Thursday, July 20, 2017

Celebrations...Stocking the Gift Cupboard from $1 a piece...


 
If you're a smart cookie, you start thinking about Christmas in about...well...January.
 
Having lived through too many Novembers and Decembers of stressful overspending, and equally as many Januarys and Februarys of regret, I've learned the hard way to plan early.
 
And of course, Christmas is not the only time we buy gifts. There's Birthdays, Anniversaries, Christenings, and Thankyous as well.
 
So it just makes sense to get an early start as far as I am concerned.
 
Are you the crafty type?
 
If you are, then it makes sense to hit the sales whenever you can afford to. Post festivity sales, be they Christmas, Easter, St Patricks, National holidays or whatever, are THE time to buy what you need for that holiday next time round. Not the week before that holiday! Not if you're the clever type :)
 
Now this approach still requires careful planning. Don't go at it like a bull at a gate and expect to be able to use it all. Look at your strengths and where your talents lie. There is no point in buying card making supplies if you're not into card making. Nor miles and miles of festive printed wrap if, like me, you're a butchers paper and satin ribbon, or brown paper and twine kinda person. Each has it's charm, that's for sure. But stay true to self. Yes your gifts should be tailored to the recipient, but they should also be a reflection of who you are as the giver.
 
Now if that sounds like twaddle to you, let me put it to you this way. I have spent years cultivating a persona of gifting food and carefully crafted home made gifts. Those gifts include things like chocolate mud cake cubes wrapped in Easter Foil, Coconut Ice which is sort of like a coconut fudge, but in black and white and presented rather more Chanel-esque than the traditional pink and white, home made Limoncello and Onion Confit, home made jams and chutneys, French themed gifts that reflect the hobbies of the recipient, hand stitched velvet or plush cushions and throws, bottles of wine snuggled into lavish fur or frilled bottle bags, pillow cases luxuriously trimmed with lace and embroidery, and Comfort Baskets.
 
This slab of Coconut Ice, presented Chanel style, cost me about $1, and was one of my most enthusiastically received gifts ever.
 
 
This did not happen overnight. It took me about ten years to gravitate graciously away from store bought gifts, and learn how to present my home made gifts in such a way that my friends and family didn't think I was just being a cheapskate. I made some mistakes, but these days I'm pretty savvy. It's a case of practising making one thing, until you've perfected it, and then finding a way to wrap it so that it reflects you as the maker.
 
More on this idea in an upcoming post over the next few days.
 
I will provide the recipe for the Chanel-esque Coconut Ice at that time, because for today, I want to chat with you about how to source inexpensive gifts online.
 
So you're NOT crafty
 
I often hear people say that they're not very crafty, nor can they sew, cook, knit or crochet. Well I guess that's a fair comment. Although, we were all in that position at one time, and we all started somewhere, so perhaps in the long term, it's worth finding a new hobby!
 
But here's an alternative if you're really cash and time strapped, that still yields very lovely gifts for under $5.
 
Using eBay to source gifts
 
A search on eBay will yield literally thousands of potential gifts from about $1 a piece. Yeah, yeah, you knew that, right? But don't just buy 20 of the same thing for $1 each, wrap them in a bit of tinsel, and expect people to be impressed. They won't be. Put some love and thought and planning into it.
 
For example, I recently had to purchase Thank You gifts for some Mums who had helped with costume making for my daughters school. Now this can become an expensive exercise when you have 10 people involved. Even at $10 each, which doesn't get you much of a thankyou, you're spending $100. So I was looking for a way to say thanks, without relieving my wallet of $100+.
 
I'd done some research (always another good strategy) by looking in the haberdashery store for suitable stitching gifts, and had seen the cute Eiffel Tower Embroidery scissors for anything from $7-$15, depending upon who was selling them. I decided that a pair of scissors, a little pouch in which to house them, and perhaps a coin purse with a coffee gift card would be appropriate. By retail standards, that's a gift that would be priced at between $18 (a very conservative estimate) and $35.
 
I wanted to base my gifts on the antique luxury sewing kits I'd admired on Pinterest. Like this one.
 
 
And that's where eBay came to my rescue.
 
I found these very stylish zippered pouches (note the coloured holographic zippers!) for $1 each. Free postage. Seriously. And they're large enough to accommodate a smart phone too!
 
You can find them here.

 
I searched for the Eiffel Tower embroidery scissors and yep, they were there too. And they weren't $15, nor were they $7. They were just $3.39, and you could choose a colour! I chose Rose Gold. I think these are particularly lovely.
 
You can find them here.
 
 
Finally I wanted a sequinned coin purse. Well these are Dance Mums remember. We Dance Mums never say no to a sequin!
 
I sourced these at a fabulous price of just $1.29 each.
 
You can see them here.
 
 
I've since ordered some silver toned thimbles to add which I found here. No pic of those yet as they are still in transit!
 
To finish, I'm making some bead based needle threaders like this one. I was amazed at the fact that almost none of the ladies had seen a needle threader before, so I know these will be appreciated! I'm still sourcing the materials for these but in reality, I can't see them costing more than a few cents to make.
 
 
These will all be swathed in lush velvet squares (a remnant sourced for $2 will yield more than enough), and nestled inside the zippered pouches, to echo the antique sewing kit I pictured above.
 
3 steps to clever gift sourcing
 
I suggest that you use these three steps to start your clever (and frugal!) gift buying strategy.
 
1. Consider the recipient and their tastes, hobbies and passions. Note throughout the year, if someone specifically mentions an item, or lack thereof (like the needle threaders!), and see if you can find a way to source that item inexpensively and/or ingeniously.
 
2. Note the packaging of the item you want to replicate. Packaging and presentation makes a huge difference to how your gifts are received. Try to echo that idea somehow, as I have with the velvet squares to house my needle threaders.
 
3. Use online sources, discount stores and post seasonal sales, to find what you need to replicate your gift idea, always keeping a total spend per gift in mind.
 
 
 
For just over $6 each, I've managed to create these gorgeous little sewing kits, each one in a colour to that suits the taste of the person to whom I am gifting it.


 
Thimbles and hand crafted Needle Threaders are to be added in toning colours, but I'm happy with both the amount of time and money I've spent, and know that these will be an appreciated and well loved gift.
 
I'll be packaging these in the French Script paper you see in the background of these photographs, which is one of my signature wraps. That's important too. Find a way to present your gifts so that the presentation is uniquely you.
 
You can find a downloadable French Script paper here, or do as I do, and create your own. I use butchers paper and a fat marker pen, and just write all over it in big loopy writing.
 
Start NOW for your online sourced gift buying. Don't leave it till October or November, because often these items take 5-6 weeks to reach you. That's why the 'postage' is free!
 
Have fun, and let me know how you go.
 
...Mimi...
 
 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A New You...Dressing the Petite Plus Sized Apple #7...The Four C's...

 
I started this year determined to find a more Chic presentation for myself.
 
Mid life weight gain, and lack of knowledge had seen me decline into Mummy mode as far as dress sense goes, and whilst that was still not awful, it wasn't the way I saw myself in the long term.
 
Knowledge is Power
 
I bit the bullet, and signed up for The French Chic Academy, and an investment of about $180 a month for a few months (payments now completed), saw a fundamental change in the way I thought, spent and dressed.
 
As with anything Knowledge is Power, and as I have been saying all year, if you do nothing else, research your body shape, and go from there. I've gone from thinking I was an Hourglass, to realising I am an Apple, and thus being in a position to make small but significant changes to my wardrobe, that meant a whole new, flattering look.
 
I need to add that I am not a Stylist, just an ordinary person trying to decipher the secrets of looking well presented each and every day. I don't pretend I know all the answers, and in fact I only know a few for my shape...The Apple. And even then, what suits me, may not necessarily suit you. I suggest hitting Pinterest for ideas, having first determined your body shape. Knowing your body shape and proportions, believe me, is the crucial starting point. From there, you can only go up!
 
Have you ever admired an outfit on someone, tried to emulate it, and wondered why it didn't look good on you? Body shape is the likely answer. You may be a Pear shape, trying to emulate an outfit worn by an Apple or a Column. It sounds airy fairy, but this truly is the key. I promise!
 
Find Your Best Self
 
 
Searching for the Best Me, also meant embracing my inner Curliness, and refraining from straightening my hair. As I discovered years ago, too, there is an ideal, flattering length for my hair, and I think that's this look below. Just brushing the shoulders when dry, a little longer when wet or straightened for a special occasion.
 
Note too, that when the above photo was taken, I was still wearing my faux pearls.
 
Here below, are the beautiful, lustrous, glowing baroque pearls I treated myself to, with the money I'd saved by not spending up on unsuitable clothing. True story.
 
Same me. Still curly, still wearing black, still wearing pearls, but below is a kind of upgraded me, I think. What do you think?

 
Over the last eight months since signing up with Marie-Anne Lecouer, I've changed my daytime look from this...

 
...to this...
 
 
...and armed with Marie-Annes advice and a new found confidence, I leapt to this...
 
 
...and this...

 
...and people started asking me whether I'd lost 10 kilos....
 
...no, I haven't...but I look like I have.
 
Look 10 kilos lighter
 
You really can look ten kilos (22lbs) lighter, armed with the right information on how to dress for your shape, too. It's all about your shape and your proportions. I cannot emphasise this enough.
 
See my post early this year, The First Step, on how to determine your body shape, and click on the links provided.
 

 It's the middle of Winter here, and even in the Sub-Tropics we get the wind whistling around the eaves and a couple of months of genuinely chilly weather.
 
So my most recent thoughts, included making a decision on which of these trench coats to keep and wear, and which to discard.
 
Marie-Anne Lecouers' advice was to shorten the pink one, above. This one is actually my favourite. It is vintage, has a lovely gentle and flattering bell shape, had clean lines with no epaulettes or belt, and has elegant pintucking detail on the cuffs, collar, pockets, and on the half faux belt at the back. This lovely pink trench was a gift from an online friend. Thankyou S. I love it and wear it often.
 
 
She also thought that the standard stone coloured trench above, and the shorter black one below, were well worth keeping as classics. I had purchased this one from J.Crew a couple of years ago, but had never had the confidence to wear it. My suburb is not really one where you see folk swanning around in lovely trench coats. No more! I've worn it a dozen times or more, and felt very elegant. Why dress down to suit others, I ask you?
 
 
This black one is actually the one I've worn most often. I purchased it at Selfridges in London in 2015, and it's shorter length and neutral colour, means it has a more casual feel to it, and as I wear a lot of black, it's had it's fair share of airings. Marie-Anne advised keeping it, as again, it will never go out of style.

 Having gained no additional closet space with that advice....lol...I decided instead, to discard other items which I had held on to due to sentimental value. One an oversized denim jacket, not flattering, but kind of jacket du jour here in the Sub Tropics, and secondly, a fairly ordinary black blazer. I need to add that I have 2 other denim jackets and two more black blazers, so along with three trench coats, it was a bit of overkill for someone who only endures 10 weeks of Winter a year!
 
The Four C's
 
Remember that one of the secrets of the French woman, is to Cultivate a Carefully Curated Collection of clothing. The Four C's. Just like with diamonds.
 
Cultivate - try to improve or develop
Carefully - in a way that deliberately avoids error, cautiously
Curated - select, organise and look after the items in a collection
Collection - a group of accumulated items of a particular kind
 
Our Mantra
 
Improve, develop, organise, and look after, a select group of accumulated items in our wardrobe that flatter our shape, whilst deliberately avoiding error.
 
Print that out and carry it with you.  Or take a screen shot if you prefer. If you are shopping for a new item for your wardrobe, look at this to remind you of what you're trying to achieve. If the item you're considering does not fit these parameters, put it back. Seriously. And yes. I just made that up. I didn't steal it from anywhere. So if you use it, please acknowledge me :)
 
What are your thoughts? Which trench coat would you keep? Which do you think is most flattering? Do you have a favourite jacket or coat? Have you taken a critical eye to how it looks on you lately? Could you be due for a coat upgrade?
 
How are you going with getting to know the best way to dress your shape? Have you had any revelations about yourself and your presentation this year?
 
I'd love to hear!
 
...Mimi...
 
 



Monday, July 17, 2017

Motherly Advice....The benefits of treating Sunday as a day of rest...

 
 
 

We truly have lost the art of treating our Sundays as our day of rest. Do you remember a time when Sundays were spent with the family around the table for a post-Sunday school roast lunch? Everyone would then fall into a food coma, rousing themselves around 3pm for a bit of gardening or reading or even watching the mid afternoon movie or a long game of Monopoly. Happy times. No expectations to DO anything. Nobody asked you at school on Monday what you'd done on the weekend. Because weekends were for doing nothing.

Here's something interesting I found on Wikipaedia:

Sunday as a day of rest
 
"According to halakha (Jewish religious law), Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night.[1] Shabbat is ushered in by lighting candles and reciting a blessing. Traditionally, three festive meals are eaten: in the evening, in the early afternoon, and late in the afternoon. The evening meal typically begins with a blessing called kiddush and another blessing recited over two loaves of challah. Shabbat is closed the following evening with a havdalah blessing. Shabbat is a festive day when Jews exercise their freedom from the regular labors of everyday life. It offers an opportunity to contemplate the spiritual aspects of life and to spend time with family."
 
Isn't that gorgeous? Doesn't it just want to make you light candles, bake Challah Bread (a lot like a Brioche), and spend time with your family? I know it does for me.
 
I want to run and get my vintage woollen blanket, scented with home made wool wash, and smelling like Lux flakes and baby powder, light a candle, and snuggle on the sofa with my Husband and Girl Child-Woman, having just feasted on French Toast made from Challah Bread that we've blessed.
 
Alas we are not Jewish.
 
But then again, does that really matter? Could we not formulate a similar routine for ourselves? No harm done, and perhaps much to be gained.
 
 
Here's some news...I was once a practising Mormon
 
 We were raised Methodist, until my mother had us baptised into the Mormon faith. I was about 11 years old when I was baptised, and my siblings aged between 2 and 9. I believe Mum was attracted to the very family friendly ethic of the church back then, and certainly their stance on healthy living, and treating the body as a temple, aligned with her own ideas, having been raised on a farm.
 
For we children, whilst we objected to not being permitted to drink Coca-Cola (due to the caffeine content), attending church was more about the social aspect than anything, and we lapped up the opportunity to spend time with church buddies as often as possible. Youth Group figured large in my own week, and Stake Meetings were an opportunity to check out the boys and girls that might be our future Beaus. We had special Church outfits, always a pretty dress for we girls, never trousers, and always pretty shoes. Hmmm. I wonder if this was when my obsession with shoes started! We were all encouraged to dress and behave like young ladies and gentlemen, and we all treated Sunday as a chance to look our best.
 
I am no longer a practising Mormon, but I learned enormously from our active time in the church. I believe that ultimately Mum drifted away from the church due to their stand on not allowing certain ethnicities to bear office. This did not sit well with her, and we, and the church, parted ways. I understand that this belief has now been rescinded, and I wonder if Mum were here, whether she would have returned to the fold. Either way, I think she would be proud of the lessons we learned, and retained from our years spent as active Mormons.
 
The examples set for a lifetime
 
We loved the example set by the Dads in our church, as we had grown up without a Dad. The Dads were all smiling and gentle and involved, and had many, many children. We seven were a small family compared to some! Mum was welcomed into the hub of the Womens Ministry, and added to her already impressive basket of home life skills. This set a precedent in our own expectations of how Dads and Mums should behave, and anyone that any of us dealt with in our adult life whose behaviour conflicted with this example, was promptly ejected. It also allowed us to grow and become good and gentle and involved parents.
 
Another habit that contributed to these expectations was Family Home Evening. Every Thursday, was marked by a visit from the missionaries in our area. They were always cheerful, fresh-faced Americans, who regaled us of tales of living in a place that we all believed was Disneyland personified. In truth, they all came from similar backgrounds to our own, and their families had made great sacrifices to allow them to embark on their mission. We loved having them around, and they loved being around us. I think they saw in our Mum, the traits of their own Mothers, who I am sure they missed greatly.
 
Ultimately, we learned that being a good person, started with being good to self and loved ones. It meant eating well, and refraining from consuming food and drink that would be detrimental to health in the long term. It meant valuing Mothers and Fathers and your own children above others. It meant exercising a strong will and learning to say no when peer pressure reared it's ugly head. And it meant that many experiences in life, whilst uncomfortable at the time, can teach us much about ourselves.
 
Fast Day and it's benefits
 
One thing I did not enjoy, as a growing teen, was Fast Day. In stark contrast to the feasting of the Sabbath in the Jewish faith, for one Sunday a month, we abstained from the first two meals of the day, and the money saved, was donated to the Church to support the needy. We also abstained from watching television, listening to the radio, or gallivanting with friends, spending time in our bedroom with our bibles (ha!), enjoying quiet contemplation. Truthfully, I think Mum was the one enjoying the quiet contemplation with seven of us to care for. We kids, having been to Church, and without breakfast or lunch in our bellies, were inclined to get a little fractious! There wasn't too much reading of bibles, and a bit more of poking each other, trying to get a rise out of the siblings with whom we shared a bedroom. But out of respect for the ritual, we had our familial debates in hoarse whispers instead of shouts. Come sundown, Mum would serve a simple meal. Often crepes with lemon and sugar, with huge mugs of Milo, or sometimes the traditional Sunday Roast. We would find that despite having missed breakfast and lunch, that we couldn't possible eat any more than we usually would. A lesson in itself.
 
Fast forward (no pun intended) forty-something years, and I now see the importance of Fast Day in the scheme of our family life. We learned that hunger is universal and can happen to anyone. We learned that going without would not kill us. We learned that eating after a fast was a whole, new, sensory pleasure, that did not involve gorging ourselves. We learned that normal hunger is nothing compared to ongoing hunger, and how that must impact the truly needy (unlike our family where we didn't have a lot of money for consumerist pleasures, but there was always, always, food on the table). We learned the value of charitable giving, even though we were not a moneyed family. We learned that that quiet contemplation, even the enforced kind, was a skill born of practice, and this was a wonderful discipline.
 
 A President of the Church of Latter Day Saints, has been quoted as saying:
"What would happen if the principles of fast day and the fast offering were observed throughout the world? The hungry would be fed, the naked clothed, the homeless sheltered. ... A new measure of concern and unselfishness would grow in the hearts of people everywhere."

These days of course, this line of thought, translates to Challenges aplenty, run by various organisations, both Christian and Charitable, that advocate abstaining from food, alcohol, office-wear, hair, and shaving, instead using those things, or lack thereof, to raise money. Many folk jump on board once, or perhaps twice in their lifetime, or even once each year, and feel they've done their bit. But as suggested, what if this were employed as regularly as Fast Day?

Truly, the sky would be the limit.

 
Putting lessons into practice
 
Failing the ability to resurrect Fast Day in our household,(mostly because my husband and daughter did not grow up with the concept as I did), once a month (or more often if I can), I content myself with serving two meals on a Saturday and Sunday, a late brunch and an early dinner. Nobody even notices. I make sure that the brunch is substantial and served at around 10am, and stretch everyone out for the evening meal, till about 7pm, allowing some fruit salad and tea mid afternoon. It's good for our waistline, and similarly, reminds us that being a little peckish, is actually something that helps us enjoy the meal before us. Similar to my childhood experiences, missing one meal, does not mean we overindulge at dinner. In fact, we often find we crave a lighter meal, and sleep more deeply as a consequence.
 
The weeks I do this, I donate pantry items to the equivalent value of that missed meal (perhaps $10-$20), to the Foodbank bin outside my local supermarket. You see, the principle is the same. To support the less fortunate in our local community. How that is accomplished doesn't matter too much.
 
The ritual of a slower day
 
On these days too, we have a quiet, restful schedule. This fulfills the second intent, which is to promote rest and reflection, and opportunity to contemplate our spirituality. My husband composes music (surely a God given talent), and my daughter studies or reads for pleasure. At her age, reading for pleasure includes Shakespearean plays, and the classics such as Little Women, Emma, and The Crucible. She learns greatly from exploring these tomes, as opposed to the usual teen reading. I spend a little time reading, be it Bible or spiritual writings, sewing or crocheting, allowing myself a quieter, gentler day. We Mothers are not always good at this, so an enforced easy day, does me good. It's acknowledging my own human frailties, and saying yes, it's okay to rest now. This gives me time to generate little pretties to donate to a local teen mothers support group. Tiny crocheted hats and hand stamped muslin wraps, rinsed in home made wool wash to soften them, are heavenly to Mums and babes who do not have too much in their life that is bespoke.
 
The result of these restful Sundays, is that we arise on Monday morning, fresh and ready to face the week ahead. In stark contrast to students who arrive on Mondays weary from family outings, teen parties, sporting events and general socialising, our daughter is rested and eager to learn. We feel at peace in mind, body and spirit, and handle the work-a-day week with more grace and patience.
 
Even if you are not religious, there is something to be said for revising how you schedule your Sundays. Is it worth trying to treat one Sunday a month as a quiet day? A day for rest and reflection? A day to enjoy family time without having to do so with extended family or friends and acquaintances? Could you go without one meal a month, ongoing, and donate to charity? The feel good factor of doing so over a lifetime, far outweighs a once a year 'challenge'.
 
What do you think?
 
Were you raised in a particular spiritual faith?
 
What lessons did you learn?
 
 
 ...Mimi...
 
 
 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Nannas Recipes in 4 Sentences...Slow Cooker Greek Lamb

This is an absolute winner. A family favourite for over 20 years, and truly one of those meals that you simply put in the slow cooker or in the oven, and forget about.
 
I hope you love it as we do.
 
Slow Cooker Greek Lamb 
 
In a crockpot (slow cooker) combine 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup lemon juice, 4-6 garlic cloves, crushed, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, and 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Add a leg or shoulder of lamb, lamb cutlets, lamb chops or lamb fillets, and coat the meat thoroughly with the sauce. Cook on low for 4-6 hours. Make a sauce for serving, by adding a teaspoon of mint jelly to 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar and heating just slightly in the microwave to soften the mint jelly so it can be incorporated into the vinegar.
 
Note: This can also be baked in a heavy casserole dish with a lid. Bake in the oven at 160C for 6-8 hours.
 
Enjoy!