Thursday, 14 December 2017

Jessie's first Christmas

The build-up to Christmas 2017 has been even more exciting than usual because... *drum roll*... it's Jessie's first Christmas!

I was getting quite stressed (me? stressed? surely not) about not being able to put up any decorations in case she chewed them/ate them/ran off with them, but she's actually been very well behaved on the whole. We've agreed not to talk about the occasion when she grabbed Piglet off the tree and sprinted around the living room for a solid 90 seconds with him in her mouth.

We decided to go for a slim Christmas tree rather than our usual huge tree, and we thought it would be wise to place it on a coffee table rather than putting it on the floor at easy jumping height. Although I really miss our big tree, having a smaller tree does have its advantages... this tree is entirely filled with Disney decorations as we've now got enough of them to fill a small tree!

Of course, I just had to get a few personalised items to mark Jessie's first Christmas. A Christmas tree decoration and a stocking seemed like the obvious contenders, so I browsed Etsy for those specific items for an embarrassing length of time. I eventually bought the Christmas tree decoration from JayneTappDesign and the stocking from Little Stitches. We're also considering buying a doggy Christmas jumper, but we're not sure if Jessie will take kindly to that idea and we should probably take her feelings into account.

I think the main festive disappointment for poor Jessie has been that she's not allowed to play with any of these new exciting things that have suddenly been deposited around the living room. I was expecting her to be a nightmare with the stockings in particular as they're just hanging there so temptingly, but she's only gone for them a couple of times. However, she did come to the end of her tether when she wasn't even allowed to play with the box the Christmas tree came in. Enough is enough! 

We've bought quite a few Christmas gifts for Jessie already and I still want to buy a few more... I need to remember that other people will buy her presents too. In my defence, she does need some new toys as she's destroyed quite a few of her old favourites in recent weeks since she's discovered the full strength of her adult teeth. We just need to make sure that all boxes, wrapping paper and everyone else's gifts are kept well out of her reach!

I mostly can't wait to witness Jessie's excitement levels over Christmas. She gets excited about mundane things like frozen carrots and crunchy leaves, so her Christmas excitement will be off the scale. 

Have you got any more ideas on how we can celebrate Jessie's first Christmas? Let me know! 

Thursday, 7 December 2017

An ode to my festive pizza

I never thought I'd write a blog post about a pizza... this one really was that good.

I went to Bristol at the end of November to meet up with a few of my university friends. We did some Christmas shopping then went for lunch as soon as it was socially acceptable to do so. Food is one of our common interests as a group! 

We decided to go to Pizza Express as Amy had a few 2 for 1 vouchers, and we all love a bargain nearly as much as we love food. As soon as I glanced at the menu, the festive 'Maple-Glazed Gammon' Romana pizza caught my eye. 'How amazing does this pizza sound?' I exclaimed. I then realised that my excitement could only be shared with one member of the group as the other three are vegetarians and definitely wouldn't have fancied a maple-glazed gammon pizza. Fee and I didn't bother to look at the rest of the menu; the maple-glazed gammon pizza had to be ours! 


Honestly, this is one of the best pizzas I've ever had. The big chunks of maple-glazed gammon were really tasty with just the right level of crispiness, and the goat's cheese (the only ingredient I was unsure about) was a great addition. However, the lumps of spiced apricot chutney were the best thing about this pizza. The sweet yet spicy flavour provided the perfect balance for the saltiness of the gammon and goat's cheese, and I only wish there'd been more of it! The garlic oil and Gran Milano cheese finished it off beautifully, and I was genuinely gutted when I eventually finished eating. I love Pizza Express which means I always have high expectations, but they've really outdone themselves with this beauty. 

Although this pizza was quite expensive at £14.60, it was massive and well worth every penny. If only it wasn't classed as 'festive' so that I could order it all year round! 

So there you have it... an ode to my festive pizza. Will you be rushing to Pizza Express as soon as you can to try it out? 

Thursday, 30 November 2017

My Jo's Trust support group - a vital lifeline

When I received my cancer diagnosis last August, I was given a pack containing a booklet about the operation I'd need, a detailed Macmillan leaflet about cervical cancer, and a flyer advertising Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust support groups in my area.

Although I'd heavily relied on the Jo's Trust website and online forum in the weeks leading up to my diagnosis, the thoughts of joining a support group massively stressed me out. 'There's no way I'm ever going to a support group. Why would I want to sit around and talk about my diagnosis? I don't want to talk about it ever again!' Little did I know that, nine months later, that support group would be a huge source of strength for me.

I've already blogged about my downward spiral earlier this year which started around the time of my 31st birthday. When this slump set in, my husband suggested that I signed up for the Cardiff Jo's Trust support group as he knew how isolated I felt. I made some enquiries and there happened to be a meeting in a couple of days, so I reluctantly turned up for my first meeting at the end of June. I haven't missed a meeting since!

So why has this group been such a valuable support over the last few months?

1. It's shown me that I'm not alone 

For me, the most valuable thing about my support group is learning that I'm not the only one going through this ordeal. The group is living proof that several women in the Cardiff area alone have been affected by cervical cancer over the last few years. I previously felt as if I was the only woman in the world going through it, and certainly the only woman my age going through it. Then I went along to my first support group meeting and realised that I'm not alone. There are other people (many of them my age or younger) who truly understand the lifelong impact of this disease and who I can be completely honest with. I've made some good friends through this group, and many of us keep in touch between sessions which has been a huge support during my more difficult days and weeks.

2. It's shown me that everyone's battle with cancer is different 

Before going to my support group, I was very tunnel-visioned about my cancer and I honestly thought I was in a worse situation than everyone else who'd been through the same diagnosis as me. However, the group has really opened my eyes to the huge variety of circumstances people find themselves in following their diagnosis. It's also taught me that there's no such thing as a 'worse situation'. As a lady at my very first support group jokingly said, 'It's not top trumps!' Everyone's problems are the biggest problems in their world, regardless of what those problems are.

3. It's shown me that I can use my experience to help other people 

I didn't think I was anywhere near the point where I could start supporting other people on their own journey. I thought I was too wrapped up in my own issues to help someone else with theirs. However, I've learnt that I can use my experience to help other people who aren't as far along the journey as I am, or to offer a different perspective for those who are further along the journey. Even sending a quick message to a friend from the group to find out how they're getting on after a particularly bad week makes all the difference. So, much to my surprise, my support group has very much become a place where I feel I can support others as well as feeling supported myself.

4. It's shown me that support groups don't have to be all doom and gloom 

I put off attending a support group for months because I thought it would just be a load of people crying and talking about their problems. I didn't feel as if I needed the strain of listening to that on top of my own sadness. In reality, the group isn't like that at all. We all talk about our difficulties and frustrations, and sometimes there are tears, but we also make each other laugh. And, very often, we share the same difficulties and frustrations which lifts the burden somewhat. We even go for lunch after the support group has finished which is a great way to meet in a more informal setting and to get to know each other even better.

5. It's shown me that things do get better with time 

Every time I've been to a support group meeting (I've been to 4 so far), I've felt a little better. There are ladies in the group who were diagnosed three, four, or even five years ago and, although they still have their struggles every day, they do acknowledge that things get a little easier with time. It's given me hope that, although the impact of my cancer is life-changing and I'll never fully get over it, a time will come where it doesn't infiltrate my thoughts as much as it does now.

If you've been putting off going to a support group, whatever and wherever it may be, I hope this blog post has persuaded you to reconsider. Similarly, if you've never heard of support groups but would like to meet up with people in a similar situation to you, I'd advise you to carry out some research to see if there are any support groups in your area.

I promise that talking to people who are going through a similar ordeal will have a noticeable impact and will go some way towards reconciling that crushing and overwhelming feeling of isolation.

Thank you, Jo's Trust!

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Battle of the Christmas hot chocolates

I love November. Partly because it means Halloween is over for another year, and partly because it marks the point where Christmas begins to make an appearance EVERYWHERE.

I love Christmas nearly as much as I love hot chocolate, so I obviously get extremely excited when the seasonal hot chocolates hit coffee shop menus in November.

I've tried five Christmas hot chocolates so far this year so I thought I'd give my readers a bit of a run down. Shockingly, I'm yet to sample one of these hot chocolates in a novelty Christmas cup as I haven't ordered one to take away yet... this situation definitely needs to be rectified as soon as possible. My Instagram profile demands it.

Billionaire's Hot Chocolate - Costa

Although I absolutely loved the shortbread topping on this hot chocolate,  the drink itself was a bit too sweet even for me! Still, I've had two of them (the first had a much more generous topping than this one) so it can't be too bad... 

Black Forest Hot Chocolate - Costa

I really liked this one and will definitely be ordering more of these before they get discontinued. It tasted really good, and I was particularly excited about the glitzy purple flakes scattered on top. 

Lindt Hot Chocolate - Costa 

You might remember that the Lindt hot chocolate was only available in the 'Cortado' size last year which was pretty tiny, quite frankly. It's available as a regular-sized hot chocolate this year and, although it might look a bit 'no frills' compared to the others, it's very tasty and feels like a real treat. 

Roasted Hazelnut Hot Chocolate - Caffè Nero 

This is my favourite of the lot! Loads of flavour, oodles of thick chocolate-sprinkled cream, and not too sickly. I also like it that Caffè Nero offer exactly the same festive flavours for both their coffees and hot chocolates, unlike Costa and Starbucks who choose to segregate. 

Fudge Hot Chocolate - Starbucks 

I didn't take a picture of this one because the lighting is terrible in my local Starbucks (#firstworldproblems). Starbucks is usually my least favourite of these three chains, but I really enjoyed my fudge hot chocolate and thought it was a definite step up from last year's Christmas range. 

What's your favourite festive hot chocolate? 

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Five simple things I look forward to after a long day

It's been an insanely busy couple of weeks so it's a very quick blog post for today I'm afraid! As I'm so busy in work at the moment, I thought I'd write about five simple things I look forward to after a long day at the office.

1. Neighbours

I used to watch Neighours two or three times per day (yes, you read that correctly) when I was a student. However, when I started working full time after I graduated, I started missing the odd episode here and there and eventually stopped watching altogether. My love for Neighbours was re-ignited last October/November when I was off sick after my operation, and I consequently spent many hours on Wikipedia catching up on all the storylines from the last ten years. I now look forward to watching Neighbours on Catch Up every night when I get home!

2. Food 

'I had a big lunch so I won't be eating anything tonight.' I can promise you that I have NEVER uttered this sentence. I honestly daydream about my dinner for 75% of my commute home, whether I've had a big lunch or not.

3. A sugary snack 

Although this technically falls under the 'food' category, in my brain (and in my stomach) it has a compartment all to itself. At around 8pm, I like having a sugary snack such as an Options hot chocolate with marshmallows, a glass of milkshake, a yoghurt, or a sneaky chocolate from our Florida/Florence stash. In case you were wondering, the remaining 25% of my commute home is spent thinking about my 8pm sugary snack.

4. Bed!

My bed is my favourite place in the world. As soon as I wake up in the morning, I immediately think about what stands between me and getting back into bed that evening. I absolutely love the feeling of getting into bed after a long day, cwtching in to my duvet, and either reading my Kindle or spending some time on my Samsung Galaxy tab. I've also recently set myself a new 'I must not check my phone after I've turned the light off' rule to help me to get to sleep quicker, and it seems to be working really well so far.

5. Jessie 

I've saved the best until last. Before we had Jessie, I nearly always went to the gym after work then indulged in a bombardment of productivity for about two hours. Now, I drive home from work and go straight out for a walk with Neil and Jessie. I love the way she gets really excited when I come home and, although she might be a bit of a menace some evenings, she never fails to make me smile even on my worst days.

What are your simple pleasures after a long day?

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Florence: A visual summary

We went to Florence on holiday last week and I absolutely loved it.

Just like everywhere else we've been in Italy, it was beautiful in every way. Our hotel was perfect, the sights were spectacular and the food was amazing.

To save myself some time, I thought it would be a good idea to summarise our week in Florence (including our day in Pisa) using my favourite photographs rather than using actual words. However, this plan took a LOT longer than I thought it would due to the sheer volume of photos I took on my phone!

So, after a few hours of gazing longingly at my 'Florence 2017' photo album and trying to narrow it down, here's a visual summary of the main sights/attractions/views we enjoyed last week...

Piazza del Duomo 

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (or Il Duomo di Firenze)


View from Giotto's Campanile 

View from Piazzale Michelangelo 

Ponte Vecchio (and the view from it!)

Views alongside the Arno River

Uffizi Gallery Museum

Statue of David at Galleria Accademia 

Palazzo Pitti

Palazzo Vecchio 

Leaning Tower of Pisa 

Have you ever visited Florence? Let me know if you've published any blog posts about your trip as I'd love to read them. If you haven't visited, I'd highly recommend it! 

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Reminiscing about my last few posts...

I didn't have time to blog this week as I've been away on holiday, so I thought I'd cheat a little and use this week's regular slot to promote some of my recent content. I could have just had a week off but I've become really attached to this 'posting every Thursday' malarkey, as have my regular readers (hi, Mum).

Here are my last ten blog posts - feel free to re-read, read for the first time, or pretend to read!

My five favourite pampering rituals

Afternoon tea at Llanerch Vineyard 

Wizarding weekend in Watford 

Restaurant Review: Etc

Celebrating our third wedding anniversary 

My bow-tiful Mickey ears

Restaurant Review: Tony's 

Celebrating 20 years of Harry Potter 

We need to talk about mental health 

Disney Pandora has arrived in the UK! 

Look out for a brand new blog post next week.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Restaurant Review: Restaurant James Sommerin

Last Friday, I reached an important milestone in my recovery journey - all clear for a whole year. We always eat out somewhere nice after my three monthly appointments, but we decided we needed to go somewhere extra special on this occasion. It's been an incredibly tough year for both of us so I think it's fair to say that we deserved to treat ourselves.

After much deliberation, we took the plunge and booked dinner at the Michelin-starred Restaurant James Sommerin on Penarth Esplanade. If we can't treat ourselves to an extravagant meal for this level of occasion, when can we?!

In an extremely rare burst of optimism, I bought my dress for the occasion from New Look months ago.

When we arrived at the restaurant, we were shown to our table straight away. As we were visiting on a Friday evening, the tasting menu was the only option on the menu. A few people had already told us that we might as well go the whole hog and opt for the tasting menu if we did go there, so we were perfectly happy with that. We were presented with two options - the standard tasting menu or the surprise tasting menu. As there were a couple of items I didn't fancy on the standard menu, and just because it was a special occasion, we decided to go for the six-course surprise tasting menu with wine pairings. When I told the waiter that I don't like fish, he was very understanding and assured me that my menu would be planned accordingly. 

Before I get started on talking about the food, I should make a few things clear... firstly, I apologise for the terrible photo quality. The lighting wasn't very good in the restaurant (and I didn't think using the flash would be appropriate!) so my photos definitely don't do the food justice. Secondly, as I've admitted before, I'm a terrible food blogger. This means that any detailed descriptions below have either been taken from Google or just vaguely guessed at as I could never remember all those intricate ingredients myself. I also haven't gone into detail about the specific tastes and textures because I'm rubbish at doing that, quite frankly. All you need to know is that everything was amazing. 

We were served a few 'snippets' before the first of our six courses which were a pleasant surprise. These were made up of a wild garlic espuma with toasted seeds, cheese gougères, and tapioca crisps with taramasalata and hummus.

We were then shown a huge platter of different breads and asked which we wanted to try. I assumed we could only choose one but Neil chose two, so I went ahead and chose the same two - a caramelised onion wheel and a rosemary focaccia. The bread came with a dollop of unsalted butter and a seasalt and seaweed butter, served on a pebble from Penarth beach! 

Next up, it was time for our first starter and our first glass of wine. Although I was quite nervous about the prospect of drinking lots of red wine as I'm not usually a fan, I've since come to the conclusion that I must have only tried rubbish red wine in the past as I loved the varieties we had on Friday night. This course was a lovely concoction of wood pigeon, black pudding, raspberry and beetroot.

It was soon time for our next savoury course and our first glass of white wine. Neil was served trout for this course and I was given the vegetarian option as I'd asked for no fish. I can't find a detailed description of this course anywhere, but it was basically made up of mozzarella, basil, pine nuts and heritage carrots. I never thought I'd say this sentence, but they were the best carrots I've ever had in my life. 

We both had a vegetarian offering for the next savoury course - potato, garlic foam, mushroom shavings and an additional mushroom concoction (you might have guessed by now that I often use the word 'concoction' when I don't know what something is called). I don't like mushrooms so this was probably my least favourite dish, but that potato really was spectacular. 

It was time for our main course and I think this was my favourite dish of the night. I could have eaten it three times over! We had a beautifully cooked steak, shallots, roast parsnips, mushrooms, root vegetable puree and a red wine jus. It was absolutely spectacular and blended perfectly with the accompanying wine.

In the blink of an eye, we moved on to desserts. I was THRILLED to discover that there were two dessert courses, as you can imagine. The first one was the best dessert I've ever had (and I've eaten a lot of desserts). It was a deconstructed lemon tart with blueberries, shortbread, meringue and the most amazing lemon sorbet. And who doesn't love a bit of lemon-scented dry ice action? The accompanying wine was my favourite of the evening as it reminded me of the ice wine we sampled in Toronto. 

While I was still waxing lyrical about my first dessert course and the wine, out came the next one. The second dessert was a raspberry souffle with a quernell of violet ice cream, and it was absolutely exquisite. This was actually the biggest course of the evening and I struggled to finish it, but I was determined to finish every bite. It was too tasty and too expensive not to! 

We absolutely loved our experience at Restaurant James Sommerin and I wish we could eat there every weekend. All the staff members we spoke to were very attentive and every course, both food and wine, was described in great detail. We ate at our own pace and were there for a good three hours in total. 

Although it's not cheap and is by far the most expensive meal we've ever eaten together, it definitely lived up to our expectations and 100% deserves that Michelin star. 

Have you ever been to Restaurant James Sommerin? What did you think?

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Disney Pandora has arrived in the UK!

As of a couple of weeks ago, you can now buy Disney Pandora charms in the UK. I've raved about this collection previously but, rather shockingly, I'm not thrilled that the range is now available a few miles down the road. Why ever not, I hear you ask?

I really liked the fact that, previously, I could only buy the Disney charms in Walt Disney World. It made them exclusive and an extra special souvenir, and I used to look forward to choosing my new Disney charm whenever we went to Florida. Now that I can buy the charms at home whenever I want, along with every other Disney fan in the UK, buying them on holiday will no longer have the same appeal. On the plus side, I've noticed that some park exclusive charms will still be sold in Walt Disney World and nowhere else, so perhaps I'll just have to limit myself to those!

Linked to the last point, I was secretly glad that I could only buy Disney charms once per year as I only wanted one Disney themed bracelet rather than multiple ones. I also don't like it when my bracelets are too full, so there was a finite number of charms I could actually buy. Now, due to this new ease of access, I feel as if the temptation will be too great and I'll end up buying more Disney charms in place of charms from Pandora's standard ranges. I proved this last weekend when I bought this Mrs Potts charm! However, in my defence, this beautiful charm was on my list last time I was in Florida and it was out of stock everywhere, so it wasn't a completely out-of-the-blue purchase.

I'm quite disappointed that the Disney Pandora collection that's launched in the UK is entirely made up of charms. In select locations in Walt Disney World, you can also buy a wide array of rings, earrings and necklaces. I'd definitely be more excited about the launch of the collection in the UK if there was a greater variety of products available.

My bank balance 
And, last but not least, my bank balance is extremely unhappy that Disney charms are now available in the UK! They've previously been carefully budgeted for as they've been bought with holiday money, but it's a little different when they're available on my doorstep. Although I've promised myself that I won't buy any in the near future (after Mrs Potts, of course!), I have a feeling that I won't have the willpower to keep that promise for very long.

What do you think of the new Disney Pandora collection? Will you be rushing straight out to buy a couple of charms? Let me know! 

Thursday, 12 October 2017

We need to talk about mental health

I always thought I was someone who took mental health seriously and didn't belittle or stigmatise the potential impact of a mental illness.

Until it happened to me.

On 13th July, I blogged about how I was struggling emotionally after my cancer diagnosis and resulting hysterectomy last year. When I wrote that post, I was feeling lower than I ever had done before - yes, even lower than I'd felt immediately after the diagnosis and surgery. I was at breaking point. By the end of July, I'd been signed off work and my doctor had confirmed that I was suffering from 'extreme low mood' and needed some time out.

As well as feeling overwhelmingly low and exhausted all day and every day, I felt guilty. Guilty about being off work, guilty about worrying my friends and family, and guilty because I wasn't able to cope. Would I have felt guilty if I'd broken my ankle or had a violent migraine? I suspect not. Would I have constantly told myself 'you need to snap out of this' if I'd broken my ankle or had a violent migraine? Definitely not!

No one was making me feel guilty and no one was pressuring me to get better any quicker, so my guilt was entirely self inflicted because I was subconsciously ranking physical pain above mental pain. Lots of people even told me I was brave after reading my blog post, but I just thought 'Me? Brave? Surely I'm weak, not brave, because I'm not coping!'

I even felt a little guilty if I went out to see a friend or went into town to do some shopping. Shouldn't I be staying at home all day if I'm unwell? When, actually, I should have felt confident in the knowledge that I needed that time out of the house for my mental recovery (and also to give me a little break from Jessie once in a while). I should have stopped belittling the impact of my mental health problems and started to acknowledge the importance of doing what I needed to do to get through the day.

I decided back in July that I didn't want to go on medication, even though the doctor offered it as a potential solution. Although I'm still managing without medication, I do sometimes wonder if I'm making the right decision. After my operation last year, I'd have laughed heartily in your face if you'd have suggested that I shouldn't take any medication and should just grin and bear it and let the pain take its course. I was literally counting down the minutes until my next painkiller. So why is it that I feel as if I need to fight my mental battles on my own? Why is it that we're so ready to seek help for all our other body parts when they break down, but not our brains?

When people asked me how I was during those very low days, I tried to sugarcoat it and didn't go into any amount of detail. I only opened up to a small handful of people about what I was going through because I convinced myself it was 'too awkward' to talk about. When random people asked me if I had a day off because I was walking my puppy in the middle of the afternoon, I'd tell them I'd booked the week off as annual leave to avoid telling them the truth. However, if I'd have been off work with a broken ankle or a migraine, I wouldn't have hesitated to tell people. So I was actually contributing to that stigma I'd always criticised so strongly and, again, hiding and therefore belittling what I was going through.

For the last few weeks, I've genuinely been feeling much better. I'm back in work and life seems a lot more manageable on the whole. So of course, when people ask me how I am, I brightly say 'I'm fine thanks, I'm feeling much better!' However, perhaps it would be more useful for me and for everyone else if I said 'I'm feeling a lot better but still have low days now and again.' Just like that broken ankle or that migraine which takes time to heal and tends to linger for a little while, my mental health isn't completely 'better' yet and it'll most likely be a very long time before I get to that point.

I feel so frustrated and isolated when people feel uncomfortable about talking to me about my mental health and choose to act as if nothing has happened, which they wouldn't dream of doing if someone had that broken ankle or migraine I keep harping on about. But do I really have any right to be frustrated when I always put my breezy mask on, even on my lowest days, and don't give my mental health problems the standing they deserve? When I repeatedly shy away from telling people the truth about how I'm really feeling to avoid that 'awkward' conversation and their equally awkward response? I'm in a difficult position because people find my cancer experience hard enough to talk about, let alone the resulting emotional issues, but I need to learn to speak out and normalise these discussions. If I don't, then who will?

So when I say 'we need to talk about mental health', I wholeheartedly include myself in that statement first and foremost. I hope this blog post goes some way towards starting that conversation.

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