Thoughts on Therapy Cats

Iris and Thula’s story has inspired many parents to think about a cat as a therapy animal in their own homes so here are some thoughts and practical advice that may help.

Choosing a kitten or rescue cat

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It is important to understand the type of character you are looking for, what you want to achieve and why, before your search begins.  For us, we wanted a highly sociable cat who would encourage Iris to play and explore new things.

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So a lap cat that sleeps all day and wants strokes wouldn’t cut it for our needs. However, for another family who wants to encourage quiet chill time that maybe the perfect cat for them. The same goes with the choice between a kitten or older cat, think about if your child would like a bouncy playful kitten or would that upset them. For some children on the spectrum the unpredictable movement of a kitten maybe too much for them, whereas a settled older cat might be far more relaxing. Think long and hard about what you are looking for and why, I can’t emphasise this enough as it really is key to finding a good partnership. Certain breeds of cat will carry characteristics and attributes that will suit different roles that you would like them to be for your family. Research what would suit you and your child and ask if you can have them on trial first as some cat rehoming centres will allow you to do this.

Harness, Leads & Collars

IMG_7439 copyI personally don’t like the thought of a collar on a cat 24/7 as it may get caught causing problems. If you want to introduce a harness and lead I would advise to do it in the early days, little and often. Pick a harness that has more material parts so it spreads the pressure and is more comforting and comfortable for the cat. Try it on at home where the cat loves to be the most and pair it up with playing with their favourite toy. Make their time in the harness fun and only for short periods of time at first and build on that. The same with the lead, most cats will need a great deal of time and encouragement to walk on a lead and this will have to be worked on slowly.

Indoor or Outdoor

Jungle ThulaThis is such a personal choice that depends on many factors, your own home, garden and environment. Safety concerns like roads and heavy traffic will determine how comfortable you feel with letting your cat roam freely outdoors. Of course, it’s possible to add gates, high fencing to more or less cat proof your garden.  Remember, they are agile, intelligent creatures and ultimately the best escape artists you will ever come across. They are naturally curious as all great hunters are and if they want to explore and be adventurous they will. Studies have proven that on average a cat will roam no further than 100 metres from their home but if you live in a town or city that will be a worrying thought.
We have made a choice to allow Thula to be free and trust that she will be careful. It is very important for her own wellbeing to have time to be a cat, to run, jump, climb, hunt, to use all of her senses in the environment that they were designed to be in. With large solid wooden gates at the entrance of the property I feel happy in the knowledge that at least that problem area has been dealt with. She has free access to fields and farmland at the back of our garden and she does have a large roaming area there. We have come across her hunting on our walks with Iris many fields away from the house but she always comes home and as soon as she sees us she joins us to go back.

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Our way of life here includes open windows, doors, outdoor living and the animals coming and going as they please with even the goats joining us in the kitchen. It simply wouldn’t be possible for me to lock Thula up inside during the day due to Iris’s love of the outside. So fit in how you are with the animals with your lifestyle choices. I made the decision that what we could do was to lock her in at night to reduce risks and that has worked for us very well so far.
I believe they will follow you as long as there is respect and understanding. Some cats I’m sure will thrive on an indoor life if they are provided enough attention and activities while others need to be free. Think of our own choices, some of us love snuggling up on the sofa and watching films all weekend, nice and warm…while others climb mountains in the wild winds. We are unique characters, they are unique too.

Travel

IMG_8624 copy copy (1)Many of you will have seen pictures and film with Thula riding happily in the car and on our bikes. This was, like most things, to do with my approach – a slow introduction with lots of encouragement and positive reinforcement. It’s not something that I would suggest you do with every animal. It could be very dangerous for them if they are not confident yet, but if introduced carefully it can be a lot of fun for both you and your cat.
We started with very short car journeys when she was a young kitten, usually around the village twice a day. This helped Thula get used to sitting on Iris’s lap and she became more comfortable, so we could we gradually lengthen these outings.

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It was a similar method with the basket on the bike. At first I would let her explore the basket while it was on the kitchen floor, after all it was rather like a box and what cat can resist getting into a box. Then I moved it outside and put it in a place where I knew she loved, this was Iris’s tree stump and she jumped inside the basket.  It was introduced in a way that made it her choice to get inside which I feel is critical when you are working with a cat. Then eventually I carried her around in it, got her used to the motion, before finally adding it on the bikes and did little trips.

Expectations

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I feel that we shouldn’t hold onto ideas, thoughts or expectations when we bring a new animal into our lives.  It can stop us living in the moment with them. Some of the most powerful moments between Iris and Thula weren’t led by me, they happened between them through intuition and I learnt so much by observing their relationship. There won’t be another like it, their bond is unique and the experiences between other kids and their pets will be too. Iris is now able to build relationships with others, they are different to what she has with Thula but these advances are brilliant and I’m very thankful to our special feline friend.

Next time I will discuss ideas about how you can encourage a bond between your child and the animal.  Suggestions for games and how to involve the cat in your child’s early learning.

But for now if you would like to learn more about our story and haven’t read ‘Iris Grace’ here is the book

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Photography by Arabella Carter-Johnson

 

 

Sour Dough Mania

Iris has been interested in baking since we returned from our first ‘Forests of the World’ trip in Costa Rica and that’s when I started to follow a baker from Slovenia called Anita Sumer.  Her unique twist on cooking inspired me to merge Iris’s artistic skills into her baking.  When we were planning our trip to Slovenia I contacted Anita and she kindly offered us the chance to visit her to have our own private workshop in her apartment.  It was an inspirational start to our trip filling our tummies with yummy food and a perfect way to rejuvenate from our testing journey the day before and fuel us for what was to come over the week ahead.

At first, Iris was a little shy but she got into the swing of things as soon as she saw the dough and made herself at home.

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We made delicious pizzas, a selection of breads and puddings.

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We asked Anita some questions about her journey so far with Sour Dough and I wanted to share this with you.

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How did you start making Sourdough?

I started about 6 years ago when my husband Sašo had his gallbladder removed and was not able to eat yeasted bread as he experienced bloating and stomach issues.  So I researched and stumbled upon sourdough.  I made my very first sourdough starter but sadly it died on me, because I didn’t know how to take good care of it.  But I did not give up and made my second one, Rudl, that’s his name, and he’s been with me ever since. And one day I made a sourdough brick loaf and my husband was able to eat it without problems. We knew at that moment that this bread was something special.

I did not go to any workshops. I’m a self-taught 100% sourdough baker, this means that I’ve been baking for 6 years only with sourdough no commercial yeast added. The more I baked the better understanding of the whole process I got.  With every bake, you make some progress, you just need to be persistent and patient.

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What was your life like before Sourdough? What was your profession?

I’m not a baker by profession but definitely by heart and soul.  My normal occupation is an English teacher and German translator and interpreter.  But lately, I’ve been baking and teaching sourdough baking more than translating.  It is something I enjoy a lot, I pour my love and passion into it and can’t imagine not baking anymore, it has become a part of my life.

Your sourdough breads incredibly beautiful, are arts in your family?

Actually, my mother loves to dance and sing folklore songs, and I’ve always loved arts, made my own greeting cards, and all those hand-crafted items.  When I got the hang of making sourdough bread, I started to decorate it to give it my unique touch.

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What’s your favourite recipe or food from Sourdough?

I love all kinds of bread, there isn’t a favourite one, one day I prefer a heavy rye, some days a light white kamut batard, then on the next day a fluffy and buttery brioche. Sourdough baking is a journey and you get to eat your ups and downs on the way.  To me it is more important that the bread has a nice flavour, is healthy, nutritious, delicious, and if it looks good it’s just a cherry on top.

I have quite a unique approach to sourdough, I use it not only for baking but also for cooking, it’s so versatile.

You have a large following online, how did that happen?

Almost overnight, haha. No, but really, I created my Instagram account (sourdough_mania) two years ago in October 2016, and started posting bread/sourdough-related content every day, videos, pictures, tutorials etc. Somehow the content caught attention of foreign media companies like BuzzFeed, Insider, Business Insider, Daily Mail, Freeda amongst others. They made compilations of my works and the number of followers jumped up a lot. Then the media in Slovenia discovered my story, magazines and televisions came to me to make the interviews, and I became better known also in my home country.

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You’ve recently published a book on Sourdough, how successful has it been?

The book was released on 7th December 2017, it was the first sourdough book in Slovenian language, and the first edition was sold out in 3 months. And now almost half of the second edition is sold as well. And from every book sold, 2 € go for therapies of a 6-year-old-girl with cerebral palsy.  In December, it even surpassed a book by a world-wide known cook book author and celebrity chef in sales at a major book store.

When I was writing this book, I had in mind that I need to include everything that I was missing when I first encountered sourdough. There were no books in Slovenian language six years ago. All the information I found was online. The book is structured as this; first we cover grains with the help of my friend David Kranjc who is a specialist in agronomy, then we move on to different types of flour, after that is time to make our first starter and mix our first bread, knead, stretch and fold, preshape and shape, then proof, score and bake. Then I also showed some procedures in detail (for example how to make rye bread, croissants, pizza etc.). The first part of more than 150 pages is dedicated to procedures and theory and is very rich in photography with beautiful pictures of my friend and photographer Primož Lavre who is also a devoted sourdough baker himself.

The second part includes more than 45 recipes that cover different types of bread, pastries, sweet and savoury delights etc. Then at the end, there’s an extensive SOS chapter with questions and answers to the most common situations in sourdough baking. And a baking schedule so the reader can adapt the process to fit their time and life.

The book is having a huge impact and the sourdoughmania is slowly evolving into a movement for better bread.

Next year it will be published in two foreign languages as well, approximately in May there will be a Croatian edition, and in autumn another language will be added to the sourdoughmania edition.

I’m so grateful to be able to make a change, with small steps we can all contribute to a better well-being.

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You run workshops on Sourdough, tell me about the people who go to them?

My classes are visited by professionals and amateurs alike. Though this January I gave a special course for chefs with many well-known and excellent Slovenian chefs, Luka Košir for example came to my workshop in Ljubljana as well as Matej Zupančič, and Črt Butul, we had one whole day dedicated especially to sourdough baking in restaurants, and it was a blast and a lot of fun. Good bread is critical for a good restaurant, the first thing a person gets on the table is bread, and you need to make a good entrance with it.

Where has Sourdough taken you in your travels?

So far I’ve visited Portugal, Russia, Jamaica, Singapore, Bangkok, England, Belgium, the Netherlands and also Croatia. Every country has its charm,  I love them all and I enjoy getting to know other cultures, especially food-wise, I love to eat and experiment. But I think Asia has found a weak spot in me, I got immersed in its rich culinary background, lots of new and exciting things to try, such amazing hospitality, a friend of mine and a fellow questor chef William Woo organised my first 2-day-masterclass in his artisan school in Singapore and a 3-day-masterclass in Bangkok. We baked a lot, also traditional Slovenian goods like fruit bread, potica, buhteljni, doughnuts etc.  Sharing the culinary tradition around the world is also a privilege, seeing the students trying something they’ve never had before and enjoying it is really rewarding.

Do you have any advice for people starting in baking?

Yes, of course, don’t be intimidated by sourdough, it’s just fermented flour and water, anyone can learn.  You just need to be patient and persistent, don’t give up if you don’t succeed the first time. When you get the hang of the process, observe it with all your senses and you will make it, and the reward is a loaf of flavourful, delicious and healthy bread.

Know your flour well, try to use local organic ingredients if possible. Good flour is the key to good sourdough starter and then to delicious bread.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to spread the sourdoughmania bug around Slovenia and the world, share my knowledge, get to learn new countries and their culture, meet other sourdough enthusiasts, and I hope to see my book translated into other languages as well.

How do you book on to one of your courses?

I’m usually contacted by email – info@drozomanija.si or over Instagram if someone wants to invite me over to do a masterclass. There are a few foreign workshops already planned for next year, some old locations and some new ones too, you can find more information on my website – www.sourdoughmania.com (will be up and running at the end of November) and on my Instagram (sourdough_mania).

Photography by Arabella Carter-Johnson, Harry Speller & Sourdoughmania



Gorges & Lakes in Slovenia

For as long as I can remember Iris has loved watching water, the light and the colours that dance around her.  So on our Forests of the World trip to Slovenia even though we didn’t go to a beach we found other ways to delight her senses with the deep gorge near Lake Bled and the Lake itself.   The Vintgar Gorge has attracted tourists since the 19th century.  Wooden bridges and viewing galleries lead you down the 1.6 km long gorge among waterfalls, pools, and cascades. A stone, single-arch, former railway bridge also towers above the gorge with the awe-inspiring waterfalls cascading beside us and rainbows in the mist.

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With its bluish-green pristine lake, picture-postcard church on an island, a medieval castle clinging to a rocky cliff and some of the highest peaks of the Julian Alps and the Karavanke as backdrops, Bled is Slovenia’s most popular resort and we were very excited to visit this incredible location.

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Traditional wooden boats – pletnas – have been taking visitors to the island in the middle of the lake for centuries.  After landing, we climbed 99 stone steps to reach the Church, we listened to the church bells which carry legends that will make your wishes come true, for Iris this was a delicious chocolate bar bought from the souvenir shop.

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Photography by Arabella Carter-Johnson & Harry Speller



Forests of Slovenia

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Iris’s love of nature is the foundation of her development, the inspiration for her paintings and where I have found she learns best.  Our Forests of the World project started last November in Costa Rica and is taking us all the way around the world to some unexpected but totally inspiring places.  In September 2018 we visited the Forests of Slovenia and we were blown away by it’s magical landscape.  These trips have become more than just education for Iris they are a journey of self-discovery, pushing limits and has given her a confidence that I couldn’t have imagined years ago when she was first diagnosed with autism.

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In the picture above Iris crossed this river which at first glance may seem like a risky option to take with a kid on the spectrum.  I know most parents will be worried even looking at the image, no handrail on one side, the dangers…but she was listening to me and concentrating hard, taking in all of my instructions.  I trust her and she trusts me and with that, she gains a strength that she will need to overcome many challenges in the future.  It’s a fine balance of course, how far to let them explore before you jump in and hold them tight but the more I try the better I get at judging and understanding these boundaries.

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Sometimes her excitement gets to the point where she quite literally rockets to the sky flying so high.  I adore these moments as her joy passes to me and it’s an incredible feeling but I know that I need to be there for her to help her self-regulate.  Sometimes it’s just to allow her to hold my hand or for me to repeat the sounds she makes, reply to her riddles of phrases and parts to songs.  Then at other times she brings me close, she wraps my arms around her slim body and presses my hands.  She enjoys the deep pressure, it comforts and restores her balance, giving her what she needs to move on.

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Out in the forests of Slovenia she became an intrepid explorer and at times it was hard to keep up with those long legs of hers.  She moved like a mountain goat up the steep rocky hillsides to see the beautiful waterfalls and we found many intriguing creatures along the path.

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Our travels to The Forests of the World are a tale of freedom, of education and adventure.  They teach me more about being a parent than anything ever has and for Iris it’s giving her happiness, teaching her adaptability and encouraging independence.

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Photography by Harry Speller & Arabella Carter-Johnson




Exploring Postojna Caves, Slovenia

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I don’t think any of us will ever forget our adventures in Postojna Caves, with magnificent cave formations and an unforgettable ride on the underground train.  Iris was exhilarated and in awe of this fascinating subterranean paradise shaped by tiny droplets over millions of years.  At times we thought that she wouldn’t be able to cope – surging crowds behind us, waves of tourists that come and sweep over you but then they recede and you have a chance to breathe.  We were able to take in the enormity of all that surrounded us, the water that slowly dripped down the stalagmite deposits, some estimated at about 150,000 years old.  The formation of Postojna Cave goes back to approximately three million years ago.  A dripstone forest that had to be on our list of places to visit on our quest to see the Forests of the World.

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Photography by Arabella Carter-Johnson & Harry Speller





Career Opportunity

Working Student Placement available at The Little Explorers Activity Club in the UK with Iris Grace.

A fantastic opportunity to work alongside best selling author Arabella Carter-Johnson and her daughter Iris Grace.  Accommodation provided on site and access to transport.  Driving Licence preferred but an electric bike is also available.  Only one mile away from town and train station (55mins to London) but set in beautiful countryside.  A keen interest in Autism, Education, Gardening & Animals is essential.  Self-motivated to help with the following duties – Saturday children’s club, routine tasks looking after the animals and the aquaponics system, light gardening & some Nanny work.
If you are interested please Email Arabella at thelittleexplorersactivityclub@yahoo.com
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Forests of The World

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Donate

The Forests of the World Project will be in aid of WWF, the world’s leading independent conservation organisation, documented by the bestselling author & photographer Arabella Carter-Johnson.

Following Iris has always been an adventure, her paintings have inspired people throughout the world allowing us to see beyond a diagnosis. We believe ‘Different is Brilliant’ raising positive awareness for Autism. It’s all about building on strengths instead of focussing on the weaknesses and following the lead of your child – that is the precious key.

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Iris’s love of nature is the foundation of her development, the inspiration for her paintings and where I have found she learns best.  We are now embarking on a new adventure together travelling to the Forests of the World.  Each trip will be tailored to Iris’s interests and we will educate her throughout the journey.  After all where better to learn about the jungle or volcanoes, eco systems and different cultures than be immersed in them.  She will learn in a real way that means something to her and I will document the process inspiring others, showing them the beauty in our world that needs to be protected for future generations.

The Forests of the World Project will be in aid of WWF, the world’s leading independent conservation organisation.  Their mission is to create a world where people and wildlife can thrive together. To achieve this mission, they are finding ways to help transform the future for the world’s wildlife, rivers, forests and seas.

We will discover and share the delights of the forests in California, Cambodia, Canada, Romania, Chile, New Zealand, Germany, India, Finland, China, Romania, Madagascar and hopefully others too over the coming years but our first trip this year will be to Costa Rica as it is a fine example of how it can be possible to live in harmony with nature.  A 5 week adventure that will be inspiring, challenging, mind expanding & a joyful celebration of our beautiful planet that needs to be protected and of course how ‘Different is Brilliant’ with Iris Grace.

Join us on Facebook or Instagram  to follow our journey
and Donate through this page to raise funds in aid of the WWF

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Costa Rica is considered to possess the highest density of biodiversity of any country worldwide.  Its biodiversity can be attributed to the variety of ecosystems within the country. Tropical rainforests, deciduous forests, Atlantic and Pacific coastline, cloud forests, and mangrove forests.

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Beautiful, dense vegetation from the cloud forests in Costa Rica.

This incredible country shows us how people and wildlife can thrive together, over twenty-seven percent of the country’s land has a protected status as national parks, wildlife refuges & forest preserves.  The Costa Rican government is active in protecting its biodiversity, encouraging tree farming to provide some habitat for wildlife, enabling some measure of biodiversity to remain in these areas despite humans’ use of these natural resources.  Jaguar ‘corridors’ have been created, protected trails which allow these big cats to pass safely from one area to another.

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Ecotourism brings in 2.8 billion dollars in revenue for the country.  Ecotourism is defined as “tourism directed toward exotic, often threatened, natural environments, especially to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife.”  The profitable industry of ecotourism entices businesses to capitalize on natural resources by protecting and preserving them rather than consuming them.

 

Reminder – Tiddle Tum Auction ending tonight !

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We are selling ‘Tiddle Tum’ by emailed Bids starting on the 19th Feb Jan at 9am (UK time) and finishing on 26th Feb at 9pm (UK time). 
Bidders are requested to please submit their bids by email, all bids are confidential.
The highest current Bid will be shown on this auction page of the website:  https://irisgracepainting.com/auction/

To keep up to date with the current Bid please don’t forget to keep refreshing your page.

‘Tiddle Tum’ is dry mounted onto board.  The Painting is acrylic on watercolour paper, 55cm x 75cm.

There is an option to get the painting mounted and framed by our framers and then sent using a specialist courier company.
Bidders are responsible for the transport cost, the framing option and Insurance of the painting whilst in transit.

If you are affected by your timezone or slow internet connection, please submit your highest bid by email well before the end of the auction to avoid disappointment.

How to Bid: 
Email Arabella at irisgracepainting@yahoo.com
and please include all of the below:
  • Your Full Name:
  • Username/Nickname to be used with your bid as reference online:
  • Address:
  • Telephone number:
  • Your Bid:

Iris’s New Painting ‘Eyebrook’

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This week we have released Iris’s new painting called ‘Eyebrook’.   It’s named after Eyebrook reservoir which is somewhere that has been a favourite of Iris’s lately.

You can buy a print through her online shop here – Eyebrook Giclee Print

The Printer uses the very latest in art printing technology with fully calibrated photo-scanning, processing and printing equipment, they pay fastidious attention to colour balancing to ensure extremely accurate reproduction.  All of the profits raised from the sales of her prints go towards her ongoing therapies, education and some saved for her future.

Here are some detail images from the painting

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Artistic Spectrum

Exciting News Everyone, a selection of Iris’s paintings will be on show at the Artistic Spectrum Exhibition in London from 16th (Private View) & 17th- 26th Feb (open to the public) to find out more info email ecrawshaw@ambitiouscollege.org.uk

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