Saturday, November 20, 2010

Good News All Around!

I've got lots of good news to share!

First bit of good news is that I've now been well for a month. I haven't had any flare ups since mid October and most of the spots on my legs have healed. I've got no more blisters left healing, but my legs are still covered in purple marks where the worst spots were. Its possible some of these could take several months to heal. Its a good thing I'm not a Rockette!

The second bit of good news is that I GOT A JOB!!! I applied to be a Demonstrator for Dyson and got the call a week ago Friday that they chose me! They've been recruiting up and down the country to put brand reps in some of the 100 biggest Dyson retailers around the UK and I will be a sales rep in the best performing Dyson retailer in my area.

I'm very excited about this opportunity, so far I'm so impressed with Dyson. They are so organized and the company seems to work like clockwork, something that I really appreciate in an employer. They also have great benefits for their employees. I will only be working 13 hours a week but its exactly the little financial boost we need and I will also still be able to continue my volunteer work for the time being.

I have a two day training session down in Wiltshire (its about a 6 hour train journey to the South West of the country) which is a week from Monday, then I start work on December 4th. This is a permanent position but I suppose it will be trial by fire as I will start the first weekend in December in the biggest retail park in the area.

I've got a really exciting holiday season coming up with a swing-themed fundraiser Christmas show for Red Dreams. One thing the charity organizers have wanted to do is put the mentors and vocal coaches in the shoes of the students. That means public performances and recording. Its actually been a huge help to me preparing for my own pieces in the upcoming show and also recording a song for the Christmas charity CD. My students all have gone in and recorded songs and now that I've done it I know how terrifying it is, I recorded my song right after one of my students finished and she was giving me pep talks and pointers since she's an old pro at recording. It was a great little role reversal for her to be able to share some experience and knowledge with me.

I've really enjoyed preparing for this swing show. I love swing and jazz, but its definitely not my students' preferred style of music but I've been so impressed with the way most of them have embraced this new style of music. Usually they like to work on pop songs and things that are in the charts, so I thought I'd have a lot of push back from the students about learning songs that were written over half a century ago. Most of them have surprised me and are enjoying this style, putting their own stamp on it, and also because this style is much more challenging since they don't hear these songs on the radio constantly and are learning from scratch, some of my students are making leaps and bounds in their vocal abilities. I've seen some of my students really blossom in this process and its been really amazing and built up their confidence so much that they are doing things they've never been able to before. I'm really looking forward to the concert and joining my kids on stage.

I'm also looking forward to taking my Show Choir kids to Asda (a British supermarket owned by Wal-Mart) the week before Christmas to sing carols in the main entry way for shoppers. We'll be fundraising for Red Dream but it will also be lots of fun and for many of them it will be their very first public performance.

I'm also looking forward to having my own family Christmas meal in my own house this year. I love going around to Jason's family and spending Christmas with my family but I'm really looking forward to cooking a nice Christmas dinner and doing most of the celebrating right here at home. I'm already brainstorming about what I want to make, and Jason has taken up a baking hobby lately so he will hopefully be lots of help as well!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Happy Post

Well, despite my health issues I've been doing my best to keep up with my volunteering commitments like vocal coaching for Red Dreams.

Another project I started helping with at Red Dreams over the summer was a show choir. We weren't sure if we'd get enough kids interested and I've kind of taken it on as my pet project. The first few meetings we had 5-6 kids, then last night at our monthly rehearsal we had FOURTEEN kids show up. I didn't even know what to do with so many! It made me feel good that the kids keep coming back and are now bringing their friends as well, I must be doing something right!

We are getting a small group of them that have been coming since summer to perform a song they've learned on Radio Hartlepool. I'm really proud of what I've done with the show choir, especially getting them singing in harmony and it will be a big achievement for them to have a real performance.

We are also gearing up toward a big fundraising show in December. The show is going to have a swing/big band theme so all of my students are working on swing numbers to perform at the fundraiser show. I'm so glad the theme was chosen cause its really opening my students up to a whole new genre of music they've never heard before. They are really taking to the new style and putting their own stamp on it and its a great challenge for them step outside of what they normally do and try something different.

I've had a bit of a rough week with HSP symptoms, I had a bit of a flare up on Monday but things have been much better since then. It has now been 4 weeks since this started, so hopefully we are now at the end.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Another HSP Update

Well, things seem to be coming to a painfully slow end. I've had no more "flare ups" and I have gotten a few new spots over the past week but all of them have been tiny, don't hurt or blister (they look like someone has dotted my upper legs with a red ball point pen) and within 24 hours they fade to barely detectable bruises and then disappear quickly. That is the good news!

However, the worst flare up I had two weeks ago had left my lower legs covered in blisters which are taking their sweet time healing. The worst ones are around my ankles and feet, which make it impossible for me to wear real shoes. I'm still relying on my flip flops which makes me nervous since it leaves the healing blisters exposed, but I'm taking care to make sure they remain clean and apply antiseptic cream a few times a day to aid the healing process. I just wish they would hurry up and heal already because really they are the last remaining traces of this disease that I have left on my body.

I'm now heading into Week 4, which hopefully means this is it. I just need to meet with my doctor once all of the spots have healed to discuss when to stop taking the Gabapentin, it can have mood altering side effects although I haven't had any that I know of. You will have to ask my husband but I don't think I've had any aggression toward others and while I did threaten to cut my legs off it was out of frustration and extreme discomfort, not any intent to harm myself. Anyway, the literature that came with the Gabapentin says in big bold letters not to stop taking it without consulting a doctor so I'll need to consult with my GP before I go off them. I had to slowly go on them, starting taking one the first day, then two the second day before going to the full thrice daily dosage. I imagine coming off them will be a similar gradual descent.

Anyone who has ever had a badly scraped knee or other healing skin lesion will understand the new phase of discomfort I'm in. As my body is working to heal the blisters there is a bit of stinging and aching and it makes it hard to find a comfortable sleeping position. I just hope my body will hurry up and finish the healing process already!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

HSP Update

I wrote my previous post on Monday, and Monday night marked my worst flare up of vasculitis yet. The back of my legs all the way from my calves to my thighs broke out in a hot rash. It was so uncomfortable I didn't sleep and decided to visit the doctor again that day.

The doctor printed out a leaflet from the NHS about HSP, which was nice to have since what I've found from Googling varied a bit, but the link I posted on Monday was very close to the NHS leaflet. He also did some tests and ascertained that I had a urinary tract infection so he prescribed me an antibiotic. He also prescribed me an antihistamine/sedative that would help me sleep.

He then called the hospital to consult with the medical team there and get their opinion on if there was anything they could do about the persistent burning/tingling sensation that was driving me to the brink of insanity. The doctor at the hospital advised the GP that the sensation I was experiencing was neurological which was why no topical treatments or antihistamines would relieve it. The doctor suggested an anti-epilepsy medication called Gabapentin that is als used to treat peripheral neurological pain.

I went home feeling much better that I'd left with something to treat my symptoms. Even though there is nothing they can do to stop the inflammation or the frequent flare ups of vasculitis, at least they are able to help me sleep and most importantly give me some relief from the neurological pain.

Monday night I slept for 12 hours. It was heaven. This week has been much better than last week. I've slept through night almost every night, I didn't have any flare ups until last night and the only complication has been the swelling of my ankles which can be helped with ibuprofen and staying off my feet.

The doctor told me the Gabapentin could take a week to have full effect. Last night I had a bit of a flare up with just a few small new spots but a return of a bit of the tingling sensation which woke me a few times during the night, but nothing too torturous. I'm hoping by Monday the Gabapentin will be much more effective in subduing that tingling should I experience more flare ups.

I can't believe today marks just two weeks since this whole ordeal began. It feels like its been much longer, and I hate to think this could last for a further 2-4 weeks. Still, the treatment of my symptoms has made the condition much more manageable than it was last weekend so even if the condition drags on for the full 6 weeks I am confident I can manage my symptoms.

Monday, September 27, 2010

More Unfortunate News

I hate to just use my blog to vent about difficult things going on in my life, this year is just turning out to be a year of difficult things.

Last Saturday night while I was out with friends I suddenly developed a strange rash on my legs. It started as red spots all over that didn't itch or have any strange sensation or texture. They came on quickly and were nothing I recognized so I went to the ER. While at the ER my legs swelled up and the spots became raised and started to burn. The ER doctor (while shrugging his shoulders and looking bewildered) told me that it was probably an allergic reaction to detergent or new jeans. He told me that I needed to follow up with my GP on Monday morning, so thats what I did.

My GP at first thought it could be an allergic reaction but also said it could be a condition that can affect the kidneys. (Um, okay, way to drop that one in there Mr. GP!) He had me pee in a cup and told me to come in one day during the week to have blood drawn. So I did. Fast forward to Thursday, bumps are still there and the GP calls to tell me the urine and blood samples were both normal. Cool, but why do I still have bumps?

Then Thursday night things got a bit more tricky. First of all at night the tingling sensation on my legs got so bad I was unable to sleep for the entire night. Also, my ankles swelled up and became very painful. Jason got home that night so first thing Friday we called the doctor and scheduled another appointment. When I got in he had me pee in a cup again, said there was no protein in my urine but thought this was a condition called (insert gibberish here) and it usually clears up on its own. He then said if I wanted he could check me into the hospital because they could run more tests than he was able to OR go home and wait it out.

Clearly I chose the former of the options. So off we headed to the hospital. When I checked in at 4 I noticed that my right hand had started to swell, it actually looked as if I had broken my hand but I obviously hadn't injured it at all. I saw a couple doctors over the course of the night, first was a first year resident, then a rheumatologist who just happened to be assigned to the Emergency Assessment Unit I was admitted into. I'd been told by the nurses that he found my case fascinating, but I will hand it to him that he didn't geek out on me during our consultation.

Both of these doctors said it was most likely a condition called Henoch–Schönlein Purpura, or HSP for short. They told me that its a complicated condition to explain because not much is known about it but basically its an inflammation of the capillaries that is caused by an autoimmune reaction to certain otherwise normal viral infections. These spots on my legs are basically where capillaries have become irritated and burst. They also explained that in many cases it can affect the kidneys and the bowels, which is why they had me pee in many cups and took several vials of blood to send off for testing. They reassured me that they were monitoring my kidney function closely and my kidneys were functioning perfectly normal.

At first they said there was a possibility I could go home that night and come back in the morning to meet with the consultant since there wasn't anything they could do to treat me, then as it approached midnight the joint swelling started to get increasingly worse. Both of my ankles were so swollen I could hardly walk, both of my hands had swelled by this point and the right hand resembled a latex glove that had been blown up, also my elbows and right knee joined the club. After this sudden swelling the night shift doctor broke the news that she wanted me to stay overnight so they could keep an eye on my symptoms and by that point I agreed that it was probably the best thing. So despite having another miserable sleepless night, made worse by staying overnight in a hospital room I shared with 4 other women, I did have the peace of mind that if something scary happened I was in the right place.

Nevertheless, the night was hellish. Again the itching and tingling flared up during the night and made it impossible to sleep. In the morning the consultant finally came and did his rounds with the the other doctors and let me know that after watching me overnight they were quite certain this was a case of HSP, that there was no treatment for it short of steroid injections and I just needed to keep the skin moisturized and take ibuprofen for the swelling. They also said they would send me home after the rheumatologist came back in just to make sure he was on board with all their recommendations. He decided against steroids because he said it would make it very difficult to evaluate the condition and be sure to rule out any other factors. Also the steroids could make me even sicker. They told me that once all the blood tests came back (one takes 10 days) an appointment would be arranged for me to meet with the rheumatologist at which point he'd consult with me further and also do an ultrasound of my kidneys to keep checking that they aren't being effected.

So they sent me home and I've now been home for two nights.

Last night I didn't sleep much again. During the day I have very little itching and the spots seem to be flat and soft, then around 9-10 at night my legs become hard, a new crop of spots flares up and the old ones become raised and irritated. This has been a nightly occurrence for the past four nights now. The only good news is that the joint swelling has gone done almost completely.

Last night I actually felt like the itching sensation was going to drive me insane, luckily tonight was a bit better. Before bed Jason pressed a bag of frozen peas all over my legs which really helped relieve the itching and I also took a cool oatmeal bath to sooth the itching a bit. The relief was short lived and I've only had little spells of sleep tonight but the pre-bed routine seemed to dial down the itching a bit and I just kept getting up to press ice packs or cold towels all over my legs. Right now its 7am and I'm just waiting for this flare up to end so I can catch a few hours of sleep.

So I guess this could be my daily/nightly routine for a couple more weeks. HSP usually lasts about a month and clears up within 6 weeks. I should count myself lucky that this doesn't seem to be attacking my kidneys or bowels, but its difficult to count yourself lucky when you can't sleep during the night and are suffering with itching sensations that nearly drive you insane. I just have to hope this passes as quickly as possible and that maybe toward the last couple weeks of this the symptoms will become milder. Here's hoping and praying the end of this is near.

If you're interested, here is a good overview of HSP:

Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer is Here!

Well, summer is finally here. I know you are thinking that its July, nearly August, so I must be a bit slow. The thing is when you work with teenagers and have a middle-school aged stepchild, summer is defined by when school is out.

I can honestly say that English summer totally sucks. The past 24 hours my friends and I have been trying to arrange one weekend over the "summer" when we can go camping together. Here is the problem, instead of three luxurious months off like American kids, British kids get six weeks and actually for some students this year its only 5 1/2 weeks. When you sit down and look at it, it fills up incredibly quickly.

Leeimi finished school on Friday so we we are planning to do lots with her over her 6 weeks off. First of all Jason and I booked a holiday to Blackpool with her, our first family vacation together and something I'm really excited about.

Let me pause for a moment because Max just let out a fart so smelly that he must need to go outside and do his business and exiting the premises for a few minutes should allow me some time to breathe and air out the flat.

Back, I hate interrupting my writing. I tend to over-think things when its not "stream of consciousness" and I'm never happy with any writing of mine that is over-thought. Back to planning out my six week summer.

First of all, during the six weeks holidays Red Dreams is really ramping up its programs while the kids are off school. I am getting involved in a show choir. We aren't quite sure yet how many kids we will get interested, but we are hoping with the success of Glee it will attract lots of kids and we will have a good sized show choir. I'm really looking forward to it, although it is a bigger time commitment, another three hours a week on Thursdays for the next six weeks. Other than that, here is my summer schedule so far.

Next weekend: relax before the madness

August 6-11: The Tall Ships come to Hartlepool! This will be both an amazing experience and a headache at the same time. I'm trying to stay positive but the idea of tens of thousands of people swarming my "front yard" for 4 days makes me panic a little bit.

August 13-15: Blackpool! Not sure what attractions/events we're going to go to yet, but we've got the hotel booked and I'm researching some stuff to do. Blackpool is like a seaside resort with a big amusement park as well, think Cedar Point and Atlantic City rolled into one.

August 21-22: Red Dreams Pitch Invasion, this is Red Dreams' own musical festival. I'd love to attend if I can, especially since I've been helping one of my students plan her acoustic set for the past few weeks. They have been my favorite lessons, she comes in with her guitar and we brainstorm ideas for her set and she tries things out and cares what I think.

For now that is all I have planned, but there is quite a bit of stuff I want to cram in between it all, including *hopefully* a camping trip.

This past week has been interesting to say the least. Last week while I was watching a favorite show of mine, Question Time on BBC One, they mentioned that the following week they would be in Hartlepool. Question Time is a town hall style political debate show, they travel around the country and each week in a different city/town they assemble a different panel of 5 politicians that come on and the audience made of local people gets the opportunity to set the questions and challenge the politicians. Its a great show and I love it so I decided to apply to be in the audience in Hartlepool and was invited to come be a part of it. The experience turned into much more than I had expected, and my brief appearance (in front of a national audience of millions of people) became one of the highlights of the show (this is what people tell me, I'm not tooting my own horn here).

I'm writing more about it later this week in my Anglotopia post so be sure to check it out on Wednesday and get the full story.

As for this blog, I've had a few ideas about it. One idea is to dedicate more time to it (oh joy!) I'm thinking every other Sunday is a good target. Sunday nights are probably the slowest for me so I think that will work. I'm also toying with the idea of making the move over to Word Press. I use Word Press for my posting on Anglotopia and I love it, and I'm especially getting sick of all the Spam comments here on Blogger. Word Press does a better job of filtering this stuff out. I think I get about two messages a day to approve comments, and they are all gibberish in Chinese characters and its really getting on my nerves and makes me think much less of Google and Blogger in general that it doesn't have the capabilities to filter out these blatantly Spammy comments. Unless of course my blog has become wildly popular in China and my Chinese fans are writing back to me in their native tongue. Doubtful, so I'm going to chalk it up to a giant Google fail. Sorry Google, I'm sure you're crying your eyes out over this and wiping your tears with $100 bills.

I'll let you know if I'm going to go the Word Press direction, but it does seem like something I would do doesn't it. I mean, I did switch to a Mac and an iPhone, so it would only make sense that Google should go the way of the PC.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hello Again!

Wow, its been a long time since I have posted. Sorry, I've cut down on all of my blogging over the past month. I've reduced my Anglotopia posts to every other week and this blog kind of when I have something to say. I keep myself pretty busy, with about 15-20 hours a week at the radio station and about 10 hours a week at Red Dreams. Yes I know that still doesn't add up to a full time job, but its all spread out over the week so along with choir practice on Monday and Tuesday it ends up that the only evening I have free is Wednesday and the only morning I have free is Sunday. It's nice to stay busy!

The big news to share is that yesterday I passed my Life in the UK test! I had to pass the test in order to  apply for permanent settlement. It is similar to the test immigrants to the US have to take to become a citizen, and the test is the same for both settlement and citizenship. The test required lots of studying on a wide range of information from census statistics to the UK government and also culture and religion. It was only 24 questions and after weeks of studying it took me less than 10 minutes to complete the test. Now that I'm done I just need to fill out the application, pay the fee and send in all the necessary documents and wait for my visa to arrive, this one with no expiration date!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Vocal Coaching

Lately I've been keeping really busy, through my volunteering at Radio Hartlepool I was introduced to a local charity geared at giving teens an opportunity to express themselves through music and creativity. Red Dreams charity was started by Dawn and Ian McManus after their 16-year-old son tragically died in 2007. He was a musician and poet and his creativity inspired them to start Red Dreams in his honor to give local teens an outlet for their creativity. They also have a recording studio on site so all the kids who come in have the opportunity to make their own recordings, and they can also help bands and singer/songwriters create demo recordings.

Red Dreams mentors bands, singer/songwriters, aspiring recording artists and kids interested in theatre and other creative arts. They needed some new vocal coaches so I put myself forward to come on board and join the team at Red Dreams.

I started a few weeks ago with just two students, and now I've got 8! They are all teens between the ages of 14-17 and have a wide range of talents and abilities, but I really love teaching them and watching them learn and grow. They work mostly on pop songs, whatever artists they are interested in at the time, and when they have finished working on a song they get to record it and sometimes even have it played on Radio Hartlepool during Red Dreams weekly slot on Tuesday during the Morning Show.

Vocal coaching is really rewarding for me, especially in this environment where the kids are just there to have fun and gain some confidence. Working with teenagers is definitely challenging but Red Dreams is a place they all feel like themselves and its such an amazing place for them to come to.

I'm really enjoying my volunteering with Red Dreams, I'll keep you posted on the progress of my students and post any links to recordings if they get posted up anywhere on the internet.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Happy Adoptiversary Max!

Nearly a year ago on May 1st 2009, Jason and I drove to the Dogs Trust center in nearby Sadberge hoping we would be returning home with Max, a 2-year-old crossbreed who came to the Dogs Trust shelter as a stray. I still remember the feeling as we drove there hoping to pick him up. Over the couple weeks that we met with the staff at Dogs Trust and went through to process of applying to adopt Max I never allowed myself to get attached to the idea that we were taking him home. I didn't want to get my hopes up and risk having them crushed if something went wrong and we couldn't adopt him. The night before we were scheduled to go pick him up we went to the pet store to buy him some bowls, toys, a leash and some dog shampoo as he was still filthy from the time he spent as a stray. However, I wouldn't even let Jason take any of the tags off the new toys or packaging off the leash until the ink was dry on the adoption papers and I was sure we were bringing Max home.

It is a bit pathetic to say, and Jason still makes fun of me for this, but that day as soon as we had Max in the car and were pulling away from Dogs Trust I began to cry. It was a cathartic moment, he was our perfect dog and he was coming home with us. After a couple weeks of suppressing my emotions and trying not to get attached to Max I finally embraced the feeling that we were about to embark on a journey that would change both our lives and Max's for the better.

The first thing on the agenda (after a bath of course) was to fatten him up. When we brought Max home he was barely 40 lbs and so skinny that his ribs were clearly visible.

This was the first night we brought him home. Soooooo skinny! I can't believe how lean he was, especially his legs and chest!

Today Max weighs a bit over 50 lbs and our vet says he is at his ideal weight. As he gained weight we saw him transform into a completely different dog.

Comparing these recent photos with the photos above you can see how he has filled out in the chest and legs and no longer has ribs poking out!

Oops, someone forgot to tell Max he's no longer the dainty dog we brought home a year ago!

Early on we also learned a very important lesson, Max was going to require more than your run of the mill toys. He was on a mission to destroy every toy we gave him. Luckily he focused his energy on the toys and never on our furniture or belongings.
He was able to gut this stuffed penguin in a matter of seconds.

We had to opt for only tough rubber toys, and his favorite is his yellow ball which you see in nearly every photo of him on the beach! That is no tennis ball (he can easily shred those in just one trip to the beach) this is a solid rubber ball and the best £6 we ever spent since it seems virtually indestructible.

If you have been reading my blog for the past year, you probably feel like you know Max. He has a very unique personality and he endears himself to all he meets. 

He also has some peculiar sleeping positions. Like this one...

... and this one...

Yes, it seems wherever Max goes a bit of comedy seems to follow

Furry, fast and funny but above all Max's favorite thing is to be close to us.

Happy Adoptiversary Max!
Over this past year you have made our best moments even better and our worst moments bearable. You know when it is time to play and when I need a snuggle and kisses. You have brought so much energy, laughter and love to our home.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Kitchen Remodel = DONE!!!

Wow, this has been such a big project and I am amazed with the results. Here are some before and after photos.

I didn't take a ton of "before" pictures but here is one photo I took while Leeimi was helping us paint. You can see the old cabinets and the old blue walls. I love blue, and actually the paint color we chose "frosted steel" is slightly blue but the old blue was just a bit too much. The old cabinets were a really cheap vinyl covered chipboard and they showed every finger print and the finger prints were impossible to wipe off.

Ta da!!! I love the new color and the cabinets make such a difference. We also removed a cabinet that was to the left of the oven on its own, it kind of got in the way and made the wall a bit closed off. I think it looks so much better without that cabinet and since we gained another shelf on each of the overhead cabinets we made up the space there.

Here you can see the new cabinet doors on the left, and one of the old doors on the right. They didn't even have nice handles, just these plastic slats across the top to pull out.

The old drawers and base unit doors, and that shade of blue

The same area shown above with the new drawers and cabinet doors!

The new doors weren't going to fit our old cabinets because the old cabinets were much shorter, so we bought new wall units and installed them ourselves. 

Here is a closeup of the new wall units. The area on the far right of the photo is where there used to be a single cabinet, I think it flows much better without it there.

I also got some new canisters for the counter, I wanted something with a bit of color but nothing too bold or modern. I love these little crocks with their green lids!

We had an empty wall so we decided to put in some shelves to create a bit more storage. Its a great place to display my nice wooden salad bowls and to keep pasta, flour, sugar, olive oil and of course a candy jar and Max's cookie tin there on the bottom shelf.

I am so thrilled with how this turned out and even more proud that we did all of the work ourselves. It was kind of an intimidating project but we learned a lot and feel like DIY experts now!

Friday, April 2, 2010

East Candy Gripe

I love Easter candy, especially Starburst Jelly Beans, marshmallow Peeps and most importantly Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs.

Here, Easter candy is all chocolate. Instead of Easter baskets, kids get Easter eggs from friends and relatives which are big hollow chocolate eggs that usually come with a piece of candy in the box. They come in a ridiculous amount of packaging that is twice the size of the actual chocolate egg. Usually they have a couple pieces of candy or a little toy or prize in the box as well. I think they are a bit ridiculous. I could never eat that much chocolate.

This is representative of typical Easter candy in the UK. The large boxes are the Easter Eggs, then there are of course Cadbury Creme Eggs and Cadbury Mini Eggs. I can eat maybe one creme egg, and I'm definitely a fan of the mini eggs (you can get the creme eggs and mini eggs in the US) but every supermarket in the UK has at least one entire aisle stacked floor to ceiling with boxes upon boxes of various Easter Eggs from all the major candy companies. There are Mars bar eggs, KitKat eggs and Cadbury's makes several different kinds but the big eggs themselves are pretty much all the same, just a milk chocolate shell. The only thing that changes is the extra little pieces of candy that come in the box or little toys and trinkets. At least they are cheap, right now ASDA is selling most of their Easter Eggs for £1 each.

I am really missing American Easter candy this year, I really should have had someone ship me over some Starburst Jelly Beans, Peeps and Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs. I miss the vast variety of chocolatey and fruity candy available at Easter time in the US. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

Home Improvement

This past week Jason and I have been very busy with a big home improvement project. It was an ideal place to make major changes. This little "nook" that we have at the front of our flat is the first thing you see when you walk into the flat. Since the windows look out to sea it is the first thing that everyone looks to when they walk in our front room. This started out as a plan just to tear up the carpet and refinish the wood floor underneath, but it ended up turning into much more...

Phase 1: After tearing up the carpet Jason sanded down the floorboards. I had a moment of panic when the carpet first came up and the floorboards were dull and black with age and had large paint can rings all over. I couldn't have been more impressed with how beautifully they came up!

Phase 2: Painting the walls. This was not part of the original plan, we had only planned on refinishing the floor but then we figured as long as we have the area cleared why not paint as well? The new coat of paint makes this really look like two separate rooms instead of one room with a little nook. The darker shade instantly made the space look much bigger and created a sense of depth. The color is "cookie dough" although I think it looks like chocolate milk

Phase 3: Varnishing the floors. We bought a "yacht varnish" from a local hardware store. It was much cheaper than other varnishes made especially for floors, but I was really impressed with the results. It did take a long time to dry between coats, but I can't imagine that spending extra money would have yielded an incrementally better result. I am so happy with the way the floors turned out!

Phase 4: Finishing touches. The finishing touches were definitely not part of the plan when we set out to refinish the floors but as long as we had to take down the old curtains in order to paint the walls (home improvement is addictive) it seemed like a bit of shame to put the bland dusty old curtains back up. I knew exactly what I wanted and scoured all the stores looking for my vision until I found it. I love the chocolate brown with lime green accents and I think it gives the area its own unique look but also complements the red accents we have in the adjoining living room area. I bought the new rug a couple weeks ago and it goes great with the new curtains.

Jason also had an idea to get a bookcase to put in the room. (He will probably not be too happy that I revealed that he did have some creative input, he would have you believe that I did all the designing and he did all the labor.) I've got books and little decorative things stashed all over the house and I thought it was a great idea. We got the bookcase for quite cheap and had to assemble it ourselves (which you may remember is something I actually quite enjoy) and it fit perfectly in the space and is a great little display area as well as a practical storage solution. I love when form and function come together! To put a cherry on top I got a couple little lime green decorative pieces to put on the shelves and I think they give the whole project a catalog finish!

Last night we had our first dinner in the new improved space! I made Jason a special meal of penne pasta with a roasted vegetable puree sauce to reward him for all the hard work and elbow grease he has put into the project. I feel really confident about our upcoming kitchen remodel after seeing the results of this project and how well Jason rose to challenge.

It has always been my favorite place in the flat since I can sit there and tinker away on my laptop while watching the waves and the people walking along the coast, but now its just as beautiful a view inside as it is outside! I'm beyond thrilled with how it turned out, and even more happy with how cheap the project ended up being.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

More Leave!

Since Jason was sent home from the gulf early and he's now approaching the end of his Royal Navy career (only 2 1/2 years left!) he's kind of in limbo at the moment and I think they basically just don't know what to do with him. He checks in weekly with a Warrant Officer up at the base in Faslane outside of Glasgow and each week he gets told that they really don't have anything for him to do up there so he might as well stay home. There is a pretty good chance its going to continue like this for the rest of the month and he's just found out he won't be meeting back up with his crew until their leave is over at the end of May.

Its a lot of time off, but I think he deserves it and he's making full use of his time and doing what they sent him home to do which is to spend time with his daughter. I'm really grateful to the Royal Navy for everything they have done and for putting family first. We see Leeimi several times a week and our relationship with her grows stronger every day.

I struggle with how much to reveal here on my blog, its pretty much the most important thing going on in my life and at the top of my mind most of the time. However, its not my story it is hers and being a minor I don't feel comfortable telling that story for her. So I've resolved to tell the highlights, the birthdays, things we do together and photos here and there but for her privacy most of it I'm going to keep to myself. I want to talk about it and I know it would probably make a great story and some compelling blog material but this isn't tabloid news, its a child's life and some things still are sacred.

Luckily I've got plenty of other material for you. The long awaited kitchen remodel is finally getting underway, and we're going to do all the work on our own. We took the plunge this week (or rather I did, since I made all the decisions and forked over the cash) and we bought new door fronts and hardware for the kitchen cabinets. I'm really excited about it, the cupboards we chose are really beautiful and I love the brushed nickel handles we chose. The best part is that the home improvement store had a 50% sale on the door fronts and since we are doing all the work ourselves, its a steal.

The cabinet doors won't be delivered until April 14th, so you'll have to wait for a bit for before and after pictures. In the meantime we are going to be painting the kitchen and doing some other small things so I'll take photos as we go!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Max and Jason together again!

If you haven't already seen this video from a few weeks ago when Jason came home, follow the link to see it!

Max greets Jason when he returns home from the Gulf

Along with having Jason home, my days are further brightened by the improving weather. The weather has been a bit nasty this winter but this week we've had some great times out on the beach with Max!

Also, this week was Jason's daughter's 12th birthday! We took her out to dinner for her birthday and she really enjoyed herself. She had a big birthday party this weekend with her friends and I have never seen so many birthday cards in my life! Nearly every surface of her home was stacked with birthday cards! I hope this will be a really memorable birthday for her.

We got her an iPod for her birthday, she was so excited!

We also got her a little stuffed dog since her foster family have 3 boxers

She is such a little character, always posing for photos

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Where I've Been

Physically I have been right here in Northern England, mentally and emotionally I have been on a roller coaster ride.

Since things seem to be sorting themselves out and the dust is settling I figured here and now is the best place to update all of you my friends and family and some complete strangers on the drastic turns in my life in the past 4 months or so.

Back in October while he was still deployed my husband Jason was notified that he possibly had a daughter that he didn't know about from a woman he had a relationship with long ago. It came as quite a shock to me but the situation was further complicated by the fact that the reason we found out was that the little girl, whose name is Leeimi and will turn 12 later this month, had been removed from a family member's home where she was living and was put into foster care and Social Services needed to make attempts to locate her birth father. For her protection and privacy I will not go into detail about the life she has had for these first 12 years, its not easy to relate and it is in the past and we hope she has nothing but positive things to come.

A DNA test was conducted and we just found out the test results about 2 weeks ago. After the DNA test confirmed that Jason was in fact Leeimi's father I contacted Navy Family Services and they arranged for him to come home early on compassionate leave so she could meet him. She has known since she was 8 that he was probably her father and has been eager to meet him so it would have been horrible if she had to wait another couple months to meet him after receiving those DNA test results she had already been waiting so long for.

Jason got home last Monday and it has been a very busy and exciting week but Leeimi is an absolutely lovely girl and considering what she has been through in her life she has turned out to be an amazingly smart, fun-loving girl. Leeimi currently lives here in Hartlepool with a very nice foster family and will most likely remain there until she goes off to college. We have been busy this past week seeing her nearly every day and each day we love her even more. She brings so much joy to our home when she is here and I am looking forward to getting to know her and making her a part of our lives.

Being a stepmom is certainly not something I had planned on, but if there is anything I have learned in these past few years things never really turn out how you plan them and its usually because you can't imagine the places your life could take you. I've only been in stepmom mode for a week now and its definitely an adjustment but I have loved every minute of it.

Its nice to get this off my chest and now it will be nice to update this blog with what is REALLY going on in my life instead of trying to dig for things to talk about.

Jason and Leeimi (hello dimples!)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Gorgeous Sunrises

Winter means really short days, and I mean really short. Right around the Winter Solstice the sun wasn't rising until nearly 9am and it was setting just after 3:30 in the afternoon. Not a whole lot of daylight! However, it does make the chances of catching a spectacular sunrise much better, because, well basically there is a better chance of me being awake at the butt crack of dawn if it doesn't show itself until 9 am! It is getting earlier and earlier every day now and its rising at about 8am which is perfect for me to get some great shots on my morning walks with Max before I head over to the radio station.

Here are a few of the January sunrises I have been awake for! You can click on the images to see them larger.

The marine birds use the beach as a sanctuary from the snow

A very bright and very snowy early January morning

A glimmer of pink reminds us that there is a sun under all those grey clouds!

Max plays on the beach in mid-January as the sun rises

Sunday, January 17, 2010

My First Curry

It certainly wasn't the first curry I have had, but it was the first curry I have made myself and not from a jar. I have really challenged myself to eliminate as many prepared foods from my diet as possible and curry is a favorite violation so last night I figured now was as good a time as any to start practicing my curry skills with my favorite- Chicken Korma.

I decided to whip out my Jamie Oliver Ministry of Food cookbook. Its a cookbook geared toward beginners but there are a few great recipes in there I use quite often. For this undertaking I was really happy to have a cookbook for beginners to guide me through my first journey with curry.

I skipped a few steps just to get the hang of it. For instance I didn't have whole cumin and coriander seeds so I wasn't able to roast them for my curry paste as Jamie instructed. Also I forgot to buy groundnut oil and used vegetable oil instead. I definitely noticed that my end product lacked a little bit of depth because of this, but for my first trial run just getting down the basic steps and doing it once it worked out fine.

The first step was to make a curry paste, this was packed with lots of ginger, garlic, green chilis, cilantro, coconut, almonds and spices. I was surprised by how green this curry paste was, every jarred curry paste I have ever seen has been a brilliant red but because this was so fresh and had no added colors, it was flecked throughout with green cilantro and chilis. Luckily it looked a lot like Jamie's photos in the cookbook so I didn't let the color throw me.

Then I sauteed some thinly sliced onions with fresh ginger and something I had never cooked with before- cilantro stalks. That is coriander stalks if you are European, yes folks it is the same plant! In the US we call the plant cilantro and the seeds coriander, but here on this side of the Atlantic the whole plant is called coriander. I have always used the leaves and either blended the stalks together with the cilantro or else discarded them completely, but this recipe called for finely chopped coriander stalks, leaving the leaves aside (although there were plenty in the curry paste).

After this I added the curry paste I had prepared earlier, coconut milk, ground almonds, creamed coconut, chickpeas and some water and then I simmered it for awhile.

This is another place where I deviated from Jamie's recipe a bit. Jamie's book is aimed a lot at parents cooking for a family, so this recipe made enough curry to feed a family of 5 and I didn't have enough chicken breast for such a big recipe. Instead of adding the chicken breast at this step, I just made the curry sauce so I could split it in half reserving some to make a biryani which is kind of like a casserole you can make from leftover curry and rice. I simmered the curry sauce for about 15 minutes before splitting it in half and putting one portion away, then I added cubed chicken to the curry and cooked it for another 30 minutes while I boiled the rice. This alone was enough for dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow for me and then I can get another couple meals out of the other half.

I also noticed that I just happened to have all the necessary ingredients to make a mango lassi, which is basically just a mango milkshake made with fresh mango, milk and plain yogurt. Its a perfect compliment to any Indian meal because it is fresh and creamy and cuts any heat. Chicken korma is the mildest of all the curries, but even mine was a bit tangier than most because I was using fresh green chiles so the mango lassi went well with the meal.

This is the final product, although I cheated on the rice and used boil-in-the-bag stuff instead of steaming the rice like I usually like to but I had enough going on I wasn't going to split hairs over rice. I also didn't make the mini naan breads, I have tried to make them before but I really don't think they work unless you have a tandoori to cook them in, which I clearly do not. As I said earlier in the post, it lacked the depth that some other curries I have enjoyed seem to have but what it lacked in depth it more than made up for in freshness. It was the perfect amount of sweet and coconutty without being sickly or too rich and I really loved how good the freshly prepared curry paste tasted in this dish.