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My word for 2017!

So whilst most of the blogging world is over there in the grown up corner planning how you're going to get on in the new year I'm here having a small breakdown about the fact it's nearly 2017. In my brain when someone mentions the 90's I'm 100% sure was about 5 years ago, not half a lifetime ago, so it being 2017 kind of freaks me out! Although I did see a man in a Schott bomber jacket with a velcro logo on it the other day so it could be 1997 still. (Disclaimer - they looked chavvy then, they still do now!)

But one of the things I have been doing to come to terms with the new year is think about my word for 2017. Which might be futile because I realise we might not even make it to the end of January given the current political situation, but we have to think positive don't we!

Last year I chose the word 'Healthy' and lets just have a little chat about how well that one worked out. I mean I've definitely not lost any weight unless you count the lump I had chopped out and, well, #fuckyoucancer! Although, and this might seem a bit strange to say with everything going on, but my mental health is in a much better place than it was at the start of the year so I guess that's one thing I've achieved in relation to the word!

But as it's that time between Christmas and NYE it's the time to bust out my word for 2017. I've been thinking about it quite a bit. I thought maybe I ought to think about a word that's somehow related to my health again but the plan is that this will be a blip that's over by the summer. So, I turned my mind to thinking about what I want to do with the year and what I want to do is gather some new skills and expertise.

So, here is my word for 2017 - Learn
I've already signed up to a silversmithing course for the new year, and I've seen some Instagram friends in Sheffield throwing pottery with looks loads of fun, I've got reading lined up to teach me new skills for work, I've signed up to some free online courses. I'm going to spend 2017 discovering new skills and learning things. 

So what are you planning the achieve in 2017? What will your word be? 

Hair today, gone tomorrow?

I know I said when I got my diagnosis I wouldn't turn this space into a cancer blog but please, indulge me, I need to wallow, I need to vent, I need to rant. Because my hair has started falling out! 
Even with the cold cap and the Simple shampoo that leaves it frizzy and the wide toothed comb that means it never feels brushed and the once a week hair washes. Even with all the money I have lavished on it making it look beautiful in the past, and the cutting inches and inches off it to try and make it last, it's not playing ball! It's REALLY not playing ball! 

So, indulge me whilst I wallow in the injustice of the fact I'm losing my hair! 

I've been on hair watch since the day after my first chemo session. Even knowing that it wouldn't happen that fast I was on watch, keeping a close eye on the amount that came out with every comb, ever wash, on my pillow at night. I'd call Jim into the bathroom post shower and he'd tell me it was less than the normal amount I usually she'd. 

And then, last Sunday, the day before chemo session 2, it started. One innocent combing and at least triple the amount of hair as before came out. Maybe more. Not quite a handful, but a clump. A large clump. More than the amount that I was happy with, and it's only got worse!

I've tried to be all zen about it. I knew some would fall out, of course it would, I mean, there are all these crazy drugs running through my body, but it's gone too far now! I've turned to the ladies in the facebook group I'm in for reassurance. I've tried hair netting at night (it only tangled it more). I tried not brushing it as often  (that too was a bad plan).

But today's weekly hair wash however was the last straw in my ability to be ok with this. I could have made a new dog out of the amount of hair that just came from my head! Now with every brush I'm convinced there'll be none left by Christmas and my measly little ponytail is getting thinner and thinner. Which for the girl with the thickest hair in the world is a terrible thing to witness. I guess the only solace is there was an abnormal amount to begin with!

So now I'm in a place where I'm wondering how long I keep going before I bite the bullet and shave it? I told myself I'd try and keep it so if I shaved after session 3 is that me failing? Giving in too late? Do I buy wigs or just wear hats and scarves? How the he'll do I tie a head scarf? What if i have a weird shaped head? And if i buy wigs, do I buy turquoise ones or sensible ones? So many questions, so few answers until I decide what to do!

(Sorry about the terrible title. I've spent far too much time with my dad lately!)

Recipe: festive winter wonderland drip cake

I'm pretty light on Christmas do's this year what with trying to stay away from people in general at the mo because they are all sick and infected with illnesses I don't want, but on Friday night i had my Christmas get together with some of my favourite ladies. I've not baked anything in ages so i said I'd take a cake along and as traditional fruit cakes are revolting (and take about 6 weeks to make) I went with something I've been spying on Pinterest and Instagram for, well, forever - the drip cake. See, I eventually jump on bandwagons. I mean, I even bought some rose gold shoes in the summer! 

I mostly made it because I am a bit obsessed with making meringue kisses at the moment. They are so cute and so easy to do but look awesome and I saw so many cakes with them on on Pinterest I knew I had to do the same! 

But because I spent too much time on Pinterest looking at drippy cakes I also discovered watercolour frosting and well, not content with trying just one new thing I thought I'd try that too! I think what might have made it easier would have been having a proper cake edge scraper rather than a flat knife as it wasn't the smoothest icing in the world, but if I'm honest I thought most of it would be covered with ganache anyway! 

I wasn't going to blog it because it wasn't  pinterest perfect but I figured if I waited for my life to be pinterest perfect nothing would ever happen and I'd never write a blog post again - plus you know, I like to think the imperfections make it a bit more accessible. Right? Please say they do!  

Meringue Kisses
What you'll need; 
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 150g cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2  teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • food colouring for the stripes
  • piping bag 

What you need to do;
  1. Heat oven to 95 degrees C and line bake sheet with parchment paper. 
  2. Put the egg whites in mixing bowl. Make sure the bowl doesn't have any residue grease in it or the meringues won't work!) and whip until they form stiff peaks (I use a kitchenaid stand mixer with a balloon whisk on it)
  3. You know the eggs are done when you can hold the bowl upside down doesn't fall on your head.
  4. Slowly add in sugar, the vanilla and vinegar. Increase the speed of your mixer (I was at 7-8 at this stage) and whip until the mixture is glossy, and hold its peaks. You shouldn't be able to feel any sugar grit if you rub it between your fingers! 
  5. Turn a piping bag inside out and draw stripes of your food colouring on it. Then turn it the right way round, fit your piping bag tip and fill with the meringue mixture. 
  6. Pipe out little kisses until you fill the sheet. 
  7. Bake for about 90minutes until they peel away from the paper easily. They'll still be a bit chewy at this stage. cook for longer iof you don't want them chewy.  
  8. Leave to cool and store in an air tight container if not using immediately. 

3 Layer Cake 
What you'll need; 
  • 375g soft butter
  • 375g sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence 
  • 375g self-raising flour
  • 2-3 tbsp milk
  • Red food colouring

What you need to do;
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and grease and line three 7in cake tins with baking paper.
  2. Mix the butter and sugar together in a bowl until they are pale and fluffy. 
  3. Add in the eggs gradually and then mix in the vanilla essence. (If you want to make your own vanilla I have a recipe for it here!)  
  4. Gently beat in the flour (I went down to speed 1 on the mixer and still ended up with a mushroom cloud of flower everywhere) and pour in a little milk if you think it looks like it needs it. 
  5. Spoon out 5 tablespoons of cake mix into a small bowl and colour red it red. I used Wilton's 'Christmas Red' gel for all my red colouring needs!
  6. Divide the rest of the cake batter between the 3 cake tins and level out. 
  7. Spoon the red mixture equally into the 3 cake and use a tooth pick to swirl it through the cake (this way when you cut it open it'll be marbled red)
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  9. Leave to cool fully before decorating 
Buttercream Frosting 
What you'll need; 

  • upto 500g icing sugar
  • 225g soft butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla essence 
  • 3 tablespoons cream. 

What you need to do; 
  1. Put your soft butter to your mixer bowl and mix the butter on a low to medium speed (I use 5 on the kitchen aid) until it's smooth
  2. Add your icing sugar to the butter gently. (If you do it too fast you'll end up with another mushroom cloud of white and your kitchen will start to resemble a coke den!) Keep adding the icing sugar until it's all mixed in.
  3. Add the vanilla essence and mix until well combined. 
  4. Slowly pour the cream into the frosting until you're happy with the consistancy. More cream = softer frosting. Obvz! 
  5. Half the frosting now - half for filling the cake. Half for covering. Take a couple of spoons of the covering frosting and add to a smaller bowl and mix with food colouring of your choice if you want to try watercolouring. 

For the Ganache
What you'll need; 
  • 200g white chocolate
  • 100ml cream
  • Red food colouring 

What you need to do; 
  1. Heat the cream in a jug in the microwave or in a small pan on the hob
  2. When it's hot but not boiling mix in the white chocolate and stir until it's all melted. 
  3. Add your food colouring - be careful with some colours though as white chocolate isn't exactly white so might make some colours look strange! 

How to assemble your cake; 

  1. Place your cake on your cake board/cake stand and secure with a little frosting. 
  2. Fill and stack the cake with your filling frosting. 
  3. Cover your cake with the remaining frosting and smooth out as much as you can. 
  4. Once you are nearly done smoothing out the cake, randomly swipe on the coloured frosting, red in my case. Work round the cake, smoothing out the coloured frosting and integrating the coloured frosting in to the white, but not blending it in fully. 
  5. Put the cake in the fridge and make your ganache. The ganache dripping works better if the cake is cold as it stops the drips from melting the frosting or running too much! The ganache also wants to be about room temperature rather than being too hot! 
  6. Drip the ganache round the top edge of the cake with a small spoon - slowly. Doing it slowly and with a spoon allows you to control down much of a drip you get, you can always add more if you want longer drips. 
  7. Spoon the rest of the ganache into the middle of the cake and smooth it out. If the ganache isn't smoothing because it's cooled, head the back of a spoon and use that to help melt it. 
  8. Decorate with your meringue kisses, festive sprinkles, candy canes, snow like glitter. The works! Go mad! Do. 

Tell me, do we think it's festive enough? 

A look back on November and some goals for December

November was pretty quiet round here and I'm sorry about that. I had plans to write all sorts of posts during my time off after chemo but in reality, when it might have been possible to write, I found myself staring into space thinking about nothing. Really productive I know. 

But November wasn't all about the chemo. It's kind of felt like it has lately but its hasn't been. It started with a bit of IVF egg harvesting (such a gross phrase and I will get round to telling you about that at some point), there was some Christmas decoration making with the WI, lots of fun puppy walks, one sick puppy after he ate a mobile phone, a lovely evening with old friends in Harrogate, an awesome trip to Manchester with Toni, a fun overnight trip back to my old party home town of Leeds with Jim to see Brian Fallon. There were dinners with friends and cronuts and grilled cheese and french toast (not all at once you understand)

Now, onto December! 
We're having a bad Christmas jumper photoshoot with Flash and Melle and their people puppy cousin, Daniel, in a few weeks so new festive jumpers seem to be in order. 
I've inexplicably got myself 3 puppy swap packages to post out - 1 to Australia, 1 to Canada and 1 to the UK and then I'm taking part in Janet's Thrifty swap too. I love swaps, but the postal times are bothering me. 
We're hosting a festive wine and cheese evening over Christmas but I've spent too much time on Pinterest and now I have dreams of grandeur. 
I had plans for a Christmas diy gift and then I went and did a dry run and it was a disaster. A huge disaster. And a bit costly. So I have abandoned that plan and I'm diy-ing something little instead. 
I've got one treatment this month and I'm refusing to let it interfere with my plans for the month! That's the best way I can think to handle this whole thing! 
With the dark nights finding fun weekend spots to walk the dogs is important because they love going on adventures and I love taking them on them!
With our ever increasing bar, it seems like we ought to have a festive house cocktail to enjoy this Christmas - have you got any suggestions? 

And obviously I'll be christmassy-fying the house but that goes without saying! Right? And now tell me what are your plans for this wonderful festive month?

And we're off. Chemo no. 1 has started!

I started my first chemo session on Monday and I think we can say the steroid induced insomnia has well and truly kicked in as I've been awake since 3 these last couple of night. Thank God I'm only on them for 3 days and there are puppies to cuddle and instagram to scroll through whilst I'm awake!

So now I'm facing the aftermath of the drugs. On Monday night I started experiencing what I can only liken to the worst hangover you or I have ever had and it's not gone away yet (and I have had a crap load of shot induced poor decision hangovers!) You know those nights when you forget the 3 shot rule exists for a reason and end up drinking a bottle of some cheap ass tequila that someone brought back from a Mexican holiday. That sort of hangover. I got the remnants of the sort of night out I had 10 years ago without any of the fun or the good stories of falling down and making a fool of myself to tell from it. I've also got an attractive red face from one of the things I've take in the last 72 hours - I could not tell you which one though.
So the actual chemo session was pretty boring, kind of an anti climax after all the waiting for it. The day consisted of a lot of sitting about whilst my oncologist came to see me (it's been awhile since we last chatted due to the prolonged ivf. More on that another time) more waiting for my bloods to come back and my chemo drugs to be sent up, then more waiting for anti sickness and steroids to kick in whilst they put the cannula in my hand. The up side to having gone through Bupa with work is that I get a private room to do this all in.
Then came the cold cap. I'm not sure if you'll be familiar with the cold cap but it's a -25 degree riding helmet looking thing that you wear to trick the chemo drugs into missing your hair whilst they hit your body. I decided from the start I'd try it. We've no idea if it'll work but I might as well give it a go. And I'm giving it the full go. I've bought the Simple shampoo I'm told I can use, the wide tooth comb brush I'm to only use every few days and a silk pillowcase is on the way. I might as well try. I've also got some serum on the way to try and protect my eyelashes and eyebrows because there is no drawing those things back on with my make-up abilities.

Anyway, the cold cap is on for maybe half an hr before treatment and the same after. It wasn't as bad as I expected to be totally truthful, but it was still bloody cold! And now I just have to wait and see if it's worked, although the rate my hair sheds as it is, I might not actually notice if it starts falling out slowly.......

Then comes the hard stuff. The chemo course I'm on is called EC90. Which means I get a dose of 2 different drugs each time I go in. The E stands for Epirubicin and the C for cyclophosphamide. The Epirubicin is a red drug that has to be pushed into my veins by my oncology nurse to make sure it didn't spread from the veins, and by my nurses account this is the drug that can cause the big issues like hair loss and the tiredness. It also makes your wee red which is a nice little side effect. The cyclophosphamide is given through a drip in to my hand after the Epirubicin has gone down.
And then, after the drugs had done their thing, and the cold cap was removed, I was sent home with a huge bag of medicine to see me through the next few weeks. And yesterday I headed back in to the hospital for an injection to make my white blood cells reproduce quicker, which should stop me getting fluey, from the low blood cell count. But because it's making your bone marrow work harder, it can make you achy and tired. It's just a barrel of laughs isn't it.

But we've started. There's no going back now. There are now only 5 more chemo sessions to do and 5 is so much more doable than 6 isn't it. Plus now I know the immediate side effects I'll be far more prepared! I might just go in drunk so my next hangover is justified!

Recent Reads this Autumn

It’s been a while since I’ve done a post about what books I’ve had my nose in, but I think it’s about time to write up some of my recent reads. This started as a bit of a mammoth post with 8 books in it, but it was so long I've split it up for you, (and taken out a couple, that as I wrote about them, I realised I'd really not liked!). I don't want anyone falling asleep during it!

I read this book in one sitting whilst having a bout of insomnia. I started reading as something to help me go back to sleep, but that was a mistake. I couldn’t stop reading.
The book follows two sisters from the beginning of world war II through to the end, showing us how their lives change and showing us the impact that women had on the war effort in France. The book is based on the true stories of women during the war, but this isn’t a ‘true’ story.  

As the book starts, one sister, Vianne, is in her late 20’s, living a happy life with her husband and daughter, she is a schoolteacher in rural France. The other, Isabelle, is in her late teens, being thrown out of yet another boarding school and running back to their absent father in Paris. As the war escalates, Vianne’s husband is conscripted and Paris is under attack so Isabelle, against her wishes, is sent to live with her sister. On her journey to her Vianne’s  she meets a young convict, Gaetan, who over the course of their journey starts to shape her future for the rest of the war! Vianne on the other hand is coping with the fact her home has been commandeered by a German officer, and she is increasingly becoming alarmed by the lack of food available and the increasing antisemitism, as her best friend is Jewish.   

The Nightingale follows the way that the war affects both women. From Vianne’s journey where protecting her daughter is the her top priority to Isabelle, where helping the war effort, and making a difference is her top priority.
I know the book isn’t 100% factually correct, but it’s a novel, not a history book. It had me gripped. I couldn’t put it down because all I wanted to do was find out what had happened to the sisters. And oh my, the ending, it had me in tears. But that might have been the hormones I have been pumping in my body recently
I think this was a 99p kindle download, which of late has been pretty hit or miss (hence the removal of a few books from this post when I started thinking about them) but it's one of the ones I enjoyed. It's the first in a series so I'm sure there will be more of them banded about!

The story is set in the Scandinavian Archipelago islands, predominately, Sandhamn, and feature police detective Thomas, who grew up in the area, and his childhood friend, Nora, who is on the island for the summer with her family

Thomas is sent to Sandhamn to investigate the discovery of a body washed up on shore, in a fishing net. The body is ID'd as Krister, a man who has been missing for a few months and afetr a short investigation, the death is thought to be an accident. Until the cousin of the Krister is also found dead on the island under very different circumstances. Neither of the dead seem to have any connection to the island, so the mystery is to figure out why they have both died there
I really liked how the book drew me into the island - it sounds like the sort of place I'd like to hang out (lots of sailing, cute houses and beaches - who wouldn't) and I really liked the two main characters, Thomas and Nora, even if it is SO obvious that these two will be getting together at some point. I 'll be honest, I had an inkling about who the murderer was pretty early on, but still it was interesting to read and to see how the investigation unfolded and brought in more characters!

I 100% bought this book because of the cover. I knew it was a thriller type book from the amazon offer email it came through on, but if i hadn't I'd have expected some sort of trashy beach story (which I love)! 

In real life the story is about Paul, a writer, who had written a less than best selling book in his 20's and has been dining out in it's (lack of success) since. He is a liar, a chancer and a thoroughly unpleasant man, who when we meet him, is living rent free, house sitting for a friend, and moving from one young woman to the next. By chance, he bumps into an old uni class mate who invites him to dinner. Thinking he might be able to get something from the dinner, he accepts and ends up meeting Alice. 

After some months of playing Alice, Paul is invited to spend time with her, and her friends from the dinner, at her villa in Greece. It turns out the villa is located in a town that Paul had already been to, and had met this group of people at before, but he was too drunk to remember. It's also the town that at the same time they were all there 10 years before the 13-year-old daughter of a friend of Alice went missing on the island, a mystery that has never been solved. As the hot summer unfolds, Paul's lies begin to catch up with him and, as more crimes are committed on the island, he is shocked to find that the police have him in their sights.  

The Back Road
The Back Road is set in a small English village, Little Melham, and follows the lives of some of the villagers after a teenage girl, Abbie, is left for dead in a hit and run accident.
The main characters we see are Ellie, an intensive care nurse, who cares for Abbie. Ellie lives with her husband and twin children in their fancy house, which was her childhood home that has been remodelled with inheritance from her mother’s death. And then we have her half sister, Leo. Leo is a life coach, who hasn’t been back to her childhood home in years after she was treated badly by her step mum. But all is not great when we meet Ellie and Leo. Ellie is trying to deal with the unwanted attention from a stalker, and she is worried that her husband might be having an affair, so with this in mind, she is happy to have Leo there to distract her. 

As Leo arrives, the night after Abbie’s hit and run, Ellie and Max are preparing to throw a dinner party for their friends. Many of whom were out in their cars, driving the ‘back road’ when they should have all be elsewhere, and all these people have secrets to hide. One of the dinner party guests is Tom, a former detective (I have since read that there is a series of books about him) who has moved to the village for some peace and quiet. As the book goes on, and he is drawn into the story and begins to believe that there is more to the hit and run than it being a tragic accident! 

I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with this book. I really liked the story, and I loved the twists that it threw in, and I did really enjoy some of the characters, but I also thought that some of them made such dumb choices in life, if they were my friends in real life I’d have stabbed them in the eyes with a fork. Which made it hard for me to really love the book!

What have you been reading recently? What should I be picking up? I'm going to have some reading time on my hands soon, so hit me up with your suggestions! Please! 

A look back on October and my November goals

October was a month of some serious waiting, a lot of sleep deprivation and a lot of autumning too. We found ourselves at another beer festival, this time Indy Man in Manchester for Jim's sisters birthday (Hello Jane) which was a wonderfully beery affair. I attended my first WI meeting in 3 years as not the president which was strange but also a lot of fun. We took lots of woodland walks with the pooches. I learnt acorns are poisonous o dogs so spent a fretful night watching Melle to see just how many he’d eaten!  Jim went to India so I had a few weeks of fending for myself. I saw friends for cocktails and brunch and chats about their exciting business plans. I also surrendered my broken dslr to be fixed so survived a month on just phone photos. Not a bad month really!

Now, on to November!

We have some fun plans with friends lined up, places to visit, people to see, and I intend to make the most of all the plans. I've started with my festive gifts for this year, they're not anything big or fancy but I'm excited by them, and making gifts is always fun isn't it. One of the things we've done for quite a few years is a calendar of Flash and now, with Melle in the mix it should be doubly fun! We have been working on the hallway for ages and ages. We had a man planned to come fit an internal door to is AGES ago but he flaked on us so we’ve sort of been in limbo until now. BUT the doorway goes in next week. Then we can paint, and decorate. And plan shoe storage! And the beanies thing. It’s winter. I adore them. It speaks for itself that I ought to be buying them all, doesn’t it?

Now, tell me, what are your plans for the month?