Saturday, December 26, 2015

Festive Wishes and Seasons Blessings to everyone!

Blue and white...peaceful...serene...

....echoes of my Celtic roots in the tartan...

....a nod to my European roots in the ornate crockery, cutlery and table decorations, and dreaming of a White Christmas two years from now, with adorable cable knit look tealight holders...

...a lavish table setting, a simple meal, the company of loved ones.
Best Christmas Ever.
Thankyou everyone for your support here at A Tray of Bliss in 2015.
Please accompany me in 2016, as we find new ways to bless our families, our homes, and our lives.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Five Star Frou-Frou #32...A Simple Life...
Hello dear friends, and Merry Christmas!
This will be the last Five Star Frou-Frou for the year, as we will be celebrating with family and taking a well earned rest until mid January. So, I will be leaving this linkup here, open ended, for you to add to as often as you like, visiting friends and spreading good cheer, until we return.
Tell me you sometimes look at the homes of other bloggers, especially at this time of the year, and just feel overwhelmed? I know I do. I mean, I admire it and all, but not only do I not aspire to that sort of over the top décor, but it's not practical for a regular family. Or not my family at least!
I've been focusing on a simpler time this Christmas, as you would know if you've been following along on my Orchids on your Budget series. So in line with those thoughts, my features this week, really are all about simplicity.
Above we have another gorgeous post from Meg at My Vintage Life. Meg always strikes the right note between lavish and homespun, in much the same way that my good friend Annabel does over at The Bluebirds are Nesting. Funnily enough, Meg and Annabel live not far from one another! Check out Megs post and take note that her décor and festive decorations are simple, yet warm, welcoming and beautiful....
 Nellie at Nellies Cozy Place always humbles me with her Thankful Posts, and this one is no exception. She's sharing some of her past Christmas table settings, and they're all so elegant and well...doable, that I couldn't resist sharing them.
Entrance Blackboard wall, Home for Christmas Blog Hop - The Boondocks Blog
And finally, Mary at In the Boondocks, likewise shows us a sensible, earthy, family oriented Christmas décor that just oozes warmth and tranquility.
I want to thank you all for your support, love and good wishes this year. I am so appreciative, and wish you all a Blessed and Peaceful Christmas and a new year filled with love and surprises of the best kind....Mimi xxx

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Orchids on your Budget #4...Top 3 easy, last minute, DIY gifts...

Here's what Marjorie Hillis, author of Orchids on your Budget says about Christmas...
"Your income is in a bad way if you can't give a few presents. Some of the most engaging presents we've ever had, have cost next to nothing, and some of the most expensive have been frankly Gosh Presents (meaning the kind of presents that make you say Gosh when you open the package). Someone once gave us a Gumdrop tree which she'd made from the branch of a tree, stuck in a pot, and silvered all over, with coloured gum drops shimmering on every twig. It stood in the window and was the most enchanting Christmas decoration of the season. Once we were gifted a pile of mirrored tiles to put under vases. They came from the discount store and were tied with a ribbon and we're still using them with the greatest pleasure. Another ingenious woman gave friends who had fireplaces, great bags of pine cones she'd gathered herself. The bags were made of pale green fabric and tied with enormous silver bows at the top and everyone loved them."
Wise words from usual.
We've been discussing Christmas on a lean budget, and we've already agreed that you can trim your list of gift recipients, by instead inviting them for a Sundae Soiree` or Hot Chocolate Banquet after a Carolling session, ensuring you do that one thing lavishly and with a generous hand and heart. Incidentally, Marjorie writes at length about entertaining on a budget and recommends a similar approach.
Set the table beautifully, get out every glass and bowl or cup and mug you own, invest in as much of the required ingredients as you need and then some, and do it well. Don't go doing this as a money saving exercise, and then get all silly about how many scoops of icecream or how many cups of cocoa each person indulges in. There's a difference between Thrifty and Stingy. Marjorie devotes a whole chapter of her book on that topic!
If you still prefer to give gifts, then as with so many things, when you lack money, you must instead devote time. Making gifts worth giving, does involve an investment of time and a little money too, truth be known. So don't be thinking you'll get out of it with a nil spend. Although, if you're clever enough, and willing to invest enough time, you can come close to a nil spend.
Let's look at Marjories three examples and see how they can work for us.
Example 1: Silvered tree branch with gum drops
Material required: Found tree branches of suitable shape and size (if you live in Australia, Poinciana tree twig litter is ideal), container and sand, soil or balls of newspaper to anchor it, silver or chrome spray paint, 3 packets of gumdrops (I used generic brand Cocktail Sherbets...they must be a sweet that is wrapped), thin craft or gift ribbon. I added the ruffled pink tulle as I had it on hand. It's not actually necessary. My 'twig, is anchored in the sheets of newspaper, utilised to contain the overspray when painting the pot. I just scrunched it up and arranged it around my twig. Happily, it was already silver from the overspray!
Method: Scrub the branch clean and let it dry if you want, but I didn't bother. Spray it with the silver paint. Spray paint the container too. I like to use terracotta pots at under $3 each from the gardening supply store. Fill the plant pot or jar with sand or salt or soil, and anchor the branch, or use the newspaper method mentioned above. Tie the gum drops on with satin or metallic ribbon. Total cost around $10 each including the pot and the gum drops.
Example 2: Mirrored tiles
I confess I've been in love with this idea ever since I read it for the first time. I scoured eBay and found 130 bronze mirrored tiles, used as Charger plates for a wedding, and I've been gifting them ever since. They set me back $100 at the time, equating to just .77c each! I even bought some etching fluid and stencils and have etched them with stars, hearts, and French script. Check out recycling warehouses, tile suppliers, Gumtree, and eBay for similar bargains. It has to be a pickup though as they are darned heavy!
An alternative is to grab thrifted photo frames and upcycle them as I've detailed below.
Material required: Mirrored tiles, or empty photo frames from thrift shops and a tin of Looking Glass spray and some white acrylic paint.
Method: None required if ready made tiles are used. For the frames, clean the glass and the frame well. Paint the frame white with the acrylic paint and allow to dry. Paint the glass according to the instructions. Allow to dry. Reassemble. Tie with a big bow. Attach a card explaining that it's a mirror to reflect any ornament or vase place on top, doubling the pleasure. Total cost around $30 if you're buying the Looking Glass paint, but this will yield many gifts. Thrift shop frames cost between 20c and $3. So an investment of around $40 should yield 10 gifts or $4 each. Note that mirrored tiles also make the most lavish Charger plates. Those sell in the upmarket homewares stores for about $70 each! Bundle 6 together and call them Charger plates or Under plates or Placemats, and they'll think you've spent a fortune!
Example 3: Bags of Pine Cones
Material required: Pine cones, fabric, satin ribbon, sewing machine or patience to hand sew. Glittering or glossy dollar store ornaments to add to the pine cones if you wish.
Method: Collect pine cones. Even here in Australia, they're everywhere. Use your chosen fabric whether it be plain, checked, tartan (plaid) or Christmas print (thrifted quilt covers are ideal...miles of fabric in those!) to make the bags, fill with cones and tie off with ribbon. Total cost $30 for 10 or $3 each.
I make mine just big enough for about 6-8 pine cones and three glittering dollar store ornaments to be used as a display, with the top of the bag rolled down like a 'collar'. It will come as no great surprise to anyone who knows me, that my fabric remnant just happens to be red and white Parisian Bus Roll fabric, snaffled for $2 each for two lengths from the remnant bin at our local haberdashery :)
Here's how....

Turn it inside out, fold the collar you formed by having some of the fabric on the inside top edge, down, scrunch the bottom artfully as pictured, and fill with 5 pine cones and top with three sparkly or glossy ornaments. Tie a ribbon around it if you wish, as per Marjories description.
You don't have to do the collar, but it does give the finished product a better look and also means you can fold the bag up around it's contents and tie the ribbon around the 'neck', for transport and storage.
To many of us, and certainly in my eyes, any of these would be preferable to a chain store gift purchased for the same amount of money, and the feel good factor is far greater.
Make sure you wrap your DIY gifts beautifully and give them with a gorgeous hand made card too. We made this one by painting glue inside a cookie cutter and sprinkling glitter over it, before removing the cookie cutter and shaking off the excess glitter. It's just project cardboard, cut to size, with a pretty organza ribbon tied along the inside edge, and with a hand scribed festive message.
If even that's too daunting, go with any inexpensive festive card, but at least pretty it up with ribbon or bling to make it special. Again, if you're not investing money, you must instead, invest time and effort.

For wrapping paper, I always recommend either plain clear cellophane or butchers paper scribed with festive greetings with a big fat felt pen. I bought 5 kilos of white butchers paper from a catering and party supply warehouse three years ago for $28, and I haven't bought gift wrap since. We write things on it with the pen and huge loopy handwriting, or we stamp it with black ink and shapes like the celery stalk roses or vintage ballerinas sourced on Etsy. We like the plain writing the best though...
Christmas doesn't have to be a competition to see who can spend the most. Any dimwit can go out and spend money. Investing time and effort to make a special something takes thought and care and a giving spirit.
Which would you rather be?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Orchids on your budget #3....Christmas when times are what you have with elegance...

Yesterday, we were discussing being honest about your Changed Circumstances this Christmas.
Thanks to Marjorie Hillis and her gorgeous little book, written in 1937, Orchids on your Budget, we now know that many folk far more wealthy than we mere mortals, were forced to deal with Changed Circumstances back in the day.
I mentioned one of her case histories, that noted that surviving lean times can strengthen your relationship and the family unit, if done in the right spirit.
I think one of the most important elements of this idea, is to find the right language to be generous and gracious in your own way, without having to live up to other peoples expectations.
You don't have to say 'we can't afford it this year'. You can say 'we have other priorities for Christmas 2015'. And no, you do NOT have to explain yourself beyond that.
One of my darling friends, going back years ago when we were both single parents of three sons, would just say 'we're poor this year, and lovin' it' with a full bellied laugh and a twinkle in her eye. Mind you, this is the same friend mentioned in yesterdays post, who still grows basil like a weed and conjures up the best pesto, like, EVER, at this time every year. If she ever gave me something other than her fab pesto for Christmas, I'd be most put out.
See, it's a tradition between her and I. Well her and about 50 of her closest friends actually. Her pesto is a thing of beauty. Freshly harvested basil, Italian Olive Oil, parmesan, toasted almonds (not pine nuts...too!), and garlic grown in her garden. Un-Believable.
Now you're in for a treat, because she's agreed to share her recipe here. I refuse to make it, because she's told me she's put a curse on it so her friends can't replicate it. I believe her ;-)
As you don't know her, and therefore at this stage cannot be numbered amongst her 'friends', I think you'll be fine. That's bound to change once you try her pesto though. This is the recipe as she recited it to me.
La-La's Un-Believable Pesto
Stuff as much fresh basil as you can into a food processor bowl. Add 3-4 peeled garlic cloves and a glug of olive oil (must be olive oil). Whizz. Add a handful of grated parmesan or pecorino cheese. Whizz. Add some more oil to get it the consistency you want. It should be like a thick dip, not slush. It should smell AH-maaaazing. Add a small handful of lightly toasted blanched almonds and pulse until they're ground. You can add lemon zest or chilli if you want to be non-traditional. Who cares. It's your pesto, right? Taste it and add salt and pepper if you want. Spoon into jars. Fin.
My note: Pesto, can be made from anything really. I've made a Semi Dried Tomato one by just replacing the Basil with the Tomato. Coriander (Cilantro) makes an incredible Thai inspired pesto to toss with rice noodles. Mint and lemon is amazing to serve with Turkish bread and home made Labna.
Lets assume, as we said yesterday, that you don't have basil or anything green for that matter, growing like a weed.
How about making a Caramel Sauce to serve with those Sundaes we talked about yesterday...
Mimi's Caramel Sauce
Mix equal parts of soft brown sugar and cream, and add a bit of vanilla essence. Heat and stir till well combined. Pour into your chosen vessels. Gift in enormous jars with lavish ribbons, or use as part of that Ice Cream Sundae buffet, that you're going to have after Christmas Carols by Candlelight, instead of buying gifts you can't afford for friends.
Again, it's about being generous in ways that don't bite into the budget.
Marjorie Hillis relates a Case of a young bride, Mrs V. Living in New York has always been costly and when Mrs V moves there with her new husband to Improve His Prospects, Mrs V wonders how to expand their social circle with little money. She has a silver tea service received as a wedding gift, and each morning lays it out, fills the sugar bowl, and sets out her best teacups. She conjures a small selection of delicacies that can be served as 'Tea' for callers, or as 'Supper' if no callers arrive. She makes delicate cookies, and serves Cinnamon Toast with such elegance that her friends feel inadequate serving anything more substantial.
We can all be a Mrs V.
My Mum was a Mrs V, and served everything with elegance and style. My Mum could serve jam sandwiches and Vienna coffee (that's black coffee with whipped and sweetened cream on top, dusted with cinnamon sugar) and people would feel like they'd have a first class feast.
We can all, like my friend La-La, like Mrs V, like my Mum, cultivate a speciality of our own, and serve or gift it with such elegance, that others will feel inadequate in gifting their wildly overpriced, store bought wonders.
What's yours going to be?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Orchids on your Budget...Lesson #2..How to cope with being a Have-Not...

Marjorie Hillis was one clever cookie.
In 1937, having worked for Vogue for twenty years, she penned this little gem of a book, to help those who, in polite terms, had suffered Changed Circumstances.
Basically this meant that they had gone from being The-Haves, to The Have-Nots. It happened to lots of people called The-Haves back then, courtesy of the Wall Street crash of 1929. Strange times for them!
So in this series, I'm sharing some of Clever Marjories tips for living well on not much, and making the most of it.
One of the sweetest things that Marjorie shares, are her Case Histories. Who really knows for sure, how true to life these Cases are. But there are some real lessons amongst them.
Today I'll share the case of Mrs T, married to a writer, who spends every cent they earn on travel. Her case history explains that 'Mrs T has almost starved in Budapest, Shanghai, Madrid, Moscow and the Left Bank. She has learned to bargain with pennies in half a dozen languages, to cajole irate landlords into friendliness, to make strange garrets homelike, and to get along on sketchy and irregular meals.'
Doesn't sound like much fun so far, does it?
BUT, Marjorie then goes on to say, 'She (Mrs T) has learned that, given wits and courage, you don't starve. And if you should catch her in an intimate moment, you would find that she knows too, that an affection that will last through the crises she and her husband have experienced, is more compensating than money; and that colour and adventure in your life are not dependent upon cash'.
How true.
 I know I've lived through some tough times, unfortunately not in locations as picturesque as Budapest or the Left Bank, and they are peppered with some of my fondest memories.
There was a time in my life when I was a single parent, with two teenage sons and a toddler who had just been diagnosed with a severe physical disability. Thankfully I was educated and had a good job,  or I don't know what we would have done sometimes. As it was, we mostly lived week to week. I used to worry about it all the time.
I'd worry that my sons didn't have privileges afforded to two parent families, that they were missing out, that the lack of overseas holidays and clothing with logos on it would somehow diminish their childhood memories.
Well, those sons are now in their late 30s with children of their own, and I can tell you, that one thing they do not recall, at all, is being deprived. Of anything.
They do remember our loving and crazy extended family of my siblings, and their cousins.
They remember that they always had their one special gift under the tree, even if it meant that I spent a whole week of my two weeks holiday pay each Christmas, on them. With the remainder, I'd pay the rent and put fuel in my car so we could get grocery shopping and visiting done, and then I'd bake and we'd have friends over. They boys loved inviting friends, and our home was a constant hub of teenage boys lounging around playing on the Sega Megadrive or out the back indulging in a game of basketball or touch football, or baseball. The other parents loved it too, as they knew where there boys were, and that they were well fed and watched over.
This means that the boys have great memories of having friends over for sleepovers that turned into a week, with popcorn, home made chocolate milk, and my special lasagna on tap. I could churn out that stuff like nobody's business!
And at Christmas, we always had the obligatory hot dinner in the roaring heat of the day here in Australia, and to us, that was Christmas. Some years it was Eye Fillet, and others it was Meatloaf with my Mums special Barbecue sauce, but it all tasted good, no matter what.
So maybe you're struggling this Christmas. Maybe it's a Meatloaf Christmas for you this year, and not an Eye Fillet one. That's really not as unusual as you might think. Plenty of The-Haves, are currently The Have-Nots. I know some!
What to do about it?
Firstly, don't run around pretending to be a Have, if you're a Have-Not. That means you don't go buying extravagant gifts on credit, in denial of your circumstances, okay? If you've already done that and you're wondering how you're going to pay the rent or the mortgage, well, it's not too late to take the gifts back and exchange them for something more modest. Yes, I am serious. A diminished credit rating will not help you or your family.
Secondly, reduce your gift giving list to the bare minimum. Just for now. Even home made gifts still cost money. Save your money for those closest to you. Just for now. You can make it up to everyone else later when your finances improve.
Thirdly, of those closest to you, how many are old enough to understand the current situation of being a Have-Not? Could a Christmas of exchanging meaningful letters sharing memories with one another, be a way of overcoming the urge to spend? Again, there's no point in living in denial. Honesty is best, and you'd be surprised how understanding kids of any age can be, if you are honest with them. You might find that a letter, written from the heart, however scorned initially, may well become one of their most treasured possessions. Especially if things have been tough, and that's been reflected by ongoing tensions in the home.
If the loved ones are little ones, little ones love the unwrapping of the gifts as much as the gifts themselves. Could you do a series of inexpensive gifts, lavishly wrapped, and save the bigger expenditure for the after Christmas Sales? Even little ones understand money, and a modest sum of money, spent however they wish at the sales, might teach them more about life, than any techno gadget. A lesson might be gained too, by helping them search on eBay or in Loan Brokers stores, for the gifts unwanted by others! It's possible to find just the 'thing' they wanted for well under retail price post Christmas.
If the loved ones are friends to whom you feel you must gift something, then gift a skill. Teach yourself to give the best hand and arm or scalp massage ever (neither are difficult at all), using a neutral oil like almond oil or a lotion like Sorbolene, lightly scented with their favourite essential oil. This could be Rose, Lavender, Peppermint, Jasmine, Honeysuckle, Frangipani, or perhaps one chosen by offering them a list of what you have on hand. Yes, still an expense, but staggered over a period of time. They might look at you oddly at first, but one massage will convert them!
If massage doesn't appeal, then offer a different skill. Cooking and serving a meal, taking their own kids off their hands so they can have a night off, gardening, growing some herbs for them, and regularly harvesting them, growing ivy from cuttings and planting it in hanging baskets later on when finances are improved.
Annabel over at The Bluebirds are Nesting, gifts bunches of herbs, and is gifted lemons in return. I know that I'd love either.
I have a friend who grows basil by the mile like a weed, and turns it into the most exceptional pesto. This pesto, tossed with fresh pasta, is a taste sensation that cannot be described. This is a tradition she started when she was a struggling single parent too, many years ago, and one she has continued due to the begging of various friends, including me! Now, despite both of us having greatly improved 'circumstances', she still gifts me pesto, and I still gift her home made pasta and pate`, and we're both happy. We each anticipate the others gift too, and treasure it all the more for only having it once a year, with all the memories attached.
So let's say it's too late to grow basil (it is), and you don't know how to make pasta or pate`.
How about inviting your friends on a tour of the Christmas Lights in your area. Or to the church for Carols on Christmas Eve? You can offer to provide the hot chocolate and marshmallows afterwards if you're in a cold climate, or the home made ice creams with fudge sauce, if you're in a hot climate. Ice cream, and home made caramel or chocolate fudge sauce for 10? About $20 or $2 each. Hot chocolate and marshmallows the same. If you serve it with a bit of panache, set the table beautifully, and call it a Sundae Soiree` or a Hot Chocolate Banquet , with wafers for the sundaes, and cinnamon sugar, chocolate flakes, and peppermint sprinkles for the marshmallow hot chocolate, then it still looks like you've made an effort.
And most importantly, make sure you're generous. Make sure there's enough hot chocolate and marshmallows or ice cream, fudge sauce and wafers, to go around at least twice, if not thrice. You can afford that if you're not spending ridiculously on gifts that will be forgotten by late January.
Do whatever you do well, and with a sense of pride, and not one of shame. Be generous of heart and spirit too, and you'll find it will return to you many times over. I promise. Let that driver merge in front of you, offer up your place in the supermarket queue to the mum with the screaming toddler, let that carpark space go, there'll be another. Don't spoil your festive season by being mean of heart and spirit. That will make for a sad time.
If you create a feeling of abundance in word and deed, you'll find that you, like Mrs T, fear little and you'll know that the adventures in life, have little to do with money.
More tomorrow....

Friday, December 11, 2015

Five Star Frou-Frou #31...and the Festive Fun begins!

Festive features this week include ChelC's adorable Giant snow globe...and easy to DIY too!
This divine non-alcoholic Pomegranate cocktail from Rocket pretty is that!
And Jolenas gorgeous budget teen room makeover at While I Linger...I must do that swag with the fairy lights for my daughter for Christmas. How beautiful!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Orchids on Your life with more panache than cash...

I've been re-reading a gorgeous book I bought a while back, called Orchids on your Budget.

It was written in 1937, when many peoples fortunes had changed dramatically.

The author, Marjorie Hillis, worked for Vogue for twenty years, and she is both scathing and witty in equal measure. She really just knows how to sum up those to whom life is only worth living if you have lots of money.....and in the process, makes the rest of us feel quite worthwhile :)

Here is a quote from Chapter 1 of the book...

"Whatever your lot in life, it's merely a challenge to your resourcefulness, a set of materials with which to work. Maybe you would rather play polo than pingpong, but if you've got an old pingpong set and no ponies, you'll get a lot more fun out of life from being a pingpong champion, than from taking a dispirited whack with a polo mallet every now and then."

With Christmas approaching, and surely some of us doing it tough, it's a worthwhile reminder that it's the spirit with which you attack life and your circumstances, that makes a difference, not money.

What's wrong with a Christmas menu that's ham steaks and pineapple rings, with a cherry in the pineapple rings hole, mashed potato and gravy, a nice crisp salad, and red and green jelly alternated in little glasses for dessert. We had that for many a Christmas when I was a kid, and we loved it!

But it's worth noting that it was always served with the Christmas Carols on the record player, a lace tablecloth, Bonbons and Christmas serviettes on the table, nuts in the shell and a nutcracker with which to crack them (always fighting over the almonds which were our favourites), and a big glass with Fruit Cup cordial and ice cubes.

 It's not what was served, but the manner in which it was served that made all the difference. Sure if you just plopped a sad bit of ham steak on a paper plate with some mash and lettuce on the side, it ain't gonna look like much.

But go to a little more effort with the presentation of the food, and the table, and suddenly it's very festive and memorable.

It's so easy to lose our way with TV chefs and the supermarkets telling us all that it's not Christmas without a turkey, or a big fat leg of ham, and all too easy to feel defeated if we can't offer our families and guests that sort of food. I've actually had a series of posts on here on that very topic called War on TV Chefs.

This Christmas, we are forgoing a crazy lunch with three courses.

Some carved leg ham, home made potato salad, a green salad, enormous chunks of watermelon, and a yet to be decided dessert will do just fine.

I'm well aware, that even that would be spectacular by some peoples standards.

But as we did when I was a child, we'll set a beautiful table, have Dean Martin and Bing Crosby crooning carols, and have the nuts in shells and a nutcracker close at hand.

We might upgrade the Fruit Cup cordial to a glass of bubbly too :)

Marjorie Hillis is fond of a beautifully set table as well.

Here's what she says in a later chapter called 'You Have to Eat'...

"One of the prettiest tables we have ever seen, had black and tan checked linen, yellow pottery, amber glassware, yellow marigolds in a black bowl, and salad in a wooden bowl. The pottery, glass and wooden bowl came from a ten cent store (well this is 1937 remember...insert $2 store now), and the marigolds came out of the garden. You couldn't get a smarter background for dinner than a pastel coloured cloth, acquired by dyeing an old discoloured white one, (or an old sheet says me) and some dye, and using it with inexpensive china. A green and white colour scheme, using leaves in a white bowl and cheap white candles makes flowers unnecessary."

I've paraphrased a bit there, but you get the idea.

In that spirit, this year, I'm using a blue and grey tartan with a slim green line through it, sourced at Spotlight for $2 a metre for my Christmas table.

With it will go my Mums cutlery, mismatched glassware, some ginger jars filled with lollies, and some cut glass decanters with battery operated fairy lights woven around them. The pine cones are from the roadside and have been scrubbed and painted with glue and sprinkled with glitter. My lovely friend F, gifted me the glorious roses, and they are the softest colour with a hint of blue in the pink, that will be perfect.

Again, who says it has to be red or green or gold to be festive? Use what you have and make it special.

Yesterday, also in the spirit of using what I had, I made bouquets of foliage for the ladies who volunteer in the Charity shop down the road from me. They cost about $1.50 each and fifteen minutes of my time...

...and were welcomed with big smiles. If that's not a 'Orchid on your Budget' then I don't know what is!

That 'time' factor is a key thing really. If you're short on cash, then you need to make an 'investment' of a different kind. You need to invest your time to make your life special. Bake, sew, make something. Offer your time as a gift, whether it's through creating, volunteering or visiting. Become the person who makes the most exquisite pate` each Christmas, as I did as a poor student at the age of 19. Be that person who just knows everyone's favourite cookie and bakes them as gifts, presenting them beautifully packaged. Google and Pinterest have made those tasks easy for us all, so no excuses!

I always have just four things on hand for gift wrapping and I'm the gift wrapping queen round here.

 Those items are clear cellophane with a multipurpose print on it like white hearts, white butchers paper, a really fat black felt pen, and neutral double faced satin ribbon. With those I can scribe any sentiment I like in big loopy handwriting on the butchers paper, using the cellophane over the butchers paper, or as a separate wrap for things like the bouquet above. I can make rolled flowers with the cello too, or make belly bands where you just wrap a width of contrasting or toning wrap around the centre of your gift, securing it with ribbon.

This 'belly band' was made by splotching crimson and gold paint with a fat paint brush onto blue A4 paper. You don't need much. You mostly just need imagination. And Google and Pinterest don't hurt!

As for festive food, if you only have bits and pieces in your pantry leading up to Christmas, invest time researching a  Spanish theme and call it Christmas Tapas. That way you can serve little bits of whatever you like and it's all within the context of that theme. Set the table with red tinsel and mismatched crockery and glasses and drink 'sangria' (that's really just punch made with cordial, soda water and tinned fruit). You could have ham and cheese crepes which cost next to nothing to make, and a bit of salad too, and that would still be special. It's the way that it's served that makes it festive.

Another quote from Marjorie....

"The trick is to have the right attitude, as it is with most things in life. To economize, if you have to economize, with gaiety and an air. It's amazing considering how general the problem is, how few people do this. Anybody can economize drably and untidily, and a disheartening number do. But not the interesting people. They grasp the somewhat obvious fact that any problem so pressing is worth conquering, and with as much zest as possible."

So let's attack a low key, economical Christmas with zest and enthusiasm, and see what we can all come up with.

What are your plans? Do tell.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Very Special DIY Gifts....Greenery Bouquets...

Do you ever wonder why we spend money on bouquets, when most of us have some sort of greenery in the garden somewhere?
Whether it's glossy tree foliage, leaves from a Camellia bush, palm fronds, conifer, ferns, herbs, or even just bare branches, we can all make the most of it, and create something beautiful with just a little imagination.
We have a variety of tree in our garden, called a Lilly Pilly, and it has the loveliest sturdy green leaves, and these pretty pink berries that display at this time of the year, our Summer.
I've been gifting these bouquets of Lilly Pilly, with little glittered birds perched in the centre, lit with sparkler candles, to all of my daughters teachers this year.
We spray the foliage with water to mist it lightly, and just before presenting the bouquets, we light the three little sparkler candles, so that that are glowing and fizzing on presentation. NOTE: You would NOT do this with very dry or brittle or dried foliage. ONLY use fresh, moist, misted green foliage and exercise caution in lighting and presentation. We also use a long candle style gas lighter to light them, as it's easier to use. Matches would be a bit hair raising. Common sense people, common sense.

But as you can see, they look glorious, and the exclamations of surprise and pleasure are wonderful to see. Can you spot the little glittered bird in the foliage?
Now there are a few secrets to making this look effective and not like you just went out and grabbed some branches and wrapped them in a bit of paper.
First, take longish cuttings, to allow you to trim the foliage bouquet into a neat shape. Cut more than you think you'll need to make it look generous.
Second, shake the foliage well to allow it to release any berries, dead leaves, twigs or critters that might be nesting within. Wash it well under running water or dip into a tub of clean water, and shake it again. This makes it nice and clean and glossy.
Third, you'll need some cellophane. I sourced mine from a floristry supplier at a great price last Christmas, because it's printed with hearts. Who cares. It's still pretty! One large sheet per bouquet is fine.
And finally you'll also need some rubber bands, some sparklers or sparkler birthday candles, a pretty clip on ornament as a focal point (the birds are cute, but it can be anything really), and some wide double faced satin ribbon or other prettiness to finish it. Kitchen twine for a more rustic look would work too, as would a fountain of cascading metallic gift ribbon curls.
So to recap, for one bouquet, you need:
A large handful of stemmed foliage
A sheet of cellophane
Two rubber bands
Three Sparklers or Sparkler candles
Clip on Christmas ornament
Ribbon to finish
A trigger style candle lighter
Now the construction of the 'bouquet' is just as important. Sure, if you want the real rustic look, you can just bundle the branches together and tie them with ribbon, and that's fine too.
But for a 'bouquet', you need to take a little more time and effort.
Shake your foliage again to dry it out a bit, and just as you would with flowers, strip some of the lower leaves from the stems or branches, so you have something to grip.
Next, take a long cutting, and add it to one hand. I'm right handed, so I add the cuttings to my left hand. If you're left handed, you'd do it the opposite way.  Keep adding cuttings to your hand, rotating the bouquet as you go, to get a nice even shape. Try to do it holding the foliage down low in that hand, looking down on the bouquet from above, so that you get a nice effect. You want a neat shape from the top and sides, so that's your focus. Don't worry about random bits poking up at this stage, just try to get the majority of the greenery in that rough half sphere shape. It doesn't have to be perfect.
You might find that criss crossing the stems will help you get that desirable sphere-like shape. Don't think the stems all have to be upright.
Once you're happy with the bulk and shape of your bouquet, take a rubber band, and wrap it fairly high up on the stems, to hold the shape in place.
You can then trim the stems or branches to the same length at the base, leaving enough to wrap and hold the bouquet with.
Now take your scissors, and give the bouquet a 'haircut' removing any random bits of foliage that are poking out making it less pleasing to the eye.
Wrap it in the cellophane, making sure that you have the corners arranged prettily and that they don't obscure what you have decided is the 'front' of the bouquet. Secure it with your second rubber band.
Add your clip on ornament to the centre wherever you think it looks best.
Mist the bouquet generously with a spray bottle, or just wet your finger tips and flick water over the foliage.
Insert three sparklers or sparkler candles around the ornament in a triangle shape.
Just before presentation, light the sparklers or sparkler candles and enjoy the surprise and pleasure on the faces of those receiving them.
PS...make sure they blow the candles out or let the sparklers fizzle down to the end!
Total cost, about $1.50 for me, and certainly under $5 even if you had to buy the ornaments, ribbon and cellophane at full price.
A very pretty effect for next to nothing! And the smell of fresh greenery in the house at Christmas is glorious!
Have fun!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Five Star Frou-Frou #30...for the non-crafter in us all...

Easy inexpensive diy gifts and other blogging lies
Jenna wins the prize for the most honest theme this!
Thel gets a thumbs up from the Ballerina of the house on her garland...she's chosen the last two ballerina themed features...sorry folks...she has an enviable single-mindedness...a little more challenging, but in the end, just shapes cut from paper. Who cares if your ballerinas are more like trapeze artists?
Cone finished
...and just to round out the lineup...I couldn't resist sharing Annes gorgeous little Victoriana cones. With a cheeky aside that I make cheaters ones with upside down party hats *wink*...

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Extravagant table settings... a feast for the eyes and soul....

 Have you ever admired these fabulous tablescapes, and wondered where the food fits in?
Well of course, once upon a time, the 'staff' served your food and it wasn't left on the table.
Nowadays, I guess the food is on a separate table from where we serve ourselves.
That's my best bet.
Actually I think setting an extravagant table is a great way to minimise your food waste this Christmas. After all, the table should be a feast for all the senses, not just the tastebuds.
This year, I'm focusing on setting a truly beautiful Christmas table, and serving simple food.
I get that we don't feel right, if the table isn't groaning with stuff on Christmas Day, but it's a special sort of crazy really, isn't it? We waste so much and I'd rather donate a little more to charity now that we have a family of adults.
So, we're making it a feast for the eyes and soul, not just the stomach.
Our menu this year, is a simple leg ham, two lovely salads, fresh stone fruit and nuts in the shell, and a dessert yet to be decided. That's it.
But here's how I want the table to look...
...or maybe like this...
....I'm loving the combination of the tartan (plaid), metallic, fresh flowers and greenery, and festive nonsense.
Gotta love the plaid platters and transferware too.
Alas no plaid platters or transferware here, but I do have several toning blue fabrics, including a tartan sourced for just $2 a metre, a chambray remnant, a vintage toile, and a ticking style... true British Colonial style, I also have a collection of crystal stemware and blue and white Ginger jars, and some lovely simple white china, so I think I'm on to something.
Here's a first attempt, using only what I have on hand today, and photo taken with my phone...sorry for the quality of the shot!
Taking my cue from the ginger jar, and using the plaid, a combination of crystal and vintage pink glasses, ginger jar, vintage cutlery, pearlised pine cone and a rose from a friend, I threw this together.
I think it needs frou-frou-ing, and I need to take my 'understated' self off to make it even more extravagant, but I like it so far.

How's your Christmas table shaping up?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Remarried at the Eiffel Tower....

Back in 2006, our daughter asked us why she wasn't at our wedding.
That was easy enough to explain.
She of course, being the romantic she is, then wanted us to get married again so she COULD be there.
Well, we considered the whole renewal of vows thing, and even planned a little ceremony with close friends and family, but in the end it all seemed a bit...well...twee. That's an old fashioned word that means 'quaint'.
So when we planned a trip to Paris two short years later, the girl child insisted she be allowed to be the one to conduct the ceremony, in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Pink roses were acquired from a corner store....
...and daughter remarried us with the magic words 'do you take each other to be your awfully wedded people'. We Did. And Do.
Daughter acted as photographer too, as evidenced by the quality of these shots.
A magical moment for her.
And for us.
Sometimes it doesn't have to be perfect, to be special.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Soft and pretty Shabby chic gift tags...

We've been busy Christmassing here.
For us, that means putting together packages of gift wrap makings.
I find that so often, people get so caught up in buying the gifts, that they forget about the gift wrap, and gift tags and sticky tape, and ribbons.
This often means a last minute mercy dash to the stores, and we all know how that ends! Frustration, fights for a car park, and likely too much money spent.
So in order to make the gift wrapping process go more smoothly, we give the gift of gift wrap!
These sweet tags are what are called 'luggage tags'. You buy them here at Newsagents or Stationers and they're usually 5c each. They're also available online. They're made from manilla cardboard, like manilla folders used in offices and classrooms, and this great neutral colour makes them a wonderful background for anything that takes your fancy.
It's worth spending a bit of time preparing your bibs and bobs for a tag making session as the more little pretties you have on hand, the more unique and special your tags will be. Ours are never the same twice!
Here's what I did...
A few days before making my tags, I spent time hand dyeing rolls of white crepe paper streamers, tea dyeing paper doilies, and sourcing interesting looking wrapping paper from $2 stores in a couple of different patterns.
In my craft stash, I already had a French script stamp the width of the tags and almost the same length, to use as background, some diamante` stick on dots, and some pastel tulle ribbon purchased from Koch & Co, a florist supplier here in Australia. That was part of last years crafting frenzy and purchased on sale. You could also use bridal tulle cut into strips, but this just makes it easy. I always have lots of ribbons on hand so they were on standby too. There was also packets of Dylon fabric dye, that I currently use to dye muslin. As I only use a pinch at a time, there was more than enough left for this project, and some to spare. We love glitter as well, especially white or holographic glitter, so we got that out too. Of course we had craft glue on hand as well.
I separated my white crepe paper streamer roll into four lengths so I could have different colours and shades. I rolled them into loose rolls.
Now dyeing crepe paper is an idea I got from Annabel over at The Bluebirds are Nesting. You can see her blog over there on the right of screen. She dyes whole lengths of crepe paper and makes the most divine paper roses from them. Alas, when I attempted dyeing a whole length, it disintegrated when I lifted it from the dye solution. I must go back and read Annabels instructions again. You can see her roses and the instructions here.
To dye the crepe paper streamers, I filled my stainless steel kitchen sink to a depth that matched the width of the streamer, plus a bit, with hand hot water from the tap. I added a generous pinch of pink dye powder and swirled it to dissolve the powder. I then stood two of the rolls in the water, rolled edge down, and weighted them with a large kitchen knife, so they wouldn't float. I let them sit there for maybe fifteen minutes until I could see they'd absorbed the dye, flipping them over after eight to ten minutes to get both edges coloured. This method gives a dark edge, with a more pastel effect towards the middle.
I then lifted them from the water, and gently squeezed a little of the moisture from them. They'll be very fragile so be careful. And don't squeeze too much liquid from them, because that's your dye.
They get set aside now for 24-36 hours to dry well.
I repeated this process using a pinch of bright orange dye and the other two rolls of crepe paper streamer.
This is how they looked once darker pink, one lighter pink done second, and a really delicate peach colour from the orange dye. Vary the amount of dye according to the depth of colour you'd like.
Next I dyed some paper doilies with black tea. That's normal tea, nothing flash.
Again, I added tap hot water to the kitchen sink, and threw in half a dozen teabags.
Into the tea solution went the doilies, one by one, immersing them just so they coloured, then carefully removing them to a teatowel on the table, to dry out. Again they will be fragile so gently does it.
Here's how they looked...
I also printed off a sweet image of a ballerina on a sheet music background that we really liked.
Then off we went.
Each tag was started by stamping the French script as a background.
Then a bit of tea dyed doyley like a scrap of lace would be added, with other papers or embellishments layered until we were pleased with the result. Some images or shapes, were then edged with pearl paint.
A frill of tulle or hand dyed crepe paper finished the bottom edges, and these were then dipped in glue and glitter to frost the edges prettily.
Diamante dots were applied to disguise joins, ribbons added to the little holes, and we were done.
Each tag takes mere minutes once you have all your materials at hand, and my daughter and I made 30 in about half an hour.
These will be gifted 15 in a bunch, along with hand scribed lengths of Butchers Paper saying 'Joyeux Noel', and 'Merry Christmas'. Swathes of calico, muslin or pastel printed fabric will be included as gift ribbon. This is an idea I got from Annabel as well, that really makes this style of gift wrapping look very special indeed. Annabel uses old recycled sheets and stamps them with glittered chandeliers and crowns. Just gorgeous. You can see those here.

These are always welcomed as gifts in themselves, and you will not believe how many of my friends ask for these 'gift wrapping packages' each year.
You can customise them according to the occasion or season, and the recipients style or preferences.
These are particularly pretty I think.
What do you think?