The Big Purple Party

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Hello friends.

 It's been far too long since I posted here, and I fully intend to get back into the swing of regular blogging again. I have so many things I want to get on here but I didn't want to post them without writing this post first. But I kept putting off writing it. You see, despite the mostly celebratory nature of the party I'm writing about, it was tinged with a large amount of heartache, and I suppose I just didn't feel like I could get the words right for the post. Maybe in some sort of way there was even a hint of denial there. A sort of unwillingness to put things down into print as it would mean accepting the reality of the situation. Or maybe it's just because things have just been so busy. Who knows.

Anyway, let's get to the point.

The Big Purple Party was for my husband's sister, who turned 50 last month. She had been super organised and had booked the location and the caterers to provide a barbecue before Christmas, and had asked us if I would bake a cake and if we would provide some musical entertainment. We also took charge of the decorations and of making a memories scrapbook.

So far, all so celebratory.

About 6 weeks before the party was due to take place, at the very end of February, my husband received a phone call from his sister. She told him that she had just been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. This was such a shock for us all as we had no idea she had been experiencing any symptoms at all, albeit very vague ones. But she had been aware that something wasn't quite right since around November time, I think. Further tests revealed that the tumour was of such a size that it wouldn't be operable, as well as the discovery of a secondary. Treatment options were discussed and it was agreed with her medical team that she could hold off starting chemotherapy for a couple more weeks so that she would be well enough to attend her party.

My sister in law isn't married, and has no children of her own, but is very close to our boys, especially to Calum (15) who she took to dog agility with her and her dogs every week. He has accompanied her on numerous hill walks, and sometimes David (12) would tag along on these too. Latterly she had been taking David to dog agility too to help with her younger dog. We wanted to be sure that from the very beginning the boys knew more than just that their Auntie was 'unwell'. The older boys know that she has cancer and that it isn't curable. Even 8 year old Ally seems to have some sort of understanding of this. I have no idea how much little Fraser is able to understand of what is going on.

So with regards to the birthday party we were even more determined to make it a really special one, so that we could show Auntie Anna how much she really means to everybody.

The Prep Work

One of the first things we organised for the party was a sweetie buffet. Everything for this was from the Poundshop. Even those lovely crystal looking dishes! I bought all this a few days before the party and everybody was under strict instructions not to sample anything. Oh, the temptation!

Choosing the theme and colour scheme for the party was easy. Everybody who knows my sister in law knows of her huge love of all things purple. So much so that she will almost always be wearing something purple.

My brief for the cake was simply that it had to be big enough to feed between 50 and 80 people. Since it had to be so big I decided against making the cake free from and instead made up a big batch of gluten and dairy free cupcakes for those with allergies. I planned to stack them up on a 5 tier cake stand next to the main cake.

The cupcakes were baked in purple foil cases, topped with a swirl of purple icing and finished with a wee sprinkle of edible purpler glitter. Too much purple? Not for Auntie Anna!

I baked all the cupcakes and the three tiers of the cake two days before the party so that on the day before the party I could focus my attention on the decor. Decorating the cupcakes was simple enough, but decorating a three tier cake was a little more daunting!

I made a HUGE quantity of butter icing and set about construction. Since I was so scared of the cake collapsing, having seen so many spectacular sinking cakes on tv baking shows, I made sure to put plenty of dowelling rods in the bottom and middle cakes.

Getting that bottom cake covered with fondant icing was a relief as I hadn't ever added fondant icing to a cake of that size before and was convinced the icing would tear when I lifted up such a big amount!

I wanted the cake to be fairly simple as Anna isn't a fancy, fussy type. Originally I planned to put ribbon round the bottom of each layer but it didn't sit quite right and looked a bit scruffy, so I chose to put some balls all the way round the bottom of each tier instead.

The lighting in this photo isn't great as it was late at night when I finished the decorating, but you can just about make out that each tier is a different shade of purple.

The icing isn't exactly professionally smooth, but I was incredibly pleased with how it turned out.

 Once I tucked it away in it's box for the night I was plagued with doubts as to whether I should have put all three tiers together the night before just in case it collapsed over night. As each half hour of the evening progressed and it was still standing tall every time I peeked in the box, I relaxed a little bit more.

But our work for the evening wasn't finished there.

I say 'our' because although the cake was my work, the boys all helped with other parts of the party prep. 

Calum helped me stick old photos of Auntie Anna in a scrapbook that we planned to have lying out at the party.

We also made up a postbox for people to post their favourite or funniest stories of Anna into. After the party she could then stick them into the back of her scrapbook. We stuck a couple more old photos on the outside of this too.

By 1am I had finally ticked everything off my to-do list for that day. The fact that I wrote it all in purple pen has just struck me just now and was entirely a coincidence!

The Party 

What a relief the following morning when I came downstairs to see the cake still standing tall!

However, the party destination was still a 45 minute drive away and so we still had to transport it safely there. It was wedged into the back of the car, surrounded by all our other party stuff and musical instruments, and Calum was charged with making sure it didn't shift on the twisty country roads we had to travel.

We got the to destination nice and early, with plenty time to get the cakes set out, the sweetie bar laid out and lots of purple balloons blown up.

Ally and Fraser (4) both decoupaged these numbers and letters for Anna. I let them do it all themselves so that it really was authentically done by them.

James (18) was in charge of blowing up the helium balloons and I think we only lost three or four of them by them slipping out of his hand and up to the roof!

The weather was perfect.

It was the warmest, sunniest day there had been all Spring. 

The location was perfect too. There were a lot of families invited and there was plenty of safe, secure space for the children to run around in and do their own thing while the adults mingled.

We had worked out a wee half hour programme of Scottish music for some entertainment. Some pieces were played as solos by Calum on his accordion. In others he was joined my my husband on his guitar and me on the flute. I'm pretty sure that Calum's solos were the most popular ones though, and he played them so well too. He played some of the old favourites that everyone loves, like the Dark Island and Kate Martin's Waltz.

James' girlfriend came down from Lewis to join us for the party, and she was the 'official' photographer. She took lots of great pictures of all the guests, but here are a couple of my favourites.

This is James with his youngest brother and his youngest cousin, my brother's daughter.

Ally did the introduction of the musical items for us. He was very sweet. He has only just started doing English reading, after three and a bit years of only Gaelic reading, and so he practised it really hard.

Anna mentioned to us the day before the party that actually there may be up to 100 guests there. It didn't feel like what I imagined 100 guests would feel like as the location was so good and everyone was able to spread out, but the quick head count I did of the group photo says there were 97 people there including babies and children.

The final part of the party was singing Happy Birthday and the cake cutting.

Anna asked if any of the children would like to help her blow out the candles and so Fraser and his cousin Joanna were only too keen to help her out.

Everyone who was at the party agreed about what a special day it was. Auntie Anna was delighted with how well everything went, and we were all so happy that everything had gone so well. Even better than we had hoped it would.

Anna started her chemotherapy a couple of days after the party. It's been a hard few weeks for her, for her parents, and for Andy, my husband, who has been working himself to the bone trying to support them all through this as well as maintaining all his work commitments. 

It feels incredibly selfish of me to say that it has been difficult for me too, as I know it is nowhere near as difficult as it has been for them. But it has been an exhausting few weeks where I have barely seen my husband, and so I have been doing my best to keep everything running smoothly at our end. We would very much value your prayers for the coming weeks and months, especially for Auntie Anna as she walks this horrible journey. 

A World Premiere

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Last week it was the Spring Fling, the annual Spring music concert at the older boys' high school.

It was James' last year taking part in the concert as a pupil and he was certainly kept busy in it.

Firstly he played the piano accompaniment for the guitar ensemble. Then he moved onto the newly started school Jazz Band, where he played trombone, and where Calum played trumpet. They both played their respective brass instruments in the Senior Wind Band, who performed a James Bond Medley. I would have added a wee clip of their bands playing, but I don't want to distract from the main focus of this post. 

The biggest thing James had to do at the concert was to stand up and give a presentation before the 'world premiere' of his animation. OK, so it wasn't a world premiere as such, but it was the first time his animation had been shown in public before a large audience so it was as good as a premiere to us anyway!

In his 6th year at high school James is studying Advanced Higher Gaelic, Advanced Higher Music and A-Level Art (Their school choose to offer A-Level Art rather than Advanced Higher as most of the Art Colleges prefer this as a qualification.)

For his main project for Art he had to do a work of Art titled 'Journey'. What this piece of Art is is entirely up to the students, and so James decided to make animation since he used to enjoy working on them so much when he was younger. Since his main study for music is composition he also decided that he would write the music for the animation himself too.

In his presentation at the concert he explained how he went about working on the animation. First of all he wrote a piano version of his soundtrack. Then he orchestrated this. Once he had written the orchestrated version he went around and asked all of the instrumental teachers at school if they would play the parts of their instrument so that he could record a proper version of the soundtrack. The staff were all so helpful and more than happy to play their parts for him. Then he just had to tweak with the levels a bit and his soundtrack was finished. The final result sounds amazing, but that wasn't the end of his work. 

Next he had to work on the animation. He wanted to animated a character against a live background, and so spent a week going out in all weathers to the woods around where we live. He got both photographs and film clips of the trees, the ground, the river, the rain falling etc. Finally he animated the little stick man over the backgrounds. This was the most labour intensive part of the project as each frame was hand drawn. There are about 24 frames per second and the film is 4 minutes long, so it works out at about 5700 individual drawings. He was only given a week to work on this section and so you can see why he chose to make his character a little stick man. Even though the man is just a stick man, he still added the shadows to him to make him more realistic.

 He has put so much thought into every tiny part of this that it just works so well. The teachers at school were so impressed with it that they asked him if it could be shown at the concert, so I know it is not just me as his biased mum who thinks it is amazing!

Anyway, enough of the chat about it, and onto the actual animation. For the best effect play it in full screen (clicking the little thing at the bottom right of the clip)

He has also added the soundtrack on it's own, which I think is a great idea because sometimes when you are watching a film you are distracted a bit from listening to the music properly, even although the music makes the film.

I studied composition as my main study when I did my music degree, which is what James also wants to do, although he is taking a year out after school to decide for sure. I know that I didn't have as much talent as him, or as much confidence either, when I was 18 and so I'm pretty sure he has great things ahead of him if he continues like this.

He has set up his own You Tube channel where he hopes to add more music as he gets it recorded and would really love it if he got a few more subscribers. You can find his channel here. I'm sure a lovely comment here or there on his animation would also be most welcome :)

Snow Days and Super Snow Days

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

It's been a reasonably snowy winter here this year, much to the delight of the boys. The older boys still remember the really big snows of winters 2009/10 and 2010/11 and have been longing for another snowfall like that since then. The last few winters have been more typical of all our usual winters, with a few big snowfalls in January and February, but with nothing bad enough to bring everything to a standstill as happened in 09/10 and 10/11.

This winter seemed to be going to typical way, with a decent but still average snowfall in the middle of January.

Every year in the week of James' birthday it snows. It may not be on the actual day of his birthday, but at some point during the week of his birthday you can be almost certain that it will snow.

This year a couple of days before James' 18th the snow came down nice and thick.

Because the trains in to school were unreliable with the weather the boys had the day off school, even though the schools weren't closed - although James and Calum were already off on study leave. And since everyone needs a break from their studies every once in a while, we all went out sledging after lunch on that first day of the snow.

Everyone had so much fun!

Fraser (4) was squealing with delight every time he went down the hill, as you can see from the clips further down.

Back at the house we built ourselves a snowman in the garden, before going inside to warm up again.

Here is the compilation of sledging clips. Like I said, listen out for Fraser's delighted but maybe also a little bit scared squeals!

The January snow stuck around for a few days, with more falling over a couple of days, but then it all melted away the following week.

Towards the end of February the forecast was for a severe spell of snow hitting the east of the country, but I have to admit that I had my doubts about whether it would actually be as bad as they were predicting. After all every Spring they forecast that this year will be the year of the 'Barbecue Summer' and every Autumn they say that it will be a cold and snowy one, and each time it turns out to just be pretty average either way, and just like the summer or winter before!

The forecast was for the heavy snow to start on the afternoon of Tuesday 27th February, and as I left to pick the boys up from school the sky was clear with beautiful sunshine. By the time I got off the train 30 minutes later the snow had started and Fraser had turned into a snowman by the time we reached school!

The snow in the city hadn't been quite as heavy as it was out where we live, and when we got off the train home again, 2 hours after I had left in the sunshine, there were already a couple of inches of snow on the ground. Now that we were all safely home from school I was happy for the snow to keep on falling! Which it did, all afternoon and all night. 

Just before bedtime we heard that all schools in the city would be closed the following day, Wednesday, and so everyone was delighted!

The snow still didn't stop, and in just a couple of hours the milk bottles at the front door went from this... this.

The amber weather warning soon changed to a red one, for the first time ever here for snow, and the council very quickly announced that schools would also be closed on the Thursday.

On the Wednesday afternoon the boys really fancied going out for a walk while the snow was still falling heavily. So we did.

I wrapped Fraser up doubly warm with a blanket since he would be sitting still on the sledge - he was finding it tricky to walk in the snow as parts of it were so deep. He was like a little Eskimo prince being pulled around by everybody.

And by the time we reached the park, just 5 minutes away, he looked more like he had been on an Antarctic Expedition!

Fraser wasn't the only one who looked like a Polar explorer!

On Wednesday night we measured the depth of the snow in the garden, and it was about 11 inches deep.

Thursday saw the snow continue to fall, and some impressive looking icicles were forming on the house.

The heavy wind had made snow drifts all around the back garden.

And up against the back door too.

Once again everybody wrapped up and headed out to play.

Our ruler disappeared in the snow when we tried to measure the depth of it and so we measure how far down we had to dig to find it. This time the snow was 17 inches deep.

The car was obviously still not going anywhere!

But the boys had fun.

They decided to work together to build an igloo, although we realised that we were never going to work out how to do the roof properly and so it was going to be more of a snow fort than an igloo.

Our other problem was that the only tub we could find for making bricks was a Carte D'Or ice cream tub, which meant that our bricks were pretty small!

The cold Easterly wind meant that it felt even colder outside than was forecast, and so we couldn't stay out for very long before coming back in to warm up.

We ate a lot of soup on these snow bound days!

Meanwhile the whole of the central belt of Scotland had ground to a halt. Mr Housefulofboys had been working from home since Tuesday and all travel networks were advising people not to travel anywhere.

The forecast had said that there would be less snow falling on Thursday than there had been on the Wednesday. That wasn't the case with us, as you can see in this clip I took after lunch on Thursday.

On Friday the schools were closed again. The snow didn't fall quite as heavily throughout Friday as it had done the previous few days, but there was no sign of it thawing at any point soon.

The younger boys still enjoyed playing outside for short spells, until they got too cold.

By this stage of the week we had run out of bread. The older boys had trudged through the snow with dad to the local shop on Thursday evening, only to find it looking like something from the Eastern Block during the Communist Era. There was no bread, milk, eggs, meat, fruit or veg at all. Thankfully our freezer was well stocked with enough to keep us going, except for bread, and so on Friday I made some Soda Bread to have with yet another lunch of soup.

By Saturday our street was just about passable by car, and once we had dug it out we decided to venture out to Sainsbury's to stock up on supplies. We had heard from others in our street that all of the big supermarkets were struggling with fresh food supplies as none of the supply lorries had been able to get in and out of the depots all week. 

Once we made it out of our street the main roads were now clear, which is more than can be said for the Sainsbury's car park!

It was obviously the first day all week that many people had ventured out to the shops and the only time I have seen Sainsbury's quite so busy is on Christmas Eve!

The rumours about the fresh supplies proved to be true, and this was what the bread aisle looked like - no comments about the state of the Scottish diet and the fact that the only two loaves left were wholemeal ones please! 

On the Sunday, after the morning service, Fraser and his little cousin made a snowman the same size as them. I think they must have had some help from their brothers.

By Monday schools were all open again, the trains were running again, and things began moving again across the country.

The following morning we woke up to another morning of heavy snow and covered roads.

Thankfully the snow stopped by lunchtime and from then on the thaw set it. Albeit a slow one. 

Now three weeks later there are still mounds of snow around that haven't melted away, although it has mostly all gone. We had yet another heavy snowfall on Saturday night/Sunday morning there, but nowhere near as bad.

The boys are now well over the excitement of any new snow falls. It was fun while it was here, but the novelty of it has worn off now and like me they are very much looking forward to Spring making it's long awaited appearance