Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year!

A new year is a fresh start. It's like a new baby, rosy cheeked and full of potential.

What will you do in 2017, that will make you proud by December 31?

What will change you? What will enhance your life and the lives of those around you?

2016 was my Homespun Year. You can read my Homespun posts on the designated page at the top of my blog. You might also like to check out Budget and DIY, and even Motherly Advice.

I am proud of what I achieved in 2016, and I hope that I encouraged you to stretch your imagination and creativity, so that you too, feel you've achieved something special. Congratulations. It's not easy learning a new skill, or understanding that creating and gifting home made, is something of which to be proud, if you've always been committed to a big spend up for celebrations. Did I help you see gifting and celebrating in a new light? Did I help you to see that you are talented, in ways you never imagined? Were your treasures welcomed by family and friends, be they baked, grown, crafted or stitched? Can you now see a future where you've gifted generously, but you're not facing Credit Card debt come January each year? Because that is my greatest wish. Well done, you.

2017 will be my Nurturing Year.

Will you join me as we nurture ourselves first and foremost? For unless we do so, we cannot give of our best self to the ones we love most.

My aim will be to see us looking after our mind, body, spirit, diet, consciousness, and dress sense, in a way that will see us changed for the better.

I want to see us zhooshing up our neighbourhoods with our personal fabulousness. We can be the bright light in someones day, the face the shopkeeper looks forward to seeing, the smile that lights up the room, the person of whom it's said, 'they always look lovely, no matter what'.

Let's make it a year of rising that little bit earlier to take more care with our appearance. The year of adopting a gentle exercise programme that can be acted upon come rail, hail or shine. The year of eating more healthfully, shunning the foods that we inherently recognise are not good for our body, no matter how good they taste, and embracing the fresh, the foods bursting with nutrition. The year of allowing ourselves time for a home made beauty treatment once a week. Of viewing ourselves honestly in that full length mirror, and acknowledging that we can be better, trimmer, healthier, more at peace with ourselves, our lot in life, and the world at large.

I'd like to see us stepping out our front door each day, bursting with confidence, knowing that whilst we may not be Zsa Zsa Gabor (God rest her gorgeous soul), we can live life to the full, inspiring others with our gentle demeanour, good manners, and impeccable grooming and dress.

We Aussies, myself included, are a bit guilty of the 'that's good enough' attitude (also known as 'she'll be right, Mate) when it comes to our appearance. In my neighbourhood, I see many women who just look tired and frazzled, shopping in their workout gear, or tracksuit pants and a t-shirt. I have nothing against either of those things, in their place. Workout gear in the gym, tracksuits likewise. Or at worst, as something to keep you warm in the depths of Winter in your own home. And even then, is there not something more flattering that will keep you just as warm?

I know we all have days when we just can't be bothered. But aren't those also the days when we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror as we walk by, and cringe slightly? Yes it's nice to have a pyjama day, or a casual day, but even then, could your pyjamas and casuals do with a little makeover? Then at least Pyjama Day or Casual Day still sees you looking fabulous, not frumpy, and that glimpse of self that catches your eye in the mirror, sees you with a spring in your step, pride in your heart, and a smile on your face.

As with everything here at A Tray of Bliss, this has little to do with spending money. It's about knowing how to care for yourself, and your wardrobe, so that you make the most of both. It's about not letting fashion or celebrities dictate how you choose to dress. But it's also about not dressing down to make others comfortable. That's for the birds. It can be about finding your own style, or dressing to reflect the things in life that are important to you. Even then, however, we can find ways that do not end with us looking less than our best.

I want to show you how a pair of shoes or a scarf, can change the way you see yourself, and how others see you. We can talk about how to have a good hair day, every day. The words 'Dress - Formal' on an invitation will no longer strike fear into our hearts. And a trip to the supermarket will see our demeanour, smile and dress sense, put a smile on the faces of all who we meet.

My secondary goal is to continue my Homespun theme, making it more about nurturing home and family. I'd like that. A sense of continuity is good.

Are you with me?

Let's start on January 14th.

That allows you two weeks to collect the following items...

A full length mirror (available at Dollar stores and Variety stores for around $10)
A journal
A camera and/or selfie stick
Your favourite home outfit
Your favourite daytime shopping/out and about outfit
Your favourite after five outfit
Your favourite shoes and bag

Be honest. Do not contrive to make those outfits anything other than what they are. Your favourites. No judgement. Even if they are workout gear or tracksuit pants and a t-shirt. From there, you can only enhance your self esteem and personal presentation, so there are no rules.

Let's start two weeks from today, and see what we achieve by December 31, 2017.

Happy New Year!


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Thankyou...Christmas...Peace...Joy...and Salad!

 The Christmas Salad.
The Christmas Lights.

The Christmas Festivities.
The Christmas Holiday.
What more is there to say, but thankyou. Thankyou for your support, your encouragement, your beautiful comments, and your continuing inspiration. Without your visits, I would not bother blogging.
You, yes, you. You make what I do here at A Tray of Bliss, mean something.
I hope I've inspired you, lifted you when you were down, given you hope when you had none, and showed you how to have a bountiful life, whether you have a little, or a lot.
While I am away, can I encourage you to go through the many posts here, that will continue to show you how to live beautifully, abundantly, and peacefully, no matter your financial status.
I will return in 2017, with more projects, more recipes, more ways for you to embrace life and live it generously.
Merry Christmas.
Green Bean, Grilled Nectarine, Maple Syrup Walnut and Pomegranate Salad
(pictured at top of post)
Steam one kilo (2 pounds) of topped and tailed green beans. Slice the cheeks from 8 nectarines, and grill in a dry pan. Stir two large handfuls of walnuts with a couple of generous glugs of Maple Syrup in a hot pan, until the walnuts are coated well, and the liquid is evaporated. Remove the seeds from one ripe pomegranate. Assemble the salad as pictured. Dress with a little Maple Syrup shaken with wholegrain mustard if you like.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Homespun the year draws to a close...what was achieved!

I commenced 2016, declaring it my year of all things homespun. The word 'homespun' conjures up the beautiful, the warm, the giving, the hugs and love, the learning, and the failing.
This year, I've learned a great deal. I've pushed myself to adopt at least one new skill, or money saving strategy each month. I've shared my successes, and even a few that weren't so successful, with you all. I hope I've encouraged you to, in Aussie lingo, to 'have a go'.
Because really that's what it's all about. Anyone can throw a bit of cash around and find a random pretty. It takes a certain kind of determination and persistence, to craft a skill that's good enough to gift, and even more, to admit that the skill is a work-in-progress, and gift it anyway.
This year, I made Goats milk soap, seen above, and rustic Gingerbread cities, seen below.

I presented my rustic Gingerbread city in an oversized glass jar, white sugar at the bottom to hold my Gingerbread buildings upright, and embellished with a hand stamped and glittered vintage fabric ribbon tied to the top...

I made rainbow tulle bed tutus for my Granddaughters. That was a true labour of love, as I love and detest tulle in equal measure. All's well that ends well though, and they adore their pretty new bedroom d├ęcor...

I wish I had the energy to share how I made them, and maybe early next year I will. Suffice to say, if I never make another one, I'll be happy! In short though, if you're really curious, I used a fitted sheet, fitting it to a spare mattress to hold it firm, and pinned multiple layers of tulle that I'd pre-stitched for a rainbow effect to it, in the appropriate spot. I then wrestled the lot through my long suffering sewing machine. Not hard, but fiddly.
That hand stamped and glittered gift tie, made from a vintage sheet (an idea borrowed from Annabel at The Bluebirds are Nesting), used on my Gingerbread City, found it's way onto our gift wrapping this year. Seen below, I think it was a pretty departure from the traditional...

Cake baking and decorating was taken to another level, cupcakes frosted and decorated with little North Pole signs seen above, and my first attempt at a Christmas Bauble cake, seen below. Now THAT was a challenge! I'll be trying that one again next year, and perhaps not choosing red edible glitter with which to embellish it. My husband commented wryly that it looked like it had been injured...whoops! All the same, you try smoothing buttercream and fondant onto a's jolly hard! So I'm proud as punch! Hahahaha!

A Frozen themed cake was attempted early in the year, for Granddaughter number one, and declared a success, despite it's slightly more 'green rather than blue' hue...
and a Tie Dye batter cake, which was very pretty!
And likewise, the Topsy-Turvy cake, which started off simply looking Drunken, rather than Topsy-Turvy, ended up being the highlight of another special little someones birthday party...
The term 'Jamberry Nails' found it's way into my vocabulary, saving me time and money in the process. These little decorative vinyl stickers are heat activated and bond to the nail, lasting up to three weeks! At $11 for a mani and pedi, and ready to go as soon as they're applied, I'm a fan!

I resurrected an old skill for making bouquets, gifting many a generous floral, feather or greenery pretty over the year. Why not at a third of the price of a florists bouquet? Here, I also discussed how to keep fresh flowers, fresher, for longer....

I painted my own Scandinavian inspired Christmas artwork, and shared how you can do it too...
See how to package for a luxury presentation and feel here.
....treated myself to a 'new from my closet' wardrobe, with similar embellishments of fringe, sequins and give my clothes a more designer feel...
I trained my daughter, now nearly 17, to cut her own hair, and mine, using a Creaclip. Thousands saved, and no more tears because the hairdresser didn't listen when I said 'don't cut off too much, because curly hair bounces up!'.

Earlier in the year, I taught myself how to make Petit Fours and treated many friends to a lavish High Tea at low price. These dainty pink jelly cakes are simply bought sponge cake, cut into diamond shapes, dipped into chilled but not set jelly (jello), and rolled in dessicated coconut. Add a purchased sugar rose and who could imagine a prettier treat?

Our teas were held in our tropical garden, and included scones with home made jam and home made Clotted Cream, and nobody missed being in a high end hotel. Rather it was agreed all round that this was MUCH nicer....

...I finally found time to adopt an Heirloom of which I'm very proud!
Here's another glimpse of the Christmas festivities around these parts yesterday. Can you tell I'm a bit chuffed? ;-)

Candle making was big as a gift here too. Who would have imagined that little scented candles in thrifted sugar bowls could look so adorable?

An impromptu Easter gift yielded some Rosy Chocolate Bark, dusted with edible rose petals and glittering gold sugar...

At the behest of a favourite teacher, I learned how to make textile fibre collage, and managed to embellish several ghostly costumes for a spooky dance routine. This was far too complex a project to share as a tutorial. Rather I confined myself to showing you all some pretty pictures. Maybe next year, when I'm more adventurous. Or rather when I have more time! It's kind of fun!

Pretty romantic images were sourced to decorate gift bags and magnetised pegs for teen friends. At this link, I've provided the same images for you to use for your own project....
I found a way to make my own custom coloured edible sugar glitter, gifting it with cake baking supplies to many baking loving friends...imagine little jars filled with a harlequin rainbow of different coloured sugars. Super cute...
Book weights were made for book loving friends, and declared a hit....
And other friends with new babies, were lavished with hand crocheted sweet things, and home made Wool Wash in which to bathe them...
Fairy Crowns were made from inexpensive buttons...
Crepe paper streamers were hand dyed and stamped to create simple roses and the tutorial for those is here....
Hand made Dreamcatchers became the Gift du Jour amongst the teen daughters friends, and with the teen daughter making these herself, they were a special keepsake...
And new ways to organise all the paraphernalia that affords us the materials with which we work to create all this loveliness, were sourced and put into action. My instructions for these lovely lace organisers is here.
This is just a portion of what I actually generated and gifted or donated this year. I do not photograph every single project, meal, costume, garment or cake I create, nor have I shared everything I've blogged here. However, these are my favourites, and the ones of which I am most proud.
My aim has always been, to simply show you that things do not have to be perfect to be loved...or lovely. And that simply by starting somewhere, anywhere, that you too, can find the skills to create your own store of beautiful gifts, and a special expertise that is welcomed by your friends and family for any occasion. I hope I've accomplished that much.
As an aside, my newly honed skills and projects, have saved my family, and my friends and loved ones, thousands and thousands of dollars this year. A cake can be anything from $100-$600, a large dreamcatcher sells at our local homewares store for $175, designer candles are $60-$120, Goats Milk soaps sell for $7-$17, a jar of Gingerbread? $45 please. Dance costumes...$100 each and I was a big part of creating over 200 this year. Haircuts, manicures, pedicures...well that's over $1000 saved right there. And so it goes. I'll be sharing a grand total next week, and I think like me, you will be amazed at how much it is!
For more ideas and tutorials, please go to my tabs at the top of my page here, marked 'Celebrations and Gifts', 'All Things Homespun', and 'Budgeting and DIY'. I hope you'll find something to inspire you. Is there something you'd like me to share next year?
At the start of 2016, I invited you to join me on my road to a Homespun Year. Did you take up the challenge? What new skills did you adopt? Are they still a work in progress? Or are you perhaps good enough to make some extra pocket money from them?
I'd love to hear from you. Please share your stories.
Happy end of 2016, and all that comes with the celebrating of another year gone by....


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Easy Peasy Rustic Glitter Dusted Gingerbread House Cookies...

Making an actual Gingerbread House is beyond me at this time of the year, but these I can do!
They're cute. They have sparkly stuff on them. They're rustic and forgiving. They look fab packaged as a gift, or displayed on the Christmas table as a treat. A 3 year old could make them, so you can too!
Use your favourite Gingerbread cookie recipe or use mine. My cookies are soft and cake-like because I use Gluten Free flour. If you prefer a crisper cookie, maybe do a Google search first.
Mimi's Gingerbread Cookie Dough
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 egg
2 cups sifted plain (all purpose) flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Allspice
1 teaspoon ground Ginger
Generous grating of whole Nutmeg
You also need Edible Pearl Dust or Edible Glitter to dust the windows and roofs of your little houses. You can make your own, and I have a recipe here, but for Christmas, I prefer to use the real McCoy.
A tiny paintbrush with a pointed end for applying the Pearl Dust.
NB: This is a very forgiving recipe. Use margarine instead of butter, any kind of sugar, replace the  honey with molasses, treacle or golden syrup, gluten free flour is fine, use ground Cloves instead of the Allspice and ground Nutmeg if you don't have whole ones to grate. You can also add a tablespoon of Cocoa powder or a pinch of Chilli Powder to give them a bit of depth and kick, if you like.
Cream the butter and sugar with electric beaters till soft and pale. Add the honey and the egg and beat until combined. Sift the dry ingredients into the bowl and stir the dough until mixed well. Pop onto a large square of cling wrap, wrap firmly and chill for at least 45 minutes.
Heat the oven to 165C fan forced, and line a large cookie tray with baking paper.
Take the chilled dough, put the whole ball of dough on your lined tray, and top it with another sheet of baking paper. Put a teatowel (kitchen towel) on the bench to stop the tray from slipping around, and roll your dough between the sheets of baking paper, to make it fit the tray as much as possible. I can never quite get it neat enough or large enough to fill the tray, and always end up with some rustic edges, but I like that. Depending upon the size of your tray, you might get a nice neat rectangle, but if it were me, I'd aim for the rustic edges. They look much cuter. Cut any excess that extends beyond the tray. You can re-roll this and cut out stars to add to your display as I have, if you wish.
Take a paring knife or kitchen skewer, and mark out your long rectangles. Vary the lengths and widths to make them look interesting. Then very roughly, mark out little houses on them with the knife or skewer. Don't aim for perfection. These really do look better if they're imperfect.
I neglected to take a photo at this stage, but you then bake your cookies for 8-12 minutes, or until firm to the touch in the very centre. Remove them from the oven, and immediately cut along your marked edges with a sharp pointed knife, to separate them. A pizza cutter works too, but I couldn't find mine!

Now take the brush, dip it into the Pearl Dust, and apply to the roofs, windows and doors of your little houses.
Add some to your stars if you cut some from the dough.

 Cute, huh?
I'm packaging these in cellophane bags for teachers.

I like them.

I hope they do too.

Will you try them?


Friday, December 2, 2016

e e cummings....Little Tree....a Christmas verse....

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see          i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don't be afraid

look          the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i'll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you're quite dressed
you'll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they'll stare!
oh but you'll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
"Noel Noel"

Happy December 2nd to all my blogging