Thursday, 30 March 2017

Getting used to a new 'normal'

It's been eight and a half months since I received that terrifying letter and my world was turned upside down. Tonight, I'm at the hospital for an MRI scan which will hopefully come back with a 'no evidence of disease' result.

I've been on an emotional rollercoaster over the last eight and a half months (does that phrase remind anyone else of Ronan Keating?) and it's showing no signs of slowing down. I'll have days where I feel truly happy again, and others where I feel as if I want to hide in a corner and cry my heart out. Certain triggers can send my mind spinning out of control, even something as simple as an Instagram photo, a TV advert or an overheard conversation between two strangers. This can feel hugely frustrating, particularly if it happens during a week where I initially felt a lot better. I also have some niggling physical symptoms which serve as a daily reminder of the whole ordeal, and these tend to exacerbate my emotional turmoil during a bad week.

I had a scare a few weeks ago which meant I had to go back to the hospital for an urgent appointment. Although it thankfully wasn't anything to worry about, it catapulted me right back to square one and brought back haunting memories of that horrible six weeks in July/August last year where I was constantly thinking the worst and waiting for news. Living with the life-changing consequences of what's already happened is challenging enough, but living with the dreaded fear that 'it's back' is even worse. When I have a day/week that's hideously bad, even simple tasks can feel completely overwhelming and I feel as if I have to drag myself kicking and screaming back from the brink to function like a normal human being.

On that note, one of the things I've struggled with the most is the concept of 'getting back to normal', when 'normal' will never be the same for me again. I have major emotional swings from feeling as if no one understands what I've been through or what a big deal it is, to berating myself for making too big a deal of it myself because others are going through much worse.

I even debated with myself for weeks about publishing this post - what if people think I'm attention seeking? What if people think I need to forget about it, move on and just stop talking about it? What if I make people feel awkward? Actually, I need to learn to focus on my own feelings rather than (probably inaccurately) psycho-analysing everyone around me. I HAVE been through, and am still going through, a massively difficult time and I mustn't convince myself otherwise - to do so would be doing myself a disservice.

I also need to articulate these feelings to the people around me rather than internalising everything. People aren't mind readers, so how are they supposed to know I'm struggling if I put my brave face on and act as if everything is fine, even when it's not? I wouldn't hesitate to tell people if I had a headache or a bad leg, so I need to learn to be honest about my emotions too.

While we're on the subject of being brave, I need to be proud of how well I've handled the situation overall and how much I've achieved since being diagnosed and having major surgery. It's important for me to focus on getting back to a new 'normal' whenever I feel well enough to do so as I need to build up my bank of post-diagnosis positive experiences, and to do this I need to be kinder to myself. Although I often criticise myself for not getting better quicker, I've achieved all the following things since my operation:

  • I went back to work full time in January and got back into the swing of things straight away.
  • I'm going to the gym and going for long walks regularly, and I did my first post-op Spin class last week.
  • I've found the time and the motivation to blog once every week since December.
  • I've been on lots of mini breaks (London x2, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Milton Keynes to name a few).
  • I had a really lovely Christmas and spent lots of time with some of my favourite people.
  • I've done lots of long drives in the car, including a five and a half hour drive up to North Wales.
  • We booked a holiday to Walt Disney World and we'll be there in just under 4 weeks.

That's a pretty impressive list and it feels good to see all those achievements written down. I should revisit this post a year on from my operation to see what else I can add to the list! Of course, I couldn't have got this far without the support of my amazing husband and parents, as well as all the other people in my life who have supported me, and I'm grateful for that support every day.

So, although I know I'll still have bad days, so-so days and better days for the foreseeable future, I hope that building up my positive experiences, being kinder to myself and talking about my feelings will ensure that I continue to move another step closer to my new 'normal'.

And, in the meantime (just to make sure this post isn't completely filled with seriousness), I'll continue to watch videos like this when I'm feeling a bit sad...

Thursday, 23 March 2017

A Beauty and the Beast tag

The wait is finally over... I saw the live-action Beauty and the Beast in the cinema last weekend and loved it! It was so beautifully done from start to finish and, in true Disney fashion, every little detail was taken care of. The new songs fitted right in with the old favourites and I fell in love with them straight away, particularly 'Days in the Sun' and 'How Does a Moment Last Forever'. I already want to see it again, and again, and again, and again.

The lovely Danielle posted a Beauty and the Beast soundtrack tag on her blog a few weeks ago and seeing the film has inspired me to complete the tag myself. I already loved everything about Beauty and the Beast but this new film has definitely rekindled my love for it even more. 

Here are the questions and my answers - please feel free to join in and post your own answers if you'd like to!

Belle // As Belle's little town is in France, which French town/village would you choose to be a resident of?
I've only ever been to France twice - once to Disneyland Paris in 2014 and once to Toulouse in 2008. So, although I'd love to live in a Disney park for the rest of my days, I'm going to say Toulouse as that's a more realistic answer! The food was excellent so I'd be happy enough with that option.

Gaston // Judging by your actual taste and not knowing their 'true identities', who would you go for - Gaston, LeFou, Maurice or the Beast?
I love Maurice - he's softly spoken, kind, loyal, a bit absent-minded in an endearing way, and a lovely man all-round. Someone like Gaston would be my worst nightmare!

Be Our Guest // While at the castle, who from the staff would you befriend?
Mrs Potts. Her motherly nature and calming phrases remind me of my lovely mother so I'd feel very much at home if I stuck close to her. (On a side note, my mother now reads my blog - hi Mami!)

Beauty and the Beast // Of any song in the world, which would you and the Beast first dance to?
I'll choose the beautiful song we danced to at our wedding for our first dance - I See the Light, from Tangled. It still gives me goosebumps whenever I hear it.

Beast Lets Belle Go // Would you rather save your father from the dungeons and never find love/live alone forever, or leave your father to live his last days in the castle alone and marry the love of your life, living happily ever after?
I would definitely have to save my father from the dungeons, whatever the personal cost was for me. Thinking of him all alone in the castle (or all alone anywhere, for that matter) makes me very sad!

Transformation // Choose only one to keep and use for the rest of your life; Books or Mirrors?
Books books books! I'd be much happier if there were no mirrors in my house.

Human Again // Under the spell, what household item had you been turned into? And what would human function would you miss most?
My favourite household item is my bed so I'm inclined to say I'd turn into one of those. The human function I'd miss most would be curling up on the sofa or in bed in my pyjamas to read my book... if I was an actual bed I think I'd struggle to even hold a book let alone read one!

Death of the Beast // Share a (beastly) trait of your own to kill off.
I think I'd go for my astounding overthinking abilities as this trait permeates every area of my life without fail.  

Have you seen Beauty and the Beast yet? What did you think? 

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Restaurant Review: Romeo's by the Sea

It's been a while since I've written a restaurant review so I thought it was about time I rectified this situation! Penarth has some lovely independent Italian restaurants, one of which I blogged about many moons ago (Villa Napoli), so I thought I'd focus on another one of these restaurants for my first review of 2017.

Romeo's by the Sea is situated a stone's throw away from Penarth Pier which means it's conveniently within walking distance of our house. We visited for the first time last August to celebrate our second wedding anniversary and we've been twice since then with my parents.

The picturesque location of Romeo's by the Sea means it has a perfect seaside view if you're lucky enough to bag a table by the window. We've managed this on two out of our three visits so those are pretty good odds! The restaurant has plenty of external seating as well as ample seating indoors and I would recommend that you book a table if you'd like to try it out, particularly if you're visiting over the weekend. 

Romeo's has a very extensive menu and offers something for everyone, whatever your tastes. There are lots of vegetarian and/or gluten free options, as well as a hefty fish and seafood offering. I've tried the Penne Spezzatino, Penne Amatriciana and Tagliatelle Chef and I can very highly recommend all three! We also treated ourselves to starters and a bottle of wine on our first visit to Romeo's which were just as tasty as the mains.  

You'll be pleasantly surprised when you look at the prices on the menu, particularly as the portions are always very generous. I love restaurants where you get plenty of food on your plate and Romeo's certainly ticks that box. Just to give you a rough idea, a meal for four with soft drinks, main courses and two sides cost £54 which I think you'll agree is very reasonable considering the quality of food and those massive portion sizes. 

The staff members are all so friendly at Romeo's and, although the service is always quick and efficient, you never feel as if you're being rushed out of the door to free up a table. We've dealt with lots of different staff members during our three visits and they're always very eager to help and to make us feel welcome. 

Have you ever been to Romeo's by the Sea? Will you be adding it to your 'must-do' list after reading this post? 

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Tourists in London

Last weekend, we went on a coach trip to London to see The Lion King in the Lyceum Theatre. We booked the package through Ticketline UK and the trip included coach travel to and from London (as well as coach travel to our various destinations over the weekend), theatre tickets, and bed and breakfast at the Guoman Tower Hotel. If you want a stress-free weekend break where everything is taken care of for you, I'd highly recommend this option!

We left Cardiff at 8:45am on Saturday morning and stopped at Reading services on our way to London for an obligatory sandwich stop and toilet break. It took us a while to get through central London due to standard traffic jams and a few accidents, but we eventually arrived at our hotel at around 2pm. Tower Bridge was quite literally on our doorstep!

As our rooms weren't ready for us when we arrived, we went for a walk to explore our surroundings. In addition to Tower Bridge, the Tower of London (with the impressive Shard building in the background) was also within walking distance of our hotel. We called to Wagamama for a quick lunch then walked back to the hotel to get settled into our room before leaving for the theatre. 

When we got back to the hotel, we discovered that there'd been a mix-up with our room which meant we didn't actually have one assigned to us. However, we spoke to very apologetic manager who offered us a new room and upgraded us to an executive suite, so we couldn't complain too much. We had an hour to ourselves before getting back on the coach to get to the West End, and I mostly spent that hour admiring the view and the rainbow outside our window!

The coach driver picked us up outside the hotel at 5:30pm and took us to the West End where we were the first drop-off. The show didn't start for another hour and a half so we went for a walk to Covent Garden and happened to stumble into Venchi...

I went for a combination of salted toffee and white chocolate and it was SO GOOD. We wandered around a very busy Covent Garden, with our ice cream, sorrowfully noting that the Disney Store has disappeared from the main square, then headed back towards the theatre ready to take our seats.

The Lyceum Theatre is such an impressive building, both inside and out, and I was so excited about setting foot in there to see the acclaimed show I've wanted to see for years. We were seated in the Grand Circle which meant many many stairs up followed by many many stairs down to our seats in row C, but we were really pleased with the view we had of the stage (and the many flights of stairs were good for my Fitbit stats).

There just aren't enough superlatives in the world to describe how good the show itself was. I was completely blown away by the costumes, the set, the choreography and the general goosebump-inducing music the whole way through, and I'd see it again tomorrow if I could. I loved the show's take on Rafiki in particular, and Timon and Zazu were also firm favourites. The transition from young Simba to adult Simba was cleverly done, and the extra scenes added to the show which don't feature in the film didn't disrupt the flow at all. I loved every second of it!

Once I managed to tear myself away from the tempting merchandise stand, we walked back to our pick-up destination and the coach took us back to our hotel via a few other pick-ups s in various parts of the West End. After admiring the nighttime view from our room, we promptly fell asleep ready for a busy Sunday of sightseeing.

After a lovely breakfast at the hotel on Sunday morning, we were back on the coach by 10:30am ready to be dropped off at the Haymarket for a day of exploring, sightseeing and shopping. Although it was supposed to rain heavily all day, London obviously didn't receive the memo. We made the most of the sunshine and blitzed all the famous sights in the area, taking lots of photos while we were at it. We walked to Trafalgar Square then to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament...I've visited this area with work recently but it's been years since I was an actual tourist in London!

After taking in all the sights, we walked back to Covent Garden and did some shopping. We did mostly browse rather than shop, but I can never resist purchasing something small in Ted Baker when I'm in the area. We also went into M&M's World in Leicester Square for the first time which was possibly even more impressive than its New York equivalent. On an unrelated note, I did feel as if I was playing Monopoly bingo when I looked at all the street/area signs around me!

All shopped and sightseeing-ed out, we sat down for an hour to have our lunch then made our way back to the pick-up point via a few more shops, including a quick stop at Ben's Cookies. We were completely exhausted by this point and I fell asleep on the coach almost immediately.

We arrived home at around 8:30pm on Sunday evening. It was a lovely full weekend and we managed to fit loads in alongside our main objective of seeing The Lion King. I definitely want to book another theatre trip soon as they're pretty addictive... I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we'll manage to get tickets for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child one day. 

Have you seen The Lion King in the theatre? What did you think? 

Thursday, 2 March 2017

A weekend in Milton Keynes

A couple of weekends ago, we travelled to Milton Keynes to visit one of my best friends from university and her husband. They've recently bought their own flat so we were excited about visiting and having a grand tour, as well as making the most of the opportunity for an overdue catch up.

We drove up to Milton Keynes on the Saturday morning and arrived at midday, just in time for lunch! We all walked around the corner to a little independent cafe and passed some very instagrammable architecture on our way there. Fee and Dave's block of flats is next to a canal and the old railway works which means it has some really unique and unconventional surroundings.

When we got to the cafe, everyone else opted for sensible sandwiches but I decided I wanted a sausage, bacon and egg bap because I couldn't stop thinking about it once I'd read it on the menu. It was really really really good... I'd like to think that everyone else secretly had food envy.

After eating our lunch, we went for a wander around the local neighbourhood which included walking alongside the canal and stumbling across lots of tranquil scenery. The weather was surprisingly mild and it was a walk full of picturesque views, certainly very different to the 'concrete' Milton Keynes everyone talks about! 

After walking for half an hour or so, we stopped at the local pub for a drink. We sat outside with our beers and our wines which was a nice change for February, but we were pretty cold by the time we'd finished our drinks as the sun decided to disappear behind a cloud halfway through!

After getting back to Fee and Dave's flat, we settled down and said hello to Fee's hamsters. They're so little and cute and I have no idea why I didn't take a photo of them! In the meantime, Dave was busy cooking in the kitchen and his creation smelt divine...

This was such good food! It consisted of lots of tasty gammon with a homemade onion and mustard sauce, along with all the trimmings. I was ridiculously full after this and even had to turn down dessert. It's rare for me to turn down dessert, believe me. 

After finishing our food, we played Exploding Kittens for an hour or so... don't panic, this isn't as barbaric as it sounds. It's just a very amusing card game which has weird parallels with the much-loved Uno. With all of us being over 30, we started falling asleep at around 12:30am so went off to bed at a fairly decent hour. 

The following morning, we went to the Harvester for breakfast which was lovely as always, although does anyone else get really confused by their breakfast menu options? I can never work out which option gives me the most value for money along with the most food)!

After getting back to the flat, Neil and I said our goodbyes (to the hamsters as well as to Fee and Dave!) and started our long drive back to Cardiff. The roads were quiet so we made it back in just over three hours, and I was in my pyjamas by 5pm. Standard Sunday evening. 

I always love visiting my uni friends, or having them over to visit us, as we don't see each other very often any more due to living in various different areas across the UK. Our weekend in Milton Keynes was no exception, and I definitely need to schedule in some more visits over the next few months.

Have you ever been to Milton Keynes? What did you think of it?