Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Christmas Gift Ideas: Mugs


Today we visited a favourite piece of retail heaven: Pottery Barn and the associated stores. Mugs were everywhere. This mug tree was taller than Mim. The monogrammed mugs were kind of huge, which is possibly an American thing. I've listed the Robert Gordon version below, which is considerably smaller, but still quite large enough for a decent sized brew.

Mugs make a great gift because pretty much everybody uses them, and there is a shape and style to suit every taste. Christmas is a fine time to give them and use them: Setting up a hot Chocolate station on a sideboard will make you the hostess with the mostest for friendly gatherings and even when unexpected guests drop by (as long as your kids don't snaffle the supplies while you're not looking).

Any old mug simply won't do - and why should it when there's so many adorable (and cheap!) options on offer!?! Here's a few that just might do (all under $20 ea - except for the last one):
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This lovely array in Pottery Barn
start at $9 ea.

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Don't be a mug - buy some today!

Saturday, 12 December 2015

The Best Christmas Cushions

Crashing in a Christmas cushion is highly recommended for those struggling between enjoying the magic and fighting the mayhem at this time of the year. I find that burying my head in a cushion when the kids are insisting on telling me who has hurt who and what gifts they'd like and did I know we were out of toilet paper, helps a lot. And if the cushion has something festive printed on it, like BE MERRY, then maybe a bit of merry will rub off. On all of us.

Cushions are certainly an integral part of seasonal decorating and an easy fix for adding instant sparkle and Christmas cheer to your home. I've kept the examples fairly neutral - but if colour is what you crave then an array of brightly coloured velvet cushions will look great all year around. And no, it's not too late to race out and pick out a few (great as a gift idea too).

Hopefully these suggestions might save you a bit of time ('cause, heavens, we're running out of that people!):

I'm a Kmart tragic - they're hard to beat on price and their style cred just keeps getting better.
This delightful pair will set you back $20.


I mentioned these beauties in an earlier post. They are $15 ea at Big W - but you'd better be quick!


Try Adairs - for a bit of joy ($20ea):


Try Etsy - they have something for everyone, and you'll be supporting a crafty person..

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Found this great company on Ebay:
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Pottery Barn have a gorgeous array all year round and their Christmas range is always special.
Find them online starting at around $25 ea.


So be merry, feel joy and buy a cushion today!

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

When Your Days Are Merry and Bright


As Christmas fast approaches the threats for good behaviour are gathering speed in our household. Bellowing "Lose a Christmas present!" at a recalcitrant child can work wonders in moderating fights over who's been on the computer the longest and who needs to clean their room. It's not the best form of parenting I know, (and you can peak too early, as in don't start yelling this threat in October, it's unsustainable) but it can produce the desired effect - and in that vein new book The Christmas Peg fits quite nicely.

Wal, it seems, is having issues. He doesn't respect nature, up-ending pot plants (quelle horreur!) and has even, possibly, tortured his cat. 

Santa is watching. 

Wal's name is on the naughty list and Wal is about to find out some serious consequences for his actions. Dr Phil would be proud. NO Christmas gift!! Correction, a wooden peg replacing his Christmas gift. How could Santa be so cruel?! (If the peg is an allegory for something else I don't get it.)

Things don't improve as Wal, try as he might, and then by not trying at all - fails to produce the 'nice' behaviour that would make himself a better person and Santa fulfil his role as a decent gift-giver. 

It's best not to overthink this book - obviously we'd like our kids to behave without material gain being the main motivator, right?! And then there's the fact, as the book points out, and as we all know, that it is impossible to be nice (or good) all of the time. (Here's a great chance to explain the gospel of being saved by grace! Just saying..) So treat this book as a light read and a humourous form of coercion. The pictures are cute - though Wal's age seems to vary, but then again it did take him three years to work out that nice = presents. And for that his cat is extremely thankful. 

The Christmas Peg by Cameron Williams and Matthew Martin (illustrator)
Thank you to PenguinRandomHouse for providing me with a review copy of this book.

Random Christmassy shots as we strive to be merry and bright. Christmas tees and coffee and snacks have helped.






Friday, 4 December 2015

A Perfect (Sparkly!) Storm

I have good reasons for only posting once in November, way back on the 4th. It's all to do with the temporary insanity of holding three kids parties in four weeks. Topping that no mean feat off with being chief decorator for my son's year 6 farewell (awesome pic below). So, apologies, but posting fell by the way side. As did house cleaning, Christmas decorating and tree displaying (sob), book reading and sleeping. 
Yep, event-based insomnia is definitely a thing!


It was worth it in the end. Sometimes you have to let the schedule slide in order to throw your everything behind making some one-off things great! The milestones have been gathering speed and I feel like I'm only just keeping up!

So now, on the other side of the perfect storm I find myself tired and slightly confused about where all of the time went. Nothing a strong coffee won't fix and finally the chance to flop on the couch, newly adorned with some gorgeous Christmassy cushions. It's the easiest way to give your living area an instant festive feel - and these beauties are only $15ea at Big W so what's stopping you?!

By Jane Godwin and Anna Walker.


Any book that Jane Godwin and Anna Walker collaborate on is a treasure and this one at Christmas time has me gazing lovingly at every page - I actually seriously thought about (shock! Horror!) ripping out the pages just so I could frame them! With all of Walker's gorgeous illustrations there's delight in the details. The flashes of red, the delicate fine lines, the whimsical wishing tree - it's a visual feast 

Children, wishing and dreaming go together - like strawberries and cream, buckets and spades, parks and play! And that's what is celebrated so gently and joyfully here. 

As we follow little Ruby reminiscing on favourite elements of Christmases past, and of what makes this time of year so magical for her, her friends and family - the reader is caught up in the magic too. Simple pleasures: babies delighted by tinsel; piggy backs with Dad; baking with Mum. 
Not an iPad in sight!! Just saying...

Catch some of the sparkle and do your littlies a favour by reading this book to them, preferably while wrapped in a tartan blankie and drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows on top!

More to come - it's on the way - promise!!


Friday, 6 November 2015

A Royal High Tea


After the emotional turmoil of saying goodbye to the Thomas train set (finally, the one bidder delightedly drove off with our collection) there was hardly time to turn around before we were hit with birthday season. Due to a lack of forethought, I have three (out of four) children's birthdays to celebrate inbetween mid-October and December 20. And as you may be aware, for enthusiastic Christmas-ophiles like myself, it is VERY Difficult to focus on anything other than the impending Christmas season, after mid-October. And yet, as a parent, what I have to do is pretend to be interested in my kid's birthdays, when really all I want to do is get set up the tree and write Season's Greetings on all of the windows in white removable pen.

So first to my beautiful Eleanore turning eleven. Her last big birthday party was when she turned six, it was really great. So great, I never got around to holding another one. So anyway, it felt like a party was called for. But what to do?
Ever since a certain Easter two years ago, when WE HAPPENED TO MEET PRINCE WILLIAM AND KATE Ellie has been Royal crazy. So a Royal High Tea was the obvious answer to any party theme.

I had teacup invitations, sparkly paper crowns and well, a lot of china and glass to pull this off. All I had to do was cook a few sweet things and hang lanterns and bunting. Sweet!


William and Kate addressing the birthday girl and wishing her the best of birthdays.


Red Velvet Cupcakes decorated and delightful. Edible pearls and royal icing, of course. 

And I finally was brave enough to make and master teacup biscuits. It was so easy I'll probably whip them up most afternoons from now on. Not. 


Party activities included a Royal Quiz (prepared by Ellie), Pass the Parcel and the rather (unroyal) pursuit of eating donuts (sans hands) tied with ribbon to the clothesline. My kids request this game every time a party is suggested. Who am I to say No? 

Prizes for the games were fun to buy. I recalled that cheap Chinese-made Royal memorabilia was stocked at Victoria's Basement and so headed to one of their warehouse shops the week before. I was almost reduced to sobbing in to my handbag when I discovered they stocked a jubilee and Royal Baby range of English Burleigh stoneware. The same range I had gleefully bought a piece of via the UK and EBay for Ellie's birthday. While the mug itself was not expensive, the postage was! And to find multiple mugs and plates for $12 - $20 a piece in Western Sydney... Rather humiliating for a dedicated shopper/bargain hunter like myself. Anyway, I rallied and bought some treasures for the girls' party bags. 


And then there was the cake. Birthday cakes are not my forte. However I had found online a super looking sponge cake decorated with fresh berries that had an easy sounding recipe and was best made and eaten on the day. Cue crazed laughing from all of you who know that easy and sponge don't go together. 

Honestly. How did I not know this?!

I followed the directions. Perhaps my oven is a dud (quite likely). Possibly my baking powder is passed the use-by date (more than likely). The resulting cakes were flat. Wooden. Brown. Like frisbees. 

My husband suggested a Royal trifle, which sounded like a good idea but still required the cake to be edible. 
It wasn't!

Luckily the high tea was in the afternoon, so I still had time to do a mad dash to the local shopping centre. I purchased a ready made vanilla cake with jam and cream and beautiful ombre pink swirly rosette icing. The girls gasped with awe and pleasure.  Ellie was amazed. I was pretty darn amazed too - who knew birthday cakes could be so easy and impressive? And instant. 
I couldn't have been more proud. 
Poorer but proud. 


Here it is half eaten. Happy Birthday topper was $2 from Kmart!

We had fun. A royal high tea is hard to beat. William and Kate agree. 


Monday, 12 October 2015

Bye Bye Thomas. Bye Bye Childhood...



The youngest of my darlings has recently declared that "Thomas is for babies". 
I must admit that being the mature and worldly wise parent that I am, I didn't take this statement very well. It felt like a physical blow. I took this blow personally, it seemed to suggest my own children were strangers to me. 

Kind of like the time I presented seven-year-old Mim with a (supermarket bought but still) princess birthday cake and she said: "Oh thanks Mum, but I really wanted an Avenger's Cake!". 

Splutter!
What?!

So when Arch declared that "Thomas is for babies" I tried to deal with it rationally. Nah. That wasn't going to work. I felt stabs of irritation or was it resentment? Probably both. 

Irritation at the fickleness of today's youth. I mean he's four. He is still a baby to me. Surely he could have liked Thomas trains for at least another year or two? 

"What will I get him for Christmas now?" I moaned to my husband. 
"He's already asked me for my iphone," mentioned my husband gloomily. 
I snorted. One of the older ones has put him up to this. 
Grrrr.

Then there's my justified resentment for all the hours/days/years (and not to mention CASH!) I'd devoted to Thomas. All the time I'd spent searching shops for bargain trains and track. The euphoria (yes, I please easily) at snaffling a genuine Thomas table (not with the drawer, dang) from Ebay for a great price. The excitement at giving Arch the Special Edition Birthday Thomas train with two carriages (he was wrapt!) for his last birthday. The licenced pajamas, rash vests, caps and preschool bags, lunch boxes, drink bottles, pencils and edible cupcake toppers!!! Oh my giddy aunt, we'd had IT ALL!!!!* 

And then there were the nights, too many to count, of battling through reading those overly wordy, annoyingly argumentative, morosely moralistic and exceptionally boring story books by the good Rev Auden. A publisher's dream - never ending, and never out of print! All that time I'd have much rather been watching bad television or being asleep.

* Actually we never HAD IT ALL. Arch (and I) always wanted the covetable Island of Sodor lighthouse with the real light. But we never managed to get it. Doh!
So while struggling not to tear up and howl at the moon at this crushing milestone signifying the end of babyhood and possibly the childhood of a not-yet five-year-old, I decided to face reality and embrace the change. 

HELLO Ebay!

Here is my EBAY LISTING. As yet, there are no bidders:

I have a plastic carton of assorted wooden track pieces from the much loved and traditional (ie non electronic form of childhood amusement) Thomas the Tank Engine set including some Brio matching track.

Please note, the Brio set was a collector's space themed box that I was euphoric to get from a toy outlet store many years ago (sob) so some pieces are printed with aliens and there is a plastic moon rock piece for added spacey authenticity.
Box includes:
7x long straight
9x lg med straight (Don't know what the official terminology is, sorry)
3x med straight
4x short straight
8x wavy 
8x runoffs
10x short curves
10x dual track pieces
67x med curves
1x turntable track
Assorted trees and signs and roadblocks and fences
Plus whatever else I can find by this auction's end (Mostly currently underfoot, buried in underwear drawers and lurking in boxes of other games and toys that will no doubt be listed here at a later date).

If you want trains we have a mix of about 50 that have been bought, borrowed, sourced at opshops, stolen from or donated by friends (and if not returned, I am sorry. But, no I will not return them now as I have no way of knowing where they came from and who they once belonged to - yes call me a bad mother.) Apparently some of the colourful characters and very-bad-engines are still close to my son's heart and as i have neither time or energy to deal with the emotions attached to separating my son from Henry, Gordon, James, Cameron and Bertie and Butthead? (sorry Rev Auden) they are not included in this current listing.

Now to the track: If you are going to get upset at a few pieces with missing ends or a scratch or two please don't bid. Most of the collection is in excellent condition, well-loved but clean and looked after. I may have made a mistake in counting the number of each piece exactly (it was an excruciating task I failed in bribing my children to do for me) too so if you are going to be devastated by finding one less piece than i've mentioned (or you may get lucky and get a couple of extras!) then please save yourself angst and don't bid. 

No I am not trying to rip anyone off or deceive you and make your life a misery. I have never been brilliant at maths, which sometimes is a good thing (like if I was able to add up how much most of this train set originally cost us, I'd be crying a lot more than I already am!).

I am merely an at-times overwhelmed mother of multiple children (seemed like a good idea at the time) desperately trying to declutter and keep myself sane and my home off the hoarders program. 

Truth be told I would love to keep this set for the grandchildren but as that is (hopefully) many years off my husband has said we're keeping the train set over his dead body. And frankly there is no room for me to keep his dead body or the train set. And I am too tired to argue anyway on account of all the decluttering that is pretty much a full time job and with Christmas approaching my rising sense of panic needs to be alleviated in a way that doesn't require drugs or therapy (as ain't nobody got time for that!). 

So if you would like to supplement your Thomas set prior to the festive season with enough track to get you from here to Melbourne (depending on your current location, obviously, and only in a very round about way, on account of the glut of curved pieces) then please feel free to bid on this great collection of classic toys!! 

I promise I will not crazily stalk you in ten years time accusing you of denying my grandchildren of a classic wooden (non-electronic) collector's piece set of boyhood memorabilia that really actually belongs to me and could you please sell it back to me at 2015 prices!????

Okay, I can't actually promise that. 

Pick up is from my house. I'll be the one sobbing in the corner and holding on to the box until you drive off.

Questions and comments are welcome and answers may be forthcoming (hey, I could use the distraction!) ... 

too cool for trains and so NOT getting an iphone....


Friday, 25 September 2015

Kids Books Reviewed: Alice Miranda and Exploding Endings!


Good news stories in book publishing land can be rare these days - which is why I was so thrilled to discover that one of my favourite South Coast bookshops has launched a publishing house that in just two years already has a dozen titles to boast about! 
 
Exploding Ending Bk 1 Painted Dogs and Doom Cakes
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Founded in 2012 by local South Coast Bookshop owners, Michelle and Garry Evans, the Harbour Publishing House is producing some great looking books that are making their mark, explosively!

Their range of titles is imaginative and diverse - already including a luscious children's picture book by well known author, Di Morrisey. 

Joining the current colouring craze, they are soon to publish an illustrated for colouring version (complete with the FULL TEXT!) of Alice in Wonderland. Garry assures me that more titles in this format are planned. I can't wait to get my hands on them! Stay tuned. 
 
Another of their titles, already in its second print run, is Exploding Endings Book One: Painted Dogs & Doom Cakes (the first in an oncoming trilogy). I read it before my kids managed to wrestle it from me. They devoured it with gusto! From raining lemonade and mass detentions to terrorising dentists and marauding kids doing what they love best (marauding!) this book is laugh-out-loud fun! 

If your kids aren't particularly keen readers and the semi-graphic based style of wimpy kids and Big Nate have appealed to them in the past, then they might just love this collection of short stories and amusing scribbles. Surely the faintest possibility that it might provide you with a rare quiet moment in the school hols as they curl up in a corner to read will make it worth the purchase price? 

The author, primary school teacher, Tim Harris, showcases a good mix of kid's mischief and mayhem to cause if not explosive chuckling under the covers, then definitely a snort or two! I have visions of him writing his stories (during class) with his expert insight in to exactly what makes kids laugh. 

Home grown publishers and risk takers dedicated to producing quality books deserve our support. Check out Harbour Publishing online to buy from them today. 

Next, for all the girls (and boys) hanging out for the latest instalment of Alice-Miranda adventures, Alice-Miranda in the Alps does not disappoint (not sure Jacqueline Harvey could disappoint her loyal fans even if she tried!). 

Alice-Miranda in the Alps 12, Jacqueline Harvey
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Here's my ten-year-olds reaction to the book. 

Eleanore's Review:

When A-M and her friends venture to the Swiss Alps to ski, sightsee and experience the white turf racing event, not everything goes as planned. 
For instance, when the Baron - a friend of the Highton-Smith Pennington Joneses, shows up unexpectedly after being uncontactable for months on end, it seems their establishment, the Grand Hotel Von Zurchy will need to be closed. Not only that but why does the new skiing group wear backpacks as heavy as themselves and refuse to teach any lessons? Can A-M work out the culprits before disaster strikes? 
I thought that A-M in the Alps was a book packed full of suspense. It kept me guessing and every time I thought I'd identified the baddies, another lot would take their place. 
I especially liked the eccentric Otto Fanger and his dog, Gertie, and all of their matching diamonds. A-M and her friends learning to ski and snowboard was hilarious. The bruises - ouch!
I rate this book 9 out of 10 stars because it is awesome in every way. I'm already hanging out for the next adventure! Oh and I've asked Mum for the 2106 A-M Diary for my birthday. Fingers crossed!!

Happy Reading! 

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

From the Mundane to the Magnificent


We're enjoying a few weeks down the South Coast. The weather has been a crazy mix of days that feel like summer followed by days that feel like winter. On one of the summery days we headed to the beach and had a few fun hours in the sun. By noon clouds had started to blow in and we were happy we had got in the best part of the day.
Except it didn't turn out to be the BEST part of the day, as that was still to come.

By late afternoon the troops were getting restless - so much of school holidays becomes a delicate balancing act of yay we're having fun moments through to who are these people and how can I get away from them??!  

So we hopped in the car for a drive. Because as every parent knows, whinging kids are so much more fun to be with in confined spaces... We drove aimlessly until deciding to head to an inlet and beach a bit further down the coast. It has big rock platforms, great for foraging for shells and for spotting crabs. It would delay working out what to have for dinner. It would provide distraction from petty arguments and the "I'm bored's!" 

The sun was starting to set and a storm looked to be on it's way. 

It was only when we pulled in to the carpark at the inlet and hopped out in to the balmy night air that the vast expanse of the whirling and churning skies above us took our breath away. Literally. 

Suddenly the kids were silent. I could have wept.



I only wrote about clouds a little while ago - mostly of the fluffy and cute kind. Maybe I made the clouds sound a bit mundane. These weren't so much of that. Instead, try awe-inspiring, massively amazing and magnificent, and even just a tad scary... 
 


The colours around us went from deep blue blacks to soft pastel flurries. The way the fading light (actually it was more like a fireball behind us) reflected in the rock pools caused gasps of delight. My phone photos hardly did justice to the magical land sky and sea scapes. 

I kept thinking, we just came here by chance and look what we're seeing!! But of course it wasn't by chance really. 






As the sky colours morphed from dark to light, we stood marvelling at the beauty. At least we did when we weren't yelling at the kids not to push each other, to roll their jeans up and: Not too close to the edge!!!!

I couldn't even get Arch to stand with the others here. Oh well. 






Everyone agreed it was an awesome sight and as the sun disappeared behind the trees we knew we'd been privileged to have seen a great ending to a day that had glimpses of great amongst the every day stuff.



Kind of a miracle in itself. 
Mkes you appreciate the normal more, and the moments that make you happy that both can exist side by side.
Definitely a day to remember! 

Friday, 11 September 2015

Spring!


Couldn't be happier that SPRING is finally here!
Term 3 has been mired for us by weeks and weeks of colds and flu as the kids passed it around to each other, spent days coughing, listless, feverish and overwrought (or maybe that was just me?), and then returned to school for brief periods before succumbing to the next bug. I meanwhile stayed sick the entire time and only made it to the doctors when I realised I was just not getting better and coughing was making sleep impossible..

Antibiotics have never been so welcome!

So, spring. There are blossoms abounding, the days are crisp and warm(ish) and things are definitely looking up all round.

We made it to the Kings School Fair, where fairy floss was bigger than our heads!





And now the school term is almost over we are packing for some weeks by the sea (where the weather could go either way, but a change of scene will be a tonic in itself!). The kids are beside themselves with excitement and have been writing hotly discussed TO DO lists of favourite activities:
  • Eat Ice cream
  • Build Sandcastles
  • Climb a mountain
  • Visit a lighthouse
  • Catch a crab
  • Sleep a lot (yep, that's my one)
And this is the first year of packing for a beach holiday where the car will not be STUFFED FULL with piles of books. We have officially reached the era of the e-book. Well, maybe I'm exaggerating. I'm still taking a hefty bag of fiction and decorating titles - all to read, some to review, some just for the pictures... Some just because I can't face finding myself somewhere without a Jane Austen close to hand. The kids have carefully downloaded a number of library books and other classics they say will replace their usual hefty load. Then there is the local library we visit while away. And numerous secondhand shops where we usually find a few treasures as well.

Here are some of my blossom and flower pics, to make your heart sing for spring too.

This tree is the last of three that originally stood outside our house. (Pics from previous years.)


Poppies I bought from the fair:


A potted gerbera plant that cost $6 from the fruit shop and just keeps on flowering!


Camellia petals. Just as lovely on the ground as on the tree!


Hope you're enjoying this blooming time of year and can take heart from today's inspirational poster ($7 from Kmart!)