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Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Some Last Minute Christmas Ideas

A little wisdom from Dr Suess

Here in New Zealand we are a little ahead of the rest of the world time-wise. Christmas Day starts in only a few hours. So if you haven't wrapped all your presents yet, here is an you have any old large art books? I buy mine during the year from school gala sales or garage sales for less than the price of a sheet of giftwrap. I use them for all sorts of art work, but they make gorgeous wrapping paper. Who wouldn't like a spot of Jackson Pollock or Klee with their present?

One quick gift that I made lots of this year was this Peppermint Candy Sugar Scrub. The recipe and the free printable labels come from The Idea Room . 

I hope you all have a safe and happy Christmas and a wonderful 2015.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

A Refashion and an Upcycle

"Basically downshifters seek a life filled with more passion and purpose, meaning, fulfilment and happiness. A life to look back on with no regrets".

 I recently came across an interesting site where I found the above excerpt,  at  If you have a little spare time go take a look. It gives a good explanation of what slow living is, and why it is so beneficial. 

A good example of how slow living is the school holidays here, and I have young Katie (my partner's daughter) home with me. She mentioned that she really needed some new shorts, which made me curious as I'd noticed she had put three pairs out to donate when she cleaned her room.
Turns out those shorts were too short (I'd agree with that), and she didn't like where the rips were on them. The shorts came fashionably ripped on purchase.


I suggested we could make them into something she would want to wear and showed her photos on Pinterest of what they could look like.
So here are the after photos of two of them. Katie sewed some herself, and now she is delighted with her new "designer" shorts.


Oh, and the lace on the bottom of those shorts is off my wedding dress! My mother always said if you keep something long enough you will find a use for it.

About a year ago I discovered these old wooden library cards in a junk shop.

I bought them for a few dollars, but didn't really have any idea what I was going to do with them.
I made wooden postcards with some of them...

... but last week Katie and I painted them up with chalkboard paint to make a banner that we can change the message on at any time! They were already a pennant shape and all I had to do was drill holes to take a cord.

Well this week is going to be busy - so just breathe and enjoy! 

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Christmas Decor - Vintage Style.

It must seem odd to those of you in the Northern Hemisphere how we celebrate Christmas in mid-summer. Christmas lunch is often served outdoors in the shade, and a lot of New Zealanders are off camping, so have Christmas at their tent, or at their bach (beach house). 
Yesterday Derek and Katie chose our Christmas tree, and after slicing a thin sliver off the end to help it take up water, we spent the evening decorating it. 
More tips here for keeping a real pine Christmas tree green for 3 - 4 weeks in the heat of summer.
This year we decided to go with a vintage theme for the Christmas decor. I found this dear old Santa ornament in a charity shop for $1. He's showing a little wear - but hey, aren't we all, and he's probably as old as me.

Actually, don't you think he looks exhausted?

It was a good excuse to use some vintage cream glass baubles that I picked up for a few dollars some years back, and I whipped up a little batch of cardboard houses after finding the pattern in the latest Your Home and Garden Magazine.

Sheet music glued over cereal packets, a little teabag staining added.

This is the pattern I used.

And a little view of some cushion gifts I have been making. I think I am safe putting them on here, knowing that the girls are very unlikely to read my blog!

I finally feel like I am getting somewhere ! I hope your plans are running close to schedule too.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Summer's Started

It's a beautiful day here. By 9.30 I had watered my gardens - mostly by the bucket-load of fertilizer tea...

Looking very tropical - first day of summer here yesterday.

Sunflower from saved seed. Beans racing up the new arbor.

I'm going to be cooking these in 100 different ways soon - 3 courgette (zuchini) plants all producing.

No new plants - just used the runners from last year

Heritage ruby chard - looks beautiful and the bugs don't seem to go for it.

...and been to the beach to see if I could get more seaweed to top up the brew.
There was very little seaweed on the beach, and almost no rubbish or plastic to pick up, and as usual, no other people. Munta had a good run.

I hope your day is fabulous, wherever you are.

Monday, 24 November 2014

A Little Pre-Christmas Gift Making (goes astray)

I know why pre-Christmas is always so stressful's because it coincides with Spring - the busiest time in the garden.
Every year I tell myself that I will be organized by at least August, but I've found that if I buy gifts early for people - knowing that it's something they want, they invariably buy it for themselves and I am left with said gift!
This week I am setting aside other work to get gifts made - at least I know they can't buy those. Today I scuffled around in the studio looking for the bits I needed, only to be sidetracked.
 I plan to make some cushions (they are so expensive for just a little easy sewing) for the girls in their 20's. I found some old ones that Derek had rescued from his work lounge.

Now, I wasn't really that interested in them, but decided to make a mobile phone holder (for myself), for when I'm gardening or bike riding or at the beach with no pockets. Next I made a spare shopping bag for leaving in the car. Finally, I combined two inners to make a new cushion, but really, I need to buy new inners for the girls' cushions, so I made one for us out of some thrifted (but brand new) material. 

I think I could describe the things that I have made from the cushion material as being a bit "daggy", but I realize this is a New Zealand colloquialism, so had better explain. "Daggy" refers to the dangley bits on a sheep's bum, and can best be explained as the opposite of chic.
Oh well, tomorrow is another day - I'll try again!

I mentioned a couple of months back that I would post a photo of the dress I bent my "No Buying Any clothes for a Year" pledge for. 
As it was for a fancy dress party - The Great Gatsby theme - I felt that I couldn't risk waiting until the last minute. It is a thrifted dress, and not like it might just have still been there. 
Derek has kindly posed with me. 

The strange black pendant is my saxophone strap that I forgot to take off.

I made the photo extra large so you can see the (scratchy) beady work on the dress and not because I enjoy putting in pictures of myself.

Thanks for stopping in. I hope you are doing way better with your Christmas organization than me!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

NZ Art on a Grand Scale

Hi All, well haven't I had fun today!
Friends had a spare seat going on a long prebooked trip to Gibbs Farm on the Kaipara Harbour.
This farm has been turned into a private sculpture collection which owner Alan Gibbs opens to the public for one day each month - for free!
These are booked out completely until next May - so I was totally lucky to get a place. There were hundreds of people out enjoying the artworks and a few giraffes, zebra, alpacas and bird life.
I'll let the pictures of some of the sculptures tell the story pretty much from here....

And a different view of this sculpture, called Dismemberment by Anish Kapoor next pic

Neil Dawson's Horizons - a trompe l'oeil to suggest a giant piece of corrugated iron blown off a  barn 

A close up of the sculpture you can see two photos back

And one of yours truly in front of Richard Thompson's sculpture, which is red on the other side.

So a 7 km walk - exercise and art appreciation,
 a beaut day out with friends, gorgeous weather - what's not to love? 

Monday, 17 November 2014

Some failures! And an Inspiration.

I like to try out lots of tips I see about. Some turn out to be fabulous life changers, but others, well I think they are myths. Or maybe they work for other people.

So a couple that haven't worked for me in the garden...
Firstly I read that if you cover your brassicas with a rhubarb leaf the white butterflies will be fooled.

Well don't you believe it! I was going to post this shot of my lovely broccoli, but then thought, I'd actually better cut it and make sure that works. Disappointment! Now it is soaking in a tub of salted water, and even then if I am going to eat it, it just about has to pass a magnifying glass inspection.
The second failure was Diatomaceous Earth that I have posted about previously when I discovered it. Well I dusted all my brassicas with it - even under the leaves (labour intensive!). Today there are still little green caterpillars crawling through it.
Another brilliant idea I had was to empty out some old spices that I had hanging about around my seedlings - ie chilli and white pepper. These were left over from clearing my parents estate, and the longer they sat in the shed, the less likely they were to get used. I just hope they annoyed some slugs and snails.
We have so many insects that it makes gardening a real challenge.

Another (suspected) myth that I am investigating is whether applying apple cider vinegar to skin tags three times a day for a week will get rid of them. 
Might have to go on a bit longer than a week to make up for the slip-ups. (Not exactly a scientific study haha). More about this in a week or two.

My Inspirational Friend

I visited my friend Yvonne yesterday. She is always one of my inspiration stops. She kindly allowed me to use a photo of one of the gifts she is making for the young ones in her extended family. I think it was seven of these she was making. This quilt is made for a boy with musical interests.

Yvonne uses old flannelette sheeting as batting (I think that's the term, you can tell that I don't do quilting - I'm too untidy), as she says it gives them warmth without too much weight.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Organized for Christmas Yet?

Every year I plan to be more organized for Christmas - because that is the secret to sticking to your principles of not buying gifts that are not good for the planet, and actually sometimes not even good for the recipient.
That's the secret to having enough time to gift wrap using recycled materials.

We have some people on our Christmas list who are hard to buy for - elderly parents who don't need more stuff, the quite well off who can buy anything they want for themselves, and some living overseas.

This year I have decided to make part of the gifts myself (as I did last year with homemade Christmas cakes). 
I'm going to make pretty jars of this yummy Annabel Langbein antipasto recipe,

Roasted feta, olives, capsicum, garlic, cherry tomatoes

(I've just made some with roasted asparagus instead of tomatoes)....                and jars of home made
orange marmalade

(not the low sugar variety), maybe some rum and raisin truffles

 plus some basket-fillers like crackers and nuts, maybe a little pot of sage (which will hopefully have grown big enough by then).
While I was doing my bulk shopping yesterday, there was a woman in buying ingredients to make her Christmas cakes. The shop owner commented - "it's hard to find time to be home long enough to cook a Christmas cake." 
That's what makes hand made gifts precious - the gift of time, which a lot of people don't have these days.
My friend Diane has just made five of these lovely rayon kimono gowns for all her family's females. They are so lucky!

Do you have any fabulous ideas for keeping Christmas sane -clever presents, gift wrapping or decor that are eco friendly? I'd love it if you share some. 

Saturday, 8 November 2014

New Tea Tree Arbor and Garden Glimpses

Every year I plan to have the best garden ever, but they never look as good as those on other people's blogs. But today I thought it doesn't look too bad so I'm putting some photos of it in. Look what Derek and Katie made - I love it!

Derek viewed through the tea tree arbor that he and Katie built yesterday for the beans to climb over.

I've got a constant brew on the go, of seaweed, comfrey and horse poo tea, which I dish out every week. My plants all get a lawn clipping mulch, after I read in NZ Gardener magazine about an nonagenarian who used only lawn clippings on his garden and it was fabulous.

Cinders loves to be where the action is - lying all over my heirloom Dalmatian cabbages

I spend a lot of time gardening, and the gardens have come a long way since I moved in. It can't be too bad...I'm picking broad beans, kale, silverbeet, rhubarb, strawberries, spring onions, mesclun and lettuce, plus calla lilies and sweetpeas. And of course herbs.

I don't have the heart to pull out some of my plants that have gone to seed when I see how the bees love them. Does that mean they will have onion flavoured honey?

Calla Lilies

After growing calla lilies commercially for a couple of years I never wanted to see another one - but I have relented. They are low maintenance and last well in the vase.
I hope you've enjoyed the little garden ramble.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Mint Jelly and an Excellent New Tea Tree Trellis

Because we can't go back and change it...
Poster by Kevin Martinez

What will your masterpiece be like when you get to the end? A beautiful work of art that calls to people? Is it considered and deliberate? Or is it an abstract that just unfolds, but is a thing of beauty to behold, maybe a Jackson Pollockesque frantic work - complicated and busy.
Perhaps it would be like "The Scream".
I think mine will be an organic mixed media with no straight lines, and just a bit messy.

And talking of organic..

Yesterday Derek whipped up this fabulous tea tree trellis for one of our passionfruit plants. The plant looks a little sorry in the photo as it had just been persuaded to change position, but it will pick up soon.

We have a supply of these lovely tall straight tea trees on our place. The next project is to be a frame for my beans that will be an arbor between raised garden beds.

The Mint Jelly Recipe

Last post I was making mint jelly for the first time - trying to equal (or beat) the beloved one that comes with artificial additives and a plastic bottle.
I found this recipe on Karon Greive's blog Larder Love for Sugar Free Mint Jelly and gave it a try.
Photo taken from Larder Love blog

Even in my half-baked fashion of not following instructions it turned out pretty good and got a thumbs up from Derek and Katie.
I only made a small amount - quarter of the recipe to be exact, because I didn't have enough mint, and that made one small bottle full. I can tell that is not going to last long so I had better nurture the mint a bit more.
Karon's recipe uses organic apple juice instead of sugar, which I thought was great. I just used a carton of juice that I had, but duh, next time I will juice some apples to get the real thing.
Karon advocates using the mint sauce on lamb, or thinning it to drizzle on new potatoes or mixing with yoghurt for a dip.
Added later: I didn't mention, my jelly turned out a bit runny to start with so I added a couple of teaspoons of jam setter. I think I may have used too much liquid in the initial apple cooking stage as the recipe doesn't specify. But it's still good.
Here is the link to her larder love sugar-free-mint-jelly recipe 

Some of my other Supermarket replacements that have turned out well are...

Margarine replacement Bob Each Way Spread which is made from butter and olive oil
And a post that links to a fabulous icecream recipe that doesn't require a machine, and no stirring once it goes into the freezer - just your own wholesome ingredients.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

When Your Dishwasher Doesn't Clean; Wormwood

When Your Dishwasher Won't Clean...
A while back one of my tenants reported that their dishwasher wasn't cleaning the dishes. Well I have learnt not to rush off and phone up a repairman. First thing I do now is Google the model of the appliance and the problem and it is amazing how often I am able to sort the problem myself - or at least get a better understanding of it.
So when I asked my daughter how her new (second hand) dishwasher was working, and she replied "not very good", I knew what to look for.
The first thing to do is check that the rotating arm is not being stopped by large dishes. The second thing is to take those arms off - generally they seem to unscrew easily - and clean out the little holes, then run some hot water through them from the tap to make sure they are clear.
It looked like her dishwasher arms had never been cleaned, and now the report is that "it's much better now thanks"

Dishwasher arm - some have tiny holes that block - no squirt - no work

I read that wormwood is a good pest deterrent - and I'm all for that!
I bought myself a packet of seeds and boy did they grow!
So now I am giving them away - anyone want some?

Wormwood seedlings

I have discovered however that you need to know what you are doing with this stuff. It has a growth retardant effect on other plants - so watch where you plant it. The growth retardant factor washes out from the roots, and you don't want to use tea made from it on any young or tender plants for the same reason.
 And you certainly don't want to drink that tea. Wormwood is what absinthe was made of in the old days and can be lethal. In fact it is recommended that you wash you hands even after handling it.
If that doesn't put people off, then it is supposedly a deterrent to ants, mice, moths, flies and other insects as well as possums, rabbits, birds and deer.
So I am going to carefully position it, and then hang branches of it in the fruit trees to put the possums and birds off eating our fruit. 
I'll let you know how that works out.

Mint Sauce

I don't much like mint sauce, but everyone else here adores it. I looked at the (plastic) bottle and declared that I'm sure I could make better mint sauce without all the numbers (food colouring etc), and without it being 30% sugar like the bought stuff. Let alone save on price and packaging.
So today that is what I am doing and will post the results next time.
I am trying to make it like a suspension or jelly, as opposed to the stuff my mother made - the old English way - which was pretty much instant, just mint and vinegar with a bit of sugar.

It's a great day for being in the kitchen. It's pouring with rain, there's thunder and lightening and Munta has taken to being a big sook and thinks he should be an inside dog. I have let him have the mat just inside the door because I am a big softee.
Being scared of thunder and lightening