Friday, 29 July 2011

Tuning In

I confess, I think I am becoming a "bird nerd"! Lately I have been  "tuning in" to the chorus of bird sounds in our backyard.  Sometimes I'll recognise the calls and pop my head out to check if I guessed right as to who was visiting.  A couple of mornings ago I stepped outside with my daughter to play in the sandpit and my attention was immediately taken by a completely unfamiliar sound.  I looked up to see this fine fellow (not really sure if it was a he or a she, but we'll just say he for now) perched up high in a casuarina tree just over the fence....

Isn't he gorgeous? 

Look at that scruffy crest and long tail feathers! Don't you just want to give him a scratch?

He turned around and was calling out to his friend who appeared shortly after, flapping his wings slowly from one tree to another, but he/she was too quick for me to take a photo.  

That morning, a friend of mine (an American) came over and was saying how lucky we are to have such amazing birds like the cockatoo in Australia.

Just in case you're wondering, our visitor (the aussie bird that is) was a  Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo (I looked it up).  These guys are one of the most endangered species of cockatoos in Australia, so I felt really grateful to see one right in my backyard.

So glad that I tuned in.  With the busyness of everyday life it's so easy to tune out, and so hard to just be present in the moment. I really appreciate moments like this, nature really has a way of making you stop and listen, doesn't it?

And the lovely thing is my two year old daughter acknowledges the birds and has been mimicking their sounds when she hears them, so she is tuning in now too!

I love seeing birds in their natural environment, they have wings for a reason don't you think?

I'm linking up with maxabella loves  for the first time today, it's an inspiring place to visit.

For more birdy adventures in my backyard you might like to go here.


Thursday, 28 July 2011

Today I'm linking up with PaisleyJade for Things I'm Loving.
When I was little, my Mum and I made all of our cakes and biscuits by hand, you know, with a wooden spoon and a bowl.  The hardest part was creaming the butter and sugar together, I used to work up a sweat getting it as light and fluffy as I could, and I loved doing it.

So it is because of these memories that I have held off on getting a proper standalone mixer to bake with.  I only bought myself one of those handheld mixers a couple of years ago, and that just conked out on me right on time for my daughter's birthday. 

So to the rescue was my new friend (the mixer), which I am loving.  My son has a birthday coming up soon also, so with so much baking going on, I put an emergency order in for an early birthday present. Wow, how much quicker and easier is baking now.  I kind of feel like I'm not really doing anything though, the machine does all the work, it's almost cheating.  Guessing I'll get over that pretty quickly though! It just means I can do more baking and spend more time with my favourite people.

Now, as for the cake...that's supposed to be Strawberry Shortcake on top, but her bonnet went missing somewhere in the car today.  I made a heart shaped cake with the Buttercake recipe from the Women's Weekly Kids Party Cakes book, same for the icing, only I decided to go fancy and use an actual vanilla bean, along with a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Pink food colouring was used in the icing also. 

I cut the cake in half horizontally, then filled with a layer of strawberry jam, whipped cream and fresh sliced strawberries.  Then topped with the Buttercream, and dotted with white chocolate chips.  For the strawberry leaves I used rolled fondant (bought from a specialty cake decorating shop, but can be bought in supermarket) which I coloured with green powdered food colouring, rolled out and cut leaf shapes out with a knife.

This was not a difficult cake to make, just a little extra time needed for the leaves. I made the cake and the leaves the day before, then iced it  just before serving.  I think the birthday girl was pretty impressed, since she went back for seconds...

She also shared her special day with Nanna and Uncle Scott, over at Nanna's place, and I just realised I didn't get any photos of them.  

Happy Birthday to our Sarah, we love you so much, and you are growing up so fast, right before our eyes.

For more birthday baking so here, and for more strawberry deliciousness go here
Hope you enjoy your weekend!
*This post has been edited to remove photos of my children for internet security purposes.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Serenity - Come Away With Me

"Aahh, the serenity"... that's what my husband and I were whispering yesterday morning on the balcony of a treehouse overlooking the sunshine coast.  Ok, it was our treehouse for only just one night, but it was ours and ours ALONE. 

A few weeks ago we were feeling a bit "bogged down", and realised that we hadn't had a night away from the kids in five years, not to mention that our wedding anniversary was coming up.  So there, it was a done deal, destination -  Treetops Montville, Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Qld. 

As we drive into the main street of Montville we are greeted with the open arms and quaintness of the misty hilltop village.  Tree lined and sprinkled with cafes, craft shops, art galleries and boutiques, Montville reminds me of the villages in the Blue Mountains, it's my kinda place.

We checked into our cabin, which is nestled into the natural rainforest on the hilltop overlooking the valley with the ocean in the distance, it's cosy and comfortable.  

Shortly after, a drink and some soothing live tunes were soaked up at Montville Bar & Grill..
Montville Cafe Bar Grill Tudor building
(This photo is courtesy of the Montville Bar & Grill website)
before heading down to Chocolate Country, the Montville Art Gallery,  and lastly sipping a much needed cup of coffee at "A Great Read", and lingering over their lovely collection of second hand books ..

I couldn't resist this little shop, The End of The Lane, which had a lovely selection of country and french crafts and gifts..

After we (my hubby) stoked up the fire and had nibblies & drinks back at the cabin, we braved the cold and walked up to the popular  Wild Rocket at Misty's  for dinner in their beautiful heritage three storey A-Frame restaurant.  

The next morning we found ourselves enjoying time alone, eating a relaxed breakfast, soaking up the sounds of nature and reading our newly discovered pre-loved books.  It was such a rare treat to be so self-indulgent, and to have this uninterrupted peace and quiet, although I felt a little guilty (but only for a second, after all we are talking RARE).  If only this tranquility could be bottled and pulled out in times of need....

We decided to do a little more shopping and pick up a few gifts for our lovely babysitters, Nanna and Uncle Scott.  A visit to Nana's Secret saw me leaving with a few gorgeous soy candles and Nana's Magic Hand Scrub, after receiving a complimentary hand treatment (my hands were rescued at last, and still feel fantastic), with ever-patient hubby soaking up the sun on a bench outside..  

And how is this lovely specimen along the sidewalk... the Hoya or wax flower, isn't it gorgeous? They have a lovely perfume, I've never noticed them before..

We finished with lunch at Flaxton Gardens, which offered up breathtaking views out over the valley and to the ocean, along with very tasty food.. 

You'd think we would have been satisfied, but strangely a couple of strawberry tarts and vanilla slices from the Montville Patisserie made their way home with us.   Pulling into the driveway at home, I felt a sense of calmness and anticipation come over me and couldn't wait to get out of the car and into the arms of my little loves.
So now we're back to reality, hope you enjoyed that brief escape with us!  There were a few places we didn't get a chance to check out, but hopefully it won't be another five years before our next visit.  In fact it's also a great family spot, so we will probably bring the kids with us next time for a day trip and maybe even a bushwalk!

And after feely a little guilty and worried for leaving our too littlies at home, we were told that the kids were marvellous..hardly knew we were gone.  Hmmph, well I guess I have to be happy about that.. it was nice to get big long "glad your home" cuddles though.


Thursday, 21 July 2011

More Good Old Fashioned Fun

When I picked up my son from school a few days ago and told him I had a surprise for him at home, he pleaded for hints all the way home...and my response, "Well, it's a game I picked up at the treasure shop".  His reply, "Does it have spiderman in it?  How about Star Wars?" ... "Err, no, it's not a computer has animals in it though"...

There is something about board games.  I remember as a kid, weekends and school holidays were often spent sitting around the table or on the carpet, playing Monopoly, The Game of Knowledge and various other games.  There'd be a bit of friendly (and not so friendly) rivalry, fair and not so fair play, and plenty of laughs.  Either way, there was plenty of interaction going on, and hours passed without being bored .  I want my kids to have those memories too. 

I have never seen this one (above), but I couldn't resist the cover, it's so retro, and is just the right level for my son.  At first he wasn't interested and thought it would be boring, but once we got going, he was hooked and loved it, great way to spend time together. 

We also like the Lego boardgames (especially Daddy).

Time to turn the tv off now and roll those dice.

Do you have a favourite board game you pull out on rainy days or for a bit of tech-free family time?

I'm linking up with PaisleyJade today for Things I'm Loving


A Little Aqua Happiness

 I got absolutely no housework done today, but focussed instead on whipping up these little goodies.  They are for a friend coming over tomorrow. 

She's having a bit of a rough trot, so I hope they make her day a little brighter.

Now, getting back to the housework....

For more cupcake creations click here .

One Quilted Journal Cover

Today I am linking up with our creative spaces for the first time, what a lovely place to visit!

There is nothing like a little deadline to get me moving. Remember those gorgeous aqua fabrics ? Well here is my completed project - ta da, one quilted journal cover! 

Thanks to this great tutorial here even a beginner sewer like me can whip up something special.  I decided to go with squares rather than the scrappy look (although it's still a little scrappy).

I know it seems a waste to use some of these lovely fabrics on what is supposed to be a scrap project, but I only used a smidgen (still plenty left), and have just been trying small projects to get my confidence up before tackling a real quilt.   Just through this little project I learned so much about sewing and patchwork. 

Here's what it looks like on the inside...

It's in no way perfect, with a little puckering, and I am not the most patient when it comes to cutting fabric, but overall I'm actually pretty happy with it.

I think this would make a lovely gift for someone, and could be personalised by adding their name or some thoughtful words on the front cover.  It could even be used for a recipe book or photo album cover, the possibilities are endless!

The great thing is it can be customised to any sized book and it's removable, so it can be used and cherished forever. 

Now my son wants one, and has requested blue and black fabrics, so I'm off to dig around in the cupboard and hopefully find some scraps in those colours. 

Did you get creative this week?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A Little Nudge on Tuesday

I have said before that I am easily distracted, however I do usually finish a book from front to back when it has a message and inspires me.  

Just wanted to share with you a quote from a book I just finished reading, Tuesdays With Morrie, by Mitch Albom.  Have you ever read it?   I know I am so behind the times, but I have wanted to read this book for a long time, and when I came across it on a treasure hunt recently, I thought it was about time that I read it. 

Lovely book, with some great life lessons, too many to mention, so if you haven't already read it, it's worth a read!  Here is a quote from the book I felt I had to share...

"So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning." (43) –Morrie

I won't dwell on the negative, but like many of you, my family and I have suffered terrible grief in our lives, and I have struggled with "the big questions" for a long time, even  from an early age. 

For me, after reading this book, I realise that through my life experiences (especially the heart-breaking ones), I have been given a gift.  That gift is the knowledge that I cannot take life for granted, I appreciate the simple things and value love over material possessions, money, power and status.  Those last four things are just a distraction from what is really important. 

A few things I have learned so far from my own life experiences ... 

You never know how long you have,  so every day is a blessing. 

Amidst the hustle and bustle, the routine and mundane, 
I try to remember to find time to do something I enjoy, 
 take time to listen to those around me, and "smell the roses". 

 I know this is what those who have passed would want,
and can almost hear them whispering (sometimes shouting)
it in my ear at times when I get off track.

In reading Tuesdays With Morrie, I have been reminded of what I have always known instinctively... to live a fulfilling and meaningful life, and so I will do my best to make the most of it.  

Sometimes we just need a little nudge, don't we?

Have you been given any "nudges" lately? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Things I'm Loving - Confessions Of An Aqua Lover

I don't know when it started but I love aqua, have for ages.  In fact not just aqua, but all pale blues and blue-greens.  At times the colours remind me of the ocean and holidays, then other times I am captivated by their fun, nostalgic, vintage edge.

Well, as a result of my little colour therapy, I have this pretty pile of fabrics beckoning me, and I don't know what to do with them.  I would love to learn patchwork quilting, so with a few squares I thought I would try making a little quilted journal cover, which looked easy..but then I realised the job would have been so much easier with a rotary cutter.  So at the moment, my cat, Monty is keeping it warm...

Thanks Monty, atleast it's being put to good use!  It's not a difficult project, problem is, I have since become distracted with learning how to crochet..

Ok, I know what you're thinking, this girl really needs to focus, so with a little dedication I promise to get back to that journal cover and have it finished by next week.  Nothing like a deadline!

Do you have a favourite colour that you are drawn to?  

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

One Pot Weeknight Winter Warmer

Beef Balls and White Bean Soup

Ok, I admit, I am no photographer, so this photo may not do it justice, but let me say, this meal is warm, full of flavour, healthy and it’s cheap to make!  It’s from one of the few cookbooks I refer to regularly, "Home Food", because I know I will always find something in there that’s simple and tasty.  I had to add a can of mixed beans because I only had one can of cannelini beans in the pantry.
What you need:
600g minced beef
2 garlic cloves crushed
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
Pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch finely ground nutmeg
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1.5 litres beef stock
2 carrots, thinly sliced
2 x 400g cans white beans (or cannelini beans), drained
½ savoy cabbage, finely shredded
Parmesan cheese, grated

What to do:
1. Place beef in a bowl with garlic, parsley, spices, and egg.
2. Mix together and season with salt and pepper.  If too dry, add more egg.
3. Roll mixture into small balls (small enough to scoop up onto a spoon).
4. Place beef stock in saucepan with carrot and bring to the boil.
5. Add meatballs, then turn heat down to simmer.
6. After 3-4 minutes, add beans and cabbage and cook for another 4-5 minutes.
7. Season broth to taste.

Sprinkle parmesan over each serving and serve with a little bread on the side if desired (for dunking).  Trust me, its a winner, and we had leftovers for the following night!

Adapted from Home Food


Thursday, 7 July 2011

Easy Chocolate Hedgehog Slice

I have always wanted to have a go at making this slice, it's a melt and mix slice so there is no baking required!  You might have seen many different versions of this slice, some with nuts, sultanas and coconut... well I couldn't find one I really liked so I just came up with my own simple version, and was amazed by how easy and yummy it was.  When left in the fridge for a few hours, it goes all fudgy and melt in your mouthy, even better the next day. WARNING though, it's very hard to stop at one!

All you need is:
250g packet of biscuits (I used milk arrowroots, but you can also use Marie or Scotch Fingers)
125g caster sugar
125g butter
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg

For the icing:
11/2  cups icing sugar
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 tablespoon milk

And all you do is:
1.Crush biscuits in food processor or plastic bag using mallett or rolling pin. Make sure you leave mixture a bit lumpy.
2.Add cocoa and mix together.
3.Melt butter on stove.
4.Add sugar to butter and stir until sugar dissolved.
5.Add biscuit mixture, then one egg and mix thoroughly.
6.Press mixture into a slice tin lined with baking paper.
7.Prepare icing by creaming butter.  Add icing sugar, cocoa and milk and mix until smooth.
8.Spread chocolate icing over top of slice.
9. Refridgerate, preferably overnight (if you can wait that long).
10.Slice into small squares.

We enjoyed ours out on the patio with a pot of tea!
Have a sweet day!


Sunday, 3 July 2011

Holiday Happenings

It's amazing what boredom can do to kids, it just brings out a level of craziness you thought they had grown out of years ago. I must admit, the first week of school holidays has flown by, and we have survived so far... well maybe I have gone just a little nuts, but atleast we kept busy and had some fun inbetween the craziness. 

 There was baking, painting, nature collage, plenty of jumping on the trampoline ...

and just for my own sanity, a little adults only craft time..
 my first granny square, woohoo (look out crochet world, here I come)!

And a little something for a my niece.. 

Now as for this week I have etched a few ideas on my brain .. a long walk with scooter and pram (oh and kids too), clay craft out on the patio (thinking pinch pots, shapes for a hanging mobile, maybe diy fossils), more baking, drawing, obstacle coarse, puzzles, drawing, balloon tennis, tea party outside or inside if raining, paper mosaic, make a pom pom monster, visit nanna and/or cousins, playdate with a friend and that should fill in a day (just kidding)!

Now I just need to say to myself "It's going to be a great week, it's going to be a great week, it's going to be..."    

Are you surviving the school holidays so far?  Any ideas on what to do with the kids?  PLEASE??

*This post has been edited to remove a photo of my daughter, for internet security purposes.