Monday, 28 May 2012

Country Connections

It's nearing the start of winter and feeling the need for a change of scene we decided to do something fabulous and head off for a brief stay in the country. I packed the car with enough jackets, thermals and long socks to last us about three weeks instead of three days, and we were not disappointed. The first night a wild wind sprang up and the temperatures plummeted. Perched in our friend's house at the top of a hill, surrounded by wildly waving gums and temporary blackouts, we felt thankful for wood fires, in awe of the elements, grateful for feather quilts, and only a little bit scared that we might be blown away and never seen again.

The thing I love most about taking my city born and bred children out of the city, is that they get to experience life in a way that is less ordered and more free. Rather than spending hours inside, in the car and standing next to me while arguing with each other, they disappear outside for hours (and hours) - running up and down hills, getting caught in barbed wire, spotting wallabies, and poking dead rabbits with sticks. Frankly I'm at a point where if they're not standing next to me and arguing, I'm happy.

Outside and out of sight for hours, they appear sporadically for replenishment of drinks and biscuits. They arrive breathless, laughing and with flushed cheeks, telling stories of self-made huts, wild animals and birds, games played and dramas enacted. Then before you can say, "how did that rabbit die again?" they're racing off for more adventures.

I do my best to turn off my stressed out/over-protective/citified neurotic self and just let them at it, and I think I succeeded.

Yes, that's my nine year old riding on a small (but real) motorbike. I'd only just gotten over the shock of him going on his first school camp, but riding a bike with an engine?? Anyway, I'm not sure my forced smile fooled anyone but I could see how happy he was to be doing it all on his own. He tried to pretend he didn't care when he fell off, and I tried to pretend I didn't panic when he did. He was among friends and well looked after. He got back on the bike and rode it again, and I was really proud of him.

My girls were super keen to ride on a horse (not by themselves, which was probably a relief for the horse as well as for me).

And even the horse's lack of enthusiasm for the whole enterprise wasn't enough to dampen their enjoyment.

I think he may have secretly liked them just a bit!

Staying with one of my oldest friends was (to shamelessly plagiarise someone else's term) 'chicken soup for the soul'.  We don't see each other regularly but when we do our conversations are long and often hilarious. It is heartwarming to reconnect with someone who "gets you", who knows you from the past but still likes you in the present. Having and loving a friend that the passage of time, the busyness of family life, and the distance of a city and country existence can't separate is a real blessing.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Patchwork Chic

This is a fabulous (vintage!) woolen Patchwork Coat that my father-in-law bought new in the 1970s from Fifth Avenue, New York. It is superbly made, and looks as good today as it did forty odd years ago! My father-in-law used to wear it, to the huge embarrasment of my mother-in-law, to classical concerts in at the Sydney Opera House. He was such a spectacle! But what a fashionable one!
It reminded me that PATCHWORK is really a timeless craft - it doesn't go in or out of fashion, but for the people who love and appreciate it, it always looks good, whether you're wearing it on your back, snuggling under it in bed, or reclining on it in your living room.

And it is simply incapable of pretension - whether it's a homemade piece or a high-street item (from someone's Grandma to Ralph Lauren). Handmade or machine made can affect the price and quality, but it always has that homely, comfortable and accessible feel, don't you think?

Years ago I went to an exhibition of Australian pioneering crafts and saw the most spectacular CRAZY QUILT. I'm not up on the technical side of things, but it was a fabulous collage of all the offcuts of other quilts, no two pieces were the same shape or colour/pattern. I think it had writing on it and buttons sewn on to it too. I loved it! ONE DAY I am determined to attempt it. I think that crazy collage style kind of suits me. So one day...

Here are a few wonderful examples of patchwork I've found on PINTEREST:
I've picked up a few patchwork pieces on ebay for the kids, that I (and usually they) just LoVe.
In fact this will be the winter where Arch will step out in style, matching (or clashing, depending on your view) with his Dad.
His Grandfather will be so pleased!

Coat from Baby Gap
To see examples of crazy quilting, of course there is a website, so go to:

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Gleaming Silver Accents

I saw this cup, saucer and plate set today in an outlet store and  loved it on sight. It's a little bit shiny and gleaming - with a touch of glamour.
Maybe it doesn't look like much to you - but this is by Kate Spade, and made by Lenox in the USA. The Spade range is beautiful, from china and glass through to handbags and dresses.  There is amazing use of colour, but not in this special trio! The silver polkadots gleam on the rich arctic white of the china. The cup is beautifully proportioned and the weight takes you by surprise - especially if you're more used to drinking your tea out of something abit junky, flimsy, or (if you have kids) melaminey.

And it was a bargain (not a give away, but it was a bargain, really!) - on special and with an extra 10% off for a limited time. Just about everything else in the store looked kind of drab. But not this!

Sometimes, especially if you have kids, it's tempting to put things that are a bit special and b r e a k a b l e out of reach. Heck, at the moment I'm busy whisking things out of Arch's hands every day. He seems to be fascinated with delving into cupboards, and fine china and a baby/toddler don't mix.

The other Kate Spade item I own is also something pretty special. On an arbitrary ebay search for, of all things, "silver linen" (yes, occasionally I do seem to have too much time on my hands) up came a Kate Spade skirt! I love those moments. No one else was bidding and the owner had placed the 'as new' item on for a mere $30 (the retail prices are usually more astronomical). It was my size so I placed my bid and hoped for the best.

I was the only bidder and when the skirt arrived by post (the postman seems to know me by name, I don't know why) it took my breath away. The linen really is silver - it gleams! The pink, red and yellow woolen flowers are an amazing contrast. It's pretty out there this skirt, not what I'd normally wear for the school run. I almost wondered whether I should frame it rather than wear it. And it's so weighty. It makes other materials seem a bit flimsy and junky.
yes I have brightened up this photo, but it really is this amazing!
But I wore this skirt on Christmas Day and it was just perfect. And this afternoon while Arch was sleeping I made a Russian Caravan tea (with leaves) and drank it out of the new cup. It gleamed in the afternoon sunlight and made that cup of tea feel a little bit special.

Still, I might just email KATE SPADE NEW YORK with a small request: How about a range of cups and saucers in melamine?
Just for all the other times, when fine china - however gleaming - doesn't quite cut it. It's worth a try.

If you want to see other gleaming beautiful things by Kate Spade,
look here:

and my fave quote for the week:
"What a wonderful life I've had!
I only wish I'd realised it sooner."
Colette (1873-1954)

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Purple Possibilities

Stylish fashion choice or foolish fad?
and PURPLE??
I had previously been using a brushed stainless steel kettle which nicely matched the grown up 4-slice stainless steel toaster beside it.
But practically speaking, there were two problems with my well-used appliances. The kettle when new was self-described (in big letters) as: Whisper Quiet.
You know, 'whisper quiet', as in the description real estate agents give to houses situated next to eight lane highways?
So why did I dare to hope that my 'whisper quiet' kettle would actually boil water silently? It infact did the opposite - and was so noisy in its sole purpose that Jonathan had taken to using it in the laundry on early morning starts, so as not to wake the kids, or the neighbours. (I googled it once and the collective angst of the poor hapless people who were finding their 'whisper quiet' kettle to be anything but, was hilarious!!)
And as for the sleek and silver toaster? It could only be used on the minimum heat setting, and still burned the toast 50% of the time.
So having put up with these less than impressive appliances for several years now, I'd reached the stage of priding myself on sticking with them, not taking the easy route and disposing of them just for being less than perfect..
But as I rushed past a kitchenware shop last week and saw a Mother's Day Special with coloured kettle and toaster for what seemed like a BARGAIN price, it seemed like the right time to make an impulse buy.
I could have chosen red or black - but for some reason the PURPLE was calling "pick me"!
And so I did. And I'm trying real hard to like them. I do like them, I think.
I'm telling myself that they were a bright and bold choice that suit my fun/quirky personality.
Except that when Ellie saw them, she wasn't too impressed.
"They're very purple Mum"
"Yeah, but purple as in groovy, right?" I said hopefully.
"No. Purple as in weird." Weird is the new word for my seven year old.
So I guess the jury's still out.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Inspiring Mums

I've used the excuse of Mother's Day to buy myself some lovely tulips. They are such a beautiful flower, as lovely before they open as when in full bloom. I was admiring them in ALDI, but rather sadly regarding the $10 price tag as too much to spend, when they were fortuitously marked down to half price. So I bought two pots.

My mum is away on holidays this Mother's Day. I'm hoping she has a fabulous time, as she deserves a great break. I've been thinking about her and the mothers of some friends I had while growing up. They really made a big impact on me and I have a lot to be thankful for.

One Mum of a favourite friend was the most beautiful caring person. She was eternally generous in giving of her time and help to anyone and everyone. Nothing was too much trouble, and her enthusiasm for life and little luxuries was contagious. I remember fresh fruit juices, pancakes with real maple syrup (one holiday she cooked over 40 for my family and hers!) and being allowed to spray on her heavenly Paris perfume when I was only ten! My love and respect for her was infinite.

Another Mum from my highschool days ignited my love for old books and foraged furniture. She took joy in beautiful china and made every room in her home special; delighting in embroidered linens, dried flowers, old silver and knick knacks. She knew the classics and loved music. She was such a caring person and made many kids feel welcome and loved (even with five of her own!).

My mum was always undertaking projects - she sewed (including my end of highschool formal dress, a rather ludicrous organza creation I gave her a picture of from an American Elle magazine to copy - she finished it at 2am the night before); made furniture (one Mother's Day we gave her a Triton Work Bench); painted with watercolours, oils and acrylics (some we laughed at - sorry Mum - and others we were in awe of); restored furniture and made quilts. She taught infants school for many years and had a fantastic impact on numerous kids besides us. She made our house a happy and positive place to be and gave us famous "buck up" speeches when we needed them. My mum was known for baking cakes at 10.30pm and laughing hysterically while cutting Dad's hair (he was never amused). I'd never attempt to cut Jonathan's hair, but I'm afraid the late cake-baking trait may be genetic..

I'm inspired by all of these women and my happy memories of them. None were perfect, which is a relief - but all gave of themselves generously, sharing their love, joy and talents freely.
I'm inspired to emulate their love, care and creativity.
It's a work in progress..

Raspberry Cream Macarons  -  a perfectly perfect way to celebrate Mothers!

Monday, 7 May 2012

A Soap Drought

An anguished cry rang out from the bathroom "Mum, we're out of soap!"
Actually, it was more along the lines of "Mum! We're STILL out of soap!"
Ouch. You know how sometimes there are things you KNOW you need more of, but every time you go to the supermarket, you get dazzled by all the items, and taken up with more pressing immediate needs - like buying the screaming hordes finger buns and drinks to keep them quiet for a bit, just so you can THINK! - and the ongoing items, which don't seem that urgent really, just keep falling off the list (mental or otherwise).
Except that if you forget these non-urgent items for long enough, they tend to creep up the list into the URGENT section - and suddenly there is a FAMILY EMERGENCY because there are at least three children in the bath who can't wash themselves due to the sudden absence of soap.

"Oh no, not no soap again!" I muttered as I made my way to the bathroom fairly sure that they were right, and that the generic bars of soap had all gone, and that even the stash of small hotel bars had been used up. The Christmas present novelty washes were also no more.

"You've got some nice soaps Mum," Eleanore pointed out, "But you don't like using them."
Love the way this child just seems to KNOW everything, including the things about yourself you'd sort of prefer that they didn't know.

Because it's true, I have quite a collection of special soaps. Many given to me as gifts, exquisitely wrapped blocks and bars in amazing and exotic fragrances. Some from overseas trips (taken by others) and some from glorious homewares shops where I've felt compelled to leave with something that represents the wonders of their aesthetic - and a bar of soap was all I could afford.. and I do have this aversion to using any of it. Instead I place it carefully inside drawers (to spread the scent) and in silver dishes and on shelves.. but never plan to use it.

Exhibit A
And suddenly it struck me that this was a pretty miserly approach to soap/ life. Was I really this mean-spirited? What had happened to my "life is too short not to use the wedgwood.." mantra?

So I've gathered as many of my beatifully gift wrapped soaps together as I can find, and for tonight's bath, I'm going to present them to the kids. I'll let them choose one (ONE!)to use, and try not to grit my teeth if it happens to be a particular favourite of mine. And while I'll still advocate vigilance regarding the whole "don't let it sit in the water and dissolve!!!' I'll try to concentrate more on letting them just enjoy using something abit special and out of the ordinary. And hopefully I'll enjoy watching them do it!

p.s. And I will try to learn from this, Even if I've already put on to the TOP of next week's grocery/shopping list: 
Soap for the kids! 

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Race Day

Today was our school's cross country race day. Despite praying for rain (me) the sun shone beautifully and the sky was the most entrancing shade of blue. We're not a sporting family. It's a parent thing, isn't it? Sporting parents invariably equals sporting kids, and vice versa.. My kids were very excited about today and I was careful not to in any way dampen their spirits. None of them are particularly good runners, but they are eager to try and I love their happy willingness to do their best.

Last year after Jesse's race I heard a group of the boys from his class enthusiastically comparing notes on what place they had come. "What did you come Jesse?" one of the boys asked. "I was in between!" Jesse declared, as if it was the best thing in the world. "I wasn't at the beginning and I wasn't at the end, but I was in between."

I thought that was fantastic. He was entirely happy being a participant and actual placing didn't matter to him at all. Schools of course make an effort to tell the students it's all about doing their best, but inevitably it comes down to winners and losers, which team has the most points and so on. There's a place for rewarding excellence of course, and it's great to see kids who excel at running or jumping or hitting a ball.
But I must admit to feeling a bit sick watching the (often) smallest kids trailing so far behind the 'winners'.

here's my boy running "in between"

and here's someone who ran every time we tried to put on his hat
I know my outlook on sports isn't popular with many, more competitive, people out there - especially in an Olympic year (I learnt that last time after writing a letter published in the SMH). So I'll just try and keep my head down, and avert my eyes from the television. I may feign interest in how "our team" is doing... but I'll probably be thinking more of those tiny African nations. You know, the ones with two or three athletes, no funding and one pair of sneakers between them? And I'll keep telling my kids to always try their best. That it's great to be a happy participant, whether you come first, last or "in between".