Monday, 31 January 2011

Persephone Reading Weekend

With less than a month to go, it is time to formally announced Persephone Reading Weekend which Paperback Reader Claire and myself will be running at the end of February. We have run two very successful Persephone Reading Weeks (May 2010 and September 2009) and will be running the weekend in the same style.

The week started out in 2009 when I decided to spend a week off work reading a Persephone book a day; it was so much fun that I decided to do it again on my next week off, and Claire joined me and helped me to make it into a proper bloggy event.

There aren't any rules; to participate all you need to do is to read a Persephone book. You can read more if you like, and hopefully if you have a blog you'll blog about your reading too. If you don't, then Claire or I can put posts up on our blogs. Each day we'll round up the Persephone posts (you'll be able to post links in the comments of our blogs) so that everyone can share in the Persephone fun.

I'm not sure what I'll be reading this time; in the last Reading Week I managed to complete my reading of the entire Persephone collection, but I have recently started re-reading some of my favourites.

We hope to have a couple of giveaways too and think that the weekend should be really fun! No need to sign up, just get your Persephone books ready...

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Virago Reading Week Bake

A brief interlude from my Library Day in the Life posts this week - there is still one more to come as I work on Sundays, but today at least I am not at the library. I have been participating in the wonderful Virago Reading Week hosted by Carolyn and Rachel over on my Virago Venture blog (and have been enjoying having the company of others as I read my way through the Virago Modern Classics list). I have a Virago inspired bake to share today on this blog, and yes, of course it features apples!

I saw this recipe a few weeks ago, but in the spirit of "baking from the cupboard" I didn't think I could make it, as although I had apples, I didn't think that I had any demerera sugar. But I found some! All this Virago-ing has made me crave apples, so I decided to make the cake with a mix of ground almonds and gluten free flour and vegan margarine so that I could have some too; I hoped that the moistness of the apples would counteract some of the grittiness of the gf flour and the apple would make up for the vegan margarine which doesn't taste as good as butter!

Yum! I show it here with two appropriate titles as my entry for Carolyn and Rachel's photo competition.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Library Day in the life Day 5

Very tired as it has been a long week, but manage to drag myself to the pool as usual. As I cycle into work, I feel relieved that I have an off-desk session this morning. I have mainly managed to catch up with the urgent tasks of the week so am looking forward to getting on with some of the non-urgent, nagging tasks. And I never fail to feel slightly cheered up as I approach the beautiful buildings which are my place of work. However, as I climb the stairs to the Upper Reading Room, I run into one of my colleague's husbands (who works in a different department) telling me that he is very sorry but she is poorly today (and that she feels bad as she knows Friday mornings are bad for the Main Enquiry Desk (where she is based). At least I haven't got as far as taking my coat off, so I go down to the Main Enquiry Desk (and try not to feel too grumpy); at least my colleague was off this afternoon anyway, so the only rota-change is me. I postpone the meeting that I was supposed to attend at the History Faculty, as I am manning (womaning?) the Main Enquiry Desk with our Graduate Trainee and it is not fair to leave her on her own for a long period of time (although she will cover my tea break)

Miraculously it is very quiet, unlike Wednesday; as I am the only fully-Main-Enquiry-Desk trained person in the department this morning I have to sort out the emails. By the time I've deleted the junk emails, there's only 9 left, most of which can be forwarded onto other departments. Once I've worked out what needs doing to them, I enlist the help of our Graduate Trainee to send them on, print them out for the files, and record them on the spreadsheet.

We spend a little while trying to work out an enquiry from a reader who wants a particular edition of the Daily Mirror from 1908; as I am not at the Main Enquiry Desk very often it takes me a little while to work out that we don't actually have it (newspapers are an area where our coverage can be less good). It gives me a chance also to explain the difference between a catalogue record and piece record to the Graduate Trainee.

It gets a little busy between 10.30 and 11:00 while I am on my own; I answer the phone twice, dealing with an admissions enquiry and a thesis enquiry (both passed onto other departments), help someone print something out, and help a gentleman with a book which is out to one of the staff offices. I then help him to order a 1612 edition of the bible.

At 11am I drag myself over to the common room and sit and stare at my book for a bit before coming back to the desk where I help more readers with stack requests and answer a couple of emails.

1pm brings lunchtime; hurrah! As my fiance has an appointment in town at 14:50, we meet up. I have a couple of books to pick up from the public library, so we head there before going for a coffee in Pret a manger.

In the afternoon, I am back in the Upper Camera. Luckily it seems to be a bit quieter than it has been earlier in the week (there is a definite trend that Mondays and Tuesdays are busier than other days), so we have a chance to catch up on the various projects that we are working on. And although there are two book deliveries, there are comparatively small.

5pm and it is time to go home! I am looking forward to being out of the library for 36 hours, although I will be back here on Sunday - one final Library Day in the Life post then.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Library Day in the Life Day 4

I forgot to actually hit "post" on yesterday's post until today, so I shall try to keep today's post shorter (I had wondered why there weren't any comments!). It helps that I don't start work until 12pm on Thursdays; we all work until 7pm one evening a week (and Thursday is my night at the moment). I normally spend my Thursday mornings having a slightly longer swim than usual, doing some cooking, cleaning the living area of the flat and then having a nice sit down. Unfortunately, today, although I do the first three things as usual (make soup, tuna and pasta salad and some cookies), I have to go to the Post Office to renew my driving licence so I leave home an hour earlier than usual, and the PO experience was so hideous I can't bear to think about it any more.

I get into work at 12pm, going first to the Personnel Office to speak with one of the managers there. I come back into the main bit of the library and switch on my off-desk computer; it takes a while to boot up so I catch up with the Upper Reading Room team. I LOVE the hour or so that I have off-desk on Thursday as it enables me to get on with a few things in peace and quiet. Or that is the theory. Unfortunately I have an urgent request for a reference that takes most of the hour to write. Next week's rota also arrives and I check it carefully to see that my reading rooms are covered and that no-one is missing! I remember that I am attending two training sessions next week and have a couple of meetings, so check that this works.

At 2pm I head round to the reserve in the URR for the afternoon. Fortunately it appears to be quieter than earlier in the week and between readers I classify books to go on the open shelves that I ordered up for the English librarian on Monday. The collection in the URR is quite static and I rarely classify books here, so it takes me a little while as the system is more complicated (or it feels like it!) than in the UCam. I then send an email to the URR team asking whoever next has a moment to update the catalogue, label the books and get them out onto the shelves.

At 3.30pm the delivery arrives and it is all hands to the deck to check it in and get it put away. Luckily it seems smaller than the ones earlier in the week are.

At 4.15 I go off on my teabreak, missing the final delivery of the day, and pop to M and S to pick up some smoked mackerel and some leeks, and have a cup of takeaway tea. At 4.45 I get to the UCam and catch up with the staff there, checking the progress of their work and finding out whether there are any issues that I need to be aware of on evening duty.

From 5-7pm I do my evening duty in the Upper Camera. As I am on duty with our Graduate Trainee, she is capable of looking after the readers, leaving me to hide at my desk - keeping an eye out in case it gets busy, and get on with a spreadsheet of books that I am checking. At 6pm she goes and does the book replacing/shelving so I look after the desk while she is out in the reading room At 7pm the late shift arrives - we're open until 10pm on weekdays in termtime, so I can put on my coat and go home without having to worry about persuading the readers to go home.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Library Day in the Life Day 2

I hope today's post will be slightly shorter now that I have filled in some of the background explanation to what I do... Lots of people seemed to enjoy reading the first post; comments mainly centred around the fact that I swim before work (after 3 years it is so much part of my routine that I don't even think about it - yes it is a little painful but no more than getting in the shower is when you are sleepy) and the heavy lifting involved. This is in part as a result of the historic building in which I work - there is no lift in the Radcliffe Camera so all of the books have to be carried up and downstairs by hand. But even in the Upper Reading Room where the books are brought in by a lift, we still have to unpack the books from the boxes and transfer them to a trolley and wheel them to the desk to be scanned in (and then put them away). It doesn't really bother me because carrying books around has been an element of every library job that I have had, although it is worse in Oxford's historical buildings. We all recieve manual handling training in how to lift books safely and it is just a question of getting on with it.

Like yesterday, I am spending the morning in the Upper Camera. The morning begins again with the turnout (although I have forgotten my swipe card and have to pop out when my fiance kindly brings it in for me), and I carry a large pile of books downstairs. After that it is on to Trying To Get Things Done.

Today I am focusing on a task for the history librarian. She has identified a list of titles which are in high demand in the History Faculty Library which are not on the open shelves in the Upper Camera, so we will need to order these up. There has been some discussion as to whether or not to ingest them into the normal classification sequence, but we have decided to make a temporary sequence. Unfortunately there is already a temporary sequence, so in order to avoid confusing readers, I need to arrange for that to disappear too (luckily the books in it were only here "temporarily" (and they've been here about 5 years). I end up having a discussion as to whether we should investigate using printed sticky labels rather than using paper and paste. This needs to be referred to the supervisors' meeting and then to the Reader Services Senior Staff Meeting, so I submit this as an agenda item. I consult with my Upper Camera colleagues as to the progress they are making on other work before deciding how to allocate the tasks.

Delivery arrives at 10.30; we put it away and I head off to coffee break. On the way back, my manager has asked me to call in to finish going through the risk assessment for the Upper Reading Room (we did the Upper Camera last week, but it was such an involved process that we couldn't face doing 2 on the trot). I have a couple of other things to talk to her about so I don't get back to the UCam until 12:15, just in time to give a hand with the next delivery, catch up on emails that have arrived since I left for coffee, and then go off to lunch.

After buying some hyacinths in M and S to cheer up a rather gloomy day and a coffee in Pret a Manger, I head off to the Upper Reading Room for the afternoon. I have various things to check as a result of the risk assessment conversation earlier and email my manager with various updates (checking that cables are tidy, checking the number of lights out, checking when a first aid certificate will expire and acquiring some more heavy duty gloves for the team member who finds them helpful for unpacking boxes). One of my team asks me about a problem with a missing book that we had yesterday and I update the catalogue. I then field readers for a bit while two members of staff put some books back on the shelves; we had a leak before Christmas, followed by clouds of dust as a result of building work which meant that the books which had been moved for the leak got quite dirty. They have now been cleaned by conservation and have to go back on the shelves. As readers return books that they have finished with, I either put them back on the shelf for another day or scan them out and box them up to be taken away. It is busy and I don't get much done apart from dealing with readers.

Delivery arrives at 3.30pm and it's all hands on deck to unpack the boxes, check that the right books have been sent, scan the books in and put them away. I get excited as someone has ordered up a Virago Modern Classic, Sunlight on a broken column, which I have never come across and it looks like a particularly interesting one! I may have to order that up to read sometime as copies on Amazon are pricey. We have about 150 books in this delivery. Tea breaks also need to happen. I was resigned to not taking one but need to nip out for some sugar so take ten minutes while my other colleague takes his full half hour before the other two go. We're still putting away the first delivery when the second delivery arrives at 4.30. It is another big one - we've all forgotten how busy term-time is but it feels like things are busier than ever. At the same time the photocopiers are having big wobblies - they connect to an external payment server, but in the afternoon when everyone is photocopying in all of the libraries around Oxford the system is at full capacity and today it is struggling to cope so there are readers to pacify; we put that away, and then there are just 10 minutes left to wrap things up before I leave. I haven't quite finished things at 5pm but I've asked for a lift home as I'm tired and it's raining and don't want to keep my fiance waiting.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Oxford book fair outing

On Saturday afternoon, K took me to the Oxford Book Fair. It wasn't really planned - road signs had been appearing over the city directing cars to the event, and then I spotted a poster at work on Friday about it. I then emailed my friend Geraldine, who I met through this blog, and asked her if she'd ever been, and it turned out that she was planning to go, so I thought I should make the effort to go, since it was only 10 minutes drive from our flat! I text Geraldine to describe what I was wearing, and immediately on entering the building she correctly identified me and came up to say hello with her husband. They had already been there for a while, so were able to take me to the childrens book specialists, where we drooled over lovely first edition hardbacks of Chalet School books and many other lovely childrens books, often in their dustwrappers. I was very envious of Geraldine who kept saying that she had such and such a book, having been lucky enough to start collecting before prices went so mad. I did spot a couple of books which I could afford, and having sensibly (?) come out with only a couple of pounds, entered negotiations with Ken to have some money. Two lovely Noel Streatfeilds - Party Frock - which I'd read, and The fearless treasure - which I'd never come across before, but which is a historical novel.

I am not sure how interested I am in book fairs generally; they are aimed at the serious book collector, which, whilst I would describe myself as a serious book acquirer, I don't think I am. I don't have the money to buy beautiful editions of all of my favourite books, and obtain much pleasure from second hand bookshopping which somehow feels a bit different - you are more likely to spot a bargain. If I was to collect an author, it would be Noel Streatfeild, and seeing copies of her books has reignited my desire to collect her books. I don't think I can aspire to first editions (the hardbacks I picked up were later ones), but I would love to own her books in hardback eventually. I am definitely on the look out for her autobiographical "Vicarage" books again as I saw those at the fair (£55 each - eek!).

It was lovely to meet Geraldine and her husband after exchanging so many emails; we went for a cup of tea too.

PS: Lots of people asked commented on my planned trip to Black Swan in my last post - we didn't go in the end I'm afraid. After reading the synopsis and finding out that it was more about eating disorders and self harm than ballet, we thought it seemed like a depressing way to spend my afternoon off. And as it was so sunny we couldn't bear to be stuck inside, and went for a walk instead. I think I may wait for the DVD so that if it's unpleasant, I can just turn it off.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Bits and bobs

Apologies for the lack of blogging action this week; I've been re-doing my First Aid at Work qualification, which has been remarkably tiring, and I've been catching up with work when I got home in the evenings. I had various things I wanted to blog about this week, but they haven't happened - I wrote a post about some wonderful soup that I made, but it all got eaten before I photographed it (so will have to have another make of it tomorrow!), and I had some books that I wanted to tell you about. Oh well, as our First Aid trainer kept saying, "You can't do what you can't do". I quite liked that phrase. I passed the assessment with flying colours, which was good, especially since I've done the course before, and had just lost my certificate... We celebrated with a trip to Argos to spend 4 years worth of Nectar points on a Sony Microsystem - I have been without a working CD player for over a year, and this one will connect up to my ipod too! Very exciting.

The weekend will start at lunchtime; having missed my Thursday morning off due to the course, I have Friday afternoon instead. Bliss! We are going to the cinema to see the film Black Swan, which I am quite excited about, being a ballet lover. Swimming tonight, and then a relaxing day on Saturday (what will I bake, I wonder - I have yet to decide) before back to work on Sunday - oh the joys of the current 6 day week.

Next week's blogging will be somewhat different as I will be participating in Library day in the life. This is a project designed for librarians to share what they do all day! Lots of the participants will be those who already blog about libraries - my blog is more personal, but I still thought that my blog readers might be interested in what I get up to. To be honest, at the moment next week doesn't look too exciting but you never know - we have had an awful lot of excitement of the nasty kind at work recently (power outages, broken lifts, leaks), so a quiet week would be fine by me. I hope you will all enjoy it!

Hope you have a good weekend!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Christmas pudding cupcakes from Eat me! (Xanthe Milton)

Eat me! is a fantastic collection of cupcakes and cookies which was recommended to me by Joan Hunter Dunn from Flowers and Stripes. When I saw that the Book People had it for only £5, I couldn't resist ordering myself a copy, and what a good buy it has proved to be. The recipes are divided into four seasons - so winter contains bakes for Valentines Day and Christmas, Autumn for Halloween, and so on, as well as based on seasonal ingredients - e.g strawberries in the summer. I don't think I have come across a recipe book where I wanted to make so many of the bakes immediately. Of course, with my baking challenge limits imposed upon me I am restricted in what I can try immediately, but there are actually a number of possibilities. As we're still reasonably close to Christmas, I began by making the Christmas pudding cupcakes with brandy buttercream. A spiced cupcake filled with soaked dates, raisins (should have been sultanas but didn't have any) and currents topped with a buttercream made from butter, icing sugar, ground almonds and brandy. The icing was so moreish! I didn't think I'd have enough to ice all of the cupcakes so initially piped icing just in the centre, but there was plenty left over so I did the little dots around the edge which I think looks quite attractive - only my second time piping icing so I was quite pleased with that.

Monday, 17 January 2011

House-bound (Winifred Peck)

Over the last two months, I've been doing a lot of rereading. I used to reread books constantly as a child as supply of books could never keep up with the demand, and I realised that there are lots of books on my shelves which I have only read once. In frugal circumstances where I am trying to buy less books, and in busy times where I am only getting to the library about once a week, re-reading is just perfect. It is lovely to revist books which were enjoyed first time around and enjoy them again. Many of the books which I have been rereading are Persephone books. When I first came across the publisher, I could not afford to buy many of them, so I checked the Persephone catalogue against the library catalogue and borrowed those that were in stock, usually in old hardback editions. Now I have a nearly complete collection of Persephone books (all but 4) it is good to reread them in the Persephone edition, especially as the titles often have new introductions or afterwords. Plus I get to admire the beautiful endpapers.

I re-read House-bound at the end of last week. It's not one of the Persephone books which is that frequently mentioned which is one of the reasons I wanted to write about it here. The book tells the story of Rose as she and her household are affected by the war - the book is particularly interesting because being published in 1942, it was written during the war and not retrospectively. After difficulties in getting domestic servants, Rose decides that she will take on the running of the household herself. However, she has no domestic experience at all - she cannot even cook. Luckily, she manages to get hold of the wonderful Mrs Childes, a daily lady who comes in for 2 hours to give Rose a hand in the house and to provide instruction in how to clean/make lunch etc. Unfortunately, Mrs Childes is a bit of a mixed blessing as she insists on the proper way to do everything - which is quite an onerous task for someone new to domesti work, when perhaps Rose should be advised on short cuts. I did feel sorry for Rose coping with a husband who didn't seem to be of much assistance, but at the same time I felt that she rose splendidly to what was asked of her.

What I liked about this book is how it made me think about my own experiences of domesticity. As a child I helped out with the odd domestic task, the occasional bit of hoovering or cleaning the bath, and sometimes cooking, but not very much. When I came to university, my room was cleaned once a week (and my bin emptied every day), and I had meals provided by my college. I spent the summer between second and third year living in the flat where I live now, but it was in the process of being refurbished:

(I spent three months without any carpet, plaster or paint on the walls, without washing machine or wardrobe (the wardrobe is the suitcase you can see) or any bookcases (!), and with builders going in and out).
What I am trying to get towards saying is that it was not until I was 21 and suddenly working full-time that I had to try to get my head around being domesticated. It was difficult to know where to begin, but how much easier was it for me on my own in a 2 bedroom flat than it must have been for Rose in a house with streams of visitors and the expectations of her husband. I'd like to think that I am quite domesticated now - I am certainly very house-proud and enjoy trying to make meals out of nothing as well as baking creations. I very much hope that 2011 is the year when I will have a house of my own - I wonder if I will manage to be quite so domesticated with more space...

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Preparing for Christmas 2011

Ha - did you think I'd forgotten about Christmas? Well, it's never too early to start preparing, and the sales are a great opportunity. I have already bought two silver Christmas trees for work next year, and then I spotted this in Oxfam in the sales:
So, that is what I have been doing with my morning off this morning (it's very frustrating - I wanted to bake but Ken is still eating up his gingerbread house and under frugality of baking, I am supposed to wait until he has finished that before making something else - which is frustrating as the February Good Food Magazine had a fantastic cookie recipe that would have used up loads of the odds and ends from my cupboards)

It now goes in a light place at room temperature for 2-3 weeks, then in the fridge for 6-10. Christmas trees are v. difficult to propogate so it is lucky that the kit contains several chances! Fingers crossed that I'll have a mini tree by Christmas!!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The good psychologist (Noam Shpancer)

It's been absolutely ages since I wrote properly about a book; I've nearly forgotten how to do it! But here goes...

Written by Noam Shpancer, and originally written in Hebrew and becoming a bestseller in Israel, The Good Psychologist is an intriguing mix of novel and psychological theory and insight. The author, Shpancer, is both a professor of psychology and a clinical psychologist and it is obvious that he has drawn considerably on his experience in these two roles to write the book. I am quite interested in psychology and psychotherapy so was quite excited to read this book.

The book tells the story of a man, the good psychologist, who by day sees clients at the Centre for Anxiety Disorders, and by night teaches an evening class in an introduction to therapy. In both of these "lives", and in his own personal private life, he is facing crossroads and the need to address situations. At the same time, he shares his own psychological learning, with his clients and his students, and tries to apply it to his own life. It's less a gripping novel that you read for the story, and more a book which gives you an insight into the way people think as well as introducing you to some ways of understanding human behaviour and interpretations.

For example, I found this extract from one of the Good Psychologist's sessions particularly enlightening:

My daughter says that she loves her father more than me.
Right. But that was not the reason for your foul mood. The reason for your mood was your interpretation of your daughter's statement, the meaning you decided to attach to it. Let's track your internal monologue. When the girl said what she said, what did you think?
That she doesn't love me, that I'm losing her, that I'm a bad mother.
Ok. Now look at these interpretations. These are thoughts, and thoughts are not facts, they are guesses, hypotheses. And hypotheses must be tested before they are embraced as truth. Perhaps it is possible to interpret what your daughter said differently.

He goes onto suggest that his client should "shop around" when choosing how to interpret things:

Shop around?
Yes. I want you to regard the process of choosing your thoughts like you regard the process of choosing a new pair of shoes. You like shoes, don't you?
You've noticed.
Yes. When you enter a shoe store, do you buy the first pair you seen?
Right. What's first is not necessarily what's best. Same thing with you thoughts...So how do you decide which shoes to buy?
I walk around the store and compare.
You compare,based on what?
The brand, the size, the fit, the style, the price.
Correct. You look for evidence, information that helps you decide cosnciously which shoe is the best for you.
You must use the same method to choose your thoughts.

I did very much find that an interesting passage.

I recieved this book to write about from the publisher, Little Brown, and it is released on the 20th January. Thank you very much to them for sending it to me!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

My baking challenge

It's January, we got paid for December BEFORE Christmas, and although there are still another 2.75 weeks until the next payday, I have all but run out of money. Lots of book bloggers are doing the TBR dare, where they just read books from their TBR pile. I'm making a spin on this and I've decided that my baking for the next few weeks must be driven by the things that I have in the cupboard rather than baking recipes that I spot on a whim! Obviously I have plenty of flour, different spices butter, and will buy eggs, but the additional ingredients should all come from what I have in. Raisins and currents will also count as staple ingredients and I might buy the odd bar of chocolate. But apart from that, I must work with what I have, and use at least one ingredient from the stash each time. Sadly that means that the sachertorte is on hold, but I think I will make that delight for Valentines Day!

So, I thought I'd start by assessing what was in my cupboards, and this is what I found:

And that's not even including some things which I forgot to include - namely tins of coconut milk, a tin of treacle and a jar of pumpkin puree, Or the half empty packets - I have some figs somewhere, half a tub of custard powder, the box of rice crispies and many more sunflower seeds. Or the frozen fruit in the freezer!

I also took a picture of all of the bits and pieces that I have which I could use to decorate cakes with!

Here are some ideas:
- white chocolate and dessicated coconut in "Snowfall shortbread" from the Eat me book
- chocolate gingerbread men - on top of some ginger cupcakes
- treacle tart (have never tried this, but I spotted a recipe in the new Nigella book - may try adapting it to make it gluten free as enjoyed some wonderful gluten free treacle tarts from Asda recently)
- Christmas pudding cupcakes from the Eat me book - yes, it's a bit late, but the recipe looks so good - brandy butter flavoured icing = YUM!
- more mince pies?
- almond cake
- chocolate custard sandwich
- chocolate rice crispie cake

I also discovered some marmalade flavoured cookie dough in the freezer so I must make that too! I may not have much money but at least K will not suffer cake withdrawal!

I started with the Snowfall shortbread, as it has become a tradition that I make K some millionaire's shortbread after major sporting events and on Saturday he did a 200k bike ride as part of his training for L'Tour D'Etape next July. It's essentially millionaires shortbread but using white chocolate, and with dessicated coconut sprinkled on the top to make "snow". A fun variation!

(Picture kindly taken by K as the light is so much better during the day!)

Monday, 10 January 2011

Penguin bookchase

Who could resist a game where you are told that you have been voted Reader of the year?! Unsurprisingly, I drew this card - the rest of my family are great readers but certainly not as great a reader as me, and now it's official!

The Penguin bookchase game came out last year, and I had been quite keen to get my hands on a copy. My Gran kindly sent me a Christmas cheque in advance of Christmas so I decided that this would be something good to spend it on, since we were spending Christmas in the UK this year and at various family gatherings.

I can report that it is an excellent board game. You move around the board landing in each of six colour themed sections, answering questions which are predominantly (but not exclusively) related to bookish themes. It is a little like Trivial Pursuit, only rather better, in that each question has a choice of three answers, so even if you don't have any idea what the answer is, you still have a 1 in 3 chance of getting it right (and winning a book to put on your bookshelf playing piece). When you have books from all of the six colour categories, you must get back to the middle, but the presence of "Award or sentence" spaces where you must pick up a card that is a bit like a Monopoly chance card means that you can suddenly lose one (or three) of your books. This makes it fairer for the less bookish players (although, I think I have played it 8 times now and won all but one times). I have played it with an assortment of friends and family and it's easy to pick up and an enjoyable way to pass half an hour (if there are two of you), or more...

In other news, I am struggling somewhat with EXCRUCIATING pain in my ribs. I never shook off the cough that came with my flu, and coughed so much on Thursday that I have either cracked a rib or strained a muscle. I am unable to laugh without much pain, so have been sticking to sombre television and reading - I have managed to do quite a bit of reading as lying on the sofa seems to be best!

Friday, 7 January 2011

Two more Christmas bakes

I will try to get this blog back on the straight and narrow, where I stop talking about Christmas and try to focus a bit more on books (and try not to substitute talking about Christmas with talking about weddings perhaps, as there are now less than 7 months to go and we booked our flights yesterday and I am very excited...), but first I have two final Christmas bakes which I can't resist sharing!

First of all Pannettone. I have long enjoyed this Italian yeasted cake, and decided that it was time that I had a go at it. It is traditionally served at Christmas and New Year, so I planned to make it for New Year. Even having flu did not prevent me from attempting this; lying in bed on the 31st I cried with frustration at not being able to do the things that I wanted to, so got up and got into the kitchen (after all, K already had my germs...). I used a recipe from BBC Good Food, but I modified their white chocolate and cranberry version to a more traditional fruit and mixed peel. I was sooooo glad to have my Kenwood mixer to knead the dough, but actually it was quite a flu friendly recipe as there was lots of waiting for the dough to rise when I could return to the sofa. It came out wonderfully; K, who, in my indisposition had had stollen for breakfast and danish pastries for lunch, immediately had a large piece (and then claimed that he was coming down with flu too because he felt sick). And then it has been a breakfast food for another week. It didn't come out as tall as they sometimes look, mainly because my tin was quite wide, but it certainly seemed to taste and smell authentic.

Secondly, snowman-embossed shortbread! Just this week before we were about to take the Christmas decorations down, I recieved a little package in the post from Geraldine (a wonderful email friend who I met through this blog). It was a jolly Snowman cutter! Fortunately its arrival coincided with my morning off so I was able to try it out straight away - it didn't work with the shortbread dough I whizzed up, because it was too soft and got stuck in the intricate design, but just as I was disconsolately pressing the dough into a round tin, I had a brainwave with an exciting way to use it!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Christmas preparations revisited

I wrote a whole series of posts during October/November/December detailing my plans for Christmas and I thought it would be fun to revisit them and see how they worked out!

Christmas chutney We have eaten one of the 6 jars of chutney and given one away - it has a lovely Christmassy flavour but is a tiny bit too vingerary for my tastes - perhaps it needs a little longer to mature. It certainly looks very Christmassy on the plate and was a welcome addition to our plates of cheese and biscuits over the festive period.

Christmas cards
Christmas cards
Christmas cards My Christmas cards were universally admired and appreciated. I was suprised by how many compliments the spray painted ones were, even if it was the Snowman cross stitch ones which were the real hit.

Mincemeat This recipe was absolutely fantastic - I made mountains of mince pies with it, as well as a large mincemeat shortcake (which I forgot to photograph), and my only complaint was that I didn't make more of it! It was nice to have a fat-free mincemeat as it felt a tiny bit healthier and had a lovely fresh taste. I still have one jar left which I will be using to cheer us up at some point in February.

Thank you cards I've used a lot of my Snowman decoupage cards to write my thank you letters which has nade the chore a little less painless.

The one thing that I didn't get the chance to blog about was my Christmas Granola, which I made using a recipe from Nigella's Christmas book. It combined oats with almonds and pecans and honey and sugar and cinnamon and then some yummy cranberries were stirred in after baking. It smelled AMAZING and tasted fantastic - the only thing was that I had made so many other nice things for breakfast (namely a large stollen and then a large pannetone) that not much of it actually got eaten over the festive period (perhaps cereal is a tad healthy?). At least here is plenty left to enjoy now (and I even used some in a cookie recipe this week). I am definitely a convert to making granola now and don't think I'll ever go back to buying it in a shop as it was ridiculously simple to mix up the ingredients in a large bowl and then bake them, and the bonus is that you can include your favourite things (just remembering not to put the fruit in until afterwards).

As to next year - I will definitely be making my own mincemeat again, in a double quantity so I can give some away. I want to make my own cards again, but I think I will go for some papercraft next year, which means I probably need to start thinking about them NOW as we will need around 75 I think!

We still have quite a lot of Christmas food left, so I hope that the Twelth Night rule doesn't apply to that...and we will be eating the gingerbread house in a gingerbread plundering party on Sunday :)

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

On the eleventh day of Christmas (and twelfth)...I was reading

On the eleventh day of Christmas
I was back to work but I was determined not to let it affect my reading. I decided that one of my NY resolutions should be to make sure that I take my breaks and to spend at least one of them reading -that'll last, ooh about a week until things get really busy with term - and so I packed a book and took myself off to the staffroom at coffee break time. The book was Stoner by John Williams. When Thomas from My Porch came over to the UK last November, he brought books for the book bloggers that he was meeting up with. I wasn't able to go, but I still got a book and this was it. He chose it because of its university theme, since I work at a university and Thomas knew that I have often enjoyed campus novels. It was an excellent choice and I looked forward to the end of the day when I could finish reading it (because yes, life conspired against me to have a decent lunch break or a teabreak) - dinner was an hour late as I refused to put it down until I got to the end. It's a simple tale about the life of William Stoner, a man who becomes a university professor, and his failed marriage, but it is extremely elegantly told, and somehow even though the story itself isn't terribly surprising the book manages to be very gripping. Here's a link to Thomas' original review.

To take the taste of a day at work away, I made cookies to do something practical and cosy and domestic. And I was pleased to find that my Fortnum and Mason's Afternoon Tea book had arrived while I had been out at work, and after our belated dinner, I settled down to peruse it. A combination of a guide to the art of tea making and drinking and recipes of wonderful things to bake to accompany afternoon tea. This book would make an absolutely perfect gift for tea-drinking friends I think, and I have my eye on the sachertorte recipe (even though it needs six eggs!)

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My resolution to find reading time at work didn't go so well on the first day. It wasn't so much the pressure of work but more the inconvenience of things happening at the times when I would usually have breaks. When I mentioned this (in passing) to my manager, I was reminded of the importance of taking breaks, so I Really Have To Try To Amend My Ways. So I thought one idea might be to ensure that I have a Really Excellent Book with me. It was going to be hard to find a book to read on the back of Stoner but I had picked up my reservation for Girl in Translation at the library the other day, a book that I've been wanting to read for a while. This kept me gripped throughout coffee and lunch and it was just too bad that owing to another leak in the library I didn't get my teabreak....

Somewhat appropriately, I picked up Trisha Ashley's Twelve days of Christmas at the library yesterday and that is my in bed reading at the moment - it might be a little late to be embarking on a festive read, but I'm quite enjoying it.

I think I've done pretty well with my reading over the last twelve days of Christmas. I hope excellent reading material will continue to be had throughout 2011.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011


Joan mentioned that she'd been hoping for a December round up from me - so, somewhat belatedly since we are now into January, here it is!

Ending with FLU, the month began far more auspiciously with an early start to the festive season.
I delighted in seeing The Snowman for the third time, and did some book-shopping on the cheap with a good friend and fellow biblioblogger.
I was disturbed to find out that I look like a flailing spider when I swim in a session at Swim Therapy (which I hope improved my stroke)
We entertained family and friends with a wonderful advent tea where we all admired K's gingerrbread architecture.
I made mince pies for the first time (and they were gluten free too!)
We went to London and participated in tuba carols.
I was incredibly touched to be included in the Persephone Secret Santa!
We had a double-bill-ballet weekend.
I was left in charge of the library (well, it might have only been the Reader Services department) during the last week before Christmas and had to contend with snow, leaking roofs, clouds of dust, first aid incidents and people making stack requests using Stephen Fry's new library card.
We dashed through the snow on Christmas Day to visit many of my future in-laws.
We thought Matthew Bourne's Cinderella was FABULOUS.
And finally, I managed to do some proper reading which was just wonderful.
Until I got flu...

January will be a month of...
Being back to work (when this posts tomorrow night, I will have done the first day) (and it will be busy)
Working on Sundays
Starting to train properly for my 1ok swim next September
Planning my hen party
Working out how we will get to our wedding
Finding somewhere to make our wedding rings
Visiting a friend in London
Doing plenty of baking!

Monday, 3 January 2011

On the ninth (and tenth) day of Christmas I was reading...

On the ninth day of Christmas...

My flu was starting to go. Unfortunately K has now come down with a cold (definitely not flu at least), so I started to get extremely bored - partly because I was still not well enough to really do anything, but also because there wasn't anyone to not do anything with! I did some cleaning, I tidied out my cross stitch box, I made soup, I did some washing...and finally I sat down to read.

I started with The mystery of Mrs Blencarrow by Mrs Oliphant, which was my Persephone Secret Santa gift. I quite enjoyed it, although I may not have still had my reading mojo on and it wasn't one of my favourite Persephone books - the story was too obvious and perhaps not well developed enough. It has persuaded me that I really should pick up some of her Chronicles of Carlingford which I have lurking on my Virago Modern Classic pile - they have been languishing because they are so meaty, but I am wondering if she has more success as a saga writer than a novella writer. I think the interesting element of Mrs Blencarrow is not necessarily the plot, or even the domestic settings, but the moral issues which it covers which would have been quite controversial in the Victorian period when it was written (I can't really say more without providing a massive spoiler!) I have yet to see any people blogging about Mrs Blencarrow so I will be interested to see what people say!

I then got out my first VMC of the year, Bid me to live, in order to get on with my first New Year's resolution. I've even blogged about it on my VVV blog!

On the tenth day of Christmas
I had rather run out of Christmas books, so it was back to the TBR pile. I am in the middle of reading Goldengrove unleaving by Jill Paton Walsh which is set in Cornwall and a nice gentle read.

It is the last day of the holidays, so I made myself get up at 8am so that 6.35 am is not TOO much of a shock tomorrow (and yes, I know it will be). I managed to go for a swim, and met up with one of my friends, and that is pretty much it, although I have done a last bit of baking. I am actually quite looking forward to going back to work as the second half of the holidays has been such a disappointment with having been ill. It's going to be a hard term as the Spring term is always our busiest and I will be working Sundays from 16th. But I have lots to look forward to, and we need to get on and plan a break for my birthday!

Here is the baking that I did today, using up a slightly past-it orange, some remnants of coca to make these chocolate hearts sandwiched together with orange buttercream:

And some mincemeat puffs - using my very own danish pastry (more on this later):
I'm just about to go and put a pudding in the oven - it's a cross between eve's pudding, bakewell tart and mince pie with some cranberries thrown in for good measure (again, more on that later too!)

(PS: It was observed that it was a shame that I didn't do a December round up - I want to review my Christmas preparations at some point this week, and I might indeed do a round-up too, although there are two further days of Christmas left to post on!).

Saturday, 1 January 2011

On the eight day of Christmas.... (and a Happy New Year!)

On the eighth day of Christmas
I still wasn't reading very much, but I am starting to feel a bit betterfrom the flu (and better enough to feel spectacularly grumpy that we can't do our usual trip to the outdoor pool at Hampton to start the New Year) and have been dipping into some short stories by Mrs Horne De Vaizey, entitled The ignorance of Sybilla which is one of the latest Greyladies titles. I have been having lots of cuddles with Bernard, my Christmas bear from K:

I still have various things to wrap up from 2010, a month of December post and my November/December reading. But they join the other things that I want to blog about in the next couple of weeks - a couple of great books that I recieved review copies of, pictures of baking over the holiday period.

I am really looking forward to 2011 - mainly to August 2nd when I will be getting married and August 13th when I will be celebrating my marriage with friends and family. But I will also be doing a 10K swim (assuming that the lack of swim today doesn't bode badly for that!), and K will be doing Le Tour D'Etape (a stage of the Tour de France open to non professional riders). And we may be buying a house...

I don't have too many bookish resolutions - I do resolve to read at least 1 Virago Modern Classic a week as I have really fallen behind with those of late. I also resolve not to have an out of hand TBR pile. I'd love to continue with all of the Cornish reading that I did in late winter/early Spring last year, as inspired by the wonderful Fleur Fisher; and I hope that I won't be relying quite so much on reading Babysitters Club books next year! And we have Persephone Reading Weekend to look forward to at the end of February.

Happy New Year to you all!