Let’s Be Pen Pals

Hello friends,

Thank you for dropping in today. I hope you are all surviving lockdown ok.

What strange times we are living in. They almost seems surreal. Like all of you, I have been trying to find my ‘sea legs’ and steady myself enough to walk rather than stumble through all of these challenges. Currently, however, staying with the sea analogy, I’m more like the rookie sailor hurling his guts up over the side of the ship. Nice.

After week two of home learning a house full of mostly teenage girls, I have decided that I am going to need to implement some serious coping strategies to survive this isolation and still like my children by the end of it.

The first and most obvious strategy, denial. Oops, sorry, I meant to type escape. Nope, that doesn’t sound very noble either. Hmmm…What I am trying to say is diversion. Ahh yes, that’s much more polite.

Diversion: ‘The act of turning aside, as from a course or purpose’. 

This week I read Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion‘ and it was absolute balm to my soul. To be lost in the world of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth was pure bliss. By the end of chapter one I realised I had stumbled upon a brilliant coping strategy for lockdown. Read a book. Turn aside. Turn away from the constant pressures, put them down and pick up something pleasant, even if it’s only for ten minutes. Not only was my mind delightfully averted, it was so calming and dispersed any frustration I was feeling. 

My second coping strategy was definitely not to eat. Tempting, but no. Comfort eating must be controlled at all costs. When my youngest daughter innocently asks me if there is anything I can do to be skinny (ouch!) it’s assuredly time to put the chocolate away. Darn it.

Anyway, I’ve actually forgotten what my second noble strategy for coping lockdown is, so let’s just get straight into the cake shall we? Obviously it wasn’t working that well anyway. 

As pretty as this cake looks, it was an absolute fail. I had been wanting to recreate a certain vintage looking cake for ages and finally got the chance to do it. I had also been wanting to experiment with brown butter, which in theory takes your cake flavour to the next level. By browning the butter in a saucepan, you end up with a nutty, almost caramelised note to your butter, which is insane in a cake. It also leaves delicious brown specks in the butter which kinda looks cool.  However, as I make my cakes with oil instead of butter, I needed to use this in my Swiss meringue buttercream. I thought it would complement the subtlety of a French Earl Grey cake beautifully, so this is what I made. Expectations were high. 

Well, the buttercream tasted awful, way too buttery. Apart from that, it was too soft to pipe properly, so I had to scrape off all of my delicate ruffles that looked more like a mad woman’s breakfast and go for the rustic look with a few token swirls along the top and bottom of the cake.

Thankfully faithful supermarket flowers came to the rescue (once again) and gave the cake a much needed lift. Never despise supermarket flowers, especially roses.  They can often be fluffed out a bit, or left to bloom until they become glorious. These divine pink flowers were ‘old’ and on sale for ten bucks. Even when they were wilting, they still looked magnificent popped into an old vintage tin with other roses I was drying out. 

While I was taking the photos I quickly realised that the roses in the tin actually looked way better than the cake. At this point the cake and I were not on speaking terms so I was very tempted to throw it in the bin and let the flowers be the stars of the show. Thankfully I got over myself and took a few photos of the cake anyway, which actually turned out ok in the end.

(But it still ended up in the bin. My family doesn’t eat cake. I know. )

Ahh dear. So, long story short, the brown butter icing didn’t work and I didn’t even taste my lovely earl grey cake. The big issues in life I know. But I still like my kids and took them skateboarding along the beach path, baked cookies and watched “Persuasion’ with one of my daughters.

In days like these, the small victories are really the big victories, and the small failures don’t really seem to matter. I will make another earl grey cake and with more trial and error I will eventually work out an awesome recipe for you. I will keep trying to help my girls with their work and battle against attitudes and overwhelm on all sides. I will do my best and at times that won’t be enough. Other times it will. 

OH! I just remembered my second coping strategy.

Paint a room.

YES! That’s it! If your house needs a refresh, then now is exactly the right time to do it. And get the kids to help you! This week, after a particularly trying morning of failure to get enough school work done with the girls, I said to Mary ‘lets paint that wall’.

Admittedly, our house is full of coloured walls that do need an upgrade and we happened to have left over undercoat. So, we now have the beginnings of white walls in our entrance and hallway. Bear in mind this is a big deal for me. As a lover of colour, I have had an aversion to white walls for most of my adult life, and up until now my family has been very long-suffering  accommodating. But now, in my efforts to be a grown up, I am prepared to tone down the house and (sigh) have white walls like everybody else. As my 18 year old came home from work that day and saw the revolutionary change to the hallway, she asked in all seriousness with concern “Mum, are you ok?” 

The moral of the story is, desperate times call for desperate measures. And, children are more capable of painting walls than you might think. Miss 11 did a fantastic job and we both felt better after throwing ourselves into a project. Never mind that I am still scraping paint off my hands, face and now have pretty white specks all through my hair. 

So, whatever your life looks like during lockdown, go easy on yourself Mama. The pressure is real. We are all trying to do our best and I cheer you on with much joy and encouragement. For now, I think it’s time for me to get ‘Sense and Sensibility’ off the bookshelf and glean from Marianne Dashwood’s unbridled joy and zest for life in the midst of difficult circumstances. 

Have a great weekend. Don’t forget to leave a comment, say hello and tell me how you are going. I’d love to hear from you.

Until next week,

Love Anna xx


  • White walls! I would never have thought!
    I love this cake! And I love the story behind it! Beauty from ashes. That is really what most of life’s journey is anyway. How God takes all our messes and somehow makes them into beauty for His glory. Success in His eyes is so different from our own. But His victories draw us closer to His heart as we see how much we truly need Him in everything. Especially parenting!
    Thanks for the blog Anna! Thanks for the laughs, the challenges and everything in between.
    Blessings, Katie

    • A
      Anna Hogbin

      So beautifully written Katie, and so true. Thank you for your precious words.xx

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