Thursday, December 31, 2009

Red Velvet Cupcakes



Yep, more cupcake making. These were yummy, also. A little more purple than red due to a lack of red food colouring, but yummy. And the frosting, which is the cream cheese frosting, is gorgeous. I should cut one in half and take a photo of the inside. But I probably won't...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Marshmallow cupcakes...



So, for Christmas, I got the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook. The photos are totally gorgeous, so of course we had to have a try. Olivia wanted to do the Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes, but as they require fresh strawberries, we decided to wait until we have a better chance of getting some reasonable strawberries. Instead, we tried out the marshmallow cupcakes - a vanilla cupcake, with marshmallow filling and vanilla icing with marshmallows in it.



Verdict: the cupcakes themselves were gorgeously tasty & moist. So the vanilla cupcake recipe is a keeper. The frosting is nice, but we think there are a few too many marshmallows in it - admittedly, the recipe uses mini marshmallows, which we didn't have, so we cut some bigger ones into pieces, but I'm not sure that makes any difference. We liked the combination of marshmallow and frosting, just felt the balance was a little off. The marshmallow filling, on the other hand, didn't work at all - the marshmallows were a royal pain to melt and then very hard to fill into the cupcakes. This may have to do with the type of marshmallows used, of course. I think the idea is nice, but I probably wouldn't do the filling aspect again unless I managed to get ahold of a jar of marshmallow fluff (not a common product in the UK). Oh, and they do look really fabulous, which is definitely worth something!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Saturday, December 19, 2009

2009 Round Up

Back in the days when I used to write a letter on paper to send with Christmas cards (back in the day when I used to send Christmas cards!) I always started to write the letter sometime in early December and frequently thought that by doing so I was missing out a big chunk of the year in the letter. Doing it online avoids that issue, but also, the incentive to get it finished is less, as you keep thinking "oh, I've got loads of time" - so here it is, nearly Christmas, and I've still not finished...

Not sure I'll get this done now, this morning, as I have to pop out later with Alex and help pack groceries at a local supermarket to raise money for his Beaver Colony (Beavers being pre-cub scouts), but I can make a start at any rate and hopefully get it done before Christmas is actually upon us.



Looking back over my blog, I see that not a lot happened in January, but early February last year brought us our Big Snow - and this really was a substantial snow - I think there was about 15-20cm (6-8") on the ground (not counting drifts), and it stayed for a while - we had two days off school because of it. The kids obviously had a fabulous time, as we normally don't get anything like this amount of snow - usually, if we get enough to fully cover the ground, we are doing well. We of course took loads of photos, which you can see over here on flickr.



February also brought us Alex's birthday - he was 6 - and celebrated with a party at Build-a-Bear Workshop with some friends. This year, we are planning a bowling party with a friend from school. The other little boy has a birthday two days away from Alex and his monther and I always seem to plan their parties for the same day. This year, she and I got together early to work out who would take which day and discovered that both boys wanted a bowling party. As their guest lists overlapped by about 75 per cent, we decided that we would do a joint party. The boys were quite happy about this though both of them did ask whether they would still get presents from everyone who came (so, that's the important stuff covered!).




February also brought a visit from Grandma Kathy (my mother) and a week's holiday from school - there is always a week off near the end of February. Among the other things we did while she was here, was take a trip to the Portobello Road Market (the guys stayed home). I'd never been before, though I have of course heard lots of things about it.

My mother has always tried to time her visits (since we had kids in school) to overlap with one or the other of the school holidays, and these days, I'm extra glad she does, as I have been doing quite a bit of work in the past year or so. Last school year, I worked every day at school as a lunchtime supervisor, and also in the afternoons in the nursery as a teaching assistant. This year, I am still working as a lunchtime supervisor, though the nursery position was a temporary one, so I am no longer doing that. I am, however, working for a couple of hours in the mornings in one of the Year 6 classes doing TA support during the literacy lesson, and after Christmas I will also being working in the afternoons in a Year 4 class supporting a child with some special needs (mostly behaviour related) and hopefully also doing some general support in the classroom. I enjoy the work, and the money is nice to have, but it certainly is a bit odd to go back to having almost no free time to run errands and so forth during the week. Thankfully, I can get my grocery shopping delivered, so that's not something I have to do on Saturday!



There doesn't seem to be much to say about the spring - Geoff and I worked, the kids went to school. We had some bad weather, we had some nice weather - just the usual. I did have a couple of nice nights out - once when my friend Cathi visited from Ireland and dragged me (I admit, I wasn't precisely kicking and screaming) off to see Wicked. I saw Counting Crows play at Wembley Arena - took Sarah to that one - and early next year I have tickets to see Dave Matthews Band at the O2 Arena (formerly the Millennium Dome). But generally, we lead a fairly quiet social life - the same can't be said for the kids, of course, who are always off somewhere or other!

In early summer, we started having our bathroom redecorated. After some dithering, we decided not to knock it into one room (the toilet is separate - as in many houses of the era and style of ours) even though it would gain some space. We also kept our tub, which is a lovely old (not clawfoot) enamelled tub, not one of these horrid new fibreglass monstrosities. But the rest went - the avocado green tiles, the old pedestal sink, etc. Unfortunately, I don't seem to have the right photos, having only a "during" photo and neither before nor after. Obviously, I could remedy the latter if necessary, but I think it will suffice to say, it's a lot better than it was, being largely white with accents in blue & blue-grey tones. Later in the year, we also redecorated the girls' bedroom - or rather, I did. We hired someone to do the bathroom, as there was a lot of hard stuff there - the girls' room only got new paint & a border...



Other changes in the spring & summer including Alex finally being able to join the Beavers (pre-cubs) at Easter, and of course, the biggest one of all - Sarah leaving primary school in July, at the end of the school year. She was very keen to go up to secondary school, and not too worried about not going to the same school as any of her friends from primary school (given where we live, we knew a long time ago that this would be the case - her primary school friends all live on the other side of the school, so are in different catchment areas). Sarah also got braces - first the type called a functional appliance, which is a removable brace with large blocks in it that help correct the bite. In February, she'll be getting train-track braces (even the orthodontist calls them this), but as many of her friends have them as well, she's not really that bothered about it.




In July, when school was let out, we all went on holiday to the wilds of Scotland, my mother included (as she was visiting at the time). We have a friend who owns a cottage in the middle of nowhere (about an hour from Aberdeen) and as he lives in New York, he was happy to let us use it for a week or so. It was a lovely holiday, quiet and peaceful in the most part, with a lot sightseeing, including a visit to Balmoral Castle and a walk around Loch Muick. Other attractions included castles, beaches, birdwatching and so on. We really liked the area a lot, both despite and because of the remoteness, and will probably try to do it again in a few years' time.



The rest of the summer was filled with various types of local trips - in and around London - lots of photos back in August on the blog here (and more on Flickr) - and a visit from Geoff's brother Stuart, who lives in Australia. We also had a trip up to see Geoff's mum, while Stuart was here - we haven't been going up to see her much recently as it's a bit much for her to have all of us staying at once. But we wanted to be able to get together while Stuart was in town, which obviously doesn't happen all that often and I know their mum enjoyed having all three boys there at once (the other brother, John, lives fairly nearby to Lucy).




September brought a new school year (and to be honest, what I always think of as being a new year, full stop - after so many years of first being in school and then having kids in school, I imagine it will always feel this way!) with Sarah off to Rayne's Park High School (she is in Year 7, out of 13) and Olivia and Alex back to Green Lane - Olivia in Year 5 and Alex in Year 2. Here's the annual first day of school photo, though technically, they didn't all start on the same day as Sarah started on a Friday (Year 7 orientation) and the others not until the following Tuesday. She has settled in very well, and is lucky in that the school is very close to us - about 15-20 minutes walk (unless you are 3 girls walking home from school together and then it can take an hour, I think). And of course, she has made new friends readily, including one who actually lives in our road (different primary school, but they did know each other a bit from Guides before), which is great. Alex and Olivia have also settled in well and are enjoying school, but of course it's not so big a change for them.



The autumn also brought a slew of birthdays - Sarah was 12 in September, Olivia 10 in October. Geoff and I also have autumn birthdays, but as we both had "0" on the end last year, this year was fairly unremarkable. Olivia had her ears pierced for her birthday, which she was desperate for, ever since Sarah had hers done. Yeah, there's a lot of competition there, though they are getting on a bit better than they used to - perhaps helped in some part by Sarah never being home anymore, but off at a friend's house, etc!

One other family change in the autumn was that we got new gerbils - our other gerbils all died over the past few months, so the time had come to get some new ones. We were so used to our other gerbils being used to us, it's funny to see how skittish these new ones are - very jumpy still. Another few weeks and I'm sure they'll be much more settled in and less likely to run for cover every time someone in the room moves...

And that's really pretty much our year, I think. Looking back at this round up, it seems fairly busy, but it's also been a lot of fun, and had some interesting changes. We hope your year has treated you as well and wish you all the best for a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2010.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Meet the family....




Well, we now have some new gerbils. After the gerbil fiasco a few months back, we knew we'd have to wait until our last gerbil died before being able to have any new ones, and after a day or two of looking really rough, Billy died yesterday morning. So, luckily the pet shop had some in stock - the kids wanted girl gerbils this time (largely because Olivia wanted to call one Millie), and they happened to have 3 - so we reserved them and went today to collect them. When we got there, it happened they had four females, litter-mates, and we had such a tough time deciding which would be the unlucky (or perhaps lucky!) one left behind that... well, you can work it out for yourself, I'll bet.

So, up above, we have Charlie, who is a brownish colour. Below is Mimi, who is a sort of tannish grey, with a slightly darker tail. (I think that Mimi is also in the picture above, but it's hard to tell.)



And then there's Millie (of course) who is a pale gingery colour,



and last but not least, we have Bianca, who is an albino (red eyes and all) - named after the mouse from the Rescuers.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

What this says about us...



...is perhaps better not to know! I didn't ask what his teacher thought - but then again, she's given it a gold star, so perhaps she's a woman after my own heart...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Poetry Festival

We've spent a lot (too much!) time in the past few weekends taking the kids to some festivals - the USpeak Festival in Kingston, which had an emphasis on public speaking and the Mount Arts Festival, which emphasised poetry. Both of the kids were in groups which competed in the choral speaking sections. Olivia also did some solo stuff at the USpeak Festival, but I didn't video any of that. These clips are from this weekend - the Arts Festival at the Mount (a local school). Alex's class won first place in their section both times (they actually performed better than this during the adjudication, but this was the showcase in the evening and they were tired by then...). Olivia's group picked up bronze in both festivals - the kids weren't competing directly as they are in different age groups.

video

Alex's class did a piece called The Wedding Procession - this is the first half.


video

And here is the second half. He's the one who says "Here come the workmates."


video

Sky in the Pie by Roger McGough. Olivia is the tall one!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

The gerbils that almost came to stay...



Well, here is a photo of Alex and Olivia with Charlie and unnamed grey gerbil, who almost came to live with us today. As you can see, they got as far as the house. A while back, one of our gerbils (Gerry) died, and earlier this week, we lost a second, Ozzie. Which just left Billy, who seemed a bit lonely and wandered around searching for his mates (Ozzie in particular as they were always pretty close). So, we decided, time for new gerbils. The pet shop does a gerbil introduction service, where you bring your old gerbil and they put him in with some new ones in a box for 10 minutes or so to see if they fight. We did, they didn't. Fine, gerbils bought, brought home, installed in gerbilarium and then... Billy went very territorial and violent, fought with the other two including quite a nasty bite on unnamed grey gerbil's tail. Sigh. Back to the pet shop with the new gerbils. Oh well! So now, Billy will have to live on his own until he dies - and then we'll probably get two new ones - Olivia wants female gerbils, so that we can give them girly names (yes, the priorities of a 10YO are somewhat different than those of a grownup).

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Birthday!



Here is Olivia with two friends posing for a photo at Chessington (theme park), which is where she went for a birthday treat yesterday. It was a great day - a tiny bit of rain kept a lots of the potential crowds away, so we barely had to queue for anything. Fun was had by all, but luckily, the large orange banana was won by a friend, not by Olivia, so it doesn't have to come live in my house!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Love/hate relationship...



Olivia loves me, for letting her have her ears pierced for her birthday (10 next Saturday - we did it early due to scheduling issues...). Sarah hates me, because I let Olivia have her ears pierced for her 10th birthday (Sarah was 11 - oh, the injustice of it all!). Oh well, can't please all the people all of the time!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Kitchen windowsill



Haven't written much lately, I know, though there are birthdays and whatnot coming up, so there will be more. But I was admiring my windowsill earlier today and thought I'd share it - didn't realise until after taking the photo that the line of washing in the background is a bit distracting - I didn't even notice it until I downloaded the photo from the camera...

Anyway, the windowsill changes several times throughout the year, not just at the annual New Year's turnover, so at the moment it's quite autumnal, with oranges and greens and browns. The latest addition, besides the Happy Hallowe'en tea light holder (there are some pumpkin candle holders which are with the Hallowe'en decorations which I will get out probably tomorrow; this one is new this year, so wasn't put away with the other seasonal stuff) is a bottle which Olivia decoupaged for me. The bottle was from some fancy lemonade and I loved the label and the stopper, so saved the bottle "in case I needed it for something". When Olivia bought her decoupage kit at the Knit & Stitch Show, she quickly ran out of objects to cover in paper, so I brought this out - I thought it would look really nice with the paper she had which was covered in orange slices, and I was right. We also both thought that the label would show through, in a good way, and we were also right about that.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Decoupage Cat



Olivia and I went to the Knit & Stitch Show yesterday (there are lots of other art and craft suppliers vending there as well) and she bought a decoupage kit - a papier mache cat, some glue, a brush, three sheets of decoupage paper. She's very good at these sorts of crafts - a patient worked - and here's her finished cat. There is lots of paper & glue left, so I see more decoupage in our future - which is fine. A good way to recycle!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Book Character Day



We went for the little-effort approach this year - Alex was originally going to go as Spiderman (along with about half the younger boys in school, I'd guess) but I had a quick think about what was in the dressing up box and suggsted Darth Vader instead - they were books first, after all. Olivia is a pirate - to be specific, The Dread Pirate Fleur, from a book she was reading earlier this year. Fairly low effort, as I said...

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Painter's Progress



Progress in the bedroom - I think it's going to look very good, when it's done. Today I am going to do the skirting board on this wall (no change, still white, just needs touching up as it's not been painted in ages) and then this wall will be done - hoorah! The cupboard will have the mauve doors painted, but we think in one of the brown tones, rather than the aqua. Anyway, it will be a while before we get to that, as I am going to move around the room the other way and save that wall for last - so next, it will be the wall behind the bunkbeds - but not until next week, as we have a busy weekend. Might get Geoff to help me move the bunks on Sunday, though!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Painting



We have finally got around to starting work on the girls' room - something which was promised when they first switched rooms with Alex, back in the spring (or whenever it was). The delay has been mostly because of thinking we'd have to strip the paper in their room and re-paper, which task I found a bit daunting. Finally, we decided to try to go ahead and just paint over what was there - we are going to use a strip of wallpaper as a border/motif around the wall about halfway up - this should cover the worst of the damage from previous borders, and hopefully look ok.

Here's Olivia putting the first coat of paint on, yesterday evening. I did a second coat today and that looks like it will be enough to cover the orange. Tomorrow afternoon I will try to get the skirting board repainted (white) and maybe even get the border on, on this wall. Once this wall is done, we can put the furniture back and move on to the next wall. Thank goodness there are only 4 walls! Of course, once the walls are done, it's on to curtains - they are going to be tab-top, though, not gathered, which will make things a lot easier...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Chocolate Fountain



We borrowed this from a friend - it takes rather a lot of melted chocolate to make it work, but Sarah and her friends who are sleeping over for her birthday enjoyed it (as did the rest of the family) - it was quite a big nuisance to clean, so I don't think we'll be buying one of our own any time soon!



My chocolate boy enjoyed himself. No one was sick, though I think we stopped just in time!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

311 steps!



Alex is studying the Great Fire of London in school this term, and despite having lived in London for a long time, none of us, Geoff and I included, have ever been to see the monument to the fire. A friend of mine was there recently and commented favourably on the views, and as it was a nice day, we decided to go up to town and have a look, then wander along to the Museum of London (where we have all been many times, except Geoff) and refresh our memories about the section there on the Great Fire.

Geoff and I particularly liked one line in the inscription on the monument (now removed) which blamed the fire on the Catholics. As any Year 2 child should be able to tell you, the fire started in a bakery in Pudding Lane...



Here's a view from the top - looking towards the building commonly known as the Gherkin. More photos from the day and more views from the top are over here in my flickr album...

Monday, September 07, 2009

First day for all...



The traditional first day photo - first year with two different uniforms!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Diggers ahoy



Today, Alex and I had a trip to Diggerland, while the girls were off at the Guiding Centennary Launch Party (Sarah camping for the weekend, Olivia down for the day) with hundreds of other Guides, Brownies & Rainbows. Thank goodness there was nice weather for them! And for us, of course. We had great fun at Diggerland, which is a theme park based around diggers. They had some rides made from diggers, but more to the point, the chance to dig with actual diggers and ride in them. Of great appeal to small boys, clearly, though I had fun, too - more than I expected.

Loads more photos and a couple of videos over here on flickr...

Friday, September 04, 2009

Big School



It may seem a little strange to start school on a Friday, but it's only the Year 7s who were back today at Sarah's new school. They had a talk and stuff in the morning - sorted out the administrative stuff - got lockers, registered their thumbprints for the cashless payment system, etc - and went to a few classes after lunch. Monday, it all starts for real, with all the bigger kids. Strange that kids who seemed so big recently at their primary schools now seem quite small again with all the Year 10 and 11 kids (who are as big as grownups)...

R.I.P. Gerry the Gerbil



Well, we knew the time would come when one of the gerbils died, and that time was today (or rather, I think it was a day or two ago, as I haven't noticed him so much recently). Not sure what was wrong with him - he's always been a bit mad, liked to chew on the bars of the cage - perhaps it was eating the paint off the cage bars? - but the kids took it quite well. Gerry was nominally Sarah's gerbil in that she chose him and named him, but really, they all belong to all of them so they are all a little sad. They did agree unanimously that they didn't want to get a new one to replace him, so we are now a 2 gerbil household. He wasn't quite two yet, so he was a little young to die, but 2-3 years is fairly common for most rodents, so it's not a huge surprise. Farewell little Gerry; it was fun!