Monday, 27 February 2012

A Touch of Whimsy


whim·sy

[hwim-zee, wim-]  
noun, plural -sies.
1. capricious humor or disposition; extravagant, fanciful, or excessively playful expression: a play with lots of whimsy.
2. an odd or fanciful notion.  


I loved this dress Mim wore on holidays (sigh, January seems so long ago) - it reminds me of Madeline books and 1950s movies set in Paris (like the Pink Panther, except more stylish). Retro prints definitely fit in to the category of 'whimsical' and while there's not a lot of summer left, I'm going to try to add a few more prints to the family's wardrobe. Stay tuned for pictures of Arch in an Hawaiian shirt!

The shoes (top pic) are my latest op shop find: $10 and brand new. I love them cause they're a bright pinky-red; they're decorative (so cute flower on toe) yet practical (platforms may be in, but flats will always be more practical); and fun - Archie is very taken with the papery flower on the front, chasing after my toes like a cat might. 
The fabric covered letters come from the anthropologie store. I have the first initial for each person in the family (so yes this is contradicting my previous statement that decorating with single letters was silly). It was too hard to fit everyone's letter in to the one photo so I've used the trusty partnership of  "MS" to show you what they're like. They'll look great I hope above each bedroom door, or above each bed.

and finally, if you can't be bothered dressing with whimsy or decorating with whimsy, then maybe just embrace a bit of whimsy yourself. For example, today I unintentionally wore a dress inside-out to school drop off (with a tag hanging off the bottom hem). And yes I did get out of the car, walk in to the school and talk to several people. Now if that isn't being a bit "odd and fanciful", then I don't know what is?!

Friday, 24 February 2012

The Upsides of a Wearying Week

We've spent a week at home with an unwelcome guest: the vomiting bug. Steadily one after the other, we've all succumbed, culminating in a night mid-week where all three older children woke up sick and continued that way until morning. Luckily my dose was earlier in the week and I recovered pretty quickly as days of peaceful recuperation aren't really an option at this stage of life.

Upsides: I've enjoyed cooking big batches of chicken broth. I've tried a few versions, and my favourite has been asian-style flavoured with fresh ginger. Added noodles and pasta have been welcome when sensitive stomachs can handle it. I took my start-up recipe from one of my favourite recipe books "Apples for Jam" by Tessa Kiros - I've raved about this book before. It is so family friendly and beautifully produced, Kiros shares her own family history and I enjoy reading about her recipes as much as I do making them.
Secondly, I've taken a few moments this week, between disinfecting and seemingly endless washing and drying to peruse "The Gentle Art of Domesticity" by Jane Brocket (Her Blog: http://yarnstorm.blogs.com/). A friend recommended it to me, and I was able to source a ridiculously cheap second hand copy through Abe Books (http://www.abebooks.co.uk/). Published in 2008 it celebrates the gentle domestic arts of knitting, crochet, baking, stitching, quilting, gardening and homemaking. Most of these 'arts' are far beyond my limited powers, but that doesn't mean I don't like reading about them! Brocket states in her intro, and I read with some relief that her book is "emphatically not about the repetitive, endless rounds of cleaning, washing, ironing, shopping and house maintenance that come with domestication. Domesticity rises above the bossiness of cleaning products and media exhortations to keep our houses pristine and hygenic, and focuses instead on creativity within the domestic space." (pg 8, The Gentle Art of Domesticity) I must say it will be nice to focus on some creative things around the house again when everyone is well - as this week has majored far more on the necessary practical elements of servicing the sick, and my Florence Nightingale skills/character (neither of which I could justifiably 'own') have been sorely tested.
However another upside has been the chance to be together with the sun shining outside (yes the rain has stopped!), to play the odd game of chinese checkers, and to snuggle under comfy quilts and watch some old favourites on television (videos people, yes really - are we the only ones left using this OLD technology?? I often pick them up for less than a dollar in op shops). All providing welcome distractions while we wait to get better.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Laugh Out Loud!


There is something about one-year-olds. They have a built in sense of mischief. They grin and the whole world tends to grin back. As a result, they have a rather inflated sense of their own power.

They MUST know certain activities are, if not wrong, then at least, not quite right.
But they are pretty sure they'll be able to get away with it, by
a) smiling wickedly, and
b) doing it faster so that maybe no one will notice the 1000 tissues shredded and strewn across the lounge room floor, or the toilet paper unrolled and hanging off the back of their foot as they crawl down the hall to create mayhem somewhere else...

You want to get cranky. It's frustrating to be constantly having to clean up messes that shouldn't have been made in the first place. But there's a twinkle in the eye of the crawling culprit, and I for one am not that good at staying stern when there's a golden haired boy staring me down as if to say: Come on Mum, 
L a u g h ! 

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Some Op Shop Finds



Since Christmas I have only done a bit of op shopping. My kids are able to tolerate the obsession activity in moderation. When one of my daughters was little we did get to a point where we would just have to arrive at the door of a certain cavernous warehouse op shop (where one was never sure the further in you got, whether you'd ever be able to get out), and she would immediately fall to the ground wailing: Oh no Mum, not this shop. I hate this shop!
Hmm.
My eight year old has been fixating on old encyclopedias so I try not to take him very often as that is one thing the op shops are full of, and strangely enough no one else is buying. He still hasn't quite forgiven me for refusing to buy him an entire box of illustrated animal encyclopedias (circa 1977 for pete's sake) that some guy at a garage sale tried to sell us for $3 (that's $3 for the whole box, not per book). I felt incredibly slack for saying no and disappointing my son, but the thought of trying to store these huge, heavy and dated tomes was just too much.
So what have I found recently that fitted in to my 'favourite things' category?
The T&G Green (otherwise known as Cornishware) measuring milk jug pictured above was a great find. It is in as new condition, but has the now rarer "Made in England" stamp (there have always been cheaper inferior copies of this range, but even T&G Green has had to go offshore, with they assure us, no drop in quality). I don't normally collect this range, but I've just looked at their website, and I can feel a new obsession about to begin. Beside the wonderful sky blue range is a red striped collection that looks incredible en masse. Ebay here we come!

This is a genuine Sid Dickens memory block, it was still in its packing box. I recognised the piece as I've seen them before in trendy decorating shops. Sid Dickens is Canadian and makes these imaginative pieces out of wood and plaster. They are often aged with cracked patinas and the silver or gold detail is painted by hand. They are dead heavy. They often look best in a grouping, which makes them an expensive decorating item (they retail for over $100 each). Artistic, historic and romantic images are common themes in his work. Have a look at the amazing range of designs if you haven't seen them before. Go to: http://www.siddickens.com/ This pattern is a 'retired' piece from 2007 and stamped on the back it says: "For you, no dragon too difficult to slay, precious Princess. May you live happily ever after." Mine cost $8 at a salvos store and I'm really looking forward to seeing how we can use it in the girls' room.
These are gorgeous new editions in hardcover of Enid Blyton's Famous Five - using the original cover designs and illustrations. I was as excited as the kids when we discovered them in a retro shop while away on holidays (for $5 each!). I loved these stories as a child, and my two older kids have been devouring them just as I remember doing. They were the quintessential Blyton stories complete with smugglers and conniving criminals, overly-curious children (were they even teenagers?) and plenty of picnics where the dubiously sounding potted meat sandwiches were eaten, followed by treacle cakes and lashings of ginger beer. Yum.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Stormy Weather


The rain that has followed us all through December and January has continued into February, accompanied by quick flashy storms, ominous cloud formations and brief periods of sunniness. You can see people marvelling at the patches of illuminating warmth as they mouth to each other: Enjoy it while it lasts!

One thing the storms have made me realise is that I love stormy colours. The dusky pinks and gleaming greens look even more vibrant, mixed with the deep purples and blues above. Everything looks sort of richer against these moody daytime skies. But while these dark and brooding, Rochester days are romantic and stirring, it often takes the shafts of pure light to lift me out of their darker realms. I too easily sink into the lulling gloominess and find my energy levels reacting accordingly. What I'm trying to say is that, when it's rainy, I find it hard to get much done!
But once the bursts of sunlight appear: WHOOSH! I am transformed. I'm like a buzzing bee and almost as purposeful. I attack the ever-growing mouldering loads of washing and race to hang them out in the warming air to dry. But I don't rest there, I'm also combing through boxes of 'stuff' that have appeared in our back room following the rearranging of our kids' rooms and the arrival of bunk beds. 

One of my children is a hoarder. She gets it from me. I'd always had a rather romanticised view of 'ending up' in a house full of books, magazines and newspapers piled from floor to ceiling. I think I was well on the way to achieving my goal. Then I saw the television show called "Hoarders" (http://www.aetv.com/hoarders) and suddenly ending up that way didn't seem so much fun. The show is shocking and the personal devastation hoarding causes to the people profiled is hard to describe in its awfulness.
My daughter's piles of 'stuff' had been accumulating and it was time to break the cycle.  
As she agonised over every piece of paper (one to throw out, thirty-five to keep) I realised that this was a job for me alone. My husband found this hilariously ironic. I've tried to see the humour in it too. And am still trying.
So I'm more than grateful for the rare sunny day we had today. It spurred me on to restore our house (and sanity). I've promised myself/and the hoarder that we won't let it get as bad again (and if we start to slip up, my husband has promised to buy us the DVD set of HOARDERS for Christmas).

how my sideboard ended up looking for Valentine's Day

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The heart of the matter

My husband bought me flowers!
And when I congratulated him on the savvyness of buying beautiful blooms the week before Valentine's Day - it turned out he'd forgotten the day was coming up! Goodness, how shocking that it wasn't in the front of his mind, like it has obviously been in mine! Still, many years ago we did agree (in a temporary fit of self righteous sensibility, on my part at least) that 'the day' was purely a crass commercial event promoted by retailers to increase profits... and yet, I will admit to having had small pangs of regret when the said day has passed unacknowledged... Jonathan of course has had no such regret, which is fine, as this week's bouquet has proved that caring gestures can be made without the need for artificial prodding.
I only wrecked it slightly by pointing out that this was my first bunch of flowers since Arch was born (13 months and 24 days ago). But who's counting?
I've added my own floral arrangement to the picture (to cover up the washing!)
And I'm pleased to say that I got my mo-jo back regarding decorating for the upcoming crass commercial event that will be on the 14th February. I did a quick dash in to my favourite decorating haven: Note to Self (http://www.notetoselfepping.com.au/) who are ALSO ignoring Valentine's Day (it's just not Australian? Is that it??) but who never the less had the most gorgeous  paper flowers in the window and some artful twigs in a vase hung with button and wire hearts. They were so lovely I knew immediately that I should race home and get on with sprucing up my sideboard.

So whether you think Valentine's Day is worth acknowledging or not, I am not going to waste the opportunity to decorate parts of the house with love hearts. I'll have them hanging from door handles, cupboards, in windows, propped up on wardrobes. I love looking at them, wearing them (in jewellry or in prints). They always make me smile and warm my heart!

I've also hunted around for things that are red, white and pink (kitchen cupboards and book shelves were great places to start). How enticing a pink cut glass plate with cupcakes or a silver tray with bon bons can look! My mantra: Display it! Old cards, photos and pictures can provide inspiration. Frame treasured family shots in all red, all white or all silver frames for a united theme.  I also love to display gardening and poetry books together, complimented with real life foliage. It is also a great chance to collect together your favourite romance titles. Hmm, where do I start? Possession by AS Byatt, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Poems by Christina Rosetti...
You'll have a swoon worthy setting in no time!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Dickens, Dampness and trying not to be dismal

Apparently Charles Dickens would have been 200 years old on Tuesday. No one ever actually lives for 200 years, so it's a funny sort of thing to 'celebrate' but any excuse to revel in books is fine by me.

I've read a number of Dickens novels over the years. I've loved them all, but having 'baby brain' for so long now (I fear it may be permanent) has meant that my powers of recall are shall we say, diminished. I couldn't tell you which was my favourite. I loved 'Hard Times' when I studied it at uni. I know I laughed uproariously at 'Nicholas Nickleby' when I read it in highschool, and immediately after finishing it for the first time, sat down and read it again. I know I've started Bleak House a number of times but can't actually recall finishing it. I know I loved the BBC production of it that came out a couple of years ago and takes about a month to watch...

Over the years I've managed to pick up many of his works in well-handled and pre-loved old editions. I've seen complete leather-bound collections that have been tempting in their stupendous matching completeness.. but I guess due to cost mainly I've never taken a deep breath and bought them all at once.


His stories are undoubtedly foundation works of modern day literature and his characters are masterpieces of quirkiness and originality. I love that Dickens didn't shy away from social comment, and that he truely mastered the art of writing popularly without compromising his message or talent. I'd encourage any one who hasn't tried one to give it a go. My grandfather used to tell me that he'd read all of Dickens' works before he was fifteen years old. Okay so there was no television or iphones then, but we're probably the poorer for it in many ways, don't you think? You won't regret reading a work by Dickens. And here's a quote of his that should steel your resolve:
"Minds, like bodies, will often fall into a pimpled, ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort."
I guess that means more reading and less lolling around with cups of tea for me! 
My Ode to Dickens table display

and another Dickens quote to end on:
"Reflect on your present blessings, of which every man has many; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some."


And during a brief respite from the almost permanent drizzle that has characterised this summer, I raced outside and hung some hearts in a tree. I am working on some Valentines Day heart-inspired displays, but the dampness seems to have dampened my enthusiasm. Here's hoping I rally for next week!
I call this: Broom (he)ART

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

A quest for good china (may not end in China)

Wedgwood Countryware is my all time favourite
Dinner sets went out of vogue years ago. The upmarket english companies that used to be the market leaders have had to go off shore, merge and adapt to survive. I tried to convince my brothers when they were getting married (late 1990s) that they should put an english made dinner set on to their wedding registries. They both declined. I was working part-time in the china and glass section of a major department store at the time and knew that though pricey, the quality of Wedgwood, Royal Doulton and Royal Albert were unmatched by the cheaper generic ranges and the designs timeless in their appeal.

One brother chose instead an asian made stoneware set with square plates. This in itself was enough to raise questions in my book, but within a very short space of time, the plates 'distinguished' themselves by cracking in half (usually when covered with food, and often when balanced on a lap - OUCH!) Within afew years, the entire set had been discarded.

The problem isn't that the china most people purchase these days is made in Asia (I mean Ming vases were good quality weren't they?) but that the quality of so much of the cheap, mass produced product is so poor. People say their tastes change too rapidly and that they don't want to use the same boring set their whole life, but must everything be so transitory, junky and disposable?

Once upon a time the English dinnerset was considered the purchase of a lifetime. You collected it in your glory box (now there's a lost tradition I think I'll revive for my children) or received it for a significant birthday, anniversary, engagment or  marriage. It would be the 'good set' that was used for life/or not used but displayed or stored.. 

http://www.oldcountryroses.net/
Not using the 'good set' is silly. Working in the department store I heard some horror stories from (elderly) customers who owned, say, "Old Country Roses" (not one I like much, but apparently wildly popular) and kept it on top of a cupboard. 'It was too good to use. My grandson climbed up and pulled the box down, and it all broke.' Ouch again.

So what am I saying here? Firstly that a good dinnerset is still, I think, essential (trends come and trends go, but good quality and design never fades). And of course it should be used REGULARLY because as I've always said, life is too short not to use the Wedgwood!

Ebay (or op shops!) are excellent for quality china at great prices. I've collected many great pieces from both sources. The top picture is of some of my treasured COUNTRYWARE set. It always looks good (it is white, but wonderfully textured in the shape of cabbage leaves). My Grandparents and parents gave me my first set for my 21st birthday - so I love it for that reason too.

A great option is to mix and match pieces (quality, patterns and style) and use old with new too. Go for a quirky look if you don't like uniform, or pops of colour if you usually have all white. Splash out!
Wedgwood is making the exquisite Harlequin collection, it's a mix and match tea set in the art deco style. It will make every time you sit down with a friend for tea or coffee feel like luxury. It is beautiful, has style and quality and is made in Thailand.
I love it. 
http://uk.wwrd.com/en/restofworld/harlequin-collections/harlequin-collections-mixed/icat/ww-harlequin-mixed/

Friday, 3 February 2012

Every day surprises

Some days take you by surprise. You have no great expectations of highs or lows (only hoping that the lows aren't too low). If there's to be a highlight it will be in the evening if/when you get to put your feet up and say: Phew, finally the week is over!

Sometimes all it takes to change that is a phone call out of the blue. A friend you didn't know was in town, calls to say hi, wanna catch up?

And if you're lucky enough to be home on those days, there is a rare chance to sit with coffee and cake and talk and laugh, to exclaim over common likes and mirrored experiences, kids, family, funny moments and every day life. All the time realising anew, with pleasure, that regardless of the physical distance no distance really exists at all.

Somehow that small change in what was just 'an ordinary day' changed my perspective. I was smiling, rejoicing in the value and power of fine friendship. Later that day, I felt happy and energised. I cleaned the house (well, bits of it), put a baked dinner in the oven, made pikelets for afternoon tea, rearranged a hall table that had been buried in junk, looked through my latest magazines pile and got inspired about a whole heap of stuff, put classical music on the car radio for the school trip home and laughed loudly at the news from my kids' day.

It's not even night time yet and I don't know when I'll get that elusive 'put my feet up' moment. But I'm thankful for a great day - it held the ordinary and the special, and somewhere along the way, the two melded in to one.
My current mag pile - including some US editions
(courtesy of wonderful travelling husband)

Fabulous Cake worth whipping up for a Surprise Visitor: Potato Ginger Cake
185g butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup treacle
3/4 cup SR flour
1/3 cup plain flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup grated raw (sweet) potato
Grease a loaf tin, line base with paper. Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time, until combined. Gradually beat in treacle. Sift in dry ingredients and add potato. Pour into prepared pan, bake in moderate oven for approx. 50mins. Stand 5mins. Then serve.  (recipe adapted from The Australian Women's Weekly Cakes & Slices Cookbook)