Thursday, 22 May 2014

Good Gifts for Girls

Finding good gifts for girls can be a real challenge.
While crafting is great and creativity should be encouraged - if I see another loom band lurking on the floor I may go quietly crazy. They are everywhere. Yesterday I think I saw a bird outside choking on one. They should be banned, preferably by the Government.

Last Christmas I was at my wit's end. Buying for two girls, aged seven and nine should be fun. But it mostly is not fun at all. I'd been to the shops countless times (not usually something I complain about) and was reduced to tiredly and emotionally wandering through toy aisles. I think I may have been moaning out loud, I'm not sure. I couldn't understand why it was near impossible to find stuff that wasn't cheap and nasty, shallow and gaudy, boring or breakable? I'd really felt like crying when I came across a huge display of horror-Bratz-type dolls that offered matching girls outfits. Like something out of the Rocky Horror show. It was too ghastly for words.

In Target I found a cute Christmas tee-shirt for Mim with a sparkly crown on the front. It wasn't until I was standing in line to pay that I turned the shirt over and found the sparkly words on the back:
 Because it's all about me!
It's Christmas for goodness sake! With a gasp of horror I ditched the shirt and ran out of the shop.

Worth considering: What are your priorities when buying Christmas presents? Why buy them at all? 
I think it is a time when we remember and celebrate the gift of God's Son coming into the world - the ultimate gift! So it is a good chance to also show love and generosity to our loved ones with some thoughtfully chosen gifts - hopefully avoiding the present giving orgy, and certainly not encouraging the "all about me" attitude!

So it was with relief, amazement and, yes, joy that I discovered in a David Jones Department Store, the range of OUR GENERATION Dolls and accessories.

Please note, I am not paid by anyone to endorse any company, brand or retailer. However, I have no problem in personally recommending something that I have found to be good - in the hope that others in similar situations might benefit from my experiences.

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Wow, where to start. With the dolls themselves. They are gorgeous. Not in a barbie doll perfection sort of way. They are pretty and normal. Brown, blonde, auburn or black hair in varying lengths. Some have freckles. One has glasses. At 45cm (18") they are a good doll size - not too big, not too small.

Each doll has a name. Each doll also, get this, has an interest: ballerina, horse rider, trekker, a clever cookie… Some of the dolls come with books - small novels telling of the doll's adventures. Many came with accessories, and some with a change of clothes.

The clothes are really lovely. The boxed sets usually come with matching shoes or boots (which fit!) and often hair ties/bows, a hat or tights. They are outfits any little girl would love to wear. Warm winter coats, plaid skirts, tutus, running shorts, shirt dresses - of every colour. The quality seems excellent.

The attractive pink and yellow packaging is eco-friendly and almost every box folds into something useful, like a carry case. On the back of each doll box is the story of a real girl who had done something amazing, like start a charity or champion a cause. There are more inspirational stories on the OG Website.

Our Generation is made by Battat, a family-run company based in Montreal, and NY state. Their website states that the dolls were made in response to their desire to provide girls with positive role models and play toys. Some money from the sale of each doll goes towards their Free the Children - Power of a Girl initiative.

Each doll and the accessories you can buy separately (Like a horse, a jeep, a moped, a carry case etc) are all reasonably priced. In Australia this means almost everything costs between $25 and $50, with the dolls starting at around $35. It is a company policy to produce quality dolls at a price that doesn't exclude anyone.

I must admit I've started planning out which accessories could work for upcoming birthdays and Christmases. The doll carrier backpack is particularly good - a backpack for your girl, it holds the doll and some outfits too. Excellent way to make the doll mobile, without getting wrecked along the way.

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My girls were overjoyed when they each received a doll each for Christmas. They had not been hugely doll-orientated, but these dolls have been loved like crazy. The dolls came on holidays with us, and are often belted into car seats for the school run. My niece has become their favourite hair stylist, and the story books have been poured over and discussed at length.

Do you remember your first doll? Mine came from a relative I had never met who had painstakingly knitted a dress, shoes, hat and matching bag. I thought it was beautiful. I took the doll with me to visit a friend. We took the doll to the local park. Somehow, and the details are sketchy in my mind here, we lost the doll in a swamp.

I've had to work really hard at letting my girls take their dolls out and about.


Because the dolls are a standard size, buying additional clothes is easy. On holidays we found a small community shop where local women hand-made dolls clothes. Most pieces was $2.  Mim obsessed over this sleeping bag with hood, and spent her holiday money on it.


This was last holidays when Eleanore discovered the joys of dressing like her doll.


David Jones sold out of their Our Generation stock over the Christmas period. I asked around, but sadly, no one could tell me if or when they would be getting any more things in.

So it was rather exciting to see a display of new stock last week when I walked past the DJ's Toy Department. I see there is more available online as well. I think DJs should be commended for getting in this great brand - I really haven't come across a similar doll company with the range, quality and affordability of these ones. (I did a bit of googling of reviews and this view seems to be confirmed)

So thanks to Battat for making this great range - and for their commitment to the positive ethos behind it.

I would have written about these dolls much earlier, but didn't want to disappoint people by referring them to something that in Australia at least was impossible to find! (Target seems to be the main stockist in the USA.)

So, if you buy your Christmas gifts early, this range is well worth checking out.

Do your girls like dolls?
What are your favourite items for girl's gifts?

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Cheap and Cheerful Gifts for Mother's Day

While no one wants to admit it, if you have left buying your Mother's Day gift(s) to the last minute (and let's face it, many of us have) then all previous ideas of buying amazing jewellery online from overseas, booking mini-breaks to exotic tropical islands, or even booking a swish restaurant (and I could mean McDonalds for some Mums, because hey, we can stick the kids in the play area and get free wi-fi while slurping a frozen coke) for a meaningful dinner now have to be discarded.

Hopefully you'll be better organised next year.

If not, here's a few simple and sweet (not going to set the world on fire, but definitely going to show that you care, I hope) gift ideas for your Mum or any other mothers in your lives (including you).

I'll say it again for those still in denial, when you have neither the time to organise something amazing (sourcing rare pottery from an obscure country town 8 hours from where you live), nor the money to go all out on that sky diving course your Mum has always wished to try…. isn't it a relief to know that you can stick with the tried and tested categories of: Books; Drinking Tea; and China Collectables… to still give a gift that really works.

A GOOD BOOK (never goes astray):

Fiction - you know what your Mum likes reading, but if you don't:
Historical - The Secret Keeper (2013) by Kate Morton.
Contemporary - The Fault in Our Stars  (2012) by John Green. The movie comes out soon so with-it Mums will want to read the book first! Apparently middle-aged women in droves are reading YA fiction. So I heard..
Classic - A cloth-covered Penguin classic of any of the Jane Austen or Bronte books 


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A Notebook or Journal:

They need to be attractive and practical. You'll know whether your Mum is a mad jotter, a creative scribbler, an obsessive list-maker or a driven chronicler… phew! Whatever they may be, a notebook or journal, carefully chosen, is always appreciated.

The 365 journals by Kikki.K are useful and look great. Their Today I Am Thankful range is also super sweet (particularly good if you think your Mum has been complaining of late).

Today I found this swoon worthy journal - a Mother's Day gift to myself (I bought it for research purposes, all right!)


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The gorgeous cover caught my eye first, and the inside is equally as lovely. Every page is decorated with colourful borders and sweet illustrations. I bought mine was from the fabulous NOTE TO SELF in Epping. If you can't get there, find stockists of Chronicle Books.

A Cookbook:

I found this in a throwout bin at the Post Office this week and am enraptured with it's glorious photography/styling, excellent versatile recipes, and the fact that it only cost me $7!!!!


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Other great sounding books to get Mum's culinary masterpieces flowing (and then we all benefit!) are Same Same But Different from Poh Ling Yeow and the new one from the amazing Monday Morning Cooking Club: The Feast Goes On


Keep Calm and Give Tea:

As in my Cheap and Cheerful Gourmet Gifts for Teachers, try the supermarket tea/coffee aisle for something special. Many of the brands produce special gift tins for Mother's Day. These are by Twinings and cost $10ea.


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If you can spend a little more on tea, try a T2 shop for inspiration. I have seen customers literally falling over themselves for the iced tea paraphernalia that they stock in abundance. Me and my Mum? We'll just stick to the black tea blends, white with no sugar, thanks very much. 

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Then there's China (because you can never have too much china..): 

This fabulous serving platter from The Meadows range at Mozi yelled "pick me!' when I ventured in the other day. So cute and at 36.5cm in diameter, this platter will make any occasion special.


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I saw some fantastic retro looking coffee cups and saucers in Mozi too, on their sale shelves. China comes in all shapes, sizes and prices, and this Myer range is very cost effective - a cup and saucer set by Maxwell & Williams will cost under $10. Reds, pinks, yellows and blues, what's not to love?


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So had you planned ahead already this year? Did you have your gift(s) sorted weeks ago and you are secretly scoffing at the rest of us sad and sorry lot?

Last Minute Ideas:

If all else fails, bake a cake! Don't start from scratch if that idea fills you with dread. Buy a cake mix and then the best dark chocolate you can find to make a sumptuous ganache to ice it with. Pick up a vintage floral plate from your nearest opshop, or maybe some small children can decorate a paper plate. Actually ditch that idea, food and texta colour may create problems. 

Paint a Canvas - pick them up for a couple of dollars in the art section of Dollar Stores, and then get painting. Ellie has made this one for me. It's supposed to be a secret, and I promised to forget about it. And I will, tomorrow.



And then you only have to type MASON JARS into Pinterest to find several million ideas on how to make these cheap and cheerful items into pinworthy presents. Here's one of my faces (slightly freaky, but oh so doable, even for the craft-challenged). 


It's a photo inside a jar filled with olive oil. I guess it gives that vintage sepia look..
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I wish you all the best - and would love to hear the feedback from the desperate and clueless out there. Did this help you at all? Were you suddenly struck with the glitter wand of inspiration and a potential relationship crisis was averted? Do tell!


* * *

And please, spare a thought for those who find this day a trial, or worse still, a source of hurt and pain, an unbearable reminder of loss. Bake a cake for them too, or invite them around to your family do. 

Pray also for the Nigerian mothers, who are going through unimaginable trauma, hoping against hope that their kidnapped girls might be returned safely. 


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ACTION:

- A Change.org petition to President Jonathan at http://chn.ge/1ioL496

- A TakePart petition to Nigerian officials and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at http://bit.ly/1rUgsPa

You can learn more about the kidnappings in these articles in the NY Times at http://nyti.ms/1rSD7eZ or in the New Yorker at http://nyr.kr/1mZgi9F

Friday, 2 May 2014

Oh heck it's Mother's Day. Again?!

Fresh from the excitement and busyness of holidays/Easter/Royal meetings (still smiling over that one!) /Anzac Day and the kids starting Term 2 (okay, may have done a little jump for joy over that one), I'd just sat down for a calming cup of tea and a nibble of an errant easter egg, when I suddenly realised, eek! Mother's Day is almost upon us!!

And then, silly as this sounds, I started to stress about Mother's Day. For one thing, as soon as preschool and school started, so did the invites. I felt like a young Harry Potter when all of the hundreds of letters from Hogwarts started flying into the house at Privet Drive! The calendar and I were suddenly inundated with upcoming preschool morning teas, school breakfasts, girl's club dinners, presents to buy/make/find… I felt like shouting: STOP WITH ALL THE INVITES! IT'S A DAY OFF MOTHERS WANT - THAT'S IT!! 

(Okay, maybe some of this vintage china I spotted in an Op Shop…and a few other things, now that I'm thinking about it.)


At the risk of sounding a tad ungrateful, life can sometimes be busy enough without adding multiple events guaranteed to turn the month of May into mayhem.

Anyway, after a few more nibbles on an easter egg, I realised that maybe it wasn't Mother's Day at all that was causing me the stress.

It was school socks.

Here's a pic. Aren't they horrid?

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With three kids at school we have school socks coming out of our ears. Last term they carpeted the girls' room floor 24/7. I lost the will to attempt pairing back in about 2010 and the last few years worth of odds overflow drawers, bags and cupboards like some ghastly version of the Magic Pudding. Stained and crusty, they only ever stay white for about the first one or two wears. After that they become feral. We've even found some in the garden, skulking under mulch. I've seriously started to hate them. So in a panicked attempt to restore some sort of order at the end of last term, I shoved all of the wretched mismatched collection into shopping bags.

And no one has seen them since.

So to head off certain catastrophe I made a quick trip on Monday to the shops and bought everyone new socks. I paid $1 a pair and bought each child five new pairs of white and five new pairs of navy. Everyone wears a different size of course. But the only brand that does the decent humane thing and prints the sizes on the sole, had sold out. So I'd give it about two to three weeks before we're back where we started, waking to plaintive morning cries of: "Mum, I can't find any matching socks!"

Hence, if nothing else (and I hold out little hope for the day off - although an exciting mini break down south is being planned..) this would be my first pick for a mother's day gift:

Available at Apple Core Living

$12.50? Why that could buy us another twelve pairs of socks + one lonesome sock.

I'll take the chocolate instead thanks. It looks scrumptious and a few of those heartfelt thank you/you're amazing type messages would not go astray either.

Just saying...