Thursday, 27 June 2019

Last Day...

So today marks the last day of my radiotherapy treatment.

This is not something that I have gone into in too much detail here on my blog. In fact it's not something I've wanted to make public to the world at large but now as the treatment comes to its conclusion let me fill you in.

Back in mid February, being a woman of a certain age, I got the letter through the post asking me to attend a routine mammogram which I duly did without an awful lot of thought.

Two weeks later I received a letter asking me to come into hospital for a further mammogram. Everything was worded very much along the lines of 'nothing to worry about but sometimes we have to do a second one'.

A few days later I was in the Breast Unit of my local hospital; I had another mammogram and was told there were a few white marks they needed to look at a bit closer and that after the mammogram I would have an ultra sound. So sure enough after a short wait I had an ultra sound and something was mentioned about having a needle procedure at which point I thought 'ok so by needle you mean biopsy - this is getting real'. After a long wait I underwent a biopsy, I then had a week to wait before I could go back for the results.

So as you can probably guess the results weren't great. I was given a diagnosis of Ductal Carcinoma in Situ; a form of breast cancer found in the milk ducts. Thankfully what was found was small and at a very early stage. The treatment plan set out before me was to undergo a lumpectomy, to remove the bad stuff, followed by a course of radiotherapy that would reduce the risk of re-occurrance.

Within three weeks of my diagnosis I was back at hospital for the lumpectomy. Thankfully this was all completed within a day and I was back home to recover. After confirming that all the nasty stuff had been removed and allowing sufficient time for my body to recover after the operation I then started a course of radiotherapy; 15 treatments in all.

Yesterday I saw my oncologist who was very happy with all the treatment given and then today I visited the radiotherapy department for the last time. It felt kind of strange to leave my gown behind today, this has travelled back and forth with me over the last few weeks and it seemed very poignant to leave it there...

These last four and a half months have been a whirlwind and at times a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Our lives were given a bit of a side swipe, our routines knocked out of place, our emotions thrown into turmoil, all of the usual life stuff was put into a whole new perspective.

I have been extremely fortunate to have had my amazing hubby and kids to support me all the way through this; a set of friends who would do anything for me and a fantastic team at work who have given me the time and space to get through it all.

I was extremely lucky that this was found early on and dealt with so efficiently. I cannot thank enough the wonderful team of NHS staff who have looked after me with such care and compassion. I have emerged at the end of it all in the best state possible; all the treatment has been successful and now I just have yearly mammograms to make sure it stays away!

So today I rang the bell to signify the end of treatment and then indulged in some cake to celebrate!

With much love and thanks to everyone at Royal Derby Hospital xx

Friday, 31 May 2019

And some more Disney ink!

Anyone who has visited this blog in the past knows that I love my Disney ink and this week saw the addition of some more...but not to me!

My daughter took her first step into the world of tattoos by getting herself a Disney themed tattoo - like mother, like daughter!

So we took a trip over to see my favourite tattooist Saint Heywood over at his new studio Acadia Tattoo. And there Molly sat like an absolute pro. She went for a decent sized tattoo after chatting through with Saint about placement and detail, deciding to 'go big or go home'!

I reckon the tattoo must have taken about 5 hours or so to complete with only one short break about half way through. Saint was his usual lovely self and made sure Molly knew what was happening and making sure she was involved in the whole process to get exactly what she wanted.
Initial outline complete

Sitting like a pro!

And in goes the colour
And the final result is this awesome piece of artwork

But of course I couldn't spend the day in a tattoo studio without getting a little something done on me! And while this one isn't strictly Disney it does have a nod to Disney in it.

Earlier this year as part of a routine mammogram I discovered that I had breast cancer. Thankfully it was found at a very early stage and was very small but I still needed to undergo a lumpectomy operation to remove the bad stuff and as I type I am waiting for a course of radiotherapy to make sure we've done as much as possible to get rid of it! It therefore felt right to get a pink ribbon tattoo to symbolise these last few months. When the cancer was discovered we kept referring to it as some 'naughty pixie dust'; it therefore seemed apt to get the words 'Faith, Trust, Pixie Dust' worked into the tattoo. After all having faith and trust in those around me has certainly helped me get through this whole experience; Simon, the kids and my friends have been amazing and I feel truly blessed to have them all in my life.

Thanks to Simon (Saint Heywood) at Acadia Tattoo for looking after us girls and doing an amazing job as always. The only problem now is what to have done next...

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

69 Days and counting

Yes there is a countdown happening!

Finally four years after our last visit to a Disney park we have a trip booked. This August we will be heading our way over to Disneyland Paris for a 5 day trip.

The last few years have been tight financially which has meant any Disney trips have had to take a back seat. But we now find ourselves in a position to be able to dip our toes back into visiting the parks once more.

The last time we visited Disneyland Paris (February 2015) things were very different. Firstly our kids were still kids now we have two young adults who we are blessed still want to come on vacation with us, but who are also now able to pay for themselves - win!

Back in February 2015 we made the trip under very sad circumstances as my mum had died only a few days before we were due to go. We made the trip with the blessing of family but it was a very hard trip to make, filled with memories of visits gone by made with my parents. And then there was the weather...the freezing cold weather! The wearing of layers upon layers to keep warm, the struggle to find shelter to keep warm, navigating the parks with limited food options and areas of the parks closed for big refurbishments.

Do not be fooled by the brilliant blue was blooming freezing!!
And although I did make a small trip back in 2017 with my fellow podcaster, Disney Dream Girl Michelle, there is something about visiting Disney which to me says 'family' and I am ready for us to embrace the Disney magic as a family once more.
Disney Dream Girls take on DLP - June 2017
Our lives this year are changing; both children are now young adults and both of them are reaching the end of their respective education paths and will be entering the world of work. We also find ourselves in a position to begin planning for much missed Disney travel and adventures and with a desire to ensure that life does not pass us by and that we make the most of every moment. This was brought home earlier this year when I had a brush with cancer. Thankfully it was very early stage; I have had the necessary surgery and although I have a few weeks of further treatment ahead it will all be completed by the time we set off to Disneyland Paris. But when life throws you a curve ball like this it does make you stop, think and re-assess...and although it is a cliche it does make you take a long hard look at what you are doing, why you are doing it and how can you ensure you make the best of the time that you have.

And so began the process of booking a trip!

We decided that we wanted to get away sooner rather than later which meant that a trip over to Paris was the most obvious choice. I wanted us to be able to re-visit Paris to enjoy it at a warmer time of year, to put sad memories to rest and to be able to take the time to enjoy it all at whatever pace we liked!

We knew we would have to visit over the Summer months as my job working in education forces us to visit during the school holidays. We then had to factor in my sons university graduation ceremony, my daughter getting her A-level results, dates already booked for a concert and a theatre trip...this left us with just a few weeks in August to choose from!

We also wanted to make this trip as simple and as easy as possible for us; we need to get our travel legs back so to speak! Plus I just wanted us to be able to enjoy the trip with as few stresses as possible. So we knew we wanted to stay at a Disney hotel and to travel there by's where hours at the laptop kicked in weighing up all the different options!

Now money as always will play a factor when planning any vacation but especially a Disney one. And despite looking around at various different options, selecting different dates, different days of the week and through various different companies I actually ended up booking with Disney themselves.  I would always recommend that when booking you take the time to look at all the options out there and then ask yourself what you want out of a vacation and which option best meets your needs. This time around booking direct ticked the most boxes for us and we were also able to take advantage of some discounts that Disney were offering. On this occasion our booking covers all travel, hotel and park tickets but we did briefly debate whether buying an annual pass would be a better option. But because we can't at this point in time guarantee being able to use the pass more than on just this occasion and knowing that if we could make more trips we would need the pass with the most accessible dates we decided not to bother. But this maybe something we come back to in the future if we find ourselves able to travel more freely around work commitments! Who knows?!

So we are getting there by Eurostar and using their direct service. There were other options available with changes at Lille but we decided that on this occasion we wanted the simplicity of the direct train.  It's worth noting that the direct service only runs on set days per week and that may have an impact on planning, availability and of course cost! We have also booked the Disney Express service; this means that we can drop our luggage at the Disney Express point at Marne-la-Vallee station (station at Disneyland Paris) and our luggage will be taken to our hotel so that we can go straight into the parks, and then on departure day the hotel will take the luggage to the station so we can make the most of our final day.

As we live in the center of the UK we will have to travel about 3 hours to get to Ebbsfleet which is where we are taking the Eurostar from. The train actually runs from St Pancras, London and picks up at Ebbsfleet and then Ashford before heading over to France. We did look into whether we could take a train from home to London and then pick up the Eurostar but it would have cost us more than the petrol for driving down to Ebbsfleet. We have decided to travel down the day before and have booked a cheap hotel for overnight; this will take the stress out of getting there on time as we would have had to have left home in the early hours as well as battle rush hour traffic! And it still works out cheaper than taking a train from home!!

Well that's the getting there sorted so where are we staying? We knew we wanted to stay in a Disney hotel but which one? We had two factors to consider - money and whether we wanted to try somewhere different to our last visit. To be fair this did limit our choice to the Santa Fe, Cheyenne and Sequoia Lodge hotels and having stayed most recently at the Sequoia Lodge we were leaning towards the other two.

Both the Santa Fe and Cheyenne are 'graded' as 'two keys' and tend to follow the same or very similar pricing structures. But it is worth checking these two and the Sequoia Lodge against each other as on some of my searches for accommodation across various different dates there were times when the Sequoia Lodge actually came out the cheapest. But for the dates we had settled on it came down to a choice between the Santa Fe and the Cheyenne.

We had, many years ago when the children were much smaller, stayed at the Cheyenne a number of times and had fond memories of staying there;
August 1999 - Hotel Cheyenne - our first visit to Disneyland Paris
August 1999 - Disneyland Park
(Excuse the photos as these were taken pre-digital and are now physically stuck inside a photo album, so much so that I couldn't remove them to scan them so I had to take a photo of them in situ!)

Coupled with a recent room refurbishment and the additions of a Starbucks we were swayed into picking the Cheyenne over the Santa Fe. For me personally the Santa Fe doesn't look as inviting as the Cheyenne but I am definitely going to have a wander over and have a look while we are there just to see for myself.

The Cheyenne is located within the Disney resort area but is classified as about a 15/20 minute walk to the main park. There are free shuttle buses should you not fancy the walk but we know from previous visits that the walk is easy enough to do and is a pleasant walk along the 'Rio Grande' river. Having visited before with very young children and never once used the shuttle bus we know that this short walk is not an issue for us; I'd much rather have a stroll along the river than fighting to get on a shuttle bus!

So we have hotel, park tickets and travel all sorted and booked which means that I can now start planning and researching! I really want to be able to take in all the details this trip and soak up all the 'Disney' that I have been missing.

Well that research won't get it done by itself now will it....

Sunday, 21 April 2019

More Disney Ink

Well here we are again to chat about my Disney ink!

It really is true what they say about having tattoos; you can never stop at just the one! I had never thought I would be the one to be adorned in ink, in fact growing up tattoos were one of those taboo subjects and always associated with 'certain types of people'!

Well here we are and I have fell in love with having tattoos! I remember watching 'Miami Ink' on TV a fair number of years ago now and gathering a whole new perspective on tattoos; it was hearing the stories behind the tattoos, watching the artists at work and realising that people of all types and backgrounds could celebrate the art-form together that got me intrigued.

Once I'd made my mind up to have a tattoo I had two conditions; first it had to be something designed by my husband, Simon, so I could have a piece of his artwork on my body and second it had to have a Disney element to it. I'd also decided that my first tattoo would be somewhere 'hidden'...I don't think at that point in time I was overly comfortable with the idea of showing off the fact that I had a tattoo...Oh how times have changed!

So my first tattoo was on my lower back; designed by Simon and tattooed by Gray Silva at Rampant Ink, Nottingham. It comprised of a Mickey head silhouette at it's centre before spreading out in a graffiti style. Simon even managed to incorporate his and the children's initials into the design.

Next I decided that my foot and ankle would make an ideal spot for a bit more ink...not one to shy away from choosing areas of the body that can be challenging to get inked. Rachael Huntington was my tattooist of choice and was very patient with me as every now and then I would twitch involuntary as the needle moved around my ankle bone area!
I thought I'd choose somewhere a little less challenging for my next tattoo and went for this Mickey design across the back of my neck. This was taken from an initial design by Simon that Rachael then embellished.

The next one I had was also taken from some of Simon's artwork. Simon had undertaken a project called '365 Mickey's' where he drew a Mickey a day for a year. One of these drawings was a take on my ankle tattoo, so Rachael took the design from his artwork and came up with this tattoo for my inner wrist.
Four tattoos in and I had the idea of a complete Disney inspired sleeve! This was started by Rachael, but with the majority of the ink completed by the ever lovely and talented Saint Heywood (now running his own studio - Acadia Tattoo)

These photos taken by my talented daughter (Molly Phipps Photography) show my fully completed arm, this was completed over a number of months and mainly 6 hour sittings with an odd 3 hour thrown in!

Then we decided to move over onto the other arm, for a Star Wars inspired tattoo - see my previous Disney Sleeve blog post which details the reasons behind this one!

And that brings us up to now...and my latest tattoo. Now this has been a work in progress that lasted about 4 months and was completed back in October of last year.

The inspiration this time came about while watching a burlesque show. One of the performers, the amazing Chi Chi Revolver, had a tattoo of a carousel around her thigh and I fell in love with it. As everyone who loves Disney knows it was watching the merry-go-round at Griffith Park in Los Angeles that is credited with inspiring Walt Disney to develop Disneyland. This gave me that connection to Disney that all my tattoos have. A carousel, around my thigh, inspired by the carousel at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, with horses like those seen in Mary Poppins! An idea was born!

The carousel at the Magic Kingdom, once known as Cinderellas Golden Carrousel but now named Prince Charming Regal Carrousel, was themed...obviously...after the film Cinderella. So with that in mind, plus Mary Poppins horses, plus Disney and plus a garter style tattoo I once again paid Saint Heywood a visit and after about 20 hours or more of tattooing my newest tattoo was complete. The whole tattoo was completed over a number of sittings most of which were 6 hours with a couple of 3 hours thrown in for good measure and I absolutely love it!

A big thank you to Molly once again as it proved a little tricky to get photos of this one!!

So what next? Well...I have just booked in to see Saint once again and this time it's going to be a mother and daughter affair! Molly has her heart set on her first tattoo being a Disney one while I actually have a couple of small pieces in mind...

If you'd like to know more about my tattoos and how they came about please have a look at my previous posts;
Disney Inked
Disney Ink Update
A Bit More Ink
My Disney Sleeve

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Adventures in Cosplay

Over the last couple of years I have taken a step into the world of cosplay, more specifically the world of Star Wars cosplay!

This all came about when we were deciding what to do to celebrate Simon's 'birthday of a significant number' a few years ago. It was July/August 2015 a year before said birthday and the conversation turned to what Simon would like to do to mark the occasion and I mentioned that there was this 'Star Wars Celebration thing' in London that might be worth a look.

So we decided to book tickets for the three day event...and then a few days later came the infamous words from Simon 'well if we're going it'd be rubbish walking around in jeans and about going in costume?' My response was along the lines of 'well I'm not wearing Princess Leia's brass bikini!!'

And the rest as they say is history...check out these previous posts to see what we got up to!
Star Wars Celebration
Black Thread and a Heat Gun
The Force is Strong
Looking Ahead

Since Celebration in 2016 we have joined two more costuming groups; Joker Squad and East Midlands Garrison. We have been able to troop at Legoland in Windsor in both 2017 and 2018 as part of their annual Star Wars Weekend to help raise money for a children's hospice along with lots of other conventions and events. We even turned up in costume at the pre-school I manage just before we finished for this years Summer break!

We have continued to troop as Mandalorians and Simon has been keen to keep our kits functional and upgraded. He has made special 3D printed parts to house Go-Pro cameras, updated parts as they've shown wear and tear, upgraded belt pouches and even as I type he has been upgrading the holsters for my guns!!

Simon's skill-set over the last couple of years has grown and grown; everything from 3D printing to moulding and cold casting aluminium helmets to just recently mastering leather-work. And he is loving every minute of it; he just loves the challenge of figuring something out and taking it from an idea in his head to a fully fledged and working piece of costuming. Any chance he gets to 'make something' he jumps at and nothing seems to phase him.

As we have trooped with new costuming groups whose ranks include a multitude of Star Wars characters I began to think about the possibility of taking on another costume and this time one where I didn't have to wear a helmet. As much as I love my Mandalorian costume I do miss the ability to interact with people face to face. So between Simon and I we began to muse about what to do.

The choice seemed to come down to either being a specific character or a generic officer type role. The problem with being a specific character though meant that when trooping there can only be one of that particular character, after all you can't have two Princess Leia's trooping together! And in both groups that we now belong to there are very well established members already trooping fantastically as specific characters; so if I was going to do a named character it had to be someone that wasn't already being who could I do...

As it was Simon and I are both great fans of the animated series 'Star Wars Rebels' and in the series there is an Imperial Officer called Governor Arihnda Pryce.
This looked the perfect character for me to have a go at; I could be a specific character that no-one in our costuming groups was currently doing and one that would be recognised by devoted Star Wars fans.

So where to start? Now the great thing about the Star Wars world of costuming is that there are numerous groups out there offering advice and detailed information. One such place is the 501st Garrison who have a data bank of costumes containing detailed information about colours, styles, accessories in fact everything to do with a specific character. By following their data bank guidelines I knew that the costume we created would not only be correct but would 'pass' any costuming group requirements. The ethos of all costuming groups is to ensure that the costumes representing them are made to the highest quality and are as screen accurate as possible. The 501st data bank has a great set of instructions for lots of characters, Governor Pryce included, so we decided to use those as our guide.

The first thing was to source the uniform. Now neither Simon or I are seamstresses, we both dabble with material and the sewing machine but do not have the skills to construct a two-piece uniform from scratch. So off to the internet we went! We used a site called who stock a multitude of movie costumes that are of a high quality but that can also be made to measure. So we found the correct Imperial Officer uniform, input my measurements and waited. A couple of weeks later and my uniform arrived, then we could start the serious business of making it resemble Governor Pryce.

First thing we tackled was the belt; we found one online and dutifully ordered it but when it arrived we realised that the buckle was not quite correct. The standard Imperial Officer belt is not the same as the one that Governor Pryce wears. In steps Simon with his 3D printing and crafting skills. He was able to produce the correct detail, attach to the buckle and then adjust the belt to match the characters.
This was how the belt looked originally
And how the belt looks after modifications
Simon was able to 3D print the centre code disk and from that he then made a cold cast aluminium version. This was then cleaned and polished and attached to the buckle which was in turn re-affixed to the belt so that a single rivet was visible to the left of the buckle.

Simon also used his 3D printing skills when it came to the 'code cylinders' that sit in the pockets of the jacket. Once the 3D model had been printed Simon was again able to cold cast in aluminium the two that I needed.
This photo shows freshly cast code cylinder and code disk
The finished code cylinders
I also needed the correct 'rank bar' to attach to my jacket. Now luckily for us we happen to know someone through our Joker Squad family who makes these. So the lovely Chris Smith was able to come up with this for me;

The next piece of the uniform required a little sewing. This was for the collar insignia; cut from some black fabric Simon was then able to create a seam around the edge using the sewing machine which gave them a 'sew-on badge' effect. I was then able to sew them onto the collar by hand (with a little help from 'wonder-web' to keep them in place).

That just left gloves, boots, hair and make-up to sort. Gloves and the wig were an easy on-line purchase.

Boots were a little more tricky as the first pair we tried were not as we hoped and had a seam running up the front which we didn't want. So back to the internet and we purchased a pair of riding boots which look so much better, although they do require a bit of wearing in!!
Wearing them around the house!!
So then it was a case of enlisting help from my good friend Jo who was able to cut the wig to match the character and then it was left to me to have a play around with the make-up!
Make-up test!

So with all this done we can now see the final results! Me as Governor Arihnda Pryce...

...right best get out there and do some trooping!