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Happy New Year!

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I’ve all but abandoned my LiveJournal, as the constant Impending Doom from changes of ownership there scared off many, and Facebook took the rest. Facebook’s format appealed to me, as well, especially in the Dude’s baby years.

2013 was a good year for us. For a start, I decided we needed to get back into traveling. On New Years Day I booked us a trip for a week to Fuerteventura, in the Canary Islands. The lack of sun here in the UK really kills me, and after asking around a bit, the Canaries seemed to be our best option for guaranteed sun and relative warmth in the winter. I hired a cottage with its own pool (supposedly heated, I don’t actually think it was, but we enjoyed it all the same) and a car for us to run around the island in. It’s much less busy than the other local islands, and since it was February when we took the trip, it was virtually deserted. I’ll be booking a similar trip this year, for the Feb school break again, but possibly to Gran Canaria as the airfares seem better to there.

As for other holidays, the Dude and I met up with my father, his partner, and her brother and sister in law in Paris. They’d rented a spacious apartment there and it felt truly grand. It was my best trip to Paris so far- most locals were very kind and some actually smiled as we walked down the street. Unheard of on previous trips! The charm of having a small child along! We spent our days at Luxembourg Gardens, and the playground there. One day we hired a boat and let him push it around the fountain with a stick. I also fit in some foodie sights I’d wanted to visit, including a chocolatier I’d read about online.

Our next family holiday was Portugal in August. We stayed at a room and half-board hotel. We had no need for a car (which was good- I’d read too many horror stories of unscrupulous car hire firms claiming damages afterwards) and there was a daily boat trip to the local beach. As my main goal was to get some warmth, sun and swimming in, I was quite happy. There was a kids club which the dude enjoyed, but only for short periods as he didn’t always get on with some of the more boisterous other children. The schedule suited me fine, though. I just don’t have the energy he does so it’s good to have the option to let him run around with other children.

I’d meant to try to get him to the US as it’s been too long since he’s been there, but now that we’re restricted to school holiday times, the cost is insane. I booked myself a flight over to visit family and friends in September, while cookieman would still have a quiet period before students arrived. It did mean I missed the first few weeks of school for him, but I was there for all of the prep and I don’t feel I could have done anything differently for that time period.

As for myself, this year I decided to do something different and volunteered to staff music festivals with Oxfam. I decided to try for Glastonbury and I was accepted, so camping purchases commenced. They have their own camping field for stewards, which is excellent because they feature hot showers, decent toilets, phone charging facilities, and a marquee tent with a bar and eating area. I’m fairly certain I couldn’t attend as a punter now, I’m just too old to try to go almost a week with no shower under those circumstances.

Anyway, I was able to see most acts I wanted to see, including the Rolling Stones. I discovered an act, the Correspondents, who were just fabulous. Turns out they’re big on the festival circuit, and I was able to see them again at the other festival I stewarded at, Shambala. I had more fun at the second festival than the first, probably because it was a smaller group of us and people were more outgoing. I’ll definitely do it again.

Our big news this year, though, was that we purchased a house! It needs heaps of updating, though, and most of that is (hopefully) going to happen this year. The house is sound and in decent shape, but the family that was here before had owned it for 30+ years and hadn’t changed much in terms of updating the decor and fixtures. It’s a bit of an overwhelming task (it’s not just paint etc, we want to change the heating and electricity as well and obviously that needs to happen before we can do decorating work.) I guess we’ll learn as we go.

The dude finished preschool and is now in his reception year at primary school. This is still essentially preschool, however it’s a lot more structured and they have learning targets. He’s doing well with certain things (numbers, and learning in general. He picks things up quickly) but not as good with social things. I’d say more but this probably isn’t the place for it. He loves other children and he does have a few friends, so to be honest that’s just fine. And of course he has his other friends outside of school, children of my friends from the NCT and other places.

I’m still running the monthly Messy Play group for the NCT, though with the start of this school year we lost a number of the families which I get on best with. It’s understandable, though; their children have outgrown the group. We’ll only be doing this another year or so, ourselves, so hopefully we can find a few people to pick up and run the group.

I’m going to leave this for now, and edit it as things occur to me. I hope anyone reading this had a fun NYE. :)

long time no see

from iconzicons
It's been a busy year here in the cake and cookie household. You wouldn't know it from my LJ posts, though. It's not as if I'm not available on the internets, it's just that sitting and composing an LJ post (which can take me an embarrassingly long time!) is difficult with an attention-seeking toddler around. I use Facebook quite a lot because the format lends itself a bit easier to this situation.

On that note, if anyone here has a FB account and would like to be friends there, let me know. I think you can find me under cakeaccounts at gmail dot com but if not I'll share my other email. I'm on Twitter as well which I don't use as often, but I do post in fits when I'm somewhere bored with just my phone handy, so if you're there let me know.

Does anyone use Tumblr? I'm a million years behind on that but it looks like a happy medium. Any feedback on it (I have an account but literally have not used it, only looked at friends' accounts) is appreciated.

dude year in reviewCollapse )

As for my own year, it's unsurprisingly not too different from Himself. However, I did manage to achieve my Bachelor's degree, finally, in Business Studies and Economics. (How's that for burying the lead? I don't even think I ever announced it on FB...) I can walk to collect it, which I might do this coming summer.

I also made a solo trip to Denmark to visit a group of internet friends, and it was so much fun. We rented cabins and just had a good time at a seaside resort. Was September, so not much use of the sea was made, outside of a few Scandinavians who taunted each other in to having a quick dip.

We're still running a monthly playgroup for the children's charity I volunteer with, and I update their website as needed. Keeps me off the streets.

Enough of this for now. I won't make any promises as to how often I'll update here, but as I said, let me know if you're out there on other social media, and I'll find you.

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Royal wedding post- checkmate!

from iconzicons
Best banner of the royal wedding today: "Checkmate Kate, you've taken the king!"

Best response from my husband to some BBC announcer's rambling:

Announcer: "blah blah density of the crowd today etc"
Cookieman: "yeah those people do look a bit dense."

We're watching the wedding but without whatever fervor people seem to associate with "watching the royal wedding." It appears to be a very divisive issue over here. A friend explained his dislike for the royals as "those people would treat you like dog shit on your shoe if they ever met you." I'd assumed it was a dislike for the actual funding of the whole spectacle, but it seems to be a lot more than that.

Regardless, we'll be attending a tea party here on our little Close (Cul-de-sac to Americans... and French I suppose, heh) so we can meet a few neighbors. Lots of street parties are being held around the country, but we didn't quite prepare enough in advance to do that. It was also just a couple of us who were talking about it at all- I don't think we could have organised everyone to take part in a proper street party, but who knows, maybe we could have. I'm looking forward to it, though, as I've just recently met the woman who is having it, and she's very nice and funny. I've never really lived anywhere where I knew my neighbors, beyond my old neighborhood in DC, so it's sort of nice to experience that again.

home alone

from iconzicons
yeah well, for an hour and a half or so. The boys are out at a Daddy playgroup, so I'm bumping around the house by myself for a bit.

organizing old photos, zzzCollapse )

baking ideasCollapse )

and in dude newsCollapse )

eh that was a bit tl;dr. sorry. ooh and I should try to do another photo post soon.

quick question for you cooky types

from iconzicons
... with extra credit for those of you from the UK.

I've posted about this awesome recipe before. On my first attempt I did very well with it (which leads me to assume it's a simple recipe, and not that I have the omgmagic touch.) I did use cheddar, just the regular stuff you get at the store.

With this baking competition coming up, I'm considering doing them as a simple entry for the savoury section. They are scoring on use of local and/or organic ingredients though, so I'm considering my local cheese options. The best I can come up with are Red Leicester (a mild cheese with a texture similar to cheddar) and Stilton (a soft blue cheese, essentially.) I'm not a fan of Stilton but it would be a very Local option.

My question is: would a blue cheese be really overwhelming in this sort of recipe? And/or, would a soft cheese like that even be something you could replace a cheddar with? Yes, I could just whip up a batch and see how they are, but to be honest, neither of us would want to be stuck with a pile of Stilton puffs.

The bonus round for UK folks: any other cheeses you would recommend?

Rules are here if you're so inclined to look at them.

Sourdough bread workshop

from iconzicons
A perk of cookieman's job at the Uni is that he receives emails informing him of upcoming cultural events, exhibitions, and student projects. While the first two can be hit or miss (though always welcome imo- this town is hardly a smorgasbord of intellectual stimulation), the student projects can be quirky and often have the added element of a chance at participation. This week there was a particularly good one: an art project which involved baking. How tailor-made for me is that!

The project has grown a live culture, and they want to see how far from Loughborough they can spread this little bit of culture. They've experimented with making some beer-type substances with it, but sourdough bread is the main use.

So, they offered free courses in sourdough bread making this week, and sent home little pots of the culture (one rye and one regular white-wheat) for people to make bread at home. Ideally, we will then continue to feed the culture at home, and find a way to pass it along to people who live further away from L'boro. For my part, I'm hoping to palm some off on the in-laws in Germany, as they like to make bread at home. Or maybe the youngest brother-in-law. He's usually up for this sort of randomness. I'll give it some thought.

I hope they're successful. I think they're awfully optimistic about the involvement of the people who opted to take the course. They ran several on the day, and mine consisted of just myself and another lady who worked at the Uni. She was mostly there for the same reason I was- to learn a bit more about sourdough. The group after us was substantially larger (during our time slot it was bucketing rain out so I've no doubt people decided to blow off the course because of it because hey, it was free, no loss. They said they'd had 5 people no-show) and mostly student age.

It reminds me a little of a project Jamie Oliver attempted here in the UK. He visited a town 'up north' (read: stereotype of them all being unable to cook proper food because they're too busy cursing at one another and living in their own filth or something) (okay maybe not but that's really the impression he gave me during the series. I'm not a fan of his. Is it obvious?) The idea was an interesting one. He wanted to take a few people who didn't cook much, if at all, teach them a few things, then send them out into the wild to teach six of their non-cooking friends, with the hope the idea would snowball from there, and all of the savages up there would become smug bastards top chefs with TV shows of their own.

However, it didn't work that way. It petered out quickly. Maybe a handful of his original class (of quite a good number of people I might add) continued to cook at all, and of course only a few of those bothered to share this newfound knowledge.

My point being, I think these students are going to need to teach a whole boatload more people how to make sourdough bread with their culture if they want to see any real results. I have visions of me and maybe one other baking geek making it to their reunion party in a few months. I hope I'm wrong, though!

And I hope I'm able to find another person or two to palm some culture off on.

As for the bread-making itself, well, I've got my first rye experiment happening as we speak. I didn't make rye in the class so I am unsure about the texture of what I've got rising in there at the moment, but we'll see. Certainly the sponge I grew last night worked well, so I've got a nice starter for my next batch, should this one not be amazing. If I manage to get a good batch or two, I might post about it in case anyone is interested. or even if you aren't interested, really.

back in the UK

from iconzicons
We made it, safe, sound, and with no cancellations or delays. We were all fairly convince on Sunday night that the closure of Heathrow (which was announced after I posted) would continue on for at least a day, but it did not. thankfully.

Our plane was absolutely packed. When we checked in online, we still had our bulkhead baby seats (as mentioned in my previous post- VERY nice seats to have!) When we arrived at our gate, however, there was a delay because our seats had changed. I admit, I was considering freaking out, but decided to be calm and see what the new seats were like. And, lo, but they were also bulkhead seats... just not in a cabin I'd ever bothered looking in: economy "plus". In terms of an upgrade, it wasn't much at all (exact same food as economy, but with real glasses for your drinks! woo! Okay, and headphones made of awesome which did a great job of canceling out more than 50% of background noise. Legroom was great, too, but I can't really evaluate that as we were in bulkhead seats) but it was fantastic for us in the sense that it was free. If I'd paid 200 bucks+ more I'm not sure I'd think it was worth it, but then I'm very cheap when it comes to flying. (hey, the cheaper you are, the more flights you can take. It's a good travel motto.)

The dude slept for a good chunk of the flight. He was a bit disturbed for a while so I alternated between having him sleep on me, and having him sleep a bit in the baby seat. Cookieman can actually sleep reasonably well on flights, so I tried not to bother him with it until closer to the end of the flight. I CAN sleep, but not well, and so I probably had an hour total that flight.

The train ride(s) home were uneventful, but the dude was OVER the whole being good thing, and spent a lot of the final stretch being cranky and crying.

It's good to be home, but I did feel a bit robbed after I'd gotten used to the idea that we might be in the US for another week. :D We never did get to visit cheese4me and jetboo, a first in our many trips to the US. We just need to re-evaluate our game plan in terms of traveling with the dude. I'm thinking we'll need to rent a car next time.

(hey, which brings to mind a question I had- what is the insurance generally like when renting a car? I have rented a car in the US before, but I didn't get the insurance because I had my own coverage there. Our policy won't cover us there, so I would need to take their overpriced option they offer. I assume. If there's another way, I'm all ears. In the meantime, though, I'd just like to know the average per day cost of it.. they don't mention it on the websites I've checked.)

We DID, however, have a great week with xeven, her husband, and their son. He is younger than the dude, but very strong, and a good crawler, so they spent the week charging after one another. adorable. I might do some pics in a protected post later.

I also met up with a girlfriend of mine from grade school/ jr high. She looked exactly the same. Well, you know what I mean. Just how I felt she would look. It was nice to catch up with her. She's doing just what she said she would do when we were young: creating artificial limbs. Random, no? Her younger brother has sickle cell anemia, though, and she always wanted to do something that would be beneficial to others..

My friend R was also able to make time in his insanely busy schedule (literally- his son was graduating from the Marine academy so he was going out of town the next day) to visit us and tell us some crazy stories from Iraq. He served there twice, one year each, as a commander in charge of something I'll keep vague because you never know who is reading these things. He brought photos which were pretty amazing. Hopefully he'll be visiting us here next summer.

That's enough for now. The weather here in the UK is actually lovely, quite warm in fact, so we've set up the dude's pool in the back garden. He's currently having a nap after having worn himself out at Messy Play this morning, but I'm sure he'll be raring to go soon enough.

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volcano

from iconzicons
We're winding up our US visit. Supposedly, we're leaving tomorrow evening. However, it seems that more volcanic ash is in UK airspace, and all airports in the northern part of the country are closed. The way it's drifting could well close London airports by.. tomorrow evening.

Not terrible, I suppose, because at least we've got family/friends here. It's not great for cookieman's work, of course. We'd really like to make our planned flight, though, because we've scored the bulkhead/ baby bassinet seats for it, and if we're bumped we're far more likely to end up with a dude on our laps the entire flight.

but wait, I haven't gotten to the fun bit!

If our flight tomorrow is canceled, that would leave us departing on Tuesday at the very soonest (and unlikely, as we all have learned from the previous ash experience.) Tuesday also happens to be the day the British Airways flight crew have decided to strike again! The current plan is that they will be attempting to continue at half capacity. We'll see how that goes.

This is also forgetting that we have yet another potential paperwork problem for the dude, but I'll write more about that later.

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nerrrd

from iconzicons
I have a confession.

Until this weekend, I hadn't seen the last two Harry Potter movies.

This is probably a surprise to several of you, but there you are. It wasn't from lack of interest; when the movies came to the theatres, I was keen to go. However, our local theatre isn't fantastic (I did brave it to see the final PotC, of course, but not since then) and I lack friends to accompany me. I'm not adverse to seeing something on my own, but those are my main excuses.

The other is that we've lacked a DVD player at home for a very long time, so I almost never see movies unless they're on TV. There's a long explanation for this (I think cookieman is waiting for the Ideal DVD player, whereas I'd be happy to buy whatever as long as I could watch something.) We have a media PC next to the TV to record TV programs etc, so we aren't completely in the dark ages, but for whatever reason we lack the DVD player.

So, anyway, when GoF and OoTP came on TV this weekend, I jumped at the chance to finally see them. And they were great! I was feeling nerdy enough to see what other people thought of them, but when I looked up the release date of OoTP and trawled through a few of your LJ archives *stalk* I ran into the small problem that that release date coincided with the release of the final HP book. (probably another reason I didn't feel badly about not seeing the movie, tbh, as I did always get the books on their dates of release.)

I then checked Cleolinda's 15 Minute Movies, and even SHE didn't do one on OoTP. Why the hate? Or was it just ambivalence? I should probably check her actual LJ; no doubt she'll have some kind of commentary for it.

It does feel weird to be mentally squeeing over something 3 years+ after everyone else has already been there and done that, though. I might have to re-read the books, now.

spring points d'bullet

from iconzicons
* The weather has been lovely lately. I've been slowly introducing the dude to the Great Outdoors, meaning the area outside his stroller. He's become accustomed to being conveyed in his litter above and around all things wild, so being plopped into a field of grass is a big new experience for him. It's so adorable to see him there, with his hands held gingerly out to his sides, as if he's just been placed in the middle of a freshly painted floor. When he does decide to move, it's with haste, as fast as he can crawl towards the nearest paved surface, and away from the Nature. He's getting a bit better with it, but still mostly sticks with sorting rocks he finds and pulling at nearby bushes. Oh, and crawling in and out the front door. repeatedly. There's a concrete step there, as well as the door itself to negotiate, so of course he loves that.

* I received my first official piece of mum jewelry today, a little dude fingerprint in a silver heart pendant. I couldn't resist getting one, and the price wasn't bad at all. It turned out really well.

* I've also signed up as a seller in the upcoming Nearly New Sale (the secondhand childrens clothing/ toy sales I've mentioned before.) I'll also be volunteering at the sale, and I'm sure we'll be buying stuff again, but we've definitely got to make room by selling some of the old stuff.

* The dude's tongue is healing with astonishing speed. I actually went to take a photo of it the day after, and even then it was significantly improved over the day before.

* In related news, my own tongue has finally started to get a bit of feeling/taste back to it after my wisdom tooth extraction. It still feels like I've just had Novocain, though, and talking feels very weird.

* Most of our prenatal group got together today. It's amazing how big all the babies have gotten!