Thursday, 29 November 2012

cooking, craft and cards

Yesterday I made 48 ginger snowflake, Santa and sleigh biscuits for two class parties, and they looked very appetising. However there was no time to take a photo as we did the decorating (icing in a can + smarties) while eating breakfast and with the general chaos of getting ready for school, photos were the last thing on my mind.

Here's a little selection of some of the Christmas cookery items I am currently amassing in the flurry of party food preparation that is overtaking filling our time.

Decorative Christmas cupcake papers are everywhere, from the supermarket to more upmarket kitchen stores. I'm planning on making lots of chocolate cupcakes and doing a cream cheese frosting with a holly decoration (ala mini puddings) on top. the red and white stripey papers are my favourite, but the cream coloured ones are cute too.

I found these great stripey goodie bags from which are perfect for rocky road and other nibbles we like to make and give as gifts. The gingerbread house is a modest abode, but anything bigger can get out of hand! They only cost $5 each from Ikea (buy your own lollies) and will make a great holiday project for each child.

And here we have a contender for the best/worst (it's a fine line) Christmas Craft of 2012. Last Christmas my award went to the green macaroni wreath one of the kids bought home. It was so awful it was sort of cute, and I found it really hard to throw it out.
Here we have a pomander, or more precisely a pomander that has been sat on while Eleanore waited for me to pick her up from school.
Naturally she was devastated (she wasn't the one who sat on it) as this Christmas craft had taken about 3 days to complete. I tried to make it better by assuring her we could transfer the cloves to an orange at home. Three hours of piercing an orange with a wooden skewer later, I was wishing I'd hoyed the lemon out the car window and taken her to McDonalds for consolation instead.. 

Here's a picture of some great looking pomanders - my efforts don't appear quite as inspiring as yet, I may need more practise..
These beautiful flower sadly won't last until Christmas Day, but they are looking spectacular next to some Christmas cards and little photo books I love displaying on side tables in the lead up to a new round of celebrations.

Every year I make a few Christmas photo cards with pictures of the kids - it gives me and the wider family a great record of how they looked that year. See shutterfly for some fabulous designs and deals.

Stationery card

Colorful Joy Christmas Card
Turn family photos into personalized Christmas cards.
View the entire collection of cards.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Food and Fun

I love the way the shops are filling with stands of baking stuff for this time of year. It's like they know people are going to want to bake - and I must say following my stupendous pumpkin pie (for thanksgiving - photo to prove it) and my dismal attempt at cake pops (for Mimi's birthday - photos destroyed), I am now focusing on the multitude of events that require some form of  catering, that are standing between me and Christmas...

While I have some wonderful Christmas cookbooks that I love to peruse and occasionally even use, there are so many school events in the next two weeks that require a plate of party food this year that I have now embraced kiddie culinary delights of the boxed variety.

Do you remember that scene from I Don't Know How She Does It (I've only read the book, not seen the movie, so I assume it made it to the film) where the stressed out Mum, Kate Reddy, is painstakingly re rolling the tops of bought mince pies in flour, so they'll look home made? I would never do that.  I don't have the energy for pretence. Anyway, it's sort of half home made if you have to break an egg into the mix..

Meanwhile, we were excited to take the kids out last weekend and buy a new Christmas tree. Our previous one (fake too) has done fifteen years of good service, but was looking a little tired. Actually it was looking sad, and I pretty much demanded a new one. Wow haven't fake trees improved in fifteen years too! Our new tree has three different styles of fronds all mixed in - it's pretty realistic and is way taller than our old one.

Hilarious to discover that like with the purchase of lounges, what appears to be a small Christmas tree in the shop, can actually prove to be quite massive when you get it home.

Mim attempting to decorate (I usually selectively do a quality cull of kids efforts - thankfully their enthusiasm to decorate wanes quite quickly if you microwave popcorn and place it directly in front of the television).

Mimi hoping against hope the candy canes are edible

Mim declaring that unedible decorations are her absolute unfavourite

All romantic thoughts of a sophisticated colour scheme for decorations have (as usual) gone out the window as we have unpacked the boxes of decorations and entered into a manic rush to see how many we can fit on the tree. Sigh. Martha Stewart never had to deal with this...

Favourite decorations so far:

light up angels from Myer

pudding baubles from Ikea

velvety clip on birds from Bed, Bath & Table

Beaded trees and stars from Lincraft
What are your favourite decorations? I'd love to know..

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Shades of Fall

In the spirit of thanksgiving - traditionally linked to the northern hemisphere FALL season and of all things autumnal - I've been looking around my house for inspirational colours and objects. Okay so we're not in Autumn in Australia - that's okay, trifling things like which side of the world you're on don't have to stop you from decorating...

One of the first things I noticed and liked about our present house, was the intact art deco bathroom. The vibrancy of emerald green wall tiles, edged with sophisticated black, scream 1930s. It made me want to don a flapper dress and swoon against the yellow (yellow? hmm, not so keen on that) bath straight away. In a strage pairing however, the cool elegance of the walls are brought down to earth by a chequerboard tiled floor of  pumpkin inspired tones: flat terracottas and ochres, speckled greys and nutmegs, and a hotchpotch of spicy accents. The "pattern" eludes me, but the colours have grown on me. It doesn't show the dirt and always feels warm and welcoming.

Penguin classics are an obvious PUMPKIN orange highlight to any bookshelf. My brother and sister-in-law are currently selling their home and their penguin classic collection has no doubt impressed many would-be buyers. Don't think they're throwing them in with the house though.

The coffee pot, creamer and sugar bowl pictured above have been a favourite of mine for years. Made by English Ironstone Tableware I love the orangey brown on creamy white african inspired pictures. The edges of the handles are printed with a giraffe pattern. I discovered it in an antiques store in Brisbane years ago, and it always looks great on display.

And speaking of autumnal (love that word - try to use it at least once a day) colours, don't stop at oranges and browns. Reds and yellows are obvious inclusions - and can be wonderfully set off by unexpected pops of pink and white. Peachy colours are very flattering too if we're talking fashion.

Here's some of my fave things, pics from pinterest and beyond:

jaegar princess pea coat; kate spade mug; kitchenaid mixer

and last but not least (because I love photos and collages):

Clockwise from left:; the conran shop,;
goldfinch,; yellow sandals,

Monday, 19 November 2012

Giving thanks

I made the trek to IKEA today with two school mum friends. We found lots of fun christmassy stuff and oohed and aahed over big paper 3D stars - in white, silver and red. Only white ones were left, which we liked, but didn't buy. Sort of a relief really, as it was easy to imagine how great stars adorning our ceilings, porches, doors and eaves would look. One could spend a lot on paper stars.... There were plenty of other good finds though, like melamine plates and trays with pink and red snowflake designs; red painted terracotta pots; cool tin planters with lace; spotted and striped glass bowls; and lanterns, lots of lanterns. The pack of red baubles looking like puddings, that come in their own patty cake holders was irresistible!

My American friend was musing on her family's cultural tradition of Thanksgiving. It's not something we're that familiar with in Australia. In fact, being thankful isn't huge in our culture - which is sad, because we certainly have a lot to be thankful for.

Our peaceful land stretches a very long way, with beautiful scenery of almost every description - from white sands and clear blue oceans, to lush green farmlands and snow-capped mountains (well, they're mountains to us), through to the wide open plains and great sandy deserts. There is enough room for the people who live here, and yet we get paranoid about overcrowding. Most people have homes to live in and enough food to eat - but our culture is often obsessed with telling us that we don't have enough. Even our weather, which beckons us outside almost the whole year round and allows us a lifestyle many around the world can only dream about, can be the subject of popular complaint.

Perhaps we need a thanksgiving holiday after all (Australians love holidays, I don't think anyone would complain about that) - to remind ourselves of the many blessings that surround us.

I think it might be time to take a breath and put the Christmas tree decorating on hold. I'm going to attempt to make a pumpkin pie and I'll ask the kids to write some lists - of all the things they can think of to be thankful for.
Stay tuned for what we come up with...

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Getting in the Yuletide Mood

Maybe you have a headache, too much to do at work, kids are fighting and the absolute LAST thing you feel like doing is pulling out the Christmas tree and giving free reign to the cacophony of Christmas chaos. I hear you.

Here's a couple of things that help me to feel Christmassy - little ways to assist in eeking out all that is good about the season (ie. Jesus' birth, celebrations, peace and goodwill), while hopefully avoiding the bad bits (ie. manic present buying, headaches, budget blowouts etc).

First, try:
* Playing some Christmas music - not the jangly shopping centre versions of  "Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer" that have your head spinning (and not in a good way). I'm talking a soothing mix of something atmospheric, peaceful and tuneful - whatever rings your bells, so to speak. Here's what's on my playlist (and where I got it, if I can remember)
Then try:
* Placing some greenery (garlands, wreaths, fronds, plastic topiary if you can't do real) on top of a cupboard, in a pot or bucket next to a doorway or on a shelf or window sill.
I found my garlands in fabric store, and decorate them with ribbons, paper hearts and stars (good craft the kids can do) or a bauble or two (unbreakable of course).

Then you can:
* Put shiny sparkly christmas baubles (cheap ones are fine; multi-coloured or the colours that fit with your scheme) into tall glass vases, glass jars, under cloches or on any serving dishes that are a bit snazzy. The more the merrier looks good (and here's a hint I found on Pinterest: Remember to use a toilet paper roll as a filler - it makes ornaments go further in filling vases! smart!!) Oh, and remember to place them out of the kids' reach!

And even:
Place Christmas related objects under glass - for an instant vignette. Some Christmas cards under a tall cloche, or some ornaments and candles on a gilded plate under a small one. So cute.

Also try:
Framing favourite Christmas cards or pics from magazines for some instant Christmas art - or check out free printables ( with inspiring Christmas words/verses too - to place either on a dresser, shelf or to hang on the wall.

FINALLY, get the kids to paint Christmassy letters, like HO HO HO with glitter paint.

You'd have to be pretty mean-spirited not to want to hang that up for all to see!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

I know it's only November..

I figure if the shops can stock Christmas decorations from the end of August, then it's okay for me to start decorating in November. I have been trying to hold off, just spreading a little Christmas cheer here and there, so as you'd hardly notice - but suddenly it's November 14 already and today Ellie hopped in to the car and demanded: "Mum! Where's that snowman figure we have that says how many days till Christmas?"
I tried to answer calmly. "Under the house in a box of decorations. Why do you want to know?"
"Because Mum!" she looked at me accusingly, "It's only 40 days till Christmas and we've got to get moving!"
Who am I to argue with an eight year old?
So love it when the kids get as excited about the upcoming Christmas season as I do. We will definitely be dragging the boxes out from under the house tomorrow.

Meanwhile, last week I found some very cute resin nativity scenes ($5 at Koorong) and bought one each for the three big kids. Have put them into these lovely gift bags ($2ea by Dayspring) and will present them on Dec 1. Each child can place it next to their bed - to remind them every night and morning of the reason for the season...

And taking my inspiration from these bags, I'm going to go with a red, green and pink colour scheme. Love these colours together, and should be able to pull it off without having to buy hordes of new ornaments and tinsel and other things...well, that's the official line anyhow!

One bargain buy from the post-Christmas sales last year was four hot pink trees - reduced to $1 each at Big W (Why didn't I buy 10 of them, why? why?) I've placed them inside silver tins and they look great against the yellow walls in our back room. If I ever finish my bunting, sorry, WHEN I finish my bunting, I'll hang it up between them.

Also, this week's fab find at the op shop was something I'd admired long ago: Wedgwood's Sarah's Garden limited edition (made in the UK in the 1990s) Christmas range. This cup and saucer was sitting high up on the shelf, complete with box and department store stickers still attached. Thank you to whoever kept it so pristine and then gave it to the charity shop (I paid them well for it!).

I'm going to be drinking my new christmassy tea in my new holly cup and saucer with great satisfaction!
PNTEREST comes into its own at Christmas time. I love the arrangement pictured below - lanterns are fabulous and can be found everywhere from $2 shops to high end decorating stores. Plus, love the blackboard - got one free with purchases at Typo recently and it's crying out for a Christmas message, maybe something like:
Hold on, it's only mid-November! I'm getting to the decorating!!!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Children's Classics

Earlier this year when a friend and I were visiting a bookshop for my birthday, we came across a new range of children's books that made us swoon heavily. Taking much loved classic tales, such as Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, the stories had been adapted in to board book form. They were a wonder to behold!
Published by BabyLit as a "fashionable way to introduce your child to the world of classic literature" - they are so delightful I have continued to enjoy them regularly throughout the year. Occasionally I even let the kids look at them too (when they have clean hands, which isn't often).
Last week I was happily browsing through a bookshop/toyshop with some upcoming birthdays and Christmas in mind (more on this panicked situation to come later), and was amazed again to find a new range of board books, similar in concept to the babylit range, and equally as delightful.
Known as Cozy Classics, these books, rather than picking out small details of the stories, and using them as a counting primer (as in 1 governess, 2 rich gentleman..) instead give us an abridged (obviously, as they only use twelve words - but such a masterful pick!) account of the tale. The twelve needle-felted illustrations are exquisite.
Don't you just love the detail of Elizabeth's muddy skirt (on the cover above) as she rushes to visit her sick sister Jane? The word used to illustrate that part of the story is:  muddy
They really are too fabulous for words!
Can you guess the ONE WORD that goes with this picture (above)?
If like me, you can recite the whole scene, as in, "She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me..." etc, one word may seem a big challenge. However I think they hit the nail on the head with their choice of: mean
The other title in this collection is Moby Dick. I've already bought it for Arch. Coming out next year are Les Miserables and War and Peace!! Anyone who can successfully put those epic tales in to twelve words should probably be nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature (for Board Books?).

Do visit their website, as there's a competition to guess the character of a new book coming out. You can watch a video of the felter making the mystery figure (speeded up). It is quite amazing.

I guess these two wonderful ranges of books are my first recommendation for Christmas gift ideas for the upcoming season. Anyone with a new baby, a toddler they know or just a classics-loving friend will adore these as gifts.
I know I do.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Crafty Cravings

I went to a craft night last week, not because I'm crafty. I was mainly there for the cake. The invitation said to bring some craft you were working on, and there would be coffee and cake and a chance to sit and chat. Not a bad way to spend a night I thought. So what if I'm not that crafty!

Not wanting to appear a complete fraud, I threw together a bag full of card making paraphernalia I've been collecting for a while now. Well, several years to be exact. I weeded out the more embarrassing efforts, the half-written cards, the stamped addressed envelopes never sent, the smudged stuff, the ugly stuff. Finally, I was left with a Martha Stewart sized collection of coloured card stock, stamps, glitter powder (my embossing faze), sparkly pens, paint pens, sketching pencils, cutting instruments, fine origami and trendy scrap booking papers, stickers, buttons.. not bad for a Martha wannabe!

Every Christmas I pull this stuff out in the hope that I might have a burst of talent and energy to make some cards. I used to take the bag on holidays, after all, there's so much more time after Christmas to make the cards - and people don't mind getting a few late ones. You can always blame Australia Post (sorry, that is dishonest so don't do that at home). However the bags were banned from holidays (not by me) a few years ago, as they were apparently taking up too much room in the car, and, it was pointed out, were hardly ever used.
Well, card making can be exhausting, and holidays are for rest, right?

So, at the craft night last week, I had a great time. And in two and a half hours I managed to make one card.
It was a very nice card. Who knows, maybe in about 50 years I'll have enough to send to all of my friends!?!

There were some great things were being crafted that night and besides eating some lovely cake, I was particularly in awe of the sewers. Such a valuable skill.

SO imagine my delight when one of the girls began a fabulous no-sew bunting project. I was suddenly alive to the possibilities. I could see a new Christmas craft, and one a non-sewer, non-crafter could even do!

At home my enthusiasm was met with scepticism.
"But will you ever finish it?" Jonathan asked, as he surveyed the fabric squares and triangles covering the kitchen table.
"What ever do you mean?" I asked, looking up from my project.
"Well, I'm just saying," he continued helpfully, "If it took you almost three hours to make one Christmas card, how long will it take you to bunt?"
"Very funny", I replied. "And by the way, bunt is not a word."

These are my triangles.
Cute huh!
And I've bought metallic thread. Next step is to hand sew a loop through the top of each triangle. I don't think I'll fix them in place, it'll be easier just to slide the flags along where you want them. Oh and I went to a craft shop this morning and bought some gold Christmas tree buttons. I'm going to sew them on to the front of some of the flags.


Because I can.
Because I'm a crafter.

p.s. Actually bunt is a word, but it has something to do with baseball and nothing to do with craft. So strictly speaking I was right.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

A Floral High

Every spring we are taken by happy surprise when these fabulous red and white lilies (official name: unknown) pop out of their pots. For three weeks or so they sway in the breeze and dazzle us with their loveliness. The rest of the year, the pots look like they are empty of everything but arid dirt. Low maintenance is an understatement. Aren't bulbs amazing things?

Today I found this lovely retro bowl in the Camellia range by Johnson Bros. It was less than the price of a cappuccino and will look great with something Christmasy in it. It wasn't until I put it on a table near the window in our back room that I realised how similar the flower looked to our briefly fabulous outdoor lilies.

Speaking of floral, can I just change tack here slightly and admit now that I have NEVER bought clothes for myself from a Big W store. Big W, if you don't know, is a chain of large discount department stores. Great for kids playwear, sports, camping and cooking stuff, underwear, toys and even prescription glasses. They are not generally known for cutting edge women's fashion.

I found myself there this week looking for white cricket pants for Jesse. We had had one of those "Mum I need white cricket pants for tomorrow" conversations (that consisted of a supposedly innocent question from the nine-year-old, and rising hysteria from the ambushed mum). So, on my way to the boys wear section, I stopped short in front of a display of gorgeous spring outfits.

I saw too cute pale pink jeans with small white polka dots and flowy white tops with broderie anglaise lace. I was impressed. Then I saw floral jeans and knew I was going to have to come back to try them on, once the wretched cricket pants had been found. And joy, oh joy, four shops later, I found them!

As I raced back to the store I recalled reading a positive reference on a style blog to the Big W Emerson brand jeans. Was I willing to risk it? It might seem funny to have no qualms about wearing other people's clothes from op shops, but baulking at buying clothes from a discount store. I think my logic is that I'll happily buy used high end brands - because the quality and design is there, and they're cheap. But I don't like paying (relatively) cheap prices for items that are poor quality and style...if that makes sense.
(Okay, may have just officially outed myself as a brand snob..)

Well these Emerson floral jeans are super stylish, seem to be reasonable quality (I haven't washed them yet, so here's hoping the dye is stayfast) and at $24 are too good to miss.
The pink jeans with dots made me look like a speckled sausage.
These however, are floral heaven!
(photo taken from the knees down - as Arch, not yet two, is still deemed far too young to hold a camera)
(I checked the Big W website, and they don't seem to have updated their womenswear to the "spring collection" as yet. I think it might be sold out before they do...)