Friday, December 23, 2011

The Joy of Christmas

For years I'd heard how amazing this house was and finally we got to see....

Some gently busy days have been enjoyed around here lately. My sister came and created a new yearly tradition - Gingerbread house making. We learnt a lot.....about wall thicknesses, importance of even cooking for even strength.....different strengths of different house designs and how many lollies a two year old can inhale from a bowl if you look away for two minutes! So much fun and such lovely time with a special aunty.

Those stockings were completed and a little trip to the post office saw them on their way to their new home. I must say it was a little hard to let them go. However, when a call came through the next evening from an ecstatic friend, it all felt worth while. When you spend a long time lovingly stitching something it can be hard to give it away but when you then hear pure joy in the voice of the receiver you remember what Christmas is all about. To be told that these stockings would surely be a special part of two children's Christmases for many years to come has been one of the loveliest experiences of this festive season.

With this as our centrepiece......

And a Little Pickle ever willing to help......

We've been enjoying lots of shared meals like this.

My Christmas baking aspirations were lofty. Some elements were curtailed but some new things and some old favourites were achieved. My first ever shortbread turned out quite well and was made to my MIL's (mother-in-law) recipe on request from Mr Pickle.
The biscotti from last year had to be repeated after the first batch disappeared in two days and before any gifting. Leftover gingerbread dough from the houses became biscuits.
I then also went in for a bit of confectionary making. For several years I have admiringly and longingly looked at the Peppermint Bark made here and successfully tried it - delicious!!
I also spotted a simple Fruit and Nut Chocolate square recipe and knew that would be popular on the Christmas table at mum's.......if it doesn't get gobbled up before then.

There was one late night Christmas baking session but I did manage to realise that rolling out pastry to start making mince pies at 9:45pm was a bit silly. There's no reason why we can't have New Year mince pies and the mince will certainly be tasty after an extra week in the fridge melding its flavours.

I have filed away the knowledge that Christmas plans and preparations need to start much earlier next year if I really do want to maintain a peaceful, calm lead up throughout the whole of Advent whilst also having all the nice elements I envisage. So, having not done that this year, it has been a valuable exercise in carefully assessing which were the things that i wanted to keep:

- making some handmade decorations
- doing some Christmas baking for gifts to friends, teachers, neighbours etc
- leaving room for some sewing for others that could generate a little bit of Christmas revenue
- taking time......with each other....for myself......with Mr Pickle
- moments to just let the Pickles run, play and be unencumbered by adult plans and rushing
- staying away from all busy Christmas shopping places

Despite not getting all the decorations I had hoped to create made, we acquired several lovely ones through kind friends and two lovely ones made by Oli's preschool teacher and given to each of them. Little Pickle in particular was so proud to hang his paper bird on the tree, the teacher is a very special person in his life and it will be so nice for him to rejoin the preschool next year.

 Last night Big Pickle and I set off on an exciting adventure. Every year I have looked forward to going on an outing to enjoy some Christmas lights but as the Pickles go to bed quite early it hasn't been possible before. Daylight savings means it doesn't get dark until well after their usual bedtime and though I'd hoped to take Little Pickle along too he was yawning and begging for bed by 8pm.

There were a couple of houses nearby that I knew would have nice lights but really there was just one house I wanted to take him too. In a nearby suburb, an Italian gentleman called Mario fills his whole front yard with lights. An tunnelled archway dripping in fairylights, trees bedecked in multi colours, stars and sleighs all lit up. That is all but a backdrop to his true masterpiece. Mario fills his garage with an absolutely amazing miniature world. Beautiful little figures all busily doing their work in the village, women sewing, men hammering steel beside glowing fires, pizzas going into stone ovens. There are streams and pools with water running, a scene of pre-Chris Pompeii with a glowing volcano looming over it...... so much wonder in one space.

Standing by as we marvelled at it all was Mario, beaming at the joy on the faces of his visitors. This wonderful man, who made the whole scene himself, has been erecting it here in his garage for over 10 years. He adds new pieces each year after his trips home to Naples or family there send him things if he can't make the trip. This will definitely be an annual pilgrimage for our family now.

My sister and her family have been coming since before he had the village back when he had the amazing array of lights in the yard. They arrived while we were there and Mario greeted each of the children and marvelled at their growth and change since the last visit. His wife quietly circulated with a silver tray of lollies and his daughter and grandson watched on from chairs on the verandah.

Friday, December 16, 2011

It's a long way to Bethlehem....

So, having admitted in the last post that I have left my run to Christmas a little late for decking our halls thoroughly in handmade Christmas adornments, I'm continuing to stitch my way through the days as the Pickles and I follow Mary, Joseph and the donkeys journey to Bethlehem through the stories in this book.
Stocking number one is virtually done with all the hand-stitching complete and just the construction to go. I've decided to line it, partly due to a desire to hide the less than perfect back to my work and also because it seems more practical when considering all the little novelties and sweets that will spend time in there through the course of Audrey's many Christmases.  Somehow it makes me feel more harried rather than less to have one stocking done as they need to be delivered together so now I have that 'so-close-yet-so far' sensation. The name is done and I'm about a third of the way through the trees but there's a lot of work left on those and the deer has lots of detail.

I'm reasonable pleased with how the picture on this has come out. The birds started out as a very small photograph so it was a new challenge to try and translate this into a felt picture so whilst I can see many improvements that could be made and many bits that are a bit 'skew-wiff'  they are quite endearing.
Whilst every priority is being given to these two projects I can't quite let go of other projects destined for our own tree and walls.

I have two flags for the bunting shown in my last post done but am almost ready to concede that this will herald the joy next year rather than this.

 Today we got a good start on the Christmas baking too. Cranberry, cherry and pistachio biscotti and my first ever batch of shortbread. I'm also hoping to make some mince pies and would like to try the Peppermint Bark which is a Christmas staple for this family and also some fruit and nut chocolates.......and maybe some other things.

I've put alot of other things on my wishlist aside but still really hope to get the boys Christmas Eve pjs done and also their new shirts for Christmas Day....stay tuned for progress and details.
A case of chicken pox in the house this past week has been a very good lesson in slowing down and finding the joy and the calm in this time of preparation. Rushing through shopping centres or any kind of shops is a long ago memory of past Christmases for me and seems ever less relevant now that the Pickles are about. There is plenty to keep us busy right here and its nice to try and create a Christmas away from the glitz and the commercial Santa-ness that abounds in every shopping precinct.

Next year I hope to have myself better prepared ahead of Advent and we will read a story from in The Light in the Lantern each day (sadly this year we've had to play catch up a bit again) and I am hatching a plan that I'll need to start working on right away (making 2 - 3 things a month should get me there). As our own variation on the Advent calendar I'd like to have something to tie in with each of the stories which the boys can hang on the Christmas tree after we read the nights story......

So many other beautiful things to look at and be inspired by over here....

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

'Tis the Season

The best laid plans do not always get us to where we may hope to be. So it is that I suddenly found that the festive season was upon us and my plans to make a set of handmade decorations for our tree was yet to even begin. Not one to be put off by a challenge I remain committed to producing at least some before we reach Christmas day.
The picture above is a bunting I know will look great over the mantel in the Christmas....? It is in progress with a couple of flags almost done. Perhaps we can herald the joy of the blessed babes arrival just in time...stay tuned.

So far we have two decorations and I'm very happy with them. The first was inspired by some I saw a friend stitching before Christmas last year and she kindly shared the pattern for the shape. There are three more of these cut out but they may not reach the branches till next year.
The felt bauble is inspired by this book which a dear friend kindly lent me. In a perfect world I would have made at least one for her to repay the loan but perhaps next Christmas for that too. I still hold out hope that I may be able to decorate the handle of what was to be her housewarming basket and has now become her Christmas basket but well, this seems to be the Christmas where I keep gently shifting the goalposts and moving plans to future dates.

I've been snatching every possible moment to do stitching or sewing of one kind or another and I keep adjusting and rearranging the list of most important projects but still refuse to admit I can't get it all done........out loud anyway.

On a hot evening last week we made an impromptu dinner visit to the beach. Whilst we have now become regular morning beach goers this was our first evening visit. A fish 'n' chips and icecream dinner and this awe-inspiring lighting made a big impression by us all. More summer evenings will be spent just so.

While the boys big and small played in the cooling shallows, I managed to squeeze in a bit of stitching. Two felt Christmas stocking were requested by a friend about a week ago. She kindly said next Christmas would be fine but I would love her to have them before this one ends so I'm carrying them everywhere with me and hoping I can continue to resist being tempted away to other (non-paying) projects.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A funny thing happened on the way to these pants.....

 Looking at the photo you could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps someone was injured or a pet died on the way to these pants....I promise this was not the case.
Once upon a time I set out to make a pair of pants for the Little Pickle using this pattern from this book for the first time. Being me, I can't ever play completely by the rules so I decided to make them reversible. Should have been fairly straightforward; I added some extra to seam allowances to allow for the bulk and turning, piped all the pockets, made two sets of contrasting cuffs that I planned on using a never before seen two way buttoning system to hold in place. All went well but when I got it all together there was just too much bulk, too much fabric, too many complexities for one small pair of I separated them.
When I had two completed pairs of pants I discovered I had severely overestimated the Little Pickles need for growing room so for now the contrasting cuffs are hidden in an extra turn up. Due to an unprecedented incidence of Big Pickle deciding to dress himself today we discovered the other pair fit him, so we headed out for a morning of fun in coordinated pants.

One pair of pants came off for a bit so the Big Pickle could enjoy his weekly swimming lesson.

This is the face we make when we realise our usual swim teacher is on holidays.

Apparently the fill-in teacher is so good she needs to come every week.
 Pants back on this mama managed to embrace the slow. We progressed as far as the patch of land beside the swimming pool and the Pickles gave the pants a thorough test drive.


 Good for running, rolling, being tigers, picking name it these pants can do it!!
As the end of the year approaches and we start to look ahead to Big Pickle starting kindergarten, I'm realising that our chance to drift through many of our days stopping for dandelions, heading out for unplanned adventures based on the weather or our mood and simply letting life happen will start to diminish. So we're going to embrace that chance every moment we can for the next few months. 

After all that exercise we needed a snack and a rest so we stopped in at a favourite bakery for one of their delicious sourdough donuts.


Such a quaint little place with only two tables (less people for toddlers to disrupt!) both bedecked in retro linens and kitsch flowers and they always have a delectable selection of breads, cakes and pastries. Some things are only available on particular days, like donuts which are Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday or the fabulous rhubarb and raspberry danishes which I am yet to learn the pattern for.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Baa Baa White Sheep - Yarn Along

This little here lamb....sheep....creature is a very good example of why you should try not to get distracted when knitting a pattern for the first time....or any time for that matter. I think what I've ended up with is a sheep's back legs, lamb front legs and a really scary head. If not for the fact that I still have lots of the very beautiful ball of wool (which I think is this that I bought here) and that my Waldorf dollmaking classes have taught me to embrace your mistakes and accept that they may have led you to a different but still worthy creation....I would be pulling this sad little creature back and starting again.
Originally I intended a small gathering (I know its flock but I only want a few so gathering sounds better) to go on our Spring table but since we are nearly out the other side of Spring here in Australia, I'll perhaps let them enter with the shepherds at Christmas....perhaps not this particular sheep but some others knitted with more careful attention to the correct section of the pattern - how un-Christian of me.

The book is one of Jodi Picoult's earlier ones that has been on my shelves for.......a very long time and reminds me, along with the hint of the world of books we are blessed with in this house that you can see in the background, that I must find more time in my life for reading again. If only I could work out a way to stitch, knit, read and be at the machine all at the same time......hardly mindful crafting but I'm an ever ambitious creature and those projects just keep forming in my head!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Weekending - quick, slow.... quick, quick, slow

This photo sums up how we all felt when we got to Sunday morning.
What a whirlwind day Saturday was. After waking in Colac filled with memories of the Show, we bundled ourselves into the car and headed for home.

With the prospect of guests that night I was compelled and motivated to finish the covers for the dining chairs:

And also got the new cushions done too:

(Note the Little Pickle photo bomber in these last two photos)

The quick stay in Colac meant that the house was again filled with fragrant blooms from my mum's garden:

Love in the Mist - one of my favourite Spring flowers.

 Sadly, I didn't live up to all my lofty ambitions and didn't manage to make the planned new top to wear but I was able to to hide my old duds behind the shiny new cushions (please note cushions not actually shiny...or sparkley....not that there would be anything wrong with having sparkley cushions if that is your thing....perhaps you won them at the Colac Show)
Floors were vacced, surfaces dusted, dips made. Friends came and fun was had and though they did all leave at the frightfully respectable hour of 11:30pm, we were a tired house this morning.

The sky didn't really appear to be in line with the 32 degree forecast but nontheless we headed to the beach where the boys did a bit of this:

And this:

I tried a bit of this:

Yes those are raindrops on my wasn't really a beach day but we made it one anyway.

Thankfully, all the outdoor activity prompted the Pickles to have very quiet and restful afternoon so they day drifted nicely to the end when Mr Pickle and I enjoyed this:

Very delicious new pasta we picked up here. Millgrove Pasta are a new local pasta maker who have around 12 different varieties of filled pastas including the Mushroom with Leek and Garlic we enjoyed with a little of the leftover wine from the night before. Quick, easy and delicious - just what Sunday night dinner should be.
We were very glad that we finally followed up on this recommendation from a friend and discovered Altona Fresh - the West's alternative to Mediterranean Wholesalers - regular visitors we now will be.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Lambs, puppets, snakes, carnies and dodgems!

We headed to the Colac Show on Friday. Big Pickle went to this Show with his cousins last year and has lived on the memories ever since. I'd have to say I'm not really the Show type. The thought of going to the Melbourne Show fills me with terror at the thoughts of the crowds, the noise, and the.....bogans (yes, I am a snob!)
The country Show however is a more approachable, manageable concept. Less crowds, more accessible animals, friendly farmers, less sideshows......higher proportion of bogans perhaps but a good touch of nostalgia when its the Show in the town you grew up in.

The great display of tractors, bulldozers and other big farm equipment thingies was a hit but really revealed this mamas not so country, country origins - 'What's that machine mummy?' ..... Mummy stutters 'Well.......that's a ....big....grass cutting machine.....or perhaps a planting device....?!'

As well as the obligatory and very good baby animal nursery there was also a Reptile Man. This made Big Pickle very happy particularly when he got to do this:

Sadly, he didn't get to do this again:

Big Pickle's first ride on a horse at the Footscray City Primary School Festa prompted a passionate plea "Let's go to every school Fair everywhere mummy and I can ride a horse at all of them"
 Once I had filled up as much time as possible in the 'farmy' part of the Show we headed down Sideshow alley to the world of throbbing music, flashing lights and really big, really ugly soft toys.

Big Pickle discovered a new variation on his beloved jumping castles....really big jumping castles with mega, blow-up slides:

Then both Pickles fell in love with these - Bumper Boats!

Who said I'm too young to drive!?

Take that big brother!
 Overall, a great day out for all but I was disappointed there was no Ferris Wheel, no Joy Whizzer and no Cup and Saucer ride....maybe next year or maybe just a memory from my childhood.