We’re one week into the new year, and still suffering from the Christmas comedown in my house

This year we did things differently. We didn’t go overboard with Christmas related activities. There were no trips to see Santa. No mad dash to visit every single friend we have beforehand. No so-called treats in the way of milk and glucose syrup dressed up as chocolate.

There was no advent. No mass hysteria counting down the days, minutes and seconds until the 25th arrived. Rather than get caught up in what other people were doing, we did what was best for us.

And you know what? We had the best Christmas as a family yet

It was a far cry from the way things have been over the last few years. I spent Christmas eve 2014 sitting on my bed, feeding Freddy, crying my eyes out while all hell broke loose in different rooms. The excitement and sensory overload had well and truly got the best of our then undiagnosed Polly (who is high functioning autistic). She was only five at the time, but the misery that was inflicted upon us all – especially her sister – was undeniable. Little did we know back then that her poor little brain just could not handle what was happening.

I spent that evening sobbing into my phone, desperately searching for answers. Reasons why our child was so difficult when everybody else we knew were posting cute photos on social media. I looked at numerous blogs, websites and book excerpts on the Kindle store that night. I found a book which filled us with hope, and we ploughed the rest of December and much of January into implementing the strategies it suggested.

Christmas comedownWe were still playing the ‘lets treat her the same as everyone else’ game at that point, you see

So although some of the advice was helpful, a lot of it wasn’t. Now that we know Polly isn’t the same as everyone else things are very different. We create our own rules. We play our own game. Life is incomparable now to what it was three years ago.

“Isn’t that just what happens around Polly’s age?”

This is the question I’ve been asked a few times recently. Perhaps for neuro typical children who fit a standard mould, this is exactly what happens as they get older. For autistic children though, life can start getting much harder as they get grow. 

So, for all of my positivity, and delight about the end of our year and festive season, my stomach is once again tied in knots. The Christmas comedown has come along and sucker punched me this week. 

We’ve argued. A lot. There has been much resistance to getting back to learning. There have been many tears and screams of I hate you.

I’ve been physically and emotionally battered by the Christmas comedown

I haven’t written about Polly’s autism for a while. I am desperate to write about all the positives. To pass on tips and help other parents who were in the depths of despair like we were three years ago. 

I have articles in draft about getting sleep on track, about home education, about helping my kids get on better. 

But for now, I’d like to dish out some huge virtual hugs. For anyone else feeling a little bit low right now. Feeling the January blues with a side of autism. For those like us, who are feeling the Christmas comedown, and hoping beyond hope, that it doesn’t last much longer!  

Pinch punch everyone, happy November. It’s hard to believe that we’re already staring down the barrel of the Christmas countdown, but time flies and here we are. Never was there a more pertinent phrase when you are raising children than the days are long but the years are short. I’ve had a few ruthless clear outs lately, which got me thinking about all the toys my kids have enjoyed over the years. So I’ve put together this A to Z of gift ideas, just in case you’re in need of present buying inspiration over the holidays (and beyond).

In the interest of transparency I’d like to say that I’ve not been incentivised to write this piece, but was sent the items marked with an asterisk (*) free of charge. I have only included the products that have been a hit with my kids, and rather than share affiliated links, I’ve searched for today’s best prices.

A-Z of Gift Ideas 

Alphabet Lotto by Orchard Toys (£9.50). A gorgeous game which can be played four ways, aimed at pre-schoolers. This was originally bought for Polly and has been played with by all three of my kids over the years. It’s brilliant for learning the alphabet in a fun way.  

*Blaze and the Monster Machines Play Set by Fisher Price (£33.49). I’m not a huge fan of plastic toys, but the one exception I will make time and again are Fisher Price toys. Largely because they are always sturdy and last for ages, whereas other brands will break really fast. We were sent this for 3yo Freddy, and although he loves it, so does 5yo Clara. Have to say it does make me happy when they play with toys typically meant for the other gender.

Cinema Gift Card (any value you would like). We are huge film fans here, and often go to the Odeon kids club cinema the weekend. Instead of costing around £40 for my family of five to enjoy a movie together, it works out just over £10. They usually have one or two films to choose from which have been out for a few months. This half term the Odeon had a fabulous selection including Despicable Me 3.

gift ideas

Dr. Seuss Books (from £5.99). You absolutely cannot go wrong with Dr. S, we love the catchy rhymes and thought provoking illustrations. Our favourites include The Lorax, Oh the Places You’ll Go and The Sneeches. Click on the link to be taken to The Book People, the collection listed is for twenty books and costs just £20, which is great value.    

Ear Defenders (£10.95). If you have a child who is sensitive to noise, these ear defenders are just marvellous for when it all gets too much. We bought a pair for Polly shortly after her autism diagnosis and they have been invaluable over the last two years.   

*Facts! One for Every Day of the Year Book by Tracey Turner (RRP £12.99). Click on the coloured text here to see the full review I wrote for this book a while back. I honestly cannot recommend it highly enough, it’s such a wonderful way to sneak facts into children. Did you know that flamingos pee down their legs to keep cool?   

Grow your own fruit/veg kits (from £4.99). Sewing the seeds (quite literally) for kids to be passionate about growing food is invaluable in my opinion. We  have really gotten into the swing of it this year, and I can’t wait to grow even more next year.   

Helicopter Kit by the Science Museum (£5.99). We’ve bought this as a gift for several of our friends kids now, and it’s always been well received. We love the Science Museum and their build your own kits are great for igniting a spark about how things work.  

I Love You Lucky Coins (£1.99). A Lovely little keepsake for children to squirrel away in their memory box. We all need to be told I Love You from time to time. 

*Journal by My Bright Journal (£13.50). Designed for parents by parents, this journal is packed solid with excellent ideas to help foster mindfulness and emotional intelligence. It’s aimed at 5-10 year olds and the author suggests spending 20 minutes per day filling in the activities together with your child(ren). Activities include gratitude corner, scientific facts and observing nature.               

Kidzania Tickets (from around £20). Check out my full review from our visit last summer by clicking on the highlighted text. My girls absolutely loved going to Kidzania, and have been begging me to take them back ever since.    

Lego kits (from £5). My kids are Lego mad, and love building masterpieces. Although they are perfectly happy with creating something random, thrown together with the bricks we have in our huge box, they also adore the pre-boxed sets. We did one together recently which ended up being a three hour project needing undivided attention. I personally found it really therapeutic to tune out to distractions and just crack on with getting the set built. The instruction manual inside these kits are absolutely fool proof.     

Melissa and Doug toys (from £5). I adore this brand. We’ve had so many of their toys and games over the years, and they are always well made and educational. From building blocks for little ones, to farm sets, dressing up and mosaic kits, lots here to choose from to suit children of my kids ages. 

National Trust Family Membership (around £100 per year). With free entry to over 500 places, and free parking at most of them, a NT membership would come in handy for most families. Perks of a membership also include an NT Handbook with ideas for visit planning, and an NT Magazine sent to you three times a year.

gift ideasOctonauts Sea Snakes and Ladders game (£7.99). This is a lovely take on the original game of snakes and ladders, especially if your kids are Octonauts fans. With two ways to play, this game is suitable for the youngest members of the household, Freddy has been enjoying it since he was two.  

PAW Patrol anything! (from £5). If your little one is like Freddy, they will be obsessed with the Paw Patrol. When it comes to his favourite pups, Freddy’s ethos is more is more. He’s currently hankering after his “very own lookout” guess we’ll have to see what Santa brings him.       

Quilting Keyring Set (£9.99). This first quilting set makes up to six keyrings, and can be made into the shape of a tortoise, penguin, owl, sheep, squirrel or Yin Yang sign. A great introduction to paper quilting. 

*Rubik’s cube (around £10). As well as the original cube, which needs no introduction you can now buy a less difficult version for smaller children. There are four Rubik’s juniors to collect, which come in the shape of animals and are aimed at children four and over. Compared with the original cube, the juniors have relatively few combinations to crack. Great to get the kids into a problem solving mindset.  

Skateboard (£10.99). I bought this skateboard for my husband as a joke gift a few years ago, but the kids have been loving it recently. Especially Clara, who has wonderful coordination and balance skills.    

Times Table Tiles by BigJigs (£5.99). This is a fab way for kids to learn their times tables, and has really helped Polly get to grips with hers.     

Uno (£3.75). I bought Uno for Polly when she was three, and it’s still our go-to card game when we’re out and about or in need of quiet time. It’s a simple matching game, and one that is enjoyed every time we play it. 

*VTech Kidicom Max (£79.99). This is a great first tablet aimed at children who are 3-7, which features a 5″ shatter proof touch screen. Parents can manage their child’s apps, time limits and kid-safe web access, and also download interactive educational games from the VTech Learning Lodge. The Kidicom Max has a 2MP rotatable camera, which Polly has been using to film videos, as she will be branching further into vlogging in the new year.     

Wilson, Jacqueline 2018 Album (£3.49). From the Tracy Beaker Trilogy and Dumping Ground, to Hetty Feather and Clean Break, Wilson’s books are adored by children across the country. This album would make a great stocking filler.    

Xylophone (£14.59). Yes it’s noisy and will drive you mad, but I can’t think of a pre-schooler on the planet who wouldn’t love to play with this. It’s an ideal beginners instrument, which is aimed to inspire children in a colourful and playful way. 

Yellow Minions (sorry this is a massive cheat!) We’ve watched all the films, and we have tons of Minion themed clothes and toys. They are not always fabulous quality, it has to be said, but they do always bring a smile to your face. 

Zebra Fancy Dress (£3.75). My kids love their imaginative play, and our huge fancy dress box is overflowing. Buying brand new costumes gets expensive, so it’s good to have plenty of headbands, bow ties and tails, as contained in this set. That way you can transform any old plain outfit into the animal of your choice.

I hope you found my A-Z of Gift Ideas Useful. What would you add? Tweet me @mummytries

nut-roastI’ve been making this super easy, super tasty, nut roast for years now and always get asked for the recipe around Christmas time. Yes my friends, we can no longer bury our heads in the sand, it’s happening next month!

This is the type of dish that sounds much more complicated than it actually is, which means brownie points for the cook and happy guests all round. It lends itself well as a side dish or as the main attraction if you’re catering for vegetarians. It’s versitle too, if you don’t have the nuts listed below you can substitute them for any others you do have (except peanuts). This is a fab dish for having up your sleeve when your non-meat eating friends and family come over.

Ingredients (for 4-6 portions):
150g cooked rice or quinoa
100g brazil nuts
100g pecan nuts
100g walnuts
100g grated mature cheddar (optional)
100ml vegetable stock
50g finely chopped shallots
50g chopped sundried tomatoes
tbsp dried mixed herbs
tbsp dried sage
3 tbsp melted butter or oil

Method:
– preheat your oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4, and prepare a 20cm cake tin by greasing it thoroughly with butter or oil

– either grind your nuts in a food processor or chop them finely by hand and combine in a large bowl

– add all the other ingredients except the stock and the rest of the butter/oil, mix well 

– pour the stock over and mix again 

– press the mixture into your tin, ensuring it is nice and compact. Brush the top with the rest of the melted butter or oil, and bake for 40 mins

– allow to cool a little before serving 

Tip: if you are catering for lots of people, double up the recipe and bake for an hour