Gracious giving (the DIY guide)

For the first year of our daughter’s life, we were one of those homes that had a carefully selected, thoughtfully chosen group of toys that our daughter played with. They were rotated regularly and all fitted into a small, cane basket that sat proudly in the corner of the lounge.

We would smugly watch her, nodding knowingly as she navigated her way through the Montessori inspired puzzles with effortless ease. We were in control.

Then her first birthday happened. We, of course, invited everyone that had helped us make it through the first year.(i.e. – everyone ). After all – this was a monumental occasion. We had made it through her first year., I won’t say unscathed, but we had made it through.

I remember standing at the apex of our L-shaped house on the day of her party and marvelling at the sheer Tardis like nature of our home, wondering how on earth that volume of people could fit in such a small space. I was overwhelmed that everyone we had invited had come to celebrate with us, and was stupidly shocked that people brought presents. I had overlooked that birthdays equal present.

And that was the end of that small cane basket in the corner of the lounge. The toys, books, and paraphernalia just multiplied from then on.

Then our second child was born and all bets were off.

In the intervening years we have done our best to control the sheer volume of things the children accumulate but what has not changed is the toys and books that are most loved are those that were given because they meant something to the giver or because they were a replica of something the givers family have loved, or played with.

This has implored us to do the same.

Being thoughtful about the presents we choose to give others has become important. Things our children have loved, would love or have made are how we roll.

Recently some of our favourite people have had birthdays which gave us the opportunity to put this in action.

Our first wee friend was turning two and was the youngest of three boys.

When our youngest was two, colouring in was one of her favourite things to do and one of the best most used gifts she received were thick crayons that she could hold (and not snap)

Along those lines, we decided to make robust crayons using broken crayon we had, moulds from a previous craft, and a heat gun.

As the moulds were meltable plastic (they were from a ‘make your own magnets’ kit the children had received as a gift, perfect for making the magnets but not a match for the heat gun) we melted the crayons down in a washed can we had.

They dried quickly and within an afternoon we had a unique gift for our wee mate.

 

We live an hour away from the city so where ever we take the children, it is usually a long drive. Our car is constantly filled with colouring books, puppets, dolls and the like, crammed into colourful bags, to keep them entertained.

The next two birthdays we went to we made “travel bags’ for the girls. Filled with colouring pencils, wooden dolls and notebooks, they are intended to be a ‘grab and go’ bag to make life easier moving with little people.

Both bags were customised to the child and both contained activities our children thought their friends would like.

One bag we customised by adding fabric appliqués and the second I made using an old skirt I had.

Both projects were fun to make, and the finished products were a joy to give.

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Mid-Winter Christmas…..

Paul and I have been together long enough to have the whole ‘team work’ thing pretty much sorted.

We both know what the other is good at and we work to those strengths.

There is a language, like a code, that both of us can translate that makes living together raising two little people a lot easier.

Like for example when I suggest having ‘a couple’ of people over for lunch. He knows that ‘a couple’ in reference to guests is never two, and I know that if I was to go in with “honey let’s have 16 people over for lunch” that would never fly.

When I say “can you pick up a few things for the lunch” that doesn’t mean ‘a few’ by any means and more often than not it is from more than one source. He knows that no matter how obscure the ingredient or the lengths to get it, him sourcing it is infinitely easier than dragging an adventurous toddler and her shy sister into the mix. Finding things not often stocked in post quake Canterbury is becoming one of his specialities, (Squid ink and Persian fairy floss anybody?)

But it works. We work well as a team.*

Deep down I know that the reason Paul humours me for the year of entertaining is that he is holding out for Mid-Winter Christmas. His favourite celebration of the year.

When we met, every winter Paul would lament that it felt like Christmas. He would reminisce about cold afternoons, roasted chestnuts and generally hunkering down in doors. He was home sick. For over three decades of his life, the shortening of the days and the bleakness descending meant Christmas was imminent.

Don’t get me wrong, Paul is the first to embrace the ‘Hawaiian shirt by the pool on Christmas Day’, and I don’t think he would have it any other way, but you can’t help yearning for what you grew up with.

The first year we held a Mid-Winter Christmas it was epic. The food was endless, the courses were many and I don’t think anyone ate for a week after.

This was the year I realised that the Italian ‘looks-smart’ oven I had inherited with the house and me, were never (ever) going to see eye to eye. The year I realised our oven would only cook one dish at a time and only if it approved. If it didn’t like what we were cooking it would just stop. That year it was cooking the kumera. A couple of years later it was the turkey and last Saturday it was the potatoes. Nothing like adding to the entertainment!

These days we have a simpler menu. Turkey, Potatoes (and lots of them) stuffing, several vegetable sides and Christmas pudding to follow.

It is a lazy day that starts with mulled wine, champagne and craft beer, and meanders on in the evening. It is a perfect excuse to pause to enjoy the important things in life, a break in the year to appreciate great food, friends and the Mid winter Solstice

Menu

To Drink

Champagne, Mulled wine, Craft beer (Burkes Brewery Selection)

To Start

Homemade boozy Christmas mince pie

Cheese and home-made crackers served with nuts and dried cranberries

Roast Vege dip with Dukkah and bread

Savoury Party popcorn (Base on a Nigella Express recipe)

The Main

Turkey wrapped in Pancetta, with herbed butter

Herb Stuffing (Based on a Ruth Pretty Favourite Recipes)

Sausage meat stuffing (based on Gordon Ramsey Christmas Menus)

Roast Vege salad with pumpkin seeds and rocket

Winter Slaw with red cabbage and fennel

Chipolatas (from Peter Timms Butchers)

Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Walnuts

Roast potatoes in duck fat

Potato Dauphinoise

Cranberry Jelly

Gravy

To Finish

Christmas Pudding

Chocolates and coffee

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Mulled wine for 16

2 x bottles of red wine( We used merlot)
the peel of two orange,
the peel of one lemon
juice of two oranges, one lime and two lemons
Spices – 3 x Star anise, 2 cinnamon quills
½ cup brown sugar

Warm all ingredients in a pot until the sugar has dissolved. Do not boil.
Taste for sweetness.
Serve warm.

We transferred ours into a soup terrine, placed it into the frame from our fondue set, and placed it on the hotplate on our wood burner.

* Just a note in my defence, my laissez faire attitude to numbers for entertaining is only matched by my Mans attitude to ‘collecting’ cars. When he says he has ‘one or two’ that is not what he means. Think Fleet. Of museum size. Unspoken rules – I don’t mention the cars and he won’t ask how many are coming for lunch …….A match made in heaven!

 

Celebrating Six Star Wars Style….

It never ceases to amaze me how fast time goes when you have children.
To me it feels like one minute I was swaddling this tiny precious baby and the next she is telling me she would like a Star Wars themed party to celebrate her sixth birthday.
Sixth! What the????
In terms of themes for parties, Star Wars isn’t that bad. Not that I minded the ‘Dora stage’, or the ‘Frozen stage’ (actually that is a lie – they are torturous) but Star Wars seems to have more to offer. Fabulous characters, set in far away places, and what’s more it is filled with strong female leads that aren’t waiting around to be rescued, are not backwards about telling people what they think, and gosh damn it – they save the Universe!
With this in mind, we went in boots and all.

Miss Star Wars dislikes buttercream (surely the main component for the majority of all children’s birthday cakes made??) so the cake was a chocolate buttermilk cake filled with jam, cream cheese icing and covered in marshmallow fondant. In hindsight, I would have made the cake a day earlier than I did and let the cream cheese icing set before icing it. Whilst the ‘shove it in the freezer to set’ method worked, it meant for a late night prior to the party waiting for the perfect level of ‘structure’ to be able to hold the multi-level cake. Having the hypothetical extra day would have also given me a bit more of a chance to get the perfect ‘black’ Marshmallow fondant (who knew it was so tricky), and fondant that didn’t split like the sand covered desert of Tatooine.
The toffee backdrop for the cake was a last-minute decision and I was really happy with how it turned out. In saying that I am still finding little puddles of half eaten red toffee all over the house. Mental note to self, next party researching ‘how to extract said toffee from beloved favourite soft toys’ may have saved some mad Googling on the day!.

The Force Awakens Cake

The sugar cookies were fun to make and whilst I enjoyed the process I need to remove the word ‘just’ from my party vocabulary. Yeah – I will ‘just’ ice 100 Star Wars themed cookies in my already over-committed spare time in the week leading up to the party. Not enough letters in that word to cover the commitment in time, space, and sanity that those cookies needed. Fun but certainly not ‘just-ice-the-biscuits’

Baking Cookies (pre just icing them)

I absolutely adored the decorations for the room. The banner from Skona Hem was easy to make and looked fantastic (thank you for the tip Annie’s Eats), and the Star Wars balloons looked super (but Party World Christchurch – $25 for helium filling two small balloons surely is a touch too steep, and I think taking advantage of the Star Wars mad Dad who was tasked to get them filled)

Getting the room ready

All and all it was a fantastic day.

There is not a day that goes by when I do not feel blessed to have these Little People in our lives, and to be able to celebrate with all our friends and family was truly special. The sight of 20 mini Star Wars characters, dressed to the nines having a ball will stay with me forever, as the effort and love people went to. The ‘Force’ was with us.

Party TableParty spread
Cake – Donna Hay Chocolate Buttermilk Layer cake with jam and Cream Cheese filling

Fondant – Annies Eats Marshmallow Fondant

Cookies – Martha Stewart cookies

Printed Banner – Skona Hem

Autumn days…….

Sitting here now, looking out into the garden it is evident autumn is well and truly here.

The days are clear but cool, the leaves are turning and there is damp in the air.

Fog rolls in around the hills and sits for days.

Winter is on the way.

The garden is succumbing to the cold, with flowers being frosted and the last of our tomatoes starting to rot. We have planted out our winter greens and are readying the garden for the months ahead.

In the kitchen, we are still preserving. Finishing the last of the grapefruit, being creative with quince and processing endless apples for winter.

Summer salads are a distant memory with kale, spinach and other greens starting to appear more often.

In an effort to celebrate all that is splendid, we had friends over for Cinco de Mayo. What a perfect way to spend the day.  Surround by interesting  people, endless food,  great conversation and a fabulous selection of vino, tequila and craft beer to boot. Good times……..

Autumn Leave

Harvesting the last of the tomatoes

Making marmalade

evening light

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Baking and Birthdays…..

I am not a baker. Never have been.

Bread – yes. Cakes, pastries, sweets, no.

‘Before Children’, I could go months without even opening the sugar and our baking powder was always ridiculously out-of-date.

Fast forward a few years and things have changed.

These days, with school lunches to assemble, ‘play dates’ to organise, and the Children’s birthday party to plan, my baking game has been stretched. And I love it.

‘Baking Day’ in our house is now a thing.

When our Smallest turned three recently, it was the perfect opportunity to bake up a storm, From cakes, to quiches, biscuits, to cupcakes, it was all there.

Highlights for this year’s party was a tie between Annies Eats Marshmallow Fondant for the cake (leaves the bought stuff for dust. But do, I implore you, grease everything implement you use first- this stuff is sticky) and Sally Baking Addictions Banana Cupcakes with Peanut butter frosting.

Enchanted Forest Party

A short life well lived…….

This afternoon we were honored to attend a memorial service for an amazing man that was taken from us far too soon.

Sitting in the sun listening to stories of his life, how he lived, and how he gave back so much to his community was humbling. 

Friends and family took turns to recount how much he had meant to them, how much he had given, and the profound effect he had had on and in their lives.

From taking Scout groups and teaching them how to make ice caves, to tramping in this great country of ours, he seemed to have lived more in his 33yrs than some people live in a lifetime. 

Listening to stories of his devotion to his wife and daughter, the time and energy he spent with them and his friends,  was inspiring.

He spent his short life doing what he loved, surrounded by those he loved. 

‘Seize the day’, and ‘live each day to the full’ are said so often they are in danger of becoming cliches. But here’s the thing Friends, days like today remind us so clearly that this precious life we have is so fragile, so tenuous, and so brief that it would be a travesty to not to live every moment with love, honesty, and grace.

Surround yourselves with those you love my Lovelies and live a life of wonder.

In memory of Tom Alton. A husband, father, brother, son, diligent colleague, and truly brilliant friend. You will be dearly missed by so many. 

banks-peninsularemembering-tom

The Evolution of the Long Lunch….

When I first entertained the idea of moving from the city to the country I was well aware of all the things I stood to lose.

I loved our home in the City, settled into the Hills, with its holiday type feel, it was walking distance from everything we needed. And better yet one of my oldest and dearest friends had just moved in not 2 minutes from our home (stumbling distance even). I just loved our life.

We spent weekends divided between the property in the country (with my Lovers oldest daughter) and the city. Life was good.

But it got complicated, as these things tend to.

On balance ‘we’ decided it would be better to be in one place.

We traded in our bolt hole in the city for the rural life.

When we moved I wrote a list of all that I loved about our life in town and how I wanted life to look from here on in.

One of the strongest themes that came through was the social aspect. I loved that our home in town was always a buzz with people. Sunday breakfasts were often a ‘drop in’ for friends, dinners were easy and we entertained often.

I worried that living so far from the city those days would be over.

I needn’t have.

Life is just as we envisaged it. Still complicated, mildly chaotic, but good.

We have embraced the ‘Long Lunch’ with gusto, and for occasions such as my recent Birthday Festival, we make sure the effort our friends make in coming here, is repaid in the effort we go to.

The joy, the love, and the fun are all in the detail.

Moments like these remind us to revel in all things, surround ourselves with those we love and delight in life as it is.  No matter where we live, it is those we chose to share it with that make it extraordinary.   Long may that continue.

Birthday festival round up