Sunday, December 26, 2010

Don't hurry past Christmas

"On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me"

We had a lovely start to the Christmas season. Gently we entered into the celebration at Grace Anglican Church in Joondalup for midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Then it was champagne, fresh fruit and homemade yoghurt, wonderful fruit toast and coffee for breakfast. Opening presents from under the tree. Lunch of salmon or beef steaks and salads with DH's family including his dad who is in his 91st year.

Yesterday we had lunch in the park with my extended family, now grown by the addition of three lovely new baby girls this year. There is much to celebrate.

Most of us know that song quoted at the beginning of the post here -about the twelve days of Christmas. The Church has a Christmas season, which begins on Christmas day, and then goes on to Epiphany on the 6th January. It is a lovely time of the year. No need to hurry past the one celebration of Christmas Day. We can keep the decorations up until Epiphany, use the time to send those letters we didn't manage to write before Christmas, and catch up with friends and family members. We didn't make it to see the Christmas lights, so I hope to do that very soon.

Both DH and myself have this time away from work as leave, so it means a whole week of relaxing and resting and contemplation. It is traditional for us to use some of the time for tidying up our house-sorting the linen cupboard for example, or the tax documents we need to keep. It is also a time of looking back on what was achieved this year, and what we hope for in the next 12 months.

We will be off to New Norcia for their Ecumenical Carols service next weekend. In the wonderful relaxing times after Christmas Day it is lovely to sing the stories of Christmas and enjoy the traditions with friends and family.

I hope that you too find time to linger with the Christmas season, to find some rest and relaxation and spend time with family and friends.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Home made gift

I have made a gift for a special relative, and I hope she likes it.

There are two parts. One is a large jar of a concoction which is called "Jarrah Coffee" here in Australia -instant coffee with other flavours etc. It is expensive, but I found a recipe to make it at home and the ingredients are easy to come by and not very expensive at all.

The recipe is 2 parts of coffee whitener, 1 part instant coffee powder (I added coffee granules as well), 2 parts powdered milk and one part caster sugar. Just add water, stir and get a creamy and sweet coffee. Not everyone likes this but the person I have in mind for this gift does.

I made some biscotti to go with it. Just found a whole website dedicated to biscotti recipes! I made almond biscotti. They were not hard to make, and taste yummy!

Then I wrapped it all up in some home made wrapping paper, from an idea I got from someone else's blog (sorry, can't remember where). I have some old Vogue magazines with beautiful photographs and glossy paper, so I cut out and taped several pages together. I used a story about cafe's in Vienna which I thought was most appropriate for the gift. The coffee mix is wrapped in pictures of elegant china cups.

I hope that your preparations for Christmas are going well, and that you too, find time for a coffee and a biscuit in the midst of the last week. Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Take care of yourself!

In the midst of the Advent season, with Christmas celebrations nearing, many people find that they are getting tired and fractious. Too many parties and end of the year celebrations to attend (parents with school age children know what I mean!) and too much stress about the preparations for Christmas.

Over at Flylady the Challenge of the Month is pampering yourself. Over at the Simple Savings network we have gone one step further and challenged ourselves to find ways to indulge ourselves which cost under $0.50. Lots of people have contributed ideas in what has become a very nurturing and positive thread on how to take care of ourselves and give ourselves a little delight each day.

I thought I would add a few of my own ideas, for feeling calm and relaxed in this season, as prompts for others:

1. Pampering myself is much easier if the basics have been done around the house -the bed is made, the dishes washed, I know what we are having for dinner, and any 'hot spots' which are accumulating junk have been dealt with. Most of this can be done in less than 15 minutes, but it makes such a difference to my feeling of calm it is definitely worth it. This is very much a Flylady habit and I would encourage you to make it your own.

2. Lists! Making a list of what I have got already in the way of Christmas presents, and what I might still need to organise, makes me feel calm and in control. My next step-for this week - is to write down the ingredients I will need for Christmas and Boxing Day foods, and then make sure that I have them ahead of time. I can feel OK about sitting down with a magazine or book if I think everything is organised.

3. Non-Screen Time! Now, I love blogs and Facebook and such as much as anyone, but I do find myself more relaxed if I ensure some non-screen time -and especially with some old fashioned reading. Recently I scored 45 craft magazines on Freecycle -just the kind of thing to enjoy with a cuppa and my feet up-and as they were free they were definitely an indulgence under $0.50! Maybe you could swap a book or set of magazines with a friend as a way of getting in some non-screen time.

4. Looking at things with new eyes can bring a little indulgence.
I started using a scented cream I found in the cupboard -with the title "leg rub" I guess I thought of it as something I might use when I strained a muscle. Actually it is a lovely moisturizer scented with rosemary, and it makes my legs feel refreshed when I use it. The perfume is quite pleasant and particularly nice to put on at bed time. I may as well use it up -rather than leave it in the cupboard where eventually it will go stale or dry up or something.

In the same vein, I was given a brown candle recently, by someone who didn't like it. I lit it and found it has a lovely vanilla scent which I am enjoying very much. I have it on the dining room in one of those chimney type candle holders and it is perfuming the whole place quite nicely.

Today I put together a silk flower arrangement and put it on my bedside table, where it will be in all its glory until after I put the Christmas decorations away. In its new home I get to see it every night and every morning, and it feels quite special to have it there.

Making a cup of real leaf tea and sipping it in a china cup can do the same thing -make us feel special.

I would love to have your comments here about other ideas you have for keeping calm and relaxed and feeling pampered. Please write!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Simplifiying Christmas -what we are doing here

1. We tell each other what we want as a present. In fact, we make lists with cheap and not-quite-so cheap ideas so that we can avoid spending money on things no-one wants or needs. We do not believe that "if you love someone you can read their mind and so know what they want"!

2. We are giving experiences instead of things to some people. There are some people in everyone's life who don't really need anything much -but who would really enjoy going to a movie, a concert or going out to a dinner somewhere. In the case of my DH and I we are giving each other a season subscription to the WA Symphony Orchestra. Usually we would hesitate to just add the concerts to our entertainment budget, but as a Christmas gift it has its own budget! We will enjoy these concerts all year.

3. We have planned a simple Christmas celebration schedule, which spreads the festivities out over two days -Christmas Day and Boxing Day. We had found that our extended family was getting exhausted trying to see both of their families on Christmas Day. Children were getting toys on Christmas morning yet did not have time to play with them because they spent so much time in the car. My extended family meets on Boxing Day, which is much more relaxed and enjoyable. This year we are going to have a picnic in the park -there are 28 adults and 14 children on the invitation list!

4. We have got used to a simple style of Christmas menu,
which allows most of the work to be done the day before. It is usually very hot in Western Australia on December 25th so we enjoy lots of salads and fruit. This year we are just adding to these a grilled salmon steak or beef steak -grilled on the barbecue, served with a special sauce. So everyone enjoys it -even the cook. The point of the meal is to be with our family and friends, not about trying to win the culinary Olympics. You will note that I am not a traditionalist at all when it comes to Christmas -we don't like turkey for example, and I personally detest plum pudding, especially on a hot day. You can do what ever you like at Christmas -there is no Christmas Police force who will check up on what you do!

5. We select several charities and give donations on behalf of all of us. This year I am going to choose Caritas for overseas aid, and Bartholemew's House (local homeless shelter) but you might think of Oxfam and the Salvation Army, or any charity of your choice. Giving to others makes Christmas meaningful.

6. We make time to enjoy the experiences which make up a Christmas season.
  • My DH is singing in the UWACS performance of Handel's Messiah on the 19th December for example. What would Christmas be without Handel's Messiah?
  • We are marking the Advent season with our Advent Calendar and our Advent Wreath.
  • We are writing cards and letters to old friends.
  • We will go out to look at those gardens nearby which have decorated with lights for Christmas. ( not something we choose to do, for the sake of the planet) but we can still appreciate the efforts of others.
  • We always watch the Carols by Candlelight (an Australian tradition) from Melbourne's Myer Music Bowl on Christmas eve, then go out to Midnight Mass.
There are some great resources to help make Christmas special and simple. Here is one I ejnoy enjoy.

The Advent Conspiracy

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Waiting, Trusting, Listening: Advent 2010

This painting of Mary is by Antonello de Messina: the Annunciation. Isn't it a powerful picture of a woman with great dignity and inner strength. I was introduced to this image this weekend.

We went to an Advent retreat at our beloved New Norcia, the Benedictine community an hour or so north east of Perth. This is the view of the courtyard in the guest house. It always makes me feel peaceful just to see this tower.

The theme for our retreat was listening, waiting, trusting. We looked at the birth narratives from scripture, and at art and music which helped us revisit these beloved stories. We prayed with the monks. In particular we looked at the words the characters in the Christmas story actually said -including the strong female characters in Luke's gospel: Elizabeth, Mary and Anna.

This is a picture of from a local Indigenous artist who has painted the angel Gabriel -it was at the back of the church, where people could make private devotions.

When we got home we did what we always do on the first Sunday in Advent -we started our Christmas preparations at home by putting up the tree.
We also put out our Advent wreath -but to my shame I have forgotten to have the right coloured candles on hand, so we lit a white one tonight to mark the first Sunday in Advent.

This is a picture of my Advent calendar quilt, which I made last year. As it was completed only on Christmas Eve, this is the first Advent it will be used to it's intended purpose -to mark the passage of days as we move through Advent. Despite what the retailers would have you believe -we are not there yet. Christmas is 4 weeks away. This is the time for preparation -for waiting, trusting and listening.
Just as Mary and Elizabeth would have marked the passage of time in their pregnancy, waiting and listening and hoping, so I hope that we can keep this theme going as we move through this season. In all the bustle of the Christmas preparations, this becomes even more important.

How have you marked the beginning of Advent?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The end of the holidays was very productive!

I finished the 'jelly roll' quilt -also known as the "Coffee Quilt" because it has prints which relate to all things coffee- beans, percolators, capucinos etc. I found this quilt stand in an op shop for the princely sum of $8.95!

I found a special cat bed for our 20 year old Lady -with in-built electric blanket. Just the ticket for old bones!

I made new cushions for our TV room. Very happy to have used up pieces of left-over wadding and fabric from my stash.

But my darling Husband went all out. This was a weed infested, derelict and disgusting corner of our garden , between our house and the one next door. My DD's room looks out on to this, and suddenly we decided (he decided) it was time to act! Lots of manure and coir in the soil, some re-located hardy plants from another area of the garden, some mulch and 300 kilos of blue metal later and look at this wonderful transformation!

This is a newly made bed near the TV room, on the south side of our house. Hope the hydrangeas settle in.

Oh what a lovely feeling to have got all these things finished.

Oh dear, we have to go to work tomorrow! Should be quite restful after all the activity we have done in the last few days!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The South Coast Holiday

Isn't these stunningly beautiful scenes of the Stirling Ranges in the rain? We had a mad day roaming around this area of unique biodiversity and scenery. We had a yummy lunch in the car at Bluff Knoll, because it was too cold and wet to sit outside. No matter, the sight of Bluff Knoll surrounded by clouds was wonderful. My DH used to live in Albany, and we know that you must not let the weather get in the way of your enjoyment of the place, because it will always be changeable like this. If you take the chance and go anyway, you will see wonderful things.

I took this picture whilst sheltering on a holiday cottage's front verandah, near Emu Point. We had been out walking and suddenly the weather changed. We only got a little wet, and when the rain eased off we walked around to the Emu Point Coffee shop for a coffee.

We stayed at Middleton Beach in Albany, and enjoyed the many walks along the coast that are available in either direction. This view is on the way to Ellen's Cove, early one morning as we walked up the side of Mount Clarence. It is only fair to put on record, after you have seen the pictures of rain above, that we were lucky enough to have some glorious weather at the start of our week there.

We read some lovely books -my favourite was a second-hand treasure: Garrison Keilor's book "Leaving Home", stories from Lake Wobegon, a fictional middle Minnesota town. Very funny indeed -the laugh out loud kind of funny.

We drove around our favourite places, walked a lot and ate in cafes and restaurants -some of the things we don't normally include in our weekly routine.

It was a lovely way to slow down at the start of our holiday.

Now I am home I have a lot of craft to keep me busy for the rest of the week. Hope to post some pictures of completed projects in a few days' time.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Off to the South Coast

My DH and I are going for a short holiday to Albany on Western Australia's south coast.

Compared to the kinds of holidays that some of our friends like to take, this is all a bit mundane really. We are not going cruising, we are not flying off somewhere exotic.

We are just going to drive for about 4 hours south of here, to a coastline with beautiful scenery, to stay in a rented holiday cottage at the beach, to walk, to read, to relax. Yet this is exactly the kind of holiday we like -the scenery around Albany is spectacular, and we love to revisit it. I wonder if we will see any whales? They migrate up the coast and sometimes stop over in Albany on their way up or down.

See you when I get back.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Recycle this-garden chair

It used to be a garden chair, but ended up in pieces on the side of the road during our last council bulk rubbish collection.

The seat is a round, saucer like cane object, which now has a new life in my garden as a rather stylish shade structure for a little citrus plant which struggles in the hot weather. With our new water restrictions we wanted to help the tree along, and so this is what my clever DH made for me. All we used were 4 star pickets hammered into the ground, 4 pieces of heavy gauge wire to wire the cane top to the star pickets (which have handy holes drilled into them -ideal for this purpose) , a piece of 50% shade cloth and about 6 cable ties (they hold the shade cloth on the structure).

We liked it so much we built another over the quince -to help it along for its first summer. This one hasn't got it's shade cloth yet. It is a bit easier to see how it all goes together.

We are going to need all the shade we can get -summer is one whole month away and we are already getting +30 degree Celsius temperatures.

If you want to try this at home, please be careful. Something I did during my Saturday gardening has really hurt my back. Went to my lovely physiotherapist today, however and things are on the mend.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Happiness is Home Made!

If I try to think of a theme for this weekend, I can't go past the idea I sewed into this stitchery some long years ago: happiness is home made.

My DH and I love to be at home on the weekend. We do all the kinds of things that help us live more independently and simply -we garden, we cook, we do simple repairs. These things give us a great amount of pleasure and a sense of achievement. They are a lovely break from our usual kind of paid work -for one thing you get a pretty immediate result! They save us money too.

Over the years we have had to learn all sorts of skills -and had our share of failures too. One of the things my DH has learned is that a good job does depend on having the right tools. This afternoon he is putting an edging strip on the edge of the tiled surface he made on the front step -and is very happy with a clever product which he has found which is making the task a lot easier than he thought it would be.
I have just finished the quilt top I have been making using a Jelly Roll pattern. It has been quite a learning experience. Some bits I had to unpick -and I hate unpicking!

We have just enjoyed a fine Sunday lunch. I used the first of our home grown garlic -harvested and put into a home made foccacia, topped with home grown herbs such as rosemary, basil, thyme and sage. We ate it with some home made chicken and vegetable soup.

After the bread was cooked, I popped a chicken into the oven to have with salad for dinner. I now have some potatoes cooking, ready for home made potato salad and greens from the garden.

Just simple things -nothing special really, except for the quiet enjoyment we share in living like this.

If you scroll down to the end of my blog you will see a quotation about making things -how important it is to be fearless -to work through the mistakes and the things which do not live up to our hopes. To keep on going -I do hope you do the same.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

This is not an obsession

This is a kookaburra, resplendent in our new door which has been finally installed.

No this is not an obsession either -it is another kookaburra! This one lives near the front door.

These aren't obsessions -they are just flying kookaburras in my lounge room!

No... you guessed it...still no obsessions here, just kookaburras in the patio.

And this one might just prove it.... but no, just another kookaburra!

The internet succumbed to some dreadful line disease over a week ago -which it took a week to recover from.

Did you miss me? Even a little bit?


Friday, October 8, 2010

Rest for the Soul

This is the view which greeted me from my window at the lovely Nathaniel's Retreat in Mundaring, where we spent last weekend. We had a blessed time. We talked, we walked, we ate yummy food, we read, we slept, we celebrated.

We have absolutely enjoyed and benefited from our program of retreats this year. The chance to get away for the weekend is always good, and to go somewhere with lovely scenery and such is lovely too.

A retreat may be all this but it is so much more. It is a time to consider what makes for real happiness -what makes for real contentment -what goes wrong with our dreams and plans, and how we might make it different next time. What resources we fail to acknowledge, what help is there always waiting for us to ask and receive.

It acts like a massage for the body -but works on the inside.

A good retreat leaves a lingering effect. I have certainly felt it this week as I went through my week. In times of stress I thought of what I learned about myself on retreat. In times of repose I remembered the good times on retreat.

And both DH and I have planned to take this retreat pattern, as much as we can, into our routine every weekend. We want to plan for at least one day each week in which we do the kind of things that are joyful and restorative. For us this means we must do something that takes us out of doors -walking in beautiful places for example. (We decided that this could include gardening, because we both have a lift in spirits whenever we do this).

It does mean sharing time with family and friends -and being open to them and their needs. Love is always restorative!

We decided that we wanted to break our routines -a cooked breakfast on the patio for example. This morning DH made poached eggs florentine with freshly squeezed orange juice.

What goes to make up the rest of such a day is still something we are considering. I hope this can become a good habit and that we can learn what makes for 'rest for the soul' and seek it out together.

What would you include in a day like this?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Gardening in a drying climate

Western Australia has had the driest winter in decades, and this is not unusual, but part of a consistent drying trend that has been going on for the last 40 odd years. In global climate terms, WA is the canary in the mine -we are the first to show symptoms of what is a consistent change to the weather patterns.

As a result our state government has told us in the metropolitan area of Perth that we can use irrigation for our gardens for only one day per week. Now, we are used to irrigating two days per week -and irrigation is necessary in a mediterranean climate with a long summer drought. But from 1 October all the way to the end of November we can only water once per week, and who knows if this will change in summer. We have long, hot dry summers, so most gardeners are worried. Very worried.

On the political level I feel this is a bit of a cop-out. Our state government has not done very much to create incentives for industry to become more water efficient, and has reduced incentives for private households to put in the kind of water recycling and water retention systems that will make us work harder at not wasting a drop of water.

In our garden we have already installed some shade sails and 50% shadecloth over our vegetable beds, which are built on the wicking system which reduces evaporation rates. (Search the Aussies Living Simply site for more ideas on wicking beds).

I have ordered a bale of lupin mulch -we will need to mulch heavily to reduce water loss this summer.

The good thing is that we already have drip line irrigation which delivers every drop of water to the plants not into the air where it evaporates. Most of the front garden is hardy Mediterranean type plants like lavender, rosemary and pelargoniums which will survive pretty well.

We also have NO LAWN. Nope, not a bit. Lawn is very water hungry. This will help.

I imagine that before the end of summer we will be taking quite extreme measures to keep our fruit trees alive. We may need to build shade structures like the ones in the picture above to help them cope.

In the long terms we will need to install a grey water system to re-use our water to help the trees out. I haven't done this yet, but it will become a priority soon I think.

I wonder if anyone has any suggestions for gardening this summer or in a drying climate? What would you do?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Spring in Perth

We went to Kings Park with DH's 90 year old father for a quick look at the wildflowers.
Here is what you can see even if you can't walk very far. These are Darwinia bells I think.

These are red kangaroo paws with scaevola (the purple ones)

The view of Perth city -overlooking the wishing well.
Views across the Swan River, the city to the left, the Darling Range in the background.

We all agreed that we love living here. What's not to love? Spring is here, the flowers are in bloom and we are all rejoicing in the idea of summer coming.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Wedding To Do List-Done!

1. Make ten table centres by sewing the same fabric as the bridesmaids were wearing into table runners, adding shining mirrors and tea light candles and flowers. Take them up to the reception centre and put them on the tables whilst wearing cotton gloves to avoid finger prints on the shining surfaces. Make sure all the tables were correctly laid with place cards and gifts. DONE.

2. Arrange two large flower arrangements for church, deliver them to the church, and have my dear sister and brother in law take them to the reception centre afterwards. DONE.

3. Attend one of the happiest and most romantic weddings ever (am I biased?) of my dear son and his Beautiful Girl, making sure to have a little cry during the service. (most people confessed to this). DONE

4. Give away the table centres to all sorts of worthy people and then bring everything home and put everything away. DONE

5. Put your feet up on the sunny spring patio, with a drink and a decorating magazine and relax. DONE.

6. Have the bride and groom live happily ever after. Work in progress!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Happiness is

"happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of acheivement, in the thrill of creative effort."

This is a non-wedding post, even though the wedding is now only days away! Don't want to give away any surprises, so I thought I would share the results of a little Freecycle bounty -ten packets of curtain swatches and samples! From all of this I now have some half metre pieces of quite gorgeous suede, brocade and lace along with smaller coordinating pieces. A whole box full, just waiting for me to have a post-wedding calmer life to play with them.

I am thinking -the big pieces might make shopping bags, the suede and brocades could combine in a stunning lap quilt and the lace could be given a weighted border and become picnic throw overs (to keep insects off the food).

There has been a lot of other sorts of creativity going on in a number of places, towards the wedding. All sorts of creative people are making this happen.

If that makes for a happy start, then we should have a great day!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Love is in the air!

Thirty four years ago this ring cushion was used in my wedding ceremony, carried by a young nephew.

In the meantime it has been in a bottom drawer, the only relic of my wedding day apart from photos. It was my decision to spend all the wedding budget my dear old Dad could afford ($200!) on the reception and to hire my wedding dress. Not ever sorry, but this ring cushion was never thrown away as a result.

Over the years it gained a few age spots (haven't we all?) so when the Son and his Beautiful Girl were planning the wedding Son remembered we had it and we all looked at it. Oh dear! "No worries", quoth I,"I think I can fix it".

So I embroidered and spot cleaned and stuff and this is the result. I hope they like it.

Two weeks to go to the Big Day.

As a result Father's Day was a bit low key, but Fathers get this stuff. DH has a wild new 3 disc set of black gospel music and two DVDs of Dr Who -the latest series. Woo Hoo!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Simplifying the wardrobe

I was inspired by a thread on the Simple Savers website to go through my wardrobe today and throw out everything that I did not like, anything washed out or stained or just never worn.
Anything worthwhile I put aside for the local op shop, but I ruthlessly culled all socks without a pair, and anything which could not be repaired.

When it comes to simplifying one's wardrobe, there is a great deal of good advice out there. The inspiration was this site, referring to the Capsule Wardrobe -a set of basic clothes which coordinate and can be mixed and matched to make a variety of outfits for a variety of occasions.

Let's face it, it is too easy to get sucked into the commercial hype around clothing, that makes women feel inadequate and sends us off to buy clothes which hang in our wardrobe rarely worn because we have nothing which goes with it. The idea of working towards a basic wardrobe can save money and stress -when you pick something out, it should work with other things hanging there!

I like to look nice, but I only pay an occasional nod towards the world of fashion. Fashion was not meant for the likes of me -too short, and too womanly in shape to feel as though I was going to get far down that track. As it is, I find it difficult to find pants that fit, or shirts where the sleeves are not too long, or clothes that actually keep me warm!

There is a fascinating story on the web of a woman who took a stand against fashion, and wore ONE DRESS for a whole year. You can read about her experiences here:
The Brown Dress
What she discovered was that other people rarely notice what we are wearing -they are too busy with their own concerns! She also found a certain freedom in getting off the fashion treadmill.

What I found today was that I like to wear black, red, blue and green with occasional bits of purple or pink.

I have a fine collection of jackets (15!) , and some good shirts, but I am lacking one or two foundation pieces like a black skirt for work and a couple of pairs of dress pants.

I have a very fine collection of scarves and pashminas, which I use to dress things up, and a good collection of ear rings and other jewellery, which finish off an outfit.

It will be necessary to buy another pair of summer shoes as the ones I have are looking a little worse for wear.

Knowing this will help me buy what I need to keep the wardrobe simple, but effective.

When I see the victims of the Pakistan floods on the TV, with nothing at all to their name, I take it as a worthwhile corrective to the acquisitiveness which comes in our Western culture too easily. I hope I can keep thinking simple when it comes to my wardrobe!