Coping with chronic pain – that lonely 3am

Image courtesy of @jontyson

There’s nothing quite as lonely as 3am. The house is quiet; my family asleep. At times like these it’s easy to feel alone. My pelvis is fire, my back screaming in agony each time I shift my position. But I have my blog, words. I can let my pain travel through my fingertips and onto the page. Whether I post this or not, it will be therapeutic to write.

I thought I’d got a handle on my health the past couple years. Along with treatments from a fabulous hospital, I’ve overhauled my diet, take light exercise where I can, meditate daily. My pain had decreased, mobility improved. Lately though there’s been a sense of slipping backwards while trying desperately to cling on to the good days, not let the bad days take over.

Tonight is the worst I have been for a long time. It hurts to move. It hurts to stay still. It’s been an odd day, much to celebrate. My super agent has sold my book rights to Korea, a brand new territory for me – my twenty-fourth. The Date is in Apple’s top 10 biggest selling books for 2018. I put both things on Facebook and instantly received a direct message. ‘You’re having such a good day! You’re living my dream.’

From the outside looking in, my life does seem perfect, except it isn’t. No-ones is.

My evening has been spent upstairs because we don’t have a downstairs toilet and I can’t face going up and down the stairs.

Worries fill my mind – How can I do my Christmas shopping if I can’t get out? Am I going to have to change my weekend plans as it will be uncomfortable to travel? Will I miss my first author Christmas party with my new publisher on Monday? Gradually these thoughts, as thoughts do, become darker. Sharper. Swelling, along with the panic inside me. Am I going to end up in a wheelchair again?

My mind is in overdrive; anxiety over the future overshadowing my present where, relatively speaking I am okay. I am safe.

I am loved.

I reach for my gratitude journal and this is what eventually calms me. Replacing the negatives with positives and really, I have so much to be grateful for, from the strangers who support me online to the dog who snoozes on my bedroom floor who is always overjoyed to see me when he wakes, regardless of my mood.

My list grows and my pain doesn’t feel quite so all consuming anymore. I know soon I shall be able to sleep.

I have a roof over my head, a warm bed. A family who love me. I know I’m one of the lucky ones.

And tomorrow? Tomorrow things will be different because they alway are. The only thing you can rely on is change and I find this comforting because I am certain that just as things can get worse, eventually they will also get better.

This too, shall pass.

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Rest, relaxation & 3 great reads

Last month I coped with my son leaving home by sending him off to uni with 3 important things (you can read that post here). I spent the first few days of his absence drifting sadly around the house. It was when I lit a candle in his bedroom I knew I had to get out and do something productive so I dashed to Asda to stock up on chocolate. When I arrived I reminded myself how well I was doing on my sugar free diet, how much better I felt and so instead of a bar of dairy milk I headed into the in-store travel agent and bought a holiday to Lanzarote instead (and it was fun explaining that impromptu purchase to my husband).

Days later myself, my youngest son and my husband were on a beach. It was an odd sensation, trying to relax. It was the first time, in a long time, I hadn’t had a looming deadline from my publisher. I deliberately hadn’t packed my laptop, instead I’d taken a stack of books and I intended to read *whispers* for pleasure.

Historically I used to read a couple of novels a week but in the last few years I’ve been so busy writing my own books there’s been little time for reading. On the occasions I’ve managed to snatch precious minutes from my day, I’ve ended up reading one of the huge pile of proofs in my study awaiting quotes which all tend to be psychological thrillers as that’s the genre I write in. On my break, I was determined to read something different, and I did.

The One With Hidden Depths – First on my list was Graham Norton’s cozy crime debut ‘Holding.’ I’ve long been a huge Graham Norton fan. I pre-ordered this the second it was announced but I’ve been putting off reading it because… if I’m honest, because I thought it might not be very good. Sorry Graham. 

I dove into the pages expecting them to be peppered with brash humour, outrageous jokes, which I wasn’t sure how would translate into a novel, but what I found was a gentle story set in rural Ireland, sensitively written by someone who knew his characters inside out. The gradual unfurling is slow but I like that in a story. There’s a depth to the characterisation you rarely find in debuts. So much so I googled whether Graham had a ghost writer, apparently he didn’t. There’s a vulnerability surrounding the small community featured in this story, that doesn’t come from the characters alone. I’ve since bought Graham’s second novel ‘A Keeper’ and I won’t leave it too long before I read it.

The Chilling One – Next up was ‘The Taking of Annie Thorne’ by C.J. Tudor. As a teenager I was a real horror buff and a big fan of Stephen King but as I’ve got older I’ve… I’ve grown into a bit of a wuss  I suppose and so I tend to shy away from the genre. That said when Steven King recommends a writer you sit up and listen and that, along with the fabulous cover, swayed me into putting on my big girl pants and diving in. Goodness. This book is creepy. Right from the start a sense of unease settled over me, despite my brilliant backdrop of blue skies and golden sands. This story is so atmospheric with a refreshingly unique voice. I do love it when I start off loathing a character but the writer gradually draws me in until I’m rooting for them. I’m glad I didn’t read this alone at night, but I’m so very glad I read it. 

The Weepy One – A writer friend of mine recommended ‘Bitter’ by Francesca Jakobi to me and told me I’d love it, and she was right. I find it utterly fascinating when a story is based on some semblance of truth and this one, based on Francesca’s grandmother, drew me in completely. It could have been hard to picture a time when divorce was scandalous and single parent families an oddity but thanks to the evocative writing I was right there with the beautifully crafted characters, living out their obsessions with them. This book is thoughtful, heartbreaking and utterly compelling. I am desperate to know what happened after the final pages. 

Aside from reading, it was a fabulous holiday which kicked off to a thrilling start when we popped into WH Smith’s at the airport and found ‘The Surrogate‘ on the shelves. Once we’d arrived, we hired a car but didn’t explore this gorgeous island nearly enough which is a good reason to return (although we did stumble across a fabulous bookshop who stocked ‘The Sister‘ – hurrah!) What we did do in-between reading was wade into the sea to feed the flurry of fish with cooked vegetables we saved from lunch.

We also went sea trekking for the first time. Walking around the ocean bed while hooked up to air was an odd but amazing experience and a privilege to be up close to so many sea creatures in their natural habitat. 

Evenings found us at a beach bar, sipping cocktails and watching the sun set.

It was while gazing out to sea I had an idea for a romantic novel I felt ridiculously excited about but within 48 hours of being back in the UK I’d (fictionally) killed someone. I feel relaxed, refreshed and ready to put the finishing touches to my fifth psychological thriller, and as for writing romance? Maybe one day…

 

Letting go – when a child leaves for Uni – 3 important things I gave my son

 

I still remember it so clearly; the heady joy of discovering I was pregnant; the overwhelm of a love that was almost painful the first time I held my baby.  It seemed unfathomable back then to think of a time I’d be without my children.  First steps, first words. Sticky toddler kisses, teenage uncertainty as they tried to navigate their way in the world and then, later, it was me who was uncertain and afraid as I took my second child to university. The heartbreak as I drove away in a car that was too empty. Too quiet. Back to a house that looked exactly the same but felt somehow different.

I felt somehow different.

A mother bird with an almost empty nest.

It was difficult initially to sift through my feelings. What was real and what was imagined. What thoughts were coming from ego, of which there were many: –

  • Of course he’ll never be as comfortable anywhere else as he is at home.
  • Of course he won’t eat as well now I’m not cooking for him.
  • Of course he’ll never wear clean clothes again.

Except he will. He does. He can.

He’s resilient. Strong. Capable of creating his own home, operating a cooker, a washing machine. Underneath the tangle of irrational fears that I’d never see him again, that our relationship would be irrevocably altered, came a creeping sense of pride.

I’ve brought him up well. He’s smart, funny, resourceful and kind.

Last month I left him at university with three things.

A photo book of his childhood. The cover a reminder that wherever he goes, whatever he does, he has a family who will always have his back. Be there for anything he needs. Who would unquestionably bury a body for him.

 

A story about his hopes and dreams. It’s easy to get swept away. To forget who you are, what you want. What you can achieve if you try. A mother/son chat warning him of the pitfalls of too much partying and not enough work would have been quickly forgotten. Instead, I wrote a story about a boy and his journey through adulthood constructed almost entirely of lyrics and song titles from his favourite band, The Counting Crows. A reminder of what he could be.

 

The last thing I gave him was the wisdom that every student should know. It’s always salt, tequila, lemon. Don’t mess with the order. And always, ALWAYS, drink a pint of water before bed.

These were the things I left him with at university, but he left me with so much more. A heart full of love and a lifetime of memories along with an immense sense of gratitude that the world is wide open to him. The world is lucky to have him.

 

 

 

Images courtesy of Unsplash – Liv Bruce & Fidel Fernando.

Is a sugar free life sustainable with kids, career & a home to juggle? Let’s find out…

 

Avocado toast with egg and herbs on a rustic table

Photo by Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash

A few weeks ago I blogged how lunch with one of my oldest friends, and long-term cake buddy, Kuldip, led to a complete overhaul in my health (you can read that post here). Admittedly, I stared longingly at the dessert menu as she shared her inspiring journey into her new life without sugar but her energy and enthusiasm was infectious and she persuaded me to give it a go. After a rough couple of weeks withdrawing, now I’m so grateful she did. There have been many frantic messages (from me) and many calming answers (from her) exchanged over the past few weeks and her straightforward, relatable approach to sugar free living as a working mum I thought worth sharing. Kuldip has now started her own fabulous blog, Life Without Sugar, and it’s a pleasure to chat to her today about the white stuff.

Kuldip, let’s go back a few weeks. What was the catalyst for such a dramatic dietary change?

I just felt rubbish all the time. When you are busy, working, have small kids and a house that’s a fixer-upper, it’s natural and forgivable to blame a general malaise on that, but I just knew that I was on the road to poor health and I that I had to change, but change what?

Exactly! I think sometimes the easier part is knowing we need to change and over the years we’ve tried pretty much everything between us haven’t we?

Yes! There are so many diet plans out there, and they will tell you what to do, and some will tell you what not to do, but none of them explains why? Like properly WHY. Without knowing that I failed at all of them because, it seemed that I depended on willpower alone.

But you’ve always been quite determined when you want to be. Do you feel your willpower is weak?

Not weak exactly. I already use willpower. Not to swear in the car when the kids are in there with me, not scream at frustrating emails at work, not to throw things out the window when they refuse to work properly etc. So, I know I have willpower. But why do I need willpower over food? It’s something that felt so odd to me. Then one day I got a look at myself in a full-length mirror, I hadn’t really looked at myself for nearly two years and I was shocked at how terrible I looked. I felt at the end of my tether, honestly at my wit’s end so when I came across an article about sugar, it all fell into place. The need for willpower is because sugar is addictive and sugar is in a tremendous amount of food that we consume, and we aren’t aware that it’s even there. So we try to abstain, and we fail.

What to do? Get rid of it.

Put like that it sounds so simple but I know from experience it isn’t. What were your first steps?

It usually takes me a while to prepare for a diet or plan, but this hit home straight away. Probably because it isn’t a diet or a plan, its simply saying, ‘Sugar doesn’t agree with me, so I don’t have it.’ I immediately researched books and experts and consumed their knowledge and then that was it, I couldn’t stop talking about it, as you well know.

Yes. I never did get my cake that day! My husband couldn’t believe it when I got home. What does your husband think about it all?

Thanks to my history of constantly pursuing the next thing, my husband assumed that I had started another fad diet and braced himself for what I would insist that we eat for our evening meals. He has been the subject of many a dietary change poor fella. But this one, this one has stuck. He was ok with my ridding the shelves of all things high sugar, but put his foot down over the balsamic vinegar, the Asian sauces, like hoisin, soy, and teriyaki and ketchup – which are positively loaded with sugar. But the rest is gone.

I got exactly the same reaction, for exactly the same reasons but Tim has seen all the positive effects on my health so far and is now trying it himself. 

It makes it easier having that support doesn’t it? Now that I have started the blog and am actively reading sugar-free cookbooks, he is taking me a bit more seriously. Before, you would see me with a cookbook if I were handing it to him so he could cook. He has reduced his sugar because there isn’t so much of it in the house anymore, but he still likes a pudding or a handful of biscuits through the day. Though the other day he did say that he might give it up too – I stopped myself from reeling off a load of facts that would make him instantly regret that he had said it and just nodded and said ‘it’s the easiest health choice you can make.’ He’s a pretty healthy eater, so I don’t worry about him too much anyway.

The men are probably the easiest to convince as we’re all getting older with the inevitable aches and pains. The kids though! Yours are so young so it must be easier they can’t source anything you don’t give them. Teenagers are a different matter…

Yes, my two begin so young definitely helps. I started talking to them about it, they have interpreted is as Mummy doesn’t like sugar. Outside and occasionally inside the home, I let them eat cakes because that’s the society we live in, and I don’t want to exclude my family from everyday situations as a result of what I am doing. It has made me want to cook! And find some sugar-free alternatives to those ‘treats.’

Haha – I’m saying nothing about your cooking… Back to the girls, I remember the primary school years so well, the endless birthday party invitations. How do you feel about the food they will likely be served?

I’ll let the girls eat whatever they want at birthday parties. When at parties, I find that they are starting to leave the birthday cake now, so I like to think their taste buds are changing.

My approach is to make the changes at home and hope that they use it as their blueprint for eating elsewhere. For their own birthday party, I requested a reduced sugar cake from the baker, and it went down a storm, nobody noticed. Their party bags didn’t have any sweets or chocolate in them, I just packed them out with little toys which I think are more fun anyway. We only served water – which young children will just accept, especially on a hot day. They had sandwiches and crisps, I obliged a few parents with jam fillings, and my girls had ham. It was pretty easy to party without sugar, and I don’t think anyone noticed the lack of it. It made me realise how much adults impose the idea of ‘children = sugary treats’ when actually, that really doesn’t have to be the case

They have never developed a taste for juices so prefer water and milk because that’s what we have given them at home. They love biscuits, and I’m okay with that as there are some low sugar biscuits about there – plain digestives and shortbread are usually pretty good (about 2.4g per biscuit), and if you make homemade with a sugar alternative, you’re laughing.

Absolutely. I’m baking more now than I was when I ate sugar because it’s so difficult to find treats off the shelf. Perfecting sugar free scones and jam brought tears to my eyes! It’s the one thing I knew I’d really miss. What have you missed the most?

I don’t think I miss anything you know. I thought I would miss ice cream but the need for it has gone. I did accept a Mr. Whippy ice-cream recently – my mother-in-law visited and bought us all one. It was delicious, but I had a headache for the rest of the afternoon, had a terrible night’s sleep and felt ill the next day! So not worth it! 

I felt like that the first time I drank wine after 2 weeks sugar free, I felt as though I’d been poisoned. I’m still having the odd glass though. How about chocolate – I know we’ve both eaten an obscene amount over the years.

I haven’t yet thought ‘ooh I could murder a Snickers’ which was a constant thought during any diets I’ve been on.

I’m eating 80% chocolate now and honestly don’t need more than a couple of squares. I think most of my snacking is emotionally based. I haven’t felt the need as I’ve felt full but I’m still making snacks for my husband and subsequently we’re trying lots of new good. Have you discovered anything new?

My new favourite snack, dessert, breakfast is Greek yoghurt, with a small handful of blueberries and strawberries, chia seeds, macadamia nuts, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Oh my, I just love it. If you said that I would treat that like I did ice-cream, cakes or my favourite sweets, then I would have told you to leave and not politely! It’s amazing. I found out that cinnamon helped with sugar cravings so started adding it in, but now I just love the taste.

I’m less reliant on them now, but Nairn cheese oatcakes were a godsend for snack attacks. I have fewer snack attacks now as I am full at most meals, but now use them in the girls’ lunch boxes instead of crisps or even as well as crisps, it’s all low sugar and will fill them up.

Chai tea – it’s comforting and although it has minimal sugar, is quite sweet and it has cinnamon in it!

 I’m going to try that with Greek yoghurt. I thought snacking would be my biggest challenge but that has proven to be eating out which we do quite regularly. How have you found it?

I thought eating out was going to be tough, but it hasn’t been that bad. Fish dishes are usually safe to go for; salads are surprisingly tricky because of the dressing, so I ask for it without or on the side. Steak and chips are excellent, particularly if you go for sweet potato chips. I had a lovely aubergine and chickpea burger the other day. I took half the bun off, as I couldn’t fit the thing into my mouth anyway! I figure that the remaining burger bun had at most 1g of added sugar, so let it slide. During withdrawal, I tried to keep down to 10g of all sugars, added or natural. I’m a bit more relaxed about tracking it now, because I have an idea of who much sugar is in things, plus if you keep to whole foods then you really don’t have to worry so much.

Dessert whilst eating out is still a challenge, just because I have had them my whole life – it’s been a habit for so long. I remember eating the main just to get to the dessert! So, I will either kill the urge and have a peppermint tea or go for the cheese board avoiding the pickles.

Oh after over 20 years on weight watchers I’m eating so much full fat cheese and loving it! Lastly, what has been the biggest challenge?

Firstly, withdrawal is not pretty. It’s different for all of us, but I used to binge on sweets daily, so I got hit quite hard when withdrawing. If I could, I would have taken a week off from life to get through it.

I don’t cook – I never enjoyed cooking. I felt nothing for it. I now have to cook and that started off as a challenge. In fact, it’s taking me until nearly day 60 of being sugar-free to purchase a sugar-free cookbook! Most of our evening meals were healthy anyway as I drew upon the many of the books that I have bought with all the diet plans that I’ve tried. Each of them has produced some favourites. But now the mission is to have the odd sweetened treat, but a healthier less harmful version. Watch this space.

BIG thanks to Kuldip for joining me today and for her encouragement. Please do check out and sign up to her blog here and follow her sugar free journey. 

 

 

Seven days sugar free & this is how I feel…

It’s been seven days now since I decided to overhaul my diet and attempt to eliminate sugar and you can read my post on why here.

During this time almost everyone I’ve mentioned it to, on-line and off, has an opinion on the right approach so let’s get that bit out of the way first. There is no right approach. Instead, there’s the approach that seems achievable for you and your family, whether that’s cutting out sugary snacks, processed food or eliminating the white stuff entirely. I’m not an expert. This isn’t a post with ‘rules’ but rather a sharing of what I’ve found helpful, the challenges I’ve faced and how I overcame them (or not).

By day one I was raring to go. After much research (there’s an awful lot of information out there and a lot of it contradictory) I decided to base my experiment on David Gillespie’s method. His Sweet Poison book explained the science simply and clearly. I bought this book along with The Sweet Poison Quit plan but to be honest you could get away with only reading The Quit Plan because it explains the science (although not quite as in-depth) and also has recipes and pointers.

In his plan carbs are not banned – hurrah – (although white pasta, bread and rice are) and the occasional glass of wine is allowed. The odd potato will not send you straight to hell which was very good news for my husband when it came to our Sunday roast. And fruit is allowed (although no more than 2 pieces and berries are favoured).

Planning is the key to such a dramatic lifestyle change. Often, I’m working on ‘one more chapter’ and I lose track of time only to hare around to M & S to buy something I can shove in the oven. There is literally nothing without sugar you can just shove in the oven so meals were carefully thought out, and the fridge stocked.

Much of my meal plan was based around Sarah Flower’s The Sugar Free Family Cookbook. Many of the sugar free cookbooks I looked at (and I spent an hour in the bookshop) contain huge amounts of honey, or dried fruit, date paste. These are not sugar free and the huge spikes in fructose WILL leave you hungry.

The first day kicked off with porridge with a small amount of blueberries. Lunch was a smoked salmon and avocado salad. I’d already checked the sugar content on my usual low fat salad dressing and was shocked to find out it was 17g per 100ml. This is a LOT of sugar. Instead I drizzled chilli infused garlic oil. I often have salads for lunch and they only generally fill me up for a couple of hours. Without the spike in sugar from salad dressing I wasn’t hungry all afternoon. I’ve found that although sugars are hidden in almost everything dressings and condiments are amongst the worst.

Cooking dinner was, if I’m honest, a little frightening. I made moussaka which is one of my husband’s favourites. For years I’ve followed the Weight Watcher’s recipe. Low fat yoghurt and cheese. The Sarah Flower’s method was alien to me. Frying the aubergine in oil. Using full fat cheese and cream. I reminded myself as I sat down to eat that this isn’t a weight loss mission. It’s not about getting slimmer (although it is a bit…) but more about my health. My family loved the food. I couldn’t finish my portion and for the first time, I think ever, I didn’t have the urge to snack in the evening. I was too full. This was a trend that carried on all week – I’ve not once snacked in the evenings. It’s been hard to let go of the emotional comfort my ‘the kids are in bed let’s eat’ ritual brings, I’ve been doing it for years and that’s been one of the hardest things to change.

On day two I took my son for a pub lunch. The salads on the menu didn’t look too inspiring and it’s what I usually eat at home so I went with a steak and a handful of chips. (If you’re rolling your eyes at chips please refer to above about making changes that are realistic and feasible and hey there’s no added sugar). It was hard resisting the ketchup and vinegar but again I struggled to finish. We always have desserts and even though I thought I’d opt for cheese I just wasn’t hungry. It was 7 o’ clock before I realised I had skipped dinner. I was still full but I thought I’d better eat. I cut some crudités, cheese and spooned a small amount of homous onto a plate. Homous is something I eat regularly, again usually low fat. It was shocking comparing the labels and realising how much sugar is in low fat foods. No wonder dieters always feel ravenous with the fructose spikes making it impossible to know when they’ve eaten enough.

Day three brought with it a weird stabbing pain in my forehead that just wouldn’t go. Again, I ate out with friends but there was nothing suitable on the menu. I asked the kitchen to grill me some chicken and serve with an undressed salad (don’t be afraid to ask for what you want). Uninspired, but my head hurt too much to eat.  For dinner I wanted to try Sarah Flower’s ‘hot head’ pizza but discovered although I’d bought all the ingredients the base sauce took 8 hours to cook. I chucked everything in a slow cooker and left overnight to have tomorrow. Instead we had ratatouille with halloumi but even my favourite squeaky cheese didn’t make me feel any better.

Day four my head still hurt and I barely had the energy to get out of bed. Usually I’d go for a swim but it was exhausting just getting dressed. The sauce for the pizza was ready so I made the bases, almost entirely of cheese. If I’m not the size of a house by the end of this experiment I’ll be amazed. (It’s not about weight. It’s not about weight). I told the kids over and over again that they wouldn’t taste like real pizza’s until they said I was ruining it for them before they’d even tried them. Unanimously we all agreed we liked them better than regular pizza’s and even though I’d made one each they were so filling we could easily have shared.

Day five and the weird stabbing pain was still in my head. I’d been longing to write book 5 but my focus was non-existent. I was so tired I could cry. I had to run some errands and outside of the house I felt increasingly anxious until I had a panic attack. Panic attacks, I’d hoped were part of my dim and distant path and I drove home wondering whether this was all worth it. For dinner I made a curry. Again, I’d been making weight watchers curry recipes for years but this one had oils and creams and my family said it was the best curry they’d ever tasted.

Day six and I woke to find my hands didn’t hurt quite as much as they normally did. The point of this dietary change for me is to try and reduce my inflammation, as well as boost my energy (ha! No change there yet). I tried to write but although I couldn’t concentrate my fingers moved freely.  My 4th psychological thriller, The Date, is newly published & I’ve spent more time than usual on social media, on my phone. This is usually agonising for my poor hands. Hearteningly, already less so. My kids wanted burgers for dinner and so I made them from scratch. They’d never go without ketchup and so I found a recipe here and made some. It only took half an hour and we all agreed was nicer than Heinz. Cheeringly, I think it would make a fabulous base for the pizzas so no more 8 hour prep – hurrah. It’s Saturday and we generally eat desserts at the weekend so I made a raspberry mousse from Sarah Flowers and it was delicious.

Day seven. My headache had gone, my pain less and today I felt more energetic than I had for ages (probably because it was the first time I’d slept properly all week). I nervously weighed myself (I’d eaten so much fat this week) and was surprised and relieved to see I’d remained the same. Somehow I’ve lost an inch from my waist and my stomach is noticeably flatter, my clothes looser.

My husband’s had been missing sweet snacks and so I baked a sugar free lemon drizzle cake, again from Sarah’s recipes. Again, I kept telling my family it wouldn’t taste like cake but surprisingly it did. It was light, moist and disappeared VERY quickly.

It’s been tough, I think the exhaustion has been the worst, but it’s encouraging to see a reduction in my pain already. I’m looking forward to the week ahead. I’ll keep you posted!

Below are my two favourite recipes from this week.

From Sarah Flower’s Sugar Free Family Cookbook – available on Amazon here.

Lemon Drizzle Cake.

100g butter

100g full fat cheese

75g erythritol blend (I bought mine from Amazon. Expensive but you don’t need much at one time)

90g almond flour (I found cheaper to buy supermarket ground almonds)

40g coconut flour (I sourced mine at Asda)

1 tsp baking powder

Zest 2-3 lemons (squeeze juice to drizzle over cake)

5 eggs

Sarah shares a method but I just chucked everything in my Magimix and blitzed for 30/60 seconds. I used a silicone loaf tin and baked on gas mark 3 (170) for 50 minutes. Drizzle over the lemon juice once out the oven (I didn’t quite use all my juice). Let it cool before you turn it out or it will crumble.

Ketchup

This invaluable recipe for ketchup (also a pizza base – hurrah) is from Sugar Free Londoner fabulous blog which you can find here.

400g tin chopped tomatoes

3 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 garlic clove (I used lazy garlic)

¼ tsp Dijon mustard

¼ tsp onion powder (I used dried onion flakes)

I pinch ground allspice

1 pinch cinnamon (cinnamon helps reduce sugar cravings btw)

Salt & pepper

Throw everything in a pan on a low heat for 30 minutes, stirring frequently until it thickens. It keeps in the fridge for about a week.

You can check out how I get on during my second week here.

Life with a Sprockerpoo – the first 12 months

A year and a half ago we lost our beloved cocker spaniel, Molly. Our house and hearts felt colder. Emptier. After much discussion we decided not to get another dog. The children were growing, one already left home, and suddenly the time when it would become just the two of us didn’t seem quite so distant. We’d travel. Have spontaneous weekends away. The tie of another dog would be too much. We were approaching the time we’d be able to focus solely on us. We absolutely didn’t want another dog.

Until one day we did.

It was my husband who tentatively brought it up as he sipped his tea. ‘Life just doesn’t feel the same without a dog,’ he began. ‘I think…’.

I’d googled puppies before he’d finished his sentence and by the time he’d drained his mug I’d arranged for us to see a litter. At 4 o’clock.

We didn’t tell the children as we didn’t want to get their hopes up but I desperately wanted a labradoodle and was already picking out names as we drove to the appointment.

The litter were adorable, as all litters are. I climbed into the pen and waited to see which puppy came to me. They all did. Delighted, I looked up at my husband but as I saw his face my heart sank.

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

‘The mother’s the size of an average sheep.’ He said. 

And she was. 

I’ve always loved big breeds but he didn’t. 

‘Some are small and some grow so tall.’ The breeder told us. ‘You can’t predict with a mixed breed but they’re likely to be huge. She doesn’t even fit in my car.’

And so the pattern was set. Endless weekends spent visiting puppies from boxers to cockerpoos and everything in-between. I fell in love with them all. My husband didn’t. And yet I didn’t feel the urge to fight to bring them home. They were all gorgeous, and fluffy and cute but none of them felt like mine.

Last June we had one more appointment booked. We almost didn’t go. We’d decided to wait until after the school holidays but we’d never met a Sprockerpoo before (Springer/Cocker/Poodle) and we were curious. After losing two pure-breds to genetic health conditions we didn’t know entirely what we were searching for, but it wasn’t a pedigree.

Instantly, we fell in love and the feeling was mutual. Granger padded over, scrambled onto my lap, licked my hand and fell asleep and I knew I’d found him. The puppy who was meant to be ours.

‘Let’s think about it overnight.’ My husband said. ‘We don’t want to make s snap decision’ but I knew from the longing looks he was giving Granger he felt the same way I did. It became apparent when 10 minutes into our journey home he pulled into a lay-by. ‘I’d be devastated if someone else came and took him.’

I didn’t reply. I was too busy calling the breeder and saying yes.

A year ago today we brought him home.

The house felt different once more. He wasn’t a replacement for Molly and personality wise they are world’s apart, but each day he makes us laugh. We quickly found out he loves the garden, most days he spends hours chasing leaves, watching grass blow in the wind and it’s really made us appreciate the small things.  How to find joy in the world around us. He loathes being alone, luckily my husband and I both work from home and my elder son works shifts so our house is never empty. He lies under my desk as I write my books, sometimes making me jump if he suddenly moves while I’m writing a scary scene and sometimes inspiring me. Branwell the dog, in my latest psychological thriller, The Date, is based on Granger.

If anyone goes out he seeks solace in their shoes, putting them in his basket until they return, not to chew, although initially there was a LOT of chewing, but for comfort. He’s gentle, placid, affectionate, adores racing around the park with other dogs but equally content curled up on the sofa. He doesn’t molt and doesn’t smell. Oh and he’s patient. So very patient, standing waiting his turn when the cat decides he wants to feast on dog food. 

He’s ours and I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t.

Parenting – Swapping Calpol for Vodka

 

It was my birthday over the weekend. I woke to a still house. Silent. First light filtered through a crack in the curtains and shone a spotlight on the empty space at the bottom of the bed where once small children would bounce, clutching handmade cards decorated with indistinguishable drawings.

“Wake up Mummy.”

My heart would be filled with love as I’d eat a breakfast they’d lovingly prepared – “of course smarties taste good with cornflakes”- before unwrapping gifts fashioned from empty yoghurt pots and cardboard toilet roll tubes.

Two of my three children have grown. One has already left home, another due to go to uni in September. 

As I lay there I felt such a fierce longing for simpler times. For sticky marmalade kisses and time that seemed to stretch endlessly. 

Where had their childhood gone?

The day was lovely. I had a fabulous lunch with my whole family and yet still I felt oddly unsettled.

Sometime. Somehow. There’s been a shift in the fabric of my relationship with my older kids and as I watched them leave after dessert, going back to the grown up part of their lives I was not included in, I was inexplicably scared it was all going to unravel. The invisible thread of love that binds me to them might stretch and stretch until one day… would it snap altogether?

And then I got a text – dinner, Mum?

Saturday found us crowded around a table sharing tapas, before heading to a bar and there was another shift in dynamics. A Saturday night drinking cocktails with the people I love most in the world. 

It’s a different stage of parenting, swapping Calpol for vodka. Baby rice for bar snacks, and it wasn’t better, or worse. Just different. And I realised as we hugged at the end of the evening and went our separate ways that the invisible thread is strong enough to span years and miles and oceans and it will always, always remain unbreakable. 

My heart will forever be filled with love.