> The Beesley Buzz: August 2013

Home-schooling - A few of your best bits!

This is our little present to D. A blog post and video to celebrate nearly 3 years of home-schooling:

Dear D,

We are so proud of you.
So proud of everything about you.
You are kind, considerate and compassionate.
You have a flair for your drama, a real skill in karate, and you are The Brilliant Chef.
Whatever you choose to do, we will support you.
We will love you.
And we will be there for you.
For the past few years, you have been home educated. And you have thrived!
You have learnt so much and done so well.
You have had some great experiences and amazing adventures.
Here are some of your best bits...

Now you have made the decision yourself to try out school. Enjoy this new chapter in your life and know that we are right there with you every step of the way. God bless you.

With all our love, Mum, Dad, J and T xxx

A year of Blogging: Our blog anniversary!

It was around this time last year, (I can't pinpoint the exact day as we wrote up some backdated blog posts of things we wanted the boys to remember) that we had a lovely break at Bluestone and spent our evenings there setting up this blog.

We had just found out that we had been picked as Toyologists and so needed to get the blog set up in time to start our reviews as the first box was arriving very soon after!

The blog was set up to be a place to document memories for the boys, particularly as we often go on days out or do special projects for home-school, but it has ended up being so much more than that.

It has doubled-up as T's baby book as this is the only place that I keep a record of her milestones and cute moments.

And we have been extremely fortunate to have worked with some lovely brands like Nuby when we were selected as Nuby bloggers. To celebrate our blog anniversary Nuby kindly provided a prize bundle of bath toys and the competition date ended to coincide with our blog anniversary with congratulations to Laura Avery who was randomly picked as the winner.

A year ago, I had no idea that this blog would also become my 'escape' in the evenings, and help me put things in perspective after a long day with the kids. I had no idea that I would find so many other lovely blogs to read and make online friends with not only other bloggers but also some of our lovely blog readers.

I had no idea I would feel so emotionally attached to our blog and other blogs to the extent that I worry about people if I see their blog hasn't been updated for a while. When others are going through difficult times, I feel for them so much more than I could have possibly imagined I would. I had no idea that I would stumble across so many inspirational, wonderful, brave, supportive, kind, non-judgemental, caring people each with their story to tell through their blog.

I try not to look at the blog stats pages as it has always been our intention to blog for us, but it is really lovely to see how many other people drop in on our journey as we navigate our way through home-school, the ups and downs of Aspergers and family life in general. Thank you to everyone who has read our blog, has ever commented on a blog post or on facebook or got in touch with us. Your support really is appreciated!

We have loved the journey our blog has taken us on with J being asked to provide jokes for The Toadstool, and being picked as Center Parcs bloggers.

We have enjoyed joining in with various blog hops and linkys; the regular ones we try to link up with being Actually Mummy's Wot so funee, which is a great way of capturing your children's funny moments, Mummy from the heart's Reasons to be Cheerful which is just what it says on the tin really - finding reasons to be cheerful whatever life throws at you, and 3 children and IT's oldies but goodies which gives an opportunity for some of those older posts to get a second airing. We hope to continue getting the kids involved with linking up with This Mummy Love's draw with me linky too!

We have been fortunate to have been selected as the winner or runner up in various blogger competitions like Jolly Journeys, by blogging about our top tips for long car journeys with kids, Superkid Savers by sharing our top saving tips for kids and even, much to our surprise, various recipe blogger challenges like the Lean on Turkey challenge and the Richmond mini meatballs Hungry to Happy challenge!

The reason I say 'much to our surprise' is that anyone who knows me knows just what a disaster area I am in the kitchen but I have been so inspired by my little boy who has started his own blogging journey over at The Brilliant Chef that I have 'had a go' with cookery and coming up with recipe ideas, so it has been amazing to have been picked as a winner with some of these recipes and ideas.

On the not-so-positive side of blogging, I had no idea just how time consuming it would be. Me and my telly are no longer on speaking terms and I find I don't get on with the intensity of the social media side of blogging.

I also find it incredibly frustrating that only a tiny fraction of the things I would like to blog about actually make it onto the blog. All those lovely ideas and aspirations I had about researching topics in depth like home-schooling, extended breastfeeding, all the many facets of Aspergers, and then adding in our experiences and writing blog posts about them just hasn't happened. Even our home-school topics and days out only get a tiny mention in the overall scheme of things as there just aren't enough hours in the day to actually do things and then blog about the things we do.

Emotionally I have found it to be a bit of a roller-coaster too, as I find that I am constantly thinking about how much of my thoughts and feelings to blog about. I have had certain events trigger Post Natal Depression; this has caused a constant turmoil in my mind as I have not felt ready to blog about it yet but that has in turn led me to feel that I am not being honest with myself.

In addition there is the constant dilemma that I have read so many others blog about regarding how much we blog about our children without invading their privacy or embarrassing them if they look back on it in future.

But for now, we will try to enjoy our blog, to not put pressure on ourselves to blog too often or to try to cover too much, to not feel the pressure of social media and just dip in and out as we wish, to not worry what others think and see where the next year of blogging takes us!

This Is My Child

This is my child. He is 9. He loves reading books - especially books like Horrid Henry, Dirtie Bertie, Roald Dahl stories and books with anything gross or yuk in them. He adores Moshi Monsters like many other kids his age. He loves playing outdoors in the garden, in the woods, at the park. He really likes going swimming, goes to karate lessons and Boys Brigade.

Just a normal 9 year old boy, right?

Well yes you are right, he is a normal 9 year old boy but he also happens to have Aspergers. We try to think of it that way round in the hope that others will too.

Although his 'condition', 'disability', 'special need' or whatever term you chose to call it does affect pretty much every area of his life and ours, we have deliberately tried not to see it in a negative way.

We occasionally have days that are so difficult that I do end up blogging about them, but more often I find support reading other peoples blogs, and so we have really ended up leaving out much of J's story from our blog.

With Mumsnet's 'This Is My Child' campaign, we thought we would attempt to tell a little of J's story. He went through enough in the first 6 years of his life pre-diagnosis, after diagnosis and with the ordeal he endured in the education system to fill an entire book and to cover things fully would also bring up a lot of past hurts. J is involved in this blog a lot with his jokes section, helping out with reviews and book write-ups so I am conscious that I don't want to write with the level of detail that would bring back bad memories for him. Even at the mention of his former school, he can then have nightmares for several nights!

Somehow, I don't think we will quite manage to do this 'in a nutshell' so be prepared, this may become one of our longest posts...

I guess looking back we always knew J was 'different'. He gave up his naps as a baby and always struggled to fall asleep. We used to call him a little Houdini as he was able to climb and escape from any kind of strap / harness from the age of 9 months. He would think of doing things that other babies and toddlers would not even consider doing - always pushing the boundaries and he would not take 'no' for an answer.

We have noticed similarities between T and how J was as a baby. At this stage it is hard to tell, but I guess we just want to be more aware this time round.

At age 3 he would quickly and confidently be able to do mental addition whilst most his peers were just learning the basics of counting. We hadn't ever 'taught' him this - he just knew the answers! Still nothing was spotted at pre-school. He actually attended a very good pre-school who would tailor things to his needs and interests and always kept him busy and I think it was because they were actually meeting his needs so well that nothing unusual was noticed.

At home he was always 'harder work' than his younger brother, but that was just him. We got to know how to motivate him and encourage him and how to minimise any problem behaviour. It was essentially doing all the recommended things relating to positive praise and ignoring unwanted behaviours as much as possible.

It was only when he started school that within a matter of weeks we started to get communications from school telling us that he couldn't sit still, he didn't listen well, and that his behaviour was not as they would expect.

Their suggestion? That WE attend a parenting course! They were the ones having problems with his behaviour, and yet we were the ones that should attend a parenting course! We agreed - of course we wanted to give our son the best possible chance of doing well at school and we were very willing to do everything the school suggested.

We raised the possibility of additional needs on several occasions because we wanted them to consider whether J might be getting bored at school with his incredible academic ability (by now he had started to teach himself times tables at age 4), or whether there could be another reason. We knew little about Autism / Aspergers at that point but had heard of ADHD and his inability to sit still seemed to tie in with that.

Yet again school said it was just 'immaturity' and that he would 'grow out of it'. When they tried to assess his mathematical ability, they said he barely knew his number bonds to 10. This was totally inconsistent with his ability we had seen at home, yet I just don't think they believed us.

Eventually it was only because of a friend of mine (who was a school nurse at another school) suggested getting J's hearing checked that we self-referred to the school nurse. J did have hearing problems which had not been considered at all by the school as a possible cause for his 'not listening'. Within a few minutes of explaining J's history and behaviour patterns, the school nurse knew that there was most probably a 'medical' (i.e. not parenting and not behavioural) reason for J's difficulties at school.

She went on to refer us to the paediatric doctor, who then referred to the consultant. At this point we were looking at a wait of well over 6 months (having already waited for well over a year to reach this stage since J started school), and so made the decision to take him to see the consultant privately. Whatever you're views may be of 'queue jumping' and being able to afford to take him privately, when you see your child coming home from school upset day after day, constantly being punished at school, wetting themselves at school (when they had been potty trained for years before that point), and then being told it was our fault by the teachers who we looked to for support and guidance - we needed to find some sort of answer and fast!

Even with a private diagnosis, it had taken over a year and a half to get to this point, mainly because of the schools incorrect advice of telling us to 'wait and see' and 'he'll grow out of it'.

But finally we had a diagnosis! Surely the battle was over! We had a reason for why our son was struggling so much at school, why he was misunderstood so much, why he was always in trouble, why he was the one who was always scapegoated regardless of whether he had done it or not, we finally knew why our son was 'different'.

Friends phoned to tell us how sorry they were for his diagnosis - but we were relieved. Relief that it wasn't anything we had done wrong. Relief that is wasn't our fault. Relief that finally we had an answer.

Now he would be understood at school and his needs would be met and he could finally get on with his education instead of spending the whole day being told off and in trouble.

I had worked in childcare. I had read about all the legislation. I knew that schools had SEN policies and procedures to make sure that every child's needs were met. I knew that there were support networks out there to help. Now that we finally had a diagnosis, all of these things could be put in place and all would be ok.

This is where we discovered the rhetoric does NOT match the reality.

This is where we discovered that the battle to get a diagnosis was hardly a battle at all. It was a mere tiny skirmish and the battle had just begun.

We soon discovered that the legislation counts for nothing unless you have the time and hugely extensive resources to fight it all the way through the courts.

We soon discovered that no-one has your child's interests at heart as much as you do.

We soon discovered that the education system's agenda is driven by the school's own targets, and budgets and needs.

We soon discovered that although there are various support networks out there, often no-one can help point you in the right direction to find the one you need.

We soon discovered that the organisations and departments that are there to give advice and ensure that the schools do all that they are supposed to, actually have no teeth and cannot make the school do what they are legally required to do.

We soon discovered that the schools mantra of 'working in partnership with parents' actually meant "you parents need to get in line and do what we say and we don't care how much you think you know about your child, we are the school and we know best".

We soon discovered that we should have stuck to our own gut instincts and parenting methods because the school's advice on 'punishing and disciplining' our child meant that things just got worse and worse.

We soon discovered that people were quick to judge and come to the assumption that we were 'the type of parents that were never satisfied however much the school (supposedly) did to help'.

We soon discovered that although there is an illusion that schools are accountable to governing bodies and local education authorities that actually when it comes to the crunch, those bodies have very little power over them (especially when the governing body is heavily made up of teachers and parents who have a vested interest in the school).

We soon discovered that schools are permitted to tippex out school incident reports a year after the incident concerned and are able to make up lies about children and parents as they so wish without being held to account. (We did eventually get an apology for the lies told about us but only after a ruling by the ombudsman telling them to).

Yes all of this is shocking. It was shocking to us. But what was more shocking is that there was no-one to hear our voice whilst all this was going on and no-one within the school system to actually act in our son's best interests.

Is it any wonder that we now homeschool!

Homeschooling has offered us so many advantages as a family. There is no way baby T would be with us today if J was still at school as life was far too stressful to even consider having another baby. There have been huge advantages for both boys as D learnt to read within a few weeks of leaving school and became a confident reader after another few weeks (something that would probably have taken at least a year to achieve at school). J has come on leaps and bounds academically. He regularly appears in the newspaper with news of his achievements and we have gradually built up his confidence and self-worth that had been so detrimentally affected during his time at school.

Yes I sometimes feel we have had a bad day, but I only have to remind myself that at school, every day was a bad day!

And yes I do sometimes feel it is unfair that we have had to homeschool because there is no provision available for J (despite him now having a statement of special educational needs - that was yet another battle and a whole other story- the local education authority still provide NOTHING for his education).

There are whole other areas that deserve blog posts of their own like what day to day life is like with J, lots more about home-schooling, what it's like having a 'hidden' disability, sleep issues and all that surrounds that but I think this has given a snapshot into what was probably the biggest let down for us in having a child with special needs - that those who we thought would be the most caring,  understanding and trustworthy - i.e. the education system - turned out to be the ones with the least knowledge, understanding and integrity.

I do feel the need to mention that we have come across some wonderful teachers who actually were 'on side' with J but it is the overall culture and ethos of the whole system that led to us having the experiences that we had.

We wanted to do something ourselves to raise awareness of what is happening in schools and how many children with ASD and similar conditions are being failed by the system - but we ended up so drained and tired with the battles we had to face that we were left with no time or energy to do the things we hoped to do. I hope this is, in our own little way, adding our voice to the many others out there saying This Is My Child.


Me Books Review: The Brave Beast

First up, I need to come clean. I don't like e-books. Apps fine. My boys use educational Apps as part of their home-schooling all the time. They have loads of game Apps on the ipad, too. But for me, I have always preferred proper paper books and nothing else quite seemed right.

But when we were given the opportunity to try out a Me Book e-book, I had a quick look at the Me Books website and thought it looked an interesting concept. Sort of an interactive e-book that could be personalised with recordable bits as well. The stories are read by celebrities and there is a great selection of well known favourite books to choose from!

Now this review is supposed to be for the Me Books new release The Brave Beast by author-illustrator Chris Judge and narrated by Adam Buxton, but I have been so impressed by the Me Books concept that I am going to rave about that a little first!

It took literally a just a few moments to download the Me Books App for free from the App Store (and you get a free Me Book copy of Little Red Riding hood for doing that), and then to register our details with Me Books through the App, for which we got a further free Me Book ("I don't want to go to bed" by Julie Sykes and Tim Warnes).

There is a little video on the Me Book which really clearly shows just how it works and just how simple they are to use. As with all these types of things, the kids got the hang of it really quickly and were soon having fun playing around with the Me Books.

You can simply have the story narrated to you, and click on the 'hot spots' to hear extra little bits that the characters are saying, and you can create your own 'hot spots' by either changing what they say or adding additional hot spots.

My boys (aged 7 and 9) are both very confident readers but still very much enjoy all types of books ranging from picture books to thick chapter books. They also love to read with their little sister too (who seems to have also acquired their love of books and stories). So although The Brave Beast was an easy read for them, they had literally hours of fun on this rainy day making up silly sound effects for the story and changing the 'hot spots' to say different things.

D made sensible alternatives, whilst joker J had some crazy fun making up some rude noises and funny phrases on each page.

I have become a convert to e-books, or should I say Me Books, because:
  • I loved that some of my favourite stories (and many that we also already have a hard copy of) are available to purchase as a Me Book.  
  • I love that they bring an additional interactive dimension to storytelling and reading books.
  • It is great that the 'hot spots' can be changed and new 'hot spots' can be added.
  • It is a really intuitive, easy-to-use app that the kids can just 'get on with' themselves if necessary, and yet at other times could be done together as a fun activity.
  • Me books are an educational alternative to games apps that my kids love so much. They can have fun with the Me Book instead of spending yet more time on a gaming app.
In our household, book apps like these will never completely replace hard copy books but they certainly will be complementing our range of books and offering an added dimension to reading.

Disclosure: We were given a free copy of The Brave Beast as a Me Book e-book download (worth £1.99). All opinions given in this review are our own.


We had our first taste of Lollibop last Sunday. After looking into train times and prices it turned out much more time effective and cost effective to drive in and park in the nearby Westfield Stratford City shopping centre.
We set off earlyish and although it was getting busy as we arrived, that was nothing compared to how busy it got later on in the day!
Having contacted the organisers beforehand, they were very geared up for visitors with special needs and so we didn't have to wait at all to pick up our tickets which made life a lot easier for J. He was also able to get a wristband (which he wore on his ankle due to sensory issues) to be able to go onto an elevated area to be able to see the main stage better. That also proved very useful and helped make things easier for him.  
There were a number of Parentdish imagination stations and so we stopped to pick up ducks and decorate them. T has called her pink duck 'duck duck' and carries it all round the house with her!  

First stop, one of the Parentdish imagination stations to decorate ducks
The Science Museum had a tent with a number of hands-on challenges which J and D took part in.
One of the Science Museum's challenges
One of the boys highlights was getting freebie packs of Haribo sweets and meeting the Haribo bear. I don't think little T was too impressed though as she was rather terrified as we got closer to the bear for a photo!
Meeting the Haribo bear
Another HUGE highlight for the boys was to see two of their heroes Dick and Dom live on the main stage. Daddy, D and T ending up on 'Dick's team' and me and J ending up on 'Dom's team' did lead to a little bit of rivalry - but there will be more about that in a future blog post!
Dick and Dom
The food queues were pretty long as it was so busy and picnic table seating areas were also quickly filled (we will remember to take our own picnic rug next year) but after a tasty lunch, we stopped at a beat boxing workshop in the Tween Town tent. These guys from the London Urban Arts Academy were extremely talented and really encouraging and positive so we all ended up thinking we could actually beat box after that session. (Well we all know that D already can!)
London Urban Arts Academy beat boxing in the Tween town tent
We watched one of the Lollikitchen cooking demos from Tesco Real Food and although I enjoyed it, I think the boys got a bit bored (particularly as they do so much cooking at home, I think they found it less interesting just watching). But despite their whinging and asking to go and find the Haribo bear for more sweets, we were not moving as we were quite close to the front and Katy Ashworth from Cbeebies 'I can cook' was on next.

Although her show at Lollibop didn't actually involve any cooking, she did a great job jumping around and singing and dancing and all that at 8 months pregnant too - amazing woman!
The incredibly energetic Katy Ashworth from Cbeebies I can cook!
I don't think the boys remembered how much they used to love watching 'I can cook' because they didn't enjoy Katy as much as I did. I have so many fond memories of my favourite Cbeebies shows and I think it is a shame that they have moved mainly onto CBBC. Hopefully T will get into watching Cbeebies soon and so I can watch all my fave shows again! On that note, I would have loved to see Justin Fletcher on the main stage but the boys were tired and hungry at that point so that's when we stopped for our lunch break.

We headed home before the end as it really had got so busy that we started to worry about how much more enjoyment the kids would get out of it if we tried to persevere so we decided to quit while we were ahead having had a great day out and head home before it got past their bedtimes.

Cable and Cotton lights review

When Cable and Cotton offered to send us a set of their stunning light strings, we couldn't wait to choose from their lovely selection of colours. You can order one of their pre-selected colour sets (as we did) or fully customise your own string of 20, 35 or 50 lights (at no extra cost as far as I could see).

I initially thought I was choosing for T's room as she just moved into her room a few months after she was born without it being re-decorated in any way for her so I thought these lights would add a nice touch. So I picked the colour with her in mind. We chose 'marshmallow' which is a selection of light pink, dark pink, white, cream and grey balls.

When they arrived, she certainly took an interest in them using one of the few words she knows saying 'ball' 'ball' over and over as she tried to get hold of the pretty balls that surround the lights.

They arrive as a light string and balls separately (hence the ability to purchase a fully customisable set) and the (initially daunting) job of putting them together was up to me.

They come with an instruction sheet and I am very glad that I did read the instructions first. Basically you just find the pre-cut hole and slot on each ball and push each light bulb into it. The instructions explain that you do need to push with quite a lot of force and if the balls get crumpled then by pulling the cable once the light is in will straighten them out again.

Sure enough the first few really crumpled badly but with a bit of pulling and wriggling were soon looking fabulous again.

Now to decide where to put them...I tried a couple of areas in T's room...

But then decided to put them in my own bedroom where they make a real centrepiece around the headboard.

I particularly loved the fact that there was a generous amount of 'cable' between each light and also to reach the plug socket with. I really adored the look of the cotton balls and the gorgeous colours they came in. My only suggestion for improvement would be to possibly send a spare ball or two just in case any got crumpled beyond repair as the lights are inserted. Thankfully all mine were ok but I did feel a bit nervous putting them on knowing that there were no spares if one went 'wrong'.

Having said that, the speedy delivery, the company ethics and the great customer service all give me the impression that if there was a problem, then they would be very keen to help sort it out.

Disclosure: We were sent a set of lights of our choice free of charge from Cable and Cotton for the purposes of this review. We chose 20 light string set in the Marshmallow colour scheme (which would have cost £22.95 plus postage).

A few of our favourite recipes over at The Brilliant Chef...

Just wanted to give a shout out to a couple of new recipes over on seven year old D's 'The Brilliant Chef" blog at the moment. One of the things we love about D's interest in cookery is that he is not just into baking cakes and cookies as many little ones enjoy so much but he is just as happy in the kitchen making dinnertime dishes or inventing his own variations of recipes.

He joins in with all kitchen jobs including chopping veg, washing up, stirring over the hob, and using a mixer and blender (all done with supervision of course as he is only 7) and he has such a keenness for trying new flavours in the form of new herbs and spices no matter how strong or unusual the flavour.

Anyway, here are a few of my fave recipes that can be found on his blog...

If you have never made flatbreads before, they are SO simple to make and you can find a really easy flatbread recipe here.

Some Thai inspired turkey burgers by The Brilliant Chef complete with interesting use of a nuby snack catcher!

and one I made up that turned out quite well:
Turkey Tikka Parcels

and a few of his older recipes that definitely deserve a shout out:

Mini meatballs and seasonal vegetable cous-cous because it is so simple to make and a nice summery recipe too!


New York Cheesecake because I would never be brave enough to attempt this one and yet D just got on with it and it turned out SUPER!

(Even though there is a little funny out-take to go with the cheesecake recipe!)

Keep cooking Brilliant Chef and keep inspiring us to get in the kitchen too. x

Canada and California: My two-stop holiday to visit my two Aunts

I had never travelled particularly far during my life and holidays as a child were few and far between, but when I lost my mum 11 years ago, I realised that I really wanted to travel to visit my two aunts who she had been incredibly close to when growing up but who I hadn't seen for many many years.

One lived in Canada and the other in California so we had to have a two-stop holiday in order to visit both of them. Of course, the biggest highlight was to meet them again after so many years, but what came as a wonderful surprise was just how much I enjoyed seeing some of the special sights in each of the countries.

As I look back through holiday photos, there are so many moments that deserve a mention, but I have had to pick out just a few of my favourites:

First Stop - Canada
I actually spent most of my visit to Canada in bed with pneumonia which wasn't a good start to the holiday - so then I knew I had to make the most of it for the last couple of days:

Top spots for me were...

The Capilano suspension bridge.
There is a reason why I look so terrified, that bridge REALLY wobbles a lot! (and is really high up over looking a valley).

And Whistler.
I thought it was so cool (pun-intended) to be able to get to somewhere covered in snow which was just a short drive away from Vancouver.

My handsome husband ready to hit the slopes...
Where he discovered that he really can't ski!
I stuck to enjoying the views by cable car and what stunning views they were. Beautiful snow covered peaks with tiny little kids as young as toddlers on the black rated ski runs - we were seriously impressed!

Second Stop - California
The sunshine of California certainly helped my recovery from the Pneumonia. I found an instant appeal to San Francisco's Pier 39 which reminded me a lot of my hometown where I grew up (Brighton). Ok so Brighton lacks being blessed by quite so much sunshine and doesn't have the stinky sea-lions that had become such a popular attraction in San Francisco but I loved being near the sea, and the hustle and bustle of everything going on.
Pier 39, with Alcatraz in the background.
I dreaded the trip to Alcatraz though. I just thought this is going to be boring boring boring! My husband really wanted to see it though so of course I went along to - and I am SO glad I did. If I had to pick the BIGGEST highlight of the two-stop holiday, Alcatraz would be it!
There is something that fascinates the mind about a stand alone island that is visible from the mainland whether it be one closer to home like the Bigbury-on-sea tidal island where the single hotel on the island gets separated from the rest of the mainland once the tide comes in, or the mystery of Spinalonga, the island used as a Leper colony off of the coast of Crete.

And Alcatraz is just as magical and interesting and fascinating.

It is as though the walls just breathe history and tell a story. You are left wondering about the characters that lived there, the prison guards that worked there and what the day to day goings on would have been like in those cells.

Of course San Fransico boasts all the other famous sites like the Golden Gate bridge which I fell in love with as a child when I watched my first bond movie: A view to a kill. We found ourselves mesmerised day after day as we awoke to foggy skies only to see the sun shine through and reveal the beauty of the bridge.
We also visited Lombard street famous for its steep hairpin bends.
as well as finding some other hidden gems along the way - I don't recall where this was but it was a quieter walkway cutting through somewhere in the city.
We finished our trip with by driving across the bridge out of San Francisco and into the Napa Valley where we enjoyed a relaxing mud bath heated by the natural underground springs. Strange but wonderful at the same time!

I would thoroughly recommend every aspect of our two-stop holiday (well apart from catching pneumonia - that bit I would advise giving a miss!)

This is our entry into Travelsupermarket.com's Holiday Postcards Blogging competition featuring our two stop holiday to Vancouver in Canada and San Francisco in California, USA.  #HolidayPostcards


Sleep - or rather lack of!

Our son with Asperger's, now 9 years old has never been a good sleeper. He dropped his day naps completely as a baby when he was 15 months old whilst all the other babies we knew were still having one or even two naps a day.

He always struggled to settle to sleep even before that point. He slept well for the first 2 weeks of his life and from there on sleep was a struggle!

He struggles to fall asleep and then wakes up early. He used to wake a lot in the night and then not manage to re-settle. Thankfully that has improved a bit but it is the getting to sleep that is the big problem, combined with the 5.30am starts and then being non-stop on-the-go all day.

There is a question on the forms you fill in pre-diagnosis which says something like "is your child always on the go as if driven by batteries?" and I could not describe it a better way myself. However little sleep he gets, it doesn't seem to impact his energy levels (I guess I wish I was like that then perhaps I wouldn't mind so much about his lack of sleep!)

A few years ago his paediatrician offered him a prescription for melatonin but when I read the information leaflet that came with the prescription there were so many warnings about it not being tested in children that we decided to hold off.

Now I have got to the point that I feel we really really NEED to try something - they won't now issue the prescription without first going through the process of keeping a sleep diary and then a further discussion with the doctor. The principle of that I don't mind at all - but it is just frustrating that he had already been accepted as needing it previously but because we chose not to, he then 'fell off' the list and we are having to start all over.

We complete the final day of the sleep diary tomorrow yet I have no idea what the outcome will be. Perhaps they will think that he gets enough sleep because he is full of energy all day. Perhaps they will agree that it is not enough sleep compared to other children his age.

If they do issue the melatonin prescription will I go ahead and try him on it or will I chicken out again? Last time he seemed so young to go onto any medication, perhaps I will feel he is old enough now.

I would love to hear from anyone who has tried melatonin for an ASD child or has made the deliberate decision not to. Any other sleep tips based on what has worked for you would also be most welcome.


Our treasure hunt to find our Hidden Gem!

This is our entry into the Tuscany Now 'Hidden Gems' Blogger Competition. Tuscany Now is a villa rental specialist for Tuscany and Italy (somewhere I have always dreamed of visiting!) and they have challenged bloggers to blog about any holiday 'hidden gems' they have discovered. Places where tourists are few and far between, or a magical place that feels like it exists just for you. For us, we are always in search of family friendly holidays which are not tourist-packed and it sometimes feels akin to going in search of the holy grail!

But a few years ago - we think we found one. An elusive hidden gem. A beach holiday nonetheless - but a beach with a difference; Not a tourist to be found and the entire stretch of beach all to ourselves.

Here's how we found it:
Gems are treasures and everyone knows that to find treasure, first you need a map. So we looked at the map and decided which country we fancied visiting. It was going to be the children's first holiday abroad so we desperately wanted to get it right.

Spain was the choice. But where in Spain was the treasure hidden? Recalling memories of Spain as a child, all I could picture were swimming pools packed with people, beaches filled with row upon row of sunloungers, noisy hotel restaurants where meals were far from relaxed. Did I really want my children to experience this? All they wanted was a beach to play on and sand to build sandcastles with. How could we achieve this without having to put up with all the noise and hustle and bustle that is found on beach holidays?

So we did what every wise explorer should do when they come to a dead end. We asked the advice of a trusted wise elder (in the form of my big sis who lived in Spain for many years and brought her children up there during their early years). And you can't beat local knowledge when it comes to finding those all elusive hidden gems.

She told us of a magical place where two seas meet. On one side the 'open' Mediterranean sea - the water colder, and rougher but beautiful white sandy beaches and quite literally on the other side of the road, the golden sands at the edge of the 'lagoon' side of the sea with stiller, warmer water - perfect for the little ones to paddle and play in.

Could it really be true? Surely such a place would be heaving with tourists? Beach. Sand. Sea. Surely that was an equation for thousands upon thousands of sunloungers to fill the shoreline leaving not an inch of space for the children to play?

I guessed that time would soon tell as we booked our flights and made arrangements for accommodation. Much like Tuscany Now, we were fortunate to find an organisation that represented apartment owners directly and so we knew we were getting a high standard of accommodation. If it is nice enough for the apartment owners to holiday in themselves then that was a good sign. And that proved to be CLUE No.1

CLUE No. 2 was the taxi driver picking us up from the airport having no idea where our holiday accommodation was. Now that might sound like a disaster - but we found it strangely reassuring. If the local taxi driver had not needed to shuttle visiting holiday makers and tourists to and fro - then it was likely to be in a quieter location. That takes us on to CLUE No. 3

CLUE No. 3 We searched the whole town and found only a single shop. A little store selling groceries and other essentials. Perfect. That was all we needed. The bread van stopped by each day at lunchtime and the children raced down and returned to the apartment balcony with a fresh baguette for lunch each day. Alfresco dining on the balcony looking over quiet streets each day made us feel like locals. We got a glimpse into life living there in the sunshine, near the beach, with a pool to dive into whenever we felt like it.

Then it was time for the real test. The acid test if you like. The make or break moment. Had we truly found a hidden gem in the form of the little town of Islas Menores or would we be sorely disappointed. It was time to check out the beach!

So here was our final clue. CLUE No. 4 The moment of truth! Day after day we had the pick of the crop. Beach after beautiful EMPTY beach. We literally found we had the whole beach to ourselves. In fact, we had the whole stretch of beaches to ourselves.
We children ran, played ball, dug in the sand, paddled in the sea, built sandcastles, even found a crab. The water was shallow, warm, calm. It was perfect.
We were near enough to visit the magical La Manga strip and did spend a couple of our days on the 'other' side - the open side of the Mediterranean sea. The sea may have been a little colder and rougher but the sand was soft and white and simply stunning.

We followed the treasure map. We found the clues and at last, we had truly found our hidden gem.

Britmums Book Club Book Review: The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

My main objective for signing up to review this book for Britmums bookclub was the same as the last book I reviewed - to force myself to make a little 'me-time' to read. And although it was a shorter and quicker read, I found myself really looking forward to reading it each time I got a few moments to myself.

The style of writing was perfect for being able to just pick up the book and get straight into it and then be able to pick up where you left off the next time. Even from the very first page of the book, you are launched straight into the story.

Throughout the book the author writes as "some of us" and then goes onto describe the women's (and in some cases, young girls') experiences of their journey to America and subsequent lives they find themselves living.

This unique way of writing manages to effectively capture the experiences of many rather than just one or two key characters whilst giving us a beautiful-to-read insight into their difficult lives. The style of writing has been described as 'poetic' and 'lyrical'.

Even though I knew what was to come (the book is based on factual historical events) I actually found the first chapter a positive one as the women looked forward to their future, full of hope and full of expectation of what they had been promised, that is, a better life with handsome successful husbands who they were yet to meet.

Of course, the reader guesses that their husbands will turn out not to be the men in the photographs but I was still left hoping that they would find the better life that they were so longing for.

But by the end of the second chapter, we realise beyond any doubt that it is not meant to be. They are destined for a much much harder life than they imagined. Yet within this difficult life, I found there were little glimpses of hope - perhaps in one or two cases where their experience was not as bad as the others or they got a lucky break and managed to get a life that was perhaps better than it could otherwise have been.

From the way the book is described on the back cover, I imagined myself finding it emotionally a difficult read - but to be it was not as unbearable as I imagined it would be. No doubt if I let myself think too much about what these women and families went through, then it would have impacted me more - but I almost forced myself to keep an emotional distance from it. It was the chapters about babies and children that I found the most difficult to read.

And yet, worse was to come. Somewhat naively I had made the assumption that the worse part of the book was the hard life they had arrived to in America and yet, of course, the coming war was a much bigger threat to these women and their families.

Those men that had caused so much fear and heartbreak at the start of the book became husbands that were spoken of quite fondly, I thought, by the end of the book. Quiet unsung heroes they were almost portrayed as.

This is a book that I enjoyed very much and would return to reading a second time in the future. I think that books like this that bring to life actual historic events have an important role to play in helping us learn from the past and inspire an interest in history (Victoria Hislop's books The Island and The Thread also play a similar role in my mind of making history very real by seeing it through the eyes of characters living through the events).

It is easy for us to put these events in the past as having a place in history but not relevant to today and yet I would challenge anyone who reads this (myself included) to spend a moment thinking about all the women and children in the world today who are living lives as hard and as difficult as the characters in the story. To think of people living in fear in wartorn countries? To think of the thousands of children dying daily from poverty related causes?

We may not be able to make right all the wrongs of the past, but is there anything we can be doing now to help in situations going on around the world at the moment so that there will be no need for a book to be written in a hundred years time that will highlight the tragedies in lives of people living now.

I will be linking this review up to the Bookclub linky when it goes live but in the meantime you can find out more about Britmums Bookclub here.

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Budda in the Attic to keep for the purposes of this review. All opinions given here are my own.


Reasons to be cheerful: Family and Fun

We got to visit family who we hadn't seen for a while last week and got to see a cool surprise whilst there. My big sis had made a fab Spanish meal and the kids really enjoyed playing in the garden.

Today, I got to spend some lovely quality time with T whilst the boys were at playscheme.

And we have got an exciting weekend to look forward to as we are going to the Lollibop festival for the first time! It sounds like they have got a great line up and lots to do for all ages so it will be so nice to see all 3 of the kids get to enjoy our family day out there.

If anyone else is going to be there give us a shout on twitter @TheBeesleyBuzz or you can message us on facebook as I am rubbish at recognising people unless I know they are going to be there otherwise.

Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy from the Heart


Musical nails

Last weekend we got to visit my big sister. We don't get to see her that often and she works strange shifts and has been busy moving house so we haven't even been able to catch up by telephone recently.

She isn't online so doesn't do social media and doesn't read our blog. So she had absolutely no idea that it was my design that was picked at the winner of the Black Tower Design Your own bottle competition.

So what happened next was mega cool.

I knew she is a big fan of Black Tower (I think it was her that first introduced me to it as I used to see the bottles of Black Tower in her kitchen whenever we visited) but I didn't realise just how big a fan of Black Tower she was.

She had bought the new bottles as part of her regular shop but having not read the back of the label still had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA that it was her little sister (i.e. me) who had designed the new label.

And when she went for her regular nail manicure she had asked the nail technician to make a couple of her nails 'look like the new design of Black Tower'!!!!

She was obviously really pleased to hear that it was me that had designed the bottle but I think I was more pleased to hear that she loved the design so much that she had her nails done to match.

At least I've learnt my lesson to stay in touch with her a bit better in future. Thanks for a lovely weekend sis - we all had a fantastic time.

The Play Agenda - Special time with T

I got to have some special time with T today whilst the boys were at summer playscheme. With both boys homeschooled, time with just me and T is indeed a rare moment.

She seemed a little grumpy so we headed out into the garden and, inspired by Leoarna's post, added some shells and water to her sandpit, then put her in it (She usually plays sitting just outside the sandpit - so this was new for her).

We were having so much fun, even the cat came over to join us!

It is a shame how this sort of thing is now more of a special occasion thing because there was a time when the boys were younger that messy play / sensory play and arts and crafts was quite literally non-stop all day long in our household.

I used to find it really sad when I heard things like "my child just used paints for the first time ever" (and the child was aged over 3 and had just started preschool and have never been allowed paints at home) and "You are so brave letting them do play-doh at home" (i.e. that parent never would because of the mess factor).

But now I find that I have started to become like that - not quite to that extent - and I really don't want to be like that but so many hours of my day are taken up with little jobs clearing up after the kids (and believe me the house is FAR from clean and tidy - I just mean trying to stay on top of things like cleaning up big spills on the floor and food splattered on the walls, picking up another piece of tissue that has been shredded into a thousand pieces, replace the loo roll that has been dragged all round the house so efficiently that it would put the Andrex puppy to shame and so on).

So when it comes to those special activities that require just that little bit more effort and planning, I find myself avoiding them rather than embracing them the way I used to. Hopefully recognising this will help me start to embrace those opportunities again with T so she gets to do a lot more of the things that J and D enjoyed when they were younger.

Linking up with The Play Agenda over at Not Different But Interesting.


Draw with me linky - Summer theme

Draw With Me – This Mummy Loves

Just spotted this really lovely new linky over at This Mummy Loves and I adore the fact that it has been inspired by her daughter and the drawings that she does. One of the things we have tried to do since starting this blog a year ago is to make it a family effort and that is why I love the idea of this linky so much.

My boys love to draw too and they also love getting involved in the blog. They always feel so pleased if we ever share any of their drawings or crafts on our blog or if we write blog posts about them.

This months theme for the linky is 'Summer' and there is even going to be a prize for someone picked at random, which again is a lovely idea because all children's drawings are special and children are of different ages and abilities so it really is the fairest way for something like this to pick one randomly.

So here is a summery picture that D, aged 7 has drawn. He is often drawing 'sketch' style black and white pictures inspired by comic style books like Captain Underpants, so he has drawn himself eating an ice cream.

Although it is simple, we thought it was kinda cute!

And J, aged 9 has also been influenced by the comic-style black and white sketch idea and has simply chosen to draw an ice-cream as that is what makes him think of 'summer'.

We have stuck to the same couple of linky's that we take part in for so long, we thought it was time for us to move out of our comfort zone and join in with this one too!


Competition: Craft Your Dream Car: #DreamCarCraft

D's entry into the #DreamCarCraft competition
When we spotted this 'Craft your dream car' competition over on Carcraft, I just knew it was something the children would LOVE to get involved in!

Seven year old D put his thinking cap on and came up with his dream car which was a time-travelling car (hence the Viking helmet), which can travel on water as well as in the air using it's rocket boost packs at the back, and when driving on roads it would speed along on hundreds of balls as wheels. There is a solar power panel at the front and a big fuel tank at the back for extra fuel when needed. There are even seat belts to keep you safe. It has a colourful steering wheel and is decorated with pictures of some of his fave moshi characters!

So if your children have got their own ideas about what their dream car would be, then get them busy this summer drawing, colouring, gluing and crafting their dream car and then tweet the photo of your child's creation to @Carcraft with the hashtag #DreamCarCraft.

It is open to all (not just bloggers) and you could win a £50 Amazon voucher!

Be quick though - the competition closes on 16th August 2013.

For full details see the Carcraft website here.

Hope you have as much fun crafting your dream car as we did!

Disclosure: We were given a small incentive to publicise this competition. But all our opinions are honest and we have had great fun taking part. 

Plus Plus Giveaway and Review

Plus Plus is an innovative Danish toy
As a thank you for helping with jokes, The Toadstool sent J and D a couple of packs of Plus Plus which you can find out more about here.

Essentially Plus Plus is a set of small building pieces shaped like two plus signs joined together. Whilst the shape is the same throughout the pack, there are various colours in each pack and neon colour packs are also available (see The Toadstool for colour and pack size options available to purchase).

As they love playing with building / construction type toys this was right up their street (and Daddy's too!) so after they had found their way through the pretty packaging from The Toadstool (items come wrapped in brightly coloured tissue paper, then boxed in a cardboard box with funky tape sealing it), they got straight to work.

Finding their way into the pretty Toadstool packaging!

7 year old D concentrating!

D makes a 'heart'

and handcuffs! 
Daddy joins in and makes a penguin, an ice-cream (!), and a cup of tea:
Ice-cream (?)
A cup of tea

Oh, my mistake, looks like it was a mug of milkshake and not a cup of tea after all:
Pink milkshake
Here's an interesting finding we discovered. As regular readers will know, 9 year old J has Aspergers. Usually anything 'open-ended' causes him anxiety and stress and can lead to meltdown moments. So I imagined that he would only really be able to use the Plus Plus with close guidance from me or Daddy. But here's what we discovered...
Please excuse J's lack of T-shirt - His sensory difficulties have meant that he has spent most the summer without a t-shirt on!
J seemed to like the fact that he could decide to build anything he wanted and used the opportunity to build Moshi characters using Plus Plus. He looked up a character on our iPad and then copied it as closely as he could using the Plus Plus.

J builds a 'Microdave' moshling using Plus Plus
So the Plus Plus strapline of "Simplistic Shape. Endless Possibility" really did hold true in our household as I'm sure you can see from the wide range of things we were able to build. I was so pleased to have found a toy that both boys (aged 7 and 9) could work on independently, particularly given J's usual ASD difficulties. For more ideas of what to build, you can visit the Plus Plus linky hosted by The Toadstool and the Plus Plus Ideas board on Pinterest.

We think the bigger packs (of 600 pieces) would make great presents for children's birthdays or Christmas as they are something a little bit different and that makes it really exciting for kids (well it did for my children - they loved it!). The 250 piece sets or 100 piece sets are priced just right to make great stocking fillers or party gifts.

The Toadstool even gave me the idea of opening the packets of Plus Plus into a Christmas stocking for the children to rummage through to find their other gifts. Can you imagine their delight to find that the Plus Plus was then a toy in itself.

I can also imagine Santa leaving a trail of Plus Plus from the chimney to the Stockings hung on bedroom doors, or playing party games or treasure hunts with Plus Plus pieces hidden around the house and when you find them, you get to keep them and add them to your collection. My goodness the possibilities really are endless with Plus Plus.

In fact, the only negative, (if you can call it a negative) is that the 250 piece packets of Plus Plus look like packets of fudge and so I find I keep reaching for them to eat. But maybe that's just me!

So if you fancy winning your own pack of Plus Plus (250 piece pack), please fill in your details in the Rafflecopter below and leave a blog post comment telling us your favourite fact about Plus Plus from the information on The Toadstool's Plus Plus information page. (Please try refreshing the page if the rafflecopter widget isn't showing). Please note all comments left on this blog post are moderated and may take up to a few days to show.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
And if you don't win this giveaway, there are more giveaways on the Toadstool's Plus Plus linky page. You can keep an eye on The Toadstool's facebook page and on the Plus Plus UK facebook page to find out about other Plus Plus news too!

This rafflecopter giveaway is courtesy of The Toadstool and they are responsible for the fulfilment of the prize.

Disclaimer: We were sent two packets of 250 piece Plus Plus from The Toadstool as a thankyou gift for J and for the purposes of this review. All opinions are our own.
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