Friday, July 29, 2016

A Homespun Year....Diamonds, Stones and Clotted Cream....


Some days are diamonds, some days are stones, so the John Denver song goes.

Tell me 'bout it.

There's another fable called Acres of Diamonds that suggests that we can spend so much time seeking wealth here, there and everywhere, that we neglect to notice the wealth (acres of diamonds) in our own back yard. If you've never read that one, Google and's well worthwhile.

So this week, I've had a couple of days that were diamond-ish, and quite a few more that were just ugly stones. I could have stopped in my tracks and wept copiously once or twice. I could have. But I didn't. I could have done what I did when I was younger, or what many of my friends do, when they have a day that's more of a stone (or even bigger...a boulder!), than a diamond, and retreated for some 'retail therapy'. But I didn't.

Instead, I came home, and looked for the Acres of Diamonds in my own backyard. It's a skill I've cultivated over many years, and it's not always easy. But inevitably I find that whilst I can't fashion a Diamond Day from an unyielding 24 hour boulder, I can sure as heck polish that boulder and make it shine a little.

First stop for shining boulders around here, is not the workshop, or the cleaning nook. It's the kitchen, or more importantly the bookshelf in my kitchen.

My library of cookbooks is extensive. I have some inherited from my Grandmother, some from Mum, others gifted, many gathered over a lifetime of loving my kitchen as a retreat from the world.

This one is a book devoted to the Rose, which if you follow my blog, you'll know I love. It has hints and tips for growing roses, and many lovely project ideas for using them.

Just looking at this pretty afternoon tea cheered me immensely. I imagined a day in the not too distant future when life is not so chaotic, when I will host a tea just like this one.
It's almost Mary Poppins-ish, isn't it?
I'll have some favourite friends over, and we'll sit amongst the lavender in my back yard...
...sipping Rose Petal infused tea while the Rainbow Lorikeets squawk and chatter above us.

Whilst I contented myself with visualising my pretty tea, this recipe for Rose Jelly called to me, but lacking as yet, any blooming roses, I filed that away for later. Still...what a divine thing this is. I made some several years ago, and a prettier shade of pink you cannot imagine! And eating it on a warm scone is like inhaling love and savouring it upon your tastebuds like a long kiss.
So no rose petals, but knowing I had frozen mixed berries, I chose to make do, look for the acres of diamonds in my own back yard, and make a berry jam, which quickly filled my home with the tempting scent of simmering fruit. How can that not make you smile? Fruity and heady, and not nearly as delicate as simmering rose petals, but somehow more earthy and satisfying for that anyway. A gem nonetheless.
I recalled too, that my Nanna used to do something with cream to make it uber thick and lush. Alas, leafing through her cookbooks yielded nothing, but I knew someone in Blogland had to know what this process that yielded thick yellow cream was, and even more importantly, how to replicate it.
Those of you who live in the UK or have visited there would know what Clotted Cream is. That's how I eventually found something that sounded like what Nanna used to make. Certainly I remember her baking cream in large shallow tins to make this delicacy. Some research yielded this blog entry over at The Cupcake Project.
On reading Stefs instructions, and the many comments following, I decided I'd try the slow cooker method to make my clotted cream.
Basically you heat the liquid (milk or cream) until a rich, fatty, buttery crown forms on the top. You allow it to cool, then skim this thick crown into a jar or container, and use the liquid left behind as you would normal cream in a sauce or in baking.
Now my Nanna had milk from her own cows for this purpose. Grandpa would milk the cows in the wee small hours, and bring it in when the kitchen was still dark. He'd then leave the buckets of milk in the bottom of their tiny refrigerator to chill. Nanna would come along later to work her magic.
Again, Stef's instructions and the comments following were a wonderful resource and I found that to create Clotted Cream, you need milk that has not been homogenised. That is, it's been pasteurised for food safety, but the milk and what we used to call 'the top cream' have not been blended for a uniform product. Where I live in Australia, I easily sourced a local product, that was labelled Non-Homogenised. Many of the smaller dairies produce it, and most supermarkets and health food stores stock it nowadays, so it's not that hard to find. I also bought Whipping Cream, which is different to Thickened Cream, and decided to try both the Non-Homogenised milk and the Whipping Cream separately to make my Clotted Cream.
I tried the Whipping Cream first. This is a runny cream, maybe also called Pouring Cream where you live. It is not the commercially available Thickened Cream, nor is it Double Cream. It pours easily, and is slightly thicker than milk.
Now I know you're dying to know what to do next, so here it is. So simple you won't believe it.
I poured 1 litre of cream into my old Monier slow cooker (crockpot), turned it on Low, and left it there, undisturbed for 10 hours.
After two hours, it looked like this...
...and after ten hours it looked like this.  Be aware though, that it was night time by the time I took this shot, so it perhaps wasn't quite THAT yellow. I show you this shot, so that you can get an idea of what the 'skin', which essentially is your 'clotted cream' looks like.
Going by Stefs instructions, I then should have refrigerated my cream. Instead as the temperatures here are at about 7C (44F) overnight, and because I knew my Nanna never put the baking trays in her tiny fridge, I popped the slow cooker into a large Esky (the sort of insulated bin you take camping) along with several ice packs, to allow it to chill and settle overnight.
Come the next morning, I skimmed my Clotted Cream (so called because it literally forms a 'clot' or 'skin' on the surface of your cooked cream), into a container, and was very proud to achieve something mighty close to what Nanna used to produce.

It's thick beyond compare, lush, buttery, rich, and has an oddly pleasing flavour that is neither, cream nor butter, nor is it cream cheese or Greek yoghurt, but if you can imagine, something like 'toasted cream'. It's like the difference you see, between a fresh piece of  bread and a piece of toast, or a piece of salmon sashimi and roasted salmon. Sort of cooked and nutty tasting and subtly different to just plain double thick cream, It's also utterly addictive, so Friends, do NOT make this a regular treat. You'll be the size of a house inside a! It's a once-in-a-while treat for sure!
My one litre (1 1/10th pints) of Whipping/Pouring cream, yielded just over a cup of clotted cream and 250mls (1/2 a pint) of liquid residue (which is still quite 'creamy'), to be used in cooking sauce or in baking.
Now traditionally, one serves this with light fluffy scones (known as Biscuits in the U.S.), and a lovely pot of tea. We eat gluten free here, and I'm yet to find a recipe for gluten free scones that doesn't yield more of the aforementioned 'boulders' I spoke of at the top of my post. I'd had enough boulders this week, so I made do with a slice of gluten free toast, topped with my home made Berry Jam, and my newly hand crafted Clotted Cream. In case you missed how utterly delish that looks at the top of my it is again...
Having slept overnight with a stone around my neck, I awakened to a new day. Having then enjoyed my lush morning tea, fashioned really from nothing at all bar memories of a loving Grandparent, I'm ready to say that today is more of a Diamond.
What say you?
Oh, and that Non-Homogenised milk? That's in the slow cooker now. I'll give you a comparison update over the weekend!
Now remember that Five Star Frou-Frou is now a neverending linkup, with my favourite new links being featured each and every time I post.
That honour today goes to Angie at The Freckled Rose, who shared a post on how to grow Elephant Garlic. The photographs accompanying this post are just gorgeous. Thanks Angie!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Motherly Advice...Keeping your home cozy, comfortable and creative...

I had temporarily ceased my Insourcing posts. It seemed like some of my blogging friends like Wendy, Patsy, and Annabel, were posting similarly, and might I add, far more creatively and consistently on this topic than I was. Annabels Vicky Challenge is inspiring and encouraging to say the least, Patsy's Working Pantry posts leave mine for dust, and Wendy puts my ideas of frugality to shame!
Then this week, I received a lovely comment from Mel at Thrifty, Frugal, Fun, on one of my very first Insourcing posts. Here's what she said...
"Dear Mimi,

I have really enjoyed reading this post and look forward to reading more on in sourcing. Lately I've been feeling a bit sorry for myself. We live on a very tight budget, with every spare dollar going towards paying off our only debt- the mortgage. I cook every meal from scratch, mend clothes, grow vegies, make soap and many other crafts and home school my youngest son. Sometimes I find it hard, my friends think I'm crazy for not eating out or for putting extra layers on instead of using the heater! But having the mortgage paid off will be such a huge weight lifted financially for hubby and I and will give us security when the kids move out. That means more to me right now. Sometimes I just need a little reminder of this when the urge to spend hits me! I have dreamed about visiting Paris for years, imagine if I keep in sourcing, it might one day be possible! xx"
First of all, I'd like to say to you Mel, and for anyone else in Mel's situation, that being frugal and living on a tight budget can be strangely satisfying when you go about it the right way. That said, I do know that long term frugality, without relief, can lead to feeling a bit sorry for oneself. I think particularly so when we have friends who are either in a better financial position, or more truthfully, when we have friends who don't mind spending without thought for the future. It's hard to be the lone guppy swimming against the tide!
The trick is to introduce some joy into the equation.
Here's how I go about it...maybe these ideas can help you too.
I've always rationalised that if I'm saving money by Insourcing, I can afford to have an occasional splurge on tools that assist me to Insource more effectively.
For example, don't think twice about snapping up a bunch of supermarket roses once in a while, especially when they're a bit long in the tooth, and been marked down. Even when they're a bit sad looking, I enjoy them in a vase for a day, then hang them upside down to dry. They are then used in potpourri, as decorator items, gift toppers and even as cake decorations. Feeling like you have the 'good things in life' is a great mind set, and who doesn't love flowers?
A trip to the local thrift shop might yield something special for you, like the gorgeous knitwear at the top of my post. A 'designer' label knit, swept home and swooshed in some home made wool wash, then gently pulled into shape and dried flat in the sun becomes something that smells glorious, feels beautiful to wear, and looks lavish. At under $10 for an item that would sell for over $100 at full retail price, it's a worthwhile investment, even when money is tight. Ask the staff in your local thrift store, what day their stock arrives. Knowing this means that you can schedule your visits on that day, and have a greater chance of something gorgeous at a great price. Remember, all that full time focus and frugality deserves a small reward now and again! And of course, shopping at thrift stores is also a great way to save the planet. Recycle and re-use I say!
 Just to show what you can find if you're diligent, earlier this week I sourced two brand new white linen designer blouses, in very flattering and unusual styles with great detailing (see below), still with the tags on, for $22 each at my favourite thrift store. These originally retailed for nearly $200 each. I know this as it was marked on the tags. I also found two other linen blouses in earthy shades, two very swanky looking structured Winter vests, and a gorgeous cream satin smock jacket (seen below also), that will get an airing at a High Tea this weekend! These items were all around the $15 mark, which is expensive for thrifting, but an excellent price for quality, designer label clothing!

So don't turn your nose up at the thrift store. You never know what you'll find! And for the record, there were at least three other ladies there, who looked very well heeled indeed, scouring the racks for their own bargains. Thrift stores are not just 'for the poor'. These days they are a huge business and are often laid out much like any swish retail outlet!
Remember, every dollar you save, is a dollar towards finalising your mortgage, or booking that dream trip to Paris!
Little splurges that make the most of your creativity are always a good investment too. A coloured ink cartridge for my printer might seem like an extravagance, but it helps me generate sweet gifts like these customised teabags...

These little things save me an absolute fortune in gifts for the dozens of friends that my teen daughter insists on gifting for any occasion from 'it's their birthday Mum', to 'oh she's having a bad day and I want to cheer her up'. When all I'm investing is mere cents and a little time to create these little gifts, why not? It's equally important, when on a budget, to cultivate a generosity of spirit and an air of abundance. Being frugal doesn't have to mean being mean and tight fisted.

Creating gourmet food treats is an essential part of our strategy too. I've always believed in having some luxurious treats to alleviate the boredom, but I refuse to pay the supermarket for the convenience of having them package it for me, and that's where I save big dollars, and still get to feel special.
Marinated feta or cherry bocconcini is a firm favourite here, and why would you pay up to $20 for a tiny jar of feta cubes marinating in Canola oil, when for $5 you can have three times the amount, marinated in Extra Virgin Olive Oil and whatever lush aromatics you like, and feel good about re-using the olive oil for your next batch of marinating, or as a healthy salad drizzle. I sure wouldn't drizzle Canola Oil over my salad! This too, is another great impromptu gift, and there's been many a day where I've been able to whip a jar of marinated feta out of the fridge, pair it with some home made crackers and a bottle of wine, and gift it with pride.
And speaking of supermarket convenience food, I love creating my own 'salad mixes' and save money in the process too. Every 3 or 4 days, I create a new salad mix, which is then used in several ways to further save money and ensure we don't get bored with our menu plan. Coleslaw mix is a favourite. We add grated cheese one night, shredded raw beet another, and stir fry some on a third evening for variety.
A packet of pre-made Coleslaw mix is generally around $4 for 500gms. That seems economical enough and you wouldn't think twice about adding that to your shopping trolley. That is, until you realise that a small cabbage and a couple of carrots, shredded, will yield four times the amount of coleslaw for the same $4. Truly. I promise. So in effect, by shredding your own whole cabbage, and peeling and grating two carrots, you can save $12 on your grocery bill. That $12 alone, over a year, saves $624. Now THAT'S a worthwhile saving! Extrapolate that to marinating your own feta or bocconcini, making your own soups, stocks, risottos and pasta sauces (have you seen the price of pre-packaged, so called 'gourmet' items like soup and risotto in the delicatessens?), and you're eating luxuriously, and saving significantly on your food bill.
Making home the place you prefer to be is key too. I recently discussed this in a post about Nurturing. You might like to read that here
I've been spending time recently, tidying my craft room. I use my craft room daily, and can one day be sewing nightgowns, another embellishing pillow cases and throwing glitter around with wild abandon, and then be finding creative ways to use vintage doileys. It's a madhouse, I tell you.
These embellished project cardboard shapes, now house my ribbons and lace. These are a pretty way to have what I need at my fingertips and just flipping through them, stored upright in a repurposed box, brings a smile to my face.

 Finding new ways to display my trinkets and pretties occupies some of my time too, and a recent Sunday was devoted to fabricating these pretty cloche cushions. Two circles of fabric, cut to suit the base of an upturned Hurricane Lantern (you can use anything as a Cloche...glasses, jars, vases, light fittings), with a gathered pastel polka dot insert to the edges, and filled with rice to support whatever is seated upon it. A sweet way to display my daughters red satin pointe shoes.
Thankyou to my friend Lynette, who gifted me the gorgeous Parisian print fabric for this project!

Finally, maybe growing something you love, will make you smile, and help you to feel that life is abundant.
I'm a patchy gardener at best. I've tried my hand at growing herbs, ornamentals, shrubs, rainforest plants, vegetables, fruit and roses, all with varying degrees of success. One thing though. I don't give up easily. So I am now the proud owner of fruit trees including fig, mulberry, cumquat, lime, kaffir lime, orange, lemon, olive, coffee bean and avocado. I have one or two rosebushes sporting luxuriant new growth, and this one, one of my favourites, has the very first bud of the season on show. This rose when it develops, will look like this bloom from last year....
...I can't wait!
After you've done all those things...or even one or two of them, remember to find the simple joys in your day. Nurture, create, seek contentment and creativity, and don't forget to smell the roses and enjoy the sunset, like this one taken a week or two ago.
Aren't sunsets the best?
Mel, thankyou for your sweet comment. I think you're doing a brilliant job, and I can promise you unequivocally, that putting that mortgage behind you, will be worth the sacrifices you make now.
Keep your chin up. One day, you too, will visit Paris.
Mimi xxx

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Homespun Year...An Ode to the Rose....

It's no secret that I'm a Rose lover.
I have them everywhere in my home. Dried as seen above...and on fine china as seen here below...

My Husband knows that there's pretty much no point coming home bearing any other flower but the rose...

...and they even adorn organising items in my craft room, like these lace and ribbon organisers I made recently..

When thwarted by Mother Nature who sometimes, despite all my hard work, refuses to reward me with real roses in my garden, I make these Crepe Paper Roses with hand dyed and hand stamped crepe paper streamers....

I decorate sugar cubes with them and box these like chocolates as gifts.

I make rosettes out of pastry to serve as a sweet nibble...

And I even use them as adornments on my Dreamcatchers...

I use them to decorate my Jelly's Nanna's recipe in four sentences...
Cut a sponge cake in to cubes or diamonds. Make up any flavoured jelly (jello), according to the directions. When the jelly (jello) has set to the consistency of egg whites, dip the cubes or shapes of sponge cake into it, and follow by rolling them in desiccated coconut. Chill well, and decorate as desired.

This week, I've been working on using up my excess lace and ribbon, by turning it into these pretty rosettes. These will be made into hair clasps, headbands, wrist corsages, embellishments for t-shirts for my Granddaughters, gift toppers, and to pack as 'Boxes of Beautiful' to gift to friends who need cheering up. These are so quick and easy, that once you've got the hang of them, you'll be finding excuses to cozy up on the lounge and stitch a whole afternoons' worth...

First, choose two contrasting or toning lengths of lace, or scrap fabric. This looks prettiest when you use at least two textures, if not three. My Shabby Roses embellishing my Dreamcatcher above, were made using this same technique and lengths of satin, chiffon, and georgette, then ironed flat with a damp teatowel over them. So this is a really useful little craft.

Cut about an arms length of your laces, ribbons or fabrics, and vary the widths to make your rosettes interesting. You get all kinds of effects using similar widths, differing widths, and different textures.

Run a row of large tacking stitches along the bottom length of your strips, then pull them up to gather them.

Stitch the two ends together to secure the rosettes shape, and add a button, sequin or any other pretty to the centre to disguise the hole in the middle.

I've added Mother of Pearl buttons to these ones...

And I varied these by using one layer each of Violet lace and Cream satin edged organza ribbon.

Add them to hairpins or hairclips, headbands, strips of lace of ribbon to secure them to gifts, velvet bands to use as wrist are only limited by your imagination.
I've boxed these ones up to gift to a friend who was a bit sad. I added vintage brooches to the box, and she was completed enamoured!
Will you find time to make your world more Rosy soon?
You can now find Five Star Frou-Frou as a neverending linkup here. You may link whenever you like, as often as you like. I will choose a feature each and every time I post, and add it to the bottom of my page here.
Todays feature is Thel, who shared her own gorgeous teacups guessed it....roses! Please visit Thel. Her teacups and her table setting are truly beautiful!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Grab a Home Made Caramel Latte, and come check out my featured post at Blogelina!

I'm honoured to be the featured blogger at Blogelina this week!
Blogelina is a wonderful resource of hints, tips, ideas, and general good stuff for we bloggers who just want to hone our craft a little, and for those wanting to get deadly serious about blogging.
I applied some time ago to be a featured Blogger, and then of course, as you do, promptly forgot all about it. So it was a real thrill to be notified to look out for my feature.
Thankyou to the crew at Blogelina!
I'm tickled pink. My post goes live at 9pm Wednesday July 20th, AEST.
Look here, and scroll down to where it says Weekly Featured Blogger. And remember to leave them a sweet comment too!
Do make yourself a Caramel Latte Mimi Style, and visit them, won't you?
You need:
A tall glass or insulated coffee mug
200mls (not quite 1 cup) of Evaporated Milk (NOT sweetened condensed milk)
75mls water
4 heaped teaspoons of soft brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla essence
1 teaspoon Light Corn Syrup
1 heaped teaspoon instant coffee
Whipped cream and chocolate syrup if you wish
Put all the ingredients except the whipped cream and chocolate syrup, in a microwave safe jug, and heat for 30-50 seconds until steaming. Whisk well to combine and pour into your glass or mug. Top with whipped cream and syrup or a dusting of cocoa.
Enjoy while you peruse Blogelina!
Love Ya,
Mimi xxx

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Five Star Frou-Frou...a Neverending Story....

This is a linkup of a different kind.

I find that I am temporarily unable to give my weekly linkup the attention it deserves. Life circumstances dictate that my attention is almost daily, distracted by unforeseen events, and for now, I can do little about this.

 It means setting up the linkup in a timely and predictable fashion is virtually impossible, and for now, I cannot fulfill my end of the bargain on this. This means I cannot give YOU the attention you deserve. You deserve a personal comment, and a thankyou for visiting and linking, as well as a predictable time for doing so. I've come to realise too, that hosting a successful ongoing linkup as a lone blogger, takes time away from developing my own content, and this has been a difficult scenario for me to manage. I've also missed commenting on your blogs, connecting with you because I want to grow our friendship, not because you linked up at my Linky party. Do you know what I mean?

I've also become aware, as a person who worked in Advertising and Marketing for many years, that a linkup is essentially a series of little advertisements placed on my blog, for content on yours. A kindness which, if all goes well, is returned by you mentioning my linkup in your post, or elsewhere on your own blog. 

I can do this just as effectively, by adding you to my list of blogs I love, seen on the right hand side here. Or by mentioning you in a dedicated post, as Annabel from The Bluebirds are Nesting and I do for each other informally, on a regular basis. If you've been following A Tray of Bliss for any length of time, I think you might do the same for me, as I would for you. I actually really love this idea and feel it's a more personal strategy that will allow our friendship to grow and develop on a whole new level.

So to this end, I propose two things.

1. This linkup is a never ending linkup, and is sorted in random order, meaning that you can add links any time, and they will still end up well positioned in the sorting. In other words, the link you add, won't be at the bottom of the list! Add as you wish, when you wish, and I will respond as I am able, choosing monthly features on the 10th of each month. I encourage you to do as you always have, and visit as many other links (or rather 'advertised blogs' as I now think of them), as you can, each time you link. I will mention and link any new additions (just like a 'feature') that are particularly eye-catching, each time I post on any topic here at A Tray of Bliss. This gives you more chances than you would normally have, of being a 'featured blogger'. In addition, I will add featured links, to my Facebook closed group page, and my Pinterest boards, giving you even further exposure for your blog.

2. I invite you to email me with your proposal for a joint venture between you and me. It could be as simple as each of us guest posting for the other on a topic that is mutually interesting.  It could be that we each feature the others blog in a special post. Maybe several of us could dedicate one post a month to a particular topic, and link our themed posts that day. Some ideas that spring to mind include a post on Family, Heirloom Skills, nurturing home and family, finding beauty in our day, and so on. Another thought is to share a favourite photograph once a month, which as an avid photographer, really appeals to me! You can share your own ideas, or show support for any of these ideas, or register your interest in contributing a guest post, by contacting me at

I know this is unconventional. I know it's different. But I think it can work well for us both.

I hope you do too.

Thankyou in advance, for your support as I move forward with this new idea.

Love Ya,

Mimi xxx

Monday, July 18, 2016

Increase traffic to your blog without spending a cent...

I'm tired of clicking on these sorts of visuals on Pinterest, only to be led to a pseudo expert selling me their 30 page book compiled from other visuals they've seen on Pinterest for just $299.99.
You too? I don't know about you, but I always immediately regret clicking on it, because clearly, their aim was to get me to contribute to THEIR traffic!
Or, someone in another country selling me their add-on guaranteed to multiply my blog traffic 10 times over with this simple tool, which is free now, but which asks for the blood of my first born after 30 days.
It's like those advertisements where you get a free set of steak knives with every order, but only if you call in the next 10 minutes.
Come on fellow bloggers. Aren't we all better than that?
I've been at this blogging thing for a while now.
Like about 7 years. That kind of a 'while'.
I only started taking it seriously about eighteen months ago though.
There was a good reason for this, as I was successfully blogging and being paid for it, at a high profile Australian money saving website, for a good portion of those 7 years. They liked me. Their members liked me. I liked them and their members a whole lot too. Lovely, genuine, salt of the Earth people, all of them. And with at least half of my life spent as a single Mum, and a child of a single Mum with seven kids, I had a lot of good stuff to offer. It went swimmingly for a long time. I made friends, and joy-of-joys, made a bit of money too.
So there I was, blogging for someone else, and generally neglecting my own humble blog, right when blogging was just taking off. Cest` la Vie. Do you hear me sigh?
My friends, both in real life and the blogging world kept urging me to take 'my own blog' more seriously instead of giving all my ideas to someone else. But as I was being paid, and because I'm a loyal kinda person, I felt that was the wrong way to look at it.
Well all good things came to an end, as these things do, earlier this year, when my agreement came with them came to it's natural conclusion. Heck, I'd had a good 7 years with them. I couldn't be too sad, could I?
Fortunately, about a year prior to this event, I finally started taking 'my own blog', this one, a wee bit more seriously. I began working hard on deciding what kind of blogger I was.
This, as it turned out, was harder than I thought. Everything I'd read, said to find your niche, and that people don't like to read 'lifestyle' blogs. Hmmmm. I think I kicked that one to the kerb. Sorry.
I do however, have a background in Marketing and Advertising, so I dug deep and remembered this little gem....
Now my brand is all about saving money. It used to be about hard core money saving strategies like menu planning, cooking from scratch, and generally living well on a budget. Heck, that's how I came to be paid to blog for Simple Savings (which incidentally is still a wonderful site, and well worth a look).
Well nine years have passed, and my husband and I only have one Fairy Child left at home. Our three sons have all flown the coop, blessing us with two granddaughters and a grandson, who we cherish. We are mortgage free, and have a thriving business. We're currently setting up another that will serve us well in retirement, and we are fortunate enough to enjoy frequent little overseas jaunts. Things are different at Chez Mimi, and we don't need to be quite as hard core as we once were.
But old habits die hard, and now we live well on a budget because we like it. I like it. I can't see the point in tossing a lot of cash around just because I can, nor do I want to line someone elses pockets with my retirement fund.
So yes, Nannas recipes are well thumbed and well loved, hand crafted gifts are the order of the day, and Motherly Advice on how you can do the same, comes thick and fast, here at A Tray of Bliss. I menu plan and budget and insource, because it makes my life feel well-ordered and less chaotic, I write a shopping list because, well, it's just sensible isn't it. And over the years, I've learned to cook as well as any of those TV Chef wannabes, so we eat well for very little. It follows naturally too, that our preferred mode of entertainment, is at home, enjoying our lovely garden, special family memories and general homespun goodness.
So I guess that is my 'brand', and for want of a better title for it, I call it The Modern Day Nannas Guide To Life, as shown by my tagline at the top of my post. This tagline pretty much frames what topics are included in my blog. That's why you also see a page there called 50 & Fab...because dang, that's who I want to be!
So...who are YOU?
If you had to sum up YOU in two sentences, who would you be? And can you blog about that?
Because like any writing, people will see straight through you if you're not being the real 'you'.
The word 'bliss' has always been part of my vocabulary. My wish was always to live a peaceful, BLISS-ful life. My ideas on what that would be changed often, but the word was always in there. Hence my blog name. What word is part of your vocabulary when you imagine your ideal life?
 Maybe therein is a great name for your blog.
Next...what do you DO?
This will be your tagline, and will define what you write about.
As I have already said, I write about my life as a Modern Day Nanna. People seem to like it. I didn't listen when they said 'Lifestyle bloggers don't get traffic'. I just wrote what I knew. You can too.
Here's my second tip...are you ready? And no, there's no steak knives with it...
I have increased my blog traffic ten times over in the last twelve months.
I did this in a few different ways, and I am by no means a Social Media expert. I'm a Baby Boomer, who remains in many respect, a bit clueless when it comes to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and so on. But I plug along, leaning heavily on my Blogging friends when necessary, and we all learn together.
How do you build a community? Well, as in real life, I guess it comes down to common interests.
I started by looking at the blogs I like, and following them. As with anything, there was a common thread, and a connecting interest. I started spending an hour a day, just commenting on my favourite blogs. And not stuff like 'great work, keep it up'. I'd read their posts thoroughly and make intelligent comments about what they'd written or shared. I'd get to know them as people. I'd read their archives and see whether there were things I could learn from their experience and make comments when I did. I'd make sure I was a repeat visitor and commenter. I'd tell them if their post made me laugh or cry or generated a memory for me.
After a month, the visits to my own blog started to reflect this and the people I followed, began following me, and commenting, and wanting to get to know me better too.
Then my friend Annabel over at The Bluebirds are Nesting, told me about Linky Parties. It's like putting a little advertisement for your blog on somebody elses blog, and all they ask in return, is for you to do the same for them by advertising their linky party on your blog. All very democratic if you ask me.
Wow...what a game changer. Suddenly all those blogs I'd been trying to find by Googling 'Shabby Chic Blog' or 'Arty Blog' or 'Money Saving Blog' were at my fingertips, and finding my own community was easy. I'd visit them, leave a comment, and they'd return the favour. It wasn't long before I decided that having my own Linky Party was a good strategy and Five Star Frou-Frou was born. Five Star Frou-Frou has now evolved into an ongoing linkup here, where instead of you linking weekly and me featuring my favourites, you link when you want, with your pretties projects or most heart warming posts, and I choose a favourite to feature at the bottom of each of my own posts. If I post three times a week, that's three potential features for YOU. That's triple the chance of being featured, than you have in other linkups. What's not to like?
Between visiting other peoples Linky Parties, and generating my own, I was suddenly looking at the kind of traffic that I thought was a pipe dream. But oh, what a lot of work! This stuff is not for the faint hearted if you're even half serious about it.
I easily spend up to four hours a day now to maintain my current traffic. That's visiting, commenting, linking, and generating new material for A Tray of Bliss.
Which brings me to my next tip...
All of those tempting images you see on Pinterest claiming they'll help you make money with your blog if you'll just part with $39.99, or wait $29.99 if you try to click away, are tugging your chain.
How do you think THEY'RE making money??
Tell you what. Just write 'WORK HARD AT IT' on a piece of paper, prop it in front of you, and keep your $29.99. Please.
It's like I've always said with saving money, or earning persistent, practice, get good enough at what you're doing so that somebody will pay you for it. And if you can't afford to invest money, then you have to invest TIME.
There are many ways to invest time in your blog. Here are a few.
1. Get serious about one new skill. That could be something related to your primary blog posts, like cake decorating, relationship counselling, ministry, or knitting. It could also be taking a Creative Writing course, or a Photography course or a Pattern Drafting course. Anything that will give you a skill from which others can learn.
2. Plan your posts and give them your all. Every post is like a little advertisement for your blog, so treat each one as if it were going on a billboard on the busiest highway in your town. Use the best photographs you can. I have my favourite spot in the house where I take nearly all my photographs. The light is perfect, and it's handy. Aim to take photos early in the morning or late in the afternoon (commonly called The Golden Hour) when shadows are fewer and light is softer. I find using a plain piece of black or white project cardboard underneath and behind my subject, helps diffuse light and add definition too. I've recently heard that bathtubs also make a darned good place to take good shots, although I admit I haven't tried that one.
3. Learn from other bloggers. I am constantly studying my favourite blogs, and learning from them. I pick up photography tips from them, I look at their most viewed posts and ask myself what are they doing that I can adopt, and I use them as a barometer of where and how I can improve. 
4. Watch for trends in your favourite blogs and plan ahead for a great post reflecting that season. Annual events like Mothers Day, National Days, and Seasonal changes are all great themes for a post that generates traffic. Additionally, it does seem that things go in circles a bit. I was once doing a series on tallying up my money saving efforts for the week. Now so many are doing it (and some of them are doing it more effectively than I was!), that I am happy to join them and devote my post previously shown on that day, to another topic. Grow and change as needs dictate. Don't keep doing the same thing over and over, if it's time for a new idea.
I can't tell you how many times I've thought this was a fools game. I don't make a lot of money from my blog. I don't think I ever will. I'm just not that interested in SEO's, monetizing, and Tweeting. All power to those clever bods who can understand all that stuff. It's just not my game. I stick to the parts of blogging that I enjoy, that I find rewarding in their own way.
I'll tell you one thing though. Every single time I think I'll just give this blogging thing away, something happens. I get a sweet comment, or an email that just blows me away, or a sudden spurt of traffic from an image pinned on Pinterest, like, two years ago.
Because that's the thing. Blogging is a long term thing. As with all things in life, the quick fix never lasts. Don't think you can post some half-assed stuff like 'I made $10,000 in my first three months of blogging...Give me $300 and I'll show you how'...puhhhhleeeease.... and get a following because you've Social-Media-ed it to death, and a few people 'liked' it. There's more to blogging than that.
I think that if you followed my four humble tips, given for free, that you might find that they work for you. Not now, not today, probably not in the next three months. Give it a year, then let me know.
I think you'll find you've made progress.
I could be wrong.
I very well might be.
But at least I haven't asked you for $29.99 and offered you a free set of steak knives if you order in the next ten minutes.
Love ya,
Mimi xxx

Friday, July 15, 2016

Motherly Advice...Nurturing = Contentment...

I've been in technological No Mans Land for nigh on a fortnight. No internet, and sometimes no electricity. No, I wasn't camping, or vacationing. I was at home. It just goes to show how much we rely upon these things to sustain us, and reminds me personally, of how much I achieve without!
During this frustrating time, I was reminded that sometimes blogging and thinking about or preparing for blogging, actually occupies more of my day than I imagine. I know that those of you who blog regularly know what I mean.
I find myself now, doing a check and balance, and making sure that my love of blogging does not outweigh my love of other things in my life.
I've found a contentment in nurturing my home and loved ones during my externally imposed blackout. I'll never master Facebook and Tumblr to the degree I have done so with Blogger, so my limited attempts to stay connected there, were not as engaging as one might expect.
So here was my routine whilst banished from Blog World.
It's a little like the Christmas list you see that says that you should buy your children something to wear, something to eat, something to love, and so on, and it's a lovely way to structure the day.

Even better, it's easy to remember, because it truly is about nurturing the various parts of your life.

My first task for the day is always to nurture my home. Unloading the dishwasher, putting on a load of laundry, making the beds, dusting and vacuuming...these things are as much a part of my morning as brushing my teeth and getting dressed. I don't feel right until they're done. This might also mean making cleaning products like my Home Made Wool Wash or...

...the Miracle Cleaner that Annabel makes and bottles so beautifully.

 Next I find some time to nurture memories of Mum and Nanna buy honouring my heirloom skills. This could mean some hand sewing, mending, sewing clothing or costumes or gifts, embellishing, embroidering, crocheting, knitting, preserving, and baking. These skills are so important in a life full of busy stuff, as they force me to sit still (mostly!), and contemplate what is important to me. They help me create a beautiful home and find new ways to display treasures like the red satin pointe shoes displayed on a home made Cloche Cushion, at the top of my post. They are also vitally important to us as the majority of gifts we give to our friends and family are home generated (and highly anticipated I might add!). This saves us an enormous amount of money, and because we, as a family, all contribute our skills, our repertoire is forever expanding. My husband is in the process of helping me make dinosaur doorstops as Man Gifts for Christmas. They're very cute and I hope to be sharing those soon. My daughter has now added Dreamcatchers to her own repertoire and is becoming a creative soul in her own right, so that's another win. This too, stems from my own nurturing of her skills throughout her life thus far. This is so important, the passing of skills from one generation to the else do we learn?
 Nurturing relationships and finding ways to make memories is a daily pleasure as well, and no matter what,  I find time in my day to make contact with at least one if not several significant friends or family members to let them know they're in my thoughts. Maintaining that connectivity is easier these days as we have so many means of communication at our fingertips. From Facebook, to texting and emailing, to Instagram and Snapchat, we can never say 'I didn't have time'. For me, though, face to face is always the best, and particularly when it comes to my immediate family. Time with my daughter takes up much of my time as she is the only one still at home, but generating reasons to gather the family together means that we make the time we spend together, matter. Whether it's a sleepover with the grandchildren, a sporting event enjoyed together, or a birthday celebration, there is always a good time to be had and memories to be created and shared. I lost my own Mum when she was just 60 years old, so at the age of 56, I am well aware of creating as many happy memories as humanly possible for my own family.

Nurturing self, spirituality, and thoughts is vital too. I have had some tough times in my life, and the one of the things that got me through was my faith, which was sorely tested many times, and yet has been ultimately strengthened by lifes' experiences. The other was an unshakeable belief that 'this too shall pass' or at least 'become manageable'. That applies to marriage troubles, illnesses, the passing of a loved one, financial hardship, the diagnosis of a disability for my son, and the plethora of other human conditions that plague us all. Reading and absorbing the positive in the literature on our planet is an important part of weathering all of that for me. I focus on reading the classics, biographies, inspirational writers, and glossy books with inspiring and beautiful images of the great artists and photographers. I also adore homemaking books, and of course include my favourite blogs in that list! In fact so many of you nurture me, that I sometimes wonder how I'd fare without you! My wee bible is in the mix too, and I've set myself a task to read it like any other book in my bookcase, as if I were reading it for the very first time, to give me a new perspective. Reading from the first page, and working my way through, has indeed shown me things I had not noticed before, much like a well thumbed novel or any other loved tome.

 Nurturing the garden is in the mix of course, and whilst this glorious rose is not my own, I certainly hope to have blooms just like this one, come Spring. My citrus trees have been rewarding me with glorious oranges and lemons, and I'm looking forward to the coming Spring and Summer, anticipating Limes, Cumquats, Figs, Avocado, Olives, Mulberries and even Coffee Beans, which I hope to roast, grind and gift to friends and family in time.
My roses are an experiment and not one with which I've succeeded in the past, but as with all things, practice (and the internet!) makes perfect, and I've nurtured them this year too. The last fortnight, I've pruned and fertilised and already, new rosy growth is appearing on the bare upright limbs of my twenty or so bushes. I'm so excited to have my very own roses again this year. Maybe I really am becoming my Nanna!

 Nurturing our health is final on my list, and includes gentle exercise, and watching our diet, filling our home, pantry and refrigerator with quality produce and delicious items to bring a new pleasure to the tradition of eating together. We eat a very clean diet these days, with only the occasional treat like this gorgeous raspberry bread and butter pudding entering the fray. We are learning to enjoy our fruits 'au naturel', and our salads 'sans dressing'. It's a wonderful thing to enjoy the peppery bite of rocket, the tang and burst of flavour in a fresh blueberry, and the smooth creaminess of a perfectly ripe banana or avocado, without feeling the need to enhance it in some way. A true joy. Meals these days too, are focused on quality protein, few carbs, and lavish amounts of vegetables as we find this suits our lifestyle, and our tums, best. We are too, newly conscious of the need to have a healthy approach to eating, and never more so than now, as we near retirement age, when we have so much in life to yet to enjoy.
If you nurture each of these areas of your life, adding in of course, any others that you feel important, I hope that you too, can find contentment. Contentment is far more satisfying and far deeper than the 'happiness' to which we all imagine we are entitled these days, a notion which ultimately finds us spending money to achieve 'happiness', and then wondering why we're still not 'happy'.
Find ways to nurture your life, and the lives of those around you, and perhaps you too, will find that Nurturing can equal Contentment.