Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Christmas Countdown

On December 1 we will start our adventure with the Advent Calendar. I'll admit last year we almost gave up. Oh the fights it caused! One child (called: Anonymous, for the purposes of this post) would get up before all of the others. They would rifle through the drawers, peeking at what figure from the nativity was coming next, and change it depending on whose turn it was to unwrap. Anon would then not be able to contain themselves and burst out with "It's a sheep" before the other child had opened the drawer to find out for themselves. Oh the howling that followed!

This year the Advent Calendar will take pride of place on top of the the highest bookshelf. We will gaze admiringly at it from afar, kind of like the shepherds did long ago with the star..

 House decorating is slowly taking place. I'm trying to keep the interior decorating tasteful..

which will sort of make up for the tree (which is bright, chaotic and sort of over-adorned with tinsel) so probably not "tasteful", but who cares?!

Mimi has made another angel for the top of the tree (thank you crafty mums at playgroup!) so we've added her to the tree, along with last year's angel, who was a bit more quirky and didn't want to get left in the box this year all on her own. This heart is one of my new decorations (from Note to Self). Am loving the silvered glass look with the old-style wire. Sort of glam meets pioneer. Also got some fantastic silvered glass ornaments for the tree (am hanging them high up the tree on account of the crawler). They were reduced to 49c each in Target - I found them shoved in a corner last February and have been excited all year about getting them out!             
Am also loving that the Christian radio station ( is already playing a wonderful selection of Christmas carols. I've downloaded (legally!) the new Michael Buble Christmas album (it's okay) and have got out my old Amy Grant favourites. My other favourite of the last few years is CeCe Winans "His Gift". It makes us all sing our hearts out on the school run, and reminds me of all we have to be thankful for this year...

Monday, 28 November 2011

Spring Cleaning

Summer is almost here and I've been hit (late I'll admit) with the spring cleaning bug. Last year I was heavily pregnant, yes it did seem like it lasted all year, and for the vast majority of it "heavy" was the best word for me. So cleaning up the house hardly featured on my list of things to do (okay, it still doesn't and this year my excuse has been sleep deprivation and a new baby). My husband through sheer desperation last December spent a full day (and we're talking 12 hours with a fifteen minute break) cleaning up our kids' rooms. I knew it was going to be a bad day when about 20 minutes in to the BIG cleanup he came outside and announced in an appalled voice that he'd moved the beds and found four rotting sandwiches. After that he stopped speaking. For some situations there are no words.

Anyway, this week I attacked the kids rooms and with the exception of two rotting apples found festering behind the bookcase, it wasn't as bad as I'd feared. I bundled up the clothes that no longer fit and divided them in to stuff I could give away to friends and relatives, and stuff (still wearable) I could take to the op shop. Wow, finally I could get the cupboard doors to shut.

Similarly with toys I was pleased to discover some new unopened toys that I'll be able to give to Kmart's wishing tree appeal  It's a great cause. I binned the broken stuff and will op shop some of the good used toys that they've grown out of or tired of. I'm always amazed how a quick clean out also encourages a rediscovery of toys they may have forgotten about. Sometimes using your toys on a rotational basis is just as good as buying new ones!

I then did a cull of their bookshelves and any good quality books that are no longer being read I'm going to take to a local book exchange who may accept them (I get credit for this which means I can choose 'new' books from there at no cost) and the remainder can again go to the op shop.

Lastly, I rearranged some of the furniture because I find that nothing inspires me to clean more than the chance to change things around and find new exciting ways to live. Sometimes it only takes changing the bed from one side of the room to the other to open up whole new possibilities for displaying pictures or making a new play space. It keeps life interesting, and that's not such a bad thing (even if it does involve some cleaning).
The sometimes messy angelic children

Friday, 25 November 2011

The Santa Photo

As a kid I hated Santa. My mum loves reminding me that any time my brother and I caught sight of him we would run howling in the other direction. "I don't like his beard!" I was once heard to yell (funny, since my Dad always had a beard..) We didn't seem any worse off for not having a belief in the fat man in the red suit. We knew what the real meaning of Christmas was and my Mum said it was a relief not to have to make up stuff about who Santa was and what he supposedly did.

When I started having my own children I was sure I'd follow the same pattern, and to some extent I have. My kids are in no doubt that the reason we celebrate Christmas is because Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, that he came to earth as a human in order to save the world.

But I don't actually mind if they enjoy a little of the Santa thing as well. They know he isn't the one buying their presents. There have been too many agonising shopping trips with me screeching: "Avert your eyes!!" as I cram certain items in to the back of the stroller, trying not get irritated (it is supposed to be the season of good cheer after all!) while ignoring the shining eyes, peeking, whispering and snorts of excitement!

For the past eight years the shopping centre Santa photo has caused me, if not always the kids, great joy. It is a precious moment in time when, at around the start of December every year I get an official SNAP of what the kids look like, how big they are, how many there are, who has teeth, who's lost teeth..

Last year's photo - Archie arrived too late!

Occasionally there are moments of confusion:
Who is Santa again Mum? He's a nice man who likes rewarding kids at Christmas time.
Why does he have a big white beard? To keep his face warm in winter.
What about in summer time?
He probably gets it trimmed.
How does he get all around the world in one night? Um, there are reindeers, and um, possibly a motorised sleigh...
How come he looks different in different shopping centres? The real Santa can't be everywhere at once so he has trained helpers who stand in for him..
Why do we have to get our photo with him every year? Well, because I want to compare you with last year's photo, and it's a Christmas tradition. And maybe Mum sort of wishes that just once when she was little, she hadn't run away every time...

2011 Santa photo with all four children.
Lft: Our first Santa shot with baby Jesse (and my 2 nieces) in 2003;
Rt: Our third Santa shot with Jesse and Eleanore in 2005 (I made it into this one!). 

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Collections, Chaos and a little bit of Cake

Do I usually do my Christmas shopping in op shops? Not on purpose! However, if I just happen to be browsing there (highly likely) and the right thing comes along (quite often) well of course I'll snap it up. Hopefully the bargain I've gained will give me more $$ to spend on other parts of the gift.

I've found something wonderful for my mother.

As you can see from the pictures above, these are lovely pieces of Royal Doulton china, from the Charles Dickens Collection.  Made from 1903 through to the 1930's, each piece portrays a different figure from one of Dicken's much loved stories. Mum already has a couple of pieces, and I'm pretty sure she's really going to like these!

The op shop I found these in had an entire collection of maybe 50 pieces. Vases, plates, bowls, cups and even apparently a huge teapot that someone had already bought. It's rare to find so many pieces together. They'd obviously been well cared for and were probably the collector's pride and joy. So how did they end up in an op shop? I'd like to think the person donated or bequeathed it to the charity because they admired their work, and wanted them to benefit from selling it. I hope it didn't mean the owner's family placed no value on the items and hence decreed: Get rid of those ugly things! Send them to the op shop! 
Whatever the reason they ended up there, I'm glad someone loved and cared for this collection for so long. And this Christmas we'll take pleasure in a little part of it too.

And the crawling-chaos-causer continues apace. Where ever there is a mess to be made, Archie is there. On the up side, he's sleeping a whole lot better now that he's so active. It's tiring creating mayhem!

Also Mimi turned five this week. We had some family over to help celebrate her birthday, and while she didn't eat the hamburgers I'd made for her birthday tea (too soggy) or the cake her Aunty Anna had made (don't like the icing), or the cake I then bought the next day from the supermarket and decorated (don't like the jam), she ate a banana and went to bed happy, declaring: "I'm ready for big school in the morning Mum."

Lovely cake enjoyed by the family (but sadly not eaten by Mim)

Lovely cake #2 (also enjoyed by family but sadly, not by Mim)

Monday, 21 November 2011

BOOKS: Wish List (part 2)

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - one of my all time favourite novels and the ONE book I insisted Jonathan read before we got married (okay I didn't stick to this - there wasn't time - you try organising a wedding in 3 months! He read it later.)
I first read it when I was twelve. My grandmother had given me her small dark blue leather bound copy (which I still own and treasure). It was the first book I ever read that I could not put down until I had finished it. If some evil cosmic force has STOPPED you from reading it thus far, then don't waste a moment more! This deluxe edition by Penguin is a paperback, but I love the way the cover has captured the gothic 'vibe' of the story. Yes it is a love story, and it is a great one indeed.

house, published by the NSW Historic Houses Trust could be just the thing you're looking for this Christmas. Rich and vibrant, well known photographer, Robyn Stacey, takes us behind the scenes of historic homes in Sydney and beyond. Featuring both extraordinary and the every day items from the private collections of Elizabeth Bay House, Vaucluse House, Rouse Hill House and farm and others, this book ticks many boxes for me: fascinating history and interiors, beautiful objects and the chance to sneak a peak into the households of others.

Two books popular in our house this year were The Boy's Book How to be the Best at Everything and The Girl's Book How to be the Best at Everything.   Aimed at encouraging both boys and girls to do something more interesting than watching television, we didn't take much convincing to give these books a go. With suggested activities such as how to write in secret code, read a compass, find water in the desert, do a perfect handstand, make a boomerang, press flowers, teach a dog to shake hands and hypnotise a chicken (you do that, not the dog) - my kids have had literally hours of fun with these books. There's even a book #2 for each when the list/your kids are exhausted. n.b. There are many other titles in this series, including the How to be the Best for grandparents, children and mums and dads...unless you think you don't need it?

Other book suggestions:
FOR KIDS: Vintage collections from 2nd hand book shops, op shops or ebay (eg. the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew series, Enid Blyton and Beatrix Potter)      
SEWING: Stylish Dress Book - Wear with Freedom. Okay I don't sew, but if I did - this lovely book, translated from Japanese, has the most gorgeous designs of simple women's dresses (there's another book for girl's wear). If I did sew, I would definitely be buying myself this book (patterns are included)

Friday, 18 November 2011

Note to Self

What makes a good homewares shop? It mustn't be pretentious, in manner or content. Decorating should capture your imagination and heart. I want inspiration, practicality, glamour, innovation, vintage treasure, old mixed with new.. Is this too much to ask or expect? Sometimes..

Since I never get to shop alone anymore, and having children in tow usually means browsing is brief, the shop must a) hold my attention, and b) not be so highbrow that the items are alienating or astronomically overpriced. I want a range of beautiful and eclectic objects that make me think: "Yes! I know just the place for that!" or "That would look perfect with...", "That's a look I could try..." or "I never thought of that before!".

It must have the Ahhhhh factor. Catching sight of the window display you step into a  new world of delightful and endless possibility. One such shop I've discovered, is called "Note to Self", in Epping. The creative and friendly women who own it choose beautiful things and display them in such a way that, well, makes me go: Ahhhhh. Whether it's sparkling glass ware with delicately embossed designs on a silver tray, rich velvet ribbon on vintage wooden spools, silvery mirrors and scented candles, antique knives, exquisite books and cards,  thick garden twine, silk flowers and topiary (I seem to have a weakness for all these things)...there is something for everyone (um except maybe the minimalists of this world, sorry, this shop is probably NOT for you). Labelling themelves as offering eclectic style and seasonal living, I can always find something decorative, unusual and useful. It is perfect for finding that elusive gift. Obviously at Christmas time this shop is just wonderful!

I usually buy one or two new decorations each year (okay maybe more than one or two..)         

Enough to make the most committed minimalist reassess, don't you think?

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Hair of Shame

It's not irking me THAT much, but having a bubba about to turn ONE who has little, okay, NO hair, is a tiny bit disturbing. It's not that he's not cute, and chubby and smily and kissable like pretty much all babies are. And it does sort of give him an air of mystery as, a year on, we still get to wonder exactly what he's going to look like (with hair I mean). I think this photo was taken of him just as he wondered what life will be like for the next 12 months, with no hair...

Out of my four children, three were born with no hair. Jesse (the abberation) had a blonde spike down the centre of his head (yes, born with a little mohawk, how cool is that?) that looked so cute and everyone commented on it. I'll never forget my astonishment at being asked (seriously) by a girl in my new mother's group, what product I used to make it stand up. Um, what?

Mim had no hair for the first year, and then sort of grew this wispy hair that took another year to get to her shoulders. I look back at the photos now and wince a little bit, because the hair so needed to be cut off, or at least trimmed. But obviously I was so keen on cultivating the little hair she had, that I was not letting the scissors anywhere near it. I'll try not to make the same mistake with Arch. I'll take the approach of a chinese friend of mine, and if the hair is wispy and weak, I'll shave it all off in the hope it grows back thicker and stronger.. at least I will if I'm brave enough.

Mimi: Cute but bald baby

Mimi: 5 year old with great hair

Monday, 14 November 2011

We are going on a summer holiday (soon!)

When I first met my husband I found out that for most of his childhood, his family had always visited the same beach town for holidays, staying in the same beach shack that an old uncle owned. Coming from a family that had had hardly ever visited the same place twice for holidays, the idea seemed ridiculous. Fancy always going to the same place I'd scoffed! (was obviously trying to impress with my attitude). I mean, how boring and mundane. Right?   
Well, skip forward a while, and for the last 8 years, our growing family has visited that same beach town, every year. The beach shack has long gone, but we've stayed in ones just like it. I discovered that (particularly with small kids) there are many benefits to finding somewhere you really like, and sticking with it. There are no theme parks or shopping centres and we know where the best beach spots are; where to bbq without mozzies or flies; the best place for milkshakes on a lazy afternoon; the best place to take your boogie board if you want to catch a wave...We're members of the local library there and often catch up with  friends (some locals and others holidaying like us), savouring each moment of a time in the year when life seems to slow down a little.

Our kids have a multitude of happy memories from this regular holiday spot. And so far we haven't found a reason to change the tradition. The countdown is on until we return. We'll check it all out to see what's changed, and what never seems to. And for a blissful couple of weeks, we'll swim and build sandcastles, play boardgames, eat icecream and laze  around reading. Can't wait!

And as you can see, our new crawler has become a very busy boy. So many cupboards, so little time!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Meeting for coffee


I read somewhere this week that mothers/parents spend around $35 a week on coffee. $35! That's terrible! I thought. And then I added up how much I probably spend...ahem. 
Moving on, I realised where I spent a lot of my time when for Mim's preschool project of looking after Scribbles the Bear (pictured) for a week, we took photos of him and her in about 10 different cafes.
Needless to say, when a friend rang this morning and suggested we meet for coffee, I suggested my house as a venue. I hadn't used the coffee machine for about 6 months but it's not THAT hard!  Hmm. Well, the coffee tasted interesting. Maybe using the coffee grinder to crush cloves for the spice cake wasn't the best idea I've had. There's certainly much to do when trying to replace your favourite coffee shop! I put some cool music on the random play and got out some good cups.

I didn't actually ask my friend to rate my kitchen over her favourite coffee shop (she's from the Central Coast and there's not many good things happening in coffee land up there) but I think it was all passable. We had a great time catching up - and it was nice to have seconds of the cake without worrying about how much it was all costing. The kids were able to run around and the baby had a bit of a sleep. Of course when it was all over, I had to clean up a bit and am now feeling a little tired. There's not much time for a nap though, well, not if I'm going to get that takeaway latte before the school run!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A milestone has been reached!

I am pleased to announce: we have a crawler in the house! Yes, at 10.5 months old he is the fastest of our 4 to reach this milestone! Now I am NOT a milestone counter - I am terrible at remembering first words, smiles, first walking and so on (actually, just getting everyone's birthdays right in my head is a challenge) but I am pretty sure no one in our house has crawled earlier than this. And boy is he proud of himself!
So I was only slightly hurt this afternoon when I did my usual encouraging "Come on Arch, come to me - you can do it!" to which he looked at me and then promptly swung around and crawled off in the other direction.

Sigh. I do love them at this age and I love to see them developing and getting bigger and stronger. But that crawling away is a sure sign of things to come.

Monday, 7 November 2011

When fantasy becomes reality

I don't know about you, but for me decorating often belongs far more in the realms of fantasy than reality. I'd like to be one of those people who live in a picture-perfect house where every piece of furniture and fabric is pefectly matched - but that's not how we live. Our home is a work in progress, and one day maybe I'll have a room I think of as finished, but a whole house? In my dreams..

I adore pouring over decorating magazines and books and my collection has grown over the years, with the occasional cull due to moving, storage or husband pressures. However, due to circumstances (renting for several years), finances (never abundant) and energy levels (flagging often), I don't often feel my decorating aspirations have been realised.
So, rather than regale you with pictures of my decorating failures/challenges/works in progress (ie. messy kids rooms, overflowing cupboards and "rat's nests" - I think we all have them, don't we?), I want to look at a few examples of decorating success. Instances where the decorating dream has become a reality - yes, once in a while something goes right.

This magazine cover is from a Christmas 2007 issue of a UK mag I've always enjoyed. Against the strong wall colour this beautiful starburst mirror impressed me as a perfect focal point for the living space. Was slightly crushed to discover the mirror pictured cost 2,400 pounds! Obviously I'd need a cheaper option. And earlier this year, I found it! Late one afternoon as I raced past a homewares shop in a local shopping centre (with 4 children, in search of chicken wings for dinner) my eagle decorating eye caught sight of a starburst mirror in the back of the shop. Racing in for a closer look I was ecstatic to discover how similar it was to my magazine cover, and it cost well under $100! Hooray for cheap chinese imports!
The pigeon hole cupboard (pictured in my header above) was another success. Found while holidaying on the south coast, I knew this piece was versatile with that great rustic industrial look I admired. But it was a risk, and I'm not that brave when it comes to handing over my $. The furniture dealer offered to buy it back if I got it home and changed my mind (he was sick of my indecision!) and I didn't regret the purchase.

 I love these fantastic european-style bookcases I purchased from Ebay. (So happy infact I bought 3!) Providing a perfect storage solution for my large collection of books and magazines (+ cupboards for hiding junk!) the colour and classic style won't date and is far more substantial than similarly priced options in flatpacks. Actually I had to laugh when a Sydney Morning Herald style guide promoted an almost identical bookcase as being "ebonised wood" (meaning timber painted black!) from a high end decorating boutique for the bargain price of $20k (could have bought at least 10 of mine for that). Ouch!

And finally, here is a close up of one of a pair of Art Deco light fittings we found for our living room. By matching the style of lighting to the age and character of our house, we added instant authenticity to our extension. The lights make a fabulous glow and I love the way they give our room an old-world feel. If you're interested in art deco or federation style hardware, check out ebay or a place like Chippendale Restorations in Sydney that specialise in reconditioning old building materials.

I'm glad my home is a decorating work-in-progress. It would be boring to have everything perfect, and I'd have nothing to forage in junkshops or online for if every space, surface and object was complete.

Friday, 4 November 2011

BOOKS: Wish List (part 1)

Here are 2 great books I can heartily recommend for Christmas gifts if you're looking for inspiration. And then one I'm hoping (big hint here, family) to get my hands on over Christmas...(it doesn't hurt to hope).
Apples for Jam is one of my all time favourite cook books. Beautifully produced with gorgeous photos that have a nostalgic family theme (I have a thing for red shoes, so this book won me on the cover!). Kiros's recipes are practical, tasty and versatile. This book is a bit more general than some of her others, and is very family friendly, I love that she often advises on what to add or subtract to ensure kids will eat it. The chapters are divided by colour - so if you feel like eating something red, her tomato lasagne is fantastic!

If you're after a great read for your mother, sister, an aunt or friend, you can't go past Kate Morton. The Forgotten Garden is her second novel, the first being The Shifting Fog which was equally compelling (think Downton Abbey). This one has a more Australian flavour (though much of the story is actually set in the UK) and is a captivating and atmospheric story of secrets, family and memory. I love the covers of her novels which look moody and mysterious facing out on your bookshelf! (can't do this with an ipad folks)

Here's the one I'm hoping to snaffle this Christmas. I had a quick browse in the bookstore and the photography was heavenly. Interior shots of wonderfully dark and glamourous restaurants and hotels oozed that unique NY style and buzz. Taschen's take on things is often unusual and I'd love to discover the quirky places that your normal safer style-guide probably misses. I might actually get to visit the Big Apple next year (first time!) so this book would obviously be for research purposes as well as providing some decorating inspiration in the meantime.. (there's also London, Berlin and Paris in this series - ooh la la!)

Will bring more great book and gift ideas soon, but am trying to ease in to the whole Christmas gift buying cycle...I don't want anyone to panic just because there is only 50 shopping days left!!!!!!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Starting Something New

Today Mimi had her first day of Kindergarten Orientation. I wasn't sure how she would go, she has a confident big brother and sister, but sometimes her shyness can take over. Luckily for both of us, the excitement of lining up with the other kids to go down and see the classroom won out over any brief thoughts of missing Mum. I'm glad (okay, just a tiny bit sorry) there hasn't been many moments of great separation anxiety in my family!

It got me thinking that there is often something a little bit scary when starting a new thing. I know when I had my first baby (no this won't turn in to a labour/delivery story!) I was pretty darn scared. Not having held a baby more than twice in my life suddenly didn't seem like such great preparation when I finally had to take care of my own!

Sometimes it's the lack of preparedness, or fear of the unknown, or even just fear - of failure, or success.. that stops us from feeling confident or brave enough to branch out.

Anyway, I'm glad I finally overcame my fear of blogging and gave it a go. I've so enjoyed posting thoughts, photos and other assorted ephemera here and can only hope that LOVEDECORATELETTERS brings a little bit of fun into your lives too. Thanks for the kind words, comments and encouragement so far. I really appreciate it.

And now, my latest bargain finds:

Great discounted books from Dymocks for some birthday and Christmas gifts; Belle princess plate from the Royal Doulton Outlet store at DFO was only $9 and will be loved by Mimi for her upcoming birthday; this fab purple glass fruit bowl from Target was only $3 (there is a smallish chip in the rim, but I decided for that price I could pretend it wasn't there).