Homemade childhood food memories

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This is a new thing. It’s something quite fun and I hope you want to play along. Mr B and I have decided to revisit some of the meals and dishes of our childhoods, and the memories that go with the meals. We are going to cook them up and photograph them and blog about them and share our recipes. The meals we hated and the meals we loved, and the meals our families seemed to eat over and over and over again.

We had a little brainstorm the other night and the list above contains some of our most potent food memories. There’s nothing sophisticated in there, it’s just childhood. Chilli con carne? Oh, how I hated it, served up with sides of coconut and banana and sultanas (why? WHY?). Chocolate eclairs? You should hear Mr B go on about his grandmother’s “famous” eclairs.

Taste is an extraordinarily powerful sense, wouldn’t you agree? Even more so as it is combined with smell. Just one little taste of something can instantly transport you in time and space. There is a cake shop on Rathdowne Street that, until recently, sold cupcakes that tasted a lot – a LOT – like the vanilla cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery in the West Village in New York. I would go there and get a coffee and cake to go, pushing then-baby Madeleine in her pram while she slept. And as I took that first bite Rathdowne Street would melt away and I’d be crossing the road with my dog into a little park just over the way from Magnolia and checking the bench seats for pigeon poo and fishing my notebook out of my bag and writing poetry in the last little pockets of autumn sun before the evening closed in.

What about you? Tell me your most powerful food memories. I’d love you to join in with me, if you want to. There are two ways we can do this:

1. Cook up your own food memories, and use the hashtag #naomilovesfoodmemories around the social media traps so we can all see what you’ve been cooking and what you remember, and share the love

2. Another way you can join in, if you prefer, is to tell ME about a dish that brings back special memories for you. Mr B and I will add your dish to our list and cook it up on your behalf. Now THAT could be fun

Let’s do this!

Happy

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The kids and I just had the best day in my experience of motherhood so far. At least, definitely one of the top three. We didn’t do anything particularly special and I won’t bore you with the details but the stars aligned and the day was just… happy. Not “busy but happy” or “there were meltdowns but it was happy,” nor “hard work but happy.” Simply happy. All of us.

The day’s sunshine is still glowing warm under my skin and a smile keeps flickering unbidden, gently, around the corners of my mouth. I was going to write a blog post tonight but instead I’m going to let myself bask in my happy day. I wish this for you too. Oh how I wish it. I hope you get to know this kind of full-heart and full-body happiness soon!

(Image is Creative Commons, from here)

Write with the whole of your hands

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Has the digital age killed the post? Recently the absolutely lovely Rachel Faith Cox sent me (in the mail) Simon Garfield’s latest book, To the Letter, and I have just started reading it. In this book, Garfield likens the post to the paddle steamer.

“The digitisation of communication has effected dramatic changes in our lives, but the impact on letter-writing – so gradual and so fundamental – has slipped by like an English summer. Something that has been crucial to our economic and emotional well-being since ancient Greece has been slowly evaporating for two decades, and in two more the licking of a stamp will seem as antiquated to a future generation as the paddle steamer. You can still travel by paddle steamer, and you can still send a letter, but why would you want to when the alternatives are so much faster and more convenient?”

But To the Letter, he says, is an attempt to provide a positive answer to that question.

“It is a celebration of what has gone before, and the value we place on literacy, good thinking and thinking ahead,” he says. And, in a sentiment I find quite lovely, “I wonder if it is not also a book about kindness.” Garfield wants to celebrate “the post, the envelope, a pen, a slower cerebral whirring, the use of the whole of our hands and not just the tips of our fingers.”

I love that concept, and it rings true for me. Each letter I write to blog readers takes me a lot of time, and I definitely use my whole hand. But I’m not used to writing long-hand any more. My hand cramps up, my cursive is appalling. I am always amazed to learn that people can actually decipher what I’ve written. My hand can’t keep up with my mind, and my thoughts and ideas race ahead of my pen until things become jumbled and lost. Sometimes, this manifests in blotches and crossings-out and other evidences of a little bit of emergency editing. Other times, I catch myself in time. I slow down, breathe, and write more consciously.

And it’s not just the writing of the letter. I use my whole hands to put together the collection of little things I put inside my mail: old stamps, tea leaves, a book, whatever I’m sending at the time. With my whole hands I wrap the parcels in brown paper, draw and paint the address and pictures, wrap the whole thing in string. In one hand I hold a stick of red wax and in the other I hold a lit match, dripping the wax in an ever-growing circle at the point where the string is tied off. As I press the seal with my initial into the hot wax, I press with two whole hands.

Every letter I send is a slow, tactile and personal activity. It takes me a long time, and I find it quite meditative. Therapeutic, even. I love it.

What about you. Do you like to write letters?

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Chicken noodle soup (+ links)

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How was your weekend? Are you sick too? Everyone I seem to talk to is sick right now, not excluding my entire family. Those roses are a metaphor. And not a very subtle one. But somehow despite our never-ending illnesses, and the exhaustion, and the small fortune in tissues we’ve been expending of late, my weekend was still lovely, full of sunshine and love.

This weekend, Madeleine said “I love you Mummy,” out of the blue, for the first time, making me the happiest Mummy in all of Melbourne. She also said “I miss my Nanna and Pa,” which made her the most popular granddaughter in all of Melbourne.

This weekend, my parents came down from Sydney for a visit. The brought with them kisses and presents and laughter and all kinds of handy fix-up-our-house skills and boundless patience with the complete chaos that reigns around here 98 percent of the time and stops us from giving them the time and emotional energy they deserve. Mr B and I went out together for dinner while my parents minded the little ones. Anyone with small children and no regular support knows how rare and how precious that is. We wandered hand in hand through Chinatown like we used to when we first moved here and it was just us, and took a punt on a restaurant based on no other reason than it was there. We had little pieces of Peking Duck wrapped in pancake. The meal was good. The company was better.

This weekend, we all drove down to Bendigo to spend some time with Mr B’s family. The 13 of us took up a giant table at the historic Shamrock Hotel for lunch and, when the food riot was over, Mr B bought cakes at Gillies Pies and we wandered across to the park where the kids had pretty much the best time kids have ever had running around and chasing each other and chasing footballs and falling off slippery-dips. All except Harry, who fell asleep on my chest in the Ergo, and I think he thought that was a pretty good time, too. Harry ate his weight in food this weekend, about six times over. He still didn’t crawl, but he was probably too full and heavy from all that food.

This weekend was the first warm weekend since… I don’t know, I’ve lost count. Probably April. And I love winter but I am SO OVER being sick and maybe just maybe that Vitamin D could help drive away the germs. It was all just what was needed to cheer me up, after being sick for so long. Do you need a little bit of cheering up? A digital bowl of chicken noodle soup, or hot chocolate, or just a cuddle? Hopefully these links will make you smile.

* Stone-fruit tarts with honey-coconut syrup. Um, yes please!

* This tiny home is just a converted garage. But it is stunning! So inspiring

* Get creative with contemporary collage

* Next time you want to read a book in bed, this adorable birdhouse bookshelf will make your book the roof

* Stop setting fire to the bloggers. Just stop it.

* Chocolate robots. Let me say that again. CHOCOLATE ROBOTS

* So completely in love with these luxury tree houses

* And I’ve saved the best for last. “The Barisieur” alarm clock brews your coffee to wake you up

Handmade gift idea – tea fortunes

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Recently I came up with the idea to make these handmade “tea fortunes.” They are simple to put together and make pretty, thoughtful gifts. They are really a mixture between a tea-bag and a fortune cookie, and you can tailor them to be as personal as you like. I think they would be great as party favours, in a hamper, or as something lightweight but lovely to send in the mail.

Step 1: Choose some loose-leaf tea. I used the Crimson Blend from the Travelling Samovar, because it’s my absolute favourite and I drink it all the time

Step 2: Spoon the tea into a giant tea-bag. You can simply use a sheet of muslin cloth, tied with baking string, or stitch it into a little pouch if you’re handy with a sewing machine. I used the oversized bags you see in these pictures because the lovely ladies at Travelling Samovar had some on hand and gave them to me. If you want to do the same, they can be found in Asian grocery stores

Step 3: Write your “fortunes.” On thin strips of paper, write out anything you like. I used a mixture of positive affirmations, switching out the “I” for “You,” as well as some inspiring quotes on creativity. Roll up your fortunes into tiny scrolls, and tie them with pieces of string.

Step 4: Personalise a giant paper pocket for the tea-bag. To do this, decorate the middle of an A4-sized sheet of paper, roughly the same size as your handmade tea-bag. Decorated it any way that takes your fancy, I painted the little tea cup you see here. Just make sure the paper is horizontal.

Step 5: Turn the sheet over so that your picture is face-down. Fold the top and bottom in, at about two centimetres. Place your tea-bag in the middle, and tuck the fortune-scrolls in behind it. Now fold the paper in at either side of your tea-bag to create the pocket. Secure it with a piece of washi tape, and you’re done!

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The foretelling

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If I close my eyes I am instantly back there, sitting cross-legged on the floor of our family room underneath the IKEA shelves and fold-out “architect’s desk,” scribbling on scraps of paper. Sunlight slants sideways from a big wall of windows, the curtains decorated with lime concentric circles. There are lime-and-red cushions on the chairs.

The family room is dominated by a gigantic, yellow, vinyl, double-sized beanbag. On days that I am sick and stay home from school, I lie lengthwise in this beanbag and Mum lets me watch daytime TV. On one particular afternoon, one that has gone down in family folklore, Mum lets the dog inside to “comfort” me. He races through the kitchen and leaps onto the beanbag, not realising I am already in it until it is too late. He lands on my head. From that day until the day he dies, that dog will never leap into that beanbag again.

I’m not in the beanbag when I close my eyes. I’m on the floor, under the furniture. I’m writing a book. Scraps of paper surround me and on each of them is a new page of my story, thick with misspellings and childlike illustrations. Later, Mum will staple all the pages together to create my book. I am rewriting Black Beauty. “Black is my favourite colour,” I tell Mum, “because I love black horses.”

That is the first time I can remember thinking I want to be a writer.

In the years that follow, I swell with pride when my story is printed in my primary school newsletter, the Panorama (because my school’s name is Wideview, get it?). I pen self-conscious and intensely melodramatic dramas during my hippie stage in high school, inspired by a blood moon rising beyond the horizon. Once, I create a mythology for “the birth of the sun.” In my description of the “raw power and force,” I believe I have tapped something deeply inspired. My English teacher tells me she feels as though she is reading a motorcycle advertisement.

Later, I write a fable about time. A travel memoir about growing up in the country. Poems about broken hearts. I subconsciously turn every job I have into a writing job, until I stumble into a commodity analyst/journalism role and my editor becomes my mentor. Writing is now my profession, but the words I create are a long way from those motorcycle-advertisement dramas. Now, I write about wool futures and cattle markets. About business leaders and political decisions. The subject matter is less than inspiring, but my editor teaches me about plain English, the elegance of minimalism, the value of self editing.

Hunched over my desk under a flickering flourescent light on a contract writing-job for a client, I write a novella in between memos and reports. At home, insomnia turns my brain into the rabbit hole to Wonderland. My novella spirals with it, and transforms into something unintentionally tainted with magic. When the editors at Curtin University’s Black Swan Press approach me to publish my book, I am as proud as I was the day the Panorama sent out photocopies of my Nancy Drew-inspired adventure. Possibly more.

The day I get the letter to say cutbacks in funding mean Black Swan will be closing, and my contract is void, I am devastated. I take it personally, and it is months before I write again. But then I do write, and I burden my next character with more humiliation than I have ever known. It is cathartic.

I am writing this on the floor of my lounge room, cross legged, wrapped up in my dressing gown with my lap top on my knees. My two children are upstairs asleep. Madeleine is two and two months, and she loves to create stories in her little notebook. “One day…” she will promise out loud, while scribbling across a page. Then she will mutter for a little while over more pages and more scribbles, before closing the book with a loud clap and announcing, “The End!”

My fingers on the keyboard are my livelihood but, more than that, they are the outlet for my deepest emotions. The telling of my story, and of theirs. The retelling, the rewriting, the foretelling.

Looking back

Nostalgia

For one reason or another, I have been remembering snippets from my childhood lately.

* My father, singing in the shower. Every morning. Steam seeps from under the pale-blue door, and the sounds of splashing accompanied by the operatic yet essentially-tuneless tones of “Oh-ho-me-oh-ho” echo through the house. It isn’t until well into adulthood that I realise Dad has been singing his own version of O sole mio.

* I wake up extra early and set the table for breakfast each morning. When everyone else gets up, they say “Look! The fairies have been to set the table!” I beam with pride, even though I know they know. But my morning is fraught with tension because I am terrified of being caught. If anyone gets up before I am finished and comes in to thank me, I am devastated. I race out of the room in a temper of tears. I still don’t know why.

* My cousins and I are going to be detectives when we grow up. We set sticky-tape and talcum powder traps all over the house to entrap burglars and parents.

* The horse-mad phase. The outside of my bedroom door is a larger-than-life poster of a horse, gazing out into our hallway from over a stable door. The door-knob into my room is in fact a cast-iron stable latch. Inside, the floor is covered in straw matting. All my furniture is made of wood (“like a stable”), and aged and cracking bridles and spurs found in my great-grandfather’s garden shed are the chief decorations. A wall-frieze of Norman Thelwell cartoons circumnavigates the room.

* Mum has given me my own patch of garden, and we plant radishes together. The sun is hot on the back of my neck, the earth smells good. In the weeks that follow, I water and watch my radishes impatiently. I am so excited when we finally pull them up. Wash them, slice them, eat them in a salad. And then tears. “Mum, these are horrible!”

* Our tree house. It is up, up, up in a willow tree, accessed via rope ladder, and it is SO great. Why did I never decorate it?

* I’m in trouble for something, I don’t remember what. I hurtle into my bedroom and throw myself face-down on my bed, next to my cat Peppy. “You are the only one who understands me Peppy!” I cry. Peppy purrs.

* Peppy’s favourite place to hang out is the second floor of my Barbie Townhouse.

* I can’t decide what to call my new doll. In the end, I decide on Betsy-Ann-Amanda-Aunty-Rose and the name is never to be shortened.

* Which reminds me: Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo. And his little brother Chang.

* My budgie Simon is a hand-me-down from somebody else and he is already old when we get him. He has a strange growth at the top of his beak. We take him to the vet to find out about the growth and find out that Simon is a girl. Mum tries to rename him Simone but it won’t stick. I try to teach Simon-the-girl to talk but if she ever speaks, it isn’t to me.

* Daisy chains, made from clover flowers.

* There is a soft, clay patch at the side of our house. All the neighbourhood kids come over to our house with plastic spades and we dig a really gigantic hole, big enough for us to climb inside and get covered in clay from head to toe, before we are discovered. We estimate it will take a good week to finish this project. We are digging to China.

What is making you nostalgic?

Photo is by Lizzy Gadd, licenced under Creative Commons

Snail mail – 10 treats for your mail-box

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I’ve been writing letters again. This is one of my favourite things to do. It only really happens on nights when both children sleep early and well, and there are no other jobs to do. After the dinner is cooked and eaten and the animals are fed and the toys are picked up off the playroom floor and the kitchen is clean, I bring my things out onto the dining room table and write letters and wrap parcels and paint addresses on brown paper, while Mr B signs letters of his own, in front of the TV. I can get very happily lost in this lovely task. And before I know it, the time has gotten away from me and I realise Harry is due – or overdue – for a feed and I am due – or overdue – to climb into bed. So I quickly pack everything away and jump into the shower and start again on another quiet night.

Do you love snail mail? You might enjoy these 10 treats for your mail-box:

Absolutely adorable crocheted stamps

Stunning confetti-decorated mail

Snail mail my email (strangers will turn your email into a hand-written letter then post it to your friend) is back

Take a look at all this amazing mail!

Did you like the flower heart postcard I received recently? Here’s how it was made

This blog is filled with more amazing mail art

These DIY party poppers would be fantastic to send in the mail, with a little message inside the “pop”

Did you know you could personalise stamps with Australia Post?

This guy sent a camera through mail, inviting postal workers to take photos before passing it on

Birthday in a can is good. Mail in a can would be even better!

 

Happy Tuesday dear friends. I hope your week is GREAT. Here is some more mail.

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Madeleine’s diary: lemon preserves

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Sunday, 3:30pm: We are picking lemons. I LOVE picking lemons! Mummy says I’m very busy. I think I will shout. ME BUSY! ME BUSY! The lemons are up very high in the tree. This is so exciting, how can I contain myself? I know, I’ll yell. UP HIGH! UP HIGH! Now I think I will run around in circles. Oh there’s my dog Oliver! Catch Oliver! Catch Oliver! Why is he hiding under the table?

3:40pm: Mummy is picking lemons without me! Nooooo Mummy! How could you? I am devastated. Waaaaaaah! Me! Me! Where is Oliver? No, wait, I’m picking lemons. Me busy Mummy! Me busy!

3:41pm: I am very good at picking lemons. The neighbours should all know about this. YEMONS! ME BUSY! ME BUSY!

3:50pm: We filled the whole basket. I can carry it Mummy. Me!

3:51pm: Oh no! The basket tipped over and all the lemons fell out! Waaaaaaah.

3:52pm: We are picking up all the lemons and putting them back in the basket. Me busy Mummy! Me busy! Oh look there’s Oliver…

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4:15pm: Mummy is washing the lemons, ready to make preserves. I help! I help! I know all about baking. I’ll just get my little stool. Here Mummy, I’ll bring you all the things you need from out of the cupboard and put them on the kitchen bench. Flour. Cocoa. Vanilla essence. Golden syrup. Hundreds and Thousands. Cornflour. Now I’ll bring your baking things. Big mixing bowl. Rolling pin. My pink mixing spoon with the pig on the end. A whisk. These lemons will make excellent chocolate cake!

4:16pm: No Mummy! Don’t put those things away! We’re baking! Waaaaaah!

4:17pm: Why is she putting lemons into little bags? The freezer Mummy? I open de door! I OPEN! I opened the freezer door for Mummy. I am very good at that. I closed it too. Oh look! Oliver is inside the house. Catch me Oliver…

Monday, 4pm: Mummy is stuffing rock salt into partially-defrosted lemons. It is probably chocolate cake. I will lick the bowl. I’ll quickly grab it before asking, in case Mummy says no. YUCKY! Waaaaaah! Lemon juice and salt do not taste like chocolate cake AT ALL.

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So, lemon preserves. I followed this recipe. Two big jars are now resting quietly on a dark shelf at the top of our pantry, ready for the eating in about a month or so. Unlike Madeleine, I am doubtful that they will taste like chocolate cake. On the other hand, I am hopeful that they will be delicious. Do you have any recipes using preserved lemons that you’d recommend?

ps. more from Madeleine’s diary here and here

Handy printable – what not to eat when you’re eating for two

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This post is slightly off-topic but it seems a lot of my friends have fallen pregnant lately, and some of the questions and comments they’ve been sharing are pretty familiar. And I thought if they were raising these questions and I had raised these questions, then quite possibly a lot of other people would have these questions too. So I thought I’d share what I discovered in case you or someone you know might find it handy.

So first of all, hey Mama! Congratulations!

And secondly, arg! How annoying is that ‘pregnancy elimination diet’!?! That gigantic list of things you’re not supposed to eat when you’re carrying around a little one inside you, that miraculously as soon as you CAN’T eat them you really, really want to? Yeah that one.

Of course deciding what you will and won’t eat while you are pregnant is completely your decision, and I’m not here to judge. But in case you found this entire field as tricky to navigate as I did, I thought I’d share this handy printable list I created, to help you out.

Basically, the key reason it’s recommended that you avoid certain foods while pregnant is because of the risk of consuming a bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes. The risk of Listeria infection is low, assuming you eat properly prepared and stored foods. So a lot of people don’t worry too much about it. I get that. But if you DO happen to consume Listeria, even a mild infection can cause your baby to be born prematurely or be very sick when they are born, or even cause miscarriage or stillbirth. As a chronic worrier, that was something I wasn’t going to risk, so I was all up in the faces of the FOOD DON’T lists.

I found the most difficult time to follow a “pregnancy safe” diet was when I was eating out. Which happens to be a lot. You could almost guarantee that there would be at least something on any menu item that was on the DON’T list. So I created myself a little check-list, the size of a business card, that I carried around with me. Wherever I was, I could look up the food on my list to see what was safe to eat and what wasn’t.

(Embarrassing confession: this list came in especially handy with all the cheeses – simply saying “no soft cheese” wasn’t enough for me because there are so many cheeses that half the time I didn’t know what they were called. I’d think I was reading the name of a mushroom or something.)

Alongside Listeria, the other thing the health experts recommend you limit when pregnant is your mercury intake, which can damage the foetus and is found at high levels in some fish. This isn’t a big risk because you’d have to be eating these types of fish quite regularly for the mercury to build up in your blood (and it is recommended that you do eat fish during your pregnancy), but I included the high-mercury-content fish on my list, just to be sure.

My food card is a kind of amalgam of the NSW Food Authority list of foods to avoid when pregnant, and a similar list from the Victorian Government Better Health Channel. Bear in mind that my list is by no means authoritative, and you should do your own research and/or check with your doctor if you are unsure. Also, I erred on the side of caution in most cases so if the lists said “don’t eat unless you have done X, Y or Z,” I just put it on the “don’t eat” list, because honestly that was easier to remember!

>> Here is my Pregnancy-Food-Safety-Card. It’s business-card sized, so you can simply print it off then stick the sides back to back (or just print it double-sided if you have that kind of printer). I laminated mine so that it would survive nine months in my purse.

>> If you want to adapt the card to your own food-choices, here it is in Word format so you can edit it.

I hope this helps! xx

Do you have any handy tips or resources from your own pregnancy that you can share with other mums to be?

 

Snail mail – thank you + Tuesday links

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Some beautiful surprises have been arriving in the mail and on my doorstep in recent weeks. I feel so lucky to be on the receiving end of so much thoughtfulness and generosity.

:: Lovely cards and notes and ephemera from beautiful friends met via this blog
:: Precious cherries in the middle of winter, from my wonderful husband
:: An adorable, polka-dotted parcel of goodies, from the lovely Louise of Jubilee Road
:: The most extravagant, glorious floral postcard I’ve ever seen, from mail artist Dean Grey
:: Stunning pink roses from Tillda Flowers, with little watermelon sweets from Suga Muma
:: And this crocheted bunting from Sandra, which is so perfect I don’t even know where to start

Mail-1 Mail-2Each of these absolutely brightened my day, and I’m so incredibly thankful to everyone who has taken the time to write to me and send these things. WOW, you guys are so generous!

It’s not exactly the same, but I thought I’d try to pay it forward a little bit by sharing some lovely bits and pieces with you all that I’ve collected from around the Internet of late. I hope you enjoy them.

1. To test any creative idea, ask yourself: what comes next?

2. These people have transformed something from the everyday (a school bus) into something wonderful (a stylish holiday home)!

3. More giant knitting. Snuggle up!

4. This made me laugh. My ideal wedding at any age

5. LOVE the look of these DIY ‘watercolour’ mugs

6. When was the last time you wrote a thank-you note?

7. Cats like food trucks too!

8. Valley of the Kings. I want to go here.

9. Fantastic list of books for creative people

10. I lost way too much time exploring The Nostalgia Machine. All the memories!

11. Don’t try this at home: railroad street art

12. Healthy nachos? Don’t mind if I do!

13. This makes me want to create my own urban jungle

14. In my job and my creative pursuits, I often still draw or write things out by hand before flipping open the laptop. Seems I’ve been doing something right.

Have you written someone a letter later? Just a little note in the mail to say “Hi, I’m thinking of you”? Let’s all send someone a lovely surprise in the mail this week. I can tell you from personal experience: it will make their day!