One person’s trash….

Exciting times are upon us folks….it’s council clean up week!! I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this concept, but in our city, twice a year, households have the opportunity to place their unwanted goods out the front of their house to be picked up by the council. The sort of stuff that you can’t throw out in your weekly rubbish eg. mattresses, fridges, broken toys etc etc. In amongst the genuine ‘rubbish’ are lots of perfectly good things that people no longer want or need. Hence, the treasure!!

When we were kids, ‘throw out day’ was the highlight of our year. One time my friends and I discovered a whole box of high heels. We immediately put them on (of course!) and teetered all the way home, feeling ever so glamorous. On another occasion, a discarded pram provided hours of entertainment, as we pushed each other up and down the steep hill where we lived.

I am not ashamed to say that clean up week gives me the same thrill now as it did when I was a child. I love going for a quick stickybeak around my local area to see what gems I can uncover.

Speaking of gems……

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Can you believe it?! They’re old, and gorgeous and look perfect on my dresser. I am in love! Especially with this wee fellow..

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My other find was this lantern below. Swoon!! When we (I took my kids along with me for moral support) walked around the corner, I spotted it, in the hands of a man who looked suspiciously like a second-hand dealer. He was holding it, turning it over, this way and that, while I silently willed him to put it down. Luckily my telepathy worked, and as soon as he had put it back and driven off, we swooped over and grabbed it. I gave it a wipe down and put a chunky white candle inside, and it now looks tres elegant on the table on our back verandah. Happy days!

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Over the course of the weekend, we also managed to acquire: two basketball hoops, a hot pink office chair, numerous brand new board games, a wooden garden bench, a set of vintage Christmas decorations, a Pyrex pie dish, three boogie boards, and a hand-knitted blanket. I have meticulously washed and cleaned all of these things; some I’ll keep, others I’ll donate to our local charity shop. I just hate to see waste, and I would much rather these things be given a second chance, rather than end up as landfill. It also gives me a bit of retail therapy without actually parting with any cash!

As Lucie said yesterday…”Mummy, this has been the BEST day!”

The homework station.

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If homework at our house was a book, it’s title would be ’100 ways to procrastinate – the ultimate guide to putting things off’.

The conversations go something like this – “I need the scissors”, “I can’t find a pencil”, “Where’s my homework book?” and “I left my pencil case at school”.

In an attempt to eliminate this daily struggle, I have created a homework station, which contains everything a little person could possibly need to complete their dreaded homework. I used this trolley, as it is bright, has three levels, and is on wheels. We keep it next to the kitchen bench, which is where the children do their homework. I like being able to keep an eye on them, and be close enough to help when needed.

Pencils, textas, crayons, scissors, eraser, sharpener, ruler and glue sticks live on the top level; homework books are in the middle; and spare paper is kept at the bottom. I try to keep it looking tidy so that the children can get straight into their work, without having to hunt around for what they need.

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I use silver plant pots to hold the pencils, so the children can move them to where they are needed. These pots also help to keep everything organised. I find that the easier it is for children to put things away, the more inclined they are to do so.

I deliberately made the area as inviting as possible as I want homework to be a pleasurable experience, not something to avoid. (hmm..we’re still working on this!) I know that when my office desk is neat, clear and organised, I do feel more motivated to begin work. We also try to stick to a routine when it comes to homework. After the children have unpacked their bags, changed out of their uniforms and had something to eat, they do half an hour of homework. I like to get it out of the way, so they then have the rest of the afternoon to relax and play.

Having all of the drawing materials in the one place also means that quite often, the children will just grab some paper and the coloured pencils, and sit up at the kitchen bench to draw a picture while I am making dinner. I love chatting to them about their day as they draw and colour and create.

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What tips do you have for getting children to do their homework?

Are you a procrastinator, or do you just get stuck in?

Do your creative juices flow when you see a row of perfectly sharpened, coloured pencils?

What’s for dinner?…..ask the menu board!

Are you the type of person who plans your meals a month in advance? Or do you find yourself at five o’clock standing in the kitchen wondering what on earth you can put together for dinner?   I tend to have phases of extreme organisation, which are then followed by weeks of unplanned mayhem. I think my problem so far has been the lack of an easy, simple meal-planning system. WELL…..until now, that is!

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This menu board has been an absolute sanity-saver for me. It took me about an hour to put together, and has saved me many hours since then. I used a cork board which I happened to have already mounted behind the kitchen door, and covered it with four sheets of pretty scrapbooking paper.

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The laminated menu cards sit in their little box (a recycled couscous carton) until it is their turn to be displayed on the board.

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Wooden pegs hot-glued onto the side of the corkboard hold the cards perfectly.

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On the back of each card, I have listed the ingredients needed for each meal, which makes writing my shopping list a breeze.

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As I shop weekly, this layout suits me perfectly. However, you could vary the number of pegs according to how far ahead you wish to plan.

The cards are an easy way of keeping all my regular meal ideas in the one place. As I remember past favourites, or discover new ones, I just make up a new card. They are also a good way of getting the family involved in planning the dinners for the week.

Do you use a meal planner? Or do you decide on the run? What is your family’s favourite dinner? My kids always request burritos!!

Back in the saddle again

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Well, hello again! I’ve decided to get back in the blogging saddle after a long break. It was actually this article that motivated my return, as it reminded me of why I started blogging in the first place:-

I love writing.

There are so many amazingly talented writers out there and it is easy to get discouraged. I had started a few drafts over the past few months, but they just never seemed ‘good enough’. I had forgotten about the pure joy of writing for the sake of writing.

In my work as an early childhood teacher, we are always emphasising the importance of the “process, not the product”.   When a child is doing a painting, for example, we are more interested in the skills the child is learning, and the enjoyment of the experience, rather than the finished product.

I think this approach is just as important for adults. We need to remember to go for a walk because it feels good, not because we want to lose weight. Or to play an instrument because it relaxes us, not because we expect to make a career out of it.

I love that state of flow that writing produces, where you become so immersed in the words and thoughts, that time seems to disappear.

So I’m going to make room for blogging, and concentrate on the journey, rather than the destination.

ps. How amazing is that sunset?! We were driving Lucie to ballet this afternoon, and just had to pull over to admire it. Breathtaking!

What I have learnt from Milly Molly Mandy.

We have, once again,  just finished reading Milly Molly Mandy, the children’s book about a little girl and her family, which was first published in 1925. I love reading these books to my children, as I get as much pleasure as they do (maybe more?) hearing about life in the English countryside in the 1920′s, learning about how they lived their lives, what was important to them, how they grew their own food and sewed their own clothes.

When I am feeling particularly stressed at the end of the day, I like reading about how Mother baked apple turnovers and made jam from the blackberries that Milly Molly Mandy collected. I find it soothing. It seems a long way away from paying the phone bill, updating policy manuals and doing my tax return.

I have also learnt a thing or two from these books:-

Children do not need much to be happy.

Milly Molly Mandy and her friends spend long days fishing for tadpoles, planting pumpkin seeds, making dolls, and picking blackberries.  Their parents are too busy running their farms and shops to be setting up guided play experiences for them.  They do not get driven to ballet lessons and soccer practice; they don’t have playrooms full of the latest toys or wardrobes bursting with fashionable clothes.

When they are not helping with chores or at school, they are free to explore, to learn from and to be entertained by the world around them.

They are also given a lot more responsibilities than children are nowadays. While I am not advocating a return to the work-houses, I do know that children relish being given ‘grown-up’ jobs to do. The children in Milly Molly Mandy cook onions, paint  fences, and polish the brass. These tasks all present challenges, adventures and good deal of fun.

Different generations can live quite happily and productively together.

Milly Molly Mandy lives with her Mother, Father, Uncle, Auntie, Grandmother and Grandfather in their nice white cottage with the thatched roof and “everybody…had some particular job to do-even Milly Molly Mandy”. For example, Mother cooked the dinners and washed the clothes, Grandma did the knitting, Grandpa took the vegetables to market in his pony-cart and Milly Molly Many ran errands.

While I know that this is an exaggerated version of family life in the 1920′s, it was certainly more common then than it is now. Indeed, there are many cultures today where nursing homes are unheard of, and the elderly live with their families, contributing where they can to the running of the household.

Although this is often not a viable or preferable option for many people, it would be nice to see it being encouraged and facilitated by governments through programs such as home visits by healthcare professionals and adequate carer allowances for family members.

‘Make do and mend’ is a sensible and sustainable approach to living.

In the chapter where Milly Molly Mandy is given her own bedroom, her mother and father do not drive to the nearest Ikea and pick up a brand-new, cheaply made and imported bedroom suite that is likely to fall apart within the next five years.

Instead, she keeps the bed she already has, and her Mother dyes the bedspread green “so she has a nice new bedspread”. She also dyes the curtains while she is at it. Grandpa buys a little chest of drawers from the second-hand market, which Uncle paints apple-green. He also paints the frame of an old mirror, to hang on the wall. Finally, Grandma embroiders little birds onto a linen cloth to go on top of the dresser.

Milly Molly Mandy’s bedroom is made all the more special by the love and care that has gone into creating it. Now that it is so cheap and easy to buy everything brand-new, we seem to have lost this ability to repair and refurbish. This book reminds me to think twice before I throw something away and replace it with something new – Can it be fixed? Do I already have something that I can use instead? Do I really need to replace it? If so, can I find one second-hand?

I love being able to share the stories of Milly Molly Mandy with my children, just as my own mother did with me when I was a child. Even she read them when she was young! The stories are as entertaining and relevant today as they were nearly 90 years ago.

Did you read these stories when you were young? Are there any children’s books that have taught you important life lessons? What was your favourite book as a child?

My shabby chic wedding – Part 2

Yesterday I started to tell you about my wedding, which took place in 2008. (see post here) Today, I’ll fill you in on a few more of the details, if you’d like to take a look.

These are the little take-home gifts that I put together for our guests. I chanced upon a pile of beautiful Cath Kidston hand creams in Target which were on sale, so I gathered up each and every one of them, as I knew they would be perfect for the ladies. I also picked up a few larger gift packs from the same range to give to people such as my mum and bridesmaid.

For the men, I bought miniature bottles of Johnny Walker whiskey, a nod to Barry’s Scottish heritage.

I loved how pretty they all looked, tucked into the wicker baskets.

My gorgeous Auntie Christine made the wedding cake. I described to her how our wedding was going to look (ie, pretty, floral, pink & green), and showed her a few pictures of cakes that I liked, and she came up with something better than I could have ever imagined.

A couple of days before the wedding, I decided that we needed programs, see below. As I had so much spare time (Ha!), cutting out one hundred and twenty paper butterflies was no problem at all. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but the butterflies were attached with tiny metal fasteners, which allowed the wings to ‘flutter’ on the card. They were very pretty, but I must have been slightly deranged to attempt this in the lead up to our at-home wedding.

So there you have it, our wonderful, magical wedding day. It was such a lot of fun getting everything ready and spending hours playing about with ribbons, flowers, and paper lanterns. Barry, in typical man-style, was happy to go along with whatever I planned, and would make the appropriate sounds of approval whenever I showed him something new. I was thrilled with how it all turned out, but at the end of the day, what made it so special and memorable was the love of our family and friends and having them there to share it with us.

My shabby chic wedding.

It’s the beginning of Spring here in Australia; the days are getting warmer, the smell of jasmine floats on the breeze and everyone seems to be gripped by the urge to fling open their windows and let the freshness of spring clear away the stuffiness of winter.
As spring is also the traditional wedding season, I thought it would be a good time to share some pictures of my own wedding, if you’d like to see.
We got married at home, in 2008, with our three children, families and close friends in attendance. It was intimate, personal and relaxed.
Right from the start, I tried to plan a day that was as much fun for as guests as it was for us. I wanted time and space to be able to chat with everyone, just like a big party. And I hoped the wedding would look and feel pretty and home made, like a country fair or garden party.
I wanted lots of flowers everywhere, especially roses. In the months leading up to the wedding, I looked out for cut glass vases at charity shops, markets, and garage sales. These looked gorgeous dotted around the room with the pale pink blooms spilling out. We ended up with so many flowers that we needed to use whatever vessels we could find, so buckets, milk cartons and plastic tubs were quickly covered with wrapping paper, and became part of the decorations!
In order to achieve the abundance of flowers on our rather limited budget, we headed off to the Flower Market. I went with my mum the week before the wedding so we could see what was there, which flowers we liked and to speak to some of the growers about ordering their flowers. The following week, on the day before the wedding, Barry and I headed off in the darkness to gather our blooms. The flower market is such a feast for the senses; the growers yelling out to one another, the scent of thousands of fresh flowers, the cold air of the pre-dawn and the dizzying array of colour. It was well worth having to get up so early and so much cheaper than buying them from a florist.
The ceremony took place in our back garden, which we covered with a marquee. It looked so pretty decorated with the flowers, pink and green chinese lanterns, and the floral bunting which I spent days (and days…and days…) sewing. In hindsight, I would have just cut the shapes out with pinking shears and sewn them to a long strip of fabric. They did, however, look beautiful, and I have reused them to decorate my daughters’ bedroom.
As the weather was so hot, we provided paper fans and parasols for guests to cool themselves with. I picked these up from Chinatown, along with a bowlful of fortune cookies containing love notes for everyone to nibble on as they arrived.
There was also a lolly bar, which was extremely popular with both kids and grown-ups! We had biscuits and truffles, that you can see above, and also musk sticks, milk bottles, jelly beans and many other ‘old school’ treats. I also put together goodie bags for all the children, which contained small toys, colouring books, pencils, and other things to keep them entertained.
Coming up tomorrow, I’ll show you another few of my favourite parts of the day.

Keeping love fresh.

Do you ever go through stages in your relationship where your partner seems to just blend in with the furniture? You get so busy and side-tracked with making the dinner, putting petrol in the car, picking wet towels up off the floor, feeding the dog, etc, that you forget to actually see them. They become just another part of the routine and the landscape. Even worse, I find that when I am in a rut like this, I really only notice my husband when he has done something that irritates me, like forgetting to put the bins out. Not exactly the recipe for romance!

When I realise that I am doing this, I make a concious decision to really  take the time to notice my husband. Yes, it sounds a bit strange, but I promise it works. It’s like looking at them with the fresh eyes that found them so attractive in the first place. You know that feeling you get when you come home from holidays and you see your house in a whole new light? You lok around and think “I forgot how spacious it is here, and how pretty this paint colour is”. Well this is a bit like that, without the going away part.

Sometimes I look at my husband and try to imagine what other people see when they look at him. Do they like his warm brown eyes? The way he seems so friendly and confident?

Other times I wonder what I would think of him if I met him now for the first time. When we first met and fell in love, I spent a great deal of time noticing all the appealing details of him. Yet these details can get a little blurry as the years pass.

Taking the time to notice and appreciate my husband helps to remind me of the wonderful man that he is, and of how lucky I am to have him.

Sleeping Beauty

On the weekend I booked tickets to go and see the ballet, Sleeping Beauty, with my mum and daughters. It is being presented by the Imperial Russian Ballet Company, at the State Theatre. I can’t wait!

Each year I try to take my kids to see a show. I would love to think that they will keep the wonderful memories of these experiences, and that they will gradually develop an appreciation for artistic expression. Most of all, I just love the fun and anticipation; sitting in the darkened theatre, waiting for the curtain to go up, clapping like crazy, and talking about it for days afterwards.

When I was about five, my mum took us to see Disney on Ice. I can still clearly remember sitting in the rows of seats, being bombarded by the colour, lights and energy, seeing all those larger than life characters. We bought a program, and I would look through it again and again in wonder.

Last year, I went with my mum and daughters to Mary Poppins. The best part was actually watching my girls faces during the show. Their wide eyes, taking in the magic, excitement and drama. When she ‘flew’ over the audience, I thought they were going to take off too!

The year before that we saw Swan Lake on Ice, with the Russian Imperial Ice Stars. This was one of the most magical performances I have ever seen. I spent the show in a combination of goosebumps, tears and open-mouthed awe. Many of the performers are former Olympic skaters, and their skills on the ice are mind-blowing. They tell the story of the doomed lovers in an incredibly poignant way. Oh, and the kids enjoyed it too!

The very first concert I took my girls to see was the ballet of Swan Lake, also by the Imperial Russian Ballet Company. (They truly are amazing). We were so far up the back that I nearly got vertigo, but the kids didn’t seem to mind. They were taken in by the spell of the orchestra, the magic happening on stage and the sense of occasion. It was performed at the State Theatre, which feels a bit like stepping into a palace.

Do you remember the first show you went to as a child? I’d love to hear! xx

Be careful what you wish for.

 

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I saw her as I was waiting in line at the health insurance office. Her hair was longish and dark, like mine, but hers fell in gorgeous waves and her fringe softly framed her pretty face. She was wearing a beautifully fine cream knitted sweater with a grey knee length tweed skirt, and leather wedges that looked both comfy and cool. I could not stop staring at her. I had a bad case of  outfit envy. And hair envy. And life envy.

I was feeling particularly frazzled and frumpy that day. ‘I bet she has it all together’, I thought. She has probably just dropped her perfect kids off at their perfect school, now she is out doing some shopping in her perfect outfit before going home to her perfect house. I basically invented a whole life for this woman, based on her (super stylish) appearance.

Then it was my turn to come up to the counter. As I did, I overheard her speaking to the lady behind the desk. She was discussing the amounts she had paid for her various IVF treatments. I suddenly saw her in a whole different light.

She was just a woman, like me. With struggles and challenges, like me.

I was reminded, in that moment, of all the things I have to be grateful for. That nobody’s life is perfect.

And as we walked out of the door, I gave my son’s hand an extra tight squeeze.

Image via The Paris Apartment

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