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Travel: 3 Days in Philadelphia

Not going to lie, I fell hard for Philly. And it totally surprised me. I hadn't expected to like the place so much! 

It didn't hurt that we totally lucked out on the neighbourhood we stayed - I mean the actual airbnb wasn't that fancy and was hotter than hell in the sweltering heat we encountered - but the neighbourhood was awesome. It might have also been the sign I saw on our first afternoon telling drivers to go 'Care Philly'!

We stayed in Washington Square West. Which just seemed to be the coolest place, I mean look at the way the rubbish bins are decorated! It felt quiet and residential but still it was so close to the centre of all the action! It was all old row houses with flags and cool shops, and whole foods, and bars and restaurants. And the Magic Garden. But more about that later. 
First up, getting there! The drive from Washington to Philadelphia was only a couple of hours and so we decided to detour for some lunch as we couldn't check in to our Airbnb until late. And this is how we found ourselves in Havre De Grace after following a sign for a historic lighthouse. 

Havre De Grace turned out to be little town that prided itself on the fact it had fought to keep out the British in 1813 and has a lighthouse dwarfed by a tree. Now I love a good lighthouse, hell, I even made Jim do a tour of them last year, but this wasn't quite what we expected from something called out on a motorway sign. But we did have a lovely wander round Havre De Grace's waterfront, we saw the Chesapeake bay, we learnt about the plundering Brits who ransacked the town and we drank some spectacular homemade lemonade! 
Now Back to Philly. As I said we found ourselves in a fab neighbourhood full of stuff to do, but it was also walking distance to the centre of Philly and everything we wanted to see there. 

Our first night, because I was pretty much a light weight on the going out all holiday was pretty casual. We popped for some delicious mexican food and a few local beers and a little wander round the neighbourhood. And some binge watching of Always Sunny. When in Philly and all that! 
We happened to arrived at the start of a heatwave that would see mid 30 degree temperatures for our few days there, and turned out our Airbnb didn't have any aircon and the bed was a loft bed, which, combined with the post chemo hot flushes, meant I was having a barrel of laughs trying to sleep. It also meant I was over heating at almost every turn. I might have used this as an excuse to eat ice cream. I don't regret anything. Just check out the ice cream shop we found literally 2 mins from our apartment! 
Our first full day in Philadelphia was all about sight seeing. And walking. I don't think I've ever done as much walking as I did in Philly. Thank god for trainers! I've probably not attacked Jim with suncream like I did either (I took to spraying him with it randomly as he walked!) Or complained. I think I reach peak complaining this week too!

We left our apartment late morning (after having to buy a whole new cereal choice - Lucky Charms, obvz - as the Whole Foods one we initally picked up tasted like cardboard!) and headed to find us some attractions. And some aircon. Thank god for air conditioned shops! 
We watched crazy people run, jump and push up their way up the Rocky steps. Yes, I did say push up. Freaks. We saw the statue too, we saw the city hall, flag lined streets, and walked past countless amazing old buildings smushed amongst the new ones. We ate philly cheese steak in Reading Terminal - touring food markets is a . We had happy hour cocktails and appies, and a night sampling beers followed by deli sandwiches (I say night in the loosest sense of the word - I think I was in bed for 10)
Our second full day in Philly saw more heat, more walking, more sightseeing and a visit to the amazing Magic Garden.  Oh, and I hit up Bath and Body Works - importantly. I was going to post the photos from the Magic Garden here but there are too many to include in this already photo heavy post so I shared them in a post of their own last week. Here's just one of the mosaic walls that we stumbled across down an alleyway.  
We headed from the Magic Garden towards the Liberty Bell, but it was 34 degrees and I'm not sure queuing for an hour to see a broken bell in that heat would have been the best plan for me so we headed further on to Old Philadelphia for some more sightseeing and some lunch. I ought to tell you that we walked a good half an hour in the wrong direction, in 34 degree heat, looking for something that probably didn't exist (but I won't go into the melt down, quite literally, I had during a hot flush where I thought I might die)
After lunch of a shared grilled cheese sandwich and pretty awesome salad in a cute little cafe and an utter failed attempt at some shopping, we wandered back through the rows of beautiful old houses, and past the dog park, obvz, to our Airbnb for a rest before we headed back out for a night drinking beer in the suburbs. 
I'm going to do a whole post about our Beer Tourism on this trip because there were some fun breweries and beers sampled but we caught the train out of Philly to Ardmore and Tired Hands Brewery. We messed up a bit and went on a Thursday not realising that beer can buying day was a Wednesday - but none the less we still managed to enjoy our trip. Plus we got a pretty epic cheese plate - the honey dip was amazing! 
Full disclosure we headed back through Ardmore on our way out of Philly to Amish Country to grab a growler of one of our fave tipples (and to swap one of our boring growlers for one of their fun ones!)

So, there was our 3 days in Philadelphia. Once again, like always, 3 days wasn't enough to discover the city, and I am sure there would be so much more we could have done, but we had a great time! 
Travel Info – where we stayed, how we got about, that sort of stuff;
Accommodation - We stayed in this Airbnb. I wouldn't recommend as it was a bit basic and the neighbours were super noisy, but the neighbourhood is fab and it's easy to walk into the city centre or the old town. Plus there are lots of bars and restaurants near by.  There is a metro station really close by, but we didn't use it. 
Getting there - We drove in and found some free street parking about a 5minute walk away, but there didn't seem to be much on street parking. 
Getting about - We walked A LOT. Everywhere in the city centre seemed accessible by foot so we didn't bother with public transport, apart from getting the train to Ardmore for beer! 

Let's talk about that time I had IVF shall we?

Whilst half of Instagram and twitter won’t stop with the baby updates I want to come at you with a post all about IVF. Which seems fitting in a week when it's been suggested that the NHS stops offering IVF

I’ve been sitting on this post for the longest time because it’s a bit of a weird one I guess – it's been a draft of one sort or another since last September. I'm not 100% sure why. Maybe it was because there's something strange about admitting you've had IVF but you're not having a baby. Maybe it's because it’s that bit more personal than talking about chemo and cancer cells. Maybe it's because it didn't work the first time round and I felt like I’d failed. Maybe it's because I don't need a bunch of mums telling me how ‘hashtag blessed’ they are, because mums always do that when you mention anything to do with this! 

Whatever it is that has held me back, this post has been sat in my drafts for too long. Taunting me to publish the ramblings I started so long ago. And in the interests of being as open and honest about everything that went with the year of cancer treatment, and because it SHOULD be something available to young people facing cancer, here goes. 

Last autumn, before chemo started, I went through the beginnings of two lots of IVF treatment. I was still new to this cancer thing and I wasn’t openly telling everyone about the treatment - IVF, Chemo, Cancer were all words that felt taboo - but those who did know, would ask me why I needed it. I think it surprised people to know that having chemo can affect your fertility. 

I’ll be honest; it’s not something I’ve ever considered having to think about. But now, post chemo, there’s the chance that my ability to have kids ‘the natural way’ might have disappeared. I mean, it might not have, it might turn out that I am unaffected by the chemo in the long run, but the drug, Tamoxifen, that I'm now on for 5 years, blocks oestrogen in the body and can affect fertility too, so there is a big chance that it might mean that I lose the option. And when something isn't an option any more you tend to think about it slightly more seriously.

There is no point me going into all the complexities of the actual IVF here, I am confident there will be a good couple of thousand blogs dedicated to it that can tell you more than I can, but I am going to tell you about what happened with me, the fun of injecting yourself for both short protocol and long protocol IVF. Because I can, because we did them both! 

For a couple of months late last year my life was consumed with thinking about the daily hormone injections I was taking, and follicles, and whether eggs will grow in said follicles, early morning hospital trips for intrusive scans, folic acid, chicken eating and pineapples, drinking pomegranate juice and other things I was told would be good for me. All the things that I never thought that I’d be having to think about. Let alone think about the twice because the first time hasn’t quite gone to plan.

First things first - if you’re having IVF you’re going to have to get ok with the injections and doing them at home – which, I’ll be honest, is only going to help you later on when you’re giving yourself the post chemo bloodcell boosts so embrace it! The needles are super thin, but I won’t lie and say they didn’t hurt a bit. At the start of round one I was numbing my tummy before injecting myself, by the end of round two I was so bored with the whole deal that I was just jabbing myself and moving on. Well, moving on to moaning about it. (Yes, I was injecting myself. 1. The first lot were done in the mornings and Jim is not a morning person and 2. he’s so not coming at me with needles, he’d enjoy it too much!)
The first round of IVF we did was the Long protocol type. It meant morning injections every day for 10days to stimulate follicle and egg production, a panic over whether we were going to make it to Amsterdam for the weekend (yes you can fly with the needles and drugs!) and a sober trip to a beer festival. Despite me following the instructions to the letter, I started this course right off the back of me coming off the pill, so unfortunately it didn’t have a very successful outcome and we only got 1 egg (and embryo) from it, not the 8 or so the drs had anticipated at the start. Which is kind of a heart breaking situation to be in. Even if you’re not planning on having kids because the likelyhood of that 1 embryo defrosting and working is not great! It left us with a decision to make. Go straight into chemo and hope for the best afterwards, or delay chemo and have another go at IVF. 

We chose to do the latter (with the approval of my oncologist obviously) but it didn’t come without its complications. In Sheffield you’re only granted 1 cycle of IVF on the NHS and because we had 1 egg, they classed it as a successful round, which meant if we wanted to have another go we’d have to pay over £4,000 for it (plus storage fees because they will not let you keep your eggs in your freezer!). If we’d been having treatment in Rotherham, Barnsley, Leeds or Manchester I’m told you get 2 or 3 rounds on the NHS, but in Sheffield, just the one.  

For the second round we were given the Short protocol treatment, which I was lead to believe was more likely to produce more eggs because I’d not ‘responded the way they thought I would’ to the last go. It was a different combo of drugs, resulting in more needles, but ultimately, a better outcome, so I sucked up the stabbing of myself. The problem with this round was it was night time injections, which meant I’d be all tucked up in bed and remember I’d not shot up, then I’d have to get up and do it. There is nothing more annoying. Trust me. Luckily, as we’d paid a small fortune for it we got 8 eggs that resulted in 7 embryos this time. 

But now we’re in the strange position to have those embryos in a freezer at the hospital, not knowing if we’ll need (or want) to use them. For now the decision is out of our hands, there’s nothing we can do with them for at least 2 years, the Tamoxifen I'm on sees to that, but I can only imagine that the invisible weight of them in a few years’ time is going to start creeping in. I’m 36. I’m on the Tamoxifen for a few years yet, which, let’s be honest, makes me old. It makes me wonder why we worried so much. But when you are faced with the possibility of not being able to do something you act, just in case. (And, yes, yes, I know that I'm lucky because some women aren't offered the option as their cancer is too advanced! It's a funny old world where I have to caveat everything about having cancer with I'm lucky but...... )

It’s just another lasting legacy of the bloody cancer and one that won’t be going away any time soon! 

Travel: Philadelphia's Mosaicked Magic Gardens

I took so many photos in and around the Magic Garden in Philadelphia that I felt it needed it's own post and it seemed appropriate to pop it live now, whilst I'm working on the actual Philly trip post. 

This shiny mosaic world was something else entirely. Something bizarre and wonderful and inspiring. From the minute we spotted our first piece in an alleyway, I was captivated by the beauty of the multicoloured walls adorning the neighbourhood.  

After a few hours of seeing the beautiful walls around us I started googling the mosaic walls in Philly to be told they were the work of artist Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Garden. I also learnt there was a whole space dedicated to his work, just round the corner from our apartment.
The Magic Garden is a continuation of the work that Zagar started in the 1960’s on the walls of ‘South Street’. These are the mosaics that we were spotting, and in 1994, I’m guessing after running out of wall space, Zagar started to create the Magic Garden on a vacant lot near his house using the objects he was finding around him. But in 2002, when the people who owned the land tried to sell it and wanted to tear down the garden the community raised the funds to buy the space and turn it into a museum of his work. 

Spanning half a block, the museum includes an immersive outdoor art installation and indoor galleries. Zagar created the space using nontraditional materials such as folk art statues, found objects, bicycle wheels, colorful glass bottles, hand-made tiles, and thousands of glittering mirrors. The site is enveloped in visual anecdotes and personal narratives that refer to Zagar’s life, family, and community, as well as references from the wider world such as influential art history figures and other visionary artists and environments.
We were lucky enough to pop in on a day when Zagar was there doing a talk, so we did hear him chat for a few minutes about his work and his artistic inspiration. But mostly we just wandered round the majestic shiny lot that he’d created!

I just love how he's managed to turn junk he's found on the streets - bottles, tyres, pottery, mirrors, pipes and knickknacks into something so glistening and colourful! 
And just look at the beautiful walls we found out in the wilds of the South Street and surrounding neighbourhoods. There were mosaics on shop fronts and school sides, and houses and garages and down alleyways and by the side of road. 
Finding random hidden gems like this might be one of my favourite things about our holidays.
Doesn't it just make you want to go out and mosaic EVERYTHING?