Christmas 2017 | Plans, Decorations & Films…

Christmas Day is now just over two weeks away! How did that happen? This year has gone so fast. I know we all say that every year, but really.

The biggest event of 2017 for me and my family, is the addition of my new baby nephew, who arrived at the end of August. We are a small family – neither of my parents have siblings, and so my brother’s and I have no aunts, uncles or cousins. So, for us a new baby – the first grandchild for my parents – is a big deal!

2017 also marks my first full year as a disability blogger. I have acquired a respectable following on social media (respectable according to my expectations, anyway!) and I hope to reach an even wider audience throughout 2018.

Plans for Christmas

Every year, our small family congregate at my parents house where my Mom cooks the traditional turkey roast. My Nan, who has just turned 91, insists on watching the Queen’s speech and so we all gather around the dining room table after that lovely treat.

As kids, we would open all our presents upon first waking. But now we usually wait until after dinner to open them all together. It’s something to look forward to on Christmas afternoon… apparently!

Every year we have a real Christmas tree – my Mom insists. Having never had an artificial one, I can’t really compare. But I must admit, it is much more traditional and exciting to have a real tree, with the natural scent of pine, the imperfect shape and shedding needles all over the floor. Some people complain about the effort and the mess they make. But to me, that’s all part of the charm and the count-down to Christmas.

Decorations

Here is our real tree, decorated by my folks and I (a team effort), with plenty of colour, lights and an Angel on top!

I also made a wreath to adorn our front door – get me and my creative skills!

   

What do you think of my finished wreath? I hope it’s a pass – I burnt half my fingers off with that bloody glue gun!

Film Recommendations

There are so many great Christmas films to get you in the festive mood (there are also some pretty shocking ones out there too). But where do you start? Some people want comedy, others have kids to consider and therefore need a family friendly option. Some want tradition and then there are those who would like to see something more meaningful and dramatic.

A few of my favourites include Home Alone (1990), The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Elf (2003), and The Family Stone (2005).

I’ve tried to cater for everyone here, although obviously we all have our own go-to Christmas movies. For those of you who haven’t seen any of my recommendations, maybe start with Elf which is a charming and cleverly witty family film about Buddy, an elf played by the irrepressible Will Ferrell. A good choice to keep the kids entertained now that school has ended, this non-stop comedy is both sweet and slapstick at times. I’m 29 and I still love this one!

My next choice is another hugely popular family friendly festive film about a young boy mistakenly left home alone when his family fly to Paris for the holidays. Macaulay Culkin was at his prime here, offering a highly entertaining and endearing performance that more than matched his established co-stars (Catherine O’Hara, John Heard and Goodfellas Joe Pesci). With plenty of comedy, capers and action, Home Alone will excite and enchant both young and old.

Who hasn’t seen A Muppet Christmas Carol, seriously? What is there to say about this one. Charles Dickens classic story is invigorated and enhanced by the Muppets unique blend of humour and musicality. With the addition of England’s very own Michael Caine who is perfectly cast as Ebenezer Scrooge, this is a must see come Christmas Eve.

My final suggestion is less well known though possibly my personal favourite of the four mentioned. The Family Stone is a heartfelt comedy-drama about a modern-day ecclectic American family who reunite for the festive period. One for the grown ups, Id advise settling down with a glass of wine to watch this one before bed. I’m not overly sentimental but admittedly this movie always makes me shed a few tears. But don’t be put off, there’s also plenty of laugh out loud moments throughout. The ‘Christmas message’ is, in my opinion, subtly yet effectively delivered. Frankly I could watch this at any time of year since it’s simply a good drama about the trials and tribulations of family life.


Well, that’s it for my Christmas round-up. I hope you enjoyed reading this post. If so, please give it a share!

Here’s hoping you all have a happy and healthy Christmas

The winter edit: Part 2

5 tips to stay well through winter

The dark nights are drawing in and the weather is turning increasingly colder. The harshness of winter fills many disabled people, myself included, with dread. So how can we best prepare ourselves for the months ahead?

We are 80% more likely to catch a cold during winter. Bearing that in mind, here are my top tips to stay well and defend yourself against those nasty winter viruses.

Click here to check out ‘Part 1’, in which I offer my tips to keep warm.


1. Stock up on supplies:
Medication –


• It’s always advisable to keep a stock of essential supplies in your home. Several factors, including adverse weather, can prevent you from getting hold of medicines at short notice.
• All my medications are on repeat prescription so that I don’t have the bother of getting hold of a GP every time I need something.
• As someone with Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy, a common cold for me can develop scarily quickly, and so I ensure there’s always a reserve of antibiotics at home should I need them.
• It’s important to go and get your Flu jab annually and, where relevant, the pneumonia vaccination. Don’t leave it too late to protect yourself from influenza – it takes two weeks from the time you’re injected for your body to build up an immunity.

Contacts –

• It’s good practice to have a List of contacts in case of an emergency. Include medical professionals (e.g. doctors, consultants, physiotherapists and hospital ward/department direct lines) so that you or your next if kin can contact them quickly should you become ill. Keep your list somewhere easy to find, such as on the fridge, and make copies!

2. Nutrition:

• I choose to take supplements including a daily multivitamin and probiotics, in order to boost my immunity. Supplements come in various forms: tablet, capsule, liquid and powder. So if you struggle to swallow pills, there’s always another option out there for you.
• I’m not a fan of water so I drink a lot of herbal teas, such as lemon and ginger, to keep me hydrated and flush out toxins. Both ingredients are naturally antibacterial while ginger also helps ease migraines, inflammation and nausea (the latter being a common side effect of antibiotics). Add some honey for sweetness and to soothe a sore throat.

• I find smoothies and soups are an easy way to get your recommended allowance of vitamins and minerals. It’s really important to eat healthily to aid your bodies defence against all those coughs and colds circulating throughout the winter months. Remember: you are what you eat!

Top foods: lemon, ginger, garlic, onion, kale, cinnamon, turmeric, honey, apple cider vinegar, grapes, natural yoghurt and chicken soup.

3. Cleanliness:

• I keep a little bottle of antibacterial hand gel in my bag (you can buy them really cheaply from most shops nowadays). I use it particularly when out and about or using public transport. It’s a simple way to prevent the spread of germs from surface to surface and person to person.
• It’s stating the obvious but do wash hands with soapy water and maintain clean surfaces within the home. It’s often difficult to prevent all members of a household becoming ill when one gets sick. But simple precautions such as this could make all the difference.
• Grab yourself a few packets of antibacterial wipes and remember to clean phones, remote controls, computer keyboards and door handles regularly. You’d be amazed how much bacteria harbours there.
• Be considerate and try to cough and sneeze into a tissue rather than the air. It’s a good idea to keep plenty of tissues in stock. Please don’t do what my Dad does and carry a snotty cotton handkerchief around with you all day – bleurgh!
• Finally, don’t forget to replace your toothbrush after you have fully recovered from an illness.

4. Physiotherapy:

• It’s beneficial to stay as active as physically possible, particularly throughout winter as immobility makes us more vulnerable to infection.
• I am completely non-ambulant and so this is a major issue for me. Immobility results in muscle decline and poor circulation, which in itself leads to further complications.
• Although I cannot exercise in a conventional fashion, I basically wriggle and move about as much as I can. For example, I flex my feet & wiggle my toes, lean back and forth and side to side in my chair. Don’t be afraid to put some music on, loosen up and just MOVE however you can, for as long as you can.
• If you are able, go swimming as this is the best exercise for those with physical disabilities.
• Remember to pay attention to your lungs! Deep breathing exercises are an essential daily requirement for me. Following the Active Cycle of Breathing Techniques (ACBT) helps to keep me as strong as I can be.

5. Avoid germs:

• I am particularly susceptible to respiratory viruses. If I go anywhere near someone with a cold, 9/10 I will catch it. As a common cold for me can quickly progress into a much more serious condition, I do my best to limit exposure to infected people.
• I avoid overcrowded spaces and public transport when I’m feeling run-down, whilst taking and shortly after a course of antibiotics as this is when my defences are the lowest.
• At times when coughs/colds are prevalent within the local community, I try to stay away from enclosed public places e.g. trains, buses, cinema, supermarket/stores, pubs, clubs etc.
• If you must go out, remain in the fresh, open air (but wrap up warm).
• I always wear a scarf when out and about. When necessary, I can use it almost like a mask, pulling it up over my face. This prevents me from inhaling and contracting airborne viruses.
• Why not add a few drops of Olbas Oil (eucalyptus) to your scarf. That way, when you do need to pull it up over your nose and mouth, you can breathe in the fresh scent and it won’t feel stuffy.


I really hope this was helpful! If so, please share this blog post so that others can benefit too.

I’d love to hear from you – what do you do to stay well throughout winter?

The winter edit: Part 1

5 tips to keep warm this winter

Winter is well and truly here and so too is the frosty weather. British winters can be long, dark and unforgiving.

To help you make the most of the season ahead, I bring you part 1 of my winter edit – advice, tips and tricks to ward off the chill.


1. Chilblains:

Because I am unable to weight bear, I suffer from poor circulation making my feet permanently cold. I have what can only be described as corpse feet – purple and puffy! I have tried all sorts of remedies over the years to treat recurrent chilblains but I’ve found the best to be Gehwol Fusskraft Red cream (available on Amazon). I slather it on generously before putting on a pair of thick woolly socks, and find my feet are subtly but noticeably warmed and chilblains are kept at bay.

  • A good alternative to the Gehwol Fusskraft Red cream is the Pink Peppermint foot lotion by Lush, which works similarly to stimulate circulation. If going out on a cold day I’ll sometimes rub this into my hands to fend off frosty fingers.
  • In terms of footwear, you can’t beat (in my humble opinion) a pair of shearling lined boots *ahem, Ugg dupes* They may not be the height of sophistication, but they do the job and they’re ridiculously comfortable. I can imagine all the guys out there are thinking this is one for the ladies, but there is a good selection of shearling lined winter boots out there for men too.

2. Layering:

We all know it’s best to layer clothing when cold. However, this is not so easy to do when you’re a wheelchair user. Getting dressed at all is a daily battle for me so having to struggle with more than one top fills me with dread. So my advice put simply; if you can layer, do. If like me you can’t, keep reading…

I live in leggings as they’re stretchy and comfortable. You can buy leggings everywhere and anywhere these days but I favour Marks and Spencer heatgen thermals. There are socks, tights, vests, long sleeved tops and of course the leggings I love. Again if you’re able to, I recommend wearing these items under your usual attire for added insulation. But they’re ideal to wear alone too. M&S also feature a men’s thermal underwear range.

A great alternative to M&S is the Uniqlo Heattech range for men, women and children. This extensive selection is it is competitively priced, practical and fashionable. Definitely check this one out!

uniqlo

  • I swear by scarves. They’re so easy to throw around to protect against the winter chill. They come in so many fabrics, sizes, colours and styles. Invest in a thick woollen scarf big enough to wrap around your body like a poncho or use as a blanket over your legs. I sometimes do this if I’m home alone as I can’t manage sleeves myself.
  • Wear a woollen hat when going out in cold weather as heat escapes from our heads.
  • Gloves aren’t just for outdoors. If you suffer from cold hands, try wearing a fingerless pair when indoors which allow you the freedom to continue with your daily tasks. If it’s a particularly frosty day and I need to go out, I will layer woolly gloves over a fingerless pair. You could also purchase some USB heated gloves online.

  • Throughout the coldest months, ensure you use several bed sheets as this traps heat in far better than having one thick blanket. It’s also much easier to turn and reposition yourself with a few thinner cotton sheets over you than one heavy blanket. *I’ve mentioned it before but for those of you who struggle with turning in bed, I highly recommend investing in a satin fitted sheet.

3. Fabric:

When trying to keep warm it’s worth considering where you are and what you’re doing as this will determine which fabrics to opt for.

  • Natural fibres such as wool, cotton and silk are more insulating since they trap heat. So lightweight silky pyjamas will not only keep you snug at night, they will also help you manoeuvre more easily. Cotton is hypoallergenic, breathable and good for layering but not advisable in wet weather as it is also highly absorbent. Wool too absorbs moisture though due to its structure, water cannot enter the interior fibre. Therefore, even when soaking wet the air pockets inside the woollen fibres prevent you from losing heat. 100% wool is best as blends are less insulating.
  • The synthetic fabric polyester is good when out on a windy day. It’s durable, lightweight and can be made to any thickness. A polyester coat or jacket is a must. And why not snuggle up in bed with a polyester fleece mattress topper, available from Amazon.

4. Food:

  • Swap your morning cereal for warming porridge oats. Add a little cinnamon as it stimulates circulation thereby raising body temperature. Cinnamon spice is also full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties which will protect you from winter viruses.

  • Opt for soup over sandwiches. Include iron rich foods, garlic, onions, spices and orange vegetables such as carrots, sweet potato and squash.
  • Whole grains, nuts and nut butters are great insulating snacks.
  • The dark days and cold weather can make us lethargic. Many of us lack the energy to cook after a busy day. So to prepare for the week ahead, make yourself plenty of warming hearty meals like stews, broths, casserole and chilli, then freeze. When you then come home in the evening, all you need do is reheat and enjoy. You’ll be warmed through in no time.
  • Hot drinks are a winter essential. I drink a lot of herbal teas, especially lemon and ginger as these ingredients are great for flushing out the system and warding off coughs and colds. When on a long journey take a flask of hot coffee or tea with you to stay warm and hydrated.

5. Home heating:

It’s important to maintain a warm and consistent temperature in your home throughout the winter. Exposing yourself to extreme and varied temperatures can leave you vulnerable to ill health and infection. Government guidelines advise heating our living rooms to 21C (70F).

Most of us now have central heating which can even be controlled from our mobile phones. My family home is primarily heated by a wood burner which warms the whole house. However, I cannot prepare and light the fire myself due to my disability. I therefore store a fan heater in my bedroom which is simply operated by the flick of a switch. There are many different electric heaters now on the market. Here’s a budget option and a higher end option for you.

You could also pre-heat your bed with an electric blanket or a hot water bottle so that it’s nice and toasty for you to get into at night.

Honourable mentions:

  • Invest in a high tog duvet for frost nights.
  • For a quick fix, blast yourself with the hairdryer for instant heat
  • Heating pads and microwaveable heat pack
  • Reusable hand gel warmers (I have these)
  • Microwaveable slippers/USB foot warmer
  • Check out the complete care shop for a variety of warming aids
  • Enjoy a cosy night in front of the fire with a milky hot chocolate – my favourite is Galaxy or Aero – and a big bowl of homemade cinnamon popcorn!

Flu jab: Get yours today!

Well it’s upon us again; flu season is here. Every year my parents, brothers, carers and I have the Influenza shot which is free of charge here in the UK, courtesy of the NHS.

For as long as I can remember I’ve had the flu jab to protect myself through the harsh winter months. It’s important that not only I am vaccinated but that those closest to me are too. My immune system is much weaker than average and my condition makes it considerably more difficult to overcome respiratory infections. The common cold will hit me hard and can rapidly develop and deteriorate. It’s therefore very important that I am not unnecessarily exposed to the flu virus.

As I have aged, my declining respiratory function has become the most concerning symptom of my disability. Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy causes muscle degeneration and scoliosis. So not only are my lungs squashed and unable to expand as they should, the muscles that make them force air in and out are slowly wasting away.

Over the years I have had to fight recurrent chest infections, several bouts of pneumonia, pleurisy and a large pneumothorax requiring a chest drain. Many long, drawn-out days have been spent in hospital trying to overcome serious complications that resulted from a simple, everyday virus.

For this reason, I implore and encourage you to go and get the flu shot. It takes no time at all and I promise you it’s completely painless. There are fables floating around that will attempt to make you believe the flu jab can give you the flu. This is not the case at all. Yes, the vaccine contains a small dose of the inactive virus which triggers antibodies, which within two weeks will guard you if and when you’re exposed.

Like all viruses, Influenza strains change annually which is why it is essential to ensure you are vaccinated every year. I visited my local pharmacy, without appointment, a few weeks ago to get mine. If you haven’t already, don’t delay, go and get yours NOW!

For more information on the Influenza vaccine visit the NHS web page here.