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