Monday, 16 January 2017

Stamp Release
Image from the Royal Mail web site.

One of the things I love most about Great Britain is its history.  The many historic sites scattered throughout this small island are humbling to see and some of the artifacts found are simply stunning, showing that those who came before us had talents to be revered.  

The Ancient Britain stamps, on sale, Tuesday, 17th January are like a visual timeline across the millennia of Great Britain's historic past.  Designed by True North they include: 

Battersea Shield, London, England, c350 - 50 BC 1st Class

Skara Brea Village, Orkney Islands, Scotland c3100-2055 BC  1st Class

Star Carr Headdress, Yorkshire, England c9000 BC £1.05

Maiden Castle Hill Fort, Dorset, England c400 BC £1.05

Avebury Stone Circles, Wiltshire, England c2500 BC  £1.33

Drumbest Horns, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, c800 BC  £1.33

Grimes Graves Flint Mines, Norfolk, England c2500 BC £1.52

Mold Cape, Flintshire, Wales c1900 - 1600 BC £1.52

I've been to the Avebury Stone Circles in Wiltshire a few times and each time is a different experience.  On one occasion a fog rolled in, modern life was obscured and sound muted.  All we could see were the stones looming and for a moment you could almost believe it was a long ago time.  It is truly a place of wonder.  

I am fascinated with history so I will be buying a ton of these stamps when I go into town tomorrow.  I'm sure I'll be using these stamps often.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017


January




January. The first month of the year and much maligned. I was reading an article the other day but before I got to the actual topic the author was discussing, a tirade about the awfulness of January ensued. Even berating T. S. Eliot for claiming April is the cruellest month, when he felt January was the most heinous. He said it like it was a dirty word...January.

I don't feel that way about the first month. To me, January is quiet, reflective and a time for me to re-centre myself after the tumult of the holidays. It's like the stillness following a snow storm, when you pause just to listen to the silence. It's a time when I get back to my writing and reading; my craft supplies are surveyed and updated and I begin the peaceful process of regaining my flow. January is not hectic, its meandering and allows you to go at your own pace. I can sit down and write in a leisurely way and not feel like I have to fit it in.

Those who know me, are aware I have a lot of difficulty with my hands and writing has become a slow process especially when the weather is cold and damp. So I embrace January's calm which enables me to go at my own speed and enjoy my paper conversations. Letters have always been a big part of my life and as a result of my hand problems I have had to cut down, something that still gives me great sadness. It's like telling a friend you never want to speak to them again, the guilt that goes hand and hand with the process of writing a last letter to someone is boundless.

Today I'm revelling in my January state of mind and writing thank you notes, sending a postcard or two and getting my desk in order. Slow and sure wins the race.

Happy January!


Friday, 30 December 2016

Cold...and flu


It's another cold day here; one of those days when it is cold and frosty and the sun is at war with the fog to see who will rule the day. We are spending most of these cold days just huddled around the fire but on the occasions when we have to go out it feels like Antarctica out there. When you first step out the door you are struck with how still everything is, sound is muted, and those cries of the sheep in the adjacent paddock sound like disembodied wails rather than new lambs looking for their mothers. The smoke from the fireplace hangs in the air like a spectre, swirling around you in defiance rather than drifting away while giving you the impression you are walking through a dream. The ground is crunchy underfoot and the cold penetrates the soles of your feet which makes you move faster to complete your task rather than admire the scene which looks as if it has been dusted with sugar. Pretty as it is, warmth is more inviting making our quest for firewood more urgent.

It sounds a bit dire, and perhaps it is. We are all ill with the flu, though, thankfully we're over the rough patch that kept us all down under the covers. Any task was a group effort taking much longer than average. Christmas came and went and we were more interested in finding wood than opening gifts. The fridge is still overstocked with all the food we bought to make the holidays festive, food that made us blanch to even think about just a few days ago. Soup and tea were on the menu every day and how grateful we were to have it.

At the moment we are up and about, albeit slowly. Every little job done needs a short rest afterwards. I've never felt so wrung out in my life as I have felt these past two weeks. Now my mind drifts to letters and I want to write, but still I go slowly. My pen can't keep up with my thoughts and I tire easily just trying to get words on my paper. Typing this has taken more time that I'll admit to though it feels good to be writing. It's cold in this room but it is enjoyable to be quiet with myself and my thoughts for a short time rather than in cramped comfort in front of the fire watching old movies. It's a nice respite even though my fingers and toes are stiff with the cold. Our drafty old building site of a house is pretty but not very inviting on these frosty days. My ancient old desk top computer means I have to brave the cold of the study to type but I'll enjoy the warmth of the hearth even more when I return to the sitting room.

For now I will leave you will all good wishes for the New Year. I'm writing letters slowly, but hope to answer all in good time.   

Friday, 16 December 2016

Happy Birthday Jane!



For all you Janeites out there, today is Jane Austen Day. On this day 241 years ago, Jane Austen, was born. Jane's unique voice as an author has given both pleasure and inspiration to so many. The number of books, movie adaptations, biographies and etc that have been produced because of the influence of this one person is astounding. She has a fan base to rival any pop/movie star, clubs and societies worldwide, even a day in September when people go to the City of Bath and dress in Georgian style to emulate Jane and her life.

Even though her books are considered classics, people still read them, unlike most other works of literature which people claim to read but really don't! I've read most of Jane's books...two to go, I love that I still have something of Jane to discover so I have been savouring her work. Today I may just begin one of the remaining two to mark the day. Or, I may set aside time to write some crossed letters to friends and fellow Janeites.


Happy Birthday dear Jane!

Thursday, 22 September 2016


Preservation


It's another sunny but breezy day here and I'm thinking about my letters. I've been doing an on line course in genealogy over the past six weeks and it's taken up a lot of my free time. I just finished my last test and earned my certificate, now my mind is on letter writing.

During the course we learned a lot of things about researching and maintaining your family history. There were some very interesting things discussed that I thought, as a letter writer were important for conserving the letters we receive. I think all letters are valuable whether they are for preserving you family's history or for the sake of saving a cherished correspondence, so I was particularly interested in this part of the course.

Backing your data up in several different ways was the first order of business along with some of the more obvious suggestions for keeping your research safe, but a lot of family historians have sheaves of paper documents and source material that needs to be safeguarded too. No one likes to think of things like fire and floods but believe it or not, both of these things have robbed me of letters I was saving so I think passing on some of the hints we discussed in the course is not a bad thing.

A few things to remember when you want to keep your precious paperwork safe is making sure they are not stored in a damp place. Think about keeping things in air-tight containers, and storing them up off the floor. Check them from time to time to make sure the way in which you are storing them is working. It all sounds so simple, but like I said earlier, I lost most of my letters, once when the neighbour upstairs decided to install a washing machine in her flat and flooded my apartment, and again when lightning stuck my house and burnt it out. You never know what to expect so it's better to be prepared for anything!

That being said, letters, either as history or from friendships through the post, along with being stored safely, should be written in a way that will keep those paper conversations alive for the future. One of the crucial components of letter writing is the instrument that records your thoughts. Many of my pen pals are pen aficionados and prefer writing with pen and ink or fountain pens. Like most of you, I love the look of a fountain pen. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say something that will most likely shock you...I prefer writing with a ballpoint pen. Fountain pens, roller balls, gel pens are not really user friendly for me and my handwriting morphs into a scrawl that I'm not happy with.. I can almost hear the collective gasp amongst you and I sense you have all taken a step back from me in horror. I know, the fountain pen is the Holy Grail of letter writing, but I like my medium point Bic Crystal. For the way I write, it gives me flow and balance and I can write easily with it, so you can imagine how shocked I was when I learned that ball point pen fades in time. I didn't believe it but then I looked at one of my old journals and it was sadly disappearing, not only that but the writing on the backs of all my photos was slowly fading away too. This was bad news for me. I now have the monumental task of re-writing all the information on my photos before it's completely obliterated and I must find a new pen of choice.

I'm sure, if R, a guy I worked with ages ago at the book store could read this, he'd be saying something like "I tried to help you..." R and I had a constant dialogue on calligraphy and ink pens which always seemed to end in stalemate. He, a graphic designer, wanted to perfect my writing, me the amateur, countered by telling him my handwriting was uniquely individual and that anyone could do calligraphy. He'd switch tactics and try to tell me the best pen to write with was a fountain pen and on and on the debate went. In the end, he laughingly gave me a book from his own library which highlighted a steadfast ballpoint pen fan who whose handwriting was lovely. Uncannily, it was very similar to my own handwriting. R and I agreed to disagree in the end, and I still quietly used my ballpoint pen.

Now, here I am, admitting defeat and looking for another writing instrument.



 At least my search starts with an old friend. I found this Bic fountain pen that I thought I would try. I also indulged in a Parker pen. So far, the Parker is easier for me to write with as the Bic fountain pen is a pudgy and shorter than its cousin the crystal. I'm sure I will try others too, this is just a start. My son has a Lamy fountain pen that I quite like as well. I think this is just the beginning of my search. There are so many pens to choose from, but it will be a fun search, if nothing else.



Thursday, 28 July 2016


The Heat is on!
Well, right out of the blue, just like that, summer arrived. And just when I never never thought I would see the sun again. That's how it is in England a lot of the time. The garden centres and DIY stores have adverts that go something like this: "Get your house and garden ready for when summer finally arrives!" Up until now, which is typical of our area, we've been having an extended spring with cooler temps and rain almost daily. You get to a point where you just don't expect it anymore. I overheare a conversation at the market one day when a man remarked, "Mary, is that the sun?" To which she replied "Don't be silly, the sun is just an urban legend."
The past few days have been hot like Ella Fitzgerald's Summertime, slow and meandering. I have the day to myself so I thought I would sit in the shade and enjoy the day writing to my friends. Life is good on these kinds of days enjoy the day writing to my friends. Life is good on these kinds of when “the livin' is easy” and I can take my time.
I took my little table down to by the ha-ha and set up under the old rowan tree that's covered in an endless vine of honeysuckley, in a shady spot so I could enjoy the view beyond the paddock that abuts our garden. The sky was blue and the clouds, puffy white fluffs, drifted leisurely by; it was heaven. Several house went by before I even thought about making dinner, but on a day like today, who cares? It was pure bliss, every single minute I sat there.
The cat soaked up the atmosphere as well, keeping me company while I gazed out over the vista before me and sipped my cool water with lemon and composed my missives. It's funny really how the thoughts and ideas you have can take on a whole new shape when you change the location you write in. Normally I sit at my desk in my bedroom which faces the front of the house and I have much the same view, but sitting out here, I almost felt as if I were a part of the scenery and not just looking at it. My writing came easily to me as I sat there and I answered several of my letters and even wrote a few postcards as well.
A day just couldn't get any better than that, or could it? One by one the cows who'd been grazing in the paddock in front of me, came by, curious to see what I was doing. I found this a bit amusing because usually they don't even notice when I stroll up to the ha-ha to look out over the field, so it was a surprise to look up and realize I was being watched by each one of them at some time or another.
How do you spend your lazy summer days?
PS, I apologize for all the spaces, Blogger isn't playing nice today and at first everything came out double spaced and when I got rid of that it put all the space between the paragraphs.

Saturday, 2 July 2016


  Tea for 2  6






                                                      

Last month the Queen celebrated her 90th birthday so all around the UK people were hosting tea parties in her honour. I'd wanted to attend one of the many tea parties, but living rurally in the middle of acres of sheep, cows and apple orchards, I didn't have that pleasure. Not for want of trying; I'd even gone out and bought a hat. You probably know that to the British woman, a hat, is still quite a statement of fashion and as I adore hats I was determined.


As time went on, I couldn't manage to find a venue that was hosting a tea party in my area and conceded defeat. Then one day in town, I walked into a charity shop, saw these little beauties and an idea was born.




I decided to host another postal tea party. I'd done this before in honour of her majesty’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012. That tea party, although a success, had many wrinkles to iron out. This time there would be no icing melting off the cupcakes and onto the plate in a puddle, nor would my rapt attention in getting everything just right result in my tea towel smouldering on the stove top. Items would not be left out only to be posted separately, causing confusion and finally, all tea party parcels would be mailed at the same time. Sounds simple, but first time around was a bit of a fiasco so this time the incontrovertible list was employed to keep me on track.


I set out to find sweet and savoury treats as well as nice teas to offer my guests; things that would be travel friendly in the post. For example things that would not melt if they were to go to warmer climes. I also endeavoured to have variety of tastes. I decided on two different cakes and shortbread biscuits, as well as savoury crackers in three flavours. Ideally, little finger sandwiches would have been more apropos but sending anything like that through the post would not have worked on any level, so the crackers added a nice touch of savoury to compliment the sweets. Choosing the tea was probably not as easy. I wanted it to be a traditional tea, but also something the guests may not have tried before to give a little mystery. In the end, I decided to include two teas, the first an English tea, appropriately called London Tea and the second a tea, more of a desert tea called Cherry Bakewell, which is reminiscent of a beloved English pudding (read dessert.) Finally, for the tea there were demerara sugar cubes for a bit of panache.


Once the food items were found, I shopped for vintage napkins and made buntings just for a hint of old-fashioned style. Invitations were made from British themed note cards. At first I was going to craft the invites but came across the note cards while searching for something else and decided they were just the thing. Tea towels with scenes of Buckingham Palace added a nice touch too and just for fun I sent Union Jack cupcake papers and cake picks depicting iconic British things. I packaged things with ribbons and lovely stickers and I was very satisfied with the overall presentation.  


My next feat was to set the scene and dress the table. I love linens and probably buy more than I should but when I see these vintage lovelies in the charity shops, things that were cherished by someone, I can't help but buy them and give them new life. I chose a spot in the garden near the wisteria that grows up the side of our house and the scent added another nuance to my tea party. I found a beautiful table cloth, added a small vase of flowers from my garden, and set out the tea things. My chair was cushioned with pretty little vintage pillows that were either crocheted or embroidered, and I brought out my parasol just in case the sun became too hot. It was an absolutely glorious day, the sun shining bright and a gentle breeze blowing. Pictures were taken, by the hundred, to get just the right view to include in my parcels then, finally, I sat down to tea and enjoyed the mid afternoon in such a pleasant way. Like Mrs. Duffy, one of my esteemed guests, I wrote as I savoured my tea and couldn't imagine a nicer way to pass the afternoon.

I hope my guests were as pleased as I was and from their comments, I think they were. Some of my guests, like my dearest friend Limner, have mentioned the tea party on their blog, and I couldn't be happier that she enjoyed it so much. Lady Pamela, another of my honoured guests, sounded delighted when she talked of received her parcel. I aspired to create something that was pretty, and at the same time offer a charming afternoon tea with all the trimmings and I think I may just have got it right this time. Everything went smoothly...no smouldering tea towels or melting cupcakes.


PS.  Since I made this post, another of my lovely guests, Jen, posted about her tea party experience which you can view here.  Lady Pamela has written further on her  tea party too, and it sounds like she had a ball.

Each tea party has a magic of its own and I'm so enjoying reading about them all.  It's amazing how one little idea can blossom into something so wonderful.  It pays to think outside the envelope every now and then, don't you agree?