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Monday, December 31, 2012

Curtain Close For 2012

As we close the door on 2012, I'd like to thank you all for sharing it with me and contributing your wisdom, comments and support. You were all particularly adorable and loving when my husband went away to work for the first six months of the year. It was your thoughtfulness and steadfastness that made it so much easier to bear.
I would have to say that was the most significant thing for me this year. It was so good to be able to SKYPE and see his face every day. He is home now and getting plenty of work here now thank goodness.

The most viewed post for 2012 remains the waffle blanket tutorial which still averages 300 page views per day! Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy knowing there are millions of people in the world getting their crochet on. Declining craft? I think NOT!

The most read post of 2012 was the review I did about "Why I Bought A Thermomix" and the second most popular is my Nan's Green Tomato Pickles

Living Better With Less continues to be a popular topic and I am so very happy that after the class groups finished in April this year we went on to form an interest group that meets on the last Thursday night of each month (and on special occasions in my kitchen!) to share and learn from each other. I'm even happier that readers in other states also decided to form their own groups and continue supporting each other too.

2012 seemed to be the year of the cordial round here;
In summer we made rhubarb cordial
In autumn rosehip cordial
in winter lemon cordial
and in spring elderflower cordial

Our most topical life post this year was "What Would You Do" and we talked very candidly and frankly about depression and suicide in the post "The Secret Of Happiness" and it was also the post that attracted a lot of comments second only to "Breaking All the Rules-Pavlova" which proves my point that you guys are with me through thick and thin!

We learned how to knit socks, make Christmas cakes, rescue echidnas and how to use pintrest.
We learned all about cutlery, clove oil and Tasmania.
We debated the environment, ditched plastic wrap, seed raising, animal husbandry and the value we place on food.
We talked our heads off about Christmas gift ideas again this year.
If you want to revisit any of these stories I suggest typing into the search box that I have over on the right in the side bar there somewhere.

Creating my cookbook was another big achievement this year and it has been a huge success this Christmas with the family and friends. If you contemplate doing one for your family I suggest you start now. It takes many, many months to get it to print stage so don't leave it to November!

There is still so much I want to do but one of my resolutions for next year is to say "no" more I'm afraid. I
have let some volunteer work go that wasn't quite fitting with my life style anymore and I am now setting my eyes towards more local community groups like National Trust and the CWA.
It's been a huge year and a fun year.
Thanks for being along for the ride.
What will we get up to next year?
What is your next focus for the new year ahead?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Cake 2012

You may remember from this post, I had made the cake this year using Grandma Murray's Christmas Cake recipe. Normally Mum makes the cake and decorates it in theme every year for me (Love you Mum x)
This year we had a fun filled day doing it together....

And I learned a LOT!

This year's colours being blue and pink we thought we would try our hand at some coloured white chocolate leaves to create poinsettias.
We melted white chocolate and used colouring powders especially made for colouring chocolate and spread it over the backs of different sized lemon leaves. Because I grow the lemons, I know they are completely chemical free. I know you can also use this method with rose leaves too.

After a minute to harden in the fridge they were easily peeled away and ready for more coatings. We mixed more colour in for deeper shades.

We used a layer of white royal icing over the cake before using dollops of melted chocolate to hold the leaves in place.

This method is very easy and effective and a great little project for a day with Mum.
I will definitely use this method in the future.
I love the beautiful vein detail on the leaves too.
So that pretty much wraps up the pink and aqua Christmas here for 2012.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Great Expectations

My last gift makings this week have been aprons and peg bags but now it is time to get packed up and put all jobs away. Like every year before I have been muttering to myself about better time management next winter. 
I like to clear the decks to enjoy Christmas and reflect on endings and beginnings. It's a powerful time of year and I wonder if that is why people get so het up and emotional. 
I think mostly it's about expectations and life would be simpler if we could train ourselves otherwise.

about living up to family ideals,
others living up to our ideals,
the food,
the gifts,

I know I set myself up for a fall if I expect a Christmas that is a cross between Martha Stewart Living magazine and Vogue Entertaining but it is OK to aspire to one.

"Aspire" and "expect" are too different things.

I rather fancy a Walton kind of Christmas too, cash poor but rich in spirit, everyone embracing hand made gifts and the whole family together and loving each other and getting along.
In reality most families have someone not speaking to someone else and it is as exasperating as it is hurtful. 

Let go of your expectations and there will be nowhere to fall
Hold on to your aspirations for they are the dreams that take you higher.

You may contribute to someone else's happiness but you are not responsible for it.
Everyone must be ultimately responsible for their own happiness and contentment.

"Contributing to" and being "responsible for" happiness are two different things.

So my Christmas wish for you all is to enjoy the celebration of Christ's birthday with an open heart and an open mind. Let go of expectations and revel in your own happiness.

The Secret Of Happiness...
Something To Do,
Someone To Love 
Something To Hope For

Friday, December 21, 2012

Cake In A Jar

You've probably seen the Cowgirl Cookie versions (look here) but mine is a different option.
This is my Apricot and Pumpkin Seed Loaf 
otherwise known as,
My Most Asked For Recipe
(here and here for variations and also on the last page of the recipe book)

3/4 cup coconut
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin seed kernals
1 cup of All-Bran or crushed Weet-bix
1 cup chopped dried apricots

These ingredients are listed on the tag for the recipient to add themselves;
1 1/2 cups of self raising flour
1 1/2 cups of milk

with the following instruction;
Mix the dry ingredients. Add the milk and mix. Bake in a greased loaf tin in a moderate oven for about
50-60 mins. Stand in the pan for 5 mins and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.....
(though this cake is often cut warm too in our house)

This will fit into a Fowlers jar #31 and is the gift I am giving to my preserving friends who are always happy to receive another jar. I have clipped a square of wax paper under the lid to make extra sure the ingredients travel OK. Experiment with the layers and get a combo that looks pleasing to you. Of course you could also use a large Mokona coffee jar too.

Christmas gifts almost done now.
With Love T x

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Chive Flower Vinegar - Christmas Gifts

Still working away on a few hamper gifts for special friends so I can give them something little to say thank you for a great year.

About a week ago I picked a few large double handfuls of chive flower heads and placed them in a huge jar and submerged them in white vinegar and after a week this is the gorgeous colour the infused vinegar turns.
After removing the heads I filled clean bottles by passing through a funnel with some coffee filter paper to remove absolutely every speck of sediment making bottles of charming pinkness. 

I printed out some labels I made up using a basic label template from the graphics fairy blog where she has thousands of free downloadable images. I'm not flash at all. I simply download the image, in this case it was a simple framed blank label. Working in a Word program I insert a text box and write whatever I want, fiddle with the font and after and copying and pasting a few times I printed it out on some very pale pink floral paper.

The bottles are a mixed bunch of recycled ones that I picked up at the op shop for 10 cents each. 
Here is another frugal tip;
See the ribbon ties around the left hand bottles holding the tags and fabric in place? They are those annoying clothes hanging ribbons that are sewn into the shoulders of garments to make life easy for retailers but get in the way when you get home. I always snip and save mine in a little ribbon box and they come in handy so often for tag ties...FREE.

So I might carry the theme through here and delve into my tea towel stash and fortunately I also have pink and aqua cotton for some dish cloths.
And I'm still working through my stash! Winner!

I like to use the waffle pattern for these and you'll find the tutorial here
I'll add some little jars of preserved lemon peel and maybe some of my most asked for cake mix dry packed into fowlers preserving jars for my preserving friends. 

It might be a bit late for you to try the chive head vinegar this year but you could certainly keep it in mind for a pretty and simple gift next year. Try here to see pictures of the process.

Not long to go now.
How is your hand made Christmas going?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Getting it Wrapped

A couple of stamps and stamp pads and a bottle of embossing powder are a great investment. They last for YEARS and save you heaps.

I make my own cards usually and always make my own gift tags.
It saves me lots of money and I get to make them to the theme I have chosen for the year.
A set of cards or gift tags also make great presents to give and something the children can get involved in.
Back in the day when people sent lots of letters, I used to love making stationery sets for gifts. My Nan used to get a lot of those.

The actually tag shapes this year were leftovers cut from a scrapbooking/card making session. Gift tags can be cut in all sorts of shapes. Stars and circles or trees also look great for Christmas.

As you know from previous posts my colours this year are aqua and pink (I've said it before, Christmas is my one folly). Sometimes it is hard to find what you are looking for in the Christmas wrap bins so head to the back of the store and look for their regular paper for colour combos. 

All the ribbon is recycled many times from our gifts.
I really love the size of these tags because they are so easy to write comfortably on the other side.

Throughout the year I also collect empty boxes for wrapping. Clothing, soft items and strange shapes are always much easier to wrap and stack when they are in a box first, plus it keeps them guessing. 
How is your wrapping going?
Do you love it like I do?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Practical Garden Ideas From An Old Garden

We get a bit blasé about these town distance markers in Tasmania because so many of them have endured but I thought I should at least capture and share this piece of Tasmanian history with you. They are massive lengths of stone and are the same length below ground if not more and were commonly used about the State during the 1800s to tell travellers how many miles to the next town. This one is located now within the grounds of Franklin House in Youngtown just around the corner from our house. It is a very familiar home to us because of it's proximity but recently there has been a lot of fresh ideas and energy put into the garden and we were keen to see how it was all progressing.

The volunteers have put in an example of a Victorian kitchen garden with heritage vegetables and commonly used herbs. Though good to see, there was no inspiration found for us there but there was plenty else where in the garden....

I love what they have done with recycled bricks as pavers. We have not entirely converted all areas to vegetables at home and this was a winning idea for our back lawn area. We have a couple of bench seats and love to sit in the garden but they are a nuisance when Craig mows. He is having to shift them and re-shift them.

This would be a great solution for them. They could still be re-located for different events like outdoor luncheons and parties but the rest of the year they would have a "home" and Craig could easily mow around them. We have plenty of old bricks still and as we are organic growers I think all we would need to do to control weeds from between with boiling water.

Recycled bricks have also been used for bedding borders and small access paths to taps and irrigation.

I am always looking for archway ideas and climbing plants. There is no better way to judge a climber than to see it in situ matured. 

And interesting and useful objects for the garden. A simple structure made from timber off cuts and topped with an old curtain rod end, adds interest, structure and height, giving added dimension to what could have been a pretty but "flat" garden bed.

Viewing the plants and especially roses can give an unbiased and true account of their habit before you buy also. The labels on specimens in the garden shops are so alluring but rarely are they a true portrayer. Foliage can be as important as the flower within the garden. Sometimes I have been disappointed to buy something with a very attractive label only to find that the plant cannot support the giant flowers so carefully bred or suffers monstrously in winds and rain.

The volunteers are doing a wonderful job with the new garden re-constructions and though change is hard, sometimes a breath of fresh air is a marvellous thing. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Quirky Collection

I love music and have a very broad eclectic collection.
Something a little lesser known about me is that I also collect Christmas CDs.
It is so broad and that one of the local radio stations borrowed it one year for a special Christmas segment.
I can hear you groaning and unfortunately shopping centres have given Christmas music a bad name.
Of course there is a plethora of standard Christmas compilations and nothing will top my all time favourite Bing Crosby "White Christmas" which I have on vinyl (as does every second family), but I would like to share with you some of my favourite picks and perhaps convince you that there are alternatives to the groan-worthy.

Harry Connick Jnr "When My Heart Finds Christmas" is an excellent opener for the season and is usually the first one played as I put up the tree. 
"James Taylor at Christmas" is a smooth and laid back and definitely not a cringe Christmas CD at all.
Bette Middler "Cool Yule" is a typical upbeat CD
Quite to my surprise, as I am not a big country fan, is the Kenny Rogers CD "Christmas Greetings". My favourite song on the CD is "Kentucky Homemade Christmas".
"A Very She & Him Christmas" is a cute little CD by Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward. Zooey has a very unique voice and between the two of them they have done the vocals, the instruments and the production. I suspect that this was a shoestring budget make but it has a lovely simplicity and you could almost imagine that they are just two of your friends who have popped in and picked the guitars and having a little sing song in your lounge. 

Are you still with me?
"Sting - On A Winters Night" is new this year and very much about his exploration into medieval music and instruments.
Doris Day could sing me a shopping list and I would love it!
A big favourite is "Manhattan Transfer - The Christmas Album" for late night soothing, nothing better. The harmonies are divine but be warned, don't put this on if you are "waiting up for Santa" because it will have you nodding off in no time.

It is not my intention to show you (and bore you) with every CD in my collection, but I just wanted to show you the range that is out there. There is something for everyone...
like these two.
"Sleighed" is a heavy metal/hard rock album featuring Spinal Tap, Sonic Youth, Beck, Mighty Mighty Bosstones and others.
"Punk Rock Christmas" has artists like; The Ravers, Ramones, The Greedies, The Dickies....
Not my favourites I have to say but they do give cred to my collection.

"Gay Happening presents Happy Christmas Party" is a very fun collection of Christmas dance music and a wonderful Christmas starter. Great when everyone is arriving for Christmas lunch or party and getting them in the mood.
"Ru Paul HO HO HO" is one of my all time favourite CDs. It usually goes on after Harry Connick has started off the Christmas decorating. It's fun, party and happy but also sensitive and thoughtful. I love his version of "Santa Baby". "All Alone On Christmas" and "Hard Candy Christmas" are beautiful and remind us of those without families at Christmas.

Now people are trending away from CDs and buying digitally and I will miss the delightful art work and design that goes into these CDs.
This is "Joy To The World" by Pink Martini. The art work is divine!
They are an interesting group with a diverse multi-cultural background. I urge you to listen to ANY of their CDs in fact.

Well that is a brief snap shot of my Christmas CDs and I hope I haven't bored you but there really is something for everyone out there without it being cheesy or groan-worthy shopping centre piped music. My collection has been built up over the past 15-20 years and comprises of second hand finds and new buys. 
I am always looking for recommendations so if you have a favourite Christmas CD please share it with me.

***** A little reminder that the Living Better Group does not meet in December but will resume in January on the 31st.*****

Friday, December 7, 2012

Lunch Room Standards

"Exhausted retailing staff battling frenzied Christmas shoppers finally took a break only to find that their lunch room had no hot water and no kettle to make a drink, even though they had carried their own tea bags, sugar and milk to work. There was no soap and nowhere to wash off the grime before eating their packed lunch, lukewarm by now because there was no fridge to keep them cool. The milk was turning. They had realised it was a risk bringing chicken sandwiches on a hot day like this. They traipsed outside to have their sandwiches in what shade they could get from the adjacent building because the tables and benches were covered in rat droppings. Unfortunately no-one had cleaned the place for at least a year now...."

A above is a piece of fiction.

Could you imagine if these were the standards at your work place?
We could be ridiculous about expectations given a free reign but what are the very least we would accept?
Somewhere to wash before eating?
Somewhere to be able to prepare your lunch?
Perhaps a kettle to boil water could be considered a luxury.
I think faeces free areas are the very least one could hope for.
What if the above were true?
Would you be happy if your son or daughter was treated this way?

This is the reality of my husband's lunch room.
He works in sheds but I don't think it is too much to ask that their eating environment is cleared of possum and rat urine and droppings. 
You expect things to be rough and perhaps hoping for a fridge to keep lunches safe and cool is a stretch but for goodness sake a kettle?
The place was so filthy that the men had to go outside and squat in the shade of the shed to eat their lunch after working their guts out taking off shitty dags from sheeps backsides.
And before you start thinking perhaps the farmer is doing it tough, think again, this is a large property doing well for themselves in the northern midlands.

Wonder how you would feel if your workplace couldn't even provide you with scant basics. 
Would you feel as outraged and affronted as I do?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Fresh Eyes

After putting up the tree and renewing the mantle, I use fresh eyes to have a look around the rest of the living room area. Clear some accumulated clutter and bring in some touches of colour to balance.

My house is small and modest but it suits our needs just fine. Besides, if you have more it's just more to clean and if my craft room is anything to go by...well let's just say I do NOT need to up-size like a bigger handbag if you get my meaning.
Again, I have changed the lampshade colour to suit and the win/win of this seasonal make-over is some serious stash busting.

I had four brand new cushion inserts taking up room in the craft room. I bought them about 18 months ago on an incredible special. By taking a "fresh eyes" approach I thought my current state of cushions was a bit dismal, so time to break out the new ones. I pulled out some vintage scraps of fabric and in less than two hours I had new cushions.

I didn't bother with zips, just made them over-lapping envelope style at the back.
I also dug out some old light teal woollen blanket that I had stashed to make a friend a dogs'  blanket (one day) and I have cut and hemmed it to fit the poodles day bed. 

They are still in bed this morning as we have had a cold snap with snow on the mountains! You get the general idea though. So that cost me all of a couple of dollars at the op shop.

So all in all, I have spent only $3 this year for my new Christmas theme and that was for three of the little pink tea light holders. And I have gained a whole shelf in the craft room.
That's what I call a win/win situation!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Mantle

I liked the effect of the trailing lights over the mantle so much last year that I never packed them away. They were a beautiful warm glow on short winter days as the sun dropped swiftly into evenings. They were a bit of a pain when it came to dusting though.

They are gone.
I have cleared the clutter and renewed the space.
Something simple and white with a hint of the Christmas colour scheme.

The white rabbit was given to me by one of my daughters and was part of a trio. She also gave one to my mother and kept one herself. They struck her as symbolic of her family unit and generational line, each one different but part of a family. I feel very special when I look at it. 
And that is how "things" become so much more.
The ball is called a friendship ball and for obvious reasons has sentimental attachment too.
My mother also has a vase like this one, we bought them together. She keeps water in it stop the air drying out. When Bella visits (poodle) she heads straight for it and drinks from it if mum forgets to get it up high. We usually end up roaring with laughter as we try to head her off but we usually fail.

Another vase from my other daughter which is beautiful as a sculptural piece and a dear reminder of her too.
My angels have lived through many Christmas times and were a really good buy. Being neutral white, gold and silver, they go with anything and being made of tin, they are quite durable. 
To some they may look like they are "making a list and checking it twice" but they are singing and heralding the birth of Christ. I like birthdays. They give us a chance to celebrate someone dear and special in our life. Sometimes we celebrate that date even after they are gone, like Martin Luther King Day or like on my Nan's birthday, we toast her with a drink still and place flowers on her grave.
Whatever your religious beliefs, there is no denying that Jesus was a pretty special man and certainly we should celebrate his birth and give thanks that he taught the message of love and forgiveness.

I have changed the lampshades for these vintage ones that just add a nod to my tree colour scheme without getting too tizzy with it.
The little white candle dome when lit shows the nativity scene in relief.
I haven't got the nativity set out this year but you can see it in this post here.

This statue features though and is the statue of Joseph with the baby Jesus.
Christmas time can be a very hard time for broken families and lots of fathers in particular will feel the loss of their family and traditions at this time when obligations are divided.
Please be aware of those around you this Christmas. The poor and homeless have networks in place but let us not forget the lonely too. Check around and make sure someone at your workplace or in your group is not alone this Christmas. Take them into your family and offer them some sensitive distraction on the day.

 I just had to include this shot because it shows you my (amazing?crazy?) ceiling reflected in the mantle mirror. It has these large circles within circles pressed into the plaster. I have never seen it before and everyone who comes here is amazed, so I would love to hear from anyone else who has a unique ceiling like this. It takes a bit of cleaning in all those grooves I can tell you!

Hope your Christmas preparations are coming along.
Next post I will show you the cushions I have made to carry the theme through.

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