Would You Watch?

I adore Love Island. I know it is the Marmite of tv shows but for me it signals the start of summer. I can almost feel the sun on my skin, smell the sun tan lotion, taste the promise of holiday romance. This year especially, as I haven’t had a holiday for two years, the daily dose of Vitamin D and scandal is a tonic. However, it always seems to me that the boys have the upper hand most of the time. They quickly form a tight group, unfailingly ready to stand up for one of their own and they seem to embrace villa life wholeheartedly, wringing as much fun as possible from whatever situation they find themselves in. The girls have a more bumpy ‘journey’ altogether. These insta-babes with their silicone swollen boobs and lips storm into the villa like Amazonian princesses, ready to grab a boy and drag him into bed. Yet after a few days, when his head is turned by a bombshell arrival, they turn into quivering, paranoid betas, their carefully painted faces melting as the tears fall. They turn on the newcomer who is, lets face it, just there to stir things up, before breaking into small groups to lick their wounds and offer reassuring words such as “it is what it is” and “he needs to , like, start grafting”.

So I was thinking, what would Love Island look like if they replaced all the girls, the models, the singer/songwriters, the paramedics and the ones with a celebrity relative, with middle-aged women? Sure, it would look a bit different. The bikinis would be bigger, they would have to start getting ready for a date the day beforehand and strappy high heels would be replaced with comfy Birkenstock sandals but I think it would be a whole lot more real, not to mention much funnier. Just imagine Iain Stirling’s distinctive comic tones trying to do the commentary. “The girls are discussing last night’s re-coupling on the terrace. Luca is making his new bedmate Marian a full-fat mocha-vanilla, Baileys latte with a doughnut garnish as requested. Once he has delivered it he sets off back to the kitchen to get started on her full-English with extra beans. Meanwhile, Davide is working out in the gym. His other half, Gill is shouting at him from the terrace to bring her a drink. Davide looks terrified and drops the dumbbells in shock. Meanwhile Sharon is in the dressing room hogging the magnifying mirror to pluck her moustache. She is wearing two HRT patches on her bum, under her leggings to give her a much needed boost. She is hoping that she will get to spend the night with Dami in the Hideaway. Back on the terrace, Davide has presented Gill with an oat milk iced coffee. She takes a sip and throws it all over Davide’s bronzed torso with a grimace. Davide leaves the villa in tears. The boys gather at the fire pit and hold each other. Suddenly Joanie screams, “I’ve got a text”!!

I mean, I would watch it. Case Amour would be an eye-opener. Instead of doe-eyed loyalty or, much more fun, rebellious betrayal I think we could expect real fireworks. The ladies would no doubt lose their collective Tena ladies in outrage and trash the villa. How refreshing!! Seriously though, I do enjoy Love Island in its current format but I worry for the mental health of these young people who care so deeply about what the public perception of them is and can sometimes end up deeply scarred by the whole experience. Maybe a change is due next year?

Thanks for reading, Michelle. xx

Losing Milo

Our daughter always wanted a dog. She would pester us relentlessly about it. We always resisted because with three children, three pet rabbits and both my husband and I working, life was already too chaotic to even consider adding in another full-time commitment. By the time our daughter was a young teen she was volunteering at a local kennels. The kennel owners also bred Jack Russell terriers and one of her jobs was to clean out the puppy pens. This only fuelled her longing for a puppy of her own. She pleaded with us, promising she would do all the work involved, including being on poop patrol. She wore us down and, with her sixteenth birthday coming up, we began to research different breeds. At the end of 2008 we drove out to the countryside in secret where an elderly farmer had one Jack Russell puppy left for sale.

The farmer was gruff and abrupt. He took us to an outside stable and opened the door. Inside was a large, beautiful Doberman and between his legs, a tiny tan and white pup with the sweetest face I had ever seen. His chocolate brown eyes and expressive scruffy eyebrows gazed up at me and I was instantly smitten. I climbed over the barrier and stood in the sawdust, nervous of the bigger dog, but she just studied us quietly from afar. The puppy, however, ran towards me and with one swift tug undid my laces, then sat on my trainer as if the decision was made, which of course it was. The farmer agreed to keep him for another few days while we got everything ready to bring him home.

The following weekend we told our daughter we were helping a friend move house and set off, leaving her to watch her brothers so she would be home when we got back. She still had no idea what we had planned and we were like giggly schoolchildren as we drove away. The farmer greeted us with the news that the puppy had escaped from the stable block through a hole in the fence and was finally found under one of his tractors. “He is a right little handful, this one” the farmer warned us, “he is used to being outside so he won’t like your centrally heated house much”. How completely wrong he was!

Pulling up outside the house, my husband unloaded the plethora of puppy paraphernalia from the boot and took it inside, past my daughter who was watching a film with her friend. I followed with the puppy wrapped in a towel. He trembled in my arms as I carried him into the house. When our daughter looked up and saw his little head poking out of the towel she squealed and burst into tears. As she took him from me, he covered her in little kisses and the bond was made. Like the werewolf in Twilight and little half-vampire baby Renesmee they imprinted on each others souls. After a quick bath to rid him of the fleas and cattle dung he was covered in he was roaming the house, peeing on the carpet at every opportunity and plonking his furry little backside on every lap, chair or bed he could find. He eventually settled underneath the hot radiator and fell asleep. I had foolishly made a rule that the puppy was not allowed upstairs at night but was to sleep in his crate in the kitchen. For over a week he would cry and howl every night until our daughter came down and lay beside the crate. She would read to him and sometimes I found them both asleep on the sofa in the morning, his head in the crook of her neck as he snored soundly. From then on he slept in the crate in the kitchen without protest.

We named him Milo and he slotted seamlessly into the family. At first he delighted in chasing the boys around the house, hanging off their socks or trouser legs as they screamed and tried to escape. He was feisty and nippy but learned quickly that we were more willing playmates if he kept his razor sharp puppy teeth away from our fingers and toes! Once he was fully vaccinated he loved going for walks and would chase and retrieve a tennis ball for as long as we could keep throwing it. True to her word, our daughter happily walked, fed and picked up after him but we all loved him just as much as she did. Everyone who met Milo loved him. For a small dog he was a huge presence and he had an equally huge personality. He was very vocal, barking ferociously if someone knocked on the door and “talking” to everyone in his high-pitched voice. My daughter and I took him along to puppy classes. He was intelligent and quick to learn but at the same time incredibly stubborn. Much to our chagrin he refused to play ball, only obeying commands if he felt like it or if we had cheese about our person.

Once off the lead in our local park it was never certain what would happen. We would try to engage him in a game of fetch and most of the time he would be focused on his beloved tennis ball, often finding other lost balls while looking for his own. he would then try to carry them all in his mouth, refusing to leave any behind, so our pockets would often bulge with smelly, spit-covered rescue balls. But if a squirrel or a cat caught his eye he would take off and it was anyones guess where he would end up. Once he disappeared into the bushes and through a hole in a fence, ending up in someones back garden. I searched the park for ages, crying and calling him in utter panic. I had never been so terrified. Eventually I went up onto the road and began knocking on doors. A gentleman came down the road asking if I was looking for a little dog. It turned out he had strolled in through the open patio doors, helped himself to some biscuits from the owners dogs bowl and jumped up onto the sofa beside the man who was watching football! His wife brought him out of the garden in her arms, she was laughing but I was mortified. Luckily they saw the funny side but Milo didn’t go off the lead for a long time after that. On another walk he ran ahead after a squirrel which shot through the railings and across the railway tracks. Milo followed but only got halfway through and became stuck fast. He whined and barked as I tugged on his back end but to no avail. Luckily my husband was working from home so I called him and he came and found us. By this time Milo had accepted his situation and was standing patiently, waiting to be rescued. My husband managed to slide Milo upwards to the top of the railings where the opening was slightly wider and pop him out at the top. Disaster averted but not before I snapped a picture of him for posterity!

One one memorable walk Milo was mooching in his favourite patch of trees and bushes as I waited for him in the clearing. Suddenly, a startled young deer bolted from the undergrowth with Milo hot on his heels, the widest grin on his face and a maniacal glint in his eyes. He shot me a look as if to say “Look what I found”! Thankfully the deer was faster and sped away but I have a feeling Milo would say that was one of the best moments of his life! Milo loved the water and would launch himself into the river whenever he got the chance. One time we all stayed at a cottage in Devon with a private beach and Milo, safely tethered on a long lead, spent many hours playing in the sea. He was an excellent swimmer and we had no doubt that without the lead he would just carry on doggy paddling and probably end up in Wales. For Milo, every day was a new adventure and his zest for the outdoors was infectious.

As he got older he slowed a little but he never lost his puppy-like qualities. Our daughter moved out and started a full-time job but she visited often and would usually take Milo out for a walk. By this time we had a Staffie, Elsie, who arrived as a puppy and was immediately accepted by Milo as a willing and submissive playmate. They loved walking together and in the garden they engaged in long games of tug with a rope toy, their strength and enthusiasm matching perfectly. Milo loved nothing more than to snuggle up with her in their basket or stretch out beside her in a patch of warm sunshine. If someone mentioned her name his ears pricked up and he began to look for her around the house. A few years later we got a French Bulldog puppy, Wilson. This tiny creature had a huge personality and, although at first Milo was put out, he was astonishingly tolerant and accepted his relegation with grace. He was, however, always the head of the house and even Wilson knew when to back off and leave him alone, especially as Milo got older and more cranky. His back legs were now arthritic and he developed a funny little waddle but he was the most stoic little dog I have ever known, never suffering from illness or injury until he was almost fourteen years old. Suddenly we began to notice that he was sometimes vacant and would rub his head with his paws. In September last year we were preparing for our sons wedding. We had booked the three dogs into kennels for the night as we were going to be staying at the venue. This was a concern as they had never been in kennels before and we worried about how they would cope. Two days before the wedding Milo had a seizure. It was absolutely terrifying. I honestly thought he was going to die and I panicked, not knowing what to do to help. My husband put a cushion under his head and we waited, speaking softly to him until he came round. I called the emergency vet and they were lovely, reassuring us that we had done the right thing but because he was now recovering there was nothing more they could do. After a sleepless night during which I just watched Milo sleep, petrified that it would happen again he seemed fine, he ate and drank normally and we thought that perhaps it was a one-off.

The following day Milo had a second seizure. This time we were more prepared and it was over quickly but it took much longer for him to recover, he was disorientated and distressed for an hour or so afterwards. We quickly realised that there was no way we could leave him in kennels so we cancelled and made an alternative plan, involving various people coming in to check on the dogs during the day of the wedding and my sister travelling straight from the reception to our house and staying overnight with them. I was so grateful to her for her help and after a stressful few days we began to focus on enjoying the wedding, which had been postponed twice during lockdown and which we were so looking forward to. On the day we were very busy but Milo was never far from our thoughts. My biggest fear was that he would have a seizure while we were away. Straight after the wedding lunch my husband returned home and spent a few hours with the dogs before returning in the evening for the reception. Thankfully they all seemed to be ok.

Milo was fine for three months after that. He was sprightly and alert and we began to relax. In the new year he had a few seizures close together again and we consulted our vet who did some blood tests. The results showed that Milo was producing too many red blood cells which were forming clots and as they broke free were causing the intermittent seizures. The vet explained gently that we could see a specialist who would do scans and more tests but that this would not change the outcome and as Milo was at an advanced age we should just enjoy him while we could. And that is exactly what we did. Our daughter had moved into a new house and she had him over to stay with her as often as she could. They enjoyed walks in the sunshine and he loved playing with his stash of tennis balls in her garden. Thankfully he never had a seizure while he was staying with her so she didn’t have to witness him in distress. Then one weekend Milo had multiple seizures which got progressively longer and more serious. By this time he was on anti-seizure medication but they were not working and they made him very groggy. I spoke to the vet again and she gave us something to administer during a fit to stop them from going on for too long. I had a heart-breaking conversation with our daughter in which we discussed what was happening and when we might need to make the hardest decision together as a family. A few days later my husband was working away and I was alone with the dogs. We had a very bad night and the fitting continued the next morning. My biggest fear was that he would not come round and would die in my arms not knowing that I was there so I spoke to the vet again who gave me “permission” when she said she thought I knew deep down that it was time. And I did. I made an appointment for later that day when my daughter could get away from work. I cooked some fresh chicken for Milos tea which he ate with gusto, as I tried not to break down. My son came home to be with the other dogs while I put him gently into the car.

My sister is a veterinary nurse and was at the surgery to meet me. My daughter had also arrived and we spent a few minutes feeding Milo all the treats he could eat. He was a little confused but he seemed to enjoy having us all there, sitting on the floor in the consulting room, making a fuss of him. We told him that he was a good boy and that we loved him, we kissed his nose and stroked his ears as the vet gave him the injection. He sighed, then he was gone. I felt a brief wash of relief that we would not have to suffer any more seizures, then a tidal wave of sadness that our beloved pup was no longer going to be in our lives. I have never experienced such a roller coaster of emotions. It is such a privilege to be able to let an animal pass with dignity when the time comes but also such a difficult decision to make when you want to hold on to them and not let go.

The past few weeks have been hard. The house is quiet without him and the dynamic has changed between the other two dogs. They have been more clingy and subdued. I came across his tiny puppy collar while clearing out a cupboard the other day and the tears flowed as I remembered his first proper walk and the joy he brought everyone who met him. I watch the other dogs carefully for signs that something might be wrong, I don’t take them for granted. Every day spent with a dog is precious, they are such intuitive, spiritual animals and I can’t imagine life without them.

Thanks for reading, Michelle. xx

A Year On.

I have just realised that it has been a whole year since my last post. I know that in these weird and wonderful post-apocalyptic times a year is not really a long time but I have really neglected my little blog.

This is a quick update of what has been going on in my life and business as the world has opened up again. The life bit will be short because, honestly, very little has been going on, apart from more renovations to the money-pit. This time we have been creating a snug in our son’s old bedroom at the front of the house and updating the spare room ready for a visit from my mother-in-law. We are also currently installing a new utility room with another oven so that I have more capacity for the business. The snug has been my favourite project so far. We wanted a really opulent space to chill out in, with an Art Deco influence. Our carpenter made panelling on the bottom half of the walls which have been painted midnight blue. The top half has been papered in a stunning blue bird cage design with a gold Deco background. We have ordered a mustard yellow velvet sofa which will be dressed with navy fur cushions and a William Morris print throw. I am looking for a brass palm tree lamp (think, Peaky Blinders, 1920’s style) and I will have lots of potted plants. We will also create a bar area for cosy movie nights. It is going to look amazing when it is finished.

Although, once the Covid restrictions lifted last year, the rush on afternoon teas slowed down significantly, my little business has gone from strength to strength. I used the quiet times to do some online courses in cake decorating. This has expanded my skill set and meant that I am confident to take on more ambitious commissions. I am even considering taking on a wedding cake order. I always worried about the pressure of creating a cake for what is probably one of the most important days of someone’s life but I want to be able to grow the business and also to be a small part of that special day. Standards are high and competition is fierce so I need to ensure that I can create something really beautiful and unique.

I have also been baking for a local cafe and really enjoying the positive feedback from the customers. I try to introduce something new every week and I am also experimenting more with gluten free recipes as there is a real demand for delicious and different gluten free cakes, along with vegan options, so that everyone can enjoy amazing cakes. I am trying to collect some data as I work to provide me with an insight into the business and how it is developing. This is all new for me but I feel that I should pay more attention to the details and costings which is not easy when I am baking all day most days. Any tips on how to balance these aspects of running a business would be greatly appreciated!!

By the way, the picture accompanying this post is of my Bee My Valentine cake from last month. The tin is one of a trio given to me at Christmas by my lovely husband. They are from Nordicware and are truly beautiful objects in their own right but also make fantastic intricate cakes. I have had so much fun trying them out, the beehive is a particular favourite as it is so detailed.

Thanks so much for reading!! Michelle xx

A Little Help Goes A Long Way

Things are going well. So well in fact that I’ve had to start thinking about expanding. This business started as a sort of hobby job, something to keep me busy now that the children have grown up. Two have flown the nest and the third is thinking about it so I wanted to do something for me. During the past year, and in part because of the pandemic, my customer base has grown considerably. With two big days already conquered, Valentines Day and Mother’s Day, I have found myself in the kitchen for up to ten hours a day. Add on to that the delivery times and the fact that I also supply cakes to a local cafe and you can imagine the workload.

I have pretty much been a full-time mum much of my adult life. Before I married I was a hairdresser, a job I loved and have never really stopped doing, the family all come to me for free haircuts and my grandson has never been to a barber, although I’m sure he won’t want nanny cutting his hair once he gets older! Once we had young children I did many different part-time jobs which fit in with school hours. I was a shop assistant, a receptionist at a vets, an evening insurance underwriter, I ran a school uniform shop. After my youngest was born I had a strong desire to become a midwife. I took a job as a midwifery assistant at my local hospital and enrolled on a foundation course hoping to be able to start properly once my son started school but the shifts at the hospital proved too difficult to juggle with my husband’s high-pressured job and I had to give up my dream. The one constant during this time though was baking. I baked for the children and often with them. I sometimes baked with my mum as a child and whenever I was with my granddad in Devon on summer holidays I baked with him. He was an amazing baker, his fruit cakes being the stuff of legends. It is in my genetic make up, a need, almost a compulsion, to create amazing flavours and textures. It is my happy place. No matter how much pressure I’m under I am still enjoying myself. Baking is never a chore for me. It’s no wonder I chose to make it my full-time job. I just wasn’t expecting it to be so full-time, so quickly!

What I don’t enjoy quite so much about running a business is the paperwork. I am constantly filling in my Health and Safety manual, logging fridge temperatures and cleaning records. Then there are the accounts. Maths has never been my strong point but right from the beginning I have kept receipts, meticulously numbered and logged and tried to keep track of the numbers. I have made mistakes along the way. For ages I was not charging nearly enough for my work. Even now I am shy about talking money to customers. It took me a long time to realise that I needed to charge for my skills and time, not just for the cost of ingredients. I worried that people would think my prices were too high. It is something I am getting better at as demand for my cakes grows. I have begun to believe in myself.

I have also realised that I need some help. We live in a largish house, with three dogs and to be honest the housework was being left behind. Although I’m not someone who enjoys cleaning, I do need my environment to be tidy and organised in order for me to focus on things. I can’t relax if there is mess everywhere. The kitchen is always kept spotless as it is where I work but the rest of the house was suffering from a lack of time. It would get a cursory, quick once over if I had a spare half hour and standards were slipping so I managed to persuade my husband that we needed a cleaner. He resisted at first as he is a very private person and I think the thought of someone coming in to the house and moving his things around worried him but at the same time he knew how much time my job was taking up and, like most men prefers an easy life, so he agreed and I spent a while looking for the right company. I needed someone who only uses natural products as I have to be mindful of pet-friendly methods, no harsh chemicals, but also someone who understood my working life and could work around me if I was busy in the kitchen. Luckily I found a perfect match, it is early days and I found it tricky at first giving up control of what I perceived to be “my job” but now the relief is immense. One less thing for me to think about on a daily basis.

And this is how I mean to go on, always mindful of my work/life balance, especially as we hopefully move slowly out of lockdown into a more ‘normal’ routine. If the work keeps coming in once restrictions are lifted I may need to look for a bigger workspace, maybe a commercial unit, and possibly another member of staff. We shall see.

For now, I hope you are all keeping well and staying busy.

Thanks for reading. xx

Thankful

Hi WordPress Community! I hope everyone is well.

When I last wrote a post I had just started my weight loss ‘journey’ in an attempt to reverse my Diabetes. For twelve weeks I shunned solid food in favour of soups and shakes. It was by far the most difficult thing I have ever done. During the final week of the Total Diet Replacement stage, lockdown restrictions had eased enough that we could get away for a few precious days in Devon, my happy place. The weather was unseasonably fine for October and we had an amazing weekend, strolling on deserted beaches and lazing around in our cabin. On the last day, as we were packing for our journey home, I got a text message from my diabetes nurse to say that my blood test results had come back. My diabetes was in remission! This was the best news I could have hoped for and I was on cloud nine.

Back home I attended my next meeting online where we discussed the next stage of this year-long programme, food re-introduction. We were all nervous about eating food again. While I had been away I had eaten the odd meal but I had been very cautious. For the first two weeks we were allowed one 400 calorie meal a day alongside two shakes. During the first stage I had lost 12kg. As I started to eat proper food my weight increased slightly, then levelled out. Then we went into lockdown again.

As Christmas approached I worried more and more about how I was going to manage. We were in Tier 4 so very shortly before Christmas we learned that we would not be able to mix with family members. Our youngest son lives with us but our daughter and son and our grandson do not, although I look after my grandson once a week while his parents are at work. All of a sudden our plans were on hold. I struggled to come to terms with not being able to see anyone. We had pre-ordered lots of food for everyone. Christmas was a quiet time. We watched our grandson open his presents on FaceTime. We sat around all day. I ate lots of food, drank lots of alcohol.

In the New Year I plucked up the courage to stand on the scales. I had gained 3kg. I tried to think positively. We were now in full lockdown, infections and deaths from Covid 19 were at an all time high. I went back onto two shakes a day and one meal, I also used the treadmill whenever the weather was too bad to walk outside. That hour of exercise every day, listening to music and de-stressing, kept me sane. Then the treadmill broke down and so did I!! I’m waiting for a new motor to arrive for the treadmill and I’ve been forcing myself to go outside and walk in the cold and rain. My motivation is low but I’m doing my best.

In other news, I’ve been having a few health issues. A visit to the gynaecology department and some embarrassing examinations featuring a couple of earnest male students who now know me more intimately than most people in my life, revealed that I have some ‘abnormalities’ occurring in my cervix. Ultimately I will probably need a hysterectomy. This was another blow. I have joked before about wishing my reproductive organs would just fall out now that they are no longer needed but the reality is scary. Those pesky bits of lady may be causing trouble but they are the essence of what makes me female, the source of all those hormones, the origin of my three children. Will I be the same person without them? In the grand scheme of things, when so many people are losing loved ones in the most terrible circumstances, it is a small thing to deal with, over and done with in a day these days but it is weighing heavy on my mind.

The one positive during this time is that my baking business is doing nicely. My husband is able to do his job from home, my son works in a bank so he has been working right through the pandemic and the demand for baked treats has been greater than ever so we are all busy right now. I will be baking like mad in the run up to Valentines Day and I’m in the kitchen most days developing my own recipes. I’m not going to be a millionaire any time soon but I get to do what I love as a job which makes me a very lucky girl indeed. I dream of a better time, hopefully not too far in the future when I can hug my family again, eat lunch in my favourite restaurant and get on a plane again and go somewhere exotic. Most of all I hope that after having to postpone twice, my son and his beautiful fiancé will be able to have the wedding they have been planning for so long.

Thanks for reading and stay safe. xx

Making a change and going through the change!

Hi all. Firstly I hope everyone is keeping safe and well. Fingers crossed we will eventually be able to resume a normal social life but for now the internet is our master!

Four years ago I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. It didn’t come as too much of a shock as both my parents and grandparents were all diabetic. I was disappointed that I had also contributed to the condition through my love of all things sweet but I think some part of me conceitedly thought I might escape for some reason. My GP gave me the news, handed me an info-book and sent me on my way. I was in denial for a few months, not really knowing enough about the condition to act on my diagnosis. I spoke to a nurse who told me not to eat anything white carb-wise, only brown rice, pasta, bread etc. I made a few tweaks to my diet but it didn’t really sink in for over a year. I took my medication, went for my check-ups and carried on as normal but in the back of my mind I worried about my long term health.

During my last check-up the nurse informed me that my HB1Ac, the measure of glucose in my blood was at an all time high and that my medication was no longer controlling it. She gave me three choices. I could change my medication and try something different. I could apply for stomach surgery or I could sign up for a new trial diet programme run by NHS dieticians which runs over a year and aims to put diabetes into remission. I chose the first and third options, changing to a slow-release Metformin and agreeing to be considered for the diet. I was referred to the dieticians and, thankfully, accepted onto the Counterweight programme. Our group was due to start in the Spring, with twice weekly meetings for support. The first part of the plan is a twelve week total meal replacement phase. Basically it is 800 calories per day, taken in shakes and soups. No food at all. This would hopefully result in a dramatic weight loss and remission of the diabetes. We would then follow a strict food-reintroduction phase and be followed up over the next nine months to increase our chances of staying in remission and ultimately coming off our medication. The pandemic delayed the start but eventually 10 guinea pigs began our ‘journey’ in July, with the meetings taking place remotely on Teams.

This is not a diet for the faint-hearted. It is tough, and made all the more difficult by the fact that I make cakes for a living! The first week was hell on earth. Well, actually the first three days were fine. I cheerfully threw myself into it, revelling in my new found sense of achievement. We set up a group chat on WhatsApp so that we could all compare notes and provide support to each other and it has become invaluable, there is always someone on hand who knows exactly what you are going through and can be your cheerleader when you need it most and when your family members are fed up of you constantly being hangry!

Day three was the worst. Side effects that we had all been warned about kicked in with a savage, non-stop barrage of headaches, dizziness, energy-sapping body blows and rage. I ended up storming off to bed at 8pm when a cooking programme started on the television and I had the strongest urge to put my foot through the screen! The following day I felt better, my headache had subsided to a dull ache and as I sipped my first shake of the day I realised that I had a long way to go and would have to woman-up. This brings me to my second ‘change’ of the year, The Change. One of the reasons I found it so hard to lose weight and general bringer of misery. I have had some tell tale signs of menopause rearing its ugly head for a few years now. I don’t think I’m even properly ‘in it’ yet, which is scary, but something is definitely happening to my body. My inner thermostat is faulty, my skin thinks I’m a teenager again and don’t even get me started on my hair! And I seem to have developed a wobbly rubber ring around my middle which will not shift. This of course all points to disaster when you are a diabetic. I have tried several diets since I was diagnosed. The Keto diet, Paleo, intermittent fasting. I lose a bit of weight at the beginning then I plateau and no matter what, my stubborn middle-aged body refuses to relinquish any more and eventually I give up and eat a slice of cake. I mean, I have given birth to three children, my body is no longer producing viable eggs, why do I now have to endure years of shrivelling up and drying out before I can officially enter old-age? Why does it not all just fall out of the obvious orifice and let me go back to who I was in my early forties? It took me so long to find that self-assured, confident woman, finally breaking free of the shackles of hands-on motherhood and able to discover herself again, then as late forties approached the wheels started to wobble. So before they fall off completely I am determined to regain some control, put my diabetes on hold and feel healthier again.

I am currently in my ninth week of the liquid diet. Three more weeks to go before I can finally introduce a little normal food. I have mostly followed the plan carefully, although I have to admit there have been times when the odd spoonful of something may have fallen into my mouth. A furtive bite of bread, a tiny bite of my grandsons fish finger and once, in desperation I may have sucked the flavour off a few crisps! One of the women in my group said that she puts salt and vinegar onto a spoon and if she closes her eyes it tastes like she is eating a chip. I’m not convinced but twelve weeks is a long time and we are all doing what we can to survive. I had a proper meltdown at the beginning of this week when I got on the scales and I hadn’t lost any weight in two weeks. Not a single ounce. The same kilo had gone off and back on again for 14 days. I told the group I was throwing in the towel, cried for forty minutes and ate the pastry off a large pork pie (I never eat the meat, jelly urgh) It was a bleak day, but by the evening I was at the virtual meeting and everyone was so lovely, reassuring me that I had already lost almost ten percent of my body weight and four inches off that pesky rubber ring round my middle. The following day I started with a clean slate, a few coping mechanisms up my sleeve, and I feel positive that I can finish the programme and get rid of this horrible condition for good. One thing is for sure, however rocky the road might be, if I get there I’m never ever going back!

Thanks for reading. xx

Adapting

white ceramic teacup with saucer near two books above gray floral textile
Photo by Thought Catalog on Pexels.com

We have all had to learn to adapt. This pandemic has meant getting used to a new ‘normal’. Everyone has been affected in some way. Some people have lost their jobs, some have still not been able to return to work, some are still shielding even as lockdown rules ease a little. Protecting each other has always been the priority. We have lost so many lives worldwide but I believe we will come out of all this as better people, with a greater appreciation of our ability to adapt.

After recovering from the virus earlier in the year I was a bit lost. I had just started baking for a local cafe which then closed and work dried up. I’m very fortunate that I don’t have to rely on the business to pay my bills but I still worried that people would forget me. And the thought of facing months on end with nothing to do was really scary!      Initially I signed up for a free Open University course in creative writing. It gave me something to focus on and I hoped it might help me finish my novel. Then, in late April, my niece Christie asked me if I could do an afternoon tea for my sister-in-laws birthday. I agreed and set about planning a complex menu. I went all out, making fresh cream eclairs and luscious lemon drizzle cake, light fluffy scones and dainty finger sandwiches. I also loaned them some of my china to serve it on. My sister in law absolutely loved it, my niece took lots of photos and shared them on her social media pages. A little seed was planted in my mind.

I am a member of a local Facebook group which is really useful for recommendations of good places to eat, reliable tradesmen, basically anything you might need to know in our area. On the first of every month you can advertise your business in the group, which has a large following. I had been using it as a platform for Teacups and Sugar Lumps, so on the 1st of May at about 10am, whilst I was drinking tea in my pyjamas,  I posted a few pictures of my tea boxes on the group. The response was immediate and totally unexpected. Within the first hour I was inundated with messages via my website, Facebook and Instagram. I watched in amazement as over 200 emails came in, all enquiring about afternoon tea. After a while I began to panic as I physically couldn’t answer all the messages. I phoned my daughter who is an admin on my website and she began answering Facebook messages as I tackled the emails coming through the website. By the evening I had a notebook full of bookings all scribbled down in no particular order and I felt totally overwhelmed. I woke up the next morning and more enquiries had come in overnight so I knew I had to get myself organised or I would drown.

I bought a proper diary with a whole page for each day and copied all the bookings into it from my rough notes. Once this was done I felt so much better because I could see exactly what I had booked in. By the end of the day I had caught up with all the outstanding messages and planned a menu. I made things harder for myself by deciding to offer a choice of sandwich fillings and cakes but I wanted these teas to be memorable. Many customers were ordering them for birthdays and special occasions so I was determined that they would be luxurious. At the start I had some problems getting all the ingredients I needed and managing deliveries of packaging etc. Grocery supplies were inconsistent and even my trusty Amazon could not always supply what I needed at short notice.

For three months now I have been delivering afternoon teas to the people of Reading. I have met some wonderful people, from a safe distance always, and played some part in their special occasions, from birthdays to Zoom baby showers to cancelled weddings, I have supplied lovely food when going out to celebrate was not possible and it has been an honour. I’m exhausted, it has been a steep learning curve, but I’m proud that I managed to keep my business going and even grow it a little. I took the decision to hire a graphic designer to make me a proper logo and she did an amazing job. Now, as lockdown eases and people can go out to eat the orders are slowing down but luckily the Farm cafe has reopened and I am in discussions about supplying cakes for them again so I’m sure my hiatus will not last long. For now I am enjoying being able to look after my grandson again while his mum gets back to work!

I have lots more news to tell you but it wouldn’t fit into one post so I will write more another time.

Thanks for reading. xx

 

Fighting Covid-19

woman wearing face mask
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

I was self-isolating long before Boris Johnson put us all on lockdown. Shortly before my birthday earlier this month I developed a dry cough and a slightly tight chest. As I usually suffer from hay fever when the Spring blossom comes out I assumed this was what was happening and began using my nasal spray. I made sure everyone stayed away just in case. Mother’s Day came and went without a visit from my kids or grandson and the cough worsened. My husband began to have flu-like symptoms with a fever. Although he suffers from asthma he didn’t experience any breathing problems but he was confined to the sofa for a few days which is very unlike him.

After about five days of continuous coughing and breathlessness I was quite unwell. I had horrible back pain from the coughing and the glands in my neck were swollen. I lost all sense of taste and smell, in fact I haven’t yet recovered these. I suffered stomach pains and I struggled to take a deep breath. The only way I can describe it is that its like having a huge bulldog clip clamped onto the bottom half of my lungs, preventing me from doing more than taking small sips of air. At night this was particularly bad meaning that I had to doze sitting almost upright. Big began to feel much better after a week or so and resumed working from home, but he is still not completely recovered.

I have not been outside the house for weeks now. My daughter has been doing our shopping for us and leaving it on the doorstep. A few days ago I woke up feeling brighter and decided to do some light housework but after about an hour I was exhausted. I spoke to my mum on the phone that evening and told her I thought I was over the worst but a few hours later I was running a fever and the cough was back with a vengeance, only this time it was chesty and more painful than ever. This was accompanied by flu-like symptoms of a snotty nose and achey limbs. I am now more than two weeks in with what I am assuming is Coronavirus, though I have not been tested. I am concerned about the tightness in my chest getting worse, especially as I am diabetic. Thankfully no one else in the family is unwell as yet. I hope it is not too much longer before I start to recover and I sincerely hope that you are all keeping well and coping with this unprecedented situation.

Thanks for reading. xx

A Brand New Adventure

close up of coffee cup on table
Photo by Chevanon Photography on Pexels.com

Ok, I have a very good reason for being away for so long. I’d had enough of plodding along with the odd china hire booking here and there. I wanted more. Much more. So I decided to take the bull by the horns and put myself out there. I’m not the most confident of people as you know, I find social situations difficult to say the least, so I started off by looking up all the local cafes, farm shops and markets I could find and writing emails to them all. Initially I had some interest from a newly opened cafe just down the road. I sent her some pictures of my work and provided her with some prices. I had made a gender reveal cake to photograph for my social media pages and since no one at home wanted to eat it I offered it to the cafe as a free sample. While delivering the cake I met with the owner for a chat and she explained that although she would love to support a local baker, it was difficult to buy homemade cakes at a low enough price to make a good margin. I got what she was saying. She could buy from catering companies at a much lower cost as their products are produced in bulk. She later sent me a message saying that my cake was delicious which is always reassuring to hear.

A few days later I had a reply from the manager of a cafe situated inside a farm shop. I have been to the shop a few times but had always found the cafe too busy to get a table. The manager Sarah wanted to set up a meeting so I put my brain to good use and came up with selection of original recipes to take with me. The cafe is very busy as I have mentioned so it was a few weeks before we got an opportunity to meet. Sarah was impressed with the look of all the cakes, one was a Hummingbird cake which had no refined sugars. It was sweetened with Agave which is a natural syrup derived from a plant. After a positive meeting Sarah emailed me to say that she had sat down with her head chef and they had tasted all the cakes. They loved them but the costings I had given her didn’t give her a big enough margin. We then went back and forth with numbers until finally we agreed on a mutually acceptable arrangement. At one point I was convinced it would not happen and I was incredibly stressed but I kept myself busy as much as I could.

Now I can finally tell people my news. From Friday I will be supplying the cafe with cakes and I couldn’t be happier. To see people enjoying my cakes in such a lovely bustling environment will be joyous. And perhaps it will get my name out there, bringing more work my way. I’ll keep you posted about how it all goes.

Thanks for reading. xx

Success at last!

balance cookies dessert food
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Hi there fellow bloggers! I have not written a post for a while, apologies. Things here have been a bit hectic. I have been booked to do a big fayre in May and every waking moment has been spent planning the menu, thinking about how best to lay out my stall and stressing about all of the above! I am the lone baker in my little business so there is only so much I can produce from my kitchen. I plan to start in April and bake every day, freezing what I can in advance then finishing it all off at the last minute. My sister will be helping on the day but until then its just me.

A few weeks ago I heard from a childhood friend that she had sadly been diagnosed with kidney cancer. She is younger than me, fit and healthy and had no worrying symptoms. A chance remark to her doctor about having had several urine infections that year prompted a precautionary ultrasound examination and biopsy and in the New Year she had the kidney removed. Thankfully she is recovering well and tests have shown that the cancer did not spread so hopefully she will be able to live a normal life but it makes you think, doesn’t it? I wanted to do something more than just a personal donation on my friends JustGiving page so I have pledged a portion of the proceeds from the fayre to Kidney Cancer UK who were apparently a lifeline after her diagnosis. This has added even more pressure to succeed but I am happy to be contributing to such a good cause.

I’ve been baking regularly this year, at times I have so much cake that I am forcing it onto friends and neighbours as my family cannot eat it all. I’ve talked before about my regret at not being able to master macarons. Well, my youngest son gifted me a voucher for Christmas which enabled me to attend a Macaron Masterclass run by a local company. I was so excited that I jumped around the room a bit! The classes are very popular but I managed to get a place on a course after a cancellation so at the end of January I went along for my first ever baking class. There were ten “students” altogether, all of mixed ages and abilities, including two French ladies who admitted to eating many macarons but being unable to make them, much like myself.

The class started with a demonstration and as I watched these tricky little meringue biscuits being made I could see immediately where I had been going wrong. There is so much more to macaron making than merely following a recipe. The technique is equally important in achieving good results. After the demonstration it was our turn to recreate the recipe from memory, with the two teachers on hand to help if needed. I made lilac coloured shells and once they were all in the oven we took a short break for refreshments, tea and of course, freshly baked macarons which were divine, before heading back to the kitchen to talk fillings. Everybody’s shells had come out really well, I was so pleased as my previous attempts had never looked as good as these beauties! It really is about knowing a failsafe recipe and a few secret techniques. I chose to fill my shells with blackcurrant flavoured buttercream in a matching lilac colour. Then all too soon it was time to pack up our wares and head home. The following day I made coffee and chocolate flavoured macarons and they were even better than the ones I made in class. Since then I have made several more batches, experimenting with different flavours and colours and they have all worked perfectly. I am so grateful to my son for buying me that voucher and enabling me to finally crack macarons!

Thanks for reading. xx