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.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Poster Art


It's an accessible and cheerful (usually!) form of artwork that doesn't require the financial investment of forking out for a more substantial piece of art and requires less emotional commitment too. Meaning, you can afford to replace poster art when it no longer suits your mood/decorating style/room vibe.  If you've bothered to frame it, then pull out the old poster and simply replace it with the new...

What Should I Display?

Well, obviously almost anything that can be stuck down, hung or suspended in some way is up for grabs. Think about what is special to you... Travel? Kids art? Fashion? Inspirational Quotes? Landscapes? Portraits? Interiors? Illustrations? Books? Australiana?  ....these are just a few themes that might get you thinking. Once you have a theme, then you will have more of an idea of where to source your posters.  Maybe it will be pics you already have lying around: like paintings from preschool, love letters, concert paraphernalia, postcards or maps... or maybe you'll have to search further afield for what you're looking for. Either way, prepare to have some serious fun!

For more inspiration, check out my Pinterest Board on my favourite poster art

To Frame or Not to Frame? 

Totally up to you, the look you want and how swiftly you need results. Most of us have hopefully moved on from the old high school mojo of blue tacking your latest magazine pic to the wall. Now we use washi tape and call it cutting edge grunge pop art...  Framing will generally give you a neater look and, dare I say, a more sophisticated result. There are so many cheap frames on offer at retailers like Kmart, Target and Ikea, that doing it yourself is too easy. Framing shops will give you the option of adding borders and custom designs. Just be prepared to pay a little more.

If you're displaying more than one poster (go on!) then using the same style/colour frames will unify your look, even if the actual posters are not all similar.

Poster Art Sources:

FREE! - from your own collection find original letters/postcards. Even snazzy wrapping paper or a swatch of material can become great poster art.

Thrifting/Op Shops -  I keep an eye out in op shops for old pictures or paintings in great frames. This way you get something unique with character to give a more eclectic or vintage look.

Check out this signed Colin Buchanan concert poster that I hung recently. The old gilt frame came with an old print of a ship I picked up for $10 at my local Vinnies. I covered the old print in bright wrapping paper, layered the poster over the top and then put it back under the glass. The end result made me ridiculously happy!


DIY - Downloadable poster art is all over the net, and usually doesn't cost much. Or if you've embraced the colouring in phenomenon, then why not frame a page or two? My friend Lorien has launched a wonderfully inspiring Colouring In Book of Spiritual Meditations. Check it out.

I sourced a TinTin Poster on Ebay for my son's room a few years ago. There is a huge array of private and registered sellers offering posters of every description. Prices are usually good and postage can sometimes be cheaper than other overseas sources. Poster Art is huge on Etsy, on account of the number of artists and designers who sell their wares. Type in a favourite author, book or theme and see what you find. Here is a couple of my favourites. 



RETAIL: Depending on your budget and style might determine where you look first - but there is a lot out there. If you're on a strict budget, try Kmart. This cute poster, doesn't need a frame and will set you back $9.

Indulge your passion for romance and travel. Heaps to choose from at Ikea. This one is AU$89:

ONLINE: This fabulous postage stamp styled poster from the imaginative hardtofind website has WOW factor and is a little more pricey due to the larger size (AU $245 for 120x150cm) but it is cheaper for smaller versions.


What poster art have you hung in your home? How often do you change it? Share your favourite sources, I'd love to know!

Helpful Articles from Houzz:

Witty Word Art That Brings Wisdom To Your Walls

What's Your Wall Gallery Personality?

Nine Everyday Items You'd Never Think To Frame

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The Top Ten Holiday Tasks to Keep Everyone Happy

Oh glory be! Where did June go? I walked past the calendar today and was staring at July thinking, why has someone turned the page over? 

And now that I'm coming to terms with what month we're in (and that it has been a month since my last post - eek! 2015 was going so well too…) if I don't put up this story soon, the holidays will be over!

So if you do find yourself at home, not having escaped to warmer climes, or having headed south to the snow - and cabin fever is hitting home, here are some fun ways to stay happy and sane for whatever time you have left. 

1. Put a care box together. Maybe you have an elderly neighbour who could doesn't get out much. Or you know of a family who are struggling. Maybe you just have a relative you haven't seen in a while. Making your kids aware that holidays and treats are not just ALL ABOUT THEM is always a good thing. Get them to write a list of some small items that could make someone else's day - then go make + buy them. The kids can make cards and decorate the box.
I love the idea of this yellow-themed sunshine box spotted on Pinterest.
See, you're starting to smile already…


2. Find a new (cheap) appliance to make holiday snacks something special. The reason I thought of this was because my son found a new in box Sunbeam Woddle Maker (penguin shaped waffle maker!) at our local Salvos Store for just $10. We are loving it! It has made the kids wildly enthusiastic about making breakfast a penguin waffle event!
I now need a new high-powered exercise program, but it's been worth it.
If waffles aren't your thing, try milkshakes! Or slushies!
This great red milkshake maker is only $25 from Kmart.

Penguin waffles by lovedecorateletters

3. Decorate cookies or cupcakes 
Our local shopping centre held cookie decorating classes for kids last week. We didn't get to them, but the idea seemed great. Rifle through your cupboard, and you might be amazed/appalled at how much cake/cookie decorating paraphernalia you already own. I opened a drawer and found 17 different sorts of sprinkles, edible glitter and those silver balls that break your teeth - just like that. There was probably more in there but I figured we had enough. Tip the edible decorating materials into little bowls and put them in a tray in the centre of your table. Mix up a few different colours/flavours of frosting/icing and the kids can go to town (plastic tablecloth recommended, on floor and table, and possibly walls - actually this is a great outside activity, weather permitting!) If you can't be bothered making cookies or cakes from scratch, there's NO SHAME (not here anyway) in heading for the nearest packet mix. I personally love the Greens brand gingerbread cookie mix, and cupcake mixes come with the paper cases and icing for total convenience.

Seriously under decorated cupcakes by lovedecorateletters

Don't feel you have to eat them all - take them to a playdate or drop them around to friends and family.

Click here for a great and easy sugar cookie recipe. 

4. Easy Sewing Crafts
Finger knitting / pompom making / sewing embellishments - use your imagination to suit any child's interests and abilities. There are so many how-to's on YouTube, the trouble is only in deciding what craft to do (and not getting side tracked by watching 80s pop music clips - or is that just me?).
Pompom making is a great place to start - anyone can do it! And I just loved this blogger Amy Christie's idea on what to do with them next (click on the source to go see)

This gorgeous back pocket detail on a pair of Monnalisa jeans made me realise that even I, a clueless crafter, could do it!  Just grab a square of your favourite material, unpick the jeans pocket and use as a stencil before resewing the new pocket back on (yes, I'd probably need help with this bit). Get your kids to choose the fabric or embellishments to personalise it.

lovedecorateletters - Monnalisa jeans
5. Take an Op Shop Challenge.
In the first week of the hols I had the idea of taking the kids to a different op shop every day. Usually we'd take a couple of trips (See my musings on op shopping with kids from a few years ago). But this time I had a rush of blood to the head and thought more was better. More is actually incredibly tiring. Still, we managed four trips in five days and seriously got rid of a lot of stuff out of our cupboards along the way. Treasures we bought home included: a wetsuit for my 12-year-old ($3); the waffle maker ($10); A loom band kit ($1); A large pile of books to suit all ages ($1ea); a Plan Toy wooden fire engine ($4); several tee-shirts ($2-4); some Burleighware china ($1 a piece). You don't have to spend much and yet everyone's sure to find something.

For more ideas on what to look for, read this article on the Salvo's blog.

6. Revamp a space.
Maybe you've got a prime spot in your yard that's just begging for a hammock, or a sandpit, or a cubby house. Try and view your spaces with new (kids) eyes and be open to new ways to make them fun and a place your kids will want to be.

Our cubby house was looking decrepit and had become a haven for junk. I'll blog more about it soon, but we have been giving it a make over. It has become a reading nook - and after ignoring it for the last couple of years, the kids now race outside any chance they get to spend time in there. I'm thinking of installing a heater and letting them stay out there on a permanent basis for the rest of winter. Who says I'm not a fun Mum?  

7. Visit your Library
Whether you and your kids are regular visitors or will have to use google to find out where it is, find your nearest library! It may even offer holiday activities. If your kids are addicted to screens, you may need to explain what a book is. Try showing them some of your old favourites. Or ask the librarian for ideas. Many authors have cool websites that may encourage reluctant readers to connect with the book in different ways. Failing that, offer food or confectionary incentives. Did I just say that?

8. Make Your Own Movie

Get your kids to write a script, choose characters, record a sound track, act and film it. They will probably know the technology to do this already. Thinking creatively and collaboratively will be a challenge at first. Ahh, so many life lessons here, but so worth the effort. Start small. The Oscars may seem a long way off, but you never know where this path may lead…and everyone ALWAYS thanks their Mum!

9. Park Play
No one needs to be told to go to a park. But have you thought of finding a new one with new things to do? Shake it up a bit. Go to one with a view (the water!) or one with a flying fox (for the big kids!). Definitely go to one with a coffee van. Take scooters, snacks, and a blanket. Find a spot in view of a toilet so you don't have to spend hours searching for one (you know someone will be immediately busting the moment you start to relax, right?)

10. Make Art!
Take a trip to the beach to forage for shells, or a bush walk to find interesting sticks and leaves. Hunting for natural materials can be a great way to keep everyone busy and focused. Then returning home to make some art will provide a creative outlet and purpose for the remainder of the day. If your craft cupboard is well stocked then grab the glue, paint, small canvases, glitter and fabric. Decorate shoe boxes or small wooden trays or frames. Themes will vary depending on the foraged finds but the options are endless, and you may just end up with something that is useful and attractive: paperweight; trinket box; photo frame; fairy garden..

Try 32 Awesome Things to Make With Nature for more great ideas.

So how have you found this holiday? I hope it's had more ups than downs and that you've chilled mentally and not so much physically.
Share your ideas with me about your fun ideas on what works best for you and your kids...