There is nothing like the excitement, joy and delight of seeing Proper Post landing on the doormat.

T’internet, email and Facebook are all great and much used by me. I even have fond feelings for Yahoo groups, my first venture (over 10 years ago) into online communities. Fab for quickly finding, and making, friends with a variety of singular interests.

But as the newness palls, I am reminded of the loveliness of old-fashioned methods of communication – postcards, parcels and letters (and not the ones from the taxman or dental reminders).

Most recently I have had postcards from friends both in the UK and further afield, little gifts, and my new teatowels from the Discworld Emporium (Thieves’ Guild and Anoia, the Goddess of things stuck in kitchen drawers – a very reasonably priced deal for the Glorious 25th of May).

So this weekend it is my turn to despatch some Proper Post delight. Hurrah for postcards!

2013 – a significant year for my family. For m’husband achieves his 50th birthday in December, and we will have been married for 25 years come August. So I decided that such a significant year should be marked with significant events, particularly for the husband who is a man of habit with a marked tendency to talk himself out of trying new things. Every month I am arranging a new experience for him, and he isn’t going to know what it is until he gets there.

January – I despatched him, in the car of a friend who was in on the secret, to a camping and carvanning show. A success. They came back loaded down with leaflets about new caravans and sites.

February – A roaring success. I took him to one of my favourite places on Earth, Eastthorpe Hall, for a half day treatment package. I was confident that the lunch alone would win favour, never mind the treatment. He adored it, although the look on his face 10 minutes in, as they led us off in opposite directions, was priceless.

March – I felt I was on a roll with this project, really pleased about how things were going and excited about what was coming up, but then I bombed in March. We both have more than a touch of the Trekkie to us and like to read and watch science fiction and fantasy, and years ago we talked about going to a Star Trek convention. Well, I couldn’t find one of those but I did find Eastercon, which was held in Bradford over the Easter weekend. Perfect, I thought, and booked two Saturday tickets. I was so wrong. First, on arrival he sucked his teeth (never a good sign) at the cost of the tickets, and then he fell asleep only a short time into the panel discussions. I nudged him awake, but he muttered something about it being just like sitting through a health and safety briefing at work.

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Two things saved me from total disaster: he liked the art exhibition, and then he got a couple of free books including London Falling by Paul Cornell (pictured above on the right). I’ve now read it and it is good. The red pentagram and use of the word ‘evil’ on the cover means I generally wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole, but Mr Cornell seemed like a pleasant person rather than a serial killer and ‘free’ is a great motivator.

April – still mulling over the options in an attempt to get back on top. May and June are sorted.

Watch this space.

This is a survey of one – me.

For I have lots of paid work on at the moment (I’m not complaining) and the housework has taken even more of a back seat than it did when my boys were little.

There are dust bunnies all round the skirting boards. The hard floors are covered in spills. There is evidence of wet dog shake up the walls in the hallway. The paintwork is smeared and grimy, and I haven’t plumped a sofa cushion for three weeks.

I don’t like it. I am somewhat surprised to find that I want, need, yearn for a quiet day every week so I can sweep, dust, vacuum, mop and plump. So I can feel on top of my house. And I want to do it myself, not hire a cleaner.

Who would have thought it?

Another old post recovered from Draft status.

I had planned to add several more pictures of bridges as I find them wonderfully beautiful. Another day, perhaps.

I spent Christmas rereading Ariana Franklin’s (aka Diana Norman) The Serpent’s Tale. It’s set in the time of Henry II, around Christmas, and the frozen river Thames and a bridge across it play a fairly major part. At one point in the story the author writes about how precious and sacred bridges were to the populations they served. This must have stuck in my mind, because when I went out (with my new camera!) with Sparky on Christmas Day I ended up on the bridge we used to cross on our summer route home from school.

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I have no idea how old the stonework is. The ugly metal rails were added relatively recently. We would lean on them as we played pooh sticks.

It has been a wet and miserable summer. The hay crop is particularly poor. I just found this draft post from July 2009, when we had heat and sunshine.

Ripening grass smells heavenly out in the sun on a hot, dry day.

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A weekend away in the Lake District, minus sons and dogs. Lovely.

The view over Lake Windermere:

Hills and cows:

And again, because I couldn’t decide which shot I liked the best:

Airey Force:

And a detour on the way home to see the Ribblehead Viaduct:

It wasn’t as big as I thought it would be.

I know, I’m being a lousy blogger. Lots of stuff has happened (and photographs have been taken) but marshalling thoughts to write about them has been too much for me.

Biggest thing: Son-in-the-Middle has left home for university, although he is currently home for the weekend and explaining the finer points of theoretical physics coursework to his younger brother. I do miss him, even though he’s only 10 miles away and easily contactable by IM, SMS and email. However I have also been amazed by how much head space I’ve gained with one son out of the house and Firstborn old enough to look after himself . Third-and-final suddenly has undivided attention from me and his father!

Consequently I am thinking about work and career options much more. New things are happening, which I will be getting paid for eventually, but I could really  do with a salaried position to start digging my way out of my pit of debt.

I am very, very lucky to have acquired a fabulous mentor, who has so much faith in me and is making a big effort to introduce me to people and extol my skills. So I have to (wo)man-up; time to abandon old habits such as avoiding doing things due to my fear of failure or letting people down.

Unfortunately, increasing independence in my children is coinciding with decreases in health for my parents. I did not appreciate the first decade of parenthood enough – the one where my sons were relatively biddable and I knew where they were at all times, and when my parents were fit and healthy and did not need hospital visits and accompanying to time-consuming doctor appointments!

Husband and I are moving into new and interesting times, what with the changes noted above plus the physical changes I can feel happening in my body. I am 45 years old – need to spend much more time taking care of my general health. Only problem is,  so many things I would like to do such as going to a yoga class, having a massage, going horseriding again, need time and particularly money. Which I don’t have.

So everything hinges on job searching.

 

 

 

That’s it. I can no longer improve on cake making, for I have reached my peak with this:

My inspiration was The Elizabeth Sponge, made by Susanna Storey, winner of The Times Jubilee Bake-off competition:

This is a big cake, held together and covered with whipped cream, which I was quite prepared to try out. Then I read a part of the accompanying text:

One day, perhaps, it will be as iconic as the Battenberg, which was created by British Royal household chefs to celebrate the marriage of Prince Louis of Battenberg to Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine.

I do like to munch on a piece of Battenberg, so the wheels in my brain quickly began to turn and I adapted the recipe to fit.

You will need to make the following mix twice, once with blueberries and once with raspberries. Each mix makes 2x20cm square cakes. You need one of each cake to make a complete Battenberg, and it’s a fiddly procedure so you may well need to fall back on your spare cake.

Ingredients:

295g butter (x2)

295g caster sugar (x2)

5 eggs (x2)

345g SR flour (x2)

2tsp baking powder (x2)

200g blueberries/ 200g raspberries (pureed and sieved)

zest of 1 lemon (x2)

Buttercream – 200g butter, 400g icing sugar, few drops of vanilla essence, tblsp of milk so it is soft enough to spread easily and work with as a glue.

strawberry jam

450g packet of white marzipan

Method:

Preheat oven to gas 4/ 180C. Butter and line 2x20cm square cake tins. Cream butter and sugar together until pale and creamy. Beat in eggs, along with a spoon of the flour, one at a time. Then stir in the lemon zest and one of your berry purees. Here’s my blueberry mix:

Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold in carefully. 

Divide the mix between your two tins and bake in the oven for approximately 35 minutes, until cakes are golden and spring back when the top is gently pressed. (The picture below illustrates my difficulties in adapting my existing bakeware to 20cm squares – I ended up using my sons’ wooden baby building blocks to hold the shapes in place. M’husband spends a lot of time moaning about the number of cake tins in the cupboard but on this occasion even he was moved to agree that I should buy some adaptable square tins.):

Put the cooked cakes to cool and repeat the mix with your raspberry puree:

This one smelt absolutely divine:

Once all your cakes are cooked and cooled, wrap each one in clingfilm and place them in the fridge for at least an hour – chilled cakes are easier to cut and assemble. Here’s theTimes’ diagram which was my (approximate) guide:

Remember, this is a Battenberg we’re making, not a standard sized Victoria sandwich cake. I trimmed the edges of my best raspberry sponge to make it more or less square then made my first cut (deliberately) a little off centre. I work mainly by eye, so the widest piece was to make my horizontal bar. I then split the smaller piece in half again to make the two vertical bars. These are ‘glued’ to the horizontal bar with jam or buttercream, and that filling means that the vertical lengths should end up about equal to the horizontal length. (jumping ahead of myself here, when it came to wrapping the completed cake with marzipan I forgot to check which way was up and the uncut piece ended up as the vertical bar – see pic at the top – but it made quite a nice square so I’m happy my estimates worked out more or less as intended).

Next I trimmed the edges of my blueberry cake and cut it into four lengths. I positioned one of the raspberry verticals on the horizontal bar to check my blueberry pieces would fit into the space left. Remember that the buttercream and jam used as glue will make them wider, so they should be a little smaller than the gap – don’t panic and lop off too much too soon as you can always trim the sides of the assembled cake later.

Cut the blueberry strips in half diagonally, lengthways. This is tricky and I ended up enlisting m’husband to hold the cake steady. Spread each of the newly cut sides with buttercream, then put jam on one of the sides and sandwich them back together. At this stage you can wrap each sandwiched strip in clingfilm and put them back in the fridge to firm up before the final assembly.

Place your horizontal raspberry bar on a large clean mat or piece of baking paper. Stick one of the raspberry verticals along its length using strawberry jam for your glue. Then spread buttercream along the remaining top of the horizontal and the sides of the vertical and slot in one of your blueberry sandwich strips at each side. Check the line of the filling is pointing the right way (fig.4 on the assembly diagram – diagonal from the centre of the ‘L’ to the outside corner). At this point, if you like, you can wrap the assembled piece in clingfilm and put it back in the fridge to chill – I kept going. In which case, carefully turn your partially assembled cake over and repeat the procedure to complete the Union Jack. Wrap the entire cake carefully in clingfilm and leave it to chill for a little while.

Sprinkle some icing sugar on your worksurface and roll out the marzipan into a piece big enough to wrap round the long sides of the cake (leaving the Union Jack visible at each end) with about 5cms of overlap. Spread buttercream over the marzipan, unwrap the chilled cake and place it in the centre of the rectangle. Smooth the marzipan up the sides of the cake and over the top, smoothing the overlap to ensure it stays in place. Turn the join to the bottom. If your cake measurements haven’t  worked out quite as planned, a little gentle smoothing and patting over the marzipan will help nudge them into place. Wrap the whole thing tightly in clingfilm and leave to chill overnight.

In the morning unwrap your cake and trim each end with a sharp knife. Place it on a favourite plate, and put it in the centre of your table for all guests to admire!

Ta-Daah!

If you still have cakes left over, trim the edges and cut each one in half. Stick a blue strip on top of a pink strip (or vice versa) with jam and buttercream, then slice it down the middle and turn one piece over to make a more traditional Battenberg pattern (ie alternating squares). Stick the slices together with buttercream and cover with marzipan as before.

Final step: sit down with a nice cup of tea (that’s Darjeeling for me please) and enjoy a big slice of cake.

And a very happy Jubilee to one and all.

 

Whoops.

I finally got around to taking the memory card out of my camera and uploading, to find that I had 357 shots on there, dating from last September. There’s a lot to be said for the old ways with film – take the full one out of your camera, stick it in an envelope and received a file of photos a few days later. I would then come across random packets of photos when tidying up and have an enjoyable 10 minutes remembering the events captured therein.

A rapid (and entirely unscientific) analysis of the contents of my memory card reveals the following basic groupings:

Family parties

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Babies, through both personal and professional association:

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And lots (and lots) of pictures of dogs running round on beaches:

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Which as a summary of my life is pretty accurate.

I’ve worked full time outside the house this week. What with all the family business involvement I’ve also been working more daytime hours for several months now. It’s doing my head in.

I’ve always wanted to be around for my children. I have sometimes wondered, guiltily, if I want this to avoid thinking about serious career decisions but currently I am sure that is not the case. I want to have the flexibility so I can be here when they need me, such as now when Third-and-Final-Son is groaning on the sofa with a stomach bug.

I have also realised, these last few weeks, that I like being able to clean my house a little bit. Stop laughing siblings – my home may not look like something from House & Garden, but the floors used to be clean, the dogs got a good walk every day and there was homemade cake.  Now everything is both dirty and untidyand it drives me bananas. I’m even grumpy as I go out in the morning because I have no time to do anything but fill lunchboxes and put out the washing before going to work. AND all my jeans feel tight because I’m not getting out with the dogs for so long.

So, the conclusions I have come to: For the next couple of years, until Third is at university, I want interesting part-time work, primarily home based, with some flexibility so I can run round after my boys.

BUT. I need an income. A much better income than I am currently making, despite all the out of the house hours.

And needs trump wants.

 

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