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.

Image credit: 

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Celebrating 20 years of Harry Potter

I know, I know, I'm a bit late to the party with this... I got tagged in a post on Danielle's blog a few months ago to celebrate Harry Potter's 20th anniversary and I thought it was about time I featured the post on my blog with my own answers. As I love Harry Potter and I love answering random questions, this kind of tag is dream blogging content for me. (Take note, anyone and everyone who wants to tag me in similar posts from now on.)

Universal Islands of Adventure, Florida, September 2013

1. How did you discover Harry Potter? Did you read the books first or watch the movies?I spent a few years insisting that I wasn't interested in reading the books or watching the films because they were 'too popular'. However, I then ended up seeing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban twice with different groups of friends in the cinema and decided I couldn't ignore the books any longer (mostly because I didn't know what on earth was going on half the time but really wanted to find out). So I saw the first three films before reading the books, but read the last four books before seeing the final five films. I actually now really wish I'd read all the books first before seeing any of the films... serves me right for being a book snob!

2. Let's be honest, the Hogwarts uniform is looking a bit drab. How would you customise your uniform to show off your individuality?
I like the Hogwarts uniform! I'd add some subtle blue accessories perhaps, just to make it REALLY obvious that I'm a Ravenclaw, but I wouldn't change anything else.

3. Who would your ultimate Hogwarts Friends Gang be?
Ron, Luna, Neville and Cedric.

Universal Islands of Adventure, Florida, September 2013

4. If you were a teacher at Hogwarts, what class would you teach?
Probably History of Magic... I think it's one of the only subjects I'd be any good at. I'd love to be as clever as Hermione but I'm definitely not on her level unfortunately, even though I'm a Ravenclaw!

5. If you could have any creature from the Harry Potter universe as a pet, what pet would you choose?
An owl, specifically Hedwig. Which is a strange choice for me, seeing as I don't like birds... I'll always make an exception for Hedwig.

6. You're Captain of the Quidditch Team, what would you name your team?
Me, captain of a sports team? What a hilarious image. I think I'd call the team 'Ravenclaw's Sage Speedsters', which doesn't sound the least bit threatening or competitive.

The Making of Harry Potter studio in Watford, August 2017

7. What magical treat have you always wanted to try?
I've always wanted to try Fizzing Whizzbees and Chocolate Frogs. There's not much I'd say no to from that Hogwarts Express trolley!

8. If you could invent a spell, what would your spell do and what word would you use to cast it?
I'd invent a spell that washed, dried and straightened my hair instantly with no effort on my part. It would save me so much time! I'd use 'Pokerstraight!' to cast the spell.

9. If your Patronus was an inanimate object, what would it be?
Why do I have to choose an inanimate object rather than an animal...? I think it would be a pink star. If my Patronus was an animal, I think I'd be a giraffe. Not because I'm tall (because I'm not), but just because I really really love giraffes.

The Making of Harry Potter studio tour in Watford, August 2017

10. If you could bring any Harry Potter character back to life, who would you resurrect?
Cedric Diggory. Probably an unpopular choice but I really like him! Oh, and poor Hedwig obviously. If we were talking purely about the books and not the films, I'd bring Dumbledore back to life. Sorry Michael Gambon, but you were a very annoying and shouty Dumbledore so I wouldn't voluntarily bring you back to life.

11. You've been given free reign of Diagon Alley and can have anything you want, what shop do you hit first?
Honeydukes, of course! I'm a sweet toothed fiend.

12. If you could send an Owl Post to anyone in the Harry Potter universe, who would you write to and why?
Neville. I always feel as if he needs a friend and some words of encouragement, along with someone to tell him that things will get better!

13. If JK Rowling were to announce a spin off series from the Harry Potter universe, which character would you love to see as the protagonist?
Hagrid. I'd love to learn more about his back story and to find out what he got up to after Harry. Ron and Hermione left Hogwarts.

Universal Islands of Adventure, Florida, September 2013

Do you agree with any of my answers, or furiously disagree? Let me know, and please feel free to take part in the tag yourself! 

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Restaurant Review: Tony's

Tony's is our 'go-to' restaurant. Midweek birthday? 'Let's go to Tony's'. Need to get out of the house for an hour on a Saturday evening? 'Let's go to Tony's'. Meeting up with friends? 'Let's go to Tony's'. You get the picture!

Tony's is situated on a little street in the middle of Penarth, so it's within walking distance or a five minute drive away from where we live.  The restaurant used to be in a different location and my husband remembers it fondly from his childhood/teenage years, but it closed for a few years and re-opened in the town centre. The first time I visited Tony's a couple of years ago, we were offered free starters as the manager wanted opinions on some of their signature dishes. I immediately knew it was my kind of restaurant! The starter was amazing, in case you were wondering... I'm salivating at the very thoughts of it.

I nearly always order the Combination pizza for my main meal which comes with ham, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions and mixed peppers. I'm not even going to try to describe how good it tastes (I'd be a terrible food blogger), except to say that it's just as good as all the authentic Italian pizzas I've ever had! Praise indeed, I hear you say. I did stray from my trusty pizza and ordered a bolognese on one occasion, which was also really delicious and a very hefty portion. However, I did slightly regret not ordering the Combination as I love it so much. The dough is amazing, the crucial cheese to tomato ratio is always perfect, and the combination of toppings is just spectacular.

We usually have a Diet Coke each when we go to Tony's, but I have been known to splash out on a cocktail or a glass of wine on a couple of special occasions. Everything is very reasonably priced, including my fully loaded pizza which is one of the more expensive items on the menu at £12.50. A meal for two easily comes in under £35 which is a great price for such an authentic and good quality experience. We're nearly always served by the same staff members, and they're equally as polite and attentive every time. Although we usually book a table if we're going with a group of people, we tend to just walk in when we go on a weeknight or early on a Saturday evening as the restaurant is generally quiet at those times. I'd expect a little restaurant of this quality to be packed all the time, but I'm not complaining as it allows us to be spontaneous and pop in at short notice.

Have you ever visited Tony's? Make sure you give it a try next time you're in/near Penarth!

Thursday, 21 September 2017

My bow-tiful Mickey ears

Believe it or not, I didn't start wearing novelty Mickey ears until my fourth trip to Florida in September 2016. Although I'd vaguely thought about buying the official Disney ears at the parks on our previous trips, I always decided to spend my money on something else at the last minute. I hold Instagram (particularly Sarah's beautiful account) entirely responsible for the change of heart!

After suffering from serious ear envy and seeing lots of amazing designs on Instagram, I bought two pairs of ears from Bel at Closet Geek Site for our September 2016 trip. Bel has a massive array of ears on offer which made it a difficult choice, but I finally decided on Tangled ears and classic Mickey and Minnie ears. I was in love as soon as they hit my doormat and I couldn't wait to wear them to Walt Disney World.

I loved wearing these Mickey ears in the parks as they're so unique and, more importantly, very comfortable! I didn't see anyone else wearing anything remotely similar to the Tangled ears during our holiday, and the Mickey and Minnie fabric turned out to be very unique too. Even Minnie herself was impressed when I met her at Animal Kingdom!

When we started planning our inevitable trip back to Florida in April/May 2017, I started browsing Etsy for more ears and decided to treat myself to a few more. As I was so impressed with the purchases I'd already made, I bought two more pairs from Closet Geek Site. The Pluto and Donald ears were a custom-made order, and the fabric for the Mrs Potts and Chip ears only came in a few days before my holiday so Bel kindly made sure that they arrived in the post just in time!  

As you can see, these themed ears are great for character interactions. For someone like me who's actually slightly apprehensive about meeting characters, they make a great talking point and take away some of that initial awkwardness. Pluto got very excited about my Pluto and Donald ears, as did his accompanying cast members! 

I also discovered a new seller before we went on our latest holiday so I bought a couple of pairs from Luby and Lola. Lola's ears are so pretty and glitzy with dozens of possible colour combinations, and it was really difficult to narrow my choices down to just a couple of pairs. These beautiful baby pink and baby blue ears were perfect for our evenings out as well as for our busy days in the parks - fit for a princess! 

In my world, it's never too early to start planning for your next Disney trip. I've already bought one new pair of Cruella de Vil ears from Closet Geek Site for our holiday to Walt Disney World in May 2018, and will most likely buy a few more in the next few months! 

Where do you buy your Mickey ears? Do you have any recommendations to share with me?

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Celebrating our third wedding anniversary

My regular readers (hello to all three of you) will already know that Neil and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago. I've already blogged separately about a few of our anniversary celebrations, but we managed to fit loads in this year so I thought I'd write a post to summarise what else we got up to.


We were determined to make the most of this anniversary as I was in the middle of my cancer diagnosis nightmare on our second wedding anniversary. I had an urgent MRI scan on the actual day of our anniversary last year so it wasn't going to be too difficult to improve on that! My parents kindly took us out for a meal in the evening as they'd accompanied me to the hospital in the afternoon, but that was definitely the only saving grace.

The weekend before our anniversary, we visited The Making of Harry Potter studio tour in Watford. I'd had a difficult couple of months and Neil had been insanely busy in work, so we both really needed this long-awaited weekend away. We had a great time and I blogged all about the studio tour here. After spending the whole afternoon at the studios, there was a conveniently placed TGI Fridays right next to our hotel so we had a lovely meal and cocktails there on the Saturday night. I think a good old Jack Daniel's burger might be on my 'favourite meal ever' shortlist!

We got back from Watford early Sunday afternoon and spent the rest of the day with Jessie as we'd missed her so much while we were away. We initially didn't have any plans for the bank holiday Monday, then Sophie and Bryan invited us over for a barbecue which fitted in perfectly with our plans for the long weekend. The sun was shining and we spent a relaxing few hours talking, laughing, eating, and drinking wine (and some fruit juice).

Bank holiday Monday came and went all too quickly, but luckily we both had a few more days off work. The day before our anniversary, we went for afternoon tea in one of my favourite places in the world - Pettigrew Tea Rooms. I can't believe it's been over three years since the first time I visited there on my hen weekend... I must have been about 25 times since then! As always, the food and service was amazing and it was the perfect way to continue our anniversary celebrations.

To make the day even better, we managed to get a family selfie after we got home from our afternoon tea! We'd been trying to get Jessie to pose for a photo with us for days and she wouldn't cooperate, so I've decided she must have wanted to give her humans a nice anniversary gift. Or perhaps she was just tired and couldn't be bothered to be stubborn on this occasion...

On the day of our anniversary itself, we exchanged cards and gifts when we woke up. As leather is the symbol for the third wedding anniversary, Neil bought me a pretty leather bracelet from Pandora. This grey bracelet has been on my wishlist for a while so he chose very well, as always.

After going out for an obligatory hot chocolate in the afternoon (well, hot chocolate for me and coffee for him), we took Jessie for her evening walk then got ready for our meal at Etc Penarth. We had a really special evening with exquisitely instagrammable food which I blogged about here. As it was a rare opportunity to get dressed up, I wore my new white dress (sale bargain from New Look!) and my perfectly matching New Look shoes and Kate Spade bag. Colour coordination makes me happy, just in case you didn't know that already.

When we got back home after our meal, we settled down with a drink and watched Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. We're slowly making our way through the films again after visiting the studios... the second one is arguably the weakest film but we couldn't possibly leave it out.

I think you'll agree that this year's anniversary beats last year's, hands down!

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Restaurant Review: Etc

We visited Etc in Penarth for the first time last week to celebrate our third wedding anniversary. We wanted to try somewhere new, unique and highly recommended, and Etc ticked all those boxes!

The restaurant was very quiet when we arrived at 6:30pm and we were seated straight away in a secluded spot next to the window.

Etc is a very small restaurant with a decadent black and gold interior, from the light fittings and the wall hangings down to the menus and candle holders. I'd read in a couple of reviews beforehand that the decor was 'too much', but I thought it was really classy and nicely done. And, crucially, it's very instagrammable! There were a few black and gold balloons dotted around so I assumed they were in preparation for someone's birthday party, but it turns out that they're all part of the restaurant's general theme. 

I'd already studied the innovative menu in great detail beforehand so I knew exactly what I was having to eat. However, it took a little longer to decide on my cocktail as the drinks menu was very extensive! I eventually settled on the Spiced Ginger Mojito, and Neil had a glass of Pinot Grigio. 

Although my starter was listed as a Small Plate on the menu rather than as an actual starter, I knew I absolutely had to order it as soon as I read the description. I chose the Chicken Satay which was mouth-wateringly described as 'peanut butter chicken infused with honey, coriander and chilli served on a bed of egg noodles'. Seriously, who wouldn't choose it with a description like that? 

As you can see, the 'small plate' was a decent portion size for a starter and it was so delicious. I usually struggle with taking meat off skewers (there was an embarrassing incident a few years ago when I accidentally flicked a piece of chicken across a crowded restaurant), but the meat on these skewers was lovely and tender. The egg noodles had a slightly nutty tang too and were just the right texture - not too chewy! 

After consuming this amazing starter, I was very excited about the prospects of the main course. I chose the vegetarian version of the Pineapple Upside Down dish which was made up of pineapple basmati rice with mixed peppers, chilli and coriander served in a pineapple shell.

Imagine my delight (and the speed in which my phone camera appeared) when this beauty arrived on our table! This portion was huge, bearing in mind that the pineapple shell was hollowed out and entirely filled with the tasty rice concoction. There were big chunks of pineapple included throughout and the delicate flavouring of the rice was divine. I'm not usually drawn towards dishes made up entirely of rice, but this one definitely didn't disappoint. 

We were both pretty full after our starters and mains but we decided to force some dessert down too as it was a special occasion (and because, let's face it, we love food). I went for one of my favourite desserts in the world - Vanilla Panna Cotta. This particular panna cotta came served with fresh strawberries and raspberries, and drizzled with a raspberry coulis.

Just like the other two courses, the presentation of the dessert was exquisite and the taste wasn't bad either. Although I've been very spoilt with my previous experiences of panna cotta as I usually order them in Italy, this one measured up very well compared to my authentic Italian desserts! 

This was one of our more expensive meals together at £75. Just to recap, this included two alcoholic drinks, two starters, two main courses and two desserts. It's obviously not somewhere we'd visit every week, but I thought it was perfect for a special occasion and well worth the money for such a lovely experience and amazing and out-of-the-ordinary culinary delights. The staff were friendly and attentive and the atmosphere was perfectly relaxed, just what we needed for our anniversary meal.

Have you ever visited Etc? What did you think? 

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Wizarding weekend in Watford

After visiting the Warner Bros. 'The Making of Harry Potter' Studio Tour last October with a group of friends, I knew I absolutely had to go back there one day. I thought my husband would enjoy the studio tour nearly as much as I did so, for partly selfish reasons, I bought him a ticket as a gift for his birthday in March.

We decided to make a proper weekend of it and booked two nights at a Premier Inn nearby. As it was our third anniversary at the end of August (yesterday, in fact), we thought we'd make it part of our extended anniversary celebrations to make it an extra special weekend.

I'm going to give you a little warning at this point. I'm going to post some spoilers about the tour, so if you're planning a visit at any point and don't want to ruin any of the surprises in store, it's best not to read any further!

It would be impossible for me to blog about every aspect of the studio tour without writing a post the length of a dissertation. And, as much fun as that would be, I unfortunately haven't got the time. So, to solve this problem, I thought I'd just summarise some of my favourite elements and include lots of photos along the way.

The Great Hall 

Walking in to The Great Hall through those famous doors made me want to cry. It really is an awe-inspiring sight. Seeing all the famous costumes such as Harry Potter's robes, Neville's cardigan and Cedric Diggory's Triwizard Tournament outfit brings back so many unforgettable memories from the films, and I'm so glad that this is where the studio tour begins.

The Potions classroom 

I could spend all day staring at this part of the set! The intricate details of the dungeon classroom are astounding, from the tiny labels on each and every potion bottle to the various intriguing instruments on the tables. And who could forget the legendary Professor Snape who takes centre stage?

The Burrow 

I think the films perfectly capture the cosy essence of the Weasley's home, and I love peering at all the different details and costumes inside the well laid out set for the Burrow. I particularly love the Weasley Clock in the corner!

The Forbidden Forest 

This is a brand new area of the tour which wasn't there last time I visited, so I was very excited about seeing this addition. It's a smaller area than I imagined but it's pretty spooky... let's just say you'll definitely come across more than one giant spider.

4 Privet Drive 

4 Privet Drive is home to the Dursleys and is one of the external areas of the studio tour. This time around, we were able to have a sneak peek inside the house itself where we stumbled across a very famous scene in the living room!

Diagon Alley 

The set of Diagon Alley is hugely impressive. It makes me feel as if I'm preparing to go off to Hogwarts myself and need to go shopping for my wand and study books! I'm a proud Ravenclaw, so of course I'm choosing to focus on study books rather than broomsticks or joke products from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. The Diagon Alley area of the tour reminds me of its new(ish) equivalent in Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and it makes me wish I could use some floo powder to transport myself there...

Wizarding Wardrobes 

We were lucky enough to visit the studio tour during a special six-week feature called Wizarding Wardrobes. This meant we had an opportunity to see lots of costumes and make-up effects which I didn't see last time around. Gilderoy Lockhart and Rita Skeeter were two particular favourites!

Hogwarts model 

THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST AMAZING THINGS I'VE EVER SEEN. And yes, the capital letters are completely necessary. The sheer scale, the haunting and mesmerising music, the insane level of detail, the general spellbinding atmosphere... I could stand and stare at it forever.

As we enjoyed the studio tour so much, we're now watching all the films again to point out all the different elements of the set. 'Ooh look, we've been there!'

Have you ever visited 'The Making of Harry Potter' studio tour? What did you think?

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Afternoon tea at Llanerch Vineyard

Did you know that going out for afternoon tea is one of my favourite pastimes? If your answer is 'no', you must be new here!

After visiting Llanerch Vineyard a couple of times for Sunday lunch (read my review here), I decided I really wanted to try their afternoon tea. As my friend Sarah's 30th birthday was rapidly approaching, I had a lightbulb moment and bought her a voucher for traditional afternoon tea at Llanerch Vineyard. Two objectives in one - an excellent birthday present and an opportunity to go for afternoon tea at a new venue!

We booked our afternoon tea for a couple of weeks ago, and our table was in the Cariad bistro which is a beautifully decorated room overlooking the vineyard. We were given a menu to choose our pots of loose leaf tea, but the rest of the afternoon tea was a standard fixed menu. This suited me fine as I'm not very decisive, particularly when it comes to food! I went for the delicious Strawberry and Kiwi tea and was very excited when it came with its own egg-timer to guarantee the perfect brewing time.

After sipping on our teas for a while and catching up on all the latest news, our magnificent three-tiered spectacle arrived...

Obviously there are sandwiches on the bottom tier, but I never tend to photograph those as they're my least favourite part (no offence, sandwiches of the world). The sandwich flavours were cream cheese and cucumber, chicken and tarragon, ham and mustard, and salmon and creme fraiche. They were all lovely, but let's move on to the most exciting parts... I was hugely impressed with the second tier in particular. Scones, Welsh cakes AND banana bread! The scones came with the usual clotted cream and strawberry jam and were among the best I've ever tasted, and the Welsh cakes and banana bread were amazing too. Definitely the best and most unique second tier I've ever had. 

Moving on to the cakes on the top tier... as you can see, there were four little cakes for each person rather than one big slice. The offerings on this particular day were raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake, strawberry macaron, lemon curd meringue tart, and peanut butter and chocolate brownie. They were all exquisite and I could have eaten them all twice over! The raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake was my absolute favourite, closely followed by the strawberry macaron.

The traditional afternoon tea at Llanerch Vineyard is £16.50 per person. I think this is very reasonable considering the quality and quantity of the food, along with the beautiful setting and the excellent service. You can also pay a little more to opt for the sparkling afternoon tea or the Cariad afternoon tea if you fancy a glass of Prosecco or Champagne with your food for a special occasion.

After this excellent afternoon tea experience, I can't wait to go back to Llanerch Vineyard again. Have you ever visited the vineyard for afternoon tea? What did you think?