Monday, January 19, 2009

Camping Theme Birthday Party

The "camping" party for my daughter's 10th birthday was loads of fun. My neighbour and friend, Helen, joined me and was a great help to me during the party.

Helen made a wonderful arrangement of the ingredients for the oven made 'smores (click on any of the images for a slightly larger view):
Ingredients for 'smores
The recipe is simple. Place graham wafers on a cookie tray, sprinkle with chocolate chips, add a large marshmallow,...
Making 'smores
Making 'smores
Making 'smores
...and bake at 350F for about 8 minutes. When you pull them out, the marshmallows will be big and puffy. Top with another graham wafer, squish down, and enjoy. Pretty fun, and a nice gooey sweet treat:
Helen brought over some battery-powered candles, and with some red tissue, we created a campfire...
Campfire in the living room
...and played campfire games, with flashlights and glow bracelets. (Don't buy the dollar store ones if you can find better quality ones - the clasps on many of ours broke, and two of the kids ended up with glowing hands when their tube broke also! Helen commented that her glow bracelets from Michaels never had those problems.)

The cake looked fabulous when the candles were lit (even if I have to say so myself):
Campfire cake when lit
From the volume level at the party (wow, it was loud!) I think it's fair to assume that everyone had fun. I certainly did.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Campfire Cake

This year we decided on a "camping" theme for my daughter's 10th birthday. The reasoning was that, at least in previous years, the Christmas tree usually keeps relatively fresh into early February, so we have taken down the Christmas decorations, and put up birthday decorations, transforming it into a "birthday tree".

Two years ago, I decorated it with blue & pink balloons, and it served as a birthday tree for my daughter's birthday in January and my son's in early February. Last year, she had a fairy party, so we decorated it with butterflies and fairies and such.

So this year, since we cut that monster 15' tree, I was sure it would be a great backdrop for a wilderness/camping theme. I didn't know that by now it would look dry and miserable, and that the branches would touch the ground, so that this week I couldn't even climb under to water it one last time. Oh well, it is now decorated with butterflies and birds, for our indoor campground. We also dug out the kids' old play tent, to add to the campground feel.

My sister Rose was very inspired by the theme, and sent me a great recipe for a campfire cake, based on a brownie cake, with Twix bars stacked on it, with small white marshmallows and red and orange M&Ms for the coals, and red cellophane for flame, or something like that. So I have created my own variation on this idea.

In my Google searches for "campfire cake", I found someone who had melted down red & orange candies, to create thin sheets, which were then broken into jagged shards, to look like flames shooting out of the center of the cake. I looked for red & orange candies, and didn't find much, except the red cinnamon hearts which are coming out for Valentines. So I instead used some old candy canes, and picked the ones with significant red or yellow in them. I laid them together on a sheet of wax paper, on a cookie sheet, and melted them at approx 350F. They needed a bit of help, I used a bamboo skewer to mix them around a bit. The smell of the peppermint was wonderful.

After cooling them and refrigerating them, they were brittle enough to break into shards. A bit too brittle at the start, but became more manageable after being out of the fridge for a bit. So here is the initial result (I found that the big pieces ended up being too big, so later broke those into smaller shards):

The base of the cake was a devil's food cake mix (Betty Crocker, I think). My only round pans were a 9" and 10" springform, so that's what I used. The frosting was a prepared, whipped chocolate one (Duncan Hines, I believe). Here is the basic frosted 2 layer cake:

Then I added the shards of the peppermint:

...Then some chocolate wafers:

...Then the coals... In this case, some raspberry flavoured candies (same as jelly beans, but round shape instead of bean shaped):

Finally, I added 10 wavy candles (I was pleased to stumble across those at the dollar store today, and knew immediately that they would work, being taller than the usual birthday candles, and the wavy shape being suggestive of flames or smoke rising from the campfire):

I'm pretty pleased with the result. I haven't thought about how or whether I'll even try to incorporate her name into the cake. I think the 10 candles may be enough. We'll see. The party is tomorrow night.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Stick Bugs

I was very happy when my sister, Rose, bought me two stick bugs for my birthday in October, so these first few photos of them on my blog are long overdue.

They have already grown to probably twice their original length, in these past couple of months, and their colours have become much darker. I noticed a while back, a skin molt in the bottom of the cage. But then the other night, I discovered this spooky looking skin molt hanging from the top of the cage. I was able to snap a few photos of it, before it fell.

Molted skin from a stick bug
My sister bought me a male and female. The males are not really necessary for reproduction, since the females can reproduce asexually if no males are around, but then I understand that then the offspring are pretty much genetic copies of the mother, so sexual reproduction provides greater genetic variety in the offspring.

The eggs will drop to the bottom of the cage, and if kept moist (neither too wet nor too dry), they will hatch into tiny stick bugs. My dear sister thoughtfully also brought me two eggs so I would be able to recognize them when they come. So I'm ready and waiting, and watching the bottom of the cage (I have them in a reptile terrarium, with glass doors which open at the front, and a mesh top for good air circulation).

When the stick bugs are at rest (which seems to be all the time!), they extend their two front legs directly in front of themselves, and are very twiglike, as in this photo:
They are very gentle, and although a bit tickly at first, very easy to handle. When you coax them onto your hand, they may walk a bit, or more often will just position themselves, motionless, until you coax them to move again. They eat only leaves from blackberries (or other brambles), which I fortunately have more than enough fresh supply encroaching on my yard from many sides. Even at that, I can hardly see the small amounts chewed at the edges of the leaves. So even if these were in the garden, they would have minimal impact.
Stick bugs on hand
Please feel free to click any of the photos for a closer view.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Snowed In

If I was already saying "Enough Snow Already!" on Boxing Day (Dec 26), then it's really ENOUGH snow already now, after a few more dumps of the white stuff. It was not so bad when we were on holiday, and besides my husband was around, willing to venture out in his 4WD Jeep.

But then on Monday, school started. The city snowplow finally came on Monday to plow the 3 blocks which are the only access to the school. Even then, everywhere, the street was down to a single lane, with huge piles of snow on each side, making it next to impossible for cars to pass each other. Only the daring or 4WD drivers would pull aside into snowy driveways. Roadside parking was next to eliminated, and there were a number of abandoned cars lining the road, unable to make it back to the safety of their own driveways. And since there is only one way in & out of the school, the traffic problems in the morning have been disastrous. Good thing it's only 2 blocks up the hill, so we can walk. But even the walking has been treacherous. The neighbourhood had not kept up with clearing sidewalks, so there is a buildup about 1 foot deep in most places. To either side of the sidewalk, it is knee deep or worse, so a misplaced step can easily result in a boot-full of snow.

Then two nights ago, it started raining. Yesterday, the street, still slippery with compacted snow, had two rivers flowing down the two tire tracks. No sign of any available storm drains to accept the water, other than the one my hard-working neighbour across the street, Carissa, managed to shovel clear in front of her house.

It seemed as if the City had just abandoned us down here. The snowplow / salt truck had not been down since about Christmas. We set our our garbage cans twice, once before Christmas and then again after Christmas, and no sign of any attempt to pick it up. So it was 3 weeks today since we had a pick up. That's a long time, when you are used to pick up every week.

It is still raining now, and it would be good if it continued long enough to actually clear the snow, at least in that single lane in the centre of the street. In the meantime, I cancelled all lessons and appointments for this week. I started to feel a bit trapped, since my husband was entertaining clients last night and tonight, so coming home too late to count on him. But I am for sure the lucky one, since I can work from home, can ask him to pick up groceries if necessary, and can still walk the kids to school.

We also haven't had any problems with the house. A few friends have already started having floods in the basement, and leaks in their ceiling. My dear friend Andrea is in a basement suite, and not only had leaking from her ceiling (apparently the water is making its way down from the roof, travelling down the wall and along one floor joist, then into her ceiling), but her side fence/gate was broken by the weight of snow sliding off the roof, and piled high with snow behind, so she is unable to get out, other than into the back yard. That would be scary.

Nobody I talk with (some older than me, so would remember more winters) can remember so much snow in Vancouver and persisting for so long. There were a few highlights to this otherwise dreary season, though. One was hearing the sound of the garbage truck, finally making his way down our street today. When I saw him, I ran onto the porch to scream out "Thank you" and wave. What a welcome sight, after 3 weeks! (And even then, the recycling truck only ventured as far as our house, and didn't venture down to the 2 houses down the street from us, or into the still-icy cul-de-sac across from us. So I was glad he at least made it this far.)

The other was a magical moment, on the Saturday night before the kids had to head back to school. The neighbours below us had actually shovelled clear the road, but then there was about 6" to 12" of new snow deposited on top since then, so my husband was out shovelling our walkway (that was a great sight in itself!), while the kids slid in their toboggans down the street (which is quite steep, and has only two more houses, then ends in a dead-end against a greenbelt). I had been on a work-related phone call for more than an hour, and had come to realize that the house had gone very quiet. By the time I was done, it was past 9:30PM, and I looked out the living room window, to see the kids sliding happily, the snow falling, and my husband playing with them and shovelling the walk. I picked up the karaoke microphone, and selected a few Christmas favourites, "O Holy Night" (in the "style of Celine Dion", and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (in the "style of Tony Bennett"), and sang out joyfully, while watching my little family playing in the fresh white snow under the light of the streetlight. That was a pretty special moment.

But for now, I wish for the snow to wash away, and give us a "normal" winter, just the usual rain and more rain. I have a feeling, though, that there are a few more months of winter left, and we may not get off that easy.
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