Saturday, April 26, 2014

My Mothers Teacup...

I had no idea that when I bought this teacup for my Mum, that she would no longer be with us within the year.
I had no idea that this would be the last Mothers Day we would spend together.
We gathered in our leafy garden, under the Poinciana trees, and felt the warm bond of family weave it's magic over us. We are a large family and occasions where we all gather together in unison, are rare. She was smiling and happy and radiated contentment.
I remember being cross at my brother because he'd neglected to give buy her a gift. She didn't care of course, and only now that I am older, do I understand that the greatest gift was to have us all there together.
Seven weeks later, she was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Twelve weeks after that, she was gone.
She had turned 60 just three weeks before.
Nearly twelve years later, we still miss her loving presence in our lives.
Treasure your Mum this Mothers Day.
No-one knows what the future holds.
This teacup is used most often as a small vase. I fill it with rosebuds or gardenias or a single hibiscus, depending upon the season. I sit it beside a photo of Mum, smiling and radiant as she was that last Mothers Day.
I cannot bring myself to drink from it.
It was Mums teacup. It still is.
What a wonderful Matriarch she was. She raised seven of us alone, in an era when single Mothers were rare. We all turned out pretty darn well, thankyou very much.
Wherever she is now, I know she looks down upon us all proudly and with a sense of satisfaction.
Job well done, Mum. Job well done.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A few of my favourite things....

I love all things French.
I particularly adore Paris and have visited the City of Light five times. I never tire of it. I find a new and breathtaking 'something' each time I'm there.
The gardens behind Notre Dame....
...original Mediaeval buildings in the Marais...
....the clock at the Musee` d`Orsay...
When I'm at home, I do whatever I can do surround myself with memories of Paris.
My latest little addition is this adorable pair of crafting scissors...
...too cute, huh?
They're available on eBay.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Modern Day Manners and Nicieties of Life for Teens (and everyone else too)

It seems to me that these days, we've forgotten a few basic rules of etiquette.
Nothing major, just little things that make life tick over smoothly and seamlessly and leave everyone feeling appreciated, or at least, acknowledged.
I have tried hard to instil some old fashioned manners into my children, most recently my daughter as she is the youngest and the one most removed from the days of the hand written thankyou and reciprocated invitations.
For example, we keep a stash of these embellished luxury chocolates on hand to use as impromptu gifts or thankyous. No special moment goes unacknowledged, no celebration ignored, no hostess forgotten. It makes both us and the recipients, feel special.
It's nice to be nice....really.
Here's a list of ten simple little rules of etiquette that are largely forgotten these days that I have made an effort to teach my teen.
1. Do not have telephone conversations when you are with guests. We didn't do it when we only had landlines, why do we do it now that we have mobile phones? It's just rude to answer the phone mid conversation with a face to face friend that you've made a specific arrangement to see, and carry on a conversation with someone who is calling on the spur of the moment. That's what message bank is for. If you simply must answer the phone, excuse yourself, leave the room, and if it's not an emergency, tell the caller you'll speak to them later. If you are expecting a call whilst with your face to face friend, do them the courtesy of warning them that you may need to excuse yourself.
2. Acknowledge gifts and invitations with a handwritten note. A text is nice, a thoughtfully worded email is better, a hand written note on a beautiful card or lovely paper is best of all. Facebook? I'm not even going there. Great for some situations, no doubt, but not for thankyous.
3. Be kind and sensitive to others. Don't talk about the great time you had with Friend A, to Friend B and C. It's just not the done thing, unless Friends B and C were there to share the fun.
4. Learn to give and accept compliments with grace and generosity. A simple 'thankyou' is enough when paid a compliment, and paying a compliment without gushing is an art in itself. 'You look lovely' or 'I'm so pleased to see you' makes the other person feel good.
5. When an invitation is extended, don't ever ask 'who else will be there'. The host or hostess shouldn't have to explain their guest list to you, nor give you opportunity to veto other guests. You either accept the invitation because you enjoy the company of the person inviting you, or you don't. Accept or decline on that basis.
6. Along similar lines, when someone invites you, it's rude to say 'I'll check my diary and get back to you' and then not 'get back to'. Everyone is busy these days, and assuming that someone else has time to chase you, because you can't be bothered responding, is poor form. It takes no more than a few seconds to either check your dates on your hand held device immediately, or to enter a reminder to do so when convenient, thus also reminding you that you need to respond appropriately.
7. If you must say 'no', then do so graciously. Phrases like 'thanks, I wish I could, but I have another invitation that day' or 'thanks for thinking of me and I'd love to, however I'm required elsewhere at that time' or even 'It's lovely of you to include me, but I have something that requires my attention then, unfortunately' is all that's required. A monologue about where your have to be and with whom and why is completely unnecessary.
8. When you're invited to someone's home, it's polite to take a small something to acknowledge your appreciation of the invitation. A few exquisite chocolates from a good chocolatier, a small posy of beautiful blooms, a good bottle of wine, a bundle of notecards tied with satin ribbon, a bunch of greenery from your own garden tied with twine and finished with a hand written card, or even home made jam, cookies or beautiful soap are all good choices. A box of supermarket chocolates is okay, but trying to tailor your gift to the home involved, is a lovely touch. Home made is great so long as you present your gift beautifully as well. Line a box or small basket with shredded tissue or cellophane and nestle your gift inside. Finish with a lavish ribbon and handwritten note.
9. Reciprocate invitations. It doesn't matter if your home is not grand or your furniture not new. What matters is that you make an effort. Some of the most fun times I've had have been in humble homes with good company and cheap cuisine. 'I can't cook' is never good enough. Anyone can heat a deli purchased quiche or buy a ready cooked chicken or some cold seafood, and tip a ready made salad on a plate. Make an effort to invite those who made the effort to invite you.
10. If you can't say something nice about someone, don't speak. Don't get involved in gossip. It will always come back to haunt you. And don't talk about one friends failings to another friend, even if you think they don't know each other. It's a small world.
None of these are hard to do. But they do enrich your life and the lives of those around you. I promise.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Luxurious Easter Treats....

So you've left it till the last minute to shop for Easter eggs?
You're tired of bunnies in coloured foil?
You're looking for something a little special to gift this year?
Look no further...
My pastel Lindt chocolate Freckles are just the ticket.
Remember those little circlets of chocolate, heavily topped with 100s & 1000s we all loved as children? Well these are a prettier, Easter themed version, and so simple to make.
You'll need:
White Lindt chocolate or white Chocolate melts if these are for the kidlets. One bar of Lindt chocolate will make about three freckles, one packet of melts will make about 8-10.
Metallic or Pearl Cachous, found with the cake decorating supplies at your supermarket.
Baking paper.
Egg rings, cookie cutters or traced shapes on the baking paper.
Clear cellophane wrap.
Pastel craft ribbon.
Fluffy craft chickens.
Then just:
Spread a sheet of baking paper on the bench and line up your egg rings, cookie cutters or just draw circles, hearts or egg shapes of an appropriate size onto the baking paper to use as a guide.
Put the chocolate in to a microwave safe container and microwave on HIGH for 60 seconds at a time until the chocolate is almost all melted but still has a few stray chunks in it. You may have heard about 'tempering' chocolate, which prevents it discolouring, but if you melt the chocolate this way, then stir the chunks into the melted chocolate until it's all silky smooth, it will be automatically 'tempered'.
Working quickly, spoon the melted choc into the waiting shapes and smooth the top.
Sprinkle generously with the Cachous, and allow to set.
Once set these can be packaged as pictures with a little pastel shredded paper in the bottom of a sweet cellophane package, swathed with gelati coloured ribbons and adorned with a cutie pie little chick.
Everyone loves these and they are such a special little treat made when made with Luxury Chocolate.
Wishing you all a Happy and Blessed Easter....

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The History of Bohemian Style....and 10 tips for going Boho...

Bohemian (/bəʊˈhmɪən/) refers to a resident of the former Kingdom of Bohemia, either in a narrow sense as the region of Bohemia proper or in a wider meaning as the whole country, now known as the Czech Republic. In English, the word "Bohemian" was used to denote the Czech people as well as the Czech language before the word "Czech" became prevalent.[1]
In a separate meaning derived from the French word referring to "gypsies," or Romani people, "Bohemian" may also denote "a socially unconventional person, especially one who is involved in the arts." (see Bohemianism).[1]
Understanding the history of gypsies, and so called Bohemian style means understanding the roots and origin of those who were it's earliest proponents, so here are a few interesting facts.
Romany Gypsies, unlike the Irish Travellers featured in the series and book 'My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding', are said to have originated in India, arriving in Europe in about the 13th century.
Perhaps this explains the heavy Indian and Moroccan influence.
 Source: Morocco World News
There's a nod to the Arabian Nights in Bohemian décor too, with floaty curtains in jewelled colours, satin and silk cushions, rich rugs underfoot and carved details featured on furniture and knick knacks.
 Source Unknown: If this is your picture please advise so I can give you credit
The love of the colour and luxury of those styles was possible further influenced by the rise of the Baroque era (1600-1700) in Europe which favoured grandeur and detail in art and décor, and later by the Rococo period from about the 1720's onwards. Rococo is the style we frequently associate with Marie Antoinette.
Here are some artworks of those eras. You can clearly see the modern day interpretations of this style in Gypsy and Bohemian décor all over the world. The rich colours, sumptuous fabrics, stunning detail and love of gilt and crystal is evident.
Josefa Obidos (1630-1684) Still Life Baroque Era
Giovanni Michel Graneri 'The Royal Theatre in Turin' (1708-1762) Baroque Era
Softer pastels and wasp waisted, full skirted and completely over the top fashion featured in this era as well, and is familiar in the prevalence of this type of costuming for 'gypsies' to this day.
Cherubs, vines, florals and whimsy perhaps originated within the 'Bohemian' style, right about the mid 1700s, as seen in one of my all time favourite works of art, The Swing...
Jean-Honore` Fragonard The Swing (1767) Rococco Era
There's a nod to the Pre-Raphaelite era too, and in fact the Hippy decade of the 60's, when I was born, was largely influenced by those painters.
"The London art dealer Jeremy Maas reflected in the mid-1980s that "there [was] no question that the Hippy [sic] movement and its repercussive influence in England owed much of its imagery, its manner, dress and personal appearance to the Pre-Raphaelite ideal ... It was observed by all of us who were involved with these exhibitions [of pre-Raphaelite paintings] that visitors included increasing numbers of the younger generation, who had begun to resemble the figures in the pictures they had come to see."
Of course the freedom generated by the rebellious 'hippies' of the 60's, meant that more young people travelled extensively and inexpensively, which pretty much meant 'to India'. Those influences are seen even now in Hippie style décor.
  So what does all this tell us about Bohemian Style and how to achieve it?
Here are a few ideas that I've drawn from my research.
1. Minimalism is out. Abundance is essential. You want to almost feel cocooned by your treasures.
2. You need to love a chaos of colour, have a romance with texture, a love of rustic. Soft and worn wins over new and glossy every time.
3. Forget the shopping mall. Sure they do Boho, but they're kind of missing the point. Boho is about things with a history. Not new and crisp and expensive and straight from Walmart or Pillow Talk.
4. The markets are your friend. As are yard sales, garage sales, second hand stores, eBay and school fetes. Most of the beautiful things in my daughters very Boho bedroom have been sourced from those places.
5. Think artistic and unusual and unique and vintage. If YOU love it, there's no reason why it shouldn't have a place in your home and heart. There are no rules, as such.
6. Paint and patch is the name of the game. If it isn't perfect, then it has all the more charm. And when I say 'paint', I don't mean white. Colour is IN.
7. One mans 'ugly', is another womans 'Bohemian'. I bought this painting on eBay for my daughters Boho bedroom....
 My son, who collected it for me, thought I was mad because it was old and faded. But isn't that the whole idea?
8. If you can't afford furniture, Boho is your friend. Cover boxes with colourful saris and rugs, and you have bedside tables, a mattress on the floor with a thrifted bedspread over it is fine as a bed, ugly lamps covered with silk scarves lend your space a jewelled look by night, and mismatched chairs and crockery are practically compulsory!
9. Did I say rugs? Rugs underfoot, be they new or old, give a sense of the Maharaja in us all. Just make sure you stick with traditional patterns like this...
..these are now available in all price points and give a sense of luxury.
10. Finally...all those things that hide in your wardrobe and jewellery box? Get them out and put them on display. From kimonos, to necklaces and beads and jewels of all kinds, to scarves and beaded bags. They're all fodder for wall art in the Boho home. Who needs to hang a masterpiece when you can decorate your walls with your own personal possessions.
So off you go....get Boho-ing!

Sharing at...


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Eiffel Tower Pinhole Lamp DIY...

So here's my DIY Eiffel Tower pinhole lamp. I'm pretty pleased with it as a first go.
I took inspiration from a lamp I saw in an upmarket home décor boutique in Noosa recently, although that one featured a New York Skyline.
I'd got a pair of these little lamps in a second hand store some time ago. They were particularly ugly and neglected and had these creamy coloured shades with flecks of stuff through them, and were embellished with brown fringing and braid...erk! I actually went back four times before I really saw any potential in them whatsoever, and clearly nobody else saw 'potential' either because even at $15 for the pair, they sat gathering dust for 3 or 4 months before I rehomed them.
Off came the brown fringing and braid, and already they didn't look half bad. Then I saw this lamp...
....and realised what a great DIY project they were. At $7.50 each, there wasn't too much I could do wrong....right?
Pinhole lamps are popping up everywhere all of a sudden and the New York Skyline is a favourite subject matter. Me? I'll take the Eiffel Tower over Manhattan any day.
So all I needed for my DIY pinhole lamp was a lampshade I wasn't afraid to ruin, some black paint, an appropriate outline to use as template, some masking tape, and a thick needle.
Lampshade found, chalkboard paint employed (it was just what I happened to have that was black), template discovered here....
....and resized accordingly, and bookbinding needle at the ready, I proceeded to tape this outline to the correct position on my lampshade. outline...

...lampshade before...

...lampshade with template...
...and then I spent three days in spurts of a few minutes at a time, poking holes in my lampshade with the bookbinding needle, which by the way is nothing special and is in fact just a longer, thicker sewing needle.
I used the dots on the template as a guide, and about half way through, remembered that there is a neat-o little tool that would do this for you called an Awl which I highly recommend over a needle for the task. But in the interests of using what I had, I perservered with my needle and just spread the task over several evenings.
I was so proud of myself until I realised that in my haste to get those pinholes done, I had neglected to first paint my shade black...doh!
I suggest remembering to do this first, as once painted, the holes in my lampshade were all but clogged and I had to go over the whole thing with the needle, yet again! Sheesh.
Had my desire for a glittering Eiffel Tower next to my bed been any the lesser, I would have given up at this point and binned the thing. But dang if I didn't want to read by my favourite tourist icon at bedtime.
The entire glittering effect of my lampshade could probably be enhanced by a second coat of black paint, but for now, I kind of like the tissue paper effect, and in the flesh, the little holes sparkle far more brightly than they appear to in my photo.
I'm quite thrilled with the result and have a mind to do the twin to this lamp in the same fashion. I'm going to buy an awl, and redo the pinholes to open them a little more to enhance the effect, and perhaps do that second coat of black paint too.
Or perhaps I'll use this idea....
...and do the Eiffel Tower black against a twinkling night sky.
We'll see.
Meanwhile I hope I've inspired you to punch holes in inanimate objects....hehehe!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

10 tips for Going Gracefully Grey....

I've been toying with going gracefully grey for several years now.
I even grew my hair out completely grey a couple of years ago.
The thing was, I just looked old. I didn't look soigne` and chic like I'd imagined. I just looked older and neglected, no matter what I did.
I wanted to look like this woman on a Vicki Archers lovely blog French Essence...
....but my hair was cut in to a short bob at that stage, AND it's got a fierce little spiral curl, so the magic just wasn't happening.
I had a hell of a time convincing my hairdresser that it was a good idea too. She thought I'd lost my marbles. After all, hairdressers are part of an industry that conserves youth or at least the illusion of it, right?
What can I say? I found another hairdresser.
Bless her heart, she humours me, and more importantly discussed options for being 'gracefully grey' and 'soigne`', over just looking like my granny.
Here's what we decided, and I think it holds true for many of us who would love to be elegantly silver.
1. You have to commit to a lengthy growing out process and decide how to handle that. My solution is to have a very light ash blonde colour, overlaid with a small smattering of  fine golden foils as my natural colour leans towards that. My roots (when attended to in a timely fashion) are almost imperceptible with this combination.
2. Keep the colour and/or cut, on trend in some way. I have chosen to go with a similar dark under colour and tips Balyage` style, as the stunning woman in the above picture. However as my hair is a warmer colour, I've chosen a deep, dark chocolate. When the penchant for Balyage` passes, I'll find another way to keep my look current.
3. I personally think that longer hair, when well groomed, is a more youthful look for me at least. Being grey with super short curly hair ON ME is channelling 'Granny' for sure. Although, I have seen some ladies with short and funky grey hair, and it looks fabulous. So maybe somewhere along the way, I'll readdress that issue. That said, the colour grey or ash blonde, will reflect more light and look shinier and healthier, with straight hair (see my update below on this topic). Curses! I have a natural curl that many would kill for, but it's not the best look with greys. So it's a daily wrestle with the GHD, or a twice weekly visit to the hairdresser to stay looking a little chic.
Update June 2017...I have finally wrestled my curly silver hair into submission, found my 'ideal length', and have happily embraced being Silver AND a being Curly Girl. For tips on how to have lovely curls, see my post here. The trick for me was, to find that 'ideal length', not too long and not too short, and make sure that those curls were moisturised and pampered. Be patient, try different styles and lengths and go with what is right for YOU.
4. On days when GHD or the hairdresser are impossible, the hair goes up in a sleek ponytail or chignon or other neat, elegant look. I rather like a plain high ponytail, and have an endless selection of ornaments with which to embellish my up-dos. Find an alternative look for your Bad Hair Days, that will not leave you looking like you couldn't be bothered. That's the death knell for sure. See point number 5.
5. Grey hair can just make you look neglected if the rest of your appearance is lacking. So you must also commit to dressing well even if just to drop the kidlets or grandkidlets to school. A touch of makeup doesn't go astray either, to prevent you simply looking tired and washed out. A neat neutral manicure or well kept fingernails and toenails, and simple elegant accessories say 'I care about me', and prevent the misconception that in going grey, you're simply letting yourself go.
6. Going grey may also mean a change of wardrobe colour. The French of course favour black over all other colours, but here in Australia, a lighter approach is more forgiving in our bright sunlight. I prefer the softness of Navy blue against my face, lightened with a few pastel accessories. Black is still my 'go to' for evening wear though, with the acknowledgement that pearls or bling around the face, prevent a washed out look.
7. Avoid wearing Granny clothes too. Grey hair and some mass produced floral prints, are a sure sign that you're on a slippery slope with your look. So no shopping at the haunts of the more mature woman, that consist of floral polyester chiffon garments in nightmarish colour combinations. I'm sure you all have an equivalent Old Lady store near you. You know the ones...lots of prints, 3/4 pants and cheap jewellery. Stick with solid colours and quality accessories if you're unsure, and you'll look far more pulled together.
8. Funnily enough, and you may laugh here, but I find that wearing fabulous shoes also prevents one looking 'old'. Is there a woman alive that doesn't adore a great pair of shoes? I'm not necessarily talking Manolo or Louboutin here. A classy looking pair of ballet flats or loafers can take you just about anywhere. My new favourites are a nude suede loafer or Ballet flat, and a Nude wedge sandal for Summer. Oh so comfortable, yet still elegant.
9. Still on accessories, get yourself a neat, classically shaped handbag and leather wallet. I don't mean expensive, I mean neat. It's part of the overall neat, tidy, understated deal. Avoid fringing, frou-frou and fussiness on handbags. Neat. Elegant. Quality if you can afford it, by which I don't mean Designer. Just quality leather and a classic shape. I found mine at my favourite local thrift store. Honestly. The things people throw away and donate. You wouldn't believe it.
10. Now if you're still reading, and you've come to realise, as I did, that this going grey bizzo is not for the faint hearted, nor is it a money saving exercise, then go for it. I love my silver  locks.
Here's mine, fresh from a visit to my partner in crime...with paisley/floral shirt....hahahahahaha...what can I's my 'going to the hairdresser, doesn't matter if it gets dye on it' shirt...
Have I convinced you to go grey yet?
If not, see my update post with newly fab silver

Friday, April 11, 2014

Tea time at A Tray of Bliss....

High Tea seems to be all the rage these days.
Offered at many upmarket café`s and lounges, it seems the five star hotels are making a motza from them.
They vary enormously from a tiered confabulation of confectionery, to a full scale meal.
So then, what's Afternoon Tea, or Low Tea, for that matter?

Well, for a start, it doesn't have to be served in a Tea Salon, although this one at the Salon The` Musee`d Orsay in Paris is certainly sublime. This photo taken when we were there a few years ago.
It does require teacups...

Prettified cakes....
...these ones made by cutting a home baked vanilla slab cake into tall cubes, which then have a thin, baby pastel pink sugar icing poured over, and topped with edible rose petals...
...or this one which I lovingly prepared for The Diva Child's fourteenth birthday...a pastel rainbow iced fudge cake...
....or perhaps some Raspberry Iced Tea Muffins...recipe following...
...then there's Aunty M's Rock Cakes for something a little more substantial...
...or prepurchased meringues for the time poor, filled with Lemon Curd or whipped cream....mmmm...
One this is for certain. The tea must be brewed in a pot....this one gifted to me by The Musician Husband for Valentines Day this year...
....and one must use loose tealeaves, or it's just not right!
High Tea in it's original form was really more like lunch. It came with Cornish Pasties and sandwiches filled with thin slices of roast beef and home made pickles and had more substantial cakes like a...
.. Three Ingredient Fruit Cake..
Soak 600gms of mixed dried fruit in 600mls of liquid....try milky tea, herbal tea like Raspberry or a favourite blend like French Earl Grey with 3-4 tablespoons of cream added to the brew for richness, chocolate milk or iced coffee....leave overnight in the refrigerator, then add 2 cups of self raising flour, pour in to a 20 cm lined tin and bake in a 180C preheated oven for 90 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave the cake in there for another 30 minutes. Perfection!
...or my Aunty M's Rock Cakes...
This makes about a dozen Rock Cakes

2 1/4 cups self raising flour, sifted
1/2 cup butter
Pinch nutmeg
3/4 cup any mixed fruit
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons milk

Line two cookie trays with baking paper and preheat the oven to 200C.

The flour goes into a large mixing bowl with the butter. Rub that in with clean fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs. This will take no more than a minute or two.
Add the cinnamon and the dried fruit, and combine lightly.
Add the sugar and milk to the beaten eggs and beat with a fork.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and stir with the fork until well mixed. The mixture should be really firm and stiff.
Take two dessertspoons, and scoop a generous spoonful of mixture with one, and slide it onto your lined tray with the other. Continue until all the mixture is used.
Six rock cakes to a standard sized tray is about right. They'll rise and expand, so don't crowd them too close together.
Bake them in a preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until lightly golden.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool before storing in an airtight container.

Low Tea or Afternoon Tea is actually the 'tea' we're more accustomed to seeing as a celebratory tea here.

You'd include soft crustless sandwiches cut into elongated fingers, that are spread with real butter and have fillings like cucumber or thinly sliced radish, smoked salmon with fresh dill and capers, watercress or wild rocket, and cream cheese seasoned with chopped fresh herbs.

Your cakes would be of the more delicate kind like my faux petit fours above, or my pastel iced fudge cake, or even a real Victoria Sponge.

Or you could try this great egg free recipe, which is fab baked as muffins or cupcakes as I've pictured above...

Egg Free Raspberry Iced Tea Muffins

1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup strong brewed raspberry herbal tea
1 teaspoon strawberry essence
1 tablespoon white vinegar
6 tablespoons neutral flavoured oil
1 teaspoon Bicarb-Soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line muffin pans with papers

Combine the flour, sugar, tea and strawberry essence in a bowl. Add the other ingredients and beat with electric beaters on high until smooth. Note that this is a rather thin batter.

Pour into the prepared pans and bake for 20-30 minutes or until firm to touch in the centre. Remove from the oven and cool before icing with a simple icing sugar icing made by combining sifted icing (confectioners) sugar with some more of the strongly brewed raspberry iced tea.

Decorate with gel icing tubes as desired.

So, who's coming for tea?



Monday, April 7, 2014

So you think you can 'Restaurant'...10 rules for dining out with kids

So you think you want to take the family to a real restaurant.
By that I mean, not McDonalds, or Burger King or Sizzler.
I mean one where the service is pleasant, the food tantalising and the atmosphere a little more...well...refined.
Your children might be angels. If so, I applaud your decision. I'm of the firm belief that all children should be introduced to the pleasures of fine dining from an early age, if only to elevate their expectations beyond The Golden Arches.
In my experience however, even the most angelic of angels can turn into a handful, when expected to sit still, eat quietly and entertain themselves for longer than ten minutes.
I had a family tradition that once we introduced our kidlets to fine dining, that playing on Gameboys (as it was back then) at the restaurant table was unacceptable. If they were old enough to be eating in a fine dining style restaurant, they were old enough to make conversation and be involved.
I have to say, that at that time, young families dining out was a rarity. It was mostly older couples and singles. So we were unusual. That said, we acknowledged that we were so, and if our children became rambunctious (read 'tired') then we fully accepted that it was time to leave and perhaps dessert, or even 'dinner' was out of the question on that particular day.
It's different now. Everyone seems to dine out and some families seem to have no problem inflicting their tired children on everyone else in the restaurant.
I know it's hard to get a treasured moment together when you have young ones. I've been there. I know that sometimes you just want to feel special, and not like Mum and Dad. Just for a minute.
But consider that some of the other folk in the restaurant may be just like you. They too, may want special time together. They too, may have young children who demand their time 24/7. They too, may need that moment of togetherness that isn't interrupted by 'Muuuuuuu-um, Ethan's annoying me'.
So here's my top 10 rules for family dining 5 star style....
1. Go early. Don't even think about taking the kids at 8pm, where they won't eat until 8:30 or 9 and will then want to curl up and sleep, as kids are fond of doing. An early meal means you're eating by 6:30pm and out of there by 7:30. That probably means arriving between 5 and 5:45pm. This allows for parking, seating, and ordering.
2. Take something with which they can be entertained. I didn't like the idea of game consoles at the dinner table, but in this day and age, maybe the iPad mini is a saving grace. It is after all, the replacement for colouring and crayons, isn't it.
3. Make sure the restaurant you're planning to visit, has family friendly meals. Many 5 star restaurants really don't and you might have your hands full trying to get little Mariah or Johnathon to eat Szechwan Pork Belly or Corn Fed Chicken Breast with truffled stuffing. Or perhaps not. My lot had sophisticated palettes from an early age, so do what suits.
4.  Do make sure the restaurant caters for allergies. Most now include a dairy free, vegan, gluten free options, but just ask when you book.
5. Don't wear the kids out before you go. Attending a fine dining restaurant after a massive day out surfing or swimming or playing a sport is not smart. They're not going to last the distance and tempers will be frazzled.
6. Teach the family the correct manners BEFORE you go. This means regularly setting the table for dinner at home, and placing more than one set of cutlery next to more than one dinner plate, and serving more than one course. We almost always have a small entrée like soup or a small salad, French style, before we have our main meal at home. Not only does it make meals at home more memorable, it saves money on large servings of meat, ensures that veg are eaten (in the soup or salad) and sets an expectation of behaviour in a restaurant setting.
7. Choose a restaurant that has an outdoor area, and request a table there. There's a better chance that there will be a spot for little ones to be occupied whether it's with the view or an activity close by or just a space in which to let off some steam. Don't ever let your child or children run around other tables or disturb other guests. Ever. You might think they're cute, and other patrons will make a show of humouring you, but inside, they'll be seething.
8. Dress appropriately. If you're visiting a fine dining restaurant, dress for the occasion. It's a good excuse to drag out the glad rags. I love it when we go to a good restaurant and folk have bothered to dress up. It makes you feel special.
9. Make sure the kids have a jumper, wrap or blanket. Air conditioning can vary enormously and chilly shoulders are common.
10. Finally if things get hairy, it's time to leave. Seriously. Even if it means that one parent goes outside with the child or children and waits for the other to eat, and then you swap. We've done it. You don't have the right to inflict your tired and cranky kidlets on others who may have actually paid a baby sitter so they could have some adult time.
And for us, here are the top 5 restaurant choices for families....
1. Anything on a beachfront. It'll be more relaxed, there'll be space for the kids to let off steam, and you'll enjoy the view.
2. Anything in an upmarket hotel. They'll be used to catering for families as they'll have many as  house guests.
3. Something in an unusual setting like a rainforest, bushland, lakeside, or clifftop. The novelty of the associated view, wildlife and potential for chat will make it worthwhile.
4. Anything with a large fish tank. Kids adore fish tanks and will watch them endlessly!
5. Anything with some sort of included entertainment such as a dinner/show option (so long as it's the early evening session). That doesn't just mean the indoor type shows. We've had the most fun ever at some touristy type outdoor dinner + show packages in our own home town.
So that's my thinking. Remember I have 4 children ranging in age from 14 to 34 and three grandkidlets from 4 months to 14 years, so I've got a little experience upon which to base my opinions!
So go, eat, enjoy!

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Secret Angel Project

I took this photo a year or two ago.
It's of a worn angel bust on my bottom step. I bought it many years ago from a plant nursery for just $5 because a corner of it's wing was missing.
As someone who was drawn to things reminiscent of a French life long before I even knew the word 'Francophile', I had to have it.
Well he/she has resided on my bottom front doorstep ever since, acquiring an aged patina that bloggers the world over attempt to mimic with glue, paint and effort. Don't they know that you can just put new things outside and they wear and age naturally??
I then enhanced the photograph a little and looked up the verse, to add to my blog here a while back.
I received so many emails about both the photograph and the sentiment of being kind to strangers that I've now turned it in to a postcard. That in itself is not special. But what I do with the postcards, is.
I have a few of these in my handbag at all times.
If I am somewhere in the course of my day, and I see a frazzled Mum, a lonely elderly person or a staff member in a café` or store who is run off their feet, I leave one of these for them. I then sit back and watch from a distance, what sort of reaction it generates.
Sometimes I don't get to see. Sometimes I just slip it into a Mums shopping trolley, or leave it in an empty one. I've left them on counters where I had no intention of shopping just because I thought it might brighten a persons day. I frequently leave them on tables in coffee shops for the staff to find if I think the service has been extra special. But then I'm gone.
Just sometimes though, I see their face. 99% of the time, the reaction is first one of irritation. They think it's advertising material. Then, as they realise it isn't, they turn it over in their hand, looking for some sort of identifying mark. When there isn't one, they often look bemused, amused, puzzled or utterly thrilled depending upon their nature, I guess. I'd love to know how it impacts on them, but I won't ask. That's not part of the fun.
It's something I'm doing not for what I get out of it, but for what others do.
Would you like some of my postcards to start your own Secret Angel Project?
If you leave me a sweet comment and somewhere to find you, I'll make it my business to send you a couple of mine to get you started.
From there, it's up to you!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Real Dance Moms #3....

My darling girl made me so happy yesterday.
It was still only March, and she said 'I can't wait for concert'.
And she meant it.
She didn't just mean I can't wait to be on stage, or I can't wait to learn a new dance, or I can't wait to see my costume. Which has mostly been the extent of things when looking forward to Annual Concert. Annual Concert by the way, is seven months away :)
She meant she loves the whole process. The weekends of rehearsals and dress rehearsals and theatre rehearsals that seem to stretch out forever, the sausage sizzles and neon coloured ice creams in a cone, the lounging around with her friends between items in prickly costumes, and even the part where she helps with the little ones.
We've never loved the process of concert as much as we do at our current studio. Usually the weeks and months leading up to concert have been so fraught with stress and tension and financial burden that 'I can't wait' was usually a sentence that ended with 'for it to be over'.
Concert is held at the premiere venue in our city and is a really big deal, so don't think that it's not taken seriously. The costumes are all as gorgeous as anything else we've seen, so don't think that as much care and attention isn't given to how the dancers look. The choreography is as dreamy and technically perfect as you might expect from dancers in their teens at any other studio, so don't think we're suffering in expertise. And every dance style is represented, so don't think that the content is lacking.
It's just different.
It's fun.
People laugh at rehearsals and no-one gets ticked off because they forgot to stitch some random sequin on a costume. No-one gets hysterical if a dancer is ill and misses a rehearsal. No-one yells. No-one.
When did striving for perfection become a necessity at 4 or 14? When did a teachers desire to make a name for themselves, outweigh the fragile self esteem of a teenager on the brink of young adult life? When did dance for fun, become dance to exhaustion to get it perfect?
The plethora of dance schools in our city who now offer 'full time' is mind boggling. Where are these students going to earn their keep? It sure as heck isn't here. How many will be disappointed when their dream is not fulfilled? How many will earn a sub standard wage and live in sub standard conditions, just to be able to say 'I danced for a living'?
I don't get it.
I say let the kids dance for the love of it. Accept the reality of limited opportunities for careers in dance. Allow your child to embrace dance for the creativity, the passion, the physical fitness and the camaraderie that suddenly emerges when competition is taken out of the equation.
Let them look back in ten or fifteen years and be able to say..... 'I LOVED dance. I couldn't wait for concert each year.'

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

French inspired corset for outerwear....under $20!

So this girl child of mine, who dances and has a love of frivolous fashion beyond the utilitarian fluoro tops and bottoms and galaxy leggings (shudder), has developed a love affair with a store here called Kitten D`Amour. They were once called 'Sex Kitten' and clearly felt that the French interpretation lent some respectability to their name!
They specialise in French inspired girly dresses, Rockabilly pretties, vintage style prints and silks and satins to die for in petticoats and underthings.
They also do these corsets. The whole underwear as outerwear idea has come full circle. Gosh be darned if I didn't go out dancing in a few Torsolettes in my time. Well, that's what we called them back then.
But alas, Mum and Dads bank account cannot possibly sustain multiple visits to Kitten D`Amour, so Mum has had to find a workable replacement.
Enter the embellished corset. This little morsel came in plain black with black lace and satin bows and was just $12. It took what felt like 3 years to get here, but in fact we had it in our hands in about 3 weeks.
Some slim wisps of white lace to inject a bit of innocence, some red satin and a smattering of sequins for contrast, with a sweet cameo as centrepiece. and we've turned our corset into something a little more ladylike. The final touch of white ribbon on the front panel to simulate stripes, and satin ribbon for a halter neck effect, turns this into something worthy of a night at the theatre or a concert or two, all of which are on the agenda within weeks or months. The Girl Child (alas she really is a child no more...*sob*) will pair this with a pencil skirt with cute kick pleats, a little sheer shrug, and high heeled Mary Janes, and be the apple of our eye until she catches the eye of some pimply youth, which is, I have to say, inevitable.

This effect was astoundingly simple and inexpensive to achieve and it just goes to show what you can do with a hot glue gun and some stuff from the haberdashery department.
Oh, I am so thrilled to have a girl child after three boys.
Can you tell?