Friday, 30 September 2011


What a busy 48 hours. I have been playing catch-up at work as a result of the 4 days missed with the mumps, and due to the fact that term starts next week, my job changes slightly, and one of the reading rooms that I manage is about to reopen after being closed for recarpeting. The last two days have involved more running about that I care to remember (thank goodness my plantar fascitis is better!)

Anyway, it is now the weekend, and since getting home a little early, I have thrown myself into some domestic things. A colleague shared with me this marvellous butternut squash and apple soup recipe which I have made for us to eat over the weekend, along with some bread, and a cake, along with a risotto simmering on the hob for dinner! Maybe shouldn't have had the oven on on such a hot and sunny day... A bit of cleaning and tidying to make the house look nice too.

Here are coconut and cherry cookies (on the tray), banana and granola cookies in the box, and the soup - the soup still needs liquidising but Mr W has hidden the stick blender...

The cake and the bread are still in the oven! I shall write a separate post about the cake next week.

Tomorrow I plan to make some chutney with some of our languishing produce, as well as biscuits to take away the vinegary smell. I do also need to make mincemeat, but that may need to wait for a week or so. Might wait until it's chillier outside rather than stewing over a cauldron of dried fruit and alcohol... Mr W has an OU tutorial in the morning, but has promised to take me to get fitted for running shoes in the afternoon. Once this heatwave dies down, I shall see if I can restart my Couch to 5 k programme!

In the meantime, it's time to have a sit down - book or cross stitch - ho hum!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The tent, the bucket and me (Kennedy)...and thinking about holidays

I struggled to read much whilst I had mumps, and, having missed my library-book-changing-day, I had very little at home that was new to read. So it was back to the shelves to read things which I had read many times and which were comforting, and to read other things which I'd only read once since buying. Nothing terribly literary, the emphasis was enjoyable.

The tent, the bucket and me, was one that I pulled off the shelves. It's a jolly title and an entertaining book about the writer's family's "disastrous attempts to go camping in the 1970s". The first couple of times they don't even make it to their destination in Wales! A trip to France where they are food poisoned by mussels, falling down camping toilets, dodgy cars and endless endless rain.

I'm writing about this today, because it is approaching the end of September which is the time that we get our leave cards - these show us how many days of holiday we have, as well as which library closed days we get and which bank holidays we have to work. Our holiday year runs October - September and as soon as the cards come out we can start to book for 2012. Because our department relies heavily on frontline staff it's always important to get in early if you don't want to end up with a random assortment of time off! Mr W finds this difficult to understand as he doesn't like to plan ahead for holidays (he reminds me of the time when he arranged to go skiing with The other Mr W, his brother and each thought that the other was booking it; they only discovered 24 hours beforehand but still managed to get away), and also because he works in a different sort of environment where you can ask for time off the week before and generally get it!

But for me it is the planning and the looking forward that is part of the fun. We booked our wedding trip nearly a year in advance and very few days would go by without me looking at the website of the resort or of the hotel and thinking about it. We have already booked 6 days in my beloved Cornwall for my birthday in April, returning to the place we stayed at last year, since staying 20 metres from the beach is probably the only reason that I made it into the sea so early in the year (sans wetsuit). Mr W would like to go on a boys ski trip with the other Mr W, and has also got to attend a week's Open University school. As he gets only 4 weeks hols to my 6, and as I spent quite a lot of my remaining days off this year at home doing the washing, I am wondering if I might be brave enough to go away on my own. Specifically, I am wondering about a swim camp in Tenerife. It would involve 4 hours on a plane (terrifying!), but would mean sunshine in February, lots of coaching from a coach with great credentials, nice food, and swimming in outdoor pools and the sea....ho hum...I shall continue to secretly think about it. That would leave 1 more week for Mr W and I to go away somewhere at the end of the summer - probably self-catering...but where? Cornwall again? Back to the lake district? Where else is good for walks/swimming/national trust properties?

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Great British Bake Off

Tuesday night television is at the moment completely devoted to watching The Great British Bake Off on BBC 2 at 8pm. For the uninitiated, we have been watching 12 bakers be whittled down to now 4 (tonight is the semi final) through a series of challenges, hosted by the wonderful Sue Perkins and judged by the baking gurus Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. Each week has a similar format - there is a theme (e.g. biscuits/cakes/pies) - and the bakers first have to make a signature bake on the theme (e.g. a cake or biscuit with their personal twist on flavours/presentation), then do a tough technical challenge where they are presented with a simplified version of a recipe by Mary or Paul (e.g. brandy snaps or pork pies) and have to work out exactly how to execute it, and finally produce a showstopper bake - last weeks was a croque-em-bouche (tower of profiteroles!). Apart from resenting the fact that I sent in an application form and didn't even get a telephone interview (well, to be honest, how would I have fitted it around baking my own wedding cake this year?!), I am absolutely gripped. I find myself learning a lot as well as being absolutely fascinated by the ideas being executed.

I have to confess to having bought the accompanying book.; I bought last years book too and was curious to see what this looked like. Last years book featured two recipes from each of the contestants as well as a plethora of baking history which was absolutely fascinating introducing each chapter, and was also a good all-rounder book with recipes In some ways it's quite disappointing - there are some recipes from the contestants from the series, but it doesn't say which recipes are whose, and I would have liked to have seen more of these as there have been some pretty impressive things baked on the show. The one thing that is absolutely excellent is that each of the "technical" challenges are featured, with a step by step photo guide, and tips or hints from Paul and Mary. Maybe I will brave making a lemon tart finally. It's definitely an all-rounder book - chapter on biscuits, chapter on cakes, chapter on pastry, chapter on pies etc. Always, however, the test of the recipe book is how many things one wants to make from it - that's what gives a recipe book value for money in my opinion! I was disappointed by the biscuits chapter, where the biscuits were mainly boring (made lots of times before), or inordinately complicated (e.g. macarons) - biscuits for me = things to put in Mr W's lunchbox. The cake chapter came up trumps with 3 recipes that I wanted to try - cherry bakewell cupcakes, banana fudge layer cake, and this - I call it Paddington Bear Cake, but the book calls it Marmalade Cake. It's essentially a basic sponge with 3 table spoons of marmalade inside it, and another 3 melted over the top when it comes out of the oven, and topped with water icing. Next time I'd leave the icing off as it was very sweet, but it's very quick and was a perfect thing to make after my first day back at work post-mumps. (yes, I should have probably gone straight to bed, but I needed cake...)

Monday, 26 September 2011

Mumps - hopefully the final part

Another day off work, considerably less mumpy around the face, starting to feel a bit more cheerful and although I woke up with a tremendous headache and nausea, I have been feeling better throughout the day. Fingers crossed I can make it back to work! I've started to read again (nothing too exciting - Enid Blyton, that sort of thing!), and carried on with endless endless cross stitching. As you can see, I've done two little snowflakes and a Christmas pudding design which I'll make up into little cards soon, and today I've been working on a bauble design.

The highlight of the last two days, apart from having Mr W at home to "look after" me (inverted commas as we differ slightly on what being looked after means), was being alerted to this fascinating programme on Radio 4 which is still available on listen again (certainly to UK readers anyway). It's the author Val McDermid talking about the Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent Dyer. This series is a definite Cardigan Girl Favourite, but here Val McDermid puts it into context and explains how affirming the series is for young women because it shows them that they can have careers, go onto university, and balance having family with work and friendships. She credits it with her discovery that it was possible to earn a living by writing. In the programme, she gives The chalet school in exile to 3 ten year olds to read, and it is fascinating to hear how whilst they found it dated in some ways, they did very much enjoy reading it. The best part is the master mind style quizzing of those being interviewed - some of the questions were quite hard, but I only missed two! Anyway, do go and hear it here, and for those of you who can't access iplayer, then do read this review (and the comments) on the Guardian website here.

Finally, again, big thanks to those of you who have sent me well wishes, especially those of you who had never commented before. It gave me a big buzz to realise that perhaps there were a lot more people reading the blog than I thought!

PS: One final game that you can all participate in. I have been playing #replacebooktitleswithmumps on twitter with the lovely Yvann today (which followed on from me singing mumpy Christmas carols (e.g. Ding Dong Mumpily On High and Mump the Herald Angels Sing). How about The lion, the witch and the mumps? The remains of the mumps? Mumps and prejudice? The mumps of one's own? Please put your favourite mumpy book title in the comments!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Mumps part 4

I did feel dreadful yesterday, but at 9pm at night, I noticed that my cheeks were starting to resemble normal verity shape again. Despite the headache and the fact that I still had golf balls
attached to my neck for a couple of minutes I felt almost better. Too bad the headache set in overnight and it has taken me 4 hours since Mr W to get up to make it downstairs. Poor Mr W isn't finding me a terribly patient patient so has gone off to look at bikes in a shop in Reading.

Still, I have had some nice post today. After getting stuck back into cross stitch, I ordered 8 mini cross stitch kits from Mouseloft (who do a huge array of little cross stitch sets which are perfect for making into cards - I never really know what to do with cross stitches once completed so it's nice to have some which have a purpose!

As you can see here, I've got as far with this "Boofle" the dog Christmas cross stitch as I can until I can go and get the right thread for his head and feet from the shop. Although I've got the new mini cross stitches, I think I'm going to have a go at some of the mini designs from the magazine that Mr W bought me the threads for.

I've also had a new book arrive in the post - its tagline "The modern girls' guide to knitting, sewing, quilting, baking, preserving and kitchen gardening" sounds just perfect for me. to the sofa. I am so frustrated about these mumps. It's a busy time at work AND I missed out on meeting Darlene who was over from Canada this week :(

Friday, 23 September 2011

Mumps part 3

I feel truly dreadful today. I hope that means it can only start to get better?!

However, I have been spoilt by flowers from my Mum which arrived in the post today which are sitting alongside the flowers that Mr W brought home last night. We only have one vase, but doesn't Mr W's beer glass (part of a set I bought for his birthday last week) make a good vase?

I also had a book care package from the lovely Paperback Reader Claire. She lent me a rare and precious copy of one of her favourites, plus the new Julian Barnes that I wanted to read. I hope the postman hasn't caught mumps as I had to sign for it....

Plus I have been spoilt by lots of comments on my blog posts wishing me better (and it's lovely to see some lurkers popping up too), and kind people on twitter keeping me company and trying to cheer me up.

In the meantime, I'm doing cross stitch, although beyond cross with myself for missing one of the colours that I needed Mr W to get for me. This means I can't finish it as it is the colour needed for the rest of the face and the feet. Oh well, I can get it when I'm back at work next week and it will be easy to finish off if I have got to that stage.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Mumps part 2

Thank you everyone for your kind comments on the last mumps post - it seems very unfortunate that I should have succombed as an adult since anyone who has had it seems to have had it as a child! I was glad to know that other people remembered the illustration of Nancy Blackett (which sadly I can't find anywhere online :( )

I don't feel well enough to read, which is good, since I have very little to read, but I have been promised a book parcel from a bloggy friend which is lovely! I am also expecting an Amazon package, but it should have been here yesterday :(

In the afternoon, I did get out the cross stitch magazine that I purchased at the weekend; I shall never feel guilty about random purchases of magazines again, after all who knows when you might get mumps?! It didn't come with a kit, but lots of patterns and when I looked at one of them, I realised that I had quite a lot of the colours needed. There are also a lot of mini patterns for Christmas motifs which I could make into Christmas cards. I realised shortly after this, that Mr W, working in Trowbridge yesterday, would have to come home past the Hobbycraft at Swindon, and made a list of the colours that I wanted. And this is what he brought me home - it's not quite flowers, but it's still pretty good*

And this was what I was working on:

Yesterday I felt like a fraud, but today I definitely feel ill enough to be off work. Hence not even attempting to talk about anything meaningful in this blog post. Time to go and lie on the sofa and maybe look at the pictures in one of my favourite books: Jane Brocket's The gentle art of domesticity.

* Hopes for flowers tonight maybe?!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


I seem to have come down with mumps. My face is swollen and puffy; other than that I feel a bit ill, but am obviously not *too* ill as I am already bored and grumpy. You see, mumps is highly infectious, and I am confined to the house now for FIVE DAYS. FIVE DAYS. Can I tell you what makes it worse? I was going to change my library books at lunchtime so I don't have very much to read. I guess it's time for some cross stitch or something, but as always with being ill, I don't feel like doing very much apart from moan.

Apart from feeling sore and chipmunk like, I do feel like a character out of a children's book. With the exception of my Mum who managed to get it when I was 8, I don't know anyone else apart from Enid Blyton school girls who have had it. It seems that although there is a vaccination programme, you need to be vaccinated several times and I only got done once by a quirk of my age. It also puts me in mind of Nancy in Arthur Ransome's Winter Holiday; does anyone else rememmber the fantastic illustration of Nancy looking out of her bedroom window with a circle where her face should be, with words along the lines of "it would be too cruel to draw Nancy's face". If my Dad had had mumps, I would get him to bring his copy of the book around to me!

Apologies for tetchiness on the blog - I shall try to find some gentle, restful activities to occupy myself; Mr W is working out on site this week and won't be home until late each night, so comments and chat much appreciated!

(I won't post a picture of my face for similar reasons to Arthur Ransome...)

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Wedding lunch photos!

I have been far too busy looking at our wonderful wedding lunch photos tonight to think about blogging properly (which is a shame as I was going to blog about the cheering properties of cake - it's not groundbreaking, but important still!) - I don't want to share the ones with people in (although they are wonderful and I can't stop looking at them), but here's some of the "details" from the day....

Monday, 19 September 2011

Bernard's new friend

Bear has been sent to us for his retirement, and here he is on his first meeting with the young whippersnapper Bernard. The two seem to be getting along fairly well, even if Bear's wonky eyes mean that he struggles to make eye contact.

One of my favourite photos of Mr W is an old one of him aged 4 or 5, carrying a teddy bear by its leg. We often wondered what had happened to the bear.... Well, Mr W's mother arrived at our wedding lunch with a large squishy package, and Bear was inside. He enjoyed sitting at our wedding lunch with our other presents:

Sunday, 18 September 2011

An afternoon of card making

My afternoon of card making didn't get off to a very good start as I discovered that I had no glue. Fortunately we live 5 minutes from Sainsburys where I was able to get supplies (oh, and a cross stitching magazine...), and as able to continue with my plans.

Here are some of the cards that I made from my Forever Friends decoupage sets.

I also made up three cross stitches, one done on Friday, one done the week before, and one about 8 months ago, into cards. I've just ordered some more mini cross stitch kits because I think they make fantastic cards, and as they only take a couple of hours of stitching feel very manageable when I don't have

I can't share the cards made from the magazine that I bought on Thursday yet as the set came supplied with a rubber stamp. I don't have an ink pad, so will need to pick up one in town before I can complete them. Still, you probably didn't really want to look at Christmas cards on 18th September did you!?

Time to curl up with a book before an early dinner.

End of the week off in which I had no especial plans

In 18 hours time my alarm will be going off, and it will be time to get up to cycle to the pool and go to work. I hate getting back into a routine after time off, and the knowledge that there are 14 weeks until Christmas and I haven't got any holiday until then. At least I will only be working 5 day, as opposed to 6 day, weeks this term.

Today has been designated a day of no-jobs as I spent rather a lot of my week off doing household things. Mr W has done the washing, the washing up, and is now trying to clean the hall in preparation for decorating it in the next couple of weeks. It feels strange not doing anything, but we have leftovers for lunch AND dinner. What a treat it is!

Actually, the time off this week has given me some space for thought, and I am planning to add to my September resolutions. The hour of craft is going well so far, even if the reading 2 VMCs a week isn't (can I read 4 next week to make up for last week perhaps?!). I am determined to have one night a week where I don't do any job, a washingless Wednesday, a no-tidy Tuesday, or a mop-free Monday perhaps? Since we moved out of town I've been less good at meeting friends after work for a drink or going to the cinema, so if I plan a day without chores then I might feel more in the mood for it! I am also wondering about having a night each week without the television, wouldn't that be good?

Still, 14 weeks til Christmas, and I've started to make some progress with my preparations! I made Christmas chutney, and a Christmas cross stitch, and maybe this afternoon I will start making some cards from the magazine kit that I bought on Thursday....

Oh yes, and the cross stitch kit that I bought? Here it is - I managed to do it in about 2 hours on Friday!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Happy birthday Mr W!

And here it is - birthday cake! It's a peanut flavoured sponge with a layer of peanut butter and a layer of dulche du leche (caramel) in the middle topped with chocolate ganache. His name is written in Reese's pieces.

A week off work in which I have no especial plans: part 6

Up bright and early to sing Mr W happy birthday and cook scrambled eggs to go with the brioche I made yesterday - it didn't rise much but he said that it tasted good! Birthday presents and cards opened before work, and then on with the birthday cake. This year out of my suggestions, he chose this peanut butter cake from the BBC Good Food site. Pictures later once it is assembled.

I also put another batch of chocolate and ginger biscuits in, as he liked them very much, and the last double batch will be mainly shared with his colleagues. And a loaf of bread.

Yesterday's visit to Northampton was good. I stopped off at Hobbycraft on the way and bought one mini cross stitch of rather appropriate design (can anyone guess?!) and a papercraft/card making magazine. I had one of these before, and chose this because it came with some materials to make forever friends cards, and most of you know how much I like forever friends things (Mr W had a forever friend's card for his birthday, not homemade though). So I may spend some time this afternoon making cards.

I am going to pop over and see Mr W at lunchtime, and then on the way back visit a running shop for some advice about my plantar fasciitis. I would not be understating to say that it is excruciating at times, especially when I have been standing on it/walking for about 20 minutes - this does worry me slightly as I spend most of my working days on my feet/walking around.

Now it is on with washing, and cleaning. Mr W's mother is coming around tomorrow, and she has not seen the house since it was quite a wreck, with no carpet, and no kitchen, and half of the wall between the loo and the bathroom removed. So, I guess that cleaning isn't too necessary as it is definitely going to be an improvement, BUT, I always find myself doing things like cleaning the oven before she comes (although, would she really look inside?!). (Mr W's mother is lovely by the way, I just have in-law nerves).

(Apologies for lack of pictures in this post, I don't seem to have taken any since I last posted!)

Thursday, 15 September 2011

A week off work in which I have no especial plans: part 5

A quick post this morning - I am heading over to Northampton for the afternoon to go to the theatre with my Mum. I'm not exactly sure what it is that I am going to see - I just agreed when she offered to take me! Northampton is very lucky to have an absolutely fantastic theatre (in fact two theatres) - I think it won an award for the best regional theatre recently. My Mum often goes and sometimes invites me too - you can generally see plays for about £10, which considering that the cinema is £8 these days is pretty good value. In Oxford, the theatre is generally far more expensive so we don't often go. In February we saw an amazing Daphne Du Maurier play called The Years Between. I'll fill you in on it tomorrow! I intend to head there via Hobbycraft to pick up some more mini cross stitches...

Before I go, I have ironing to do, and hoovering, and I'm also trying to make brioche for a birthday breakfast for Mr W. I've only ever made it in a bread machine before (and only then with limited success) - I no longer have a bread machine (as I didn't use it since getting a mixer, I passed it onto a friend), so fingers crossed.

The fish pie yesterday was absolutely wonderful. It was a super easy recipe with no white sauce (mind you mashing potatoes is always a bit of a faff), and came out in wonderful layers. I grated cheese at the bottom, then grated carrots and celery on top, fish pie mix from the supermarket next (salmon, cod, smoked haddock), followed by a layer of spinach, topped with the potato. Absolutely wonderful! Sorry the pictures aren't better but it's always hard to take photos at night.

I managed to get out of my slump also yesterday afternoon by reading the wonderful Gillespie and I by Jane Harris. I'd very much enjoyed reading her debut, The observations, when it came out, and this was equally good. It's a mystery story in many ways, set in Victorian England, and was distinctly reminisicent of some of Sarah Waters earlier books (minus the lesbianism). Definitely a great autumnal read, so I'd recommend it to anyone who would like a modern equivalent of Wilkie Collins perhaps.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A week off work in which I have no especial plans: part 4

I have to say, I'm actually finding this week a bit tedious. Which is interesting, as I often fantasise about the opportunity to be a housewife. To be fair, if I was doing this full time then I'd build in some other things, such as volunteering, and maybe rejoining a brass band, but there isn't the time in just one week. But I miss having human interaction during the day (twitter people are great, but it's just not the same), and a sense of purpose. And, although I hate to say it, there is only so much cooking one can do!

Still, I've done some cooking today. I have the makings of a no-faff Jamie Oliver fish pie ready to go (picture tomorrow I hope!), I made the most amazing soup which I had to resist eating as it is for the mother-in-law's visit on Saturday (pumpkin chowder - yum!), and I've made ginger and chocolate biscuits and some slightly over glittered mars bar rice crispie fridge cake pieces for Mr W to take into work on Friday (his birthday).

I did wonder about going to the cinema, as I'd quite like to see Jane Eyre, but at the point when I had to make a decision, the sun was still shining (it's now disappeared and is cold and grey), and I was tired, having cycled to the outdoor pool (6 miles away) and back. And my foot still hurts. According to the doctor I have Plantar Fasciitis, and he claimed there was little to be done apart from rest and do some stretches (and certainly not run), however, a couple of friends have given me some more meaningful advice.

So instead I've finished my cross stitch, and am wondering whether I have the courage to return to one of my big works in progress or whether to start a mini Christmas pudding cross stitch. It's September, it's definitely not too early to be thinking about Christmas! I'm wondering about getting a book out until Mr W returns; I very much enjoyed reading Sissinghurst, an unfinished history yesterday, which really put my visit last month into context. I don't have anything that really grabs me today except for some lighter material, and I feel a bit guilty reading chick lit or Maeve Binchy on a holiday! Ho hum.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

A week off work in which I have no especial plans: part 3

Today I was supposed to start by sanding the woodwork in the hall; we need to get the hall decorated as a priority so that we can replace the disintegrating carpet (which despite being a very funky swirly pattern also smells). However, I made Mr W's sandwiches, some jam tarts, a frangipane nectarine tart, and a gluten free nectarine crumble before I started. Don't they look tasty?

The sanding was hard, dusty and horrible work, and then I had to hoover up afterwards :( and then just as it was time to cycle to the pool for lunchtime lengths, it started tipping down with rain. The silver lining to that cloud was that the wind broke the washing line yesterday, so today's load of washing (mainly cleaning cloths from yesterday!) was at least inside. The 3km swim was hard as my arms were tired from sanding, but the sun came out as I cycled home and I had jam tarts for lunch (the jam was homemade from PYO strawberries so that must count as one of my five a day?!).

It's now nearly 3pm so I need to find a book, particularly as I have to go to the Dr's in a couple of hours - I seem to have mangled my ankle after starting Couch to 5k and want to get it checked out. I hope it can be mended easily as I was only 2 runs in and it feels a little pathetic to give up now. Choice between Adam Nicholson's Sissinghurst: an unfinished history (following my visit the other week) or Gillespie and I (Jane Harris)(which I won in a giveaway a little while ago and have been hoarding...). I might pop into the library on the way to the Dr as I have amassed a pile of returns.

Tonight is the next episode of the Great British Bake Off, so I'm hoping that Mr W and I will watch that. I hope to do some more cross stitch - as you can see I've made quite a bit of progress since yesterday!

Monday, 12 September 2011

A week off work in which I have no especial plans: part 2 Monday morning was filled with household things, and whilst not quite as inspiringly domesticated as last Monday morning's bakeathon, it has been more pleasing than simply cleaning the bathroom!

I started off by preparing some Christmas chutney. I made it last year, and although Nigella said 6 weeks was enough to mature, it could have done with a bit longer, so I'm making it now. Unfortunately, it was impossible to get hold of frozen cranberries, luckily I had some in the freezer from last year, but only enough to make half a batch. It still made 6 jars though!

I also roasted some peppers to go with fish and potatoes tonight...
...and baked a loaf of bread to try to get rid of the vinegary smell that was permeating the house.

Then it was time to sort out the new bookshelves - they do make the living room feel a lot more homely. Of course it will be better once the dining room/study has been decorated and we can move the PC out... On the lefthand side are my Virago Modern Classics - it's nice to have them all together.

The rest of the morning's jobs were mundane - cleaning windows, cleaning oven, sorting out washing, and ironing, definitely not worth taking photos of. But despite the heavy winds I managed to cycle to the pool, swim 3km, and then cycle home again. Definitely a relaxing afternoon was deserved (although, a caveat, by the time all of the above was completed it was twenty to four...)

I did manage to spend some time doing some cross stitch - I vowed at the beginning of September to devote at least an hour a week to doing something crafty and I'm on my second little cross stitch since that (actually this one is bigger than the first one I completed). Turns out I wasn't doing cross stitch since the two projects I was working on were enormous and intimidating. Much better to do something less complicated and actually complete it!
And I have been reading an obscure Elizabeth von Arnim novel called Father. It's not anywhere as good as her novels which have been republished as Virago Modern Classics (let me recommend to you Christopher and Columbus or The Caravaners, as well as the obvious Enchanted April or Elizabeth and her German Garden). But it's most amusing and a delightful way to spend the afternoon - it tells the story of Jen, a 33 year old spinster who is charged with looking after her father when her mother dies. Until he comes home with a 20 year old new wife. Jen swiftly realises that this is not an ideal situation, and seizes the chance to find somewhere to live with a garden - having lived in London's Gower Street with only her mother's windowboxes to tend she dreams of digging! Finding a cottage through a clerical magazine proves easy, but as one might expect from a von Arnim novel, life is not so straightforward -the vicar who let it to her is rather taken with her, her father's new wife leaves him...

Now I'm looking forward to Mr W getting home - despite some wonderful twitter chat today I'm ready for some human company.

A week off work in which I have no especial plans: part 1

I have a week off work this week; Mr W is at work having used up all of his holidays. As we have used up all of our money and motivation for doing things I am spending the week at home. It's sadly not going to be a "holiday from home", aka WW2 style where one goes out on picnics (it's certainly not picnic weather here today - gale force winds!), but I thought I'd share some of what I am getting up to.

Let's start with the weekend. I had a bit of a flu bug which left me feeling a bit rubbish, but meant that Mr W was prepared to indulge me by letting me watch the first episode of the new series of Don't tell the bride AND Outnumbered on the same evening (both programmes he secretly enjoys but only pretends to tolerate). We planned to go to the cinema on Saturday but the feeling that my head was about to explode led us to postpone it for Sunday. The film was Beautiful Lies, which we saw because it featured Audrey Tatou and was billed as being something akin to Amelie which is one of Mr W's favourite films. It wasn't really like Amelie, not nearly as good, but it was quirky and held our attention, and it was so nice to go out together.

Mr W did an awful lot of DIY, putting up SHELVES in the front room - yes, that was what the weird art installation is. As part of my Monday's task is to fill them up, I shall show you them properly in my next post.

I did some cooking - nectarine and banana crumbles, pear and chocolate pudding, and the highlight for Mr W - scotch pancakes for breakfast. Sadly I forgot to photograph any of them :( Sad as I used beautiful new Le Creuset dishes which were a wedding present from my friend Claire for the crumbles. Oh well, I'll have to make them again.

I also did some reading. It's been a while since I've read a book that reduced me to tears, but The making of us, by Lisa Jewell did just that. Mr W said that he could tell from the back of the book that it wasn't going to have a happy ending, but I'd picked it up on the basis that it was a Lisa Jewell book, I'd enjoyed her other books, and I hadn't read this one. It's a story about sperm donation, and about 3 adults who were conceived by sperm donation who find each other, and also a story about the man who donated their sperm, who is now dying in a hospice. Of course, this is very cleverly built up, we meet the four individuals first, Robyn who is training to be a Dr, Lydia who has amassed a fortune through inventing a special paint compound, and Dean who has just lost his girlfriend when she gave birth to their baby. I found the hospice scenes very hard to take; it is almost exactly a year since Mr W's stepfather went into a hospice to die. Mr W's mother handled the situation with amazing dignity; as Mr W is older than me and convinced that he will die first, I often wonder if I would manage to handle the situation with the same courage. How hard must it be to deal with something so hard when the very person you want there to support you isn't able to? Needless to say I sobbed and sobbed when I got to the end of this book.

Anyway, enough of being sad - I have plenty of things to get on with today so it is time to resume action after my little sit down.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

A weird art installation?

This is work in progress this weekend - answers on a postcard...

Thursday, 8 September 2011


I've shared the progress of my tomatoes before , and look at what has finally happened!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Seen in the tearoom

I'm always fascinated to look at what people are reading; I commute to work by bicycle, so there's not much opportunity to spy books on the way. I do tend to look at what people are reading in the tea room at work. The majority of my colleagues don't tend to read on their breaks, preferring to catch up with others, or sit quietly staring into their cups of tea or pasta salad. But quite a few people do get their books out and I thought it was worth recording the books that I saw yesterday, as I was impressed by the range of things that I spotted.

Some of you may know that Simon of Stuck in a Book fame helps out my department on a regular basis; yesterday he sat down next to me with one of my favourite Elizabeth von Arnims - Christopher and Columbus. It reminded me that I have two of her lesser known books on loan from the library to read.

Another colleague was seen in the corner laughing to himself; he had a volume of Maureen Lipman. I remembered my Mum laughing loudly when she read her way through the Maureen Lipman books.

One of the porters was reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Pilgrims. That made me think that I must be one of the last people in the world who have not read Eat Pray Love. It also made me think that I very rarely see anything terribly mainstream in the tearoom - no-one is reading One Day, which everyone else seems to be reading at the moment, for example.

Another colleague has a Kindle, so it can be impossible to tell what she is reading. She was reading the newspaper yesterday, but was keen to tell Mr Stuck in a Book and I that she had finished reading War and Peace over the weekend.

And what was I reading? Nothing terribly literary I'm afraid, yet another Maeve Binchy that I hadn't read - Whitehorn Woods, in hardback. Which is a pretty silly choice really since I now cycle 4.3 miles to and from work, I should probably be reading only paperbacks.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Baroque shortbread

It's become a tradition now that when Mr W does some sort of major sporting event, I make millionaires shortbread. Or some variation on it, such as this Snowfall shortbread I baked back in January. So, I just had to wait for an appropriate occasion to bake the wonderful sounding Baroque Shortbread from the Eat Me book by Xanthe Milton. This proved to be welcoming Mr W back from his cycling trip to France 4 days before we left to go to get married - he has a nasty habit of getting grumpy when he is too tired/lacking in sugar, so I thought it might be best to ensure that he had a good dose of sugar during those weeks.

Essentially, it is the same as a regular millionaire's shortbread, but with the addition of toasted pecans and cranberries on the top. The recipe called for those silver balls on the top, which I always fear I will break my teeth on, so I substituted these rather pretty gold stars from Lakeland. Yum!

Monday, 5 September 2011

A busy morning

Today I have the luxury of another Monday morning off (with the exception of last Monday, I don't think I've done one since the middle of July). The purpose of having today off is mainly so that I can go to the annual St Giles Fair with my Dad; the first Monday and Tuesday in September sees a fairground set up in the centre of Oxford. It is far better to go in the middle of the day as you get longer on the rides -my Dad is an awesome dodgeum-er.

But with a husband leaving for work at 7am, I figured I'd better make good use of my time. There were peaches going squishy in the fridge, bananas going brown in the bowl, and some peppers that were about to go past their best. So - banoffee cupcakes (based on a recipe from the new Fiona Cairns book which I'll blog about soon), stuffed peppers, peach and banana crumble, treacle flapjack for the lunchboxes, and some bread for Mr W's sandwiches. Not bad for a couple of hours work.

I'm now off to have another practice cycle ride before I have to commute into the work on my bike in the morning. I'm combining it with a trip to return library books and a swim so that I can practice carrying things in my panniers!

Friday, 2 September 2011

A bookish meme

I'm a bit late as it's Friday, but I liked the look of this week's Musing Monday, hosted by MizB at Should be Reading here. Please feel free to join in and answer any or all of the questions in the comments below...

What was the last book you.....

borrowed from the library? I went to the library on Monday and came back with quite a haul: two books by Elizabeth von Arnim - obscure ones not republished by Virago, called Benefactress and Father; the new Lisa Jewell, The making of us; Lucky break by Esther Freud; and an anthology of children's ballet stories.

finished reading? I just finished reading Love Virtually by Daniel Glattauer. I came across this book on the blogosphere (and yes, I know I'm late to picking it up, but it takes ages for things to be available in the library without a waiting list) and it sounded like an interesting concept - a woman accidentally emails a man whilst trying to cancel a magazine subscription. They embark on a length correspondence, consider meeting up, and become very close indeed. I loved the premise, and I liked the way that the book played out, but somehow a book constructed entirely of emails lacked something, perhaps some distance/detail.

bought? two of the new Stella Gibbons reissues: Starlight and Westwood.

cried over? I very rarely cry over books, in fact I can only really remember crying over Gone with the wind, Brideshead revisited, and the Snow Goose, all read a very long time ago.+

disliked and couldn’t finish? It's been a while since I've given up on something; I sometimes feel like giving up on the Virago Modern Classics that I'm reading for my Virago Venture but if I did, then I wouldn't complete the challenge!

read & loved? It's been a while since I've read anything that I've really LOVED, probably Caddy's world which I read on my wedding trip. Need to have some better luck with finding books that I LOVE at the moment.

got for review? (or: got in the mail?) Fiona Cairn's new book: The birthday cake book. I started reading it straight away and I can't wait to start baking some things from it.

gave to someone else? Bake and Decorate by Fiona Cairns [check out my post about this book last year] My friend wanted to see the vegan fruit cake recipe for her brother, and it's such a beautiful book I brought it into work rather than just copy out the recipe for her.

stayed up too late reading? It's rare that I do that actually, I'm always so tired and the prospect of the 6am get-up makes me put my book away in timely fashion. Is that sad?

Thursday, 1 September 2011

September beginnings

I don't know what it is about the start of September, but I always feel nostalgia for the 18 years of new school shoes, new pencil tins, sharpened pencils and new notebooks and homework diaries, along with starting new courses and returning to other activities. The start of Autumnal mornings (and it never fails to surprise me how when the calendar clicks round they without question become misty) makes me think about new beginnings and making plans for things that I want to do, in a way that the start of the calendar year never does. It's partly because since leaving school and university, I have worked continuously in academic libraries: September tends to be both busy and quiet. Quiet because the summer visitors are departing, but busy as we get the reading rooms ready for the new students and plan the induction sessions to welcome them and show them how things work. It is absolutely my favourite time of year, when, after summer holidays, I feel revitalised towards work and look forward to getting on with things. This year, my role changes slightly as I start supervising

Anyway, I wasn't intending to write a blog post about my job, more about my love of September beginnings, and about my plans for the Autumn.
The eagle eyed amongst you who aren't reading this post in Google Reader or via email but on the actual site may have spotted a new box on the side-bar listing things that I want to bake.
Readingwise, I want to continue with my Virago Venture; I have a stack of VMCs waiting for me but it feels like such a chore. I have read 379 now, so about 180 to go (although more being added every year :-o!). I might be able to clear my current stacks if I read them at the rate of 2 a week, which might also see me end the challenge by the end of 2012. Wouldn't that be good? Otherwise, I want to allow myself reservations again at the library (they cost 95p a pop!) so that I have a good selection of reading material at my disposal which will encourage me to keep reading.
It seems like a long time since I did any cross stitch; crafting is really an activity for a lady of leisure, or at the very least not one who works AND does house improvement. But I'd like to make time to spend an hour or so stitching a week, or, if that does not appeal, have a go at my knitted wild animals. I do find craftwork very relaxing, and I have found my tolerance to getting stressed out rather limited recently, so I might have to try to make more time for it.
There's not too long until Christmas, so I shall also spend some time making plans for the first Christmas in our new home. Christmas chutney will be made in a couple of weeks time so that it has long enough to mature, and I need to come up with a cheap and easy Christmas card design. I might feed this into the crafting time, and look for some easy projects to do.
In the house, we are very lucky to have a man coming to put the dining room/study into decorative order at some point in October. That will leave us free to concentrate on making the hall beautiful. I would love to have the chance to sort my books out properly, but I intend to leave that task for after Christmas when we have had time to decorate the third bedroom that will be my library.
Finally, once the swimming season is over in a couple of weeks time, I am contemplating taking up running and doing the Couch to 5k programme. I will still spend time in the pool each week, but maybe only averaging 15km a week rather than 25! As I will be trying to cycle to work (4.3 miles each way), maybe it is time to think about a triathlon....

It's exciting starting to make plans for the Autumn isn't it? I think I may also buy a new notebook, even if it is just for my shopping lists! Does anyone else have any plans?