Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A Chocolate Adventure

You know those days when the universe aligns itself to be as complicated and problematic and challenging as possible? Well that was the day that we were due to go to Cadbury World courtesy of Superbreak.com.

The day started early. Katie was excited so that means waking up at 5:45am. As is traditional for us we weren't quite ready to head off for our weekend away so there was a last minute panic.  Our plans were to drive to Cadbury World to meet my lovely friend Mrs VanderCave at Back of Beyond Baking in time for lunch at the Cadbury World Cafe.  I was looking forward to this because they advertise that they have gluten-free bread and soya milk.  Having my dietary needs taken care of is a rarity so I was keen to try it out.  Driving to The Midlands from our house in Hampshire was estimated to take 2.5 hours so we were all set to meet up for lunch at 1pm with a tour time of 2:50pm giving us time for lunch and time for Katie and Pip to play in the children's play park and maybe even see Santa in the newly opened Grotto.

Yeah well that didn't happen! *laughs manically*

Katie decided she was going to be as difficult and annoying as she could humanly be making packing the car and getting ready a real challenge. This culminated in her knocking a glass of strawberry milkshake all over the rug in the lounge. I am still trying to get the smell out of that rug!  All I will say is that I was stressed before we even left the house (and that is an understatement).

We were happily driving up the A34 when we see two signs that gave us sudden cause for concern.  A junction closure on the M40 and a sign saying the A34 was closed after the M4.  "Hmmm they can't be closing the whole road surely?" I muse to TCM. "It must just be a short diversion",

It wasn't.

The entire A34 north of the M4 was closed.  I've never known that to happen.  We were directed on a diversion around the M4 which I think must have been around 60 miles.  By the end of that diversion we were still only at Oxford.  Note to self - check the roads are actually open before setting off on an adventure! Off-roading wasn't part of the plan!

We weren't going to make it for lunch.  Phone calls were made.  Tempers were frayed.

The time, and the miles, ticked by accompanied by the ubiquitous chorus of "Are we there yet?".  Katie did her best to distract me every time I was trying to concentrate on the SatNav resulting in a few wrong turns which brought tears of frustration to my eyes as I concentrated on the road. We stopped for some sanity in the form of a Costa and a comfort break and then had to stop again for lunch in the services.  An M&S salad for me it was. Sadly services rarely cater for my dietary needs. 

We were getting closer to the M40 where Google kindly told us there was at least an hour and a half delay due to an RTA.  Now I don't ever complain about delays due to RTA's because a delay that has lasted all day means a serious accident and my thoughts go out to anyone involved in that accident on Saturday.  It did mean that getting to Cadbury World was starting to look unlikely though.  Being intrepid explorers (and not really knowing what else to do) we decided to push ahead, give it a go, and see if we could get there.

I phoned Cadbury World to see if they could move our tour slot.  This is where I am going to say some wonderful things about Cadbury World because their customer service rates amongst the best I have ever known.  They were so helpful. From phoning with my Superbreak voucher and booking the tickets - to sorting out our dilemma on the tour day - they were simply brilliant and very courteous and professional. They told us to just get to them and they would sort our tour time out.  They organised for Mrs VC and her family to go into other parts of the site whilst they were waiting for us.  They greeted us on arrival with a huge smile and swift and efficient organisation.  My experience of Cadbury World was that the original Cadbury Brothers ethos of taking care of a community of workers seems to still be very much in evidence and certainly shows in their customer service.

So I've given you a hint.  We did make it.  We made several wrong (and very stressful) turns en-route.  We did get stuck on the M40 but not for as long as predicted and the road was reopened whilst we were waiting in the traffic jam.  We made it to Cadbury World by 2:45pm.  It is very easy to find from the M42 and is fairly well signposted.

We parked in the overflow car park and whizzed to reception where Mrs VC and family were waiting for us and we were immediately sorted and ready to go on the tour, our first bars of chocolate in hand.

The tour is great. We all loved every minute of it.  The history of the cocoa bean and John Cadbury is wonderfully shared as you move through the different sections of the tour.  Modern technology is well utilised to bring the story of John Cadbury and the Cadbury brothers to life. You learn about their Quaker routes and vision for a community of workers who were well cared for as a work-force.

On the tour you see and hear and experience the journey of the simple cocoa bean as it slowly becomes the chocolate we all know and love.  A journey that involves three different factories in the UK.  Make sure you sit in the seats in the auditorium for this
bit. I had to stay on the sides with Pip, who was in his buggy so missed out on the fun in the seats.

You can see the chocolate factory where the chocolate is made and packaged and we saw a live demonstration showing how the huge chocolate footballs are made.  This is all washed down with lots of chocolate.  Look out for the warm melted chocolate which is ladled into cups and mixed with your choice of buttons or sweets for you to sample in the factory.  This was a particular favourite of Pip who vociferously voiced his anger when the warm chocolate ran out.  I'm still munching on the huge bag of Mis-Shapes that I bought in the shop!  I would just say that buggy users need to be aware that there is a part of the tour where you have to park up your buggy and carry any infants.  It wasn't for long but it did mean leaving our bags etc in the buggy parking area and carrying Pip (who isn't the lightest baby in the world).

The big attraction for Katie and Pip was the Cadabra-ride, which was quite reminiscent of being in EuroDisney. You sit in a car and ride around the exhibition depicting the journey of the bean and it's journey to become chocolate.  It's great fun.  Pip beamed excitedly through the whole ride whilst Katie and I jumped about in our seats trying to see everything.  We both wished the ride was longer and both wanted to go back on again. Unfortunately our late arrival meant that we were unable to.  We did enjoy seeing the mechanical Gorilla playing the drums though (do you remember the advert?).

 Once we had finished our tour and had an emotional (for Katie) trip through the shop it was time to pop into the cafe before it closed to get some sandwiches for the children.  We sadly didn't get time to visit Santa or his grotto. I was disappointed at this but Katie still hasn't joined Santa's fan club and didn't really want to visit anyway so she wasn't particularly bothered.   Nonetheless it was a lovely afternoon (well 3 hours) and we thoroughly enjoyed what we did see.  I would definitely go again but I will definitely be checking the roads are open before I set off next time!

We completed the rest of our weekend away in The Back of Beyond with Mrs VC and her family and I'll be sharing that story with you soon.

A big thank you to Superbreak.com for the tickets for Cadbury World. Do check out their attraction packages if you're thinking of visiting Cadbury World or any of the other attractions they offer.

Friday, 22 November 2013

The Scan

When I was writing the sad tale of little Ed there was one experience that I left out because I wanted to write about it separately. It was the experience of being present at an ultrasound scan.

My experience of scans has been primarily disastrous to say the least. They are the calling card from 10 miscarriages. The carefully arranged facial expression of the sonographer as they deliver bad news. Being with Ed as he had an ultrasound opened the floodgates for this emotions. 

Other than out of curiosity and a sense of unfinished business to feel a baby kicking inside me and to see if i could handle childbirth,  I wouldn't want to bear a birth child now if you changed my name to Mary and introduced me to a guy called Gabriel who had wings. My two children complete me. But the experiences of a life trying to start a family are etched into the fibres of my being. They stay out of sight most of the time these days but they do not remain hidden. They pop up every so often and the memories flood in, like a wave surfing through my heart and mind before pulling back into the recesses of my day to day life. Such was that moment as Ed was having his scan. I watched his heart pumping and was momentarily lost back in time watching the heartbeat of my babies trying so hard to stay alive. 

The outcome for all was the same and, thus, my viewpoint of scans is that no good comes from a scan. 

Yes I am aware that this is not the experience for everyone. It might not always be my experience. But in this moment, I feel that I do not want to see another ultrasound scan as long as I live. 

Ed: The sad tale of a little kitten...

Last week the newest addition to the Katie household sadly passed away.  Ed, our gorgeous little Somali kitten.  Ed was less than 6 months old but we had known him since the day he was born. In fact, I chose him on the day that he was born and named him after Ed Sheeran, because of his colour.  I knew he was going to be mine.  He stood out because he was so cute.  He was the smallest and the one most in need of help finding a teat to suckle from.  The smallest he might have been but he was the first from the litter to do nearly everything.  He walked first; he opened his eyes first; his ears popped up first; he climbed out of the kitten box first.  He was a bundle of energy.  Full of life.  Exploring everything.  The kittens and their mother came to stay with us for about 10 days over the summer holidays whilst my neighbour went on holiday.  It was hard work having them to stay, and I would never romanticise having kittens ever again as a result but those kittens were adorable.  They would climb on me; eat my toes; snuggle up between my knees and play, play, play.  Ed was no different to his brothers and sister. He was just a bit more skinny.  He had lanky little legs and he was a bit smaller.

Ed moved in with us about 6 weeks ago.  Almost immediately we started to notice that he wasn't as boisterous as we would expect him to be.  He liked to snuggle up a lot.  He loved climbing onto our shoulders and sitting like a parrot.  He would go anywhere with us.  He slept very close to us at night, often under the covers.  He cried for cuddles all the time but he didn't want to play.  Initially we didn't worry.  He was going to be a small cat; his mother is tiny and Somali cats are incredibly affectionate and like to be close to their humans.  I carried him about in Pip's baby sling on occasion because he was following me about wanting to be cuddled.  He was also very hard to feed.  He didn't really want any of the food we were giving him and it became my mission to find some food that he would eat.  He lost weight and we started to get worried.  Eventually we discovered that he would eat freshly cooked chicken and fish on one of the children's plastic plates.  It was an enormous relief but I wasn't happy about him.  He stopped purring and he breathed so hard, like his whole body needed to help his lungs out so we took him to the vet.  Initially the vet diagnosed him with a heart murmur and asked to do an x-ray.  On the day we took him in for his x-ray it transpired the machine was broken so the vets did a scan and told us that there was something wrong with his heart, most likely a congenital heart defect, and we agreed to visit a specialist in the neighbouring county.  Our vets tabled the thought that we might need to consider putting Ed to sleep.  He was a very poorly little kitten.

On the day we saw the specialist we had about an hour and a half of hope.  He did a scan (a very expensive scan - thank heavens for pet insurance!). There was no heart murmur but there was fluid on his heart and lungs that needed to be drained.  The vet told me that he wouldn't be considering euthanasia at this point.  He noted that the image around the heart was very white and that indicated that there was something in the fluid but he would let me know after the surgery.  I felt ecstatic.  I couldn't  believe it.  I had gone to the vet totally anticipating having to make a decision there and then but it seemed that there was now hope. 

Then the phone rang.  It was the vet.  It wasn't good news.  The fluid around the heart and lungs was fibrous and full of protein.  He couldn't be 100% sure but he thought it was a condition called Feline Infectious Peritonitis or FIP.  It was a rare side effect of a common cat virus called the Coronavirus.  Due to his underdeveloped immune system the virus had mutated inside Ed and effected the walls of his internal organs and fluid was creeping in.  For the moment though, due to the surgery, Ed was full of life. He could breathe with ease.  We arranged for him to stay overnight in a heated incubator and for me to see a medicines specialist at 1pm the following day.  I then did a lot of reading up on FIP and knew that a decision was imminent. He had the wet condition which was always fatal.

I knew I was going to have to talk to Katie about what was going to happen.  I decided not to tell her about the virus but stick to the story that he had a heart murmur.  How can you explain the virus to a 6 year old?  She worries enough about her friends getting sick and being sick herself and I was concerned that she might worry more about why he died than the fact that he had died.  We had a very tearful chat at bedtime after she asked if Ed was going to die.  Actually she asked me if I was going to kill him!  I explained about euthanasia to her and about preventing his suffering.  I couldn't tell her when he was going to die though.  I didn't like leaving it so ambiguous but I didn't know myself.  She asked if she could see the body when he died and if she could help bury him.  I'd protected her from this when our other two cats died but I felt this time that she needed to be included as part of her healing process, so I agreed.  We held each other tight and cried hard together.

I phoned at 10am the next day and was told that Ed had had a good night and was full of beans.  I agonised for the rest of the day over what I was going to have to do when I arrived at the vets at 1pm.  I didn't want to bring him home to suffer but I couldn't euthanise a kitten who still had life in him.  I have a rule that the decision is made once the cat tells me, with their body language, when they've had enough.  It's hard to explain but you just know (and sadly I've had far too much practise over the past 20 years).

When I saw the medicines specialist she said that she had just seen Ed and he had deteriorated significantly and the illness had progressed.  I asked to see him.  He climbed into my arms and snuggled in. He then looked me deep in the eyes for the longest time and he purred.  I heard that beautiful purr for the first, and last time, in weeks but I knew what he was telling me.  It was time.  He was ready to go.  I nodded to the vet and said that the decision was made and could they put him to sleep.  We discussed the practicalities and we lay him on his special cushion and I gave him Reiki as he passed on.  I then had to hold it together to drive home.  Pip had been with me throughout all of this and I had to rush home to do the school run.

I brought Ed home and collected Katie from school. I waited until she asked where he was and I sat her down on my lap and explained it all to her.  She asked to see him so I put him on his cushion so she could give him a stroke.  She was very matter of fact about it all.  She told me she was glad Ed had died because it meant he wasn't suffering anymore.  She asked lots and lots of questions about what was going to happen.  We printed up some pictures and found a small shoe box.  Daddy came home and sorted out his grave and we had a little ceremony in the garden and said our goodbyes. Katie was quite funny really.  Our neighbour, the Cat Lady, came over.  Ed was the first born from her first ever breed of kittens.  Katie kept asking her if she was going to cry again.  She was fascinated by the whole process and how everyone was feeling.  Empathy is still a work in progress it would seem!

It is now a week later and I'm still feeling sad.  We are left with the added worry that our other cats have now come into contact with the Coronavirus and we need to see if they've been infected.  It doesn't help that Willow has had an allergic reaction to her collar and isn't very well. She has welts all over her neck and is on steroid cream.  I feel on tenterhooks.  I am watching them for signs of illness all the time.  We would have to be so unlucky for it to happen again though. Our vet said he hadn't seen a case of FIP in over 3 years and it's generally in cats under a year old so I'm trying to not worry about it.  They are a big part of our family though and very dear to us. The cats seem to be missing Ed though and have been pining.  I think we're all pining a bit.  Katie wants another kitten but we've said not yet. 

Katie and I have now had lots of chats about death and dying.  We have talked about what we think happens when you die.  I'm a Reiki healer and a bit psychic and have often experienced my other cats who have passed on.  I've told Katie to watch out for signs that he is around.  Feeling him brush against her legs when she's having a quiet moment.  This happens all the time in our house and there are no visible cats about.  I always say hello to who is visiting.  We think that we're more likely to feel a weight on our shoulder though when Ed is visiting. Katie is taking it all in her stride and doesn't seem to be overly upset.  She has moments when she says she is sad and we have a little cuddle but children are incredibly resilient it would seem.  More resilient than me that's for sure.

So goodbye little Ed.  You weren't around for very long but you reached into our hearts and left a gap in our lives and we will never forget you.

RIP Ed xxxx

Monday, 4 November 2013

National Adoption Week 2013

This week once again marks National Adoption Week organised by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering.  All over the country charities and local authorities will be hosting events aimed to encourage more people to consider adopting and fostering the thousands of children waiting for homes.

Last year I ran a series of personal stories from other adopters to highlight the different types of adopters and their children. If you are a new reader who hasn't seen them, or a regular reader who wants to re-read them, here are the links for you:

This year I will be focusing on sharing as many of the events that are publicised in the media as I can find via my Facebook page.  These links will also be tweeted via my Twitter page.

Many people think that they won't be able to adopt; that difficulties from the past may preclude them from being considered; that their gender, age, or sexual orientation might be a barrier.  This is not the case.  I am an older parent who has adopted both children over the age of 40 (me, not them!).  I know of adopters from all walks of life and from all income brackets and from a variety of different family set-ups.  If you think that you could make a difference to a child in need of a home then contact one of the following for more information about organisations in your local area that you can speak to:

You can also check out #NAW2013 on Twitter to see what everyone else is talking about.....

Why not see if Adoption is an Option for you?