wrapping something because he asked me where the sellotape was, and considering that he didn't help me wrap a single present for any of the children my suspicion was then aroused but I left him to it and didn't probe further.

On Christmas morning I was presented with a box, wrapped (clearly by a man) in gold paper. A at this point was almost beside herself when I was opening it, I later learned she had discovered her dad wrapping it on Christmas Eve and had been let into the secret then. I unwrapped it and found - a Jacobs Crackers box. I said "Oh, Avocado! Fanks...". Secretly hoping there was more to it than a box of snacks I don't eat, I opened the box to find three further wrapped items. One was obvious - a bottle of gin, of course. The second was perplexing, it was a very large green Bramley apple. A excitedly asked me what sort of apple it was, her mobile phone camera trained on me the whole time.

[reads label] "Bramley?"
"No" [excited jig]
[blank face] "... Cooking?"
"NO! Oh just open the other one"

And then I opened this.

To say I was floored would be an understatement. I had no idea, and with my husband being an absolutely shocking liar that in itself is rather impressive. I have wanted to go to NYC for years, it has been at the top of my must-visit list for as long as I can remember and I have been green with envy at friends visits listening to how wonderful it is and how much they enjoyed it, and now it is finally my turn! I'm going to New York City!

I would love to hear all about your visits to The Big Apple and any tips or blog posts you have for visiting NYC - places to go, things to see, places to eat and the like. I have a list as long as my arm of all the things I want to see while I am there so I just hope that we are able to fit it all in during our four day visit. I am counting down the days - 68 to go!

Autism Abroad | #ShepsGoToLaki

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

I've spent many evenings over the past few weeks scrolling back wistfully through the photos from our Mark Warner Holidays to Lakitira and Corsica. The darkness seems endless at this time of year, and the cold chills your bones when you're stood on the playground on the school run day in day out, dreaming of sunshine and those long gone Summer days. Warm breezes and sand between your toes, the gentle ebb and flow of the waves on the shore, children's laughter ringing in your ears as family memories are made. I think it's safe to say I have a serious case of the post-holiday blues.

After we arrived at Lakitira back in October for our half term holiday we were so excited to see what the week with Mark Warner would bring, and we weren't disappointed. It was truly an inclusive holiday experience for the whole family.

At the forefront of any decision we make regarding days out or holidays is how will L cope? Is there adequate provision for him? Will he enjoy it? Parents of children with additional needs will understand that if there is even a question of your child being excluded, or unable/unwilling to join in with activities on a day trip or holiday then it's a no-go. You want your child to be safe, to have fun, and to be included. It is paramount.

Travelling with a child with Autism is challenging. You are changing their routine, taking them to a new place, exposing them to a plethora of new sounds, tastes, smells, people which can be overwhelming for any child, but for a child with ASD it is ten-fold - absolute sensory overload and with that comes meltdowns, anger, anxiety, and fear.

We had a successful practice run at taking L abroad earlier in the year when we went to Corsica. Mark Warner provide a holiday childcare service that is second to none, with their teams of fully qualified British nannies who are endlessly patient, caring, and full of enthusiasm. They offer 1:1 special needs childcare at three of their resorts - San Lucianu in Corsica, Levante in Rhodes, and Lakitira in Kos, during selected departure dates and which must be pre-booked over the phone in advance. At San Lucianu L's buddy was Sam, and at Lakitira he was paired up with Rachel. All children with SEN are different and will require different levels of assistance, our needs were discussed in advance of our holiday and I went over everything with them again when we arrived.

L wants to be independent and while he is mostly able-bodied, he has some physical disabilities which hinder his ability to fully involve himself in some activities for a prolonged period of time. He also has very little impulse control and no real understanding of danger so while he is a good swimmer, he cannot be unsupervised in the pool or out on the sea. The childcare staff are of course with the children at all times during club hours and activities, but L does need that extra bit of care and someone to help keep him safe and the fact that Mark Warner can offer this for no extra cost as part of their outstanding childcare provision makes all the difference to a family like mine. We can go on holiday together, we can relax and have fun, and L gets to be a part of it - to join in like every other kid, to make friends, to learn new things. He is included.

As I'm sure any parent of a child with additional needs will tell you, that is all we want.

Rachel and L built up a good friendship during our week at Lakitira. She helped calm him when he was overwhelmed and gave him space when he needed it, she enabled him to be fully involved in all the activities, and just sat with him when he wanted some time out on the beanbags (with his cap over his face, not speaking). She listened to & understood his needs, and made him feel a part of the group which is one of his main struggles. We came away from Lakitira with a young man who had enjoyed his holiday, who had been a part of a group of kids his own age and had had fun. He wasn't made fun of or singled out. As parents of a child with Autism, we came home having felt like we had had a break too. We had no anxiety about his care at any time - when he wanted to be with us he knew where to find us and would come and just sit, and when he wanted to be with the other kids he went off to join in with whatever activity they were doing and he had fun. When things got too much for him, he took his Dad's phone and some earphones and sat in the bar to use the hotel wi-fi and watch some YouTube which he does at home to 'tune out'. It never lasted long though, he was always too keen to get back out & have fun with his new friends but he knew he had the option if he needed it.

I had been concerned about meals because L is very particular about food, from a sensory point of view with texture, smell, and taste. I knew mornings at the breakfast buffet would be manageable, and every day he would go and help himself to cereal or toast, and then eventually pancakes and chocolate sauce once he trusted me enough to taste one. He would fill himself up and then go off to do whatever the Kidz Club team had arranged for them, and he was always the first one in the Trattoria at lunchtime where he stood and patiently waited for the freshly baked pizzas to be put out. The evenings were trickier, the children's high tea was a selection of salads, meats and other dishes suitable for younger ones but L would only ever eat the pizza or very occasionally, the chips. As the week went on he started to join in with the Kidz Club meal in the evening and would eat more pizza then if it was available, otherwise he'd just sit with them before they went off to take part in their evening entertainment.

L was never made to join in with or do anything he didn't want to, and even if he just wanted to sit and watch he was still made to feel a part of the group. At the end of holiday show, the majority of the other kids from his age group took part but L chose not to, though he did sit with all of his friends at the edge of the stage during the performances. At the end of the night he was called up to collect his certificate and Rachel told him and everyone what a pleasure it had been to be his 'buddy' for the week.

I don't think I have ever felt as emotional at the end of a holiday as I did when we left both Corsica and Kos, and when the children were saying goodbye to the staff at both resorts I had to hold back tears. To be able to fully enjoy a holiday with all of my children, where L is included and makes friends and has fun and I don't have to worry, is simply amazing. I am so grateful to Mark Warner Holidays and all of their wonderful staff for the fun, the laughter, and the memories and we will definitely be back again.

Mark Warner Holidays provided flights and half board accommodation for five people as part of the #MarkWarnerMum Ambassadorship. All opinions and words are my own.

Meal Plan Monday 281215

Monday, 28 December 2015

It's the final meal plan of 2015, and I refuse to do a full grocery shop this week because we have so much food left in the house, so - this week's menu is devised from whatever we have in the cupboards, fridges and freezer and using leftover meats from Christmas. I need to buy bread and milk etc but other than that, it's leftover week in our house.

Meal Plan 281215
Monday 28th
The Body Coach's #LeanIn15 Korma using leftover turkey from Christmas Day, served with rice
Tuesday 29th
Bacon wrapped chicken, stuffed with cheese and served with chips and salad
Wednesday 30th December (Leftover) Turkey Madras with rice - and that's the last of the turkey!
Thursday 31st
We're having a takeaway tonight since it's NYE and I don't want to have to cook, followed by ice cream & profiteroles
Friday 1st
January 2016
Mashed potatoes, salad, quiche, sausage rolls etc
Saturday 2nd
Chicken Carbonara
Sunday 3rd
Roast Pork

#MealPlanningMonday linked up with At Home with Mrs M.

Christmas Meal Plan Monday 211215

Monday, 21 December 2015

Meal Plan 211215
Monday 21st
Kids Choice - Turkey drummers, chips & baked beans
Tuesday 22nd
Chicken Korma with Pilau rice and sundries
Wednesday 23rd
Pizza, because I don't want to cook...
Christmas Eve
Thursday 24th December
Breakfast | Pancakes and waffles with fruit & maple syrup
Lunch | Sub sandwiches, crisps & salad
Dinner | Mexican buffet with cheesecake and candy cane cookies for dessert - followed by hot chocolate & marshmallows
Christmas Day
Friday 25th December
Breakfast | French Pastries (and chocolate...)
Lunch | Roast Turkey with all the trimmings followed by chocolate fudge cake, cream and profiteroles for dessert
Dinner | Leftover turkey roast in sandwich form with lots of cranberry sauce and stuffing, followed by gingerbread
Boxing Day
Saturday 26th December
Breakfast | Egg & Bacon, bubble & squeak
Lunch | Sandwiches (with leftovers) & various snack foods
Dinner | Ploughman's with a selection of cold meats and salad with scones, clotted cream and jam for dessert
Sunday 27th
No actual plan for today... Probably more leftovers!
#MealPlanningMonday linked up with At Home with Mrs M.

And though she be but little, she is fierce | #LoudnProud

Thursday, 17 December 2015

There is nothing E enjoys more than flinging herself around the living room with wild abandon - cartwheeling, forward rolling, hand springing... Kick overs, walkovers, and handstands are practised daily, over and over again, until she can do whatever it is that she has set her mind to. She has been doing gymnastics for a couple of years now, first starting in the preschool group aged three learning lots of basic tumbling skills and how to move around on the different apparatus. On her fifth birthday she moved up to the beginners group and started her badge work. She quickly completed badge eight and has now just completed badge seven today.

Last month her gymnastics club invited girls from the recreational classes to take part in trials for places in their development squads, which E was keen to do. Her dad took her along to the trial as it was arranged for the same day as H's guard of honour for the 1st XV team at his rugby club and I'd already promised him I would stay, so unfortunately I didn't get to watch her but I knew she would try her best.

We found out whether or not she had earned a place the following week with a letter home after her class, and was absolutely delighted to find out that she had been offered a place in the "mini squad". She has now started her squad training which is two hours a week at this stage, and she still attends her hour long rec class at the moment too.

I'm so proud of how hard she works to master new moves, and how keen she is to try everything and give it her best. Her bravery astounds me, watching her swinging around on the bars, flipping over backwards on the mats and tiptoeing across beams makes my stomach lurch - she's so small but she is fearless, and so strong. I can't wait to see how far her training takes her and to see what she will achieve in the mini squad.

#LoudnProud is taking a break over Christmas and New Year, but will return in 2016 with 3 Children & It on Thursday, January 7th.

Mama Owl

Meal Plan Monday 141215

Monday, 14 December 2015

Meal Plan 141215
Monday 14th
Tuesday 15th
Wednesday 16th December Steak with (sweet) potato & mixed veg
Thursday 17th
Roast chicken
Friday 18th
Sausage & mash
Saturday 19th
It's the U10s rugby parents evening out so whatever the buffet has in store for us
Sunday 20th
Roast Pork

#MealPlanningMonday linked up with At Home with Mrs M.

Toys to Last a Lifetime | #GeorgeToyStories

Friday, 11 December 2015


When I was little, My Little Pony was all the rage. I had hundreds of them, every single pony that came out I wanted (and I usually got it, to be honest). The powder pink castle with its blue turrets, the nursery with giant pastel lettering on the side and bottles as big as the baby ponies, Apple Jack and all of her friends were a huge part of my childhood and I'm delighted that they are still around today for my girls to enjoy, although admittedly 17-year-old A grew out of them some time ago, E still loves them.

I remember at Christmastime my Grampy Charlie always used to fall asleep in the armchair after dinner, and my three older sisters and I would dress him up and take photos after we'd "decorated" him. The year I got the My Little Pony castle we used one of the turrets as a hat. We have so many photos of a soundly sleeping Gramps adorned with all sorts of toys, such fun memories to look back on and remember him now he is sadly no longer with us.

The Mister was a big fan of vehicles, football and Lego when he was a young lad (not to feed too much into gender stereotypes of course, just stating facts - kids like what they like!) and my three boys are no different. H in particular has built up quite a collection of Lego which is stored in boxes under his bed and he enjoys building and creating with it. He loves the Lego City range and we have several pieces including his favourite, the police station, so he was thrilled when ASDA sent him the Lego City Demolition Site to add to his collection for #GeorgeToyStories, about family heirlooms and favourite childhood toys. H is 10 now so he is able to sit and build the sets independently, it took him a few hours and lots of concentration but he successfully built all of the Lego vehicles by himself and was delighted with the results of his hard work.

My favourite thing about Lego is that it is virtually indestructible (if you don't believe me, try standing on a piece...) and will last for years. My in-laws have a box of toys stored underneath their stairs that they keep for the Grandkids that still contains Lego from my husband's childhood, and he and his two brothers are all in their 30s now. It's a toy that is built to last and its appeal extends across all ages, genders, and generations.

Do you have a favourite toy that you have kept from your childhood? Has it stood the test of time, and is it something that you have shared with your own children? I plan on keeping my children's favourite toys stored away safely ready for them to share with their own kids and love that it will still include My Little Pony and Lego, classic toys that will truly last a lifetime and provide memories to keep forever.

Traditional Festive Fare

Wednesday, 9 December 2015


I'm not going to lie - festive fare is one of my favourite things about Christmas. While this year I won't be going mad and stuffing my face I am going to loosen up a bit and enjoy all of the delicious food that will be tempting me over the next couple of weeks.

Over the years we have created and now follow our own family traditions for Christmas meals and what we will be having over the festive period. On Christmas Eve it is J's job to help me lay on a Mexican style buffet for all of us to share, including quesadillas, loaded nachos with lots of dips followed by chicken fajitas. Afterwards we decorate our gingerbread house together (it's just not Christmas without some home-made gingerbread) and the kids have their hot chocolate piled high with marshmallows and squirty cream while we watch Christmas movies before they head off to bed excited for what the morning will bring (and also bouncing off the walls from the sugar high).

My husband is in charge of Christmas dinner as roasts are his domain. I cook all week and he cooks on Sundays, as the deal goes in our house. Besides which, he is just better at it than me. I potter about in the kitchen around him, making side dishes and getting in the way helping him out - I like to take charge of the Brussels sprouts, caramelising them in butter, brown sugar and bacon (seriously, amazing - even my kids eat them).

We always have Roast Turkey on Christmas Day as is tradition, cooked and carved to perfection by the Mister who treats it as an art form. If you need any handy hints & tips for choosing, cooking and carving your turkey this Christmas Donald Russell have created a useful guide that even calculates what size to order for your party which is great for preventing food waste, though I don't know about you but nothing ever goes to waste in our house - we love nothing more than a turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce sandwich in the evening and any leftover veg is bubble & squeak on Boxing Day.

We encourage the kids to work together and set the table ready for dinner so that they can be involved and have their own job to do. I have to admit the younger ones are rather more keen than the tween and teens but usually it is a good team effort. I'm going to buy some new table coverings and decorations this year ready for the big day.

On Boxing Day we have a big cooked breakfast of eggs, bacon and bubble & squeak and the rest of the day is usually spent grazing on leftovers and chocolate with a Ploughman's style meal in the evening with lots of pickles, condiments and cold cuts of meat and not forgetting the all important bowl of fluffy, buttery mashed potatoes.

Does your family follow any festive foodie traditions?

Meal Plan Monday 071215

Monday, 7 December 2015

Meal Plan 071215
Monday 7th December
Tuesday 8th December
Burgers, chips and baked beans
Wednesday 9th December Roast chicken, with mixed vegetables and potato
Thursday 10th December
Spaghetti & meatballs in a tomato, garlic and herb sauce
Friday 11th
Lasagne and garlic bread
Saturday 12th December
Chicken Casserole
Sunday 13th
I'm out for our Project 6 Pack Christmas meal but the Mister & kids will be having a roast at home

#MealPlanningMonday linked up with At Home with Mrs M.

A Stamptastic Christmas

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Not only do I have five children, I have six siblings who also all have children (thirteen between them). In addition to that, the Mister has two brothers who have ten children/step-children between them. At Christmastime it takes us (me) an absolute age to wrap everything, then on top of the wrapping is the labelling, and the card writing.

Stamptastic have helped me put the joy back into giving by taking away the inevitable hand cramp that comes with endless labelling, and sent me some beautiful personalised Christmas stamps - an address stamp for those Christmas card envelopes winging their way across towns, countries and oceans to family & friends, a fun small stamp for labelling tags without having to write everyone's name on it more times than you can count, and a large stamp with wooden handle perfect for taking the work out of writing Christmas cards - all you need to do is write the recipient's name on the dotted line (also ideal for labelling presents). We also received two craft ink pads in black (other more festive colours are available), one large - £8 - and one small - £3.50.

The small stamp with a fun Christmas tree motif and message that reads "Merry Christmas & Happy New Year, Love from The Sheps" was just the thing for stamping on labels for extended family gifts, all I had to do was write their name above the stamp and voilà - job done. Usually after the fifth or sixth label my handwriting starts resembling something like a spider that has fallen in ink and crawled across the label so it is lovely to have neat and tidy labels this year. This is available in 5 different designs with personalisation of your choice and is just £15. The stamps are easy to use and print clearly, and like their uniform labelling stamps they are made with a transparent block for accurate positioning.

Stamptastic have many Christmas inspired products that are just the thing to give your gifts that personal touch, including a 'lovingly handmade' stamp for those thoughtful home-made presents which can all be found on their website. Give them a follow on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for all of their latest product news and offers.

We received complimentary personalised stamps for review purposes. All words and opinions are our own.
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