Sunday, 29 May 2011

10km swum for Mind and Macmillan

Just a quick post to let you all know that amid the chaos of the moment (we move house on Saturday, and still have no kitchen or bathroom), I successfully completed my 10km swim!

What an experience! I can't pretend that it was easy - lying facedown in 17.5C water for 3 hours 32 minutes (and 13 seconds) - but it wasn't *quite* as hard as I thought it might be. K came along and wore a flourescent cycling jacket so I was able to see him all the way round. I sang hymns in my head, I thought about the three people that I was swimming in memory of...but mainly, I just swam. The worst bit was the 5th of the 6 miles, when my second feed didn't agree with me as well as the first one, and I'd felt cold on the 4th mile, but as I turned onto the last mile back down the lake, I decided to just put my head down and swim, and it was actually my fastest one of the six.

Here's a blurry action shot of me waving at K as I came round the corner:
...having a quick snack (banana and jelly bears):

...and swimming towards the finish!

It didn't take me long to recover, and here I am wearing all of my clothes and all of K's clothes at the end, proudly holding my finishing time.

I have to say that I feel A LOT worse today - I can't lift my arms because they hurt too much, and the chafing from the wetsuit under my arms and around my neck has developed into some beautiful scabs!

I've already raised nearly £1350 which is 2/3 of the way to my target of £2000. I'm hoping that more people will support me when they hear about what I've done! The two charities that I am supporting are Mind, the Mental Health Charity, and Macmillan Cancer Support. The former are currently working hard to help with the problems of mental health illness in the workplace, and the latter do excellent work in supporting those with cancer, and their families, and were absolutely wonderful for both my fiance's stepfather and father who died in the last year.

If you have any spare pennies, then please do donate online here. Thank you!

I promise that once we've moved, and are into June, some semblance of normal service should be resumed...

Monday, 23 May 2011

The bear nobody wanted (Ahlberg)

Bernard and I sat down last night after packing some more boxes, and making some packed teas, to read this book which I'd spotted on the way out of the library on Friday after visiting the children's section to pick up Heidi. The title grabbed me instantly, because it would be so sad for a teddy bear not to be wanted, and I used to love the Ahlberg's picture books and poetry (and also, reading children's books is about where I'm at at the moment). This is a full length children's novel, beautifully illustrated in black and white, and also somewhat of a story with a moral; for what grabbed me most about the book was the way that it subverted what I was expecting from the title, a bear on whom I would immediately want to lavish pity and affection.

The bear that nobody wanted, started off looking too proud, and thought himself better than the other bears in the factory. And somehow, with a slip of the stitching, and a slightly mishapen mouth and wonky eye this expression was sewn into his face, and came to match his outlook on life, and as a consequence he was then rejected as not being good enough to go and be sold with the other bears. He was rescued from being remade by a cleaner, but he is not considered particularly special by her children, and is snubbed by their other cuddly toys, and is neglected (and even abused). From there, he goes through a series of indifferent owners: taken to paper factory by the rag and bone man, used to clean shoes by the office executive there, chewed by a dog... Mended at a toy hospital, a new eye gives him a slightly better expression, and his life so far is starting to give him some wisdom and humility.

I was captivated by reading this story, although perhaps I felt more sorry for the bear than I should have given his personality at the start, and was desperate to find out what happened to him in the end and whether or not the story would have a happy ending. I hugged Bernard the bear quite tightly last night.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Library loot

I feel very grateful that when all of my books are in a jumble, up the road, I can still get library books, and on Friday lunchtime I took my library book bag along and stocked up. I can even borrow Persephone books (albeit one of the two that I actually don't have)!

Here is a selection of things that I have found to read whilst I try to make time to put my feet up on the sofa ahead of the Very Long Swim (hmm, not a chance!). I was especially grateful to the kind lady who helped me locate a copy of Heidi (in the newly revamped children's section of the library), and agreed that sometimes one does want to reread children's books. I spotted on the way out this Allan Ahlberg book which I think may make Bernard and myself sad.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Please bear with us...

...while our books are in boxes and crates...

(Not quite sure when normal service will be resumed; we move half of our things this Saturday, and the rest (and ourselves) the day after my Very Long Swim, assuming that the kitchen and bathroom are completed. Amid packing we're painting and decorating and trying not to feel stressed out that everything is in a muddle).

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Confetti cakes

Thanks for all your kind comments on my last post - I should have been clear, the reason I'm NOT indulging in comfort reading is because all of my books have gone ahead of me to the new house

I have, whilst not keeping up with blogging about them, still been doing a lot of baking. K, who is working hard on the house, needs cake, as do I for my 10km swim (please do sponsor me if you can - I've raised over £700 now but there's still a way to go if I'm going to reach £2000, and the two charities I'm supporting are excellent). I've finally learnt to make GOOD homemade gluten free cake. I used to say that it wasn't worth trying to make gluten free cake because the supermarkets did it so much better; I was wrong, and I am finally enjoying cakes very similar to ones that I used to. The secret seems to be firstly a decent gluten free flour blend, and the Dove's Farm Self Raising Flour is wonderful - a mix of grains with baking powder and xanthum gum, and then extra liquid - you seem to need a very sloppy batter, so a good amount of milk should be added. I have had much success with puddings so tasty that K didn't even realise that they were gluten free until I had some (after he had finished his!).

Anyway, I have a colleague coming to help me with some painting on Saturday afternoon, and I promised her cake in return (along with my now obsolete bread machine). We spotted these rather delightful confetti cakes, and in the spirit of baking from the cupboards, I decided to make them as I had an enormous number of tubs of sprinkles in the cupboard. I just used my regular gf fairy cake recipe and then added LOTS of sprinkles.

Sadly mine weren't so pretty. But they are rather tasty...

[This is posted belatedly as blogger crashed when I tried to upload the photo - cakes were appreciated and painting was done - more to do next weekend though]

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

My HBR pile

Reading at the moment is somewhat frustrating. I'm limited to my TBR. It's always the way that when you don't have access to something, that is what you want most, and what I want to read right now is books which I have read before from my shelves. Absolute comfort reading. But I can't. I wouldn't mind some nice library books, but I haven't really had time to go, and because of the new set up at our library I just don't seem to be able to find anything (either items on my wishlist that are supposed to be on the shelf) or anything by browsing. So I've been ploughing folornly through things which have been there for years, and even feeling folorn about books which I was excited about when the publishers offered them to me.

It is also frustrating not to be able to add complete TBR books into my main sequence of books. Instead I'm piling them up disconsolately. I haven't got the brain space at the moment to write about books (my hour of swimming each morning where I usually think about such things is now mainly spent thinking about what I need to do for the wedding/house move/whether or not to have a chocolate biscuit cake at the wedding), but here's what I've been reading - my Have Been Read pile (abysmal picture, for which apologies - did not have the energy to rearrange them)

I apologise for the lack of meaningful posting at present; I can't promise that things will get any better for the next 2 months or so, but have a virtual coffee and bar of chocolate (which was how I made myself feel better about the next two months at lunchtime). I miss interacting with people via the blog and it is so lovely to read your comments when I have been able to post, and if you are on twitter, then please do follow me @verityjdo or @verityswims10k (for swim updates!).

Monday, 9 May 2011

Wedding cake baking

As some of you know, I have had a plan to make my own wedding cake for quite a long time. And, anticipating a house move at the end of the month, it suddenly hit now or never if I was going to make fruit cakes. I decided early on on a three tier cake; the top tier will be vegan and gluten free (but that will have to be made nearer the time as the one I made for Christmas went mouldy after 7 weeks), and the bottom two are rich fruit cake according to the recipe that my godmother used for my mother's wedding cake. (I'm also wondering about a chocolate biscuit cake as they are on trend right now...).

What an enormous undertaking it turned out to be. Here is the mix from the 10" cake which was my first venture. I realised I hit a snag when soaking the fruit the night before entirely filled by largest mixing bowl. K came to the rescue with his wine making bucket.

Here are the ingredients for the 12" layer - yes, that is SEVENTEEN eggs.

And what it looked like when it was mixed together.

I am a bit concerned that the 12" may be a little overdone around the edges; it spent 10 hours in the oven to get it cooked in the middle... Will feed it with plenty of brandy and hope for the best.

Will speak more about the decorating in due course.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

One Book, Two Book, Three Book, Four... and Five...

I've been struggling a bit to keep up with blogging - my life is all over the place what with wedding cake baking (I promise a progress report this week...), training for my 10km swim, and trying to move house but I can't resist doing this meme which was created by Simon, and which has popped up all over the blogosphere in the last few days. Apologies that I didn't have my camera (up at the new house with K) to take pictures - have used Amazon pictures where I can (but sadly not all of the books had pictures I could find online)!

1. The book I'm currently reading: Myra Carroll by Noel Streatfeild. I've started looking out for Noel Streatfield books as she is one of my favourite authors, and someone who I can (when not soending money on a house) just about afford still these days (so many of the authors I'd love to collect are just too expensive). I haven't actually started it, but it's in my bag for lunchtime. I may have read it previously, but I can't remember. I'm also reading Confessions of a wedding planner by Tamryn Kirby - I follow her blog (yes, I'm a little bit interested in weddings at the moment!!) and thought this looked interested when I spotted it at the library yesterday.

2. The last book I finished. I just finished reading Noel Streatfield's Ballet Annual. This delightful book of short stories (yes, I don't even usually like short stories) written for children, all with ballet/dance/theatre themes (and a couple of non-fiction articles) by Streatfeild (some even featuring familiar characters from her childrens books such as the Fossils and Lalla the figure skater) was just perfect for a day of packing boxes, baking wedding cake and various chores yesterday. Really struggling with reading much else at the moment if I'm honest.

3. The next book I want to read. I quite want to read the book that I got K from the library called "Planning and fitting your kitchen" because I think, even if I'm not doing it, I'd like some insight into how it works. But I haven't been able to separate it from him yet. If we're talking wishlist though, I'd love to get my mitts on The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie.

4. The last book I bought has not yet arrived - it is A young man's fancy by Susan Pleydell, a new Greyladies book that I bought with birthday money and will be saving for my wedding trip.

5. The last book I given. William and Kate dress up dolly book. This was a present from Claire of Paperback Reader in return for some clothes shop vouchers that I gave her, and as a belated birthday/pre wedding present. I LOVED the Royal wedding coverage, perhaps because of my current interest in weddings. I only wish I had a second copy so that I could actually cut up and dress the paper dolls.

I think this meme should be done by everyone once a month! It would make fascinating reading.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Swimming and cycling for Macmillan and Mind

Apologies again for sporadic posting and an almost complete lack of bookchat. Yesterday we said goodbye to K's Dad with lots of his family. A sad occasion, but good to get together with family.

To say thank you to Macmillan Cancer Support for their support in K's fathers last months, and also when K’s stepfather died last October, and in memory of both, K is going to cycle three stages of the Tour de France in the last week of July and is raising money for them. I've already mentioned that I am planning to attempt to swim 10km in a cold lake to raise money for charity.

If anyone would like to support us or find out more, (and thank you so much to the five blog readers who have already!) then K's fundraising page is here, and mine is here.

(I promise to blog about a couple of exciting things later in the week - namely my cake decorating class and having finally made a breakthrough in gluten free baking!)

Monday, 2 May 2011

A very large cake

I thought you might all be entertained by this picture that I took whilst mixing the middle tier of my wedding cake on Saturday. Inspired by the Royal Wedding on Friday, I thought that I had better get on with the task of making my own cake as there were only 3 months left to go, so I made a start with the middle tier (the top tier will be vegan and gluten free and won't keep so well, so needs to be made nearer the time). I suddenly realised that I had hit a snag on Friday night when I weighed out the fruit to soak it in brandy, and it filled my largest mixing bowl. What was I going to use to combine the fruit with the rest of the ingredients? K came up trumps and found his wine-making equipment which includes a rather large bucket, and washed out it suited my purposes admirably. I used my Kenwood mixer to cream the butter and sugar and beat in the eggs (11 of them!), but I stirred it all together in the bucket before pouring it into the 10" tin. This enormity spent 6 hours in the oven and smelt wonderful! Next Saturday will be the 12" but I'll need to start before lunch if I'm not to be up until midnight. I'm relieved that eggs will be on offer at the supermarket at the end of the week as I need 17 for it...

PS: Decoration not yet decided, have just started a cake decorating evening class, which I hope to post more about in due course (but was stymied last week by the migraine and general poorliness).