Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Back Online, First Day Decorating, and a Lovely Tea Party

I was delighted to receive our new router in the post today. Having been told it would take 3-5 working days, and I only ordered it on Thursday and with two bank holidays over the Easter weekend, I didn’t anticipate it arriving before Thursday at the earliest.

I have now set it up, and removed the old defunct BT Openreach modem from the system and so far everything seems to be working OK although the wireless signal isn’t that strong. We are currently using the sitting room in Mum’s flat because our sitting room is in the process of being decorated, starting today, so it will be interesting to see if the signal strength is any better once we get back in our own sitting room.

The redecoration of our sitting room has started today! Our neighbour from the end of the street, who is a builder and does all sorts of useful odd jobs at an extremely reasonable price, has already completed the ceiling and two of the three walls which needed painting (we have one wall which we are leaving dark red) – the walls will probably require a second coat, but the ceiling in fine with one. It’s coming on apace and I don’t think the room will be out of action for too long. Already the room is looking brighter with the white walls instead of cream. Here’s a photo at the end of day 1 of decorating – not too easy to see what’s been done in the night-time light but it looks very different with everything taken out!

07 End of Day 1 Decorating

Last night I cut a stencil for him to make a nice art deco border around the tops of the walls. This is the sketch I did, based on a design I found online:

06 Sketch for Art Deco Border

and this is the stencil I cut, from a polywallet that I cut open. This stuff is a lot more durable and flexible than acetate, which I have used before.

05 Stencil for Art Deco Border

I have cut a single pattern repeat, which I think he will be able to do. I really wanted to paint this myself but I can’t reach up there, right under the ceiling cornice. In the photo you can also see a selection of stencil brushes, and my “Stick and Spray” adhesive from Crafters’ Companion, which is a low-tack, repositionable spray adhesive which is great for stencils. As you can see from the stencil, there are several long, unsupported pieces which would not be usable without the back being sprayed with adhesive. It remains to be seen how well it works, and whether we can achieve the desired effect. I deliberately chose a fairly soft, curvaceous design rather than a highly angular one more typical of the high art deco period because our house bridges the gap between traditional Edwardian and modernism, having been built in 1925. Also, we have opted for a more traditional chandelier for the centre light and this border will be more in keeping with that, I think. Anyway, it will serve to soften the hard edge of the cornice when it is painted orange, and bring the colour down towards the picture rail which will also be orange.

Today we invited our new next-door neighbour and our opposite neighbour (the one who kindly gave us access to her Internet connection over the past few days) for tea so that they could meet each other. We had a lovely time. Yesterday I did some more baking – all quick stuff: chocolate chip cookies, plain scones and Scots pancakes (drop scones). We also had a few Hamantaschen and some of Kermit’s birthday cake, and our opposite neighbour brought us some of her sugar-free sultana loaf. The table was groaning, fit to feed an army! You will be glad to hear that we made significant inroads into this feast and I don’t think any of us will be wanting much to eat this evening!

Tea Party for New Neighbour 29-3-16

The sun was shining very brightly so the picture isn’t terribly clear, but starting top left, there’s a plate of buttered Scots pancakes, and beside this, some slices of Kermit’s cake interspersed with Hamantashen. Top right: plain scones. In front of the Scots pancakes, a bowl of Cornish clotted cream and a bowl of strawberry jam, both of which go with the scones to create a traditional cream tea (a speciality in our area). Beside the jam is a plate of chocolate chip cookies with a few bought chocolate biscuits (the only thing I didn’t bake myself). Then the cups and saucers and a bowl of sugar for those who wanted it, and the plates complete with pretty paper table napkins and tea knives and cake forks. The pot of tea and hot water and the milk were yet to be brought in.

We all had a lovely time, and we are so delighted to have such very nice neighbours. You never know what your neighbours are going to be like, and you sometimes hear real horror stories of rowdy neighbours, people with dangerous dogs, noisy people, people who are very untidy and make the neighbourhood unslightly… You can choose the best location to suit your needs, but you have no control over the other people living there! How blessed we are.

Today I also baked a loaf of bread in the bread maker – the first time I have used it since before I started my chemo. This is a half-and-half loaf – half white and half wholemeal flour – I find that 100% wholemeal is a bit heavy and this is a good compromise.

Half and Half Bread from Bread Maker

We are now relaxing in Mum’s sitting room, both on our laptops, happy to be back on our own Internet connection. It’s been a lovely day, only spoilt now by the thought of the mountain of washing up waiting to be done once I’ve got some energy back!

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Happy Birthday Kermit!

Today is Kermit’s first birthday. For those who don’t know, Kermit is my stoma. It was exactly a year ago today that I went in to hospital to have my panproctocolectomy (removal of the whole of my large bowel and rectum) because of colon cancer, and the formation of a permanent ileostomy.

I cannot believe it is a whole year since it all happened! The whole of last year was an incredible journey from cancer diagnosis on 19th January right through to the cancer all-clear on 30th November. There were times when I thought I would never cope with a stoma but after the initial teething problems that we all have to go through, as my body settled down after surgery and changed shape somewhat, and the stoma continued to shrink, during which time I was getting a lot of leaks and skin irritation, everything suddenly clicked into place and since then I haven’t looked back.

Kermit has become part of my life. He is a little trooper – a very well behaved stoma who gives me no trouble. He enjoys all my favourite foods and I really have made remarkably few changes to my diet since his arrival. Also, he is obliging enough to take a nice long nap in the middle of the day, which means that on bag-changing days, if I time it right, I can have a shower without the bag on, and changing his bag is a doddle because he behaves himself so well and doesn’t wake up while I am doing it!

In fact, even if it were possible for me to have a reversal, I would not go for it because my life is so much easier with the bag than how it was before – although the symptoms of my ulcerative colitis were considerably reduced with medication, the condition was still a major pain to live with, and there’s no way I would return to that. So ultimately the cancer was a good thing because my life is now quite different!At the beginning of this year, I even found myself thanking God that I had had cancer!

I decided to make Kermit a birthday cake. Unfortunately, it being Easter weekend, the other two members of the Allerton Three (us three who met up and became friends on Allerton Ward, all having our bowel cancer operations) are away so we couldn’t have a tea party to celebrate our first anniversary, but we are hoping to get together again after the Easter break.

10 Kermit's Birthday Cake

Kermit’s cake didn’t turn out quite as well as I’d hoped, as you will see.

Here is the chocolate cake ready to go into the oven.

01 Ready for the Oven

On the left you can see the small metal tin with the red cake in it – this had already been baked.

Here you can see it turned out of the tin. It had quite a few air bubbles and wasn’t as smooth as I’d hoped, so I decided to glaze it.

02 Stoma Turned Out of its Tin

03 Stoma Ready for Glazing

First of all I needed to trim off the uneven bottom so that it wasn’t quite so tall, and so that it would sit nicely on the cake. This is Kermit’s selfie!!

04 Cutting the Bottom Off the Stoma

I warmed some strawberry jam in a small pan.

05 Heating the Jam for the Glaze

Once it was runny enough, I strained it into a small dish.

06 Straining the Hot Jam for the Glaze

I then poured it over the stoma cake and made sure the whole surface was coated, and left it to cool.

07 Glazing the Stoma

Here are the two chocolate cakes out of the oven.

08 The Cake Ready for Assembly

I was disappointed that they didn’t rise a bit better. I think the problem was that normally, when you make a chocolate cake, you add the flour and cocoa powder together, but in this case, I had to add the flour first so that I could remove a small portion to colour red with cochineal substitute.  After I had done this, I folded the cocoa powder into the remaining bulk of cake batter, and I think through all this stirring, I lost quite a bit of the air in the mixture.

I sandwiched the two cakes together with more of the strawberry jam.

09 The Cake Sandwiched with Jam

I have very little experience in icing cakes, and my only attempts, many years ago, were pretty disastrous. This time I found some excellent Youtube videos and thought I could manage to do a bit better. The best results seem to be from royal icing but I didn’t think I wanted to make a hard icing on this little cake, and wondered whether to use buttercream but thought this would be too soft. In the end I opted for American frosting, using a recipe in one of my recipe books.

I managed to get the consistency fairly OK for the main part of the cake although it was fairly soft. I coloured it pink, using two or three drops of cochineal substitute, and spread it all over the cake, making it as smooth as I could (which wasn’t very smooth!), and put it in the fridge to try and speed up the hardening process..

After this was done, I made a paste with some cocoa powder and hot water, and stirred this into the remaining icing. It was too runny and not dark enough in colour so I added a bit of boiling water and some more cocoa powder and some icing sugar to thicken it up a bit. It seemed to be OK at this stage.

To get the letter spacing correct, I made a paper circle the size of the cake, and the letters onto this. I then laid it on t0p of the cake and pricked through the top left corner of each letter with a skewer to make where to start icing each one.

I found some instructions on Youtube for making a paper cone for piping the icing, and this was fairly successful, but I couldn’t get the icing to come out of the end! I cut the end off to make the hole a bit larger, and then discovered there were some hard lumps in the icing and one had got stuck in the end of the bag. After removing it, the icing flowed out rather too fast and thick, until the next lump blocked the bag again. The consistency was much too runny and the icing spread too much. Also, the icing on the cake itself was still much too soft. The result was that I had to tinker with it, using a skewer, to try and get the letters to be a bit clearer, ad the whole thing is a bit of a mess!

Here is the finished cake, complete with a single candle for Kermit’s first birthday, and if you look closely, there is a chocolate chip in the centre of the stoma, for a bit of realism haha!! When my hubby saw it, he said, “Ohhh… that’s GRIM!!”

10 Kermit's Birthday Cake

Unfortunately my hubby won’t be allowed to have more than the smallest taste as he’s been told to stop eating sugar if he is going to avoid diabetes, so it looks as if Shosh is going to be eating this cake all by herself (with Kermit’s help, of course.) Roll on tea time later today when Kermit and I will sit down together and tuck in to his birthday cake.

Never mind if my hubby’s been totally grossed out by the whole thing, I think it’s fun, and Kermit is delighted to have a cake for his birthday!! I told him he can eat his cake, but only after I have eaten it first!!

Friday, 25 March 2016

No Internet Access

Late on Thursday afternoon I discovered that we could no longer access the Internet. After carrying out the usual troubleshooting, it transpired that our OpenReach modem has failed. I contacted Sky, our ISP, to be told that the system we have got is now obsolete anyway, and they will send me a new Sky hub to replace the existing wireless router.

Why is it that these things always seem to happen at the weekend, or even worse, at the beginning of a long weekend with two bank holidays? I have been told that the hub will take between 3 and 5 working days. They ordered one to be sent out immediately on Thursday afternoon, but we cannot anticipate receiving it for at least a week.

Our neighbour has kindly agreed to let me access the Internet via her connection, enabling me to publish this blog post.

I will be back on line as soon as possible.

 

Later: Our neighbour said that if the connection works across the street, I am welcome to continue using it till our new router arrives, and I am happy to say that the signal is good and strong! I am most grateful to her for this.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Jewish Baking and Zentangle News

Beginning on the evening of Wednesday 24th March this year, and ending on the evening of the following day, is the Jewish feast of Purim, the Feast of Esther. You can read the story of the exploits of this remarkable young woman who saved her people from destruction by the evil Haman in the days of the Persian Empire, in the Book of Esther in the Bible. At this festival, the Jewish people continue year by year to celebrate their deliverance by reading the whole of the Book of Esther and by partying – the children dress up in fancy dress, a lot of noise is made, gifts are exchanged, and special foods are eaten, and a good time is had by all.

In honour of my Jewish friends, and because I value the Hebraic roots of my Christian faith, I decided to join with them in making a couple of traditional foods for us to enjoy.

Hamantaschen

One of the favourite foods is Hamantaschen, literally “Haman’s pockets” in Yiddish, symbolising the money which Haman offered to Ahasuerus in exchange for permission to destroy the Jews. These pastries are also known as “Haman’s ears” from the Hebrew “oznei Haman.” Traditionally Haman is said to have had misshapen ears, and these delicious little sweet pastries are supposed to represent his pointed ears, or possibly his three-cornered hat. I first tasted these many years ago when a I went with a group of Christians who had been invited by our local synagogue to join in their celebration of Purim, and after the synagogue service we all adjourned to the hall next door and joined the party.

Doing some research online, I found any number of different Hamantaschen fillings that can be used. I tried making the traditional poppy seed filling from the recipe book I have got, but I did not like the results, so I discarded it in favour of the alternative filling made with dried fruit, cinnamon, apple, sugar and the juice and grated rind of a lemon. This is minced or ground into a chunky paste which is used to fill each circle of pastry, pinching the circle into a triangular parcel.

Here is the pastry for the Hamantaschen. It is a sweet, enriched pastry with egg and sugar added. I think I made it a bit too soft and it was rather difficult to handle – it might have been better if I’d wrapped it and left it to rest in the fridge for a while but I forgot to do this.

01 Pastry for Hamantaschen

I divided it into two to make it easier to handle, and rolled out each piece quite thinly, and cut as many 3-inch circles as I could – this quantity yielded about 50.

02 Cutting the Pastry

I finished cutting them at lunch time and had to stop at that point. I could see that some of the first ones were starting to dry out a bit, so I layered them all between damp kitchen paper and returned after lunch. The problem was that during this time they got a little bit too damp, and were very hard to handle without the pastry disintegrating. In future I think I will fill them as I cut them, and make sure I can complete them without interruption.

The Hamantachen being filled and moulded into shape, and placed on a baking tray ready for the oven. The small dish contains water which I applied around the edge of the pastry circle with my finger, so that the parcel would stick together.

03 Filling the Hanantaschen

The next photo shows the Hamantaschen straight out of the oven, cooling. Because I had had problems with the pastry being so soft and delicate, some of them are a bit misshapen, and one or two ended up with four corners instead of three! Generally, though, they were OK, although one or two got a bit overdone. I am still getting used to my oven which was installed with the new kitchen when we moved two years ago – I have not used it very much until now because I was extremely busy in the first year and of course was out of action last year with cancer and didn’t do much cooking at all; also, I do tend to use the smaller top oven for most things because it is more economical to run. I have to remember that the main oven is a fan-assisted oven and needs to run at a lower temperature than that stated in most recipes. As it was, I took them out five minutes before the due time, and even so, one or two were a tad overdone.

04 Hamantaschen Out of the Oven

Here are some of the better ones! You can see I have decorated them with hundreds and thousands over a honey glaze.

05 Hamantaschen on a Plate

As for the misshapen ones, well, what can I say? Haman has a pretty bad press and is generally considered to be a forerunner of Hitler, with the same motivation to destroy the Jews from the face of the earth, but what I have done to the poor fellow’s ears almost makes one feel sorry for him (well, almost…) – his ears are not only a bit singed, but he looks as if someone has boxed them and given him a cauliflower ear!! Still, he deserved all he had coming to him!

06 Misshapen Hamantashen

My hubby and I had some with a cup of tea and they are truly delicious! The filling is reminiscent of that used in the Rugelach (what we nicknamed Death Gliders) that I made recently, but I love the slight tang of the lemon flavour. The pastry is a combination of crisp and melt-in-the-mouth and if I’d brought them all through rather than just a few, I think they’d probably all have gone by now!!

Challah

Challah is the traditional egg-enriched plaited loaf eaten each week at Shabbat (or Shabbos as the Ashkenazi Jews pronounce it) – the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, strictly observed as a day of rest, the Queen of all Jewish festivals. It is the most delicious of breads. At Purim it is often made with a sweet icing (frosting) and decorated with coloured strands. I have not made challah for many years. Actually I have not made any bread since my illness last year and when I was making it up till then, it was in the bread maker, which is very convenient – you just put all the ingredients in, press the right buttons and lo and behold, several hours later, out pops a loaf! There’s not much hands-on involvement in its creation and this is something I missed.

When I left school in the early 1970s I took part in a commercial bakery course twice a week (bread bakery and confectionery) and I learnt how to knead the dough correctly and how to mould it for various shapes of loaves and rolls to ensure even rising. There was quite a bit of science involved and the whole process has always fascinated me. Part of the joy of real hands-on bread making is the tactile experience – the stretchy consistency of the dough and how it responds under one’s hands, and the most divine aroma. It has a magical quality too, containing a living organism (yeast) which makes it grow and transform into something truly wonderful, and there is also the feeling whenever I make bread, that I am continuing something which has been done throughout the millennia – a process that has changed very little, apart from modern mechanisation enabling mass production, and one feels a historical connection with one’s distant forebears back to Bible times. There is so much spiritual significance attached to this staff of life and it’s an amazing feeling, getting stuck in and producing it from scratch with one’s bare hands. For anyone who hasn’t tried it, I recommend it!

Anyway, enough of the waxing lyrical, and back to the practicalities!

Here is the dough which is formed once the flour, water and yeast, with a little sugar and salt, have been thoroughly amalgamated and vigorously kneaded until the consistency becomes elastic. At this stage it speaks to you – it squeaks as you stretch it across the table!

01 Bread Dough

I put it in a bowl and covered it with a towel, and put it in the airing cupboard while I made the Hamantaschen and had lunch. During this time, the magic began. See how it has grown!

02 Dough after Proving

The next stage in the process is the “knocking back” – turning it out onto the table and kneading it again, to knock all the carbon dioxide out of the dough, which has been produced by the reaction of the yeast with the sugar. When left to rest, or “prove” again, this ensures even rising with no oversized bubbles. Vigorous kneading is required.

Once it was knocked back, I divided it into four equal parts and rolled each out into a long sausage.

03 Moulding the Dough for the Plait

I pressed their ends together in order to begin to form the plait.

04 Starting the Plait

Working the four-strand plait. It’s very easy – you just weave the lengths alternately over and under, until you reach the end.

05 The Plait in Progress

The completed plait. I have tucked the ends underneath to finish it off. It is on the greased baking sheet that will take it into the oven, but first, it requires proving again.

06 The Plait Completed

Before putting it back into the airing cupboard, I glazed it with beaten egg white. This egg white was left over from the yolk I used in the Hamantaschen pastry. If I hadn’t had this handy, I would have used whole egg for the glaze.

07 The Plait Glazed with Egg White

When I went to rescue it from the airing cupboard a couple of hours later, it was about to crawl out of the door! See how it has spread and grown in volume.

08 Challah After Proving

The loaf in the oven.

09 Challah in the Oven

Finally, out of the oven and cooled somewhat. There is a lovely way to test whether the loaf is cooked or not – you turn it over and knock it on its bottom and if it sounds hollow, it is done. Lovely sound.

10 Baked Challah

I wish we had scratch-and-sniff Internet so that you could enjoy the full experience – one of the best aromas on earth, along with new-mown hay and freesias and freshly-brewed coffee, is the smell of bread baking, and it permeated through the whole house!

My hubby and I had a simple pasta meal tonight with some Bolognese sauce that I had made, and grated fresh Parmesan cheese, accompanied by a big chunk of this bread, still warm from the oven. I don’t think there will be much left for frosting…

I wish all my Jewish friends a very happy time this Purim.

Some Exciting News

This week I heard from Jane Marbaix, the author of the soon-to-be published new book on Zentangle which I am privileged to be a part of. She has the advance copy and she emailed me a photo of the spread with my design. It’s so exciting to see it in print. Here is a sneaky peek.

06 Sneaky Peeks Montage

The book is due out in May. More news as I get it.

This post has been edited after my error regarding the translation of “Hamantaschen” was pointed out to me by more than one person. Thanks for the info, and my apologies for the mistake!

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

WOYWW 354–New Stash, Music and Decorating

Since there is no change in my desk since last week and not wanting to miss out on the fun of WOYWW, I thought I would share the new stash I bought in February. It’s on my desk somewhere under the clutter, and even though it was “posed” for the photos, it’s been there on every Wednesday, so I think it just about qualifies for a WOYWW post!

I have been so busy with other things lately that none of this stash has yet seen the light of day or got its feet wet with ink!

After our wonderful Diana Taylor posted over recent weeks on using things she hadn’t used recently, including some fabulous flower stamps and dies which I quite fell in love with, I got the details from her and ordered them – they are the Heartfelt ones in the pink packaging. I also raided Ebay for some more new flower stamps because I don’t have many. The ones on the right are smaller than I’d hoped but they will still be useful, and the ones at the bottom can be mixed and matched for layering or making 3-D flowers if I want.

Flower Stamps and Perfect Pearls Feb 16

The box on the right is Bo-Nash Fuse It. It’s like the glue on the back of Bondaweb, but in powder form. I bought this for sprinkling on fused Angelina fibre so that I can apply it to projects – this stuff fuses beautifully to itself but not to anything else! Centre stage are the final Perfect Pearls to complete my set. Below the Perfect Pearls is a new pot of gold embossing powder.

While looking for new flower stamps, I found the new PaperArtsy Eclectica Collection by Lin Brown.

PaperArtsy Flower Stamps Feb 16

I also bought the companion stencils.

PaperArtsy Stencils Feb 16

I was totally blown away by these, particularly after viewing the Youtube video with all the projects people have made using them – I simply couldn’t resist!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yn8OdbuEUlA

One day (soon, I hope!) I shall get back into the studio and start playing with all these goodies.

Meanwhile, I am continuing to work hard on my guitar and singing technique. Here are my fingertips today – just over a fortnight on from when I started.

Finger Calluses 16-3-16

They are less tender now, and they look a lot worse than they feel! You can see that there has been some bleeding under the skin. They definitely feel harder now so I’m almost there!

I have been working on strengthening my left hand by squeezing the rubber ball my hubby used for the same purpose when he broke his wrist. Today I discovered some good exercises online for increasing flexibility, stretch and dexterity in the fretting (left) hand, with some excellent Youtube videos.

I have noticed since I started singing again that there is weakness in my middle register, and looking online again for advice on this, I came across Felicia Ricci, an amazing singing teacher who is enthusiastic and fun, and who explains things which are hard to put into words – I know I am going to benefit from this.

I spoke to my minister after church on Sunday and he said to email him when I felt I was ready to sing, and he’d fix it. It won’t be long now!

We are also about to redecorate our gloomy and cluttered sitting room, which doesn’t get a lot of natural light. At present the walls are cream, and we have far too much stuff in there. The lighting is very poor, so the electrician is coming to see if we can have wall lights. We are going to replace the cream paint with white, with small accents of a nice sunny bright orange. My hubby took me to B&Q yesterday (he said, “I know how to give a girl a good time” lol!) to buy the paint. I have ordered a new storage cabinet/bookcase to replace the ugly white painted shelves and this will be a lot less dominant. We spend a lot of time in there, and it certainly needs a facelift. Photos will follow! Now that Mum is no longer in the flat, we are going to move some of the stuff through there and use it while ours is out of action, which will be nicer in the evenings because it is at the back of house and gets the afternoon sun. Watch this space.

My hubby has been working hard in the garden and it’s all beginning to look lovely. We can’t wait for our rock plants to start growing. The water feature is looking great.

Happy WOYWW everybody and may we all have a fulfilling and creative week, whatever form that creativity may take!

Friday, 11 March 2016

Visit to the Met Office

On Wednesday afternoon my hubby and I went on an outing with our local Ileostomy Association to the Met Office in Exeter. The Met Office, responsible primarily for weather forecasting, has moved several times, and moved to Exeter a few years ago, where it is most likely to remain. The building is very modern, and striking in appearance.

Met Office Exterior

The tour started with a session in the lecture theatre, where we were shown a Powerpoint presentation giving the history of the organisation.

After the presentation, we were split into four groups and taken round by different guides. We had to be aware that people were still at work, and to keep the noise down, and make room for people moving to and fro.

Our guide described how previously, the Met Office was housed in typical government buildings with corridors and rooms isolated from each other, but this new building was constructed with a view to freer communication between different departments, with plenty of open space with tables and chairs to sit and chat and discuss matters across different disciplines.

Met Office Interior 1

Met Office Interior 2

Not only is the layout conducive to good communication, but the building has a light, spacious feel to it and we were told it was a very pleasant environment in which to work. Scattered around were various commissioned works of art by contemporary artists in many media and these added to the generally very aesthetically pleasing surroundings.

A huge amount of research goes on, analysing data coming in from around the world and via satellite and radar telemetry. Most of the staff have several university degrees in many disciplines - there are physicists, mathematicians, statisticians, engineers - you name it. The coffee shop is a key element because our guide said that you can ask people by phone, email, text, etc., to meet with you to discuss something and they won't come, but offer to buy them coffee, and they come like a shot! There is a restaurant, and vending machines throughout the building as they run shifts 24 hours a day. Everywhere there are recycling bins - it's all pretty environmentally conscious! They even have a gym to maintain good health among the staff. They have a large library and this is open to the public - in the library is a display of historical instruments, and I was fascinated to see an Admiral Fitzroy barometer - my parents used to have one so it was very familiar to me.

Admiral Fitzroy Barometer

We were shown some very interesting items such as a model of the aircraft they use for measuring different things in the upper atmosphere, a model satellite, and some very interesting free-floating buoys which can be programmed to rise and fall to different depths in various oceanic currents, all the time monitoring pressure, temperature, salinity, speed etc. There is a label on the side stating it is the property of the Met Office and "Do Not Retrieve!" These oceanic currents are part of the engine that drives the global climate. A great deal of research is being done on climate change, collating data from around the world, and looking at ice cores, atmospheric dust etc. They were at the forefront of the decision to stop all flights after the volcano erupted in Iceland a few years ago, measuring the levels of dust in the atmosphere. They monitor droughts and floods and try to predict when these things might happen, and try to help communities in the Third World which are particularly vulnerable to these events.

He explained about the duplication of a lot of the equipment in case of failure, and details of how much electrical power is required to run the supercomputer, and how it is water cooled - I wish I could remember all the facts and figures! The water heated during this cooling process is used to heat the building, and any excess is used to generate electricity to be ploughed back into their system. They have their own power plant and back-up generators, and several hundred solar panels, and they don't waste any energy.

Someone said to me recently that since the Met Office moved down here, the local forecast seems to have got less accurate lol! She said she felt like phoning them up and saying, "Just look out of the window!!" I don't actually think they do too badly these days - it's a lot more accurate than it used to be, and our guide showed us some charts while we were still in the conference room, showing how the accuracy of the predictions several years ago for one or two days ahead, is now what can be expected for 5 or 6 days ahead. The supercomputer is making over 1,000 trillion calculations every second.

I asked our guide about the average age of the employees, because they all seemed to be very young. He said that the average age had dropped from about 35 to early- to mid-twenties. Being a government department the pay isn't that brilliant, and young graduates are happy to put up with this for the benefit of gaining experience, using their expertise, getting papers published, having something good on their CV etc. Being mostly single, they manage fine on their salaries, but once they start to settle down and get married and have families, they tend to move to better paid pastures new. He says there is quite a gap between these young employees and the ones like himself who have been long-term employees for 30+ years and this is proving to be quite a problem. They need the experience but people are not staying more than a few years.

The final stop was at the library, and then we all met up again in the lobby before coming home. The whole visit took about 2 hours. It was all very interesting, and I hadn't realised just how much they do and how important the work is - it's not just so that we can decide whether to take an umbrella to work that day, or whether to hang the washing out or not!!

Other News

After all the recent activity, yesterday I was extremely tired so didn’t push myself at all, but got up late, and spent most of the day resting on the recliner. Even if I feel I am wasting time and being lazy when I get a day like this (which is not true – after 9 years of M.E. I should learn not to be so hard on myself!!) it is well worth it, because the next day I really feel the benefit of it. Today I am feeling a lot better, and able to tackle the laundry and various other tasks.

Yesterday was the first day since I took up my guitar again at the end of February, that I did not do any practising. Being so tired, I gave myself a day off! I played and sang again this morning, though, and am pleased to say that I am making progress and my fingers are definitely not as sore as they were. I noticed this morning that the calluses are forming very well, and no longer look like deep white blisters, but have turned brown!

Finger Calluses 11-3-16

They are getting sufficiently hard that hammer-ons are now becoming more audible! My fingers are still sore, and the percussive impact on my computer keyboard still hurts, but this will pass as the calluses develop further. The only way is to keep at it!

During the tour of the Met Office I thought I was beginning to develop a cold, which I really dreaded. With my M.E. a cold usually degenerates into a more severe viral infection causing me to feel flu-y and feverish, and I often get a throat infection and end up coughing for weeks – definitely something to be avoided! I squirted some Vick’s First Defence up my nose and as the evening wore on I didn’t think it had done any good. I went to bed with some hot lemon and honey and slept well, and in the morning there was no trace of it – so I’m not sure if any of my remedies worked, or whether the whole thing was a false alarm! Anyway, I am fine, and was able to go to KnitterNatter (our church craft group) in the evening, feeling better after resting all day.

The wound where my port was removed on Tuesday is healing well. I have not had to take paracetamol apart from on that first day, but it is still tender to the touch. I miss having it though, because I used to fiddle with it, and it feels very strange not to have a hard bump on my upper right chest any longer. After a few days the skin adhesive should slough away and the wound become less puckered and red. Yesterday they phoned me from the hospital to check that everything was OK, and I as able to report that it was fine and there were no problems.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

WOYWW 353

Yet another busy week gone by with no art done. It’s got to the stage now where there are double bookings and I’m having to choose which to do! Oh well, I suppose this can’t go on forever! Here’s an extended view of my studio, showing that it has again reverted to its dumping ground status. This always happens when it is not being used for art. It’s worse over the other side of the room.

WOYWW 353 9-3-16

I’ve been having a bit of a clear-out in the sitting room in preparation for some re-organisation and possible decorating, and I took piles of stuff upstairs and just dumped it all in the studio and office. When I get time I’ll sort through it and have a good tidy-up, and hopefully soon get back to making art. Our sitting room is overcrowded, cluttered and gloomy. Time for a change! I’ve got Plans.

I had my port removed at the hospital yesterday – scroll down to the previous post for details (and full details on my Cancer Diary page). It’s going to be rather uncomfortable for a day or two but paracetamol is helping. It all went smoothly but I feel rather strange about it all!

My fingertips continue to be pretty sore from over a week’s guitar practice – about half an hour each day – but I can see the beginnings of calluses forming, which is good news. I’m still pretty rough round the edges as far as the playing and singing are concerned but it shouldn’t be too long before I’m up to scratch.

On Friday I met up with one of the friends I met in hospital, at the cancer support centre for the monthly relaxation session, and made a couple of new friends there too. It was a great session, followed by a nice leisurely chat over coffee.

I attended an Ileostomy Association meeting on Saturday which included a talk by one of the colo-rectal surgeons from Exeter, on parastomal hernias, which are an occupational hazard for us ostomates – informative, useful, and humorous too! As well as the business side (AGM) we also had a delicious buffet and plenty of opportunity to chat, and visit the stoma supply companies’ reps’ tables. A good day, followed by crashing out on the recliner and going right off to sleep.

I made it to church on Sunday morning, and then went with my hubby to visit Mum in her care home in the afternoon, armed with flowers and a card for Mothering Sunday. Then another sleep on the recliner!

This afternoon we are off out again with the Ileostomy Association for a visit to the Met Office in Exeter to find out just how they manage to forecast our ever-varied and increasingly bizarre weather. I hope we get home in time for my Tesco delivery.

Another KnitterNatter meeting tomorrow evening (our church craft group) – an opportunity to do some more on my UFOs (UnFinished Objects) – at the moment concentrating on my Hebrew alphabet sampler (cross stitch).

Last Thursday night, Phoebe had another seizure – quite a big one. We phoned the vet on Friday but she’s reluctant to increase the dose of phenobarbital unless the seizures increase in frequency, because of possible side effects. Because she seems to distressed and disoriented when it is over, this time as soon as she stopped moving, I scooped her up and cuddled her until she seemed calmer. She is always very clingy afterwards and won’t let me out of her sight. Poor little one.

It’s all go, chez Shosh.

Keep your eyes open for another post soon, showing, as promised, the new stash that I acquired recently. Maybe one day I’ll actually have the time and energy to start using it.

Happy WOYWW, everybody!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The Deportation of Shoshi

I’ve been deported… It’s OK, I’m still living in the UK, safe and sound, but today my port-a-cath was removed under local anaesthetic. Please see my Cancer Diary page for full details.

Port-a-Cath Placement Diagram

Port-a-Cath Diagram

The whole procedure was a lot easier than I’d expected. The worst part was the injection of the local anaesthetic which really was quite painful. It worked very quickly and the surgeon began the procedure almost immediately. All the staff in the theatre were very friendly and reassuring, and told me exactly what was going on throughout, and asked if I felt any discomfort (which I did not). I could feel a certain amount of pushing and pulling as he freed the port from the stitches holding it in place, and the connective tissue which my body had produced around it. I could not see what was happening because of the position in which I had to lie, but I could hear what was going on.

He opened up the skin along the scar from when the port was inserted so there shouldn’t be any more of a scar than I already had. After its removal, it was just a matter of sewing me up again, with a final touch of some waterproof skin adhesive and no need for any dressing. I can shower when I like, and I do not need to return. I will get a phone call tomorrow to check that everything is OK, and I’ve got a number to ring if I have any concerns.

I was actually feeling rather attached to my port (emotionally as well as physically!) after having had it for 10 months, and I was quite accustomed to the hard little lump on my upper right chest wall, and the catheter which I could feel under the skin, running over my collar bone, and I used to fiddle with it sometimes! I feel quite bereft in a funny sort of way, now it is gone. I asked if I could keep it but they said no – health and safety and all that – they used to let people keep them in the old days but now they are worried about infection – they were sending it to histology to check, but there is very little likelihood of anything. Everything apparently looked absolutely fine.

A cup of tea in the recovery ward, after which I got dressed and sat with my hubby in another room until the nurse came in with the discharge paperwork, and after this we were free to go.

This port-a-cath has been absolutely brilliant. It was more trouble to install, and to remove, than the alternatives, but so much more convenient for me, especially through the summer months when I was having my treatment – being completely buried under the skin, there as nothing to show except a small bump, and I could shower and do everything as normal without having to worry about it.

The removal of the port really does mark the end of my cancer treatment – it’s a real red-letter day. However, in the same way that my emotions were very mixed when I was given my cancer all-clear, so they are today – of course I am glad it is no longer needed and has now been removed, but it’s the passing of an era and I feel rather sad about it in a funny sort of way! I shall feel absolutely fine about it soon, I know – just as I do now about my all-clear verdict. It’s just another milestone along the journey back to health, and I am grateful.

I would recommend a port to anyone about to undergo chemotherapy.

Any old port in a storm.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

WOYWW 352

We continue to be very busy, and I haven’t had any time to speak of for art this week. I have done some more baking for the chemo unit, though (scroll down to see my last post for details) and late last night made two batches of biscuits to take in to the Ricky Grant chemo unit when we go in today. (I haven’t got an appointment, but just want to say goodbye to my favourite receptionist who is leaving).

05 Finished Biscuits

I made cheese and cinnamon biscuits. I was sad last time I went in that a couple of people were not able to enjoy the cakes I took in because they had diabetes, so I thought a savoury choice might be a good idea this time.

I am going back to the hospital next Tuesday (8th March) to have my port removed. It will be strange not to have it any more as it’s been part of me for 10 months. Its removal marks the symbolic end of my chemo and (pending the results of further scans and blood tests over the next 5 years) the end of my cancer.

The only art I managed to do this week was to finish my kitty art journal page.

22 Completed Page

If you want to see details, please go here.

Also this week I have revived a long-neglected skill. On Sunday after church, our minister asked whether I would sing for them. It has been a very, very long time since I sang in public (or even at all!) and I had not played my guitar since I went downhill with my M.E., and then other things really took over. On Sunday afternoon I dug the guitar out from the recesses of the under-the-stairs cupboard, dusted it off and sat down to have a go. At first it was totally awful but then I expected that – however, what I hadn’t expected was that I remembered all the chords with no problem at all – memory is an amazing thing, isn’t it. I suppose remembering guitar chords is a bit like riding a bicycle, or like touch typing – it’s a sort of muscle memory! At the end of the session my poor fingertips were very painful as all my hard-earned protective callouses had disappeared many moons ago!

Since then, I have been practising for about half an hour each morning. On Monday, putting my sore fingers back on those steel strings took a great deal of courage and it really HURT! However, the only way to build up callouses is to do the thing that made the fingers sore to start with – playing the guitar! Several days on, they are still quite sore, but typing isn’t quite so painful this morning as it has been, and I think I’m on my way. My playing has definitely improved over the succeeding days, and I am sure that I shall be ready to step out in faith and do it in public before too many more weeks are up!

My hubby is thrilled that I am doing it again. There is another member of the family who is also thrilled. Phoebe!

Phoebe Asleep in Guitar Case 1-3-16

Happy WOYWW everyone, and I wish you a fulfilling and creative week.

Chemo Biscuits

We continue to be quite busy, and yesterday we sat down together with our diaries to plan a few things. My favourite receptionist at the Ricky Grant (chemo) unit is leaving, and I really wanted to go in and see her before she went, and today is the best day for us both. Not wanting to go in empty-handed, and miss the opportunity to give the chemo-ites a bit of a treat, I realised I didn’t have a great deal of time to do any baking, so ended up doing it last night, finishing in the small hours of today!

Last time I was there, a couple of the chemo-ites refused my cakes because they had diabetes, so I decided I should always provide a choice of sweet and savoury, so this time I made two batches of biscuits, one of cheese and the other cinnamon.

Here are the cheese ones being made.

01 Making the Cheese Biscuits

Here they are, straight out of the oven.

02 Cheese Biscuits Finished

Then I made the cinnamon biscuits.

03 Making the Cinnamon Biscuits

This mixture was a lot softer and more difficult to handle. It was also a lot more sensitive to the oven temperature and length of cooking, and I’m afraid I rather overcooked the first batch!

04 Cinnamon Biscuits Finished

Here are the completed biscuits ready to go.

05 Finished Biscuits

I took out the ones that were most overdone or misshapen ones.

I wish Emma well in her new job – when I go in to the Ricky Grant Unit from now on, I shall really miss seeing her.