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.

 

clouds

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

How to cut your own hair.

I knew something was up by the deafening sound of silence coming from Callum’s bedroom.

The next sign was the small pile of honey blonde hair on the carpet.

“Come out from under your bed. I won’t be cross. I just want to have a look” I said, as calmly as I could.

Out he crept, scissors in hand, with his brand new hair-do….which was actually not so bad! His fringe was a bit shorter than before, but at least now he could see without having to brush it out of the way.

When he realised that I was not going to have a meltdown, he made his way to the mirror, where he proudly observed his handiwork.

“What do you think?” I asked. “Hmm, yeah, I like it”, he smiled.

“I know it was getting in your eyes, but I was going to take you to the hairdressers this week you know”.

“Well”, he said “Now you won’t have to”. Fair point.

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