Thursday, 29 March 2012

Autumn Days

I've taken this photo, not to show you the rubbish bin and power lines (really!) but to show you that all of that summer rain is starting to be replaced with clear blue skies, warming sun and a nip to the air. Autumnal days are I think my favourite time of year. On the weekend we took scooters, strollers, blankets, snacks and books to the local park. I could have slept on the ground for hours, and probably would have, until the whinging started.
"How long do we have to be here?"
"I've hurt my leg,"
"I'm too hot/cold/tired."
"Why are you sleeping Mum?"
"When are we going home?"
"I'm bored!"
Hmmm.
I must admit, it is hard to be irritable with this face.

We're gearing up for the fast-approaching Easter holiday. We spend it in the Blue Mountains in a very cosy house. But we have to be prepared for EVERY weather system, which can often happen all on the one day.

Some years I pack better than others. Some years I take seemingly everything we own and then use hardly any of it. Other years I pair back and then we run out of warm/cool things on day 2. One day I may get the balance right, but there are some essentials we can't do without:

Merino under layers are unbeatable. They make you toasty warm, are not bulky (or itchy!), and not stifling if the weather warms up. I nab pieces when the bush walking stores have sales, and I also keep an eye out on ebay. Once a year ALDI even stocks a range. Each piece is $30 but worth every cent.

A decent coat. Op shops can be great for this otherwise expensive item, that in our climate might only be worn a for a few weeks of the year. I've found fabulous secondhand coats, in as new condition for under $15 each. Our current faves are a Bossini down-filled,  pale pink coat for my seven-year-old, and a maroon parker with fake fur by Minihaha for my five-year-old. We seem to have a pink theme going on at the moment, but last year we wore black/blue. I often buy coats when they are too big, as it's amazing how quickly kids grow out of stuff and into stuff! Look on ebay under 'coat' and your child's age group/size (eg. 6) to see what you come up with. The bargains can be astounding!

Boots are also a must when cold, rain and mud have to be dealt with. A few years ago in a panicked trip to a shoe store the day before we set off on Easter holidays, I found on the sale table a pair of light-weight waterproof gortex boots for the girls by ECCO. They have been amazing. I later found a larger sized pair on ebay, and the ones we've grown out of have been passed on to relatives. They're still going strong. Other boots have been sale items or op shop finds.  Again, you have to buy them when you find them, as nothing good stays around for long. I am a bit of a brand snob - but have definitely found through experience that the good brands (even when secondhand!) outlast and outclass cheaper generic shoes every time.

For girls, you can almost never have too many pairs of tights! One of my girls is not a fan of jeans/trousers so it is the only way I can stay happy about her wearing skirts when the temp is dropping. I love buying up pairs in the end-of-season sales (Pumpkin Patch and Kmart) for the following year, and have picked up snazzy ones on ebay, particularly from international brands like MP, Cakewalk and Room Seven.
If only they made these in adult sizes!

Monday, 26 March 2012

Clutter: 'Old technology" is the problem!

I picked up some lovely leather bound photo albums on special the other day -  they were less than $10 each! "You must be selling a lot of these!" i exclaimed excitedly to the sales assistant. Her forced smile brought me up short. "Not really - outdated technology."
Oh.

It got me thinking about how much of what is taking up space in my house - the clutter objects, that are always needing to be fitted in, put away, tidied up. It's the "old technology". All my books are the obvious culprits. I had 18 boxes of them when I first got married, and at our last move two years ago, we'd about doubled that. We have six large book cases (plus a few smaller ones) that would be pretty superfluous if we didn't have the book collection.


My entire cookbook collection should go. That will free up at least an entire cupboard of much needed space. Instead I'll have a tablet mounted on a special stand on the kitchen bench with all of my fave recipes accessible at the touch of a button. I'm not sure where one keeps notes on recipes, such as: Made this for church picnic Dec 2007. Don't think it was responsible for the gastro outbreak, but definitely refrigerate cream next time..



Which brings me to my magazines - a collection sadly not as immense as it once was, due to a few periods of self-righteous decluttering that saw me bin my treasured UK Elle's ("They were going mouldy!" that's my husband yelling - I thought they were still readable); and SELL my US Harper's Bazaar collection on ebay. Woe is me, the money wasn't worth it, they were works of art!
I still have substantial numbers of Donna Hay, Delicious, Victoria, UK Homes & Gardens, US Country Style, Australian Country Style, Good Taste, and others too numerous to mention. Goodness, if I changed to online subscriptions only I think my house would actually be approaching the realms of, dare I say it, MINIMALIST!

But why stop there? All of my current and past (yes, I do keep the old ones) diaries and calendars would be no more. And finally my address books and birthday books would be chucked on top of this (now massive) pile of obsolete objects. Okay some of them were beautifully bound and illustrated, but hey, it's just information in the end right?

So yes, if information storage was the only aim, and minimalism was the ultimate goal, I'd be going electronic all the way. It would be out with the old, and in with the new (and let's face it, there's always something new..) and the space left behind would be incredible, vast, open and soaring..

..and boring, and soulless and colourless and sort of void. Frankly, I'd hate it.
Am I a Luddite? Have I officially crossed over into being "old", fuddy duddy, totally off-trend?
Probably.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

And your gift is: A Book!

We're gearing up for a birthday - my husband's. And the children and I have gone through our usual conundrum of "what to get for someone who (we think) has everything". I mean, after a loving family, what more could he possibly want/need?
The answer has inevitably it seems come back to books, BOOKS and MORE BOOKS yet again. For all the talk of on line books taking over from the printed versions, I still think that noone's really answered the question of: What would we give as gifts if it wasn't for real paper versions of Books?
I just googled the question, what were the most given gifts this Christmas - and apparently it was Ipads and Kindles... so um, what's going on there? Okay so people are buying/giving the devices - but would you actually give/send someone an ebook? And would it rate as a 'real' gift?
So now I've just googled Christmas sales for bookshops this year and came up with this: "While most of the retail sector is in a desperate slump this Christmas, bookshops across the country are experiencing an amazing revival and many are on track to record one of their best years in recent memory."

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/bookshops-turn-the-page-and-cash-in-during-christmas-rush-20111222-1p77c.html#ixzz1poAZyQTz

Anyway in the light of the impending birthday, I made Archie forgo his current regime of a three hour morning sleep and took off to a trendy little waterside suburb that has wonderful quirky (non-chain) shops: Balmain. I looked in gorgeous gift shops, artisan antique stores, and collectible kitcheny meccas, finally ending up luxuriating in the rich atmosphere of some imaginative independent bookstores.

I found and browsed through titles that I NEVER would have found on line, one because it would have taken too much time, and two, because it was only in actually opening the books that I found some that were truly what I wanted. Covers can't tell you everything! and an on line description can only say so much...



After my pleasing purchases, which included birthday cards and complimentary wrapping, I hopped across the street to ZUMBO's (http://adrianozumbo.com/patisserie-menu/ ) and bought a swoon- worthy selection of his famous macarons. I can't wait to try his Easter Bun flavour! A complimentary Lychee-flavoured morsel was way too lovely to share with Arch (he had a cheese sandwhich from home), and after a quick coffee we trooped back home happy and semi-exhausted.

Awaiting on the doorstop was my less romantic way of obtaining books:
www.bookdepository.co.uk

Monday, 19 March 2012

Parties, Painting and Papilionoidea

We've been on the party circuit lately. The peak party period so far has been the start of kindergarten for Miriam; we've averaged a party every Saturday for a month now - and man are we all getting tired! I say all of us, because even with only one member of the family officially invited to these celebrations of four-year-olds turning five, or five-year-olds turning six, inevitably other members of the family have been dragged in and along. Then there's the buying/wrapping of gifts (I actually love this part, but it does take up quite a lot of time); the choosing of appropriate party clothes (depending on the party theme, venue, weather on the day etc); juggling of who goes for the ride/duration, who stays home - it all can turn into a major logistical exercise.

One party that happened to be many suburbs away at a professional party venue, took us almost as long to get there and back as it did to attend the actual party. It has resulted in a new in-house rule: Only attend parties close to home.

I love seeing kids at parties so excited and happy. Dressed up with faces painted, treasure hunts and pass-the-parcel, cakes and balloons - there's a lot to love! And for every successful party, there's inevitably some exhausted parents in the background. Whether they've embraced the whole: pay people to do it all; or kill myself pulling it off on my own - most seem to come away tired but pleased they've been able to celebrate their child's milestone in a way that has been fun and imaginative.
Here are the kids dressed up for a Butterfly themed party. Existing fairy wear and face paint were put to good use. Cheap butterfly transfers made for great instant face art, and I was super-pleased that even my eight-year-old (BOY!) got in to the spirt of things and agreed to dress up as a cool (soccer-shirted) dragonfly.
 
Another party Mim attended recently was a Princess High Tea. The mum, a professional cake decorator, (soon to leave for Africa with her family as missionaries! See Jo's website for more details: http://www.cupcakegallery.com.au/) did an amazing job on the teapot cake and exquisite finger food. The table was set with real floral fine-bone china and it was a delight to behold. The girls had a ball!
I've talked to a lot of parents at these parties and a few things are evident: You've got to play to your strengths. Don't attempt something beyond your time constraints/budget/talents. The resulting angst can be enough to kill your party-enthusiasm for years to come otherwise. Know what to outsource to save your time/strength (for example, this sushi platter - pre-ordered and picked up that morning from the local sushi bar was an excellent way of feeding the adults and kids too).

The internet is a great party resource of ideas. Pretty much any theme you can think of has been done before, and someone has blogged about it. People WANT to share their experiences of what works and what doesn't. And for heaven's sake, don't feel inadequate in the face of other parents' phenomenal talents - just accept that some things are not your forte. Last year's dinosaur party for Jesse was pretty great, except for the abject failure of my dino-swamp cake. The fudge base was like concrete, the icecream top melted away before our eyes, the slime layer was liquid instead of jelly and I ended up telling the boys to throw the sloppy mess into the garden. (We served icecream cones instead.) Yes, it was disappointing (Jesse and I saw the humour in it, eventually). But what he remembers most isn't the cake. It was a great time with friends; his Dad organising a dino-treasure hunt and semi-violent (but fun!) backyard games; and sending every boy home with a genuine fake dinosaur fossilised egg and archaeological tools to chisel out the bones...

Sometimes the whole party thing is more than we as (tired) parents can cope with; if that happens don't be afraid to instigate the 'party every two years (or five years!)' regime. No one needs to have a party held in their honour every single year. Sometimes inviting one or two friends for a trip to a museum or on a bushwalk might be the go. With Jesse's birthday fast approaching, I'm mighty relieved that the most we are facing is a trip to the Powerhouse Museum and a baked dinner at home. Now that I can pull off no trouble!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

It's all in the detail


The whole pinterest thing has really honed my thoughts this week (obsessed may be a better word, but I don't want to scare you..). I've realised anew, that it really is 'all in the detail' that life can be fulfilling and rich. Yes, we can be  blown away by an amazing vista, or exhilarated by the 'big picture', but sometimes our lives don't contain many of those BIG moments. So it's a relief to remember that in the small things (I'm trying to think of other words for mundane or boring, 'cause that's not quite what I mean), it is still possible to drink our fill (so to speak) of the beauty of the every day.

You could say I'm living a sheltered life at the moment. My week days are governed by the school run morning and afternoon. It leaves relatively few hours in between to get out and about , or even (in my case at least) to get much done. I have a 14 month old who will sleep for hours if we stay home (and as he is NOT a great night sleeper, this is an opportunity too good to pass up) so I'm staying pretty close to home. Brief trips to the supermarket,  the op shop or a quick coffee with a friend are all I'm fitting in to liven my days.
And yet, I'm seeing the beauty of life in the detail. In my baby's blue eyes as he smears toast and peanut butter all over himself (cue mad laughing..on my part); in the amazing colours of pansy petals; in the coziness of a knitted jumper (love orange and red!!); in the fabric of a homemade bag (I am madly admiring myself for finding it an op shop, sadly not for having actually made it); and the gleaming china handles that provided instant glam to my bedside table - they're all little pieces of perfection.


Now I know not every moment, thing or detail is lovely. Sometimes you have to wade through a fair bit of the dull and dreary to find it (three loads of unfolded washing on my lounge = exhibit A).
But I'm glad for the details. Maybe the Lord sends them so we don't go crazy? In this season of life, uneventful as it is/may seem, there is still much to be enjoyed, given and gained.

Monday, 12 March 2012

I'm pinterested! Are you?

Wow, I'm used to being several years behind major trends. I mean I loved Seinfeld (about five years after everyone else); I discovered Amy Winehouse's fabulous voice (um, after she died) and I just started blogging last year. So enough said.

But last week I thought to ask my husband: "Hey, what's this Pinterest thing?"
"Dunno", he replied. "Probably just another big internet time waster like..."
"Yes, well, anyway", I cut in hoping to head off a conversation that probably wasn't going to go my way.
The next day I quizzed a sympathetic and savvy friend who explained it to me over coffee, and, ahhhh, I had a moment where I knew I had found my new 'favourite thing'.
You see I LOVE pin boards. When I studied ART for the end of high school exams (yes, it was a while ago), my major work was entitled: "Pin board of a Year 12 Art Student". I had a wide timber frame built around a large cork board and I decorated the frame in a variety of mediums that included decoupage (actually before it was trendy, and then not-trendy again) and mosaic. Then I designed a calendar, stuck paintings, drawings, postcards, notes, photos and even an easel and paints to the board. While I wasn't 100% happy with the eclectic (okay, more like hectic) end result, I think the concept had merit.
Sadly the markers didn't agree, and maybe the fact that in transit/storage my cork board severely warped in the heat, so that it was returned a shredded bowed mess, didn't help. That was a long time and I'm over it now. I think.

But my love of pin boards has continued. With themes to suit each space, a felt-covered workmanlike board in the kitchen to display recipes, food pics from magazines, restaurant menus, photos of us eating out and cards from cafes has always been a must.

A softer material covered board in the baby's room has always been a great way to display the hospital bracelet, welcome cards, first photos, gifts and toys. It's such an easy piece to match with any decor, and depending on the choice of fabric, can be almost an artwork in itself. Updating the fabric and subject matter is very easy as the baby grows up too!

Cath Kidston fabric is so cute on a pin board. There's about 50 million of them for sale on ebay right now.
http://stores.ebay.com.au/Izzie-Designs?_trksid=p4340.l2563
Magazine pics, photos, letters, note cards, calling cards, bookmarks, brochures - any appealing picture is great fodder for the constantly evolving art of the pin board. I'm pretty sure it's the reason I've always hated to throw out movie tickets, business, greeting and post cards - they need to spend some time on the pin board first!

Today I read an article that stated that Pinterest "was launched in early 2010 and has been growing at a dizzying rate in the past six months despite being invitation-only. The website reportedly has more than 13 million users.

Okay, so 13 million people discovered pinterest before me, but I'm still saying I'm ahead of the um, rest of the crowd on this one..

"Pinterest is the latest procrastination tool of the masses," Avery Spofford of fashion website shefinds.com wrote in an online post..."

Righto. Well I won't be showing that article to you-know-who any time soon.

You can read more: http://www.smh.com.au/it-pro/business-it/pin-this-blogger-becomes-a-star-by-keeping-nearly-1-million-people-interested-20120312-1utjm.html#ixzz1osfCgUrV

So check out the visual feast that is PINTEREST (which incidentally, is not about self-promotion, but rather about sharing favourite things). It's about the pictures, not words so much. Hence blogging is still my most favourite thing, with PINTEREST not far behind...

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Sideboards, Candles and a little bit of Clutter

c a n d l e s  add instant warmth, glamour and a glorious scent

http://nicethingssydney.com/













Just can't tell you how much I'm enjoying lighting candles around the house at the moment. The silvered glass came out at Christmas time, and is still hanging around. I think it's an all-year look I'm happy to love. The American scented candle smells amazing - and came from a little shop I discovered recently in Gladesville. Called "Nice Things", any shop that stocks soy candles, irish linen, sample designer clothes and describes itself as a 'collector's dream shop' is going to become a favourite of mine!

I saw this wonderful pic (http://cargocollective.com/shaleahsoliven) of a snazzy and minimally decorated sideboard and got inspired (once again!) to clear my sideboard/mantle/tables of clutter and take a more stylish/sophisticated approach. The use of a couple of classic shaped urns and some simple foliage really works, whether your sideboard is modern, retro or antique.
I love our sideboard which dates from the 1930s and was bought from a friend who's grandma had bought it following her wedding. They are such a versatile piece and sadly under appreciated by many.  Low enough to display favourite things on, great storage for everyday items you want to keep invisible (we have our stereo in ours!) and leaves enough wall space above it to do something arty (hang a picture) or a star burst mirror (my choice) or a wild geometrically painted wall - though can't imagine being brave enough to try this myself!
You can find great examples in op shops and retro furnishing shops and depending on the era will determine the style. Secondhand ones are often in great condition as they are not an item that attracts heavy handling over the years. IKEA makes some great modern versions too.
I found these wonderful (and cheap!) red heart bowls in a french inspired decorator shop. They are a gorgeous piece of whimsy that would brighten up any room. Stack soaps (french of course) in them in the bathroom; garlic or salt in the kitchen; makeup or jewellery in the bedroom. If you do have clutter, and sadly I do, then at least have some attractive bowls to store the bits and pieces you are meticulously accumulating in.. and if one day you can bring yourself to throw out the bits of used soap, last knob of garlic and 300 rubber bands you've been saving for a rainy day, it will be pleasing to have a nice bowl to remember them by.

And here are some cute shots of "Arch in March"  
(notice how whenever I take some photos, the washing basket always appears in the background! D'oh!)

Monday, 5 March 2012

A Fashion High

Gap dress over a Confetti top
both Ebay finds
I've always enjoyed fashion, and shopping has been a gift the Lord seems to have bestowed on me at birth. Before kids, I was sort of famous (within a small group of friends and acquaintances I'll admit) for my marathon retail trips. It wasn't about spending great sums of money (lucky, as the lack of funds sort of prohibited that) I just loved discovering new things and brands, putting creative looks together and sharing my finds with others. Maybe I should have been a professional shopper or stylist?! However when I had kids I became those things for my family anyway. The job hasn't paid well, but it has given me much creative satisfaction over the years. 
Dress and cardigan by GAP
and flower headband $5 from Cotton On.
So what some may see as a chore has been a pleasure for me. Why I had to find out early in each pregnancy what I was having, was so I had time to prepare the room and wardrobe! No lemon and white jumpsuits for us! I quickly lost interest in shopping for me and embraced the challenge of finding  classic and stylish baby wear. I trawled op shops, recycled fashion stores and the Internet. Quickly discovering the quirky and quality American and European brands. Generous friends also donated  treasured items, and soon there was a baby wardrobe rivalling the size of it's parents', before we'd even met!
Danish fairy tights from ebay and
french brand Tekilou boots
It doesn't have to be designer, or expensive, but often the high end stuff lasts the longest and is on ebay for a fraction of its cost new. The baby/toddler/child years are over so quickly, I don't see why they should be spent in junky tracksuits and colours that won't show the dirt.
Shopping for girls offers more fantastical possibilities than for boys. But it can be tricky to find things that are age appropriate and tasteful. Oh I also have had an aversion to putting my boys in anything with a truck on it. But I guess that's just me.
Favourite brands for boys:
Fred Bare; Woof by Minihaha; Gumboots; Seed; Gap; Gymboree; and Eeni Meeni Miini Moh.
Fave brands for girls:
Room Seven; Oilily; Minihaha; Gap; Gymboree; Baby Lulu; Gumboots; and Monsoon.
It's not about showing off, it's about having fun and being creative. It's about taking opportunities (before they get too big and start telling YOU what to wear) to use your imagination and enjoy 'fashion' (hopefully) without the baggage.
And what's also been fun about our fashion journey? Handing the stuff on to friends and relatives after we're done with it. I love seeing our clothes (often already 'recycled' when we've worn them) being re-used again and again by others.. It's environmentally friendly and creates a loving circle of creativity. It makes me smile.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Sofa Connundrum

We've had the same sofa/lounge/couch our whole married life. We inherited it from my parents-in-law who were downsizing at the time. It was a generous gift to us newly-weds who had been making do with a supremely ugly and uncomfortable sofa we'd paid a friend $50 for ($50 was way too much).
The inherited sofa was not one I would have picked out myself. The shape was sort of squashy and the fabric, oh my word, was a hectic dated floral. However even that drawback became a plus when we had kids. I'd always surmised that you could drop a baked dinner on the pattern and not be able to find the stain - and I was proved right! (don't ask for details, you'll only regret it) Unfortunately it was also supremely comfortable. From my first pregancy onwards, I slept like a baby on it countless times, with babies and on my own.. to the point where it is now in dire need of new foam, fabric and, um, a new home.
I WANT A NEW SOFA!! Sorry, I'd like a new sofa, please. Something stylish as well as practical. Something comfortable and yet attractive. Something that adds to my decor rather than detracts from it. Something I can sit on without having to adjust the quilts and throws that are necessary to hide its deteriorating state..
Yes, I know I have four children under the age of eight, including a one-year-old who is already showing an ominous attraction to textas. But can't I have a nice sofa too??
..the one that got away
And last week I found a sofa I loved on ebay.
It was stylish, well-made, attractive and apparently supremely comfortable. It was also AS NEW and listed for a dirt cheap price.

I emailed my husband. He wasn't convinced. Hadn't I talked about getting the old one recovered? Well yes, but the quote was astronomical.
Hadn't the uphosterer said that the old lounge was well made and worth keeping? Well yes, but only if we paid them the astronomical sum to re-birth it, and that wasn't a viable option.
Wasn't the one listed on ebay abit too snazzy for us to put in a tv room the kids regularly trash?
Oh, well, maybe.
In the end I couldn't make a decision.
I was paralysed with indecision. I watched the end of the auction and tried not to sob as the one bidder won the sofa at the dirt cheap price.
I railed at my own patheticness.
I hadn't been this upset since the time I found an immaculate vintage leather club three seater lounge at a Salvo Warehouse, and lost my nerve to go back in and buy it after one of my kids jumped on some of the furniture and was told off by the staff (yes, pathetic bargain-hunting cowardice in the face of parental humiliation).
So here I am sitting on the threadbare couch and lamenting if I'll ever have a sofa I can (happily) call mine. Oh wait here's another one I like on ebay.
http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/RALPH-LAUREN-Rolled-English-Arm-Sofa-Camel-Velvet-Upholstery-BRAND-NEW-/290676593771?pt=Sofas_Loveseats_Chaises&hash=item43adacd46b
But wait, it's in America and I'm a long way away in Australia. I'm guessing the freight would probably cancel out the 'bargain element' of ebay.
Here's a  picture of another couch I've always admired by the Australian company Molmic (www.molmic.com.au):
Well, one thing my ebaying/op shopping has taught me is that patience is usually rewarded. And as my husband helpfully pointed out: What would I have to complain about/fixate on if I had a sofa I was happy with?
Hmmm. What indeed?
Stay tuned..