Sunday, 3 April 2016

Rainbow pancakes

I shared a few of these pictures on my facebook page a few weeks ago but here's a quick "how to" guide if anyone wants a very simple way to brighten up teatime...

What you need:
Pancake mix (bottle or homemade)
Food colours - I used neon gels
Squeezy bottles
Frying pan
Pastry brush

What you do:
1. Make up the pancake mix as usual
2. Fill each squeezy bottle with mix and add a few drops of food colouring
3. Brush a thin layer of oil on the bottom of a pancake or frying pan
4. Warm the pan over a low heat
5. Make whatever pattern you like with your different coloured squeezy bottles
6. Gently turn the pancake over when ready and cook on the other side

The trick is to keep the heat low - then you have time to make a multi-coloured pancake and cook it evenly without browning the colours :)

See how much fun you can have - definitely worth the tiny bit of extra effort!

Taste test approved!

A novel way to teach them the alphabet?!

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Valentine's crafting

I'm pretty proud of myself that I'm managing to blog this one in the same month as the holiday ;) - unlike my New Year's Eve post!

We did a couple of crafty things for Valentine's Day. We were going to do a few more but time ran away from us. The kids had lots of fun with these though.

Heart pictures

Another loo roll craft :) (you can read about our loo roll fireworks here). This time I folded them into heart shapes and secured the shape with a bit of tape. I made 3 and put out 3 bowls of different coloured paint and away the kids went...

Izzy kept saying "more more" and she was like a painting machine! D had a lovely methodical approach whereas Iz (as usual!) embraced chaos :) 


Next year I might cut heart-shapes out if these pictures to make collage cards but for now I can't bear to cut into any of their artwork!!

Heart frame

Iz did this one in her own while D was away having a boys weekend). It was very simple but had a few different elements so she got to have fun with a couple of different crafting mediums.

What you need:
Paper plate
Red or pink paint
Fake petals (we got a large tub from Poundland)

1. Cut a heart-shapes hole out of the plate
2. Paint the plate with coloured paint and leave to dry
3. Using glue, stick on some petals
4. Once it's dry use it to pose cutely behind :)


Did you do anything special for Valentine's Day with your kids?

Thursday, 25 February 2016

New Year's Eve

So New Year's Eve is now pretty much a distant memory but I wanted to share how we celebrated it as they'd be pretty cool for any celebration - I'm definitely going to adopt some for birthdays in the future!


Instead of a martini, have a sprinkle-tini! These look really cute and the kids loved having their own "special drink". 

Propping up the bar...

All you need is a glass (we used plastic cocktail ones from Poundland), some honey and sprinkles. I wiped a bit of honey around the upper outer rim of the glass and then rolled it in a plate of sprinkles. Leave it to dry for an hour and then add the the drink of choice. Perfect!

I especially loved it when they cheers'd each other :) I initially saw the idea here - check out the link for other nice ideas for child-friendly NYE ideas.

Balloon drop

This was so much fun and will definitely be repeated!! 

All you need is:
2 large pieces of light material (I used tulle as I had some at home - planning to make some skirts for Iz but not quite found the time yet!)
Masking tape
Confetti (I used pompoms and foam shapes)
Balloons (lots of!)
A balloon pump (optional but very handy if you have one)

Then it is as simple as:
- lie the 2 pieces of fabric on the floor and tape them together, just on one side, long edge to long edge
- make a long "tail" of masking tape at one end by looping the tape over itself
- then tape the three sides of the "combined piece" to the ceiling, leaving the fourth side open so you can fill the pouch with balloons/confetti/pompoms
- once it is filled tape up the 4th side so only the tail is left hNging down
- gather your children underneath and instruct a willing volunteer to pull on the tape tail...

Ready for action...

Tada! Homemade balloon drop!! SO much fun and just using things you have around the house :)

Both kids had loads of fun playing with the balloons and pompoms all afternoon. And added bonus - all of it is reusable. Just peel off the masking tape and your fabric is good as new :)

Fireworks painting

What's not to love about loo rolls? They are free, you always have a supply and they are an awesome painting tool!

For this super simple fireworks painting I just cut into the top of a couple and put one in different bowls of paint.

Iz just went for a massive free-for-all whereas D really carefully did one colour and then put another one inside, colour co-ordinating each one so there were matching pairs. 

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Easiest Treasure Hunt... Ever!

Looking for a super simple way to amuse the kids that has zero set-up time (and also helps uncover toys they haven't played with in ages so you then get the bonus of new-toy-that's-actually-an-old-toy distraction)? Then read on...

As with most activities we do, there was a mandatory "putting shoes on" break
1. Assemble your children
2. Give each of them some kind of container (eg Tupperware, roasting dish, tray)
3. Let each choose a favourite colour (D chose blue and I chose red for Iz - she is not that good at colours as she says everything is yellow. Obviously she looks very clever if you happen to pick a yellow object and ask her what colour it is...)
4. Then ask them to find 10 objects* of that colour that will fit in their box
5. Sit back and put your feet up as they potter round trying to find the requisite items

* I made an additional rule after D tried to put 10 blue paper money notes in his box... Each object has to be different :)

Rifling for blue stuff

Yay she chose the red one (after much deliberation!)

Rediscovering lost toys during the search :)

It was actually really interesting seeing which objects D picked (Iz needed too much help from me to claim she chose any herself!) - I was impressed at his attention to detailing noticing the blue button on the remote control!

D's selection of blue objects

This is a great way to occupy the kids for an afternoon - you can change the number of items they need to find depending on how much time you want to fill, and you can tweak the difficulty (eg for young toddlers give them a single colour, for older toddlers get them to find all the colours of the rainbow and for older children get them to find striped/spotty objects etc). Then sit back and relax with your stilll-hot cup of tea :)

Iz with her haul

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Two days in Dunkirk

A slightly different post to normal today...

“As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person”. That quote by Paul Shane Spear seems a good place to start. Below is a (slightly long!) account of my recent trip to the refugee camp at Grand Synthe, Dunkirk. If you want just the highlights, skip to the summary at the end! 

The refugee crisis is crazy. I can't even begin to comprehend how it is going to be resolved but I do know that when there are families and young people living in fields of mud with no/minimal basic amenities (12 loos between 2500 people and no electricity) less than 50 miles from the UK something has gone terribly wrong.

I am not an activist. I am not political. I may (very occasionally!) have strong views on some subjects but they are rarely controversial ones. I'd heard bits about the Calais camp and had obviously seen the heart-wrenching photographs of refugees trying to get from Turkey to Greece and donated money to various charities but had never thought there was anything I personally could do to help. I know I'm a doctor but I've never done humanitarian work abroad, I've never worked in a third world country (one of the criteria MSF want you to fulfil) and I haven't treated an adult patient in about 10 years! But after I saw another doctor post on Facebook about going to work in the Calais medical caravans I realised that I could be useful and so a plan began to form...

Although initially I planned to work in the medical caravans mentioned above (if you want to do so look up “Refugee Support First Aid & Care Team” on Facebook) in the intervening 2 months I did lots of research (mainly via Facebook groups) and realised my skills would probably be much more use in Dunkirk, where there are more women, children and families (although still outnumbered by men). I think a critical skill when volunteering is being flexible and so when in mid-January MSF established a 7 day service in Dunkirk, we were not deterred and happily shifted our focus from first aid to basic humanitarian aid.

Back in December I messaged most of my medical friends on FB. There was lots of potential interest but only one girl committed and so last week we set off in a borrowed van with 3 of her non-medic friends. Meanwhile we'd been busy collecting clothes donations - the response was amazing (apart from the bag of soiled underwear my friend was given and the bag of socks full of holes someone left for me!) but you have to be pretty ruthless with what you take - some people view it as an excuse to get rid of all of their old clothes, however impractical (yes there have been old wedding dresses and skimpy bikinis sent to the warehouse in Calais!), whilst others are amazing and buy rolls of new socks and gloves. Once we had everything packed (top tip - pack all clothes in vacuum bags and then you can fit 2-3x more in your car!) it was time to go...

At a service station and on our way...

One of the warehouses in Calais
There are several Facebook groups where you can link up with others who have been to Dunkirk before and they contain a massive amount of information - definitely invaluable for trying to prepare yourself before you get there (if that's possible). Based on these we had a good idea of the "most wanted items" in camp:
-          tracksuit bottoms
-          trainers
-          torches
-          sleeping bags
-          OTC remedies for coughs and sore throats
-          gloves, socks and hats
-          food (especially rice, chickpeas, tomatoes, oil, tinned fruit, fresh fruit, tuna)

And had also picked up a few handy hints:
-          take your hospital ID (much easier to wave that to the Police than having to fish around for your passport when on camp)
-          line all the footwells of your car with newspaper to reduce the spread of mud everywhere
-          have a supply of dustbin liners (I put one on each boot at the end of the day and took my boots off whilst inside the bag – that way no mud on my hands!!)
-          don't drink too much as the loos (as well as being few and far between) are not nice inside the camp
-          park in the Decathlon carpark and walk in from there

This is why you need newspaper and dustbin liners...

Our first glimpse of the camp

And so we arrived on Thursday morning at Grand Synthe. We knew a little of what to expect but nothing prepares you for the vast scale of rows and rows of tents and mud as far as you can see. After a cursory glance at our IDs from the police lining the gate we were in, and standing at the start of a long mud-covered "road" that stretched into the distance. There were lots of people milling around but they mostly left us to ourselves. We started walking towards the women's distribution tent (where we were planning on leaving the 72 loo rolls), past the 2 wash stations (yes, they only have 2 wash stations for 2500 residents!), past the small row of about 12 portaloos and past the large bus which distributes food at lunchtime. Someone then started saying what sounded like "clinis" to us. After a brief time we realised that meant loo roll and once we opened the pack we were inundated with people and the 72 rolls were gone before we walked the remaining 50 metres to the tent! We walked back to the car to restock and that's when we had our BIGGEST stroke of luck. We (literally) bumped into 3 other volunteers in the car park, one of whom I'd contacted through Facebook the week before and so recognised. They had been in camp the day before and were a massive mine of information. We then joined forces with them for the rest of the day.

Not nearly enough loos...
Just off the "Main street" - contrast it with the below picture

Further back in the camp - the differences are obvious

The camp is mainly Iraqi Kurds with some from Syria and Iran. It is different from Calais as pretty much all are either from active conflict zones, have been discriminated against in their own country or were targets of political violence (data from MSF 2016). These are *not* economic migrants as some people like to say. There is a large problem with traffickers and gangs in the camp controlling which refugees are allowed access to which bits of the camp and we soon learnt that the most vulnerable/in need (including lots of the families) were the ones on the peripheries of the camp, who did not dare come to the central main street to collect food or visit the tent distributing clothes. The only real way to make sure those ones are reached is to go tent-to-tent and asking what they need. In fact the people that crowded you on the main street shouting for things were likely the ones who did not need it nearly as much.

The ones living here are the really desperate and vulnerable

My first impression (from the "Main Street") had been a sea of tents and a fair bit of mud. But once we stepped off the Main Street and started walking towards the back of the camp it was increasingly desperate - tents with massive holes in, piles of rubbish everywhere, mud so deep it completely covered my feet and so sticky that it threatened to pull my boots off with each step. Mattresses and clothes were strewn in the mud to act as a "path" and try to make it slightly easier to walk through. Pushchairs caked in mud with their wheels completely buried. Piles of plastic being burnt as there was no other fuel for them to use to stay warm.

My feet not even visible in the mud...

However, in amongst all this were these amazingly resilient people. People who smiled and said thank you even when the only thing you had left to give them was a tube of savlon. People who offered you tea or some of their lunch they'd just cooked when you knew they didn't have any more food. People who would only take one of what you offered and would refuse any extra, saying give it to someone else. People who invited you into their tents, in amongst their only possessions even though you were covered in mud. People who, despite everything that life has thrown at them, still have this unbelievable optimism and hope for the future.
How are they still smiling? I have no idea but they have my utmost respect

Think of a young 20-something boy you know. I have a brother of this age. Now imagine him having to beg passersby for a pair of trousers to wear, for a pair of shoes that fit him, for something (anything) to eat. Think a 17 year old you know and imagine him all alone, with no family, in a tent in the middle of squalid conditions. Would he know how to cook? Would he be able to survive? And lastly think of a toddler you know. I have 2 at home. Imagine them either playing in sewage-containing mud or kept as a prisoner in a flimsy tent, without all their toys and books, nowhere for babies to learn to crawl or walk, no areas to run around in, no hope of a nutritious diet. What about their education? Without that what hope for their future? And imagine how their parents feel? How would you feel?

1 year old... how long is he going to have to live like this?

10 months old... where can he learn to walk?

Sewage and mud mixing into a place you wouldn't wish anyone to live

What do 8 year old boys do here? No school, no playing, they collect firewood for their family.

So what did we do in our 2 days? We stuffed as much aid into our big rucksacks as we could (yep my shoulders are feeling it now!) and carried it through the camp to the most vulnerable areas. There we went tent-to-tent and spoke to the people living there to see what they needed. If they needed anything we had we gladly gave it to them, if they asked us for anything we could buy at the large sports shop down the road then we went and bought it on our next trip to restock in the carpark, if they asked us from something we could not get (sadly gas bottles were in very short supply at all local shops) we had to say sorry and hoped that someone else would come to visit them soon bringing it.

Going tent-to-tent
A forgotten welly
Imagine living in that half open shelter :(

Once our rucksacks were empty we walked back to our van in the carpark, restocked and came back. We could only work during daylight hours and made 3 round trips on the first day and 3 on the second. On the second day we also did a humungous supermarket shop first thing in the morning and made 100 food bags (each containing a bag of rice, tin of tuna, tin of tomatoes, jar of spices, tin of chickpeas, tin of red kidney beans, packet of biscuits, fresh apple/orange, tinned fruit, a handful of tea bags and wrapped sugar cubes) which we also took tent-to-tent.
Some of the 100 food parcels

We didn’t stop to eat or drink ourselves as there were so many people to see and so little time. The welcome we got was incredible and the tea one man served us was probably the best I have ever tasted. One volunteer who joined us on the second day questioned why we didn’t just do a distribution line in the main street (reasons why not explained above), as that would take about a quarter of the time and would have been much easier for us. But she soon changed her tune when she saw the faces of the families at the back of the camp when we hand-delivered aid that they would otherwise have not received.

Pathway to nowhere

All of the trip was pretty emotional but there were a few particularly poignant moments. One of the men in the photo above proudly showed me some holiday photos taken in December 2014 - a smiling happy regular family going about their normal regular family lives. My friend saw a child wearing the same snowsuit her daughter used to wear. A young man aged about 18 asked if we had any food - the only thing we had left was 2 digestive biscuits. He was so grateful for them and practically inhaled them. He didn't look like he's eaten in days. And seeing the excitement and gratitude on the faces of a group of men when I gave them each a £1 torch from Poundland with a packet of spare batteries. £2 – the cost of a coffee or muffin from our hospital coffee shop – meant the world to them.
No one should have to live here

There was a really powerful advert that went viral a year or so ago - the basic message being just because it isn't happening here, doesn't mean it isn't happening. Just by a fortune of birth was I lucky enough to be visiting the camp delivering aid, rather than being in the camp myself.


Summary of our trip:

We spent 2 full days in the Grand Synthe camp.

We delivered a van full of clothes to Care4Calais warehouse including 50 sleeping bags, 20 wind-up torches, 40 foil blankets and a lot of hats/gloves/scarves.

We raised over £1500 before our trip (we are SO grateful to everyone who donated money) which we used to buy all the supplies we handed out as well as the food parcels. The remainder has been spent on gas bottles (which are used for cooking and heating) that an aid charity is distributing for us as we didn't have enough time to do everything in only 48 hours!

We completely self-funded the trip as I strongly believe all money raised should go directly to the refugees rather than paying for our travel and hostel.

By going tent-to-tent we hand-delivered 100 bags of food, over 30 torches, approximately 40 tracksuit bottoms, 15 pairs of leggings, at least 50 pairs of socks, 20 pairs of gloves, 100 lighters, 10 boxes of firelighters, 20 packets of baby wipes, 5 camping stoves, 15 bottles of gas, 40 bottles of cough syrup, too many strepsils to count, 30 tubes of deep heat, a collection of baby clothes and even a bottle of hair serum for one young girl who said she wanted hair like one of the other volunteers (with sleek shiny hair) and not like my friend (who had slightly dry frizzy hair - sorry Emma!!).

As well as the tips mentioned above, we've got a few of our own now:

-          leave your lunch in the car or you will end up giving it away to someone who looks hungry in camp
-          take a spare pair of trainers to change into before you get into the car (especially if you are the driver!) – you cannot imagine the mud unless you have been there
-          don't underestimate how much everyone wants a torch and gas, you could never have too many of either
-          wear waterproof trousers on top of tracksuit bottoms, then at the end of the day you can just peel off the outer layer and you are clean underneath. Your trousers will get covered in mud
-          keep a packet of wet wipes in the car for when you accidentally put your hand on your mud-covered boot (it will happen at some point) as don’t forget the mud is not just mud, it is mud and sewage...


So will we go back? If the camp stays like this then yes definitely. There is a slight uncertainty at the moment as talk about the building of a new camp is everywhere, and I would absolutely love the new camp to be so much better that volunteers like myself are not needed. But I remain slightly dubious and so we have a March date pencilled in, when we know more about what is happening...

Has the experience affected me? Yes. Without a doubt. At the time, when we were out there, I think it didn't sink in properly. Maybe a result of my medical brain being efficient at compartmentalising situations for me to deal with later? But now I am home, going back to "normal" day-to-day activities, getting ready for work, commuting on the tube, I can't stop thinking about it all. The faces, the mud, the awful living conditions. I feel so guilty that we didn't do more. Why didn't we walk faster, hand things out quicker and have more time to buy new supplies? Why didn't I just give all my remaining euros to people when our food parcels had run out? Why didn't we stay out for longer? Well at least that one I can answer - I have two little people of my own at home and they were missing me!

So yes, I can't change the world but I can try to make it a little bit nicer for a few people, if only for a day.


If you are interested in helping (either from the UK or over there) I would definitely recommend joining some of the Facebook groups as the exact needs can change and there are a lot of people on the ground out there who can give good advice. Don’t feel you have to physically go there to help either, just fundraising and linking up with the right charities/people is very helpful.

The most wanted items are:
Gas (there is a particular size and type of bottle)
Torches and batteries
Sleeping bags (the ones that go down to minus 20)
Small/ medium tracksuit bottoms (preferably in dark colours)
Socks and gloves

To be honest if I had enough money I would make "packs" - a backpack for them to keep containing a pair of tracksuit bottoms, a torch, batteries, gloves, 2 pairs of socks, 2 gas bottles, a packet of biscuits and a warm sleeping bag. 

Not even rats survive in the camp...

... so how it is an appropriate place for these children to live?