Friday, 31 August 2012

Dressing up antics

This week we celebrated Book Week and dressing up became our top priority (AGAIN!). The problem with having book obsessed children is that settling on just one favourite title or character generates a seemingly never ending discussion. In the end I tried to get them to just choose a character who would be easy to dress up as. Not a very highbrow literary approach I know. However, seems most of my creative juices were used up getting last weekend's PIRATES costumes together. For a moment I  thought maybe the kids would agree to wear their pirate costumes. No such luck.
The girls must have changed their minds about 30x in three days. It was seriously doing my head in. We spent more hours at the party shop perusing costumes, at home going through wardrobes, pouring over books and googling "mothers going insane over book week".  It was all there.
Finally I got Mim to agree to go as Lucy from The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe. We had a nice Disney dress (this was for Lucy after she was crowned a Queen of Narnia by Aslan), the pirate belt we'd picked up at an op shop, a felt crown that came with the knight's costume I paid $25 for and Jesse refused to wear (yes, that's me screaming madly in the background), and the finishing touch - a little suede bag holding a bottle of my perfume (a cheap one!) which was the special healing potion Lucy was given by Aslan.

Mim was really happy with this costume, UNTIL we came up with Eleanore going as Silky from the Magic Faraway Tree. Silky gets to wear wings and have a wand. Mim was not happy. Much crying ensued.

Maybe you're thinking two Silkys would have been the easy answer to this problem. However that would assume that Ellie was happy with Mim being the same (she wasn't) and that Mim would wear her Disney dress as Silkie (oh no, she wanted to wear Ellie's dress - aghhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!)

Jesse wanted to go as Tintin - but I couldn't find the blue jumper, brown pants or stuffed white dog. I found a great knight's costume at the party shop and in desperation (I may buy shares in the party shop) bought it telling myself that he'd love it too. He didn't. Something about not wanting to look silly in front of his friends. Honestly.

He decided to go as Joe Hardy, or Frank Hardy from the Hardy Boys. I never worked out which one he was. His costume consisted of a shirt, jeans and shoes. No one knew who he was, but he didn't care. Sigh.

In the end, they all had a great time and declared the Book Week Parade had been a great success, worth all the effort (or lack thereof). I had a strong coffee afterwards and, eventually, had to agree.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Gifts for Dads

One of the pin boards I've enjoyed generating on PINTEREST has been Men's Fashion. I come from a family where the majority of men like to shop, and so men's fashionable clothing and favourite things are something I'm familiar with. Similarly I married a man who enjoys shopping (in small doses, very small doses) and who appreciates good quality and style. Once I'd thrown out his extremely ugly Dunlop Volleys and some well worn trackie pants - we were able to get married.

Ebay and op shopping are great sources of men's fashion. Jonathan and I love the style and colours of GANT shirts, but buying them full price is pretty expensive. I've found some excellent Gant wear on ebay (new and used) at reasonable prices. Op shopping for camper shoes has been one of our success stories too (one such pair pictured above) and this photo of Jonathan in a Gant shirt and Camper shoes was taken on a romantic trip to Melbourne so many years ago I can hardly remember anything about it.

If money was no object, I would pay for another weekend for us away. I wouldn't even feel sheepish that, like last year's blossom tree, it fell in to the category of a gift that may be for him, and may be for me too.

This Father's Day (September in the Southern Hemisphere) the kids are hosting a Father's Day breakfast at school, which is a great idea, and avoids the whole pen/soap-on-a-rope/paper weight schools usually feel obligated to provide.

But I still have to buy a gift for my Dad, one for my father-in-law (and let's face it, some stuff from the kids), so here are a few ideas that might provide inspiration and won't break the bank:

Nearing Home by Billy Graham is going to suit all three of the Dads in my life, either in paper or e-book format. Subtitled, 'Life, Faith and Finishing Well' it is a topic to suit all age groups, by a man who has more wisdom than most. Graham writes, "When granted many years of life, growing old in age is natural, but growing old with grace is a choice". I can't think of a better present to give the men in your life actually (and in case you needed any more encouragement, it's on special at Koorong for $13).

Okay, on an entirely different track, this product has Dad stamped all over it. What Dad doesn't want a trendy rubbish bin? I pinned this as soon as I saw it in a Peters of Kensington newsletter, and it has proved popular among pinners. Made by the German design company Essey, it is described as "symbolic functionalism" and I think we're all agreed, you can never have too much of that (oh, and it's $51 because SF doesn't always come cheap).

and here are some other favourite images of desirable objects from Pinterest:

Clockwise from left: Vintage Domino Set: Oliver Spencer Country Suede Wingtip Brogues; Ladybird Bicycle Mug; vintage leather satchel (see ebay for similar).

Would love to hear what gifts the Dads in your life will get/deserve.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of...

A cousin's 21st birthday party provided us with a prime opportunity to connect with our inner pirate. The house was filled with "Ahoy theres" and growling pirate noises as the fun of taking on these characters took hold. It wasn't just the kids who got in to the spirit either..

Clothes for the kids came out of our existing wardrobes, and jewellery, headscarves and ribbons from our own stuff. What elevated our outfits from the homemade to the snazzy faux-professional was the face painting. We just so happened to attend a spring fair at a local school in the morning. Noticing a number of children walking around with beautiful butterfly and fairy faces, I stopped a woman and asked where the face painting was happening. Near the red balloons she said, so we walked down a hill following a line of bobbing red balloons. The face painting turned out to be free and the two talented girls doing it were more than happy to give us these gorgeous pirate faces. How serendipitous was that!?!
Most of our pirate props came from a party shop where a full aisle was dedicated to pirating. Muscats, swords, wigs, parrots and patches were chosen. Jonathan's outfit came in a bag, complete with hat and beard. It cost the same as a basic hire costume, and I'm sure we'll get more use out of it somehow, somewhere, some day...
Arch and Mim did cry in fright when the older pirate made his entrance. It's not every day you come across a terrifying buccaneer in your own home! Eventually Arch started to trust the pirate who looked just a tiny bit like his Dad.

and fierce faces seemed to come naturally for the older kids. Scary!

and yes, I did do my bit too - albeit in an understated way.


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Rising to the occasion

It must be a personality thing. But a party invitation where dressing up is required, fills me with nervous fear. We're going to a 21st on Saturday. The dress up theme is felons (the birthday girl has crime fighting aspirations). I looked at costume hire places, but the prices were a bit prohibitive. How to dress up four children with a (not too nasty) felonic theme was doing my head in, until it came to me..

P I R A T E S ! ! ! !

I started rifling through wardrobes and suddenly everything we owned had pirating potential! Striped tops, little vests, head scarves, puffy shirts, patched jeans, chain belts - the pile grew higher and higher! While never too keen on putting my boys in skull and crossbones, we still managed to find nautical themes, boats and ahoys adorning an array of clothing. Even my rather paltry and oddball jewellery collection proved inspirational with chains, beads, and clip on loop earrings fit for the task. 

I turned to our bookshelves for further inspiration.

Tim, Ted & the Pirates was one of our favourite stories when Jesse was little. We can't wait to read it to Arch. The main character, Tim, is a school boy with a great imagination and love of pirates and swashbuckling adventures. When the teacher announces there will be a surprise that day, he's hoping for something along those lines.

but unfortunately it's not to be..

and the adventures for Tim begins..
..and at the end of the day, when Tim has been on his thrilling fantastical adventures (and presumably the rest of the class has finished enjoying Little Bear..) it's home time.

It's understated but rather hilarious. We love it.

And for some pirate decorating I turned to PINTEREST (though I think this glowing skull above the bed is just a little over the top. Nightmares anyone??)

Stay tuned for our pirate photos me hearties!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Blue, Indigo, Violet.. and white

It's my Mum's birthday soon - and I was happy to find this lovely Alfred Meakin platter in the local Salvo's Store. Mum has a huge dresser that is pretty full of blue and white china, but not any platters that I can recall. A quick google search found out that this pattern, "Manchu" was made between 1891 and 1930. I love the brown border on the inside rim and the mix of blue transferware patterns around the edge. The gold edging is still in reasonable condition and there's only minimal crazing on the back. At around 30cm long this platter is such a useful size for serving an array of goodies for afternoon tea, but not too many to spoil dinner.

The patchwork style of different blue patterns together on the platter reminded me of some blue fabrics I've been looking at to decorate Archie's room. Out of a large showroom of an overwhelming  number of fabric swatch books, I found a tiny little book with the most gorgeous swatches. They had colour names such as: I n d i g o ;   B l u e j a y ;   D e l f t ;   C h a m b r a y ;    M a r i n e ;   N a v y ;   D e n i m ;   M i s t ;   T o p a z ;   A l i c e ;   S u m m e r ;   I c e ;   B a b y ;   C o l u m bu s ;   I n k ;   P e r i w i nk l e ;   B l u e b e r r y   a n d   W e d g w o o d . 

Isn't this just the best list!?

My spirits were only slightly dampened when the lady in the shop told me that generally the smaller the swatch book, the more expensive the fabric. Doh.

I took photos of some of my favourites:

For fabrics, see:
Oh I've snuck a photo in there of some new cushions I bought on sale at the King Furniture store to give us much needed back support on the chaise part of our lounge. I'd noticed visitors were starting to avoid sitting there as the wide seat generally lead to lolling around (fine for me during the day - my life is just full of lolling after all) rather than more proper sitting up. It has since been pointed out to me that the style of the new cushions does not entirely match our existing floral cushions on the other part of the lounge. But I'm just going to ignore that for now..

Back to my blue phase: I've collected some gorgeous blue and white summer stuff for the girls courtesy of ebay and mid-year sales. It makes such a blissful relief from the sea of pink in the shops.

Clockwise from Main Pic: Summer dresses are from Guess USA and GapKids; Room Seven denim dress; GapKids Patchwork shorts; Chalk and Cheese Blue dress.
There is definitely something about the blue/white combination that says crisp and classic. It says summer days with blue skies and fluffy white clouds, and blue seas with white-capped waves.
It makes me think of hydrangeas and forget-me-nots.
The willow pattern china proves it never looks dated.
And the universal appeal of the blue jeans/white shirt combo seem to cement its style credentials.

I'd definitely put it into THE ONE HUNDRED list of stylish things (See my last post for more details - we crossed out the blackberry, so there was a space!).
What colour combination is your favourite?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Style 101

I picked up a gorgeously illustrated style manual from an op shop this week. I'm a bit of a sucker for these titles that claim to solve all your fashion dilemmas in just a few pages - at only $3 this one was hard to resist. Who isn't attracted to the offer of expert advice or a quick fix, when most of us have experienced the pathetic woe of having a wardrobe full of clothes and, ahhh! Nothing to wear!

The fashionista editor (from a TV show I've never seen) identified 100 key items to ensure a classic look of timeless sophistication.
Well, I'm excited.
The fashionably challenged are urged to adapt the list to suit their own personal style - um, I thought that's we were trying to find.. Use this list as a starting point, rather than rigid commands. Fine, I'm flexible. 100 items, maybe I'll just have a cup of tea and a donut before I get started.

I worked through A-line dresses and Ballet Flats. No real problems there. Phew - #9 is a Blackberry! Being slightly out-of-date has its benefits. While in 2008 when this book was published Blackberries were all the rage, in 2012 they've all but disappeared.

So that's one less thing to worry about...Oh, now I've reached the Little Black Dress - yeah, yeah. Versatile and able to be dressed up or down. I have no doubt the world is full of lovely LBDs, it's finding the one that suits YOU that can take a lifetime. So I checked out PINTEREST and sure enough found plenty I liked, just not many I'd actually wear.

Exhibit A:

And then I found this, which sort of gave the whole thing a little more perspective:
Speaking of dressing up, a Saturday or two ago I found myself with the offer of a generous few hours of midday babysitting. So after a brief conundrum of what to do and nothing to wear, we were wizzing in to the city, and doing lunch, with style.

It was eerily quiet at our table. And I didn't have to cut up anyones meat or make several trips to the toilets when I didn't need to go. There were great views of the Harbour Bridge too.

and this was dessert: a tamarind brulee with tangelo ice cream - or possibly the other way around, I can't remember. Either way it was very yummy!

It was too cold for a little black dress, so I wore black trousers under a pink dress and a favourite black vintage velvet coat (op shop find) over the top. My black suede wedges were a bargain on ebay - my idea of a fun outfit - though not sure about the whole timeless sophistication thing..

You've got to love a husband who knows instinctively to take a close up of the bag!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Table Cloths

Our family is in the spilling drink phase of life. Every night, almost without fail, a child will knock a drink over. It has made my mantra of "a nice table cloth must be on the table for dinner" a bit testing. It's certainly creating extra work, as their washing/drying now happens daily. (Thank goodness  my mantra doesn't require ironed cloths as well!) 
So I'm asking myself the question: Are table cloths past their use-by date?
When I typed the two words in to ebay, I came up with almost 20,000 hits. But that could mean either they're very popular, or everyone is trying to get rid of them..

Over the years, I've tried a number of different table cloth options.

When I first got married I used some lovely lace ones (my mother-in-law had given me as a present) that were very romantic. In those years prior to having children I think I probably had the same cloth on the table for at least a week at a time. Funnily enough I don't recall Jonathan or I ever spilling our drinks.

Now, with kids, the lace cloths have been banished to the back of the linen cupboard, possibly for good.

A favoured option for the first few toddler years was a retro orange PVC number I found in a sale bin at IKEA. Unfortunately candles on a birthday cake burnt several holes in it. However I've resurrected it as an underlayer to the top layer cloth, to save the parquetry top from the nightly drenching of the drink spilling.

For a while I became an Ikeahacker by using their cheap and attractive single bed quilt covers as table cloths. I liked the double cotton thickness and the patterns (red and white floral/olive green geometric/etc) and we got the added bonus of 2 pillowcases to go with it!
There used to be a chain of stores known as Mr Tablecloth where you could pick up reasonably priced Asian made embroidered cloths in various sizes and descriptions. The clientele wasn't exactly hip. Most of the shops quietly disappeared and my well used cloths eventually fell apart.

I have tried using nice bed sheets and yards of unhemmed material (due to my lack of sewing ability) which worked for a while.

Currently I am using a mixed collection of mainly french inspired (but not french made) checks, stripes and damasks. Some from department stores others from op shops. One favourite is a cute pink, black and white 1950s vintage cloth a friend bought me. It always makes me smile and think of her when we use it (and spill drinks on it, sorry Victoria).
Finally, I've looked many times with great longing on line or in exquisite home wares shops at the real french heavy linen/cotton/silk table cloths; but the expense (and time of our lives) doesn't quite justify the investment.
Whatever the challenges I think I'll persist in using table cloths, whether they're an outdated notion or not. Their appearance, even when covered in yet another spilt juice says that the table matters, that dinners together with family and friends matter, that you've taken the time to make things look nice, and that the sit down meal is not an outdated notion.  At least that's what I hope it shows.

Tell me what you think of the humble table cloth - and whether you agree.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

School Photos

This is my fourth year of receiving school photos of my kids. First there was one, the next year there were two, and this year I had three sets of school photos to peruse.

Getting the photos home from school is always stressful. They come wrapped in a flimsy paper envelope. There is a note on the envelope that reads:

Do not fold or bend
Do not open until home
Keep Package dry

Cue hysterical laughing. Do these instructions sound like something an infants school kid can (read) follow?
For us it's more like a check list.
Are the photos folded and bent? Check!
Have they been opened before we get home? Check! (Miss Five was waving hers in the air as I drove towards her at school)
Is the package dry? Well, yes, but only by miraculous circumstances have I saved the photos from being covered in orange juice, milk and a leaking water bottle in the last 24 hours.

By the time I had the three sets safely in my hands at home, one had been accidentally stepped on ("sorry Mum"). So one portrait now sports a big white crease through the  forehead and class shot. I had to count to 1000 when I saw this in order to maintain composure and perspective.

The photos were taken in May, when I had the kids on my own for three weeks. It could be just me, but I think when you look at the photos this year, you can tell we were living on the edge..

Jesse did his own hair that day. I remember him asking for the pineapple hair gel and I'm sure I would have counselled moderation. Ha! I'm surprised his classmates didn't pass out from the fumes. Anyway, at least this year he had two front teeth - last year he only had one (full size) while the other was missing in action. Small victories..

Mim's photo is pretty cute, and I suppose it was too much to expect the photographer/teacher/hordes of onlookers to adjust her fringe so it was smooth rather than splayed over her forehead.

Eleanore inexplicably has one side pigtail at the front while the other pigtail is at the back of her head. She also looks very tired, which is how we all felt while their Dad was away. Her set is currently lost somewhere in the house, so I couldn't access the digital image to weave my artistic magic on it. Shame.

These days there's controversy about school photo companies offering photoshopping options and like most people I'm fairly horrified at the concept of adding fake tans, erasing blemishes or whitening teeth. (Hats, sunglasses and fake flowers are obviously another matter entirely!)

Faking characteristics means you won't appear as you really are. Twenty years ago (or more, sob) photoshopping one's school photos was not a possibility, and I'm glad. Heck at least my kids have something to laugh themselves silly at when they flick through my albums and see the year I had no front teeth or favoured crazy teased hair (hey, it was the 80's!).

I think everyone's school photos should stay as a warts and all (though hopefully not on the face) tribute to childhood innocence, terror and happiness with all of the individual quirks. And if one year's a disaster, hopefully you'll receive a record the following year of vast, and natural, improvements.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Blossom Envy

Our blossom trees have finally bloomed - and all around the neighbourhood and beyond we're delighting in spotting the delicate blooms of every size and colour. We've actually been late to school multiple times this week - and blossom spotting is one of the reasons. Unfortunately we haven't been late enough (will have to try longer detours) to fill out a note explaining our lateness. Was kind of looking forward to writing: blossom spotting on an official document.

I'm dragging Arch to the nursery regularly (plant variety, not baby kind) to swoon over the different varieties. I have a dream of a yard full of these trees and a year ago I bought a crab apple tree (for Father's Day actually, on behalf of the kids - Jonathan's raised eyebrows told me that he knew this was another one of "those" presents, supposedly for him, but really for me).  But so far the (non) blooming crab apple has done nothing. Zilch. It is a stick in the ground. A naked stick. Okay it's not totally naked. It has a couple of leaves - just to let me know it's not actually dead. But I was hoping for blooms or at least a growth spurt. I was hoping for hordes of peachy pink flowers that we could dance around and under (okay, maybe not the last bit so much). Oh well, maybe next year.

My favourite blossom memory is from high school when my family first moved to the Blue Mountains. The climate was usually mild but occasionally the weather would veer towards an extreme. It was winter and our front yard had three beautiful old gnarly trees. The blossoms were breathtaking: palest pink, apricot and whites with green centres, an exquisite mix. One afternoon, seemingly out of nowhere, snow fell. Against that white background the delicate blossoms were so beautiful. No one thought to take a photo.

Around for such a brief moment in time, they are a glorious reminder in winter that spring is coming. Can't wait.