Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The day is approaching

Just a quick post, to say I am going in to hospital in London today, for my surgery journey to begin tomorrow. So  I may not be posting for a while. Xxx thanks for reading my blog posts in the past x

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Importance of a second opinion.


I am sure when people are told by an eminent neurosurgeon that they have a tricky brain tumour which they haven't seen many of in their 20+ years of practice, they'd be worried. And so you should be.

But I felt a little that I had been down this road before. When a disc in my spine decided to give me massive pain problems, back in 2010. I heard a similar thing from the first consultant I saw. But I didn't know the system then or my rights. I stayed with him treating me, even though I didn't like or trust him. I endured an epidural (here) , that I was told would relieve my symptoms. But it didn't work. He kept assuring me, give it time it will.  It didn't.  I disliked him so much I sought a second opinion. I loved this Doctor, but he said mine was a tricky case and that the first man was the better man for the job. But I could tell the first doctor was nervous about my case, and he said he was happy to try surgery. There was no way he was going to have a try with me.

So I did lots of research. Talked to lots of fellow sufferers at my Pilates rehab classes, and found an amazing article  ( here ) in the Times about the 10 best spine surgeons in the UK. One stood out, and I had heard his name mentioned before. So I asked to be referred to him, and paid for it myself. This time it was all different ( here ). He asked to see my MRI before I went in the room. When I entered obviously in pain and dragging my leg, whilst walking with a stick. I sat down with him immediately to tell me I had no option but extreme surgery. He went on to tell me I needed a ALIF, which I had never heard of before. So it was booked that day, and I had the surgery in 2011. It transformed my hell of a life, back to almost what it used to be.

So I knew this time after my brain tumour diagnosis, maybe watching and waiting and doing nothing in the mean time wasn't an option for me. I immediately did lots of research and talked to the charity Brainstrust to find who would be the best person for me to see. The problem with my tumour is it is VERY rare. It's not situated in the brain. Mine is under the brain and on the brainstem. So I found out I needed a different type of neurosurgeon. I needed a skull based surgeon. My initial diagnosis was made by a very eminent skull based surgeon and he actually weirdly specialises in the region my tumour was in. Plus I found out that brain tumours are regarded the same as cancers and treated by multi-disciplinary teams ( MDT ), which means your cases are discussed by a whole team of professionals. As a group they make the decisions. My case had been discussed at Addenbrookes which is a very highly, regarded place to have brain surgery.

But I had been told, by a few people to try and see a neurosurgeon who worked at NHNN Queens Square, London. It is considered one of the best hospitals in the World. So this is where I chose my next man for the job. A Mr Robert Bradford. I went to see him at the Wellington at the very place I had my spine surgery. In fact I saw him on the same ward I had been on.


He was much shorter, than I thought he was going to be. I thought to myself it wasn't a good idea to bring this up, with the man who might be operating on my brain. He took a look at my MRI and then at me. He said he couldn't believe how calm I was, and I was to be commended for my altitude. He said my tumour was one, that if he was to operate, it would give him sleepless nights. It would seem he too thought I was up a shit creak, without a paddle. I had 5 pages of questions to ask him.

photo (3)

But suddenly they didn't seem worth asking and my ability to spell even the simplest words, like approach, went out the window. He told me any surgery was going to be very tricky and that an approach from the side of my head would have to be made, which brings with it lots of dangers. He was at such a loss what to tell me, that he asked could he take my MRI scan and discuss it with all the MDT at Queens Square.

This is what he did and he rang me the next week with the teams opinion. A Mr David Choi said he thought he could operate to debaulk my tumour. My tumour can’t be removed in it’s entirety. Due to it’s position and complications of having an artery to the brain encased in it.

So back up to London I went, to see Mr Choi at The NHNN, Queens Sq.. In fact I am sat here trying to finish this blog post, because I am going back up to the hospital for the results of some scans I had there last week.

It was a bit of a shock when I went for my consultation to find out I failed some of the reflex tests. This showed that the paralysis that goes with my tumour must have started. So I was told I had to have surgery sooner than later, before it became to late. The paralysis is irreversible, so we have to act now.

So I am sat here packed to go on a once in a lifetime trip to Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos tomorrow. I will return on a Friday and go into hospital on the Tuesday. It has all happened so quickly, so it is a bit of a shock, to say the least. I just have to put my trust into the Neurosurgeon and hope I come around from the operation as intact as possible. My life has been changed forever. The tumour is likely to grow back and I could be looking at more surgery in the next 5 – 10 years. Depending on how much Mr Choi can remove from my tumour, will depend on the next step. It looks like I will be sent for radiotherapy, to radiate the tumour. I will have to take that step and its consequences when the time comes. Radiation brings with it just as challenging problems after treatment.

So I am enjoying all my long hair whilst I can. It will be gone soon. Just as I will be getting used to it having a shaved panel, I will have to embark on radiation and I will lose some of my hair maybe forever.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

My new normal- living with a brain tumour

I still find it very funny that for years, I have lived with family members believing they have a brain tumour. I suffered for over 15 years with severe migraines. Although mine had there own weird auras, I never suffered from the classic flashing aura. My MIL does and I think she always thought hers trumped mine. She would often say she thought that they must be damaging her brain. It turns out mine were likely to have been basilar migraines, the other name for them being brainstem migraines. Too much of a coincidence there, me thinks. They were probably linked to my tumour growing and distorting my spinal cord and causing cranial pressure. The artery that has been engulfed by my tumour feeds into the basilar artery.
My sister is still panicking that she has a brain tumour, she reckons she has all the symptoms. My daughter has been numerous times to our GP concerning disturbing symptoms, that she thinks show she has a brain tumour.
So it is funny that the only one who didn't think for a minute she had one....did.

When you get diagnosed with a life changing event, you start each day as a new normal. I like that expression. I have no idea where I first heard it. But everyone adapts to a life changing event. When I suffered with chronic pain from my spine. I found a new normal. I would stand for hours during the night, reading the daily news. That was normal for me. A can of Pepsi with my breakfast to counter act the effects of my sleeping tablets, was my normal. 

I knew it would take a few weeks to stop the moment when you wake and suddenly realise you have a brain tumour growing in your head. But now I wake and think what is the time. My new normal is, springing wide awake at 4am. I realise this won't happen forever, but if it does I, will adapt and it will be normal. I now open my iPad and catch up on recent posts on all the brain tumour forums I follow and talk on. I used to check out all the blogs I followed first thing. Now they just accumulate and go unread.

Little has changed in the fabric of my life. Teddy my dog is still mad and itches all day. I still reluctantly walk him every day as he is an embarrassment . I drag him or he drags me. People, stop in their cars and laugh. Everyone still comes home from work expecting a gourmet meal to appear as they arrive In the door. But as part of my new normal, I now allow myself an afternoon nap, should I feel the need. I now know the reason I may need one. It is a common problem with people suffering with something growing in their heads. I used to feel guilty, but I don't now. 

In my new bedside book " living with a brain tumour " I found a passage which I immediately highlighted with the pen the Brainstrust sent along with the book.
A crisis can be seen as a threat, a loss, or a challenge. The diagnosis of a brain tumour is certainly a crisis ; if it is perceived as a threat it can be met with anxiety ; as a loss it can be met with depression ; but if it is perceived as challenge, a person can mobilise his or her energy and problem skills"
It goes on to say that a persons personality can determine how you cope with such grim news. I knew it would become my new normal, whatever happens in the future. So I just excepted the challenge and tried to learn as much about it as I could.

That's my, old normal. Numerous people said knowing you'll become an expert on your condition . That's my nature to absorb information. I like to know all angles. My mother in law the day after I was diagnosed said, she was worried I would make myself depressed by researching my condition. She is more of the 'normal', to ignore something and it will go,away. I was a bit insulted that she thought I would get depressed, because that is not in my nature. That's not my normal. That's not my personality type at all, I am a VERY strong individual. That is my normal.

How I am dealing with the knowledge of my tumour is a normal reaction to me. It is my normal. But I have come to understand over the last month that I am unusual and not normal. My GP and neurosurgeon I went to see in London have both remarked on my remarkable calmness and acceptance. And said I was to be commended. A tumour support group I attended last week, want me to reach out and help fellow sufferers. To try and help people have a positive attitude. I wrote about my outcome from my second opinion in London on one of the tumour forums. Here are a few snippets from what fellow sufferers wrote;
Oh my!.......What courage you have !
In awe here at your attitude and bravery Karen. God bless you.
Love your attitude Karen
You make me gasp in admiration!  All of you who speak so calmly....... 
What a woman!  xxx
Karen - you are shaming me to get off my arse and do something! More power to you!
Your posts are so brave and In spite of the grim prognosis, upbeat... 

I find it all weird, as to me I am just being normal.........

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Foramen Magnum Meningioma or Bert for short.

Of course Bert isn't an official medical name for a brain tumour. I decided within days of being told that I now had an uncertain future, that I would give my tumour a name seeings it looks like Bert is going to be with me for the rest of my life. I have heard of other names brain tumour sufferers have given theirs names as well. Minger is a very popular choice.

My tumour had to go and be a rare one didn't it. Roughly about 2% of meningiomas are found on the brain stem. I have put shouts out over brain tumour forums to find someone with a similar tumour, but as yet I haven't found a single person in the world with one where mine is. So it's a wee bit lonely.

Depending on exactly where in the brain stem a tumour is (and how big it is), surgery may not be possible without destroying a vital area of the brain stem, which would in itself cause death. I have an ever rarer extra complication of my tumour. It has grow large and engulfed the veterbral artery. I have been told that's what makes mine pretty inoperable full stop. It's usually not possible to cure brain stem tumours. Of course the brain stem controls all your vital bodily functions this includes

- breathing 

- heart rate

- swallowing

We have found mine in hopefully the early stages of symptoms. Meningioma benign tumours are normally slow growing and I could have had mine for as long as 20 years. Over this time it has grown and distorted my spinal cord. I have had a long history of migraines which I took, medication for, for years which never really helped. This might have been when the tumour was active and putting pressure on my spinal cord, causing pressure in my brain. I have had a stiff neck, with pain all along the bottom of my skull for years. I fell out of a window when I was young child and I had to wear a surgical collar. So I've always put this discomfort down to that. In 2011 I had to have major surgery on my lumbar spine, and I am still recovering from that. The pain in my neck was, a minor inconvenience compared to what I was experiencing. It was only when I began to suffer severe cervical pain and not be able to flex my neck, whilst I was on holiday, that I sort an appointment with a neurosurgeon to see what was causing my symptoms.

So where am I at now. Well I am slowly getting over the shock. In some ways it was good that my neurosurgeon has been on holiday since he gave me my diagnosis. I have had two weeks, to find out what questions I should be asking. I have been able to do research on the sort of treatment options that I may be able to get with the right neurosurgeon. 

As the tumour progresses my symptoms will become more debilitating. They will start with losing feeling in my arms, which then progresses to my legs. My facial nerves will become affected, along with my swallowing.  It ends with being a quadriplegic, being unable to breathe unaided. So not a perfect ending. Probably, why my neurosurgeon told me it would have been better for me to have never known I have Bert. He's told me to go and live my life and hope I die from some other cause.

Of course we don't know how my tumour is going to act in the coming future or how long I have with minor symptoms. I am now going to have my tumour watched for growth over the next six months and for the rest of my life.

The Brainstrust have been very helpful, in keeping my spirits up with lovely emails. They have sent me a box full of books and information I need, to make choices for my care. They also believe I am right to seek a second opinion. As my tumour is very rare as it's on the brain stem instead of in the brain, some of the best brain surgeons in the UK won't be of much help to me. 

The neurosurgeon I originally saw is one of the best in my tumours area. But I am hoping to see a specialist in brain tumours in the skull base, who operates in the same hospital I had my spine surgery in. They have a specialist brain centre with all the best brain surgeons and equipment in the UK. He also treats tumours with a specialised radiation called Gamma Knife that may be my only hope to try and hold of the symptoms. The Gamma knife might be able to be used to shrink my tumour for a while. The Gamma knife comes with lots of other medical issues that I would have to deal with. It doesn't cure symptoms already being experienced and can in fact make them worse as the tumour often swells after treatment and it takes months before the treatment has any effect. But this may be my only hope, if the tumour is small enough.

I am sure I will cope with whatever is thrown at me. As my physio and rehab Pilates teacher said to me this week. I dealt with my spine challenge, and never gave up until I got the surgery to bring me back a quality of life I was missing. He said you can do it again.

See me smiling in this photo in Monument Valley. I was in chronic pain in my head and neck and at my lowest point. I was in fact finding it hard to cope with the pain. But within 24 hours I had it under control. I can do it again

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Being diagnosed with a brain tumour

When you go to see a consultant due to neck pain and come out with an inoperable brain tumour it can understandably be a shock to the system. And I really do mean system. 

I am a great coper with medical things. I love hospitals and think I really did miss my vocation by not becoming a nurse. So hospitals don't scare me in the least. I'm also not scared by people with serious illness. For 5 years I was a carer in the community, and I loved every minute of it. I had a bubbly personality, that lifted people's short time that they got to spend with me. It was brilliant to make a little difference in people's everyday.

So although I am a great coper with bad news and illness. My body did go into shock. When we left the hospital on a sunny, Tuesday evening, we had planned to treat ourselves to a Thai meal on the way home. Understandably our appetites had disappeared. As we drove along trying to decide what to do, my hands were involuntary shaking and I mean shaking. The only other times I've had that happen was when I gave birth to both my children. I was fine and had had easy births. But my body was in shock. 

As the week has continued on. I myself have been coping very well. I am extremely practical and have spent a part of each day doing some research into my condition. Taking it slow, as I feel there is no rush. But my body keeps getting in the way. It's not letting me sleep well. I'm a bad sleeper at the best of time. I was taught methods of dealing with worries, when I worked with abused children. It a technique where you imagine putting your worries in a box and putting it somewhere metaphysically . I am a bit of a pro at this technique having used it for years. It has always been a great help. But the first nights after my diagnosis, the worries were racing in and out of my head. There were so many it was hard to catch them to put them into a box. The only way I ended up managing it was to imagine I had a fishing net and make huge sweeping motions catching all the thoughts. I then proceeded to imagine I had put them in a cute patterned trunk, I keep shoes in in the conservatory. It seemed to do the trick, but then I became more aware of my other body tricks telling me it was scared.

When I am anxious I always want to go to the toilet. I have what is medically called an unstable bladder. So no camel piss for me, ever ! It's always more like a dormouse's piss. Such a trickle, its embarrassing when people are waiting for me at the toilets. I am in and out quicker than my husband can clear a room after a fart. Since my diagnosis, you would think I have cystitis without the acute pain. I have had a constant low aching pain in my bladder, which makes it hard to concentrate on going to sleep. My brain Is telling me to go for a piss, and I am telling it to piss off, it's fine. I know it is just a fight or flight reaction. So now my bladder is on high alert sympathy for its mate the brain. If it keeps on I can see the pair of them falling out. It is really getting on my brains nerves.

Then we have my stomach. That too has decided it needs to express its sympathy in the only way it knows. Pain, just to let everyone know its there. I have had very little appetite in the last week. It's hard to decide what to have to eat, when you have no appetite. I have been choosing some of my old favourites to tempt myself. But it has been hard going. I have the worst indigestion and deep stomach pain. Obviously due to too much stress hormone and adrenaline. To add to my stomach woes, I have been having to take ibuprofen for back pain and bruising from a relaxing massage, that turned into a deep tissue bruising agony affair. But that's another story. My stomach doesn't like ibuprofen much and always rebels against it. So not not only do I have no appetite, but I feel like my stomach is on fire. I suppose it could be seen as a blessing if I tried to look on the bright side. At least it takes my attention away from the fact that I have a brain tumour ! 

I know the day will come when all these distressing symptoms my body is causing itself will calm down and I am dearly looking forward to the day. It should be just around the corner. But then I have moments of realising that this will become a lifetimes occurrence. For the rest of my life I am going to be scanned and spend hours waiting at hospitals for news. My life has really and truly changed forever.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The big polo mint - MRI scanner

It's funny what goes through your head when your stuck for hours on end in a tube with your head clamped down.
My immediate pondering are how much bloody longer. I wasn't even expecting an MRI on the day I went for my initial private consultation . I had chosen my consultant from a newspaper article about the top 10 spine surgeons in the UK.
That was how I had found the amazing Mr Lester Wilson for my previous spine surgery. This time I was looking for a neck specialist. I found one who was in the next County over, so a bit of a trek but nothing that wasn't doable. He gave me some weird tests, which I had to be undressed for. Lucky I had put on sexy black underwear just in case we had to get to know each other intimately. 
It turns out he was thinking, not how sexy I looked in my big knickers, but what was this women doing here wasting his time with no symptoms but a stiff neck. My acute pain from my trip to Colorado had disappeared as quickly as it had came by this time. But he went through the motions, hell I was paying him a lot, for him to tell me I was just getting old. He said he was off on holiday the next day ( he's always on holiday ! I'm now waiting again for him to return from a fortnights holiday ) that I should book an MRI and come back for the results.

The MRI people said they had an opening I could have in an hours time, was I prepared to sit and wait? By this point I was starving. I hadn't had any lunch. So I had noticed all the other normal people helping themselves to hot drinks from a machine. I only drink tea at gun point or if I have a scone with clotted cream in front of me. I checked out the vending machine next to it. It was full of posh looking sandwiches. Not only do I not drink hot drinks, I don't eat sandwiches either. Yep, I'm a fussy fart nightmare. But there in the machine were some biscuits. I stood for what seemed like hours choosing which ones would fill me up the most for 30p. Yep, I'm tight as well as fussy. Then you needed a Masters Degree to work the bloody thing. I pretended to those around me that I knew what I was doing. I can't describe my excitement when it turned out you got two packets of biscuits. Bourbons and custard creams ! I found it funny that everything on offer was so much cheaper than you would get in a NHS hospital vending machine. It that age old thing, of when your rich, you just can't spend your money !

I settled down for the hour wait, dunking my biscuits slowly. I know I was in a private hospital where I'm supposed to be posh, but I didn't care I was starving Marvin. I flicked through some posh peoples magazines, choosing which multi million house I would buy with my imaginary £10 million. The time pretty much flew. 

Of I then popped for my MRI. I've had some before, so I knew about the road works noise around your head. The tube never ceases to amaze me, how confined it is. It always starts me thinking how they would fit a fat person in it. Not only can't you be fat, you can't have an MRI with piercings or a recent tattoo. That in my opinion, must rule out about 50% of the population.
The nurse said I didn't have to strip off into one of those arse baring gowns. I just needed to take off my jewellery. You can't go in the MRI room with anything metal. I suddenly thought about the metal under wiring in my gigantic boulder holder. She went and checked if I had to remove it, which I did. I don't want to imagine the consequences of my uplifted tits, being in a massive magnet. So I sat waiting, with my tits around my belly. 

The man before me came out of the MRI. I was laughing with him about what I'd heard the radiologist saying to him during his scan. It turned out he had fallen asleep. Only a bloody man, could do that whilst the sound of roadworks are going on around your head. Really I was chatting to him, to distract him from my pendulous breasts.

In I went. Little did I know I was going to be in it for hours ! I settled down and was thinking about the fillet steak I was cooking for tea. When it was finished, I was told how lucky I was that a consultant radiologist who happened to be making a visit to the scanner, thought it a good idea I be given a contrast brain scan. She was trying to make excuses to why this was a normal everyday occurrence. The fact that I had banged my head, and that the brain and neck are connected. Hang on , I never banged my head ! So I smelled a rat, but to make her feel better I never let on. So they kept me in the tube, but added a cannula for good measure this time. I was to sign my consent when I wasn't so incapacitated.

It's lucky I don't mind hospitals and don't freak out. The nurse said this time I wasn't even allowed to flinch. I had to be perfectly still at all times, even when she was injecting the contrast dye in. I've since found out the dye can make some people ill, so I was very lucky. To ensure no movement she added an American footballers mask. My head and face was now clamped down and she recommended I keep my eyes shut at all times. In the scanner tube I went again. It's very hard to breathe and be motionless. The more I tried not to breathe heavy the more I did. This scan was different from the off. Each scan was much longer, some of them as long as 6 minutes. My thoughts were turning to the fact there was no way when I had the head and neck pain I could have laid down for this long. Especially in the position I was in. I have been avoiding that position as it was prone to give me migraines. Even with my previous spine problem, I couldn't have laid on my back for that amount of time.

I then realised this wasn't normal and that they must have spotted something out of the ordinary. I have to get prior permission for everything from my insurance company and this obviously wasn't cheap. Someone had made the decision it was imperative without asking my consultant or BUPA.

I took to thinking about what I would do if I was told I didn't have long to live. My first thought was a pyramid of profiteroles from Tescos. I decided I would eat with abandonment anything I desired, and whenever I desired it. And they came first to mind.  I decided there was nothing I wanted to buy, I already had every material thing I'd ever wanted. I had a lovely big house, so that box was ticked. Travel came next to mind. Apart from my trip to Asia later in the year, I didn't have too many more bucket list places left to go. ( at this point I didn't think about the consequences of what I had, on my holiday insurance. At present it looks like I will never be able to return to the States, which makes me sad ) I was happy to think about my family being without me. My children have grow in to lovely adults and have great loving partners to fall upon. They are adults going out into the world, who don't need me so much. I have done my work. 

Meanwhile I am still in the tube and the tea and caffeine has gone through me. I am getting more and more desperate to wee. It was getting to a point I was going to have to say something, after each time I was being told the next scan of my brain was going to last six minutes. They were never ending.
At one point I thought it was the end, but it was only the half way point and I was being injected with contrast dye. It finally came to an end and they were trying to be kind to me, to not unduly worry me. I rushed to the loo and could relax. At last it was over and I could go home. But oh no, I then found out I had to sit there for 20 minutes in case I had a reaction. 
Bless the nurse, she sat chatting to me the entire time. I was telling her I wanted to get home to cook some fillet steak. My son was home for a visit, from a year in Dubai. He was going out and needed to eat before a certain time. I had spent a lot on the steak, as it was a special meal. I had a delicious dinner planned, made up of all our favourite accompaniments. There was no way that fillet steak wasn't being eaten. It'd ad cost me a small mortgage !

I finally left the hospital 5 hours after entering it !!!! 5 hours ........... It was a different day outside. I'd gone in when it was grey and raining and came out to tropical weather.

It looks like MRIs and me are going to be in each others lives forever now. Next time I'll have that pyramid of profiteroles waiting for me when I get home.

PS I sneaked my camera out for a photo whilst I was waiting.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Other things on my mind.

Hi, long time no chat. 

I have a major excuse why I haven't be blogging. I have a brain tumour !!!
 Yep, you read that right. 
It was a shock to me as well.
 But really I am just using it as an excuse to you for my non blog writing. Hell, I was only diagnosed with it last Tuesday, so that's a crap excuse. But I've been finding having a brain tumour is great for getting out of things or blaming things on. My daughter said it's been great at work for people easing the pressure of her and giving her sympathetic looks and hugs. Hell, I wish I had known last month when Bristish Airways decided it was a good idea to move me out of my pre paid for window seat, into the crap seat in the middle. I was REALLY pissed off, when the "child" (16yrs +) was given my seat. Even more so when I saw her bloody put down the blind as soon as we were in the air. Why did she need my window seat ? Now if only I had known about "Bert " at the time. My pleading for a window seat, which fell on deaf ears might have had more oomph behind it.
I would have said I NEEDED the seat to stop my anxiety of flying. I might even have said, that it would be on her head, if as a result I had a serious seizure mid-air. Maybe an exaggeration by me, I've never even had a seizure, but she wouldn't have known that. Ha Ha. Who knows she might have found me a comfy seat in First Class.
See, "Bert" might come in handy.

Bert is the name I decided to give my tumour. I instantly thought of Gilbert the grape. God knows why as my tumour is the size of a gobstopper. Hubby asked the consultant that question. " Small then " said hubby. Obviously Hubby never had the gobstoppers I  bought in my youth. I think it was all just a ruse by the consultant to stop me knowing the truth. He said he didn't know how to use the measuring device on the MRI pictures. This from a doctor who is named as one of the top 10 back neurologists in the UK. Mmmmm doesn't ring true to me.

Shortening it to Bert, sounded short and sweet. So it looks like I will be taking my stowaway with me, everywhere now. Can't say it feels the same as being pregnant, and having another being with you all the time. Bert might even cause me some problems. The DVLA need to know that I won't be the only one driving a car from now on. He didn't even take a driving test, so he could be a devil on the road. Hopefully he is just a back seat driver.

Oh and how clever is the title of this blog post. I knicked it from another brain tumour blogger.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Theatrical Head shots : North Herts Photographer.

My latest shoot was held on a cold, snowy Sunday.  They were all taken using just natural light, with various backdrops on a stand in front of my huge bank of windows in one of my sitting rooms.
Phoebe needed some head shots so that her theatrical agent can have her photo included in the upcoming Spotlight database.  Hopefully then she can start being put up for auditions. She is a very talented singer and no doubt actress like her mother, Judith.

Phoebe arrived with slightly, heavy eye make up. So I toned her make up down a bit. Also she had bought with her, very patterned clothing for the shoot. I dug out some simple, plain coloured and shaped tops of mine and away we went.

It was interesting to see the images Phoebe chose, as opposed to what the more "mature" people chose. Phoebe does not like to smile..... at all...... There was a lot of teenage pounting going on, the sort you see all over Facebook.

This was my favourite image .

along with this one.

Phoebe would kill me I'm sure, but when I was going through them I couldn't get over how much she reminded me of Kourtney Kardashian.

Oh and her mum, Judith.

This is a head shot from Judiths old theatrical days. My husband was winding Phoebe up how much she looked like her mum. Something a teenager does not want to hear, EVER.

Super easy, nutty granola : North Herts Portrait photographer

As anyone who knows me, I don't eat healthily. About as healthy as I get is eating an oat granola for breakfast. Mind you, as I understand it, Granola often has more sugar than a can of Coke.
But it's either that , Cocoa Pops or Frosties !! In my reckoning, a wee bit of roughage in the form of oats, can't be too bad. I mean it would be the only roughage my body would ever get in a day.

I buy this granola. Low in fat, but super high in sugar. The problem is I HATE the rat droppings they put in it. Rat droppings to you, would be known as raisins. I have to pick every one of them out, before I can even settle down to eat it. Plus I LOVE nuts, so I started cutting up various nuts and adding it to the granola. One day I thought why don't I just make my own. So that is what I did.

Granola is super easy to make, and the joy is you can change the recipe to your likes and dislikes.
I use this recipe, that I keep on my recipe Pinterest board, here, I laughed when I went back and read her posting of the recipe, she hates raisins too and refers to them as dead flies. LOL.

I don't add any rat droppings or anything fruity at all to my version. I mean just think of the hidden sugar !!
I add various nuts and seeds. I also leave out the nutmeg and cinnamon from my Pinterest recipe. Now I am a big fan of cinnamon, but my first ever attempt tasted a bit too cinnamony ( is that a even a word ? ) for me. So I prefer to make my granola plain now.
I searched all the supermarkets here in the UK for some coconut shavings, as I really like coconut flakes in my granola. But all I could find were the really small desiccated varieties. I finally found some in the American Whole foods store in London.

You just bung everything in a bowl together and stir. See easy peasy ! Sometimes I rebel a little bit more and add a few more oats to the mix. I think it's because I panic when I see the amount of honey going into the mixture. And I don't actually eat honey !! It's another item on my infinitely long list of foods I don't eat.

I think making things from scratch is a great way of really appreciating what goes in to your food. If anyone has ever made shortbread, they will know exactly what I mean..

You then just spread the mixture over a baking tray and pop it in a low oven for about an hour. I pop mine in my simmer oven in our Aga. It's where I cook my meringues and there is little chance of anything burning. Just maybe drying out a bit, if left in there by mistake for days on end. Believe me I've done it ! Several times.

 and then " voila ", an hour later a whole batch of super, easy peasy Granola..

Everything is now nice and toasty and crunchy. I couldn't resist having a little nibble whilst I was waiting for it too cool down. Mmmmmmm

What I then do with the batch is, add it to a plastic cereal container with about half a box of the Quaker Oats granola. I then vigorously shake the two together. The Quaker Oats granola often comes in large chunks stuck together. The vigorous shaking not only distributes the two together but breaks the lumps down to more manageable pieces. I find my version tastes less sweet, so that is why I always add some of the shop bought one. That shop bought one tastes mighty fine, but I just hate those darn rat droppings.

 I always weigh out my portion of granola in the mornings. Granola is laden with calories, so the recommended portion size is  a tiny 45g. So with those big Quaker Oat lumps it can mean I only get a couple in a portion. Thats why I always give it a vigorous shake in a cereal container. As I don't eat yogurt or fruit, I always eat my granola with milk
 I get great pleasure picking out any of the random "rats droppings " (raisins ) that remain in the mix from the shop bought one. By removing these it usually gives me a few more grams of granola.

My version of this Recipe:

  • 1 cup of rolled oats
  • ⅓ cup of shredded coconut
  • 8 tbs of pecans/ walnuts/ pistachios/ brazils/ almonds and hazelnuts, roughly chopped ( I actually buy Tescos finest mixed nuts and use those, with some other variations added )
  • a handful of sunflower seeds
  • ¼ tsp of sea salt flakes
  • ⅓ cup of honey
  • 1½ tbs of olive oil
  • 1 tsp of boiling water

Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well together. Add the boiling water to some honey and add along with the olive oil. Stir well until everything is well coated.
Spread on a baking tray and bake for 1 hour, in a low oven (120 celsius ) or the simmer oven of an Aga. Stir the mixture every 20 minutes. When it's baked to just how you like it, leave it to cool and store in an airtight container.  

Monday, 18 February 2013

Animated Gifs : North Herts Portrait Photographer

I just had a play with making animated Gifs in Photoshop.
I had to look through my photos for some that would work as a sequence.
Here are a few I played with.

I couldn't resist using these shots from Christmas Day. Hubby was a wee bit merry from the unlimited alcohol.

I had been wondering how easy it was to do an animated Gif. After reading one of my favourite bloggers recent post I had a play.

Amanda's original blog is here.

It took me a while, to work out I had to resize all my images for viewing on the web. The Gif reduces the quality of the original images, but I still like the affect. 

The one below is of my niece Taya, from a shoot in the summer. The images are all the originals straight out of camera shots, except one. An edited one snuck in there. See if you can spot it.

I can't wait to shoot a collection of Teddy. He is so hard to shoot without movement, but this will be a great way of showing how truly mad he is.
It's a shame you can't post them on Facebook. It would be a great way of sharing a quick little slide show for clients to share their shoots.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Engagement shoot : North Herts Portrait Photographer

I bought my daughter a lovely engraved silver frame as a Christmas present. It was engraved with her and her fiancés names and the date they got engaged. But I realised we hadn't taken any photos to celebrate the occasion. Her fiancé is at University in Newcastle and rarely goes home.
He was home for a few days, and the snow was just thawing, so I dragged them across the road to the nature reserve. Everyone was moaning, especially my husband who I said had to hold the reflectors and throw some confetti. He moaned so much that we sent him home.

So I only had a few minutes to grab some images.

I played around with some textures in Photoshop.

It was only later I realised, that I had made the mistake of shooting in Landscape mode and the picture frame is for a Portrait shot. So I had to crop one of Tasmins favourite photos to fit the frame. She choose the one below.

This one below, was the only one I could use of my husband throwing confetti at them. Craig would always screw up his face, or a huge batch of confetti would cover their faces. Hubby just could't get the grasp of what I needed, so we sent him home.

Today, I had a play in Photoshop. The result was a bit naff, but cute in it's own way.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

India 2012

It has taken me forever to get around to writing about our recent travels in India. I think because I knew it could be an epic post. I had been putting it off.
It was so long ago that I shared this post of the Smash book I put together to take on the trip

From the off our trip was amazing. Our seats on the plane weren't the best, so a tour rep waiting for us at Heathrow, said leave it to me and we did. When we got to our seats, we were ecstatic to see we had the extra leg room,emergency exit seats. I popped some sleeping tablets and slept the whole journey, only to be woken by the sounds of breakfast. I was lucky I slept, as the tour turned out to be full on.

Erica was to be our amazing tour guide for the entire trip, there aren't enough superlatives I could use to express how great she was. We had enough time to have a quick shower and then we were straight out to experience the delights a smoggy, polluted Delhi had to offer a coach of 20 tourists.

During our tour the Hindu festival of Diwali was taking place. So there were a lot of Indians taking time out to visit their national treasures. This was always my favourite part of each monument we went to. Watching the faces of Indians taking in the beauty around them.

Everyone was eager to have their photos taken with us or by us. We were as exciting to them, as we thought they looked to us.

 Everyone wanted to see what they looked like in the back of the camera...............

Months later and I still hadn't finished this post, so I have now decided I'm just going to show you some of my favourite images from the holiday and then share videos of the photo-book, and SMASH scrapbook of our tour. Otherwise this post will never get done.

Here's the Smash book scrapbook I finally finished today of our tour. To begin with, the focus isn't great. I forgot to reset the focus from a previous video. Sorry.

And here is the My Publisher photo-book I put together.

There is a fantastic giveaway going on over on Photobook Girls website here, for a chance to win $100 of a My Publisher product. It's a great site for finding out all you need to know about making Photobooks.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Dubai Christmas 2012 : North Herts Photographer

I recently spent three days watching a live workshop on the next step coming in photography, video. Sue and Hayley were showing us how to make short, snappy videos.. Our homework is to put together a two minute video, after a month of shooting. I chose my model to be Teddy. Now it is way above my head, and I think it will be a miracle that I ever get to cut a months worth of video into two minutes. So just watch this space.

But whilst I had my DSLR camera out, I popped it on a tripod and videoed some recent scrapbook projects. I have finally finished a scrapbook of my recent trip to Dubai to see my son. At a recent crop in Enfield, we had a bring and buy stash sale. I picked up some freebies and quickly put together a layout for a photograph I took when my daughter got engaged. Everything but the white 12 x 12 card stock was free.

 I also spotted a Christmas inspired album that was for sale by Denise. I hope she likes what I did with her cast off.

PS.. I noticed when I watched the video back, that some of my small word stickers had come loose. So I went back and used some Glossy accents on them. They're not going anywhere now !

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

A snow day : North Herts Portrait Photographer

We have had some beautiful fluffy, dry snow fall over the last week. In the UK that means the Country can come to a standstill. But this time the local councils seemed to listen to the forecast, and gritted the roads. But the majority of schools decided to have a snow day, as with " Health & Safety " rules now, they were frightened of children slipping over !!!!
That was a bonus to me, as I knew some children who wanted to go out in the beautiful snowy backdrop and I could photograph them.
We went to an area directly behind there home. I can't describe how beautiful the woods looked. There was a fantastic slope with kids sledging down on anything they could get their hands on.

I took some props along with me, to incorporate in the shoot. I knew a fur collar I have, would work as a beautiful frame to Lucy's face.

and old picture frame, worked just perfect as a simple natural frame.

Noodles came along to. But just one major drawback. For some reason he is petrified of cameras. So I had to employ some stealth to get a snap of him.

We had a walk through the woods and up on to a hill bordering Weston. It's the hill of choice for all the locals. It was mobbed as is usual when the snow hits. There were even teenagers attempting to sledge down in a massive paddling pool !! I have one confession, I have never owned a sledge. It's one of my things I have high on my "grandchildren gifts " list, if and when I ever get any. I have only been on a sledge once, briefly, as a young child. I vividly remember falling head first into the snow. Now I won't even attempt a quick toboggan because of my spine.

It is thrilling to get to work with such fantastic light at this time of year. Very little editing was needed as I could get exposure in camera just right. The snow acts as a natural reflector and as long as you get your white balance set correctly,.......BINGO- magic happens.

Here are a few more shots of Alfie from the shoot,


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