Come Join Me Over Here!

Hi there!

I'm glad you've come to read my blog, but unfortunately I don't live here any more!

Feel free to trawl through my archives or look up my posts on Scoliosis which will always be at home here, but when you're ready please come and join me at my new home:


See you there!

Catherine Ann x

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Interruptions and Introductions

I’m afraid the Scoliosis Story has been interrupted twice now... the truth is that there was a lot of morphine involved (that’s right, I’m hard) so I’m having to think really carefully about my time in hospital and ask family and friends what actually happened where my memory’s failing me.

In the meantime, there are a few little things I’d like to mention. If you’re reading this before 7pm on Thursday, then make sure you tune in to Midlands 103 if you’re in Laois/Offaly/Westmeath or find the broadcast online at www.midlandsradio.fm because I’ll be on the air talking about this very blog— namely the art competition. If you’re coming to us after the show, I hope it went well (did I mess up? Did I?!) and you can find all the details you need for the contest here.

I’ve been having lots of fun with my “Six of the Best” from Blog Every Day In May, and I hope you all enjoyed those posts. A couple of the challenges in May were to mention other blogs you like, so I’ve decided to do that, too, in order to introduce you to some wonderful people and to give you a little taster of what will be coming up in the next few weeks.

First of all, if you’re a regular to the blog, you’ll have heard of Crow and Bambi. If not, check the “features” tab at the top. It’s hard to believe a year ago I didn’t even know them and now they have such an important place in my life. They also just happen to be two amazing writers.

Bambi and I started our blogs around the same time, so it was really exciting to take those first steps together! What I like about her blog is that she talks about problems she’s having, but not in a whiney teenager-ish way. She takes her experiences, good or bad, and thinks about how they have affected her and how things can be improved. That’s something I think all teens should be doing and it’s very close to what I’m trying to achieve here at Unlucky For Some. Her blog can be found at www.everythingandanythingtolove.blogspot.ie

When I met Crow for the first time, he’d already been blogging for a while. This was brilliant as it meant someone shy like me could go to the site and get to know him! The results: he’s hilarious and really clever. I think you’ll all love his posts, which are short and to the point. (Something which you guys can probably tell I struggle with). Crow talks about whatever takes his fancy, but always has something interesting to say. Another thing I like about him as a person is that he is able to take a step back from a situation and accept the views of other people, which makes for a really refreshing read over at www.dearsaul.wordpress.com

The first blog I ever really paid attention to was by a lovely lady named Jenni. It was just before Unlucky For Some was born and I needed some advice, so I went looking for tips and she has some great ones! She’s an excellent writer and photographer and I think you guys will enjoy her witty posts and the little snapshots of her life and her hometown... I wish I lived in Austin as she makes it sound so very appealing! I must say she’s very friendly if you comment or get in touch, so have a chat to her at www.storyofmylifetheblog.blogspot.com

I also adore Literary Bits, a recent discovery full of little tips and tricks for writing. It’s my go-to now when I’m stuck on a story! The posts are short and sweet but packed full of useful info which any writer (whether they blog, report, write fiction, anything) should take on board. Check out www.literarybits.com for help, encouragement, advice and even sympathy when it’s all going wrong. Even the comment threads are full of lovely writers to chat to!

So I’ll be citing these four blogs in late July when I begin to talk about writing and what it means to me. However, my next theme’s actually going to be about crafts and all things DIY. A blog I’ve found really useful for this is... (last one, I promise!)


Creating Laura! I discovered this site ages ago when looking for ways to revamp my old clothes, partly because I love sewing and partly because I hate spending money when it can be helped. This site has really simple ideas with clear pictures to show you what can be done even if you’ve never “crafted” in your life! There’s also some more advanced stuff as Laura’s a keen knitter. I haven’t tried any of those yet, but I can’t wait as she explains all the stitches really easily. Go get creating at www.creatinglaura.com for anything from clothes and accessories to a DIY calendar! 

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Six of the Best... A Vivid Memory

Before I start, I want to make sure everyone sees the new entries to the competition! Seen them? OK, sorry to slow you down...

This was challenge 31 in May. Crow wrote about the moment he knew he wanted to be a writer and Bambi chose three memories involving spending valuable time with friends and family. It was interesting to see how different people have different priorities when it comes to memories they treasure the most.

My memory only happened a few months back, but I don't think I'll ever forget it.

There are six beds in the ward, and that bothers me immensely. I’ve been in hospital before, I’ve been weak before. I know the indignity of it all, the frustration, and who wants to be looked upon by five other patients while going through that? There are curtains which never quite seem to cover all the gaps. I know how they feel.

It must be worse when you’re dying; and I know she is dying. They’ve said as much without saying as much. The phrase in vogue is “doesn’t have long left.”

I feel like they could be doing more, but she is old so they don’t care. I feel like I should be doing something, but she is old so I don't know. She looks frail and I am afraid to touch her; she looks confused and I am afraid to look at her.

I look instead at the woman in the next section, though I know I shouldn’t. She sits up in a chair, looking a lot better than my loved one. Her daughter, I think, and granddaughter, chat to her. They wipe surreptitious tears of their own—maybe not so much better, then. Presently an old lady wanders in and they greet her, Sister. My ear pricks up. She is a sister of St. Louis, something I have a connection with. That is what sparks my interest but it is the nun who keeps it. Her whole attitude.

“The doctor was handsome was he? It’s a good thing I wasn't here, so!”

She looks at the patient’s pills and comments, “Those ones are nice, I had those with my breakfast. Will you have them now? Alright, in a little while then. Good woman yourself.”

It strikes me how sick and old the nun herself is, but it’s as if she knows there are far more important things to be getting on with. The thought of how strong she is, how weak I am being, makes my eyes prickle. I throw a quick glance at my loved one. What if she opens her eyes, as she struggles to do on occasion, and catches me crying? Then she will know how bad things are.

“You’re being transferred to a new place? Grand, that’ll give me a chance to visit. How about those tablets now? No, whenever you’re ready. Good woman. That’s the way.”

I wish I could be as strong as her. She casts her eyes over my face, no more than a swift glimpse, but I feel like I’ve been saved on some kind of database.

After a while, Sister decides that she’d better be going. By this time, I don’t really notice her words as I’m in full-blown tear mode, great salty shuddering sobs stifled in the wool of dad’s jumper.
Sister stands, kisses her friend, hugs the daughter, hugs the granddaughter and asks a quiet question about the lady in the bed near the window. Comes over. Looks only at me. “But you love her, don’t you? And that’s why you’re upset. And that’s OK.”

She takes my hand in hers and I feel something pull up my arm and into my stomach. If anything, it makes me cry even more.

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the lord is with thee...”

I join in, speaking the words automatically but hushed, in case my voice should waver and break the 
spell. But it doesn’t. For some reason, it doesn’t break while her hand is on mine.

“...and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus...”

I look down at her hand and commit it to memory. She asks me my name and I know she will tell it to God in her prayers tonight. I also know that she will be with me forever, one way or another. I know that anything difficult will weigh a stone less because she held my hand in hers.

I wish I’d asked her name. 

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Scoliosis Story... Part Three

UNDER THE KNIFE

I checked in to Blackrock clinic on the night before my operation. At this point, I hadn’t really experienced much anxiety. I’d managed this, I think, by focusing on the good points. There were a few, believe it or not!

First of all, my family and friends were really supportive of me. For example, at school, I’d felt worried for a while as most teens do about not having very many good friends. I realised throughout this experience how many people were there for me. From people at school wishing me well, to my close friends looking after me, to even having a mass said for me—it doesn’t matter what your religious beliefs are, having a church full of people who care about you can’t be a bad thing. Not to be too materialistic, but the “good luck in hospital” presents were pretty nice, too ;)

Along with my prezzies, I had a gift card from school for being a smart cookie in my exams the previous year, so I splurged on lots of books to keep me busy in case I got bored in hospital. However, in hindsight, I’d advise against this. There’s really no point: you think you’ll be bored but for a long time you’ll be too tired to do anything. I’ll get to that part later.

I also looked at my hospital stay as a holiday—yeah, I’ve always had a big imagination. I’d be having time off school (which had been really stressful at that time), and my room would have a TV. I’d also heard the food was good. When I saw my room, I noticed you could see out the window and in to a school where I could watch people getting in trouble and see what really goes on behind the teacher’s back... so snooping was kind of fun.

By focusing on the positives, I was able to keep most of my nerves at bay. I'd recommend not watching your operation on youtube though... I saw a few seconds and it didn’t help.

Anyway, once I was settled in to my new room and had played with my remote control bed for longer than I’m proud of, it was time for mum and dad to leave me. They were staying in our cousins’ house close by and would be back in the morning, but I was still a bit nervous about them leaving. Luckily a lovely nurse came in who’d be responsible for me before my operation. She gave me some weird pink soap I had to shower with to make sure I was completely clean for the operation and said she’d wake me in the morning. 
Another carer then came in with some toast: “I know you won’t be able to eat anything tomorrow morning.”

I’s just like to say at this point, and I will again I’m afraid, how unfailingly kind most nurses are—it’s a true vocation, something I could never do, and you can really tell who’s been called to it.

The next morning I was woken by the nurse and saw Dr. Sheehan again. He would be anaesthetising me for the operation, but offered me a tablet to calm me down. At first I said I felt fine, but I think we both knew it was a good idea. After I took the pill, I’m pretty sure my arms were floating like Will’s in The Inbetweeners, but that might just have been me.
                                             

                                                          

My parents arrived to give me a hug and the last thing I remember is being wheeled in to the lift and dad saying something before I fell asleep.


I’m glad I didn’t notice anything after that!


Read part 4 here.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Scoliosis Story... Part Two

PRE-OP

If you’re going to have anyone slice you open, it might as well be Mr. Kiely. I have to commend him here. He’s very professional and puts his patients at ease right away. I’ve been in contact with four or five other patients of his and they all agree with me. So Mr. Kiely, if you’re reading this, thanks!

Immediately I knew he took my case a lot more seriously than the previous surgeon I’d spoken to. He’d seen lots of similar cases and knew how scoliosis can progress and what a pain it can be to live with. It was decided there and then that I’d be put on a Private waiting list because, although it wasn’t exactly easily affordable for my parents, I needed to be fixed ASAP. You see, the public health service leaves a lot to be desired and waiting lists are very long—I’d probably still be waiting for one on the health service as we speak.

There were a few things that needed to be taken care of before I could go for my operation. First, I needed to start exercising. I’m somewhat of a couch potato because I don’t enjoy team sports, so there’s not a lot of drive there for me to join in. For the next three months I began going on long walks and runs, dancing (poorly) and swimming. I needed to be in the best condition possible for my operation. Writing this has made me realise I probably need to be doing more of that right now!

I also had to go for lots of X-rays and be asked lots of personal questions—if you’re a girl and have been for an X-ray, you’ll know.

I had to see a dermatologist because I had some acne on my back that needed clearing up. They seemed to think nothing of putting my on birth-control and other drugs to influence my hormones, but I wasn’t keen on that, nor was my situation that serious, so in the end we settled on a cream which worked a treat. This meant that there would be no worry about cutting the skin on my back.

I then had to have an MRI scan. I have lots of pictures of my scans and X-rays, but I’m not sure if you’d like to see them or not (let me know either way).  If you’ve not been for an MRI, basically what you have to do is lie on a surface which slides inside a tunnel. You have to ensure you’re not wearing anything metal because the machine is magnetic and... well, nothing good happens. There is a sound akin to a pneumatic drill but in my case I was given headphones which played music. I clearly remember going into the machine, thinking...

Ok, we can do this. Not feeling claustrophobic. Not too bad.

The nurse called out, “How are you doing, Catherine?”

“Fine, fine thanks.”

“Alright, I’ll put on some music.”

“Thanks.”

And I was like baby, baby, baby, oh, like, baby, baby, baby no...”

Let me out. Please let me out.  

Anyway, once the song ended the scan was pretty uneventful, and I got a disk of pictures which were really interesting.

Two weeks before the operation, I had to go into the Blackrock hospital for two consecutive days of testing. Let me just say at this point, as I probably will say again, that it was a brilliant place and the staff could not have been more helpful.

On the first day, I had to go under anaesthetic. In a way, this was good, as it meant that I’d have experienced it before the “Big Day”. The reason I needed to be unconscious was so that Mr. Kiely could check me over and see what my back was like and my flexibility, without me being in any pain or making things difficult. That day wasn’t too bad. I just had to be weighed, get dressed in a gown (which had a back, thankfully) and then meet with the anaesthetist, Dr. Sheeran. He’s another very nice man who, like Mr. Kiely, works with children a lot. He knew just how to put me at ease. I was taken down to the theatre with my mum and then injected. I didn’t feel too scared and was surrounded by nice people...
The next thing I remember is waking up in “recovery”. I felt sleepy but absolutely fine. I was wheeled up to the ward I’d started in and got to have tea and scones as I’d not been able to eat that day. They were awesome, by the way.

The next day was rather more trying. I was already crabby when I woke up, as my parents will tell you. I had to have so many tests I felt like a bit of a lab rat—though of course, I can’t say enough times how nice everyone was. I had to have a chest x-ray, a breathing test, something called an “echo test” which involved having gel put on my chest and those stick-on pads which tested my heart. I then had to give blood and urine samples—yes, I peed in a cup, come on, we’re all grown-ups here, let’s move on.
I think there might have been a few other tests I can’t remember. I then had to meet with a GP who would be looking after my general health over the course of my operation.
It was quite a difficult day all in all, but at least I knew by the end of it that the only problem I had was my spine—other than that, I was healthy as a horse. Hurrah!


Now all I had to do was have the operation...


Read part 3 here.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

An Update on Moi!

Hi everyone!

Just a little update while I’m in the middle of planning my next post of “The Scoliosis Story”. I’ve just had a phone call from a lovely lady called Claire O’Brien from the Irish radio station “Midlands 103”. She’s asked me to come in and talk about my art competition.

I’ve been interviewed by her a couple of times before through Youth Theatre and I’m really looking forward to chatting to her again. So if you happen to be in the Laois, Offaly or Westmeath areas, please do tune in! You can listen anywhere in the world via the live feed on www.midlandsradio.fm. The show will go out on 27th June at 7pm so I’ll be sure to remind you all to listen in!

As a result of this, I’ve decided to change the closing date of the competition to 30th July, which will give radio listeners more time to enter. Click on the link to the top right if you need a reminder of the details.

A quick update on the prize: I’ve ordered part of it online and it’s now almost two weeks late being delivered, so I’m unable as of yet to post a picture. Hopefully you’ll be able to see one soon. For now, I’ll just tell you... You could be in with the chance of winning some handmade cards courtesy of Bambi, as well as a mini leather notebook and pen, bars of chocolate and packets of sweets... always needed when working, I find!

I’m absolutely overwhelmed by all this support and can’t wait for my interview! Wish me luck!

Vis a vis communication, there are now four ways to get in touch with me:

Leave a comment below and it’ll wing its way to my email inbox to be moderated...

... or simply email me at catherineann.mk@gmail.com ...

 ...You can follow @CatherineAnnMK on Twitter...

...or like my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/CatherineAnnMinnock .

Whew! I think that's everything. Hoping to hear from you and wishing each and every one of you a fabulous summer,


Catherine Ann Minnock. 

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Scoliosis Story... Part One

DIAGNOSIS...

In 2012 I had an operation to correct my scoliosis. It’s not really a big deal for me anymore, but I’ve recently made some new friends, shall we say, post op, and I keep forgetting how much or little they know and just casually mentioning my time in hospital. So I’m going to explain about scoliosis for them, and for anyone else who hasn’t heard of it. If you’ve experienced scoliosis yourself, I’d love to hear from you!

What is it, then? Well, scoliosis is not a disease. You cannot “catch” scoliosis or “get” it from doing something wrong. Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine, caused by muscle and bone growing at different rates which makes the spine bend in a way that it ideally shouldn’t. Think: bimetallic strip. That’s how it was explained to me. It's not necessarily hereditary, but does run in some families. It mostly becomes prominent in teenagers as there’s a lot of growth going on over a short period of time.

Back when I was about thirteen, I began to feel pain in my lower back when I’d sit or stand for a long time. I went to my local GP, and within about a minute he was able to diagnose me with scoliosis. It was visible when I bent over as the curve in my spine had caused my ribs to change shape slightly—I had a sort of bump in my back that wasn’t really noticeable when I stood up straight. I myself had seen that I had one shoulder slightly higher than the other, but hadn’t thought much of it until then.

In my case, I had a curve at the top of my spine. However, because my body naturally wanted to be straight, the bottom of my spine had curved the opposite way in what’s known as a “compensatory” curve.

You know when you learn a new word, it’s suddenly everywhere? For me, that was scoliosis. I discovered that 1 in every 3 people experiences it in one form or another: in fact, there are three people I know personally at school who've suffered. You could very easily go through life with a slight curve and not even notice. However, in my case, it was quite severe so we went to see a specialist.

I brought along an x ray of my spine and had two meetings over a period of several months. I was told that my curve wasn’t too serious, but would have to be monitored and corrected perhaps if it got worse. I was also told that pain wasn’t an issue, which I was a bit wary of: as much as surgery wasn’t a nice idea, even worse would be going through my whole life with such discomfort.

A while later, a relative of mine who works as a nurse (I won’t attempt to tell you what her job is, but she’s very important and clever) noticed my curve and asked us if we’d seen anyone about it. She recommended we get a second opinion and put us in touch with a surgeon called Patrick Kiely, who specialises in scoliosis surgery.


By this point, I’d been worrying a bit about the condition of my back. The pain hadn’t let up and I now had a visible “S” where most people’s spine is straight. Although my parents and I were none too keen on surgery, I’d been thinking about it a lot and thought maybe I’d just have to suck it up and do it. Ferret knew someone who’d had similar surgery and Duchess has had back problems for a long time. They both encouraged me to get something done. When I went to see Mr. Kiely, I was more or less decided. I wanted to be able to stand up straight!

Read part two here.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Food, Glorious Food... Something Borrowed

My parents got married 30 years ago this August. One of their wedding presents at least has remained loved and cherished throughout all this time. It’s not the Country Roses china we use at Christmas, and I’ve only seen mum’s dress once... I’m talking about a cookery book.



Cooking has always been a huge part of my life. One of my earliest memories is coming downstairs on a Saturday morning where my dad would have a big mixing bowl on the floor—where I could reach and where it couldn’t fall any further—ready for me to “help” (read: hinder) him to make some cakes.  Sometimes we’d have a cooked breakfast and I would be allowed to stand on a chair and scramble the eggs. These days, I cook for friends and family and I have all kinds of memories attached to certain dishes. 

The reason I love Delia’s book so much isn’t just because of the book itself, though that’s a huge reason. You can see the stains on the pages with recipes for family favourites, and little notes or page markers when we found something we loved or changed it to suit everyone. It’s also the recipes: they are simple and traditional, and it’s clear that she’s taken time to find out what works and what doesn’t. She’s got everything you enjoyed making as a kid: fairy cakes, Victoria sponge, pancakes, pastry... simple but perfect.

Then there’s her lemon meringue pie, which I adore making for my family. It’s not the simplest of recipes, but she guides you through it in her straightforward encouraging prose. She never uses bullet points but rather writes as though telling a story.


I’ve managed to find a link to the online version of the recipe, but she’s got tonnes of books out too which are well worth the investment—this coming from the tightest girl in Ireland. Tightest in Ireland... somehow that means a lot. Anyway, the recipe is here and I can’t wait for some comments and emails about your culinary exploits! 

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Six of the Best... What Makes Me Uncomfortable.

Conflict and telephones. Those are two things, but hey. I’m not gonna get into an argument about it...

I hate, hate, hate conflict. Anyone in my youth theatre knows that... “drama is conflict” and yeah, I’m all for drama. As long as it’s not mine. I’ll watch it on TV or at the cinema, I’ll hear about it from friends, but being involved in it? Not so much. I’ve met plenty of people who seem to have an opinion on everything and feel the need to ask mine, often with a view to arguing about it. I often answer them with a simple “I don’t know”. To them, it may seem like I’m stupid, or that I don’t bother to think about the issues of the day.

The truth is, I have thought about them. I’m just very aware that I’m sixteen and don’t actually have a clue what I’m on about. I don’t have an opinion because I don’t have enough life experience. Or perhaps I do have an opinion, but if it’s going to cause conflict I’ll keep it to myself. I don’t know what good it does getting het up about whatever’s been in the news, but some people seem to insist upon it. This just makes me uncomfortable and I think that my time would be a lot better spent... I don’t know, baking?  

This sometimes leads to me getting in hot water, though. If I’m upset with a friend, I hate conflict so much that I’d rather just let it build up inside of me than actually start an argument... when the inevitable explosion several weeks later is much worse. Hating conflict can also lead to bullying in that if you don’t stand up for yourself the first time you get shoved against a wall or called fat, then... it could go on for years. So if you’re looking to learn something from this post: I guess conflict can be healthy or unhealthy. It’s up to you which you get involved in.

 I think avoiding the bad kind of conflict is all about picking the right people. For instance, I know which of my friends I can have a nice discussion about the ins and outs of religion with, and everyone will respect everyone’s opinion and nobody will mind if there’s a difference... and I know when it’s time to be quiet. Or at least I’m learning.

I like a quiet life, me.


Another thing that makes me uncomfortable is talking on the phone. That’s right: texting and Facebook have ruined me.  I don’t know what it is, but I know that I’m not the only one. I’d imagine a phone call including me, Tiger and Crow would bear an uncanny resemblance to a graveyard. It’s always easier for me to put things in writing: I blog, write letters, email, text etc, to my heart’s content. In “real life”, talking face-to-face, I’m not too bad when I get to know you... but on the phone? I think there’s something about not being able to see someone’s expression that makes me really uneasy. What if they’re rolling their eyes? What if they’ve left the phone down somewhere and walked off? It’s a bit of a trust issue.


Don’t even get me started on voicemail.




My camera hates me so I can't share my nice picture I took for you all... but here are some pretty clouds courtesy of HowlsOfWater, a photographer and filmmaker. His youtube videos are guaranteed to make me giggle... see if you can hear the voiceover from our very own Crow!

Disclaimer: UnluckyForSome does not actually have ownership of Crow, nor does Catherine Ann Minnock... yet. (Evil Laugh)

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Six of the Best... What I Miss

This was from day 12 of blog every day in May and I really liked reading my friends’ posts. Bambi wrote a touching piece about her grandfather and all he taught her, especially about music. Crow talked about his old iPod, which might seem simple but it showed how much music can mean in certain situations and was certainly true for me. So what do I miss? Lots.

I’m the sort of person who really doesn’t like change. So moving to a new country was a huge challenge for me. At first it was fun experiencing something new and different, but after a while, for a long time I just wanted to go home. I missed my worn out carpets, the doors with pencil marks showing the growth stages of me and my brothers. I missed having a private little garden and a best friend who lived thirty seconds away.

It’s only lately I’ve come to realise that it’s not the place I miss, not the bricks and mortar, not the town. It’s the memories. It’s growing up with Tiger, Elephant and Ferret, learning things and feeling happy and safe. My memory conveniently forgets the times I complained and cried and screamed... it only seems to remember the good parts. That's why when I was feeling down, I would tell my mum that I wanted to go home. She would ask me in her simple, calm way: “Where is ‘home’?” Was home where my brothers were, where my friends were, where my extended family lived, were my house was? Because frankly those weren’t all in the one place. “Home” wasn’t as simple as all that.

I’ve realised now that it doesn’t matter where you grow up or how many places you live in. What matters are the relationships you form and the memories you make. I have no intention of staying here forever, but now that I’ve made some memories, I’m happy to be here for now. I can see the fire we opened our presents round at Christmas, the table where I sat across from Bambi and realised that I wasn’t the only one who thought the way I think, the cinema where...  well you get the idea.


It’s OK to miss places. It’s good, in fact: it means you belonged somewhere. But it’s also OK to make new memories. Who knows? They might be even better ones.





Hope you liked tonight's post. A few reminders if I may. Anyone interested in art, I'm still looking for competition entries so click the "Competition Time!" button at the top right hand corner. I'm also on twitter @CatherineAnnMK or you can find my facebook page at www.facebook.com/CatherineAnnMinnock. I've also written an article on bullying for Foróige, which is an Irish youth club. Please check out their website as they're a lovely bunch of people! 

Friday, 7 June 2013

Food, Glorious... Drink? Chocolate Milksake

I'd just finished some editing when I sat back and realised two things.
A) It was incredibly hot.
B) More importantly, I hadn't had chocolate in six days.

This was an utter travesty and needed to be remedied. I didn't feel like making a cake in this heat, so instead I decided on a quick and easy chocolate milkshake.

HERE'S WHAT YOU NEED...

A Blender
1 tbsp Granulated Sugar
Half a tbsp Cocoa Powder (I used Bourneville)
4 tbsp Warm Water
250 ml Milk
2 Scoops of Ice Cream (I used vanilla.... I dare someone to try chocolate!)

...AND HERE'S WHAT YOU DO:

1) Blend together the cocoa, sugar and water. The water has to be warm for it to blend properly. Make sure there are no lumps. If you find any, stir them away with a spoon (turn the blender off first!)

2) Pour in the milk and blend again.

3) Add the ice cream, blend a third time and pour out into a glass.

Quick, easy and perfect for a chocolate hit on a hot day! No pictures I'm afraid... why not send in your own?

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Food, Glorious Food... Chocolate Chip Cookies!

I’m estimating it at about four years. That’s the amount of time I spent actively looking for a cookie recipe that was chewy and perfect—you have no idea how hard it is to find one that doesn’t end up too crunchy, or melt together like a cake. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat all the failed experiments, but when I finally found a recipe in a Kenwood cookbook, I was ecstatic... as were my friends, I think. I’ve just changed one or two things to make this recipe parfait pour moi!

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED...
100g (4 oz) Butter or Baking Spread
75g (3 oz) Dark Brown Sugar
75g (3 oz) Granulated White Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Essence
1 Egg
150g (6 oz) Plain Flour
½ tsp Baking Powder
½ tsp Salt
100g (4 oz) Milk Chocolate Chips (I use Dr. Oetker. Rest assured they’re not paying me for this... though really they should... it’s just that I know how hard it can be to find the right brand. 100g works out at one packet minus a few for oneself!)

...AND HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:
1) Cream together the butter and both sugars in a nice roomy mixing bowl with a wooden spoon.
2) Beat in the egg with the vanilla and a little flour.
3) Add in the rest of the flour along with the baking powder and mix. I rarely feel the need to sift. This is the twenty-first century, for goodness’ sake.
4) Add in the salt. Now, I know you might fancy skipping this step. Salt’s really bad for you, and we all have too much in our diets anyway. My family’s pretty strict about it and I usually leave it out of recipes. But these cookies have a lovely butterscotch kind of flavour which can only be achieved by that balance of sweet and salt. So go on, just this once...
5) Eat a maximum of five chocolate chips and stir in the rest. Spoon out teaspoonfuls of the mix onto a greased, lined baking tray. Space them apart as they’ll flatten out a lot. I usually fit about six on a tray, so have to bake them in batches.
6) Bake at 200°C for around 12 minutes. They might be a little soft when you take them out, but remove from the tray with a fish slice and cool on a wire rack and they’ll firm up in no time.

7) Make a pot of tea and watch as everyone around slowly falls in love with you. You’re welcome. 

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Six of the Best... a Piece of Advice.

This was challenge 8 in May. Bambi and Crow both advised us to be ourselves, which is probably the best thing anyone can do. But I’m going to talk about how to get through one of the most frustrating times in your life.

Preach, preach, preach. This blog seems to be nothing but advice. Treat people this way, mix your cake batter with that spoon... are you guys sick of me yet? I hope not. The reason I give so much advice is that I’m aware just how young I am: I’m still learning just about everything. Life is still very new to me. So I suppose I like to make these new discoveries and report back, tell you what it’s like out in the world, and how I’m getting on. I’m learning from my mistakes and sharing them with you guys in case you make the same ones. Here’s my latest discovery...

Patience.

I know, I know. Who do I think I am, Gary Barlow? But lately I’ve been finding out that everything does eventually fall into place if you’re willing to let it. When we’re young, we spend a lot of time wanting to grow up. We want everything to happen quickly, when we want it to happen.  You might be wondering why you don’t get what you want exactly when you want it... and that’s OK. It’s fine to want things. For me, it was friends. For a while I didn’t feel like I had anyone I could really talk to. I got quite upset about it, wondering why the universe didn’t want me to have a lovely group of friends.

It did. The universe was simply waiting until I was ready. It was waiting until I had sorted myself out personally. If I’d met Bambi two years ago, I probably would have mumbled hello and got the hell away from her. The same with Crow. I’d never have decided to talk to him. It wasn’t until I had grown as myself that these new friends crossed my path, and I’m kind of glad it happened that way. The person I was two years ago, who was moody and anti-social and didn’t even know who she was... maybe they wouldn’t have wanted to be friends with her. As for Phoenix, Wolf and Black Sheep, they were already there. The universe—or whatever—was just waiting for me to realise how special they are.

If you feel like things aren’t coming out the way they should right now, the only advice I can give you is to wait. To be patient. You need to take care of yourself first. Develop your own interests. Focus on your own wellbeing. Keep being you, and the rest will follow.

Good things really do come to those who wait. I know that Elephant focused on his studies and worked hard to get to a good university... there, he met Panther. Before he met Duchess, Tiger had to wait quite a long time to find out what he wanted to be. There was a lot about school that Ferret didn’t enjoy, but he was patient and is now doing what he loves. As for me? Well, a lot of nice things are happening to me at the moment. I’m ready for them now. A few years ago... I might have even missed them.
So the next time you go to sleep thinking maybe you messed something up, missed something, didn’t get what you wanted... be patient: you never know what’ll be waiting when you wake up.



Remember as a kid when your teacher told you to wait your turn? Your turn’s coming, and it’s going to be amazing.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Six of the Best... A Public Apology


...Just kidding.


From a girl who’s been in this country for five years now, I'd like to address the communication issues. 

I’m sorry it’s advertisement, not adver-tyse-ment.

I’m sorry it’s yoghurt, not yoe-gurt.

I’m sorry the word “shift” is about the most awful thing ever.

I’m sorry that it took me four weeks to work out what a “parer” was.

I’m sorry I don’t know “what the crack” is.

I’m sorry I thought “How are you?” was an actual question.

I’m sorry I’m scared of hurls and sloitars as they’re designed to sound like skulls splitting on concrete.

I’m sorry I’ve never footed turf.

I’m sorry it’s innovative, not inno-vayt-ive.

I’m sorry I’m not from Australia.


And I am ever so, ever so sorry that no, I don’t know “Dave from England.” 

Monday, 3 June 2013

Food, Glorious Food... Cupcakes

What? You don’t know how to make cupcakes? The recipe isn’t permanently engraved on your mind? Dishonour! Dishonour on your whole family! (Make a note of this) Dishonour on you, dishonour on your cow...

Anyway, let’s fix that. Basic recipe for cupcakes with butter cream.

HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED...
150g (6 oz) Self-Raising Flour
100g (4 oz) Butter or Baking Spread
100g (4 oz) White Granulated Sugar
2 Eggs
Vanilla Essence or Cocoa Powder (Other options too... we’ll get to that later).

FOR THE ICING:
50g (2 oz) Butter or Baking Spread
100g (4 oz) Icing Sugar
Vanilla Essence or Cocoa Powder
1 Tsp of Milk
You’ll also need a bun tray (patty tin) and cupcake cases. If you don’t have a bun tray, use a regular baking tray but double up the cases so they keep their shape in the oven. If you don’t have cases, you can always use greaseproof paper. If you don’t have either... what are you doing looking up cupcake recipes? Anyway,

...HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:
1) Cream the butter and sugar (for the cake mix) in a large mixing bowl, preferably with a wooden spoon. But hey, it’s your life.
2) Add the eggs and one tablespoon of the flour and mix it all together. The flour will stop the mix from curdling.
3) At this point, add your “optional extra”. You can be creative here. Vanilla or cocoa are very popular. If you’re using cocoa, make sure it’s the proper kind, not hot chocolate mix (I recommend Bourneville). A little granulated coffee won’t be noticed in the cakes, but brings out the flavour of the chocolate immensely. You could also try any other essences you find, or lemon peel, nuts and raisins, honey... the oven is your oyster.
4) Add in the rest of the flour and stir till a batter is formed. Put the cases in your tin and spoon in the mixture. This recipe makes about twelve (but can stretch to 13 as you see here).
5) Bake at 200 degrees for around fifteen minutes. Check by putting a knife through one; if it comes out clean the cakes are done. The great thing about cupcakes is they’re so small they won’t collapse if you prick them.
6) While your cakes are cooling, hopefully on a wire rack, soften the butter in a small bowl and gradually sift in your icing sugar, along with cocoa if required. I’ve found adding a teaspoon of milk at this stage blends the icing really well. Add any essences, or food colouring if desired, with the milk.
7) If you have a piping bag, wonderful. If not, simply use a spoon or palette knife to spread as much icing as you want on each cupcake. See yesterday’s picture.

I hope you all have fun cupcaking. I love the fact that you can be as creative or plain as you want to be... they’re still delicious! Once you get more adventurous, you could even add your own fillings. Simply use an apple corer to remove the centre of the cake and fill with lemon curd, stewed fruit, jam, Nutella... Anything you like. If Wolf is agreeable, I might just tell you our six special recipe ideas!
Also, as you get more confident, you’ll realise that it’s all about ratios. For example, you can make as much butter cream icing as you need by following the rule of icing sugar: butter = 2: 1. Happy baking!


PS. I’ve looked at a lot of American recipes in my time, and I know you guys measure differently and have different names for some ingredients. I’d be fascinated to find out some of these, so if you leave a comment or email catherineann.mk@gmail.com I’ll try to include them in my recipes to avoid confusion. Thanks! xxx

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Food, Glorious Food... Birthday Book Cupcakes Plus Some Beautiful Art

Here’s a little something I made for Crow’s birthday. He loves writing, as you’ll see at www.dearsaul.wordpress.com, so I decided to make some cupcakes decorated with books. I’m sharing the recipe to show just how easy it is, even for the artistically challenged, to create a nice edible gift. But if anyone asks, it took me absolutely ages and I put in lots of time and effort. OK? Good.

Please excuse picture quality; I had to take them on my phone which isn’t the best for photos. I don’t want insult any corporations, so let’s call it a Flamsung.

TO MAKE THE BOOKS...

I used fondant (roll out) icing in white. Dr Oetker is my preferred brand. You could also get a coloured kind for the covers, but I’m showing you how to colour them anyway, which will save you getting two packs. 
You’ll only use about half a box for these 13 decorations.

You’ll also need food colouring. I’ve used liquid but if you can get your hands on paste, “Sugarflair” has been recommended to me by a friend who’s somewhat an expert in the field (thanks!).

For writing on the covers, I used a simple writing-icing tube, again Dr. Oetker. They’re the kind you’ll have been using since you were a kid.

Split the icing in half, so about a quarter of a packet each. Half will be dyed for the covers. To colour with liquid, it’s best to use a small paintbrush as you see here (obviously NOT one you’ve already painted with) and dot colour onto the icing before kneading it in. Repeat this as many times as you need until the colour’s dark enough and thoroughly blended. I only needed to do it a few times to create sky blue. I probably should tell you to use gloves, as I didn’t and my hands turned into those of a smurf, but panic not: the dye will wash out eventually...
(If anyone can tell me how to rotate pictures on blogger, I'll love you forever)

Next, roll out your icing. Make sure you use a glass board dusted with plenty of icing sugar. If you’ve got a small rolling pin like mine, so much the better. Cut rectangles about twice as long as they are wide. These will become the covers. Don’t panic about making them exact—the recipient will be charmed by the homemade, clumsy effect... I think. Set your covers aside on kitchen paper so they won’t stick.

Then make sure you clean your hands and board thoroughly, and roll out the white icing. Then cut it to squares a little less than half the size of the covers—you need some overhang. I rolled mine out to the same thickness as the covers and then found it best to use two white squares. Simply place them on one side of the cover and fold over.
(My pictures are being squashed for some reason which I cannot fathom... I blame Flamsung)

You can then write something on the book. I decided to make 13 cakes to spell out “HAPPY BIRTHDAY”. Not sure who decided that those words should have 13 letters not 12, but they kind of make my  day more difficult. Anyway, you could do names, or even pictures if you’re very good.
(I hate formatting)
(These captions seem to illustrate my growing upset and frustration. When an incident occurs, this post will be the first place the authorities look) 

I also tried practising my joined piping, which is getting better. These might make good decorations in the future. But for now... well, I won’t lie to you. I ate it.


Here are the finished cakes. I'm sure you guys will be able to find recipes for the actual cupcakes, chocolate with chocolate butter cream, pretty easily, but I might post one soon with my little tips. 


Meanwhile, I recieved some lovely pictures for the competition. Check them out here.