Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tails and tears

Last week my big girl had her first book parade at school. We decided she should go as The Cat in the Hat and excitedly cobbled together her costume.

We already had a hat, thanks to my sister-in-law having passed down dress-up clothes. I stuffed it with some Polyfill so that it would stand up, and she could wear black clothes for the body. So I just needed to make a big red bow to go around her neck and a tail, and draw some whiskers and a nose on her face.

In an effort to keep it simple, for the tail I cut up an old pair of my opaque tights, made the tail out of one leg, stuffed it with Polyfill and made the waistband out of the waistband of the tights, making it smaller and sewing the tail on. No need for velcro or any closing device, it just pulls up. This method could easily be used for any sort of dress-up tail, maybe painting the tights or using different coloured ones. The whole thing wasn't stressful and we both enjoyed the process.

Once again, though, I was really sad to see her in tears at the end of a parade. In the hundreds of people around (the school has over 700 students) she couldn't find me and ended up sobbing, holding the hand of a lovely teacher's aide, who had taken her to look for me while her class went in a different direction. And once again I found myself wondering if we've chosen the wrong school for her (too big and impersonal?) and whether in fact she was too young to start (she turned 5 in April). I felt sad for her, helpless, and I'm afraid to say, a little embarrassed too. I was a little angry too that she was being sooky and that she didn't trust that I would find her.

In that strange way that you stumble upon something you happen to need at the time, later at home I came across a parenting book that some lovely friends had given us a while ago. I opened it to this paragraph:

By applying positive parenting skills, parents can learn to support their children's natural growth process and to avoid interfering. Without an understanding of how children naturally develop, parents commonly experience unnecessary frustration, disappointment, worry and guilt and unknowingly block or inhibit parts of their children's development. For example, when a parent doesn't understand a child's unique sensitivity, not only is a parent more frustrated, but the child gets the message something is wrong with him. This mistaken belief, "something is wrong with me", becomes imprinted in the child and the gifts that come from increased sensitivity are restricted.

How true. It made me think about how individual children are and that I need to accept them and help them however I can, but that it's really their journey. And sure she can be sooky, but she's also incredibly affectionate and close to me, and I wouldn't change that for anything. In hindsight it seems a bit like a 'parenting 101' lesson, but I guess we I just need to remind myself occasionally. Love you big girl.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Good mail

Normally I hate opening mail. I leave it all for the Mr to deal with (poor sod). All those bills and things that need addressing, not to mention filing. My mental clutter doesn't need adding to! But today was a good mail day.

Firstly I received this lovely cuff from the very talented Kirsty at Kootoyou. Thank you Kirsty, there's no way I could have managed to make one myself - I'd be stuck doing a scarf, let alone this 'broomstick lace'!

And then there was an envelope with several patterns enclosed. I'm still trying to work out where it came from, but it's welcome even so!

I hope you had good mail today too :-)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Holiday sewing

L-R Urban unisex hoodie pattern by Heidi and Finn Best bubble dress pattern by Babes of Sweet

L-R Yoga lounge set pattern by Heidi and Finn Popover sundress pattern by Oliver+S Everyday dress pattern by Mani-mina

L-R Eva dress pattern by Mani-mina Little pleated tunic pattern by Heidi and Finn Chic kimono pattern by Mani-mina

L-R Thai fisherman pants by bibimbubba Ruffle top pattern by Oliver+S Sophie tunic pattern by Sis Boom

We have finally booked a holiday, yay! And you know what that means - an excuse to sew some new kids clothes. Because they'll need cover-ups for the beach, some fun clothes to play in and generally just something fresh after all the winter heavy things.

BUT, the risk is that I'll:
A. be tempted to make a really long list, and keep adding on to it until a day or two before we leave
B. feel overwhelmed at list make just a couple of things and feel disappointed
C. stay up very late in the days before we leave and totally exhaust myself, ending up cranky and unable to enjoy the start of the holiday

So... in an effort to actually get something done, stay sane, feel satisfied and still get some sleep I am attempting to put together a (realistic) list and stick to it. No adding things at the last moment, kidding myself that "it won't take too long". The idea is that you will keep me honest and that by promising to show you my progress I will actually stick to a schedule! Hang on, this is sounding like hard work - no, it's going to be fun! And at the end I can show you all my lovely holiday snaps where the kids are wearing the clothes. Well, that's the idea!

Providing lots of inspiration are the posts from the kids sewing challenge from Elsie Marley. I missed out on participating in this but it sounds like there will be another soon, and sounds like it's the push I need to get things made.

Pictured are some of the patterns I'm considering. Please tell me what you think of them and if you have any favourites of your own. I'd love to hear from you!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bread of the week - calzone

Calzone is a closed pizza. I made this large one for the family to share for lunch but you can also make smaller individual ones.

With floured hands, take a chuck of dough about the size of a grapefruit from your container*. On a piece of baking paper flatten it into a large circle that's about 1.5cms thick.

To one half add cheese and any filling of your choice. I used fresh tomatoes, semi-dried tomatoes, pickled eggplant, mushrooms, spanish onion and olives. If I'd had fresh basil I would have torn some up and strewn in on. And if the kidlets weren't going to be eating it I'd add lots of fresh chili. You can use anything you like though.

Fold the other side over and pinch the dough together to seal it into a parcel.

Put it into the 220c preheated oven on the top shelf on a pizza stone if you have one (see my transfer method in this post), or alternatively a baking tray. Cook until it's nice and brown. Mine took about 20 minutes - you want it to cook properly and as there is a bit of weight in all the dough and filling it takes a while.

When it cools a little cut it into thick slices and eat while warm. "It's like a Kinder Surprise" says my big girl about cutting it open to reveal the contents.

Can I also just point out my shiny new bread knife in the top picture. I've stumbled along for ages with an old crappy knife for cutting my precious loaves of bread and I can't believe the difference now that I have a good knife. It was a bit of a struggle getting it though, involving an extremely unhelpful sales "assistant" at David Jones (aren't they meant to be known for their service? Obviously not). Rather than answering my question on what makes a good knife and what the difference is between a $70 and a $200 knife, all she could muster up was an irritated "the chefs use them" over and over again. Obviously wasting her precious time, I chose the $70 model and let her get on with propping up the counter. Needless to say I hate bad service. OK, rant over. I urge you to go out and buy a fantastic bread knife if you don't have one. Trust me, it's worth the effort and expense.

* basic recipe listed on this post

Friday, August 27, 2010

Public service announcement...

... to fellow non-existent calf muscle sufferers:

Yes, you CAN wear knee-high boots without looking like you're going out to tend the animals.

When you've been cursed with skinny (ie shapeless) calves it's almost impossible to buy knee high boots that fit and don't look like gumboots (or 'wellingtons'). Over the years I have looked in countless shops and searched in vain for something that would fit.

Finally, I recently accepted that the perfect pair were not going to suddenly appear on eBay for $50 and I would just have to bite the bullet and invest in something specific (there goes my thrifting track record of late!)... which is when I stumbled upon the fabulous online shop 'Duo Boots', based in the UK. Their motto is "style is nothing without fit" - so true - and they do many different styles of boots in different calf widths! Genius!

So after saving hard in my Paypal account for a chunk of winter I finally ordered them recently. They are fantastic! And to add to my joy they arrived in 4 days! I can't say enough about how fantastic the service was from Duo, every email was answered quickly, they have a fantastic website with full instructions on getting the right fit and even a little movie of someone walking in the boots to show what they look like on!

So, skinny calved people, fret no more ;-)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Roasted olives

Have you tried roasting olives? It warms them, changes their texture and infuses flavours into them. They're good as a pre-dinner snack or as part of a cheese plate.
Here's how I like to do them:

Place whole, unpitted black olives (I like kalamatas) into a roasting dish.
Add some unpeeled cloves of garlic, fresh sprigs of rosemary, a couple of strips of fresh lemon peel.
Then add good grinding of black pepper and a few glugs of olive oil. Mix.
Put in a pre-heated oven at 200c for 15-20 minutes.
Serve warm with fresh crusty bread and cheeses.

*you can also eat the garlic if you like (I do!) - it should be soft and gooey, and you can dip the bread into the flavoured oil

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I find there's something extra special about hand making a gift for a friend, I think for the maker as much, if not more than the recipient! I guess because you get to tailor all aspects of the gift for the friend, choosing colours, prints, style etc. Though I'm always a bit nervous about whether I got it right or not.

We had a little celebration for a dear friend's birthday yesterday and I made her a shopping/book bag. I'm getting tired of using those green bags for everything- they're so ugly and functional, so having a few light weight fabric carry-all bags around seems a much nicer alternative. There was also meant to be a little lined zip purse to match but that hasn't eventuated yet.

We made some party food and for her birthday cake we made her initial "L" from lamingtons. It was my first attempt at this Australian icon and I found them fun to make - the dipping and rolling was messy but strangely enjoyable. My big girl then collected some flowers on her way home from school and we decorated the plate. Lots of fun handmade goodness!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Barcelona bound

...this parcel, that is, not me unfortunately! Gift wrapped baby slippers heading to the other side of the world to keep warm the toes of a baby.

I received this bubala order last week and I smiled when I saw the destination address of Barcelona. It got me daydreaming about visiting the city all those years ago BC. What a fantastic place: the Gaudi architecture, the friendly Spaniards, the late night dining and socialising, the whole atmosphere.

Thanks, Cristina, for reminding me of past travels. A little bit of myself is winging its way to Barcelona :-)

* totally unrelated: Aussies with election fatigue from last weekend might like to have a look at Hop Skip Jump's hilarious house of reps cake featuring jelly babies

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bread of the week - seeded rolls

These are great when you realise yesterday's bread isn't fresh enough to send to school with poppet or you need something for lunch. I like to put different seeds on top including poppy seeds, linseeds, nigella seeds (to remind me of turkish pide) and of course sesame seeds.

Preheat your oven to 220c. With well floured hands, break off pieces of dough* about the size of a mandarin. Pull the sides of each piece of dough around to the back to form a smooth surface and flatten a little. Place onto baking paper or floured tray.

Wet the tops slightly with water and sprinkle with your choice of seeds (the water helps the seeds stick). Cut a deep cross into each piece of dough, which will allow it to rise. Let them rest either just while the oven heats or a bit longer if you have time.

Put into the oven on the top shelf on a pizza stone if you have one (see my transfer method in this post). Cook until they are nicely brown all over (10-15 minutes), the last thing you want is doughy centred little rocks :-). Let them cool to finish cooking before breaking open and filling or eat plain with a nice chunk of butter.

Have a lovely bready weekend!

* basic recipe listed on this post

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Thrifty shoes, big & small

We're having a freakishly warm day here today (for winter) in Sydney - the Mr's weather station gadget tells me that it's 23.5c.

So I thought I'd take the opportunity to wear for the first time some 'new to me' shoes. I bought these silver ballet slipper style shoes by Witchery from my local op shop recently for $15. There's lots of wear left in them and so far they're proving to be really comfy, being put to use on our morning out - the walk to school, over to the toddler sing-along, across to the park for a long play session, over to the supermarket and back home again.

And my little girl has been enjoying her silver shoes too lately, passed on from her sister, a bit big but still her favourites. To see her dedication in persevering with them is interesting from the nature/nurture perspective - she's a girl through and through, with no (conscious) coaching from me. They were given to us originally by a good friend who is an amazing op-shopper and generously passes lots of things to us, as she has both a boy and girl older than mine. I in turn have a friend with a younger girl, who I pass things on to, and another due to have a baby boy, who I've passed my baby boy things on to (with a little bit of emotion!).

Do you have people who you pass things on to? I find it feels good to both give and receive pre-loved things, good for the environment, the hip pocket, and the storage situation at home.

Last week two friends and I got together to have a clothes swap, and this week reported back that we'd all enjoyed wearing our swapped items (or our kids had!). Mine were a fab pair of patterned leggings. An interesting aside is that I wouldn't know in which shop to look for them as they're very individual, and thrifting/clothes swaps also save me having to go on a shopping trip, which is difficult to say the least, with small children, as anyone with kids knows.

All this thrifting, passing on and receiving made me think recently about the whole waste/landfill/cheap labour issues that we think and talk about these days. It all makes a lot of sense to me and I'm enjoying trying to be more mindful of whether I need new things or not.

I find interesting all the 'challenges' around lately, from reducing household waste to reducing expenditure and waste on food through to clothing challenges were you don't buy any new clothes for yourself for a year apart from underwear and shoes. This is an interesting blog on ecco-savvy and simple living and describes one family's clothes challenge. And in this one this person's challenge is to not buy anything new for a year - started in 2007 and still going! Now that's dedication.

There's even a blog where someone makes all her own clothes for a year, including shoes and underwear, and documents her outfit daily, which is interesting in several ways from fashion to resourcefulness and craftiness (sadly I can't seem to find the blog again after searching - if someone knows it please let me know the address).

Now I'd better make use of all that sun and get some of the mountains of washing on the line!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Nature as art

The very beautiful and detailed sea urchin shell, a marvel of pattern and form.

Have you seen the beautiful Geninne's Art Blog? She is an amazing artist, has a lovely sense of style and a house to die for! I think I just want to be her :-)

Inspired by this post and also this one from Soulemama I thought I'd show you some of my favourite pieces of nature used as art around our home.

A mobile made from finds from a trip to the beach: driftwood, broken shells, seaweed, leaves and pussy tails

One in my collection of seed pods

And another - the lotus seed pod

The protea flower with its beautiful architectural form

Mixing wood, glass and flora. Is there a better combination of elements?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Egg-free banana bread

I discovered this banana bread recipe a while ago in one of my online searches for egg-free baking, and have been making it now and then ever since. It's good for sending with school lunches, taking to the park or just having as a snack.

We go through a lot of fruit with 5 of us in the house, and thankfully the kids love it. But we still end up with a few bananas going brown before we can eat them, so I put them in the freezer (in their skins) and get them out to use in baking and smoothies.

This bread is moist and flavoursome, and not too sweet. You can put the sugar in or not, depending on how sweet your bananas are and how sweet you like your bread (which really is a cake, lets face it, but lets call it bread, then we can eat it for breakfast ;-)

* see serving variations below the recipe

Egg-free banana bread

2 cups self raising flour
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar (optional)
1 cup plain yoghurt
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups roughly mashed banana

Preheat oven to 180 C. Grease and line a loaf tin.

Sift flour, bicarb soda and cinnamon into a bowl. If you are using sugar, stir in the sugar at this point.

In a jug, whisk the yoghurt, milk, oil and banana. Stir into flour mixture and mix until combined. Spoon into the prepared tin, smooth the top with the back of a spoon.

Bake for about 40 – 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Stand for 10 minutes before turning it out on a wire rack to cool.

Serving variations:

• I know most cafes seem to serve banana bread thickly sliced and toasted. Accompany simply with butter or spread on ricotta cheese and slices of fresh banana.

• Mostly it doesn't last long enough here to toast it and seems a shame when it's fresh. So it's nice just as is, but I have served it before with honey butter: soften butter and mix with an equal quantity of honey, then chill and slather on.

• The girls had some last night for dessert with a scoop of vanilla icecream.

• And of course I remember fondly my mum's banana cake with caramel icing on top. I was daydreaming about making a hot caramel sauce to pour over the icecream accompaniment last night but alas it didn't eventuate.

Ah, so many possibilities...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Creative business - 'Cloth'

A quick shot of Cloth's front window

On the weekend I had a quick visit to the Cloth shop to buy fabric scraps to use for some projects I have in mind. The artist/designer/owner Julie Patterson happened to be there. I've watched her business grow and noticed her pop up in the media now and then, and always admired her style. She's a design icon to me. Once I got over a bit of shyness I asked her some questions about creativity and business.

The many beautiful fabric designs created by Cloth...

Including Australian native plant designs

I'm always curious about how people started their businesses, how they keep motivated, where they see the business going, how they balance creativity with the boring stuff like admin, all that sort of stuff. But as I didn't want to monopolise all her time I kept it brief, and what she told me I found both inspiring and disheartening.

Yes she loves what she does and wouldn't do it if she didn't. I can tell from her work that her heart's in it. Her inspiration seems endless and she appears to delve into all sorts of artistic pursuits. But, as expected, she said it took a long time until the business was really doing well, and it's an uphill slog to keep it that way, or something to that effect.

Small pieces of screen printed fabric in hemp and linen, and cute covered buttons...

... and a scrap bag ready to be turned into goodies - I'll show you what I end up making with it

My future work/life balance, career and family life is always on my mind. I know I can't go back to what I did BC (before children) as it's not family friendly enough, and also I don't want to - I'm ready for a change... but how do I try to be creative, look after the family and earn some money at the same time? That's my dilema. It was interesting to get Julie's opinion on having a creative business based on art and design. Plenty for me to think about...

If you have any tips or thoughts I'd love to hear them.
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