Wednesday, 11 December 2013

11/12 Pictures of Alex chilling with his furry friend

We were lucky enough to have the wonderful Amy Laws take some photos at the Support Dogs Annual Awards.  Me being me and odd chose this rather unconventional angle, as it reminds me of kids at play, and Lucie calmly sitting, taking in the world around.  But the real money shot for me was this one which just to me is a vision of Alex chilling out with his friend.

Really pleased with that one, and a huge thank you to Amy for her they say, never work with kids and animals, and she was brave enough to take on both.

And now for one of Alex walking Lucie on Crosby beach, wide open spaces and a chilling wind.

And finally from our summer holiday in Anglesey, this is Lucie just soaking in the rays on a scorching day

So there you have if a little peek into where we have been this year...

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

4/12 I succumb to the pressure!

Hi.  Its me.  I even forgot how to log in and write a new post, so having reminded myself what a blog is, I am inspired and fired up to get back in touch with the outside world.  After several people asking me what had happened to the blog, it felt time to inject new enthusiasm back in.  Its not unlike me to get all obsessive over something, then it all slides into the shadows for a while.  I am known for slightly erratic attention span, and I guess you could call me an all or nothing person.  So - wow, what a year it has been.  Huge highs, huge lows, and throughout it all Lucie has kept me going and provided a non stop supply of cuddles along the way.

Last week I attended the Annual Awards Ceremony for Support Dogs, celebrating all the newly qualified partnerships.  It is always a wonderful day as we get to see all the friendly faces that are part of our journey, and more emotionally for me, also seeing Lucie's foster carers and puppy walkers who took great care of her before she came into our lives, as well as her puppy walker presenting a cheque of near £600 which they had fundraised from a concert.  I was asked to do a short talk on Lucie and autism, which is always a pleasure being able to share out story to such a large group of people.  It always feels cathartic, talking about the challenges, then saying how much progress we have made, and what a part Lucie has played in all this.

The surprise for me in the day was receiving an award for Client Volunteer of the Year, which genuinely feels undeserving, knowing how many volunteers play an amazing part in keeping the charity going, but cool regardless, and my first award now taking pride on my mantelpiece, despite being made of glass and thus a life expectancy of about two months with Alex around...maybe I should glue it down ;)

Also enjoyed listening to the guys from JTM with a Miele washing machine that had been entirely adapted to be completely dog operated.  Woof to Wash, as the name suggests, is started by a dog bark through a voice activated sensor, and has a paw release door catch, and a ball for the door to be pulled open.  And of course, the dog is trained to load and unload the washing, so can completely run a cycle on its own.  Great idea, but of  course I am imagining the adverts with the dog fetching all his own toys and bedding, and developing an OCD behaviour to cleanliness...if your brain works like mine you would follow that....

Tomorrow night I am off to Sheffield again with Lucie to a black tie dinner for the Annual Sheffield Chambers of Commerce awards.  Rita, Support Dogs MD, and I did a presentation a few weeks ago after being shortlisted to the final 3 charities pitching to be their charity of the year.  We find out tomorrow night who has won.  Given that the other charities are equally deserving, such as a children's hospice, it hardly has a competitive feel, as every charity feels worthy, but of course to see Support Dogs get that vital support from businesses in their area would be a huge boost, and I am allowed to be biased.

Aside from that the other huge stuff this year, is my Dad has kicked cancer in its butt.  Quite literally, it was prostate cancer...  so proud of him, he took on the battle with vigour and has impressed the doctors and us.  Of course its ongoing and drugs for ages, but in one year he has gone from scary situation to awesome.  And that's not all my good news, Alex, my 7 year old in nappies who I had prepared myself to accept that may not change, has very quickly toilet trained!!  I am so proud.  Despite years of trying different approaches, he finally clicked at half term, and within two weeks went from nappies to dry 24 hours.  What a hero, he never fails to motivate me to keep raising the bar of my expectations from him.  Not only that, earlier this year he learned to drink water from a cup on his own, a huge skill,  all giving him more independence.  So now I feel there is only one more large hurdle to climb, his limited eating.  If we can crack that then Alex will be so much better set up for a better quality of life, so I am all fired up.

And Lucie - well the one blog I wish I had written was about me and Lucie going to London for a conference.  It was such an experience taking an assistance dog on the tubes etc, I will write a post just sharing the tales of that trip...   She is now an intrinsic member of the family.  She continues to be a crazy loopy dog when being, well, a dog, but when her jacket goes on she clicks into professionalism and makes me proud to be with her.  In fact right now she is with me at work sitting under the table being first class.  I work part time for the National Autistic Society, I started in September, at Bolton University, supporting students with autism in their degrees.  Mostly Lucie stays at home, but occasionally I bring her if the hours make sense. She is perfect.

So now I am sitting in an Illustration class with a student whose assignment is designing a book cover for War of the Worlds, whilst he is reciting The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy to me verbatim, a slight obsessional interest that makes me smile.  What a strange life I lead...

Anyway, I hope to post some photos soon, but while I am at work, I am going to sign off now and will speak with you again.   :)

Sunday, 31 March 2013

31/3 I'm still here!

This blog - grrr - I really am not techy enough to understand it.  I am of  a generation where I know what I want to do but the computer won't do it, ad I feel that shouting my PC ought to count for something.  I keep having people saying it is not easy to use, or they coudn't leave a comment or something, and I look at the blog hoping the answers will come.  Maybe I should try different software.  And on top of that I am being spammed to hell by dodgy US websites.  I thought if I went quiet for a while they may die down, but quite the opposite.  So I am back and will ignore all the quirks and just do an update.

What can I say?  Another busy month.  Alex and Lucie were on Newsround on the BBC - you can still see it online here I think

I have done a short interview as part of a piece in The Guardian to do with parents views on disability, which will be printed in the next week or so, and also in two weeks I have been asked by Scope to go to London to do a small talk to rich people who are philanthropists to big charities, to tell them how great Scope is and we want all their money - or something like that, I might refine the words a little!!

As I am writing this, I have my first attempt of home made bread in the oven baking.  It was very therapeutic to make and knead the dough, and smells delicious, but the fact it looks like a heavy brick may mean only the ducks benefit.  Ah well, I am not a domestic goddess.  It is Easter Sunday and I have written lots of little clues for Toms Easter Egg hunt.  Is it wrong that his big surprise is the Easter Eggs that were given to Alex?  Every year I get several eggs for Alex, despite the fact the idea of him eating chocolate is a fantasy yet to come true, so Tom does rather well out of Easter. I had a theological discussion with Tom this week, very funny talking religion with a boy with Symantec Pragmatic language disorder.  His literal take on the world makes subjects like religion a very memorable talk!

I have been decorating Alex's bedroom - which if you read books on autism should be very stressful for him, as we totally changed his room, furniture and all, but he is delighted with it, spending lots more time in there.  It doesn't look like a kids room, all calm and neutral colours, no primary bright colourful decorating.  But I think it works for him.  I always want to fall asleep when I am in there.  I also had a tantrum of my own with all the junk in my house, so have listed most of my world on Ebay.  I think Lucie was about to chain herself to the radiator to make sure she didn't get listed.  It is very cathartic emptying your wardrobes and cupboards of stuff.  And thats all it is - stuff - you think you will need it one day, but really you move it around endlessly.

Alex is doing my nut in.  He is on full autistic bouncing about going round the house like a tornado on a destruction path, and continually escaping outside, getting too good for our key hiding defences.  We are visiting the in-laws this afternoon, so I hope he burns off his energy now, or he will be unbearable.

Anyway, that is my ramble.  There is snow on the ground still and about to go into April.  It seems not only my world makes no sense any more.  Have a very Happy Easter.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

24/2 Newsround BBC Filming and more

I have realised that I can't start each blog with an apology for being so rubbish at writing intermittently, and should accept my life is too chaotic to be regular and reliable.  Since I last wrote I turned 40.  And what a great birthday it was.  I have never been so spoilt by so many friends.  A cracking party topped it all off.  It had a black and white theme, with everyone dressing up for the occasion, looking fabulous.  Anyway, I don't feel a day older, but perhaps because I look and feel nearer fifty, forty seems a fair label :)

It has been half term, and a hectic one at that.  After my Dad's cancer diagnosis a couple of weeks ago, the family have been adjusting.  My sister was due to leave the country on work, and her five year old was to be looked after by my parents.  Last minute change meant she came to us.  Three kids and a dog for half term kept me busy but we all came through in one piece, with some great help from Alex's care assistant.  Think I will treat myself to a back massage now.

And finally the week finished off with the  BBC visiting us a couple of days ago to do a short film on Lucie.  They interviewed Thomas (having to first get over the hurdle of explaining there was no chance of interviewing Alex), then filmed me taking Alex and Lucie for a walk.  It went as well as can be expected with all the variables.  We had Michelle from Support Dogs here to assist, and also Alex's care worker, so enough hands on deck.  It should be on CBBC Newsround either end of this week or next, but will also be online, so I will include a link when I have one.  It will only be very short as these things always are, but yet again another notch in raising awareness, which is always a step in the right direction.

And so after a lovely evening with friends last night, I am feeling slower after enjoying the rare pleasure of champagne, oo, I could get a taste for champagne!  Yum. Dave has taken Tom to watch rugby and Alex and I are watching DVD's.  I really need to practice my presentation as I am speaking to a large group of Teacher Trainees tomorrow at Hope University, so could do with brushing the cobwebs off my talk.  But it will get by somehow, and I will have Lucie with me to keep me nice and calm!!  Back to my lazy Sunday, and joining Alex with the 74th viewing of Beauty and the Beast.....

Friday, 1 February 2013

1/2 Chocolate - I'll never see it in the same way

Today is a day I would rather forget.  I am now on my third glass of wine, something lovely white and fruity , but it is already setting the world to rights.  Its been a long day, and I need a wind down.

This morning, after a lovely dog walk, I could feel the stress of the week taking its toll, and decided baking would be a relaxing past time.  I embarked on making chocolate truffles, in preparation for my 40th.  After a couple of hours, Lucie fast asleep in the back room, I looked out the kitchen window to see the neighbours chicken had escaped.  Not a biggy, until I saw a local cat, known for its mean temperament, prowling towards the chicken, and managed to corner it.  Not being one to stand back and watch nature take its course, I ran out and grabbed the chicken and shooed the cat away.  I put the chicken safely in my garden till my neighbour returned home and I could give it back.  I had been out only a couple of minutes, and on walking back into the kitchen immediately noticed the 40 or so truffles were nowhere to be seen.

Lucie was back in her bed looking decidedly guilty.  I know dogs can react badly to chocolate, but this was not the first time she had snuck some, and I thought some dogs reacted more than others, thinking it was more like a reaction rather than quantity.  I googled dogs and chocolate, and also put a note on Facebook about what had happened.   Within a couple of minutes thankfully my sister and a friend quickly sent more information saying it was a big deal, and my research confirmed this was a problem. I called the vet, was told to come straight down, threw the chicken in our garage to keep cats away, phoned Dave to say I was on the way to the vet after a truffle crisis, and when he came home he would find a chicken in the garage, and please return it to the neighbour. His response was, "A live chicken?!".  Yep, a live chicken, best not to remind me.  Within twenty minutes of the chocolate munch we were in the vet.   Four members of staff later, they had given her pills to make her vomit, shaved her leg, got the drip thing set up and by now I realised the extent of the issue.  She had taken over the potential fatal dose of chocolate, and there was every chance this could be serious.  The vet was fantastic.  She was very sick on demand, and I was given four doses of charcoal to give her at home to absorb any chocolate left in her.

As we stepped out the vet we needed to cross a road by a police station.  Lucie had her leg bandaged up, and was a little slower than usual.  A 4x4 marked police car came toward us as we waited to cross the road.  He indicated to turn left, and started to turn, so we could now go.  I looked straight at him, and we started to cross.  For some reason he then carried straight on, and had to slam on his brakes to stop in front of us.  I looked at the policeman, and pointed to his indicator, to say, I could see him turning.  The poor guy had a shock, and apologised repeatedly.  He must have changed his mind and headed back toward us, not looking.  Just hearing his brakes startled me.  I waved to say it was fine, but with all the stress of the events, I got to the car and just burst into tears. The events of the last hour caught up with me. We have only had Lucie 8 months, and had 3 emergency vet visits.  I could not feel more like a failed dog owner right now if I tried.  I played the event over and over in my head to see how I could mess up so badly.

I took her home and watched her like a hawk.  We had an appointment to return later in the evening to check her heart rate had not started to speed up.  She was calm, and pretty much her normal self, though I think she knew she had done something wrong judging by the big labrador eyes.  So we returned for a check up, and I physically felt relief when he confirmed she was doing great, and no signs of any trauma.  She has eaten the charcoal no problem, mixed with a little peanut butter, and now we are keeping each other company while Dave has gone out.

Next time I try and chill out, I will not bake, I will have a long hot bath and listen to some nostalgic music, and drink tea in the bath up to my ears in bubbles.

31/1 Sad news and life goes on

A tough couple of weeks.  I write about life with an assistance dog and boys with autism, but this week is also a reminder that we deal with all that life throws as with any other family.  My Dad was diagnosed with cancer yesterday which has come as a shock.  It has made me very reflective and aware of the fine balance we are continually treading on this path of life.  It is easy to focus on our day to day issues, then something comes along that stops us in our tracks and gives us the chance to remind us what is important.  So this week I have been thinking of those significant people in my life.

My Dad takes care of my Mum who has mobility issues, and the impact of him needing treatment has far reaching implications, emotionally, physically and practically.  I have started to feel torn, desperate to want to support them in any way needed, but not sure how, with the journey a two hour round trip, and dealing with the challenges at home.  At the same time I watch Dave carefully who is struggling to control high blood pressure despite his doctor being on Plan W.  So how to keep all my family functioning, and be there for everyone has been the challenge of the month, and the solution will become apparent in time.

But what I really have thought a lot about as we deal with this news is what an amazingly strong circle of friends and family we have around us.   One of the hardest things to do is ask for help, and allow people into your crazy world, but pride and lifes challenges don't marry well, so I have ditched the pride and learned to say 'help!'. And this week, the lovely support that we all feel around shows that we are not supposed to go on this journey alone.

There is no moral to this. No message, just reflection.  Some days it feels like the hits keep on coming, but its easy to bounce back when you have great people around.   In one week I will be turning 40.  My Mum was worried the news this week would dampen the occasion.  Hell no.  If ever there is a reason to enjoy each day and celebrate then this reinforces my feeling to live it up and enjoy what we have.  So I am going to party and spend time with that great group of people I am proud to know.  I hope they can handle their cocktails, because I am not known to do things in halves.  We get one chance at life, lets make it a good one!

Thursday, 24 January 2013

24/1 Snow and The Sun! A great combination :)

A fabulous week of snow which makes you feel like a kid again.  I discovered an activity yesterday that I can't believe I have not tried yet, jumping on a trampoline with my two boys while it is covered in three inches of snow and 30 sponge balls, and having a snowball fight.  Can't remember when I last giggled so hard.  My friend tells me her dog loves going on the trampoline in the snow, but Lucie looked at us like we had lost our marbles, and was quite happy running round the garden burying her toy bone in the snow while we embarrassed ourselves shamelessly.

So that was snow, but today we also have sun, as Lucie was featured in todays The Sun newspaper, which is also seen online here,  Click Here for Article  I was contacted a couple of weeks ago through my connection as a volunteer for the Scope charity Face-to Face scheme, as I am a befriender who supports other parents with disabled children.  When the journalist heard the words kid and dog, he got diverted and wanted to also know about Lucie.  So the article turned into an assistance dogs article, though delighted Scope got a link, as they have been a great charity supporting our family throughout.  Scope Link

I love the picture they put in.  We had a wonderful photographer, Bernard Ashton who came to our  house and set up a mini studio.  He was so great with the kids.  We are such a nightmare to photograph as between two children with no eye contact, a confused dog, and parents trying to retain calmness and control, it was not exactly your average photo shoot but I was thrilled with the results.  Taking any photos of our family is a challenge.  I hope Bernard won't mind me showing you a couple of the photos, but in exchange, I'll post his link if you are looking for a lovely photographer, great with kids and animals!

So that is another tick in the box of raising awareness of autism and the incredible work that dogs can do to help people.  Just to have a positive news story out there about disability is uplifting, and show our kids in a happy way.  I am so keen to keep sending out the message that while disability is tough, there are great things going on out there, and charities who work hard to make it easier and support you, its just making sure everyone finds out about it, and they keep getting their funding to keep going.  For me getting the message out in the media has been about trying to ensure  other people can have the opportunities we have had.  I would never have heard about Support Dogs had I not been handed an article in Take a Break magazine, so you never know who reads these things, and can be directed in a new way to help them.

I suppose the media stuff can do so much to bring about awareness, but personally I am getting more pleasure from the talks I do on autism.  Whilst it doesn't reach the same numbers, (though I was told recently I have spoken now to around a thousand people, so thats a start!), you get more depth you can share, and more direct feedback.  I think if I had to work out where I want to go next with raising awareness it would be developing the talks.  I'd love to do more in a commercial or professional setting, maybe in workplaces, looking at how ASD people can work really effectively in a commercial environment.  I seem to always be thinking of new ways to avoid doing housework :)   I should really finish my current venture writing my fiction book, which stalled a little over Christmas, before deciding what I can get my teeth into next.  I say book, its more of a long Word Document, as I doubt I will ever let it see the printer, but I highly recommend writing.  Its so relaxing, and my fingers get exercise, so that's almost being active.

Lots of snow forecast tomorrow, I wonder if there are any sledges left in the shops - not for the kids - for me and Lucie ;), that dog is a giddy kipper in the snow, I'm looking forward to the morning walk.....poor sheep, they do look at us strangely...

If you are new to this blog and would like to see some videos of Alex and Lucie meeting, and seeing Alex talking with Lucie, and their days out together, you can follow the You Tube videos below.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

9/1 Happy New Year! No January blues here..

And finally a new post!! And a very Happy New Year to you all.  Yes, I know it has been about a month since I last wrote, but what a month it has been.  Today both boys went back to school, so now in the peace and calmness I have come home to make a lovely cup of tea which I will enjoy, listening to the total silence around me.  Well, the serenity might be slightly over stated, as it is not even 9.30 am, and I have already been up for four hours.  I have done the dishwasher, am on my third load of washing, stripped the beds, made three breakfasts, two pack lunches, dressed two boys, done some admin, taken the dog for a mini walk before the big walk later, and am on my third cup of tea.  But that is relatively serene in this house :)  Dave is away for a few days with work, so no one to blame for the mess but me.....

Christmas went very well, and I can say I don't think Alex could have been any happier and calm.  He spent most of the holidays singing away.  His language is coming on so fast, I am astounded on a daily basis, and keep having to double take to realise what he has just said.  Little sentences appearing, pure magic.  What is beautiful is you would think we would get immune to the excitement after a while as his language develops, but the truth is I can still feel as tearful and proud over a new progression now, as when he first started making sounds.  Alex is passing milestones I never assumed he would reach in his whole life, so I am just energised with the prospect of what is to come.  Well, that is the good side.  The bad side is all these new skills are also making him more challenging, and his behaviour is getting very hard to handle.  Hitting out at anyone who comes close, breaking a lot of things regularly, causing massive damage round the house, and developing a very strong will.  I tried another round of toilet training over the holidays,  which was met with a very defiant 'No!'. Great communication, but not exactly progress.  So with each leap of ability we get a mixed bag of fantastic new skills, which brings on their own frustrations and behaviours.

These pictures are from the holidays. The first is when I found Alex in the kitchen, having emptied two weeks of his prescription nutritional shakes out, and mixed with four pints of milk, leaving a nice congealed mess............and the second photo is finding him in his bedroom having done a little rearranging of his things :)

Thomas also started at a new school this week.  The last week of term was a whirlwind, and one of the many reasons I have been hiding under a rock for the last few weeks.  It has been a really tough decision to move him again, which is something I never thought I would do, but we had to weigh up all the issues, and make the call.  The phrase' damned if you do, damned if you don't ' springs to mind.  But having started him at the new school, it immediately feels a good call.  It would just be good if I didn't spend my entire life beating myself up about the decisions I make.  Its one thing fighting like hell for your children, its another to feel the confidence you are fighting for the right thing, and not even time will tell.  We call it 'Sliding Doors', after the film of the same name showing how you can never know what the other path would be in life if you had taken it.  I console myself with the thought that you make the very best of whichever path you are on, and find a way of making it work.  So I will do all I can to help Tom settle in, though I suspect he won't need my help, and will do a great job of making new friends and making his mark.  Seven year olds are far more resilient than 39 year olds :)

Lucie has been a pleasure over the holidays.  Alex keeps going into the cupboard under the stairs to pull out her jacket to take her out.  She is really settled now and fits in with our daily life with ease.  It has taken a few months, but I need to plan and think about her less now, as it all becomes second nature.  So in dog world, no news is good news.

Well, as today is my first time alone at home for a month, I have a tonne of jobs to do, so better get a plan together. No January blues for me, its all feeling rather bright today :)