Thursday, 21 February 2013

Today I got a buzz

It will be news to no one that when choosing a pram or stroller, there is an almost infinite number of options available. Everyone has their own criteria, likes and dislikes, and luckily there is pretty much something to suit everyone. Size matters, some are big, some small. Some are the size of refrigerators and need their own generator. Some look like umbrellas, others resemble tanks and are often driven accordingly! Some look like spaceships and others like office chairs. Some are engineering and ergonomic marvels while others are practical failures. They can be bulky, flimsy, cute, opulent or just plain ugly...

This is the Stokke, some people consider them the ultimate in style.
I'm sorry, I just don't see it.
Like most families, over the years we've tried a range of options for baby/child transport, and sometimes we've even felt like we got it right. Other times, due to a range of circumstances, I've been underwhelmed with our pram/stroller situation, and have found myself playing the "if only" game.

You know the one, "If only I had a ....(insert pram/stroller of choice) would be so much easier!"

But is this ever really true? I should say that due to a range of reasons (the main one being financial), I have NEVER walked in to a baby shop and pointed at the sleekest, snazziest pram of my dreams and said "It doesn't matter what it costs, I'll take it". One high end pram comes with a material swatch book for custom designed covers and seats etc. I love this concept. But is it worth the cost of a small lounge suite, when something a tenth of the price could do just as good a job of um holding your baby?

Our pram/stroller history goes something like this: Almost ten years ago, when Jesse was born, some wonderful friends from church invited us over to their home and produced a literal treasure trove of baby goods - all for us to take home if we wanted too. As clueless first-time parents-to-be we were so thankful for their invaluable advice and generosity! Their large Emmaljunga pram caught my eye. It had hardly been used. If you know anything about these Swedish-made marvels, they are big and strong. I never could have afforded one new. I loved its regal navy blue canopy, snug surrounds, padded seat, sheepskin lining, and boot muff. It was fabulous. My only issue was the basket underneath (a fabric one) was way too small. And while the steel frame and large wheels weighed a tonne, you felt confident your baby would be protected from nuclear blasts in that pram.

When Eleanore came along seventeen months later, I had the toddler seat ready (came with the pram) and that worked quite well until the weight of the pram together with a two and a half year old and baby made pushing the thing almost impossible. One day while walking to the park, the steel frame had a partial collapse (so yes, it was overloaded) and while we were able to get it fixed, I didn't like to risk weighing it down too much again.

Next came a side-by-side double pram with huge baskets underneath. A generous gift from a cousin of mine. I didn't have a driving licence at the time, so this pram was invaluable when making my regular walks with a toddler and baby to and from the local supermarket, laden with supplies. I pretty much drove that pram in to the ground.

When Miriam arrived two years after Eleanore I was still in need of a double pram, but thankfully was also driving a car! I wanted something light (for lifting in and out of the car) and easy to manoeuvre. I looked up on line reviews before deciding the italian made Peg Perego Aria would suit me best. This side-by-side fitted through standard doorways and trolley aisles, and was remarkably light. I found a used one going relatively cheap on the Trading Post and my Mum gave it to me as a present. It wasn't any good as an off-road pram, but that suited me fine. I was happy.

When Ellie got bigger I switched to a single stroller for Mim that my mother-in-law had bought years before. The fabric was lairy, and the frame was awkward. I was forever getting my skin nipped in the latches as I collapsed it.  It was a relief when we no longer needed to use it.

When Arch came along four years later, my practical voice (which mostly takes the form of my husband's voice, strangely enough) said that there was no point buying anything new or fancy.

This Cath Kidston patterned Maclaren
has always made me swoon!
But I was obsessing about a new style of pram. The Quinny Buzz. It had special features like a gas spring for automatic unfolding, and a carry cot for new borns that clicked into the frame when being used and out to carry around without having to wake the baby! I looked at them in the shops. I stopped people in the street who had one to ask about them. I spent hours looking on ebay, in an effort to pick up one at a bargain price (they retail for around $800 and I wasn't considering paying for one new)
In the end, I didn't find the bargain quinny. Its size meant that it would be hard to fit into our car, and anyway, my cousin had kindly offered me her well-used but well-designed Maclaren stroller. It was one of the standard grey ones (what's with Maclaren and all that grey? The Cath Kidston patterned ones are rare, but so lovely!). So that's what we used. Arch was fine with it, and so was I.

So you'll never guess what I saw today at one of my favourite op shops?
Yes, a Quinny Buzz. Complete with baby carry cot, an extra seat cover, rains covers, bug covers, all sorts of bits and pieces. It looked used but well cared for. This op shop is in a huge warehouse, but I saw that Quinny Buzz in about my first 30 seconds. I had to try hard not to punch the air.

After all. I didn't NEED a new/old stroller/pram...

I sat Arch up in the seat, just to see if he fitted. Uh oh. He did. And he liked it.
I walked around the entire warehouse a couple of times taking deep breaths and trying to think this through clearly.
I'll ask how much it is. If they want $100 for it, I'll leave it. It will still be a bargain for whoever can use it.
The lady said it was available for the cost of a donation. Legally they can no longer sell prams, due to health and safety regulations. Seems silly doesn't it?
I know, if it doesn't fit in the car, I won't take it.
After getting a girl in the shop to google the quinny website for me, as we couldn't work out how to collapse it, I did manage to fit it into the car.
Sigh. Some things are just meant to be.

I took the quinny home. My husband was predictably horrified. "I thought you were trying to declutter?" he asked. "That means getting rid of things. Besides Arch is two!"
"I know Arch is two. Yes I am trying to declutter, mostly. I just need to get this pram out of my system." I muttered. I really always wanted one of these...
Hmm, it is proving a challenge to store. So large, so many pieces.
Perhaps after four kids, the pram of my dreams won't prove to be that in reality at all.
But that's okay. I'll use it for a little while, and then re-gift it to someone who needs a pram and maybe doesn't have the means to pay for something this good, like me all those years ago with Emmaljunga!
I hope it will give them a real buzz!

If you are looking for a stroller/pram/buggy here's a few helpful tips:
  • Read lots of online reviews to get a good overall picture of the issues with that item. You may find out things that will immediately rule it in or out for you.
  • Try the prams out in shops, even ones you never would have thought of to try otherwise - you might find that you like something completely different to what you were looking for.
  • Be realistic. The amount of expensive single prams for sale on ebay because a year later a double is needed, proves that it's not always wisest to spend up so big on something that will soon prove inadequate for your family's needs.
  • Ask friends/family/people in the street for their experiences/recommendations - though beware of those insisting what they have used is best for you too. That is almost never true.
  • Get perspective. Having children involves many costs, and spending up big on a pram may be kind of silly when cheaper options will do just as well. Believe me, you'll need the money for other things later kid-free holidays! ha ha, that's a JOKE people!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Cliff and I

Annette and I met three years ago when her son started Kindy at the same time as my Eleanore. I can't recall how it came up, but we quickly discovered our mutual love and admiration for Cliff Richard. It's so funny, but this doesn't happen to us that often. (We also were amazed to discover a similar mutual love for Howard Jones, but that's another story).
So when Annette called me late last year and told me tickets were going on sale to the Still Reelin' and a Rockin' Concert at the Sydney Opera House, I didn't hesitate.
 "My husband has refused point blank to go" she lamented. "Mine has zero interest too" I complained. Having already compared notes on our previous experiences of attending Cliff concerts with our parents, it was settled, we were going together.
And what fun we had...

We ate beforehand at the Opera Bar. A huge ocean liner was moored at the International Passenger Terminal opposite. It was raining but our spirits were not to be dampened. Besides, this prosciutto, provolone and rocket pizza was utterly fabulous, and no we didn't think that just because we hadn't had to cook it ourselves at home.
We were so excited at being out on a school night, sans kids and slightly dressed up with somewhere spectacular to go, we declared it an outstanding success before we even got in to the concert!
First though we faced the memorabilia stand. Do you know how many things there were for sale? About 38 items I counted. We reluctantly passed up the chance for Cliff key rings, shirts, ties, hats and magnets. We agonised over but declined to buy the (not cheap) concert booklet after Annette admitted to having about eight old ones at home gathering dust. But we couldn't pass up the tea towels. That's right. This ageing pop star knows his audience so well. We joined the moshing throngs of ageing fans who were snapping up three tea towels for $20 like their lives depended on it!
Woo hoo!

And then it was time for the concert to begin. We had good seats. We couldn't see anyone under the age of about sixty, except ourselves and the backup singers. The lights were amazing. The voice superb. It was a staid but super-charged with happiness audience, ecstatic to see Sir Cliff in action, again!

He sang many of our favourites (I'm not going to list them, you'll only scoff!), and many of the favourites from the decades before I was born (he had his first single in 1958 - most of the audience remembered it!). He was funny and self[-deprecating: "This was my second biggest flop" he said in introducing one song. "This song peaked at #101 on the Australian charts in 1982.." "I met a waiter in Paris who wouldn't believe who I was, he thought I was dead.."
Sir Cliff was careful with his moves. I think he did maybe two little jumps and we kind of held our breath when he walked up and down the stairs. He's 72 for crying out loud! But when he sang about being lonely we were there! I felt like I did at twelve, and fifteen and twenty-five and .... he's still great, and maybe not so hip anymore, but a true super singing star.

And now for a bit of history: I got my first Cliff album when I was about twelve. Some friends taped Wired for Sound for me. I knew the words to every song and loved that album for years! It was the kind of music that was pretty hip (well, I thought so) but that my relatively cautious parents had no problem with. I was allowed to play the tape in the car, on the rare occasions that I could get Dad to turn off Classic FM.
Later in high school, and several Cliff albums later, I did work experience for Hodder & Stoughton, who turned out to be the Australian publishers of the numerous books on Cliff. There had recently been a publicity tour. Look what/who I went home with:

This is a photo of a photo of my Aunt (another fan, on the right) and I (that's my head, not sure where my body went, on the left) with my life-sized cardboard cutout of Cliff! He spent a few happy years as the silent but suave member of our family, who attended many family gatherings. We had some great times together.
In a later house move I gave Cliff away. I can't remember who to. I've regretted it many times since. Cliff, if you're out there somewhere, please come back! It's so funny, how we don't talk anymore...
And yes, I went to a later concert in the '90s with my mum. We had fun. Cliff wore lycra for one song with his team of dancers, which was a bit unnerving. Glad to say he'd ditched the lycra and dancers this time around.

Can't wait for next time...

Friday, 8 February 2013

Love Heart Day

People either seem to love Valentine's Day or hate it, and there are many reasons for doing both aren't there? On the one hand, yes, it seems like a purely commercial venture, and a cynical one at that, orchestrated by the BIG retailers as just one MORE way (and so soon after we've maxed out the credit cards at Christmas time) to wrench our hard earned money away from us ... blah blah blah.

It is ridiculous isn't it? No one needs a special arbitrary day to hang a heart on the wall and tell your dearest ones how much you "love" and "care" for them?!...

True. But on the other hand, there is nothing wrong with celebrating a day of love and doing something a bit special to show others that we care. Heck, sometimes this world needs a reason to stop the sarcasm, snideness and sanctity of smugness and find a day to celebrate relationships and good ones at that...

Leaving the ideology aside (maybe we could just start celebrating LoVE HeArT DaY, and have it once a week or something - I'm up for it), Valentine's Day appeals to me for a multitude of reasons (and yes, prepare yourself, many of them are shallow):

  • It's a great chance to decorate with the beautiful universal symbol of, you guessed it:

  • It's a chance to give great gifts - romantic, cute, fun-loving or just pink
  • Decorate your house/mantle/table or walls using red, pink and white
  • Watch soppy movies that make you cry (hopefully in a good way, and not just because your own circumstances can never match up)
  • Bake heart-shaped cakes decorated with sparkling pink sugar, eat heart-shaped lollies and...
..and well, maybe I've convinced you, maybe not.

Time to bring out the serious stuff.

Oh Le Creuset Heart shaped casserole pot with lid, how much I love thee. And if you weren't so flipping expensive ($219 gulp) I would buy one of these for each and every one of my dearest friends who spend time in their kitchens slaving away at hot stoves to feed their friends and families, day in day out. You get the picture. Can you imagine the joy of serving up the evening meal in such a divine dish (oven to table!)?
who needs Mr Darcy when you can 
S W O O N 
over such gorgeous cookware ?!

But all is not lost, Le Creuset have provided us with a more cost-effective version of the heart-shaped pot. I think I've mentioned it before. The heart-shaped ramekin. Own one, own several depending on your circumstances. This lovely stoneware looks pretty darn wonderful with a chocolate pudding served up with some berries on top.
I also love these large heart-shaped dishes by Robert Gordon pottery - made in Australia, they come in multiple lovely colours and are under $30.

Continuing with our culinary theme, I love this pic from pinterest of some Valentine's marshmallow pops. I did try to make something similar last year and unfortunately the heat of the melted chocolate turned the marshmallows into slimy dripping goo. I know I was doing something wrong, but am not sure what (I get this a lot). So feel free to (sensitively) help me out here if you can. I'm probably brave enough to give them another go.

These gorgeous rose printed chocolate pops were on special in DJ's and I thought what a great gift for the kids' teachers. If Valentine's Day is telling the people you appreciate how much you appreciate them, then this seems a perfect way to do it!

 Purbeck Chocolate Co
Will post more on decorating with hearts and Valentine's Day paraphernalia later. I'm thinking bunting, I'm thinking raspberry jam and a heart shaped spoon, I'm thinking red and white toile and heart themed jewellry....

Are you excited?

Let me know you're preferred way of celebrating this day (or not)
I'd love to hear...

Sunday, 3 February 2013

True Bargain Hunters

True Bargain Hunters love the post-Christmas sales. It is not unusual to see items that were costly in December reduced by up to 90% in January. Whether you go for the discounted Chrissy decorations, food items, home wares or clothing, great savings can be found almost everywhere. True bargain hunters have their strategies well planned. They know what they need/want and have a good idea where they'll be able to find it on special.

So far this year for bargains, Target has been my favourite store. I'm not usually a fan, as the Australian version of this store does not live up to the more cutting edge American equivalent. Nevertheless, if you're prepared to avoid the junk, their can be some great finds, and the discounts can be great. So far my good vibrations bargain vibe has been bubbling over.

Speaking of bubbly:

I got these great glitter plastic stem glasses and tumblers for 88 cents each. Woo hoo! They are Christmassy, but hey it's February and they still feel fine. The added sparkle and dare I say (without laughing), touch of sophistication they add to our dinner table where drink spilling is a nightly occurrence and no one under ten seems to know how to use cutlery - is sorely needed. Yes sirree, we need all the sparkly sophisticated vibe we can get!

Then I found these lovely long stemmed glasses. Yes, made out of real glass and a rich ruby red. I got four at only $2.88 each. Heck at that price, maybe I should have bought ten - can you imagine how good these'll look on the Christmas table in eleven months time!!!?

Then the kids and I spent some time trawling the 75% off Christmas food aisles. There was enough shortbread and broken confectionery to feed the 5000 (not even counting the battered boxes of gourmet jellybeans) but it was this fabulous and huge Christmas hamper that caught our eye:

We could see our favourite french jam, and chocolate - but there were no tags or bar codes for us to scan. True bargain hunters are not put off by  mere trifles such as this. So we lugged the thing (the base tin was metal and with contents, quite heavy) to the front desk. The sales guy looked resigned. "I'll have to ring the manager" he looked bored, and reluctant.
"Okay." I answered, determined to see this one through. I'd decided this would make the perfect thank you gift to take to my aunt and uncle's for our Australia Day BBQ.

Can you guess how much we paid?

"Ten Dollars" the sales guy muttered, almost under his breath.
"Sorry? What?" I replied, hardly sure I'd heard correctly.
"You can have it for ten dollars" he said giving me a half smile.
"Woo Hoo!" hollered Jesse as I rifled through my bag for the cash.
True Bargain Hunters live for these moments!

And finally, we needed new bedside table lamps. The bases we had been using for about a decade were wonky and the shades (once snazzy Laura Ashley ones that were now tired and battered) had had their day. My budget was small, ludicrously so. But this is what I found at Target:

The mercury glass base sparkles and gleams. Mercury glass is one of those Christmassy things that deserves to be around all year. I found it on a clearance table for $18 because it had no box and no shade. That was fine by me as the plain black shade it came with was pretty boring. I found this dark red shade instead, okay a tad big maybe but I loved it all the same. The floral pattern is printed on the inside so only shows up when the light is switched on. It was on sale for $9.80!! A new bedside table lamp for under $30 - woo hoo again!

Only challenge now is to get a matching base for our other table (bought the two lamp shades though) when the full price ones (normally $49) go on special. Which in Target land should happen any day now.
Hopefully they won't sell out in the meantime...
But don't worry, True Bargain Hunters stake out the shop!