Monday, July 30, 2007

Gingerbread world

Sarah was off to tennis camp today (10-3) and great weather for it, thank goodness - I was afraid it was going to be a repeat of last week. Olivia's chosen activity, after we did some errands and had lunch, was baking biscuits, so we did gingerbread shapes (I think she and Alex used every shape in the box, except I drew the line at the Christmas Tree) - so we have people, animals (dogs, cats, sheep, cows, bunnies, teddies, elephants, ducks), dinosaurs, teapots, hearts, stars, flowers and probably some other stuff I forgot. And instead of mixing icing colours today, I just bought some tubes and let them squeeze. And I insisted they leave some plain, for the grownups, who prefer to have more biscuit than icing...

Gingerbread
350g plain flour
1 tsp bicarb of soda
2 tsp ginger
125g butter or marg, cubed
175g light brown sugar
1 egg
4 tbsp golden syrup

Combine flour, soda, ginger; rub in butter. When in small crumbs, stir in sugar. Combine egg & golden syrup in a small bowl; add to dry ingredients and mix to form a (quite stiff) dough. Roll out on a lightly floured surface until very thin. Cut shapes & bake in a pre-heated oven 170C for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Biscuits will be soft when removed, but crisp when cool.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

World's Easiest Cake


Plum (or other fruit) shortcake - highly yummy and I'm serious when I say it's the world's easiest recipe. Here's what you do: beat together 4oz each of ground almonds, self-raising flour, sugar and butter (or marg), plus one egg. Divide the resulting mixture (which will be quite stiff, not pourable, more like a cookie dough than cake batter) in half, and press half of it into the bottom of a cake tin (I use the kind with the removeable bottom) - you need a fairly small tin, I think mine is 6 inches in diameter. Then, place some halved & stoned (but not peeled) plums on top of this, covering the batter - leave a little gap at the edges or it will ooze a lot. Then press the remaining dough on top, to cover. Bake in a moderate oven (gas 4, 190C) for 40-50 minutes. And that's it. Told you it was easy. You can use other fruit - any soft fruit works ok. Plums are our favourite, though.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Camden Town


My mom and Sarah and I took a trip up to Camden Town today, to first do a walk with London Walks, and then to have some lunch and browse around Camden Lock Market. I've never been to the market before and had no idea how extensive it was - it's a very nice market, actually, without a lot of the tat you find at regular markets - more, well, upmarket. There may be some tat as well, but we didn't see much of that. Anyway, we had an interesting walk with our guide and had fun poking around afterwards. A nice day, if somewhat tiring on the feet. More photos here.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Kew visit


We went to Kew Gardens today - us and a ton of other people - no parking anywhere along the road, so we had to pay to park in the carpark. Luckily, we had a free entrance ticket for two adults and the kids are free anyway, so we didn't mind so much having to pay to park. The weather forecast was good for the whole day - sunny, even - which is no doubt why there were so many people out. The gardens didn't really seem crowded, actually - you can get a lot of people in there before it begins to seem busy. And we visited a lot of the less busy parts, at the back along the river, Queen Charlotte's Cottage (not open, but the grounds) and so on.

I let the girls use the camera most of the time, so they took a lot of photos of flowers (some of them very good, I think) - one of the many nice things about a digital camera... You can see those flower photos (and some more of us (above is my mother & the kids, but there is actually one of me with the others!) here, on flickr.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

School's...in

Spent most of the day today just hanging around the house (though we did go to the park briefly after lunch, until it started raining) - the kids watched telly & played on the computer while I sewed, then they decided to all play an elaborate game with Alex's teddies - they were the three nursery teachers and the teddies were the children. They went through the entire nursery routine - the hello song, circle time, what's in the box, sound of the week, goodbye song and so on. Did make me laugh as the girls at least have been desperate to finish school for the summer, and here they are playing school - though as my mom pointed out, this time they are in charge...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Adventuresome day



Well, the weather has finally started behaving like it might be summer, so we took our trip to Chessington World of Adventures today. Great day, no rain, very few arguments from the kids and almost no queues, despite the good weather. And of course, we bumped into Lorayne & kids from across the road (not a total surprise, as she and I had both discussed going this week beforehand; still, it's funny to see someone you know in a big place like that). Some videos from the rides below, and more photos in my flickr album. Tomorrow, we will stay more or less at home and rest, I think!




Dodgems




Swings




Carousel




Water Ride

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Full steam ahead


Because the weather was predicted to be rain on and off all day, we decided not to do something outdoorsy, like the Wetland Centre, and instead went to Kew Bridge Steam Museum, which I had tickets for, from the silent auction at the summer fair at school. Of course, it didn't rain at all (though I'm sure it would have, had we gone to the Wetland Centre or Kew or some place like that), but that's ok, we had a fun time anyway - the Steam Museum is interesting in a slightly eccentric way, but of course Alex loved it, as there were trains, as well as various steam engines, etc. And there was a model tram exhibition visiting as well, so that was fun for them. My stepdad Andy would have loved it - not the trams so much, but the engines. Anyway, photos were of course taken, and can be seen here...

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Less rain, more flowers

Well, I won't say there was no rain today, as that would be a lie, but we had a very nice morning, which included a trip down to Garson's Farm to pick some fruit & veg (and sunflowers, as it happened) and check out their food fair, and farm shop. We picked raspberries, cherries, beetroot, spinach and runner beans (and sunflowers) and got some other fun stuff in the farm shop; dinner and dessert have been largely the produce we acquired there (the exception being the sugar in the meringues I made, which came from Waitrose and the potatoes at dinner, ditto, which I already had in the house - though we did have potatoes from our own garden (grown in tubs!) the other evening for dinner - and will have more in a week or two, when our little potato patch dries out). I feel like I should acquire a goat and a snooty neighbour called Margo. (Though technically, we are a few miles away from Surbiton.)*

Oh, and you can see in this photo (sort of) behind the sunflowers - grass! Yes, the water has receded from our garden. Hoorah.

*For those of you Yanks reading this, it's a reference to a classic British sitcom called The Good Life.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Instant water park!



My goodness, what a day. We had the most torrential downpours this morning - about 4 inches of rain in less than two hours. And consequently, tons of flooding, as the drains just can't cope. Luckily, not in the houses where we are, though the back garden was completely under water. It's going down now, though.

The kids had a short day of school, as today was the last day, so on the way home, we let them muck around in all the water in the park (the park tends to flood anyway, if there's too much rain, but it usually takes a few days' rain to build up, as opposed to an hour or two). Luckily, it was warm, so it wasn't too unpleasant. They had a great time of course. And actually, the adults had some fun, too, especially the two dads who were around.

The top photo is my friends Sophie (whose girls I childmind three days a week) and Lorayne at the entrance to the park - this is the bit that always floods, though usually, we are talking about an inch or two, not a foot or more! - and some of the kids - Katarina, Eliza, Gabriella and Sid. The rest were around somewhere. I took tons of photos, which you can see in my flickr album, and several little videos, which you can see below.








Thursday, July 19, 2007

Still no woodpecker photos


But I did manage to get a shot of two green parakeets at the feeder. Ok, maybe they don't really belong here - but they certainly are spectacular. The woodpecker was here again today (or maybe it was yesterday) but as usual, he sensed me thinking about getting the camera out and promptly took off...

Tinkle, tinkle, little sar


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Junk food!


A gift from my mother, from the US - lots of treats you can't get here (most seem to involve chocolate and peanut butter, hmm) - you can get regular reese's cups, but not the little ones, which I think have a better ratio of chocolate to peanut butter. Good thing I'm not trying to diet this summer...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Gamma...

is coming tomorrow - I will head out to the airport after the school run to collect her. We love having her visit (this is my mother, not Geoff's, who lives in the Midlands and therefore doesn't need collecting from the airport) but I'm sure between her visit and the summer holidays I'll get a lot less sewing done. Of course, there might be more to blog about on THIS blog as we are more likely to go out and do stuff in the summer and/or when guests are here.

Oh, and the fence is nearly done, but I'll spare you the photo excitement for today...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Subterranean brick wall blues


Here's where we stand this evening. What the photo doesn't show is the hours of work it took Mike to dig out the old posts - there were some serious bits of concrete in there - and what looked like an underground wall along the back fence line, which he had to dig through to make the post hole for the central post. But the new posts are in, and the gate has been rehung (partly). One of the problems with the old fence & gate is that the posts weren't set completely solidly and the gate shifted with the changes in weather, particularly during very rainy seasons (of which we have many, in case you haven't noticed!) so the gate frequently wouldn't shut. Hopefully this will no longer be a problem with the new gate & fence. He's also changed the orientation so the door opens flat against the shed wall. When we get the new bike shed up, this will be important so bikes can be taken in and out more easily. Must order that bike shed soon, now that the fence is done (mostly done).

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Fence me in...


Finally, work will be starting on our new back fence (and once the fence is replaced, we can put the bike shed up and stop having an entire garden full of bikes (or a shed so full of bikes you can't move). When I say finally, this is not a reflection on the work ethic of Michael, friend (father of Olivia's friend Nina) and helpful builder type guy, but a reflection on the weather, which has rained so much, there's been no point even thinking about fences. Watch this space - hopefully tomorrow there will be a new fence in place, or at least mostly in place.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Paint-facing



As I was co-opted into painting faces at the Brownies District Sports Night, I thought I'd get warmed up by doing my own kids - and Nancy, who was here at the time. Didn't get a photo of Olivia, who came home a bit later and ended up as a "fotty dog" (i.e. dalmation or "spotty dog" - Alex still isn't very good at some of those s-combinations). The sports night was fun, actually - did about a dozen kids, which is a good number - not too many, but enough to make it worth going.

Sarah wanted a sunset scene with pirate paraphenalia - treasure chest, treasure map - I think it came out well.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bunch o' flowers


Aren't they lovely? These were a gift from the nursery for my help this year (I went in nearly every week, and did lots of the less glamourous jobs like clearing out the cuboards and organising the dressing up clothes - but as I said to the teacher, while it's nice to work a bit with the children, I want to be helpful and do what actually needs doing, not something she's made up to entertain me.) Anyway, totally unexpected and unnecessary, but lovely. I felt all emotional when Alex brought them over to me (they let him carry them out to me - wasn't that sweet?)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Chocolatey Day


Ice Cream! This is Chocolate Chocolate Chip (Non-Dairy) - yum. Have included the recipe (both dairy and non-dairy versions - not much difference between them).

Jerry's Chocolate (+Dairy Free Alternative Version) from Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream book - non-dairy modification my own. With measurement notes for non-Americans...

2 oz (50g) plain/unsweetened chocolate
1/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder (sorry, no idea how much that is inweight but it's about 5-6 tbsps - it's not an exact science anyway!)
1 1/2 cups (12 fl oz) milk/soya milk
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar (225g) - if using sweetened soya milk I put in less sugar - if using unsweetened or cow's milk, I use the full amount
1 cup (8 fl oz) heavy or whipping cream (or one small carton/equivalent amount soya, wheat or rice cream alternative)
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Melt the choc in the top of a double boiler over hot, not boiling, water. Gradually whisk in the cocoa and heat, stirring constantly until smooth. (The choc may "seize" or clump together. Don't worry, the milk will dissolve it.) Whisk in the milk, a little at a time, and heat until completely blended. Remove from the heat and let cool.

2. Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the cream and vanilla and whisk to blend.

3. Pour the chocolate mixture into the cream mixture and blend. Cover and refrigerate until cold, about 1 to 3 hours, depending on yourrefrigerator.

4. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze following the manufacturer's instructions.

notes: this makes about 1 quart US (32 fl oz) - which is too much for my ice-cream freezer, so I freeze it in two batches. If you are freezing in the freezer rather than with a machine, you can skip the second part of step 3 and put the mixture straight into the freezer. Remove the mixture after an hour and whisk again, repeat several times during the freezing process to ensure enough air gets in.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dulcet tones of the clarinet

There has been a big push recently at school about music & musical instruments; consequently, both girls have expressed an interest in learning to play something. Lessons can be done through (and during) school, but are fairly expensive, so I have struck a bargain with the girls: I will teach them how to read music and the basics of how to play the clarinet (we have my old one still) - if they keep up their interest and practice over the next year, and are still interested at the end of next school year, I will sort out lessons for them for the following year. (If they keep up interest for a year, they'll need a better teacher than me - I'm a bit rusty.) Today is the second day of the enterprise and enthusiasm is still high. Both of them manage to make sounds on the instrument; Sarah has very quickly picked up the basics of reading music (but obviously is very slow as she has to work the notes out each time - still, not bad for a near beginner - they've done very little at school about notes). I think we are going to have a squeaky summer.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Bragging Parent Mode...just for a sec

Forgot to say, the kids came home with their school reports today (once a year, at the end) - all did very well, with the girls acheiving marks well above the expected level for their ages, and remarkably, both had very good comments about how kind and helpful they are at school (we could do with a bit more of that around the house, frankly!). Alex just has comments - they don't do graded assessments in nursery (and shouldn't) - but he seemed to get on very well and is learning stuff, which is good. I more or less knew that, as I help in the nursery every week, so I get to see him in action quite a bit, but it's always interesting to see the reports. My favourite bit was this, from Olivia's: "She can mostly listen to other people and sometimes plays and works co-operatively." That pretty much says it all!

Almost more exciting than the reports was the fact that they got to see which classes they will be in next year, and what teachers they will have.

[Digression to explain the class system in our school. You may wish to skip this paragraph!] Our school is a little complicated because it has a one and a half form entry; in English that means there are one and a half classes worth of children at each year level except nursery, which has two full classes. The Reception Class (which comes after nursery) also has two classes, though they are very small - 21 or so each (out of a max of 30) - this is great for the kids, so the school makes a point of doing it, despite the fact that it's expensive (school money here is allocated largely on a per pupil basis rather than a per teacher required basis - in an ideal world, those things would balance, but they don't always, which is why we have 1.5 forms - which means mixed year classes). As I was saying, after Reception, the classes are mixed - so there is a year one class, a year 1/2 mix, a year 2 class; then a Y3, a Y3/Y4 mix and a Y4; and finally a Y5, a Y5/Y6 mix and a Y6. I grouped them this way because those are the "Key Stages" anyway, which means those years have the same curriculum anyway, so frankly, the fact that some of them are mixed is largely irrelevant. (The curriculum goes in a two year cycle, so in year 1, Key Stage 1 does Romans (whether you are in Y1 or Y2) and in year two KS1 does Tudors - so if you do romans in year 1, you will do Tudors in year 2 and vice versa. It all works out in the end.) And for English and Maths, they just work in ability groups anyway, sometimes mixing students from across the whole key stage ("setting").

[Safe to come back now.]

Anyway. Sarah will be a mixed class of year 5 (her) and year 6 students. The mixing is done by age, so her class has the oldest 1/3 (ish) of the year 5s and the youngest 1/3 of the year 6s. (If you didn't read the above paragraph, it all works just fine, trust me.) She's delighted because her friend Kirsty is in the same class, and they have Mr Rinn for their teacher, who is very cool and everyone likes him. Including me (though to be fair, I like all the teachers my kids have had & many of the ones they haven't - there are a few I don't really know well). And I think it's nice she's going to have a male teacher - there aren't many in primary schools these days, so it's a good experience for them.

Olivia will also be in a mixed class - again, she's one of the oldest. She's in a mixed Y3/Y4 class (she's in Y3 next year). Her teacher is called Ms Crask, and I don't know her well, but like what I've seen. She won't be with all of her friends, but we know that Hannah S will be there and probably Gabriella. But not Eliza & Nina. Won't hurt them all to be separate and she's not particularly bothered, at least not at the moment.

Alex we already knew would be in Fir class - his teacher is called Mrs Goodliffe and seems very nice - Keir has had her for reception and Y1 and really liked her, so that's a good recommendation. It was all very exciting on the playground this afternoon - everyone rushing about trying to see who will be in their class (and who won't). No tears from my kids, luckily - but as it's a fairly straightforward system, done almost completely by age, there isn't much they can do about it.

The Swedish Place



Spent the afternoon today taking a little trip to Ikea to finally get the bookcase I have been planning on for a year or more. Originally, I was going to go tomorrow, but I was a bit achey today so didn't really want to sit and sew, so thought I'd use the time this afternoon for Ikea - Alex enjoys playing in the kids' play area anyway - and tomorrow, when he is in wrap-around (they are having their year-end party tomorrow) I will hopefully do some serious sewing.

So anyway, the bookcase is now fetched and assembled and really is much better than what was in the room before, so I'm glad we did it. Despite measuring the space (and allowing for the skirting boards) we almost didn't get it into the space, because of the angle needed to get it into the corner, the edge of the windowsill and the edge of the skirting board. Now that it's in place, there's several cm gap at either side at the bottom (I knew I'd measured right, dang it) but it was a bit tricky getting it there... (Geoff will at this point compliment me for being the master (mistress?) of understatement.)

I'm pleased to say I didn't come back from Ikea with a lot of extra stuff I didn't need - I got mainly what was on my list (the bookcase, napkins, a sheet, straws, some little paintbrushes so I don't have to keep nicking the kids' ones), plus two things not on my list which should have been (more chalk for the kids, and a new lampshade for the downstairs hallway - this was on my list last time I went, but they were out of the size I wanted, so I didn't get it, but I forgot to put it back on the list), plus a roll of interesting paper (sold as wrapping paper, but it's kind of hand-made looking) and a box of plasters. Unfortunately, the sun umbrella on my list, they didn't seem to have, but I guess I'll live. We do need a bigger one, though. Will have to have a trawl through B&Q or Homebase. We need a couple more patio chairs anyway. Or rather, we need two different ones as we have four that are comfortable and two that aren't.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Such a perfect day...



I was going to make a play on words for the title of this post (something about fairs and weather and friends (our PTA is called The Friends of Green Lane)), but frankly, I'm too tired, having been at school for 8 1/2 hours today working on the fair (we start setting up at 8; the actual fair is 12-3; cleanup usually finishes by about 4.30). However, the good thing is, it went very well. The weather was absolutely perfect - sunny and hot, but not boiling, and not very windy. Whew! And Alex is thrilled because I won a Lego Pirate Ship (OK, Megablocks, not Lego - same difference) on the raffle.

This photo is of the stall I was working on - the kids' tombola (where you pick tickets and if it ends in a 0 or 5 you get a prize). This was a very popular stall today - sold out by about 1.30, which is even sooner than usually (it does often sell out before the end of the fair). But given the number of prizes on the stall, well, it's astonishing how much money some kids have to spend at fairs... (not mine - I dole it out a pound at a time and make them make it last).

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Paper Bag Monster

What's that coming over the hill, is it a ... paper bag monster? (It's a song reference, for those of you like my mother who are slightly out of touch with popular culture)

The girls' quilts got handed back to them from Sandown in these potato sacks (this is standard practice at quilt shows, at least here in the UK) and as I have several set aside for mailing purposes, etc, I let the kids keep them - they've had the best time decorating them and cutting holes in. Today Alex was being a monster yet again. Makes me question once more why we really bother to buy toys - seems like boxes, bags and wrapping paper would probably suffice...

Friday, July 06, 2007

Plethora of blogging & birds

So, those of you who visit regularly may have noticed I'm trying to blog more frequently over here, even if it's just short and sweet. Or short but not sweet. I mean, if I can manage to blog more or less daily in my quilt blog, why can't I do it here? [If you are interested in the answer to this, it has to do with the quilting blog being somewhat of a journal for personal reference as well as for the public eye and also to do with me forgetting when I do the same twelve things on a Wednesday that I always do, that not everyone is as used to them as I am, and therefore, some might find them interesting. I could go on, but you'll be pleased to hear I won't at the moment.]

Anyway, I keep TRYING to get a picture of the woodpecker that comes to feed at our nut feeder to post here - he (or she) has been visiting nearly every day in the past few weeks, but I swear that thing can sense the camera - it always takes off just when I get the camera ready. Or else (like this morning) it spent the entire 6-7 minutes it was on the feeder on the far side of the feeder, where you couldn't see it through the camera. Grr. Maybe someday soon. The other morning, we had not only the woodpecker but also some of the green parakeets we sometimes get and to top that off, when I went around to my friend Caroline's house, they had a bird of prey (we think maybe a sparrowhawk but neither Caroline, her DH, nor I have much knowledge of birds of prey) in their garden, eating its catch - from the feathers leftover later, a smaller bird of some sort. And in a suburban garden - how cool is that?

A little light reading


Well, lookie what came in the post today - Geoff's book. Great photo on the cover, and I do promise that in person, the book is slightly more in focus than here. It was still shrink-wrapped, for one thing, which doesn't help when photographing it. Also, we all know how great I am with the camera - not. So, if you fancy some invertebrate neurobiology and have a spare $150 or so, why not treat yourself?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Waffle Day...I mean, Independence Day

Today I have been mostly...making waffles. See, a while back I offered to bring my waffle iron into nursery and do waffleswith the kids, and as it happened, today was the day. This was due to Wednesday being cooking day, this week being "w" for the sound of the week and it also being Independence Day (waffles being a sort of American thing. Not to mention me. This way, the teacher could tick a lot of boxes in the curriculum - cooking, cultures, "w" and so on). So I came into the nursery in the morning and made waffles. I hadn't planned to do it for the afternoon nursery as well, but in the end, it seemed the easiest thing to do for one reason or another. So Alex and I went home, grabbed a quick lunch, and went back to nursery. He seemed to enjoy being at nursery twice and I didn't mind making waffles again, though I did say no when Olivia spied the waffle iron and asked if I'd make waffles after school...


The photo has nothing to do with the waffles - fried eggs were part of dinner - we had three different eggs from the current box of 6 with double yolks - here are two of them. I'll be interested to see whether the rest of the box is double as well.

Anyway. Happy Fourth of July to all you Yanks out there - hope you have a great barbecue (or whatever) and nice fireworks. I have to say, I'm glad it's not the Fourth of July here (you know what I mean) as the weather is once again, completely rubbish. If my mom is reading this, I must remember to tell her to pack accordingly - rain, rain and more rain. Not particularly cold, just icky....

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Monday, July 02, 2007

Pi r...pretty much gone

Of course, I MEANT to take a photo of the pie before I cut it at all, but well, you know what they say about good intentions.

We went down to Garson's Farm today, our local pick your own place and got, among other things, strawberries. Some of which, I have magically turned into this lovely pie - or should that be, lovely slightly-less-than-half-of-a-pie... There's actually less of it left now and tomorrow, well, bye bye pie.

But it was yummy.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Oreo danger

My local shop has started selling Oreos. They have the regular kind, the kind with chocolate creme and the kind dipped in chocolate (though these are very expensive, so we probably won't be buying them). The only good thing is, the package is quite small - they are in a box with 6 (I think) packets of 4 biscuits each. Much harder to overindulge when you are in an Oreo mood. But still - my local shop, just around the corner. What's next, Little Debbie Nutty Bars? Crunchy Cheetos?