Tuesday 29 November 2011

A very Buffy birthday cake

I'm going to sound really self-centred here but I LOVE my birthday! For the month leading up to it, I'm like a small child on a long car journey that spends the whole time repeating "are we there yet?" in an increasingly frantic voice.

Yesterday, I decided to bake my own birthday cake ready for today and even though I haven't attempted this before (and hadn't, in fact, baked a cake for at least 12 months), I had great fun trawling the net for inspiration.

One cake in particular caught my eye, and in spite of my novice baker status, I felt confident I could make something similar to it:

I chose a Mary Berry chocolate cake recipe, as I thought the chocolate would look suitably dramatic against the red icing, and away I went!

There were a few hiccups along the way - medium eggs rather than large, a toddler that was scared of the electric handmixer, a hungry baby and a dog that decided to engage in a barking war with the Jack Russell next door. I also had a crisis over the ganache, as I opted to use milk chocolate rather than plain so I was worried it wouldn't have a lovely glossy finish.

I'm really proud of the outcome and I think you'll agree there's very little difference between my cake and the googled cake :

For those who want to make their own chocolate cake, I found the recipe here and honestly, if I can make it, anyone can! Plus, it was truly delicious! In fact, I'm off to finish off the last couple of slices now!

Monday 28 November 2011

Commercial break : mix-tape Monday #4

Boo and Me

A song from the best gig you have been to.

In 2008, I learnt that getting pregnant doesn't equal staying pregnant when I experienced 2 missed miscarriages.

After the second, I told myself I wouldn't turn down the opportunity to do things like going to gigs (as I had done) because I didn't want to miss out on any more of life. I wanted to feel normal again; like me rather than a "trying for a baby" machine.

Cue me, my husband and my dad at the LG arena in Birmingham in April 2009 watching what is indsputably one of the greatest bands in rock history:

I give you the song that was the highlight of that night for me:

Not long after that gig, I found out I was pregnant. My son is now 23 months old and no, we didn't call him Angus but we thought about it!

Saturday 26 November 2011

Commercial break : Share the blog love Sunday

Sunday; so sweet and innocent on the surface:

But dig a bit deeper and she'll pin you down and drain every last fluid oz of blood from your body:

This is one girl that doesn't like to share and most definitely NOT love.

Wait a minute! What's that you say? It's not Share the blog love, Sunday? It's Share the blog love Sunday?? So less killer vampire and more last day of the weekend? Right then.

For those of you who haven't heard of Share the blog love Sunday (as I hadn't until a couple of days ago), it was created by Tired Mummy Of Two who, each week, picks up to 10 blog posts from across the week and shares them with the readers of her blog.

It's great for 2 reasons. Firstly, as a blogger, it's fun to show everyone what you've been reading and enjoying through the week and secondly, it gives you, the reader, an opportunity to  explore other blogs that you may not have otherwise come across.

When Tired Mummy of Two invited other bloggers to share the love this week (as she has commitments this weekend that will prevent her from doing it), I jumped at the chance to get involved. So here it is, the blog posts that really stood out to me this week:

The day a police helicopter found me : an incredibly frank and open account of Mammasaurus' experience of Post Natel Depression

But why? : an entertaining anecdote from Bod for Tea which I'm sure every parent will identify with

The bishop's eye : a laugh out loud tale of the masticating Archdeacon and the chewing of breasts from Adventures of a Middle-Aged Matron

Jammin' session : when Mummy is a Gadget Geek used her breadmaker to make jam

Dealing with nerves : a typically exuberant and hilarious post by the delightful Mother Venting

7 secrets : a well written and charming insight into Margot and Barbara

Missy's second birthday : take a look at the incredible "Show Me Show Me" birthday cake made by ChrisTea and Cakes (then cruise on over to her post Hat a cake)

Why I feel better for wearing a necklace : a very moving post by Kate on Thin Ice about the many complex emotions that arose following her mum's death

Walk with me a while : take a virtual walk alongside Five Go Blogging courtesy of her beautiful photos

And finally, Welcome to the world Sam by Cafe Bebe. This was undoubtedly one of the biggest stories of the week amongst the blogging community on twitter, as we followed Karin from her admission to hospital right through to the birth of the delectable Sam. Congratulations Karin!!

If these aren't enough for you, why not pop on over to Tired Mummy Of Two where she's collated links to everyone who's gotten involved in Share the blog love Sunday. I'm sure you'll find plenty more posts to keep you busy x

Friday 18 November 2011

Becoming : Part 2

Previously on "A Hell Of A Woman"...

I talked a little about the impact Buffy the Vampire Slayer had on me at a dark time in my life, as well as my desire to rediscover my inner self since having children.

I was excited by the idea of setting myself a challenge and it seemed the universe was also trying to steer me in this direction as all of a sudden, a wealth of inspirational and aspirational sources started to descend on me via my twitter stream and other blogs.

So, what's been happening since then?

I found myself getting more and more excited. I was finally going to become an active participant in my life rather than watching it pass me by.

And I wasn't alone. There were others like me who also want to be more, like Liz at Margot-and-Barbara who is undertaking a 35:35-challenge to try 35 new things in her 35th year.

Then there's Bridgit at Wag Doll who has recently come back to sewing and is documenting her makes and the skills she's learning; very successfully may I add. There's also Steffie Jay at Steffie Jay's Bakes who is learning to cook and is blogging about her adventures along the way, even if they do result in a questionable Jam Roly Poly.

Lets not forget Kate at Kate on thin ice who has started the grooving mums challenge to help herself and others find their va-va-voom and finally, Ruth and Loretta at More than a Mum  whose aim is to help women be brilliant mums and rediscover their identity.

I spent many an hour mulling over the challenge I was going to set myself and in doing so, the actual detail of the task started to escalate in my head becoming more and more extravagant. The more complex and detailed my plan became, the more I started to believe it was going to change my life completely. I would discover a new talent; change my career path and generally start to lead a more fulfilled life.

Naturally, the weight of the expectation I was placing on myself caused me to stall. I hit a wall and despite several attempts, I couldn't find the right words with which to write this post.

The excitement started to fade and was replaced by crippling self-doubt and fear. What if I'm setting myself too big a challenge? what if I don't see it through? what if everyone expects me to fail before I've even started? How will I find the time? 2 small children means I struggle to find a space in the day to blog let alone anything more for myself.

So, where the hell do I go from here?

Well, first of all, I told myself to stop overthinking the whole thing!

I then realised yes, my original challenge was too big and I probably wouldn't have been able to see it through. I was planning a Buffy watching, writing and crafting challenge and realistically, I'm not at a point in my life where I can devote the time that this would have needed.

The next revelation was that as tempting as it may be to jump in with both feet to a hugely demanding project, I need to start on a smaller scale. If I give myself every opportunity to succeed now then I'll have a foundation on which I can build and next time, I can stretch myself that bit further. I have to remember that as much as I want to become "the finished product" now, immediately, right at this moment, that's not how the process works. I need to make the most of the journey if I want to make the most of myself.

With all of this floating through my mind, I present to you the following:

The 12 days of Buffy challenge

This is how it works:

The challenge starts on 01 December 2011 and ends on 12 December 2011.

Each day, I will watch one episode from Season 1 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (12 episodes in total) and I will write a blog post inspired by that episode.

However, I will also do one thing each day (as a minimum) and that thing will be a job that's been hanging over my head for a while. As Season 1 is about Buffy making a fresh start in Sunnydale, it seems particularly apt that I seize this opportunity to try and clear the decks a bit so I can move forwards with a much lighter load on my shoulders.

Join in!

If you want to join in this challenge, you can! You don't have to be a Buffy fan; you just have to do one thing each day that you've been putting off.

Tell me about what you've been doing via twitter using the hashtag #12daysofBuffy or by commenting on my 12 days of Buffy posts/sending me a link to your blog so I can include the details in my posts.

The countdown to 01 December 2011 has begun and I'm looking forward to seeing you all at the starting line with me.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Commercial break : 7 secret things

The delightful Mrs Slummy Mummy and 1978rebecca have honoured me with an award.

Of course, as is often the nature of these things, there's a catch. I have to share 7 of my secrets with you. Yes, it's all starting to sound a bit fairytale isn't it?!

Here they are:

Secret 1:
Husband says he woke one night to find me crouched over him, hissing and teeth bared, as though I was about to sink my fangs into his neck! He was so freaked out, he nearly punched me. He didn't though.

Secret 2:
When I was in my teens, I may have written a few love letters to Joey Lawrence of Blossom fame. He never wrote back.

Secret 3:
My husband affectionately calls me "mole" because in the mornings, I'm all squinty eyed and burrow under the bed covers to avoid being woken up by daylight.

Secret 4:
I loathe wooden coffee stirring sticks and ice lolly sticks. If the stick is left in my hot drink too long, I swear it makes my drink taste funny and I get a weird fuzzy feeling in my mouth that makes my skin crawl. The same with ice lolly sticks; I struggle to suck the end of the lolly off the stick for the same reason.

Secret 5:
When I was in my teens, my mum and dad took my little brothers on holiday entrusting care of the home and family pets to me and my younger sister.

We woke one morning to find my brothers' hamster stiff and unmoving and having had no experience in what to do in this type of situation, we very considerately chucked the poor little mite into the wheely bin.

Later that day, at my part-time waitressing job, I was told that some animals can go into a state of hibernation that resembles death but if you warm them up, they'll awaken.

Cue me, upon returning home, rooting through the wheely bin to find the hamster and holding it over the pressed down and warm toaster in the hope my assumption it had died was proven to be wrong. Needless to say, it wasn't.

The hamster went back in the wheely bin.

Secret 6:
I love Jason Statham films. I can't help it! I'm a sucker for films with no plot but loads of action and he does what he does so well! You don't need to mock me - my husband does plenty of that!

Secret 7:
My go to song whenever I'm feeling down and which always cheers me up is Hanson's "mmm bop" *whispers* please don't take my award away from me!

So there you go. 7 things you didn't know about me. Now lets pass the award on and find out about some others.

Commercial break : 10 questions

It's impossible to write a blog without also venturing into the always welcoming, extremely chatty and sometimes naughty, online blogging community. 

I've been incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to get to know some fascinating people and I hope to get to know a whole lot more.

I've found myself tagged by Jenny at Cheetahs In My Shoes to answer 10 questions about me. Here we go:

1. Describe yourself in 7 words

Quirky, loner, imaginative, affectionate, loyal, colourful, nosey!

2. What keeps you awake at night?

At the moment, it's definitely twitter! However, the baby comes a close second!

3. If you could be anyone for a day, who would you be and why?

Real life:
If he was still alive, I would jump at the chance to be Freddie Mercury for the day. I have (I believe!) every Queen album and have watched many documentaries about them and about Freddie himself. I find him fascinating and would love to have had first-hand experience of what he was like day to day. They are still one of the only bands to which I find myself not only singing along to the words of each song, but also singing Brian's guitar solos. This is my benchmark for a "good" band.

Fictional life:
There are far more fictional characters that I would love to be for a day; most notably Buffy Anne Summers. Yes, I admit it, I'm a sucker for a strong female character who has fight training and weapons!

4. What are you wearing right now?

A black and grey striped jumper, black ski pants, and black and red socks with snowflakes over them. God, I feel bland.

As much as I'd love to look like Sarah Michelle Gellar:

I know my style is actually Sue Heck, a character from the tv programme The Middle:

But you know what? I'm okay with that. I'm championing Geek Chic!

5. What scares you?

Creepy crawlies! The thought that a spider could climb into my mouth, or nose, or ear when I'm sleeping and I wouldn't know about it until it was too late!

6. What is the best and worst about blogging?

The best is being able to put my inner thoughts out there and to then find out, I'm not alone and that lots of other people feel the same way I do! I am normal!

The worst is the commitment it takes; however, I don't think I'd feel that way if I didn't feel like I'm spread quite thin at the moment. Finding the time to sit and write is very much a challenge for me and it's not easy trying to type with a snoozy baby laid across my lap!

7. What was the last website you looked at?

It was Etsy - I was hunting around for crafty inspiration amongst people that actually craft and don't just think about it and trawl the net like I do!

8. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

A characteristic : I would change myself from being a procrastinator into a do-er.

Physically : Perter boobs would be lovely. Breastfeeding 2 children is taking its toll.

9. Slankets - Yes or No?

Definitely no. But I would say yes to this: cuddly fleece onesie

10. Tell us something about the person who tagged you

Jenny is a married mum of 2 and responsible for a pair of *whispers* imaginary *speaks normally again* cheetahs. She collects random objects in not one, but many, handbags and bakes delicious cakes that make me drool a lot!

Now to the important bit - the rules
Answer 10 questions, tag someone to do the same. Then come back to the original post by Super Amazing Mum and leave a comment.

I’m going to tag Liz at Margot and Barbara because I've been twittering away to her today and she's lovely and I'd like to find out more about her. Phew! That was a lot of "and's".

Right, I'm off to comment on Super Amazing Mum's post but I'll be back soon xx

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Becoming : Part 1

I haven't had an opportunity to post over the last few days as husband hurt his back (bending to lift the baby of all things!) so I've had to fill the void left by his shoes as well as wearing mine. Lets just say that bedtime has been quite fraught without an extra pair of hands to help with the boys!

I have been thinking a lot though about this post; something that I've found frustrating if I'm honest because I'm great at thinking.....and thinking....and thinking.......and then....nothing! This has been my M.O for years and, as a result, it's a deeply ingrained habit that I haven't yet managed to break.

One thing I do know is that I want my blog to be about finding myself. That's not to say that it won't ever include other things; just that I want the main focus to be about the steps I am taking to make myself more than a mum, wife and daughter.

The other thing I know is that I want my blog to have a healthy focus on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

So the question becomes, how do I marry the two? and when am I going to get started?

To answer the first part of the question, in my head, I've been thinking I should set myself a challenge. One that will allow me to open my Buffy boxset and work my way through each episode and which will also "force" me to open my creative jaws and do something with them for once.

To answer the second part, I know I want to start with some immediacy. I've spent too much time waiting and thinking already and if I don't build on the momentum that spurred me to start this blog then I'm scared it will all just fade away and that'll be it.

Fortunately, serendipity seems to be on my side as today I came across a fabulous post by more than a mum (@more_than_a) called 'First steps to rediscovering your identity'. More than a mum is about helping women to be the best mum they can be while rediscovering their identity as a woman at the same time. It's hardly surprising then that this post resonated with me!

In a nutshell, more than a mum has provided an exercise to work through which will help you to figure out your dreams and what you can do towards achieving them. The theory is that if we learn to make our own opportunities and work towards our dreams, we'll not only become a more fulfilled and fully rounded individual but we'll also be setting a great example for our kids.

You can read More than a Mum's full post  here: http://morethanamumblog.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/first-steps-to-rediscovering-your-identity/

Here we go then, here are my answers to each question in the exercise:

1. What did you want to be as a little girl?

I desperately wanted to be a famous actress on the stage and in films. I was heavily involved in amateur dramatics until I left for university and I loved every minute of it! I really wanted to study drama at a 'proper' drama school rather than go to an 'ordinary' university but I lacked confidence in myself and didn't attend the auditions I was offered. Part of me wishes I had been braver but the rest of me realises that if I had been, I wouldn't be the person I am now and I wouldn't necessarily have met my husband or had my children.

2. What would you do if you were guaranteed you wouldn't fail?

I would be writing urban fantasy novels. It's my favourite genre and I absolutely love to read. I signed up to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) but quickly realised I don't currently have space for a commitment like that at the moment; not while the baby is so little. Next year, I'll try again.

That's not the only thing though: I'd also regularly craft, sew, bake fabulous cakes and study a martial art (although I haven't decided which one yet!)

3. What do you wish you could be doing this time next year?

I wish I could reclaim my evenings so I could do more than just sit in front of the tv with the baby attached to my boob.

4. What do you wish you could be doing in 5 years time?

I wish that I could get reinvolved with my local amateur dramatics group and that in the next 5 years I could direct a production of "Steel Magnolias". This has been a long time dream of mine.

5. Where would you like to be and what would you want to be doing in 10 years time?

I wish I could be a published author with an established fan base.

6. What is something you would quite like to do that you know you can do, you just haven't got round to doing it or made time to do it?

Making fleecey winter trousers for the boys. There are also a lot of mundane jobs in the house that need doing.

7. What would you love to do but it seems like too much hard work/effort/time?

If I'm honest, most of the above.
8. What’s your crazy dream you secretly would love to do but struggle to believe it’s even possible?

Again, if I'm honest, it's my 10 year goal of becoming a published author.

The next 2 steps in the exercise are all about getting started and taking action but I'll talk about this in my next post "Becoming : Part 2", as that's where I'll tell you all about where the above has lead me, what I'll be doing next and inviting you to join in .

Before I end this post though, I'd like to share some other sources of inspiration that I came upon today:

http://www.madebytamsin.co.uk/ : for lovely crafty Christmas decorations

http://www.wagdoll.co.uk/2011/11/winter-cape-in-gray-wool-cashmere.html : to see the wonderfully glamorous oytcome of @Wag_Doll's first attempt at sewing clothing from a commercial pattern

An article in the December 2011 edition of Sew Magazine about Carrie Maclennan, author of "The Busy Girl's Guide to Sewing" who only learnt to sew last year at the age of 31 and who started with less than no skills at all

Although this post probably seems a bit random, hang on in there as I promise it will all come together in "Becoming : Part 2" and you'll see then where my thoughts have taken me. Until then, I urge you to give More than a Mum's exercise a go and if you're feeling brave enough, I'd love to hear your answers x

P.S : Husband is feeling a lot better!

Friday 11 November 2011

Thinking about rememberance

I'm ashamed to admit that until last night, I didn't know why it is poppies, out of all the flowers, that we wear on armistice day.

There must be others out there like me. Those who wear a poppy and observe the 2 minute silence because that's what you're supposed to do; not from any real understanding of what it all means. At least, I really hope it wasn't just me.

Question: so what was it that opened my eyes?
Answer: a segment on *whispers* The One Show and an article in a local magazine about the poppy appeal and its origins.

Strangely though, both of these things, although eye-opening, left me feeling really sad. 

I can't help but wonder whether the yearly commemoration of armistice day will be adversely affected when there is no longer anyone alive that lived through/fought in world wars 1 and 2. After all, the rememberance I offer cannot compare to the depth of emotion behind the rememberance offered by someone that has first hand knowledge of living through the war.

It's not just that though. What my new knowledge made me realise is that I have never truly taken the time to properly listen to the stories shared by my nan and grandad of their experience of war. One day, they won't be with my family anymore and what will I tell my children about them? I will regret not having listened. I know I will.

All of this has brought me round to thinking "how do I want to be remembered?". This is a question that has been sitting quite uncomfortably at the front of my mind since the birth of my second child in July this year.

I absolutely want my children to know that I loved them with my whole heart. I want them to feel with complete conviction that I was a good mum. I want my husband to know that he completed me and made me a better person. I want the rest of my family to know, no matter how much or little I saw them, that I loved them.

However, there's a part of me that says that's not enough. I want to be  remembered as more than just a mum/wife/daughter/sister. For that to happen, I'm going to have to make some changes. I'm going to have to start doing rather than just thinking all the time. I'm not going to achieve my dreams if I sit on the settee sipping diet pepsi and browsing the internet night after night!

And with that in mind, I'll leave you for tonight with the saying "if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got".
Who wants to join me in doing things differently?

Thursday 10 November 2011

How Buffy saved my life

This is a difficult post to write.

There are plenty of people in my life who know how important the programme Buffy the Vampire Slayer was to me. In fact, it was a running joke for quite some time.

However, I don't think any of those people know why. After all, it's not every day that someone credits a work of fiction with saving their life.

It was 1998. I was part way through my second year at university having only just scraped through the first year by the skin of my teeth. My determination to prove myself by studying hard and focusing on my course had long since departed and I was well and truly caught up in a whirlwind of partying too hard, binge drinking, drug taking and poor boyfriend choices.

Things came to a head towards the middle of that year when I had an epiphany moment. I knew I had to leave or I was going to seriously crash and burn. I called my dad and he came that night and took me home.

I'd like to say that I immediately started the journey back to normality but in reality, it was probably another 9 months until that happened. I say 'probably' because when I think back to that time, it's all a blur. I remember the distress I caused my parents, my inability to see my boyfriend for what he really was and most of all, I remember drinking far too much far too regularly.

One of the first turning points for me was realizing I didn't love my boyfriend and didn't want to travel back to his hometown to be with him.

The second, and most significant, turning point occurred in the early hours of a morning in 1999. I came home after my shift at the local pub had finished and started to flick through the tv channels to find something to which I could wind down. That something happened to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Nothing has ever spoken to me the way in which that programme did. I understood Buffy's isolation, her desire to lead a normal life, the love she felt for Angel and the way her heart collapsed when she had to kill him.

I stopped binge drinking and started to focus on me. I began to read copiously again. I changed jobs and moved out of my parent's house and in 2002, I met and fell in love with the man of my dreams. We've since married and have 2 children together.

I laughed and cried my way through seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I was devestated when it ended as it had been such a big part of my life. That's when I made the conscious decision to walk away from my obsession and to look to the next chapter of my life.

Nothing has ever replaced BtVS in my affections and I honestly never thought I'd open the door to it again. But since having my second child just over 4 months ago, I've found myself feeling incomplete. Don't get me wrong, I love being a mum and a wife. It's just, I'm missing 'me' - my spark - and I'm not sure where it's gone or how to get it back.

Is it coincidence then that I've been watching odd episodes of Buffy here and there?

It feels good; like finding an old friend or hugging a family member. All the old feelings have been coming back and I can remember what it's like to have something that's just mine and feeds into me.

I've never written a blog before. You can probably tell! But I'm inspired to write one to document my journey to finding myself. I hope you'll follow me and share your experiences.

Buffy is a hell of a woman. When I grow up, I will be too.

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