Monday, October 25, 2010

No such thing as late

One of the reasons I love doing courses with Shimelle is that there is zero pressure. It's up to me how much (or little) I do, and when I do it. So although Learn Something New Every Day is a class based in September, I don't get marked down for not finishing it until the end of October. (Actually, I don't get marked at all...remind me again why I do these classes if there isn't an A at the end of it?)

Towards the end of September I stopped making my pages every day, but I made notes of what I wanted to remember. Finally, over this weekend I managed to find time and energy to put those notes into my journal. Consider me finished.

lsned 15 sept

I wouldn't be so mean as to put all of my pages in this blog post. I know I think blogging with pictures is best, but I think two dozen images is enough to put anyone off!

lsned 16 sept

These are some of my favourite pages.

lsned 21 sept

Mostly because I like the way the page is arranged, but some of them are my favourites because of the lessons I learned that day. This one, for example. I have taken on responsibility for looking after my Gran's garden (yes, I said garden. Don't laugh.) Her garden is all pots, and in the summer I plant out annuals for glorious colour. This is the first year I've put in bulbs for some spring flowers. It's been a bit of a challenge trying to do it in between surgeries and treatments, and I will admit to having had (quite a lot of) help, but it's such a rewarding thing to do.

lsned 22 sept

In case you hadn't noticed, my family owns a craft shop. Some days when I am bored at home I go and sit behind the counter to keep them company. If I'm lucky I get to press buttons on the till.

lsned 25 sept

The story of my September has a very different ending than I imagined it would. My last appointment with my oncologist was on 30/09/10. I had thought I would be doing a page about the horrors of my last chemo session. Instead - welcome to the rest of my life!

lsned 30 sept

I am really pleased with how this has turned out. Just finishing it feels like such an achievement, but I think it's also an important record of my life for the future. It's easy to forget how hard this past year has been, but I think it's important to remember what I've been through so I can remind myself how much I've accomplished. And there have also been some really good moments, and I want to remember those too.

lsned completed

You can see the rest of my pages in my Flickr gallery.

Friday, October 22, 2010

It's all an illusion

Every so often I have a good moan about the things that annoy me.

First up: people who tell me I 'look well'. The problem with this is that I hear it, and underneath it I hear "so you can't possibly have been as ill as you say". I know that probably no-one means it like that. I know that actually, it doesn't matter what most people think because the people who matter know how ill I was. But seriously, it bugs the hell out of me. If I look well, it's probably down to the layers of makeup I'm wearing. Just say it's nice to see me, ok?

Secondly: people who assume that because I've finished treatment I'm all better now. Well. Obviously I am better than I was. I am not being sick, I am not having painful treatment, I am not recovering from major surgery. However. I am still tired most of the time. I am still weak and can't lift/carry heavy things. I have little energy and zero stamina. I still have to think about what I eat and how it will affect me. I am still dealing with things psychologically and it's more complicated than you will ever understand. So I am better than I was, but that's not the same as being completely well again.

Unfortunately, I seem to have become one of the second group myself. In my excitement about feeling better, I forgot that better is different from well. The panic that I used to feel before chemo: (I have to get everything done before I feel too ill to move) has gone into total overdrive:(I have cheated death and now I have to make the most of absolutely every minute). I feel like I should be going to every event, reading every book, visiting every person, experiencing everything as powerfully as possible. I am making endless lists for today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. When I found myself trying to draft a life plan for the next 20 years, I realised maybe it was time to STOP.

In four days, it's my 27th birthday. One week from that will be the first anniversary of my diagnosis. I think this is probably a good time to slow myself down and do a little bit of reflecting before I carry on. I don't need to panic. I don't need to rush into anything. After all, I've been given the best present of all: more time.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Double whammy

I swear, this wasn't designed to be a baking blog. Except that seems to be what I spend most of my time doing at the moment. That might account for the fact that none of my trousers fit me any more....thank goodness for elasticated leggings.

red(ish) velvet cupcakes

I read a lot of American blogs, and Red Velvet Cakes seem to be really popular state-side. It's not something I've ever seen over here, so I was dying to give them a try. It took a while to find a recipe, because American recipes use different measurements. Eventually I found this lovely website and got started.

I guess when you are experimenting, you have to be prepared for things to turn out differently from what you expected...although these were nice, there is definitely some room for improvement. They didn't really turn out red enough for my liking - must add more food colouring. And I had the same problem as a couple of commenters on the original blog - the cakes were much more dense than my usual cupcakes. These were 'ok', not 'great'. The smaller cupcakes were nicer as they had a better cake-to-frosting ratio. I will try them again at some point, if only just to try and make the corrections and get them 'perfect'.

lemon meringue cupcakes

Can you believe I've never made meringue before? Actually, after doing these lemon meringue cupcakes, I can see why: it's a faff. But worth it because they look quite pretty. Now I come to think of it, these cupcakes were quite dense as well, so maybe it was something in the air on Sunday. Again, these were 'good' but not 'perfect' so I'll have to try them again in the future to see if I can get them just right. I think (and Mum agrees with me) that a lemon & sugar syrup would be better to drizzle over them rather than the lemon juice. In case you fancy trying them yourselves...

Basic Cupcakes:
150g (5oz) butter, softened
150g (5oz) caster sugar
150g (5oz) self-raising flour
3 medium eggs
2 tablespoons milk
Finely zested rind of 1 lemon (I forgot this bit!)
Juice of 1 lemon
Lemon curd
12-hole cake tray, lined with paper cases

Set the oven to Gas Mark 5 or 190C.
Place all the ingredients in a bowl and beat until smooth. (You could use the creaming method but I don't always bother.)
Divide the mixture between the paper cases and bake in the centre of the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until they have risen and are just firm to the touch in the centre.
Remove cakes from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Brush the tops with lemon juice.

Meringue topping:
3 large egg whites
250g (8oz) caster sugar
Pinch of salt

Tip the egg whites into a bowl and add the sugar and salt. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until the sugar dissolves completely.
Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk the mixture (you'll need an electric mixer of some description, this takes FOREVER)until it bcomes a thick meringue.

Spread a little lemon curd over the top of each cake.
Fill a piping bag with the meringue mixture, and pipe spikes over the top of each cake.
Place the cakes on a baking tray and return to the oven for about 5-7 minutes, or until the meringue is just starting to turn golden. Remove the cakes from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

It was definitely hard work doing two lots of cakes at once, and I won't deny that it was a bit disappointing when they didn't turn out quite as perfect as I'd hoped. BUT - they were still good, and everyone enjoyed them. I think maybe the lesson in this one might be not to push myself so hard.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


When I actually studied art, Rene Magritte was always one of my favourites. Not the most fashionable surrealist, I liked his thought-provoking images. This one, Empire of Light, is not one of his most famous paintings, but I love it. I'm not sure how long I looked at it before I realised what was 'wrong' with it.

I used to have a copy of it on my bedroom door. It was the first thing I thought of when I took this photo yesterday:


Sunset over Newport and the sky looked like it was on fire. This photo is almost SOOC, but I will admit to bumping up the colours a little bit. Who could resist?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pretty pictures are the key


Sometimes I don't blog because I don't have anything to talk about. Sometimes I don't blog because there is altogther TOO MUCH to write. Blogging is not my therapy, I have a proper journal for that. I read a lot of other blogs, about all kinds of things, and I'm always amazed at people's level of sharing. Do I want to read about their trip to the supermarket? Probably not. Do I want to see pretty pictures of their latest craft project? Undoubtedly.

So, because I rarely read blog posts that are plain text, I sort of feel an obligation to make sure my posts always have a picture. And usually, my posts are about the picture which makes a whole lot more sense.

Which is the long and winding way of saying: I've been baking again, and these are whoopie pies. I'm always a late adopter (I still don't have an iPhone) and this is no exception - apparently the craze for these started at the beginning of the year? Still, it's never too late. It is if you wanted one of these, though - we ate them all. Sorry.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

This is probably going to make Mum cry

couldn't do it without YOU

Everyone wants their mum when they feel ill. There's nothing like it - someone who knows exactly how to look after you, who can find just the right thing to say, who can make you feel better with just a hug.

I am fortunate beyond words that I have had my mum beside me, right from the minute I was diagnosed. I have other people too - my family might be small but it's very supportive - but there is something particularly special about being looked after by mum.

Mum works harder than anyone else I know, and it's all for other people. She looks after me, and my gran, and the rest of the family, and she runs a retail business with all the commitments that entails. She can't ask for time off, or delegate her work to others. She doesn't broadcast her worries, she just gets on with it. I am so proud of her for what she does, and the way she does it.

Thanks Mum. I couldn't have done it without you.

Monday, October 04, 2010

I only bake when I'm in a good mood


This is not what I thought I'd be posting. But for once, it's in a good way.

Last week I went to hospital for my third chemo session. I had done all my usual preparations (which means staying up late, sorting out paperwork and tidying up) and mentally braced myself for it. I took my bag of things to do (chemo takes around 5 hours, and there's not a lot to keep you occupied otherwise) and Mum came with me as per usual.

I might have told you that my last session was awful? And I may have mentioned the depression, the sleeplessness, the sickness/nausea and the intense stomach pains? So you can imagine that I wasn't particularly looking forward to this. Neither was Mum - she has to look after me through it all. But we went along anyway, because that's what you do...the doctors tell you what they think should happen and you just go along with it. It's all very well saying it's my decision whether to continue or not, but who am I to argue with an oncologist? 11 months of cancer experience might make me an expert on ME but it doesn't mean I know what treatment I need.

My doctor had been very keen for me to have this post-op chemo as a preventative measure. So the very last thing I expected him to say was that he thought I could stop now. I think he could tell that I was slightly stunned, so he even made the decision for me. Because it made me so ill, more chemo would do more harm than good.

So that's it. Officially. No more active treatment for now. I still have to go for regular checkups, and I do have some more surgery to come. But I think this is where I start referring to cancer in the past tense: I had it, I don't have it any more.

It doesn't feel real, and I have a lot of mixed emotions that are too complicated to write about yet. I am not celebrating, because I have a long way to go. I am just keeping everything crossed and hoping as hard as I can that this means I can start to put my life back together. Starting with baking on Sunday afternoons.

The cupcakes above are from an issue of My Weekly that I rescued from Gran's recycling pile.