Friday, 6 November 2015

A Royal High Tea

After the emotional turmoil of saying goodbye to the Thomas train set (finally, the one bidder delightedly drove off with our collection) there was hardly time to turn around before we were hit with birthday season. Due to a lack of forethought, I have three (out of four) children's birthdays to celebrate inbetween mid-October and December 20. And as you may be aware, for enthusiastic Christmas-ophiles like myself, it is VERY Difficult to focus on anything other than the impending Christmas season, after mid-October. And yet, as a parent, what I have to do is pretend to be interested in my kid's birthdays, when really all I want to do is get set up the tree and write Season's Greetings on all of the windows in white removable pen.

So first to my beautiful Eleanore turning eleven. Her last big birthday party was when she turned six, it was really great. So great, I never got around to holding another one. So anyway, it felt like a party was called for. But what to do?
Ever since a certain Easter two years ago, when WE HAPPENED TO MEET PRINCE WILLIAM AND KATE Ellie has been Royal crazy. So a Royal High Tea was the obvious answer to any party theme.

I had teacup invitations, sparkly paper crowns and well, a lot of china and glass to pull this off. All I had to do was cook a few sweet things and hang lanterns and bunting. Sweet!

William and Kate addressing the birthday girl and wishing her the best of birthdays.

Red Velvet Cupcakes decorated and delightful. Edible pearls and royal icing, of course. 

And I finally was brave enough to make and master teacup biscuits. It was so easy I'll probably whip them up most afternoons from now on. Not. 

Party activities included a Royal Quiz (prepared by Ellie), Pass the Parcel and the rather (unroyal) pursuit of eating donuts (sans hands) tied with ribbon to the clothesline. My kids request this game every time a party is suggested. Who am I to say No? 

Prizes for the games were fun to buy. I recalled that cheap Chinese-made Royal memorabilia was stocked at Victoria's Basement and so headed to one of their warehouse shops the week before. I was almost reduced to sobbing in to my handbag when I discovered they stocked a jubilee and Royal Baby range of English Burleigh stoneware. The same range I had gleefully bought a piece of via the UK and EBay for Ellie's birthday. While the mug itself was not expensive, the postage was! And to find multiple mugs and plates for $12 - $20 a piece in Western Sydney... Rather humiliating for a dedicated shopper/bargain hunter like myself. Anyway, I rallied and bought some treasures for the girls' party bags. 

And then there was the cake. Birthday cakes are not my forte. However I had found online a super looking sponge cake decorated with fresh berries that had an easy sounding recipe and was best made and eaten on the day. Cue crazed laughing from all of you who know that easy and sponge don't go together. 

Honestly. How did I not know this?!

I followed the directions. Perhaps my oven is a dud (quite likely). Possibly my baking powder is passed the use-by date (more than likely). The resulting cakes were flat. Wooden. Brown. Like frisbees. 

My husband suggested a Royal trifle, which sounded like a good idea but still required the cake to be edible. 
It wasn't!

Luckily the high tea was in the afternoon, so I still had time to do a mad dash to the local shopping centre. I purchased a ready made vanilla cake with jam and cream and beautiful ombre pink swirly rosette icing. The girls gasped with awe and pleasure.  Ellie was amazed. I was pretty darn amazed too - who knew birthday cakes could be so easy and impressive? And instant. 
I couldn't have been more proud. 
Poorer but proud. 

Here it is half eaten. Happy Birthday topper was $2 from Kmart!

We had fun. A royal high tea is hard to beat. William and Kate agree. 

Monday, 12 October 2015

Bye Bye Thomas. Bye Bye Childhood...

The youngest of my darlings has recently declared that "Thomas is for babies". 
I must admit that being the mature and worldly wise parent that I am, I didn't take this statement very well. It felt like a physical blow. I took this blow personally, it seemed to suggest my own children were strangers to me. 

Kind of like the time I presented seven-year-old Mim with a (supermarket bought but still) princess birthday cake and she said: "Oh thanks Mum, but I really wanted an Avenger's Cake!". 


So when Arch declared that "Thomas is for babies" I tried to deal with it rationally. Nah. That wasn't going to work. I felt stabs of irritation or was it resentment? Probably both. 

Irritation at the fickleness of today's youth. I mean he's four. He is still a baby to me. Surely he could have liked Thomas trains for at least another year or two? 

"What will I get him for Christmas now?" I moaned to my husband. 
"He's already asked me for my iphone," mentioned my husband gloomily. 
I snorted. One of the older ones has put him up to this. 

Then there's my justified resentment for all the hours/days/years (and not to mention CASH!) I'd devoted to Thomas. All the time I'd spent searching shops for bargain trains and track. The euphoria (yes, I please easily) at snaffling a genuine Thomas table (not with the drawer, dang) from Ebay for a great price. The excitement at giving Arch the Special Edition Birthday Thomas train with two carriages (he was wrapt!) for his last birthday. The licenced pajamas, rash vests, caps and preschool bags, lunch boxes, drink bottles, pencils and edible cupcake toppers!!! Oh my giddy aunt, we'd had IT ALL!!!!* 

And then there were the nights, too many to count, of battling through reading those overly wordy, annoyingly argumentative, morosely moralistic and exceptionally boring story books by the good Rev Auden. A publisher's dream - never ending, and never out of print! All that time I'd have much rather been watching bad television or being asleep.

* Actually we never HAD IT ALL. Arch (and I) always wanted the covetable Island of Sodor lighthouse with the real light. But we never managed to get it. Doh!
So while struggling not to tear up and howl at the moon at this crushing milestone signifying the end of babyhood and possibly the childhood of a not-yet five-year-old, I decided to face reality and embrace the change. 


Here is my EBAY LISTING. As yet, there are no bidders:

I have a plastic carton of assorted wooden track pieces from the much loved and traditional (ie non electronic form of childhood amusement) Thomas the Tank Engine set including some Brio matching track.

Please note, the Brio set was a collector's space themed box that I was euphoric to get from a toy outlet store many years ago (sob) so some pieces are printed with aliens and there is a plastic moon rock piece for added spacey authenticity.
Box includes:
7x long straight
9x lg med straight (Don't know what the official terminology is, sorry)
3x med straight
4x short straight
8x wavy 
8x runoffs
10x short curves
10x dual track pieces
67x med curves
1x turntable track
Assorted trees and signs and roadblocks and fences
Plus whatever else I can find by this auction's end (Mostly currently underfoot, buried in underwear drawers and lurking in boxes of other games and toys that will no doubt be listed here at a later date).

If you want trains we have a mix of about 50 that have been bought, borrowed, sourced at opshops, stolen from or donated by friends (and if not returned, I am sorry. But, no I will not return them now as I have no way of knowing where they came from and who they once belonged to - yes call me a bad mother.) Apparently some of the colourful characters and very-bad-engines are still close to my son's heart and as i have neither time or energy to deal with the emotions attached to separating my son from Henry, Gordon, James, Cameron and Bertie and Butthead? (sorry Rev Auden) they are not included in this current listing.

Now to the track: If you are going to get upset at a few pieces with missing ends or a scratch or two please don't bid. Most of the collection is in excellent condition, well-loved but clean and looked after. I may have made a mistake in counting the number of each piece exactly (it was an excruciating task I failed in bribing my children to do for me) too so if you are going to be devastated by finding one less piece than i've mentioned (or you may get lucky and get a couple of extras!) then please save yourself angst and don't bid. 

No I am not trying to rip anyone off or deceive you and make your life a misery. I have never been brilliant at maths, which sometimes is a good thing (like if I was able to add up how much most of this train set originally cost us, I'd be crying a lot more than I already am!).

I am merely an at-times overwhelmed mother of multiple children (seemed like a good idea at the time) desperately trying to declutter and keep myself sane and my home off the hoarders program. 

Truth be told I would love to keep this set for the grandchildren but as that is (hopefully) many years off my husband has said we're keeping the train set over his dead body. And frankly there is no room for me to keep his dead body or the train set. And I am too tired to argue anyway on account of all the decluttering that is pretty much a full time job and with Christmas approaching my rising sense of panic needs to be alleviated in a way that doesn't require drugs or therapy (as ain't nobody got time for that!). 

So if you would like to supplement your Thomas set prior to the festive season with enough track to get you from here to Melbourne (depending on your current location, obviously, and only in a very round about way, on account of the glut of curved pieces) then please feel free to bid on this great collection of classic toys!! 

I promise I will not crazily stalk you in ten years time accusing you of denying my grandchildren of a classic wooden (non-electronic) collector's piece set of boyhood memorabilia that really actually belongs to me and could you please sell it back to me at 2015 prices!????

Okay, I can't actually promise that. 

Pick up is from my house. I'll be the one sobbing in the corner and holding on to the box until you drive off.

Questions and comments are welcome and answers may be forthcoming (hey, I could use the distraction!) ... 

too cool for trains and so NOT getting an iphone....

Friday, 25 September 2015

Kids Books Reviewed: Alice Miranda and Exploding Endings!

Good news stories in book publishing land can be rare these days - which is why I was so thrilled to discover that one of my favourite South Coast bookshops has launched a publishing house that in just two years already has a dozen titles to boast about! 
Exploding Ending Bk 1 Painted Dogs and Doom Cakes
Founded in 2012 by local South Coast Bookshop owners, Michelle and Garry Evans, the Harbour Publishing House is producing some great looking books that are making their mark, explosively!

Their range of titles is imaginative and diverse - already including a luscious children's picture book by well known author, Di Morrisey. 

Joining the current colouring craze, they are soon to publish an illustrated for colouring version (complete with the FULL TEXT!) of Alice in Wonderland. Garry assures me that more titles in this format are planned. I can't wait to get my hands on them! Stay tuned. 
Another of their titles, already in its second print run, is Exploding Endings Book One: Painted Dogs & Doom Cakes (the first in an oncoming trilogy). I read it before my kids managed to wrestle it from me. They devoured it with gusto! From raining lemonade and mass detentions to terrorising dentists and marauding kids doing what they love best (marauding!) this book is laugh-out-loud fun! 

If your kids aren't particularly keen readers and the semi-graphic based style of wimpy kids and Big Nate have appealed to them in the past, then they might just love this collection of short stories and amusing scribbles. Surely the faintest possibility that it might provide you with a rare quiet moment in the school hols as they curl up in a corner to read will make it worth the purchase price? 

The author, primary school teacher, Tim Harris, showcases a good mix of kid's mischief and mayhem to cause if not explosive chuckling under the covers, then definitely a snort or two! I have visions of him writing his stories (during class) with his expert insight in to exactly what makes kids laugh. 

Home grown publishers and risk takers dedicated to producing quality books deserve our support. Check out Harbour Publishing online to buy from them today. 

Next, for all the girls (and boys) hanging out for the latest instalment of Alice-Miranda adventures, Alice-Miranda in the Alps does not disappoint (not sure Jacqueline Harvey could disappoint her loyal fans even if she tried!). 

Alice-Miranda in the Alps 12, Jacqueline Harvey

Here's my ten-year-olds reaction to the book. 

Eleanore's Review:

When A-M and her friends venture to the Swiss Alps to ski, sightsee and experience the white turf racing event, not everything goes as planned. 
For instance, when the Baron - a friend of the Highton-Smith Pennington Joneses, shows up unexpectedly after being uncontactable for months on end, it seems their establishment, the Grand Hotel Von Zurchy will need to be closed. Not only that but why does the new skiing group wear backpacks as heavy as themselves and refuse to teach any lessons? Can A-M work out the culprits before disaster strikes? 
I thought that A-M in the Alps was a book packed full of suspense. It kept me guessing and every time I thought I'd identified the baddies, another lot would take their place. 
I especially liked the eccentric Otto Fanger and his dog, Gertie, and all of their matching diamonds. A-M and her friends learning to ski and snowboard was hilarious. The bruises - ouch!
I rate this book 9 out of 10 stars because it is awesome in every way. I'm already hanging out for the next adventure! Oh and I've asked Mum for the 2106 A-M Diary for my birthday. Fingers crossed!!

Happy Reading! 

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

From the Mundane to the Magnificent

We're enjoying a few weeks down the South Coast. The weather has been a crazy mix of days that feel like summer followed by days that feel like winter. On one of the summery days we headed to the beach and had a few fun hours in the sun. By noon clouds had started to blow in and we were happy we had got in the best part of the day.
Except it didn't turn out to be the BEST part of the day, as that was still to come.

By late afternoon the troops were getting restless - so much of school holidays becomes a delicate balancing act of yay we're having fun moments through to who are these people and how can I get away from them??!  

So we hopped in the car for a drive. Because as every parent knows, whinging kids are so much more fun to be with in confined spaces... We drove aimlessly until deciding to head to an inlet and beach a bit further down the coast. It has big rock platforms, great for foraging for shells and for spotting crabs. It would delay working out what to have for dinner. It would provide distraction from petty arguments and the "I'm bored's!" 

The sun was starting to set and a storm looked to be on it's way. 

It was only when we pulled in to the carpark at the inlet and hopped out in to the balmy night air that the vast expanse of the whirling and churning skies above us took our breath away. Literally. 

Suddenly the kids were silent. I could have wept.

I only wrote about clouds a little while ago - mostly of the fluffy and cute kind. Maybe I made the clouds sound a bit mundane. These weren't so much of that. Instead, try awe-inspiring, massively amazing and magnificent, and even just a tad scary... 

The colours around us went from deep blue blacks to soft pastel flurries. The way the fading light (actually it was more like a fireball behind us) reflected in the rock pools caused gasps of delight. My phone photos hardly did justice to the magical land sky and sea scapes. 

I kept thinking, we just came here by chance and look what we're seeing!! But of course it wasn't by chance really. 

As the sky colours morphed from dark to light, we stood marvelling at the beauty. At least we did when we weren't yelling at the kids not to push each other, to roll their jeans up and: Not too close to the edge!!!!

I couldn't even get Arch to stand with the others here. Oh well. 

Everyone agreed it was an awesome sight and as the sun disappeared behind the trees we knew we'd been privileged to have seen a great ending to a day that had glimpses of great amongst the every day stuff.

Kind of a miracle in itself. 
Mkes you appreciate the normal more, and the moments that make you happy that both can exist side by side.
Definitely a day to remember! 

Friday, 11 September 2015


Couldn't be happier that SPRING is finally here!
Term 3 has been mired for us by weeks and weeks of colds and flu as the kids passed it around to each other, spent days coughing, listless, feverish and overwrought (or maybe that was just me?), and then returned to school for brief periods before succumbing to the next bug. I meanwhile stayed sick the entire time and only made it to the doctors when I realised I was just not getting better and coughing was making sleep impossible..

Antibiotics have never been so welcome!

So, spring. There are blossoms abounding, the days are crisp and warm(ish) and things are definitely looking up all round.

We made it to the Kings School Fair, where fairy floss was bigger than our heads!

And now the school term is almost over we are packing for some weeks by the sea (where the weather could go either way, but a change of scene will be a tonic in itself!). The kids are beside themselves with excitement and have been writing hotly discussed TO DO lists of favourite activities:
  • Eat Ice cream
  • Build Sandcastles
  • Climb a mountain
  • Visit a lighthouse
  • Catch a crab
  • Sleep a lot (yep, that's my one)
And this is the first year of packing for a beach holiday where the car will not be STUFFED FULL with piles of books. We have officially reached the era of the e-book. Well, maybe I'm exaggerating. I'm still taking a hefty bag of fiction and decorating titles - all to read, some to review, some just for the pictures... Some just because I can't face finding myself somewhere without a Jane Austen close to hand. The kids have carefully downloaded a number of library books and other classics they say will replace their usual hefty load. Then there is the local library we visit while away. And numerous secondhand shops where we usually find a few treasures as well.

Here are some of my blossom and flower pics, to make your heart sing for spring too.

This tree is the last of three that originally stood outside our house. (Pics from previous years.)

Poppies I bought from the fair:

A potted gerbera plant that cost $6 from the fruit shop and just keeps on flowering!

Camellia petals. Just as lovely on the ground as on the tree!

Hope you're enjoying this blooming time of year and can take heart from today's inspirational poster ($7 from Kmart!)

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Decorating: With Clouds


Ever since I became addicted to the Kmart cloud cushion (see below), I've been noticing clouds everywhere, and not just in the sky! There's something about clouds that sparks the imagination, makes us marvel at the world, sends our thoughts heavenward and yes, get the creative juices flowing. 

Most of the time...

I can still recall my Year 8 geography exam question that asked me to list six types of clouds. From memory my technical knowledge petered out after "cumulonimbus" and I was left with the following fall backs: white; fluffy; black; heavy; and ominous. Needless to say, my marks weren't great.

Whether fluffy and sweet, or dark and threatening, clouds are never boring. They are represented in everything from art to comic humour. If you feel a yearning to bring some into your home, here are some cute cloudy items. Failing that, look out the window and prepare to be amazed!

This quilted sleeping bag for kids, would almost guarantee sweet dreams! From Adairs for $59.


The gorgeous cloud cushion (only $7!! I know, I've bought heaps!) from Kmart Australia along with these other gems make fun gifts and decorating items:

The Cloud Nightlight will set you back $5.
 And the hanging cloud shelf is $12

The adorable D'Anjo Liberty print cloud mobile from Hard to Find would make a perfect baby gift. Sparkly raindrops won't dampen anyone's spirits!


Why not carry clouds with you all day, with this bag? (from Etsy for $50)


And if one was to dress like a cloud, this is my top pic (from ModCloth)!


Amazing wallpaper by Fornasetti creates a fabulously moody atmosphere:


Or for a lighter touch try these fabric wall decals from Hard to Find ($82 from SnuggleDust Studios):


And now for a final and profound word on clouds it's over to Charlie Brown:

If you haven't lain back on a grassy knoll in a while to stare up at the sky and look at the clouds, make time for it.
No one will see it the same way as you do...

Other stories you might like:
Bring the Outdoors In: 15 Inspiring Nature Murals
Blue Skies Up Above - DIY Painting Clouds
How to Make Glowing Clouds of Cotton

Friday, 14 August 2015

Mr Huff - Book Review

It was published earlier this year and I've been hoping to get my hands on it for ages. But perhaps it was fitting that this book, sweetly named MR HUFF, only appeared in my life after our household had been consumed by weeks of colds and flu, exploding headaches, hacking coughs, sleep deprivation and and plenty of sorry-for-ourself tears. Yep life has been all kinds of miserable (obviously to keep things in perspective, colds and flu aren't big on a world scale of misery, but you know what I mean) and Anna Walker has entered the fray with something worth reading.

Firstly, Walker's wondrous illustrations and whimsical words have been a favourite of mine and many for a long time. Her last picture book, Peggy, was a gorgeous ramble through Melbourne Streets as a chook was carried by the wind far from home. Perusing it regularly almost makes up for the fact that I am located far from the gleaming copper and delicious coffee of Collins Street.

In this new book, a boy, Bill, wakes up feeling out of sorts. He gazes at a sky that looks grey and foreboding. Nothing goes quite right in the morning and his mood darkens. So now we meet Mr Huff, who seems oddly familiar, kind of like an awkward relative who hangs around and isn't exactly a welcome addition to the family circle.  Mr Huff appears and follows Bill, like a burden of bad feeling that Bill can't quite name and can't shake either. Mr Huff doesn't exactly look scary, but he is big and overbearing - literally taking up too much space in Bill's life. It makes Bill angry and upset that Mr Huff has seemingly taken over his life, inserting himself in to every scene. Mr Huff isn't impervious to the affect he is having on Bill. In fact he is sad too. Bill sees Mr Huff in a new light. Slowly but surely he takes charge of the situation, and as he does light begins to shine through and colour returns to Bill's world. A new day brings a feeling of optimism and quiet happiness.

Walker's delightful drawings of city life capture details of books in shelves, coloured quilts, roaming pets, street trees and puddles on pavements.  This is a poignant tale of a boy fighting with emotions he can't control and the grey figure of Mr Huff who many of us recognise. He certainly seems to have taken up residence in our house in recent weeks. So it's nice to read and realise that a) when you're feeling down, you're not the only one who's ever felt like that; and b) bad times pass and the sun will come again.

Did I mention the big kids all went back to school today and Arch and I made a coffee cake and sat in the sun for morning tea? Our coughs are not quite as raspy and I'm sure if I looked Jetstar or Virgin might have a deal on trips to Melbourne... things are definitely looking up!

Thank you to PenguinRandomHouse for sending me a copy of Mr Huff by Anna Walker - available from all good bookstores and online.