29 October 2012

New Ventures

I think everyone reacts differently to adversity, but when faced with life altering news - I have to be proactive and start a new venture.

When I broke up with my first serious boyfriend I took up swing dancing, earned a bartending mixology certification, went backpacking around Europe for three months and then immigrated to the UK. When I spilt up with my ex-husband I took up ballroom dancing lessons and became a cleaning fanatic.

So it’s no surprise that recently I started looking to make changes to my life. One conveniently appeared in my twitter feed. A member of our WI, the lovely @Deb_Conner, suggested starting a weekly exercise group. She even found a local fitness instructor willing to run a weight training session, so all we needed to do was turn up!

After weeks of stress eating, burning a few pounds off in an exercise class seemed like a good idea. We’ve now been to eight of these classes and though it has caused my pain levels to increase, I’ve had a lot more energy and motivation!

I’m still struggling to find a balance between protecting my hypermobile joints and using more challenging weights. As my pain levels have gone up, I’ve had to resign myself to using the very light weights. It feels ridiculous when I can see others in the group progressing, but I’m trying to suppress my feelings of inadequacy and embarrassment. I’m hoping even these light weights may help to stabilise my joints and prevent them from slipping so often.

In addition to exercise, I’ve also changed my diet. Several years ago an NHS dietician recommended I try an exclusion diet to identify any food intolerances. After a few months of testing we discovered several culprits: gluten, rye, oats, tomatoes, potatoes, aubergine, peppers, dairy, Quorn, hydrogenated fats/oils and artificial sugars. When added to being vegetarian, it is rather challenging - and boring.

I’ve stuck to this diet with varying degrees of success over the years, but gave in to convenience and temptation as we’ve been fighting our way through the NHS. After two years of cheating, I’m certainly feeling the effects, so a return to the diet is in order.

The first few weeks are always the hardest, as you give up the lasting comfort of bread and potatoes. I’ve found the best way to resist is to always have a suitable snack in your handbag. My favourite is home-made Peanut Rice Krispie Squares. I’m not a fan of sweet treats, and these temper the marshmallows with extra cereal and the salted peanuts. (Though obviously the marshmallow means they aren’t actually vegetarian.)

Rice Krispie Squares

4 tablespoons margarine (Dairy-free, hydrogenated fat-free)
300 g marshmallows
7 cups Rice Krispies
1 cup salted peanuts (optional)
  1. In a large pan melt the margarine over a low heat.
  2. Grease a tray that's about 9 x 11 inches and 2 inches deep. Also grease the spoon you'll use for stirring and something like a cake slice.
  3. Add the marshmallows to the butter and stir till melted. Once melted continue to cook for the marshmallows for 3 more minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and add rice cereal and any additional ingredients (e.g. peanuts). Mix till all the cereal is coated in marshmallow.
  5. With the spoon pour the mix out into the greased tray and use the cake slice to press the mixture into the tray.
  6. If the mix starts to stick to the cake slice you can grease it over top of the marshmallow already stuck on and continue.
  7. Any mixture left over can be put into greased ramekins.
  8. Allow to cool (they will stop being as sticky). This can be sped up in the fridge. I cut my squares apart with a large pizza cutter, but any knife will do.
  9. Squares can then be stored in a Tupperware container for around 2 weeks.

You can also try adding 1 cup of crunchy peanut butter after you've cooked the marshmallow for 3 minutes, and then continue as normal. These tend to come out very crumbly though still nice. Or you can replace the peanuts with a cup of any of the following for variety: raisins, glacier cherries, cashews, or dried cranberries.


While exercise and diet aren't huge life changes, it is at least a start - and I suppose it gives me an illusion of control in a situation when I have none.

What tricks do you have to help cope with life's disappointments?

21 October 2012

Spending Spree

One reason I’ve struggled with Step Down Sundays lately is we’ve ended up on something of a spending spree lately. In addition to buying the iPad a couple of months ago we've spent a lot of time looking for ways to spend an unfortunate windfall.
See, after the IVF failed we had to change our plans. For four years I’ve been filling in internet surveys and scanning our weekly shopping as a way to save up for things like prams and cots. You earn points for the surveys, which I’d save up and exchange for reward vouchers. I'd then use the vouchers to buy Christmas presents and transfer the equivalent cash into a ‘baby’ saving account. As for scanning our weekly groceries, we've been desperate to stop for over a year now - but the only ‘rewards’ we were interested in were high chairs  travel cots and baby monitors. We now had to find new purposes for these fund I've been saving so long.

The cash was easy to sort; the account will now pay for a trip home for my best-friend’s wedding overseas (whenever that may be). The scanning panel on the other hand, was more difficult. After several years, scanning our shopping has become more a burden than blessing. We knew we had to quit - but to do that we need to cash out.  They have a large catalogue for you to pick from, but very little of it is practical. We couldn't even find suitable present we could give at Christmas!  In the end, rather than order some reward we didn't need, we found a personal shopping experience that came with a reasonable amount of House of Fraser vouchers. The plan is to skip the horror of clothes shopping and escape to the electric department to find a replacement for our crumbling George Foreman Grill (I've got my eye on this pretty Cuisinart model).
We could probably make do with the grill we have a few more years (I think by this point most of the non-stick coating has already come off) but at least we're spending the vouchers on something we could use that should last several years.

Finally there was one more pot of money I needed to spend. When I sold my wedding dress over the summer I had hoped to spend the money on a nursery glider. Now that wasn't going to happen, I wanted to spend the money on something special. I eventually decided on a piece of high-quality jewellery, that I can wear for years and years. It turns out £300 doesn't go very far when you start looking at jewellery, but I eventually found something I love! Would you like to take a peek?

It doesn't look like much in the box, but I love the simplicity and the sparkle! The single diamond seems a fitting reminder for the sparkle and magic once found in a wedding dress. Perfect for dressing up or down, it's a piece of timeless jewellery I should get much use of.
It probably sounds quite superficial, but it has brought a sense of peace. I've taken a wedding dress that was linked with feelings of frustration and inadequacy and transformed it into a bright sparkling memory. A symbol of our marriage rather than our wedding, it is a source of joy and finally stills the turmoil from the day.

Though it's felt gratuitous after a year of minimal spending, it's also been a relief to move on; to make decisions after years of waiting and saving.

16 October 2012

BlogCamp Manchester

For more on the BlogCamp speakers I mentioned:

And if you're looking for the Facebook Tab app just search Facebook for WooBox (any of the app options is fine.)

Thanks as always to Sally Whittle and the brilliant team at Tots100!

12 October 2012

The Importance of Hope

In an ideal world, this month would mark my child’s first birthday. Unfortunately despite getting pregnant after two years of trying, the pregnancy was ectopic. Most people assume that this must have been our lowest point, but oddly it wasn't.

We discovered I was pregnant after taking our first cycle of Clomid (a fertility drug). We couldn't believe it! The line was so faint I ended up trying about four pregnancy tests, just trying to get the dark positive line I've seen on telly. Just the fact we were pregnant was such a huge achievement! That was the first positive news we had, we knew that pregnancy was at least possible. I did have a slight worry that it could be ectopic (apparently a possibility when the test line is so faint), but felt we were safely past that by week eight.

It was 11am on Friday when I felt something in my stomach suddenly move. I didn't think much of it, as it really did feel just like an IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) attack. I dashed up the stairs, but nothing seemed amiss. After waiting a while I began to feel a bit queasy and too warm. I felt something similar when I had a kidney stone a few years before, so I wasn't especially worried yet. I rang Mr Goldfish to warn him something wasn't right, but decided to wait it out.

I walked back into the bedroom and the next thing I knew I was lying down. Not sure where I was, I reached above my head and found the edge of my bedside table just inches away. I crawled onto the bed and rang Mr. Goldfish again, this time I demanded he come home. I curled up in bed to wait.

Two hours later it was clear something was wrong, but we weren't sure what. I decided to go to the bathroom again, but this time I didn't make it. I collapsed again and Mr. Goldfish was left trying to hold me up. As I curled up on the hall floor, Mr. Goldfish called the hospital for advice. As I was still talking the hospital told us to call the GP and ask for a home visit. When we called the GP they told us to call an ambulance.

I'm rather glad they did, as by the time the ambulance arrived they were already struggling to get a pulse. They brought in a wheel chair and I'm rather glad I blacked out again before we went down the stairs.

Even at the hospital they couldn't be sure what was wrong. They brought out the ultrasound machine, but by them I’d lost so much blood my insides were sloshing about – making it hard to find the tube and ovaries. In the end they also used the ultrasound to place the IV port as most of my veins had collapsed.

From my point of view the time passed quite quickly, but for poor Mr. Goldfish the three hours dragged. Finally they rolled me off to surgery and Mr. Goldfish had another long wait.

When I finally came around, I'd lost baby, the right tube and four litres of blood. The four litres was impressed upon me by the anaesthetist, surgeons and nurses. So by the time I left hospital 5 days later, we were feeling lucky just to be still together.

Though people expected us to be overwhelmed by our loss, we were actually quite hopeful. After two years of trying we’d finally been pregnant, and though it wasn't viable - it suggested that another cycle of Clomid could get us pregnant again. And we were also riding on a wave of relief after the ectopic pregnancy. Though we had faced a traumatic event, there was still the promise of hope.

In the weeks that followed, we had plenty to focus on. It took several weeks to recover, and after six months we could start trying again. We looked forward to starting another cycle of the Clomid and knew there was always IVF to fall back on.

The IVF in contrast was our last real hope after the Clomid failed us several times. Where the ectopic pregnancy had increased our chances – by proving pregnancy was possible - the IVF revealed that our chances were even slimmer than we expected, and now there is no fall back position.

While the ectopic pregnancy was difficult, we've found mourning a lost pregnancy easy compared with coming to terms with never having a child.

This was originally written for the Emma's Diary Blog

11 October 2012

Autumn Holidays

I love October, just as it turns dark, cold and miserable you get a couple of holidays to cheer you up! Well you do back in Canada at least. Granted it's hard to capture the magic of a holiday while in another country, but it's also a chance to share my heritage and traditions. 

The first in the calendar is Thanksgiving. The second Monday in October, it's a time to appreciate what you have. I can't say we hold a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. My parents are originally from Yorkshire, so the holiday was slightly adapted. When it came to dinner, Mum stuck to what she knew. So thanksgiving dinner was virtually identical to Christmas dinner - just without the crackers, cake & pudding! I'm not convinced the type of food really matters, so continue to serve steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, stuffing and lashings of cheese sauce.

Normally we'd invite a few friends or family to share our feast, but after a difficult summer we're still feeling a bit raw. Instead we decided to have a quiet evening to ourselves. It was a wise call in the end, as our simple (veggie) roast dinner turned into a comedy of errors. 

As I'd clerked the Quaker Business meeting that morning, Mr Goldfish offered to cook dinner. So after getting back later than planned, Mr Goldfish started by giving the kitchen a thorough clean - and while doing that he figured he might as well finish some of the other cleaning. Then all the peeling and preparing took longer than expected, so dinner was already running two hours late by the time we were ready to turn the oven on. 

I was in charge of making the extremely important cheese sauce. I was melting butter on the hob while Mr Goldfish fetched the flour. He popped his head around the corner and said "We can't make the cheese sauce and you don't want to know why." Turns out the plain flour I bought from ASDA a few months ago was completely infested with weevils...and they'd spread through the cupboard. After a thorough inspection we had to bin the icing sugar, a few half used bags of flour and a whole bag of golden granulated sugar! 

It was now quite late and the shops were shut, but it wouldn't be Thanksgiving dinner without the cheese sauce. So I put out a distress call and the lovely @ChouxChouxbedoo came to my rescue. One emergency dash across town to borrow a cup of flour and dinner was saved (though now two and a half hours late)!

I did manage to take a quick photo before the cheese sauce arrived on the table. I'm amazed you can't see the steam that was rolling off! We've not yet turned the heating on and our plates created a thin fog between us, but finally we had our delicious reward!

Next on the calendar is obviously Halloween. I don't tend to make a big fuss for Halloween, as it just doesn't have the same spirit over here, but when the WI suggested a pumpkin carving contest how could I refuse?

As it's so early in the year, I waited till quite late to carve my creation. I doubt it will make it to Halloween, but I want it to last as long as possible! The plan was to carve it Sunday night, but Thanksgiving dinner rather obliterated those plans. So it was bumped to Monday.

By the time Mr Goldfish got home from work I had a raging headache that paracetamol wouldn't touch. He frog marched me up to bed to sleep it off. By nine it had mostly abated, but I just couldn't face getting bundled up again to come downstairs and carve a pumpkin. With no more time to delay, Mr Goldfish was forced to be creative. Up came a large table cloth, a chopping board, a few knives, a bowl and the pumpkin. I'm amazed to say I carved a pumpkin from start to finish, guts and all - in bed without a single spill!

And this fierce fellow is the result:

I couldn't believe Mr Goldfish had never carved a pumpkin before, so I shared all my tricks - like cutting a carrot shaped notch in the lid. This makes it easy to fit the lid back on perfectly every time.

A busy weekend that brought back many memories of home, now I need to start planning for Christmas!