Happy Australia Day

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I know, I know, it’s controversial. It’s also a day off together as a family and we get precious little of those so we’re making the most of it. To whit: I am eating lamingtons (n.b. the spell checker tried THREE TIMES to change that word to laminations). I’ll be back tomorrow with a really easy project to make your snail mail more interesting.

 

Image credit: Shelley Brunt, licensed under Creative Commons

Portent of autumn

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Lately we’ve been having some strange weather days that feel out of place. Like mid-summer pretending to be autumn. It’s still warm, hot even, but overcast, with the kind of glare that makes you put your sunglasses on and, when you do, turns the day too dark to feel in control any more. Do you know what I mean?

The other day as I walked the dog to buy my afternoon coffee it was as though we were locked in an uneasy kind of silence. The soft steps of my sneakers and the clack-clack of Oliver’s claws on the footpath faded away. There was not another soul on the street. Everything around us was still but, up high, the tops of trees bent and twisted and danced to a wind that would play with leaves but not with us.

It felt like a message. I don’t know if it was a good one or something more malevolent, maybe it was nothing more than a portent of autumn.

Image credit: Chelsea Francis, licensed under Creative Commons

Stationery crush

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How beautiful are these letter sets, designed and published by Zetta Florence? The images were sourced from the State Library of Victoria. They’re beautiful to look at, and the stock is thick and heavy and wonderfully textured. I love that the artwork is all on the envelopes, leaving the cards clean and free to write (or draw) your own message however you like.

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What you’re looking at:

The building: “State Library of Victoria architecture, The Public Library, Museums and National Galleries of Victoria, New Reading Room and Stack Rooms (detail), Bates, Peebles & Smart, architects, 1909, collection of the Public Record Office Victoria”

The hummingbirds: “John Gould, A monograph of the Trochilidae, or, A Family of Humming-birds, London, 1849-61, Rare Books Collection, State Library of Victoria”

The street map: “Melbourne and its Suburbs (detail, enhanced), James Kearney, draughtsman, 1855, Rare Printed Collection, State Library of Victoria”

Hello Bendigo

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Over the Christmas / New Year period we spent a few days in Mr B’s hometown, Bendigo. In between visits to Nanna and all the cousins and a birthday barbecue out at Uncle Mark’s place where dust and snags and lollies and water fights made it Scout heaven, we decided to play tourist.

Have you ever pretended to be a tourist in your own town? It’s something I really enjoy doing now and then, just for fun, and I highly recommend it. You do all the things that as a local you would normally skip/avoid-like-the-plague. Visit all the tourist sites. Ride the hop-on-hop-off bus (if there is one). Eat the crappy tourist food in the crappy tourist cafes. The cheesier the better.

Of course I actually AM a tourist when I visit Bendigo, but I’ve never looked at it in that way before, since every visit is all about family. It’s such a beautiful and historic place to visit, when you take the time to look! And for Mr B, who was born and bred in Bendigo but hadn’t lived there in 20 years, this was a fun way to reacquaint himself with what was perhaps a different side to his home town.

Bring on more iPhone photos.

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Snail mail – staying in touch

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I’ve been thinking lately about relationships and friendships and how important it is to us to stay in touch, no matter how far the distance or time is that separates us.

After all that’s how Facebook became so popular, isn’t it?

Several years ago I spent some time in the outback filming an educational documentary about the Great Artesian Basin. We visited the ruins of a telegraph repeater station in the centre of Australia, and it was just extraordinary. You’d be hard pressed to find anywhere in the world made of such lonely beauty.

The locals told us the story of a settler who had sent for his English bride to join him. She survived the arduous voyage half way across the world by boat, alone, and the miserably long and hot journey to their farmstead, only to find him gone (I can’t remember why – he was hunting or trading in town or something). It was many months before he returned, and he found her almost starved and completely blind from the glare of the sun on the salt plains.

Desolation doesn’t begin to describe that moonscape environment. Yet people CHOSE to live there and many of them didn’t just live, they thrived.

The repeater station I visited was one of 11 that stretched fully from the north to the south of Australia, over 2000 miles. Building the overland telegraph line, in those days and in those conditions, was one of the greatest engineering feats in Australia’s history.

Once complete it finally put an end to the isolation, by putting Australia in touch with the rest of the world.

To put that sort of effort into a place that was so remote and unforgiving (it was almost 50 degrees one day we were there) shows a powerful desire to stay in touch, don’t you think? Nothing but the overwhelming need to remain connected to the outside world could get you digging and building and maintaining a place like that in an environment like that.

I was playing with all these kinds of ideas when I was decorating mail to send to lovely blog-readers recently. These folk hailed from all over the world, and I wanted to think about ways we once had of communicating across distance, before this age of Internet and technology.

So this little collection of mail art is dedicated to the pioneers of communication. It’s a celebration of the pony express riders (and horses!) who raced through pouring rain and searing sun; of the pigeons of World War II who did the jobs the people couldn’t; of the men who laid a 2000-mile long telegraph route across Australia in 50+ degree heat; of the train drivers and sailors and pilots and code makers and code breakers and Alexander Graham Bell, and the many more men and women who, across the centuries, have helped us stay in touch with the people we love.

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Dress your baby in Week 1 (summer baby)

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I was approximately seven-and-a-half months pregnant with Scout before it began to dawn on me that this beautiful bump I had been cherishing for more than half a year was actually going to have to come OUT. And aside from feeling mildly nauseous with terror, and narrowing my eyes at the suddenly-enormous-looking circumference of Mr B’s head, I also started to panic about what I would need to have ready for the baby.

After several hours of Google searching, during which each new page left me even more confused than the last, I called my Mum and between us we did our best to create a “new baby checklist.” Two babies later I’ve honed that list and I thought maybe, just maybe, I could save YOU some Google-related anxiety and share some of my discoveries.

Today’s tips are about baby clothes for a baby born in the warmer months. This is a short list, just designed to get you through the first week, after which you will probably need to buy more clothes. Why such a short list?

* It’s hard to estimate what size your baby will be, so if you buy too much you could end up with a lot of clothes that just don’t fit
* Babies grow incredibly fast (Scout moved up a size at the end of her first week), so if you buy too much of any size your baby will probably grow out of them* before they get a chance to wear them

This is the part where I say every baby is different and every family is different and what worked for me might not work for you, and all that. Which is true, but I still HOPE my list helps. Here it is:

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1// Short sleeved onesies x 6

Your baby will probably live in these. They’re better than t-shirts and nappies because they still keep your baby cool but will also help keep the nappy in place (you can probably imagine but it will become abundantly clear that this is rather important)

2// Light cardigans x 2

If you step out at night, or if the weather turns windy or cool, you might want to layer your baby and that’s where the cardigans come in handy. I know those little knitted cardigans that people make you when you’re pregnant are adorable, but they’re probably too hot and bulky for a summer baby. You want something a bit lighter weight but still long sleeved

3// Bibs x 3

These are handy to catch dribble and spit-up. Without them, your baby will quickly end up with a soaking-wet top and you’ll end up having to change (and wash and dry and fold and put away) even more clothes

4// Nappy-covers x 2

These are cute little bloomer-style things that fit over the nappies. On really hot days when your baby is dressed only in a nappy, or just a nappy and a t-shirt, they look quite sweet and more “dressed.” They also go a little way towards holding the nappy in place (again, more important than you ever want it to be)

5// Long sleeved onesies x 2

Mostly for a warm weather baby you are better off layering short sleeves with little cardigans when it’s cold, rather than having to get them completely changed. But it’s good to be prepared just in case (as was the case for my summer baby Ralph) the weather is so unseasonably cold that you need proper long sleeves in that first week.

6// Long pants x 2

Again, while little blankets may serve to keep your baby warm enough, if the weather is unexpectedly cold you do want to be able to cover their little legs, especially when they’re out of bed such as when you’re feeding them. (A little tip: you can get onesies with the legs included, but in my experience those are a LOT harder to change in the middle of the night – all those press-studs! argh! – and if your baby gets spit-up all over his or her top, you’ll only have to change and wash and dry and fold and put away HALF the outfit)

7// Socks x 2

Just to keep those little toes cold in the night (or unseasonably-cool day) air

8// T-shirts x 4

As I’ve said, I prefer short-sleeved onesies for newborns because they hold the nappies in AND they don’t hitch up, exposing tummies or making backs uncomfortable while your baby sleeps. But t-shirts are still good to have around as backups, to swap over soiled onesies, or to add an extra layer if necessary

 

So there you have it. My Week 1 “dressing bub” survival list. After you’ve made it through this week, you’ll have a much better idea of what size your baby is, how fast they’re growing, what the weather is doing, and the kind of clothing/blanket/cot/pram/baby-wearing schedule that suits you, so you can go (or send someone else) shopping to buy more clothes. Have fun!

* Ralph was a summer baby and I’d bought a whole lot of adorable little newborn singlet-tops and shorts ready for his arrival. But when he was born the weather was unseasonably cool, and Mr B had to rush to the shops to buy him some little pants and long sleeved tops. By the time the summer temperatures returned, Ralph no longer fit those cute little singlets and shorts. We gave them away never-worn.

Snail mail: adorable postbox toy

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Warning: if you love snail mail and/or you have children in your life, this toy will rock your world.

It’s a painted, wooden, miniature replica of the Australia Post boxes you see all over the country, with the same little slot for posting letters, and the same pull-down panel for posting parcels, as the real boxes. A little door in the front means children (or the child-like at heart) can retrieve their letters after sending them, and start all over again.

The box comes with six cute little wooden letters and postcards (you can read the mail – there’s even a postcard from Wills & Kate to Harry, during their holiday in Australia), and six removable (via velcro) wooden stamps.

Scout and Ralph love to make their own mail-fun with this box. Scout “writes” letters (aka scribbles all over my note paper), folds them, then puts stickers on them as stamps. Then she posts her letters into the box. Now it is Ralph’s turn. He opens the red door, crushes Scout’s letters in his chubby little fist, and throws them gleefully around the room.

These actions have earned Ralph the title of Postman, so Scout will finish another letter and announce “Postman I need you!” to alert him to the fact that her mail needs to be delivered to the far reaches of the playroom, post haste.

I watch them play as I sit with a note pad on my lap and write letters to my own pen pals (hopefully not to be crushed by the postman). It gives me so much pleasure to see them play together in this way, and to pass on the joy of snail mail. Next, Scout says she wants to try putting some mail-art on her letters.

What has been making you happy lately?

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ps. This is in no way a sponsored post, so I haven’t mentioned the maker of this toy. But if you want to find it, the website is prominent in one of the pictures. You’re welcome.

Scout says…

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Lately, around our house…

SCOUT: Hey Mummy you my lunch. I gonna gobble you up.

ME: Oh no, don’t gobble me up! I’m not your lunch!

SCOUT: Shoosh. Lunch can’t talk.


:  :  :

SCOUT: I really need Weetbix Mummy. My tummy’s lonely.

:  :  :

ME: Hey listen to this classic old song

[Split Enz plays “I see red I see red I see red”]

SCOUT (singing with gusto): I see pink I see pink I see PINK!

:  :  :

ME: Yeesh Scout, that’s two poo-filled nappies in half an hour!

SCOUT: Happy birthday Mummy.

:  :  :

MR B: We are a Bulldogs family. We all barrack for the Bulldogs, don’t we Scout.

SCOUT: No Daddy.

MR B: Oh! Then who do you barrack for?

SCOUT: Mummy!

She sure does make me smile.

Food nostalgia: Mum’s devilled eggs & 80s salad

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Talk about food nostalgia! Devilled eggs are one of those dishes that take me RIGHT BACK to my childhood, with the first bite. Do you have a dish that does that for you?

Devilled eggs were a classic that my Mum would pull out whenever guests came over. We had devilled eggs with almost every barbecue (and we had a lot of barbecues). They were right up there on her “tried and true” list, with prawn cocktails.

It was 30 degrees outside when I made these devilled eggs, so I paired them with a simple salad for dinner. I call it “80s salad” because I swear we ate a salad like this at least once a week for the entire decade of the 80s. It was the least sophisticated, least pretentious salad you can imagine. The percentage of ancient grains, buffalo mozzarella or kale was exactly zilch. This salad had iceberg lettuce, friends. Remember iceberg lettuce? And whatever other veggies we happened to have to hand which, in my childhood, meant staples from the veggie patch: tomatoes, cucumber, celery. I added fresh pineapple to my salad, because I found some in the back of the ‘fridge and it was still good.

Mum’s devilled eggs recipe

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6 hard boiled eggs
2 tablespoons of chutney (or in this case, 2 tablespoons of Jayne’s homemade tomato relish, which did the job admirably well)
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper, to season

Peel the hard-boiled eggs*, then cut them in half, lengthwise. Put the yolks in a bowl with all the other ingredients, then mush and mix them all together.

Spoon the mixture into the empty halves of the egg whites.

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In Mum’s recipe, it says to garnish the eggs with slices of cucumbers, and I am a rule-follower (most of the time), so that’s what I did.

Wash it all down with chilled, cheap plonk. This bottle cost me $10, because I am all class.

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* Is it just me, or does anybody else think hard boiled eggs are a LOT more difficult to peel these days? The egg shell comes away in tiny little shards that cut your fingers, and half the time manages to take away giant chunks of egg-white with it.

That didn’t used to happen when I was a kid. Are they feeding something different to the hens? Or did they feed something different to the hens back when we were kids? Every time I make hard-boiled eggs for the kids, these days, I wonder at how difficult they are to peel.

Naomi Bulger, bringing you the hard-hitting news of the nation.

ps. Want more food nostalgia? This is how the Great Custard Controversy panned out.

Numbers

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Hello dear stranger! How are you? These joyful Christmas photographs were taken about 18 months ago. Wait. No, they were taken only three weeks ago. How is that even possible?

How was your Christmas (if Christmas is your thing)? Ours was really lovely, full of friends dropping by and delicious food and very excited children and at least one new tradition.

How was your New Year (if you mark your days by the Gregorian Calendar)? Ours was… actually, we were all in bed before the New Year clicked over. I heard the fireworks, though. And they sounded pretty impressive.

A month ago I took a little break from this blog to catch up on some writing and painting and other life tasks that were building up in the spare-room cupboard of my mind (turns out there’s a fine line between clutter and hoarding, even when it comes to internal to-do lists).

Somewhat predictably, I failed to complete everything on the list. But here’s what I have managed to do since we were all last here:

1 Christmas done and dusted, in a most enjoyable fashion
1/2 a turkey roasted to perfection
28 mail-art letters sent to blog readers
34 replies made to recent mail
5 fruit mince tarts consumed
1 truly adorable letter sent to Father Christmas
3 days spent in Bendigo, pretending be tourists
7 (min) walks of the dog per week (that is a record, post-kids)
15 letters posted regarding a super-secret project for my father’s upcoming birthday (I’d love to say more but he reads this blog. Hi Dad!)
27 hours spent on other elements of said super-secret birthday project
8 times Mr B’s favourite Elvis record (“Elvis sings Flaming Star”) was played
3 mojitos on a 43-degree day
43 dumplings drizzled with soy sauce
2 visits to the gym
11 hours spent playing tea parties and constructing toy train-sets
11,400 words of my “new motherhood” e-book written
2 illustrations completed for the e-book
136 pages into the book I’m kind-of reading. I’ve really lost steam on this one
1 dear friend giving birth to a beautiful baby girl
90 cups of tea and 30 coffees, down the hatch

How are YOU? How is your summer going? Or your winter, depending on where you are right now? What do you have planned to 2015? Is it too late to talk about plans and resolutions and fresh starts? Does the year feel tired and middle-aged to you already? I hope not.

I haven’t made a New Year’s resolution since I was about 12, but I have made some exciting plans for the year, and I can’t wait to share them with you as we go along. See you tomorrow. It’s good to be back!

Gone paintin’, gone writin’

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Oh my gosh, I have SO MUCH drawing and painting to do, and SO MANY letters to write. I owe mail-art letters to more than 30 (!) readers of this blog (this picture is of some parcels I’ve prepared to send to some of those lovely readers). Are you one of these patient people? I’m so, so sorry that I’ve been so appallingly slow.

And then there are the beautiful people who have written to me, and sent me lovely gifts, and have probably given up all hope by now that I would ever do the decent thing and write back to them and say THANK YOU, despite all the gratitude that swells in my heart.

I also need to write to thank all our dear friends and family who came along to Ralph’s recent first birthday, and gave him so many thoughtful, wonderful gifts.

I really need to get a wriggle on and plan out some paintings for a very exciting children’s book collaboration I’m doing (and by “doing” I mean “actually need to start doing and not just think/talk about it”) with a wonderful writer.

I promised Scout I’d paint a picture each for her and Ralph to hang above their beds.

AND there is that little matter of the book I’m trying to complete, and the guides I promised to write approximately one year ago…

So, I’m going to take a short break from this blog while I catch up on all that writing and painting. It might take me a week or it might take me a month (depends a lot on how well the children sleep at night), but I’ll be back soon folks.

In the meantime, here are some fun links to keep you amused. Why thank you, Internets.

*Play Pong at the traffic lights

* Tree Hotel. Just glorious

* Fashion leaders? Seinfeld’s girlfriends

* 10 secrets about the Eiffel Tower

* Making art out of ordinary things

* It’s a musical storm-cloud inside your house

* If I get enough writing and painting done, I’m going to try making these napkin rings

* What to do in Canberra – definitely bookmarked for our next visit

* Summer holidays fun: giant Scrabble, in a banana!

* Monogram marshmallows!

* I think it’s time to skill up. My aesthetic ambition for this blog consistently falls short of my actual ability. Early next year, I want to take these e-courses on DSLR photography, and Photoshop

* Making me hungry today: Wild Sorrel Ravioli with Burnt Butter and Garlic (hold me)

* Would you ever try making a Christmas garland like this?

* Love this road-trip idea. Meet the Story Monster!

Aaaaand this:

* ‘Rather than asking yourself: “Who do I want to be?” Ask: “How do I want to behave?”’ I rather liked this post on pursuing creative habits

See you soon! xo

ps. A few people have said they were sad I didn’t have any more copies of my book Airmail to send them, and were wondering where they could get hold of one. Cripes, thanks guys! That makes me feel VERY good. You can order Airmail online pretty much anywhere, and it should cost you less than 10 bucks in paperback (go elsewhere if it’s more). Here’s a list of stockists I made a while ago. Let me know what you think if you read it!

14 tips for a first birthday party

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A first birthday is tricky, you know, because you can’t focus on the child’s age. So you can’t plan party games because they’ll most likely be too old for some of the kids and too young for the others; but you can’t have no games at all because then you’ll have a lot of bored kids (and nobody wants that).

Same goes for food: you’ve got to cater to the adults AND the kids. You’ve got to plan around nap times, and factor in the limitations on your time and energy when it comes to cooking and cleaning and being the perfect host in general.

We had planned a picnic for Ralph’s first birthday, and figured we’d order in pizza and have some cakes and slices made and that it would all be super easy and super fun. I intended to hang paper lanterns from the trees, and put out croquet and petanque for the adults, with bouncy balls and bubbles and – let’s face it – a whole playground for the kids. Easy, right? But three days before the party, the forecast was for heavy rain and 30 kilometre winds, and we had to make an emergency dash to an indoor venue instead, so everything changed.

Here’s what I learned.

1. Get creative with the invitations. If you want to do something similar to ours (above), you can buy one beautifully laid out and designed by Particular Paper. By the time I found this design it was too late to order the invitations, so I painted my own. Not as pretty, but the personal touch was there!

2. Arancini balls. Everyone loves them! The mums and dads, the babies, even the fussy toddlers! Make or order loads and loads. Ours were even more popular than the mini burgers and fries

3. If you live in Melbourne, don’t plan a picnic unless you have a really good wet-weather option

And on that…

4. Before you hire out an expensive “kids’ party cafe,” or book a community hall months in advance only to find yourself having to lug everything there on the day and then clean up for hours after… talk to your own local cafes to find out if they have a back room or an upstairs area you can use. We moved the ‘picnic’ to upstairs at the Paragon, and it was a fantastic venue (plus no room hire fee, and we were packed up and out of there half an hour after the party ended)

5. Music. It doesn’t really matter what because once the party gets going you won’t hear it, but music makes the room feel like a party when people first start arriving

6. If you find yourself short of children’s entertainment (for example if you’d planned on having the entire resources of a park at your disposal and instead found yourselves locked indoors with a bunch of sugar-hyped toddlers), face paint and balloons are a great fall-back. I called We Love Facepainting literally a day before the party, and they sent the beautiful Julia who spent the entire party making balloon animals and painting faces (plus she had a Working With Children check and public liability insurance). We had kids at our party ranging in age from 10 months to 12 years, and everyone was happy without me needing to provide any games

7. Themed parties are great, but sometimes they’re more trouble than they’re worth. I THOUGHT about making Very Hungry Caterpillar cupcakes and fruit and lollipops… but it all got too much for me. Instead, I chose a sunny colour scheme of orange and yellow and let that guide my decor, and that was enough to pull everything together

8. Pick one thing to create “wow factor” in the room decorations. I chose giant balloons and made tassels for them (then I failed to put enough helium inside the balloons and they kind of sat weirdly on the table instead of floating up high on long strings, which I actually thought was kind of cool), and ordered some more balloons filled with confetti, which the kids all LOVED

9. Use your fancy china plates and cake-stands for the dessert table. Give it height, give it interest. That will make things look special, and you can still make do with paper plates and cups (to save on washing up!) for the rest of the party

10. A croquembouche birthday cake may seem like a good idea at the time, but too much toffee and that baby will be impossible to dismantle and pass around. Just sayin’

11. Be prepared for a LOT of presents. A first birthday often involves a lot of adult friends, many more than are likely to come along to any subsequent birthday parties, and suddenly you’ll find yourself needing a “present table” and it will look like Santa came early

12. Related to the above, consider a toy cull in the lead-up to the party. Use this as an excuse to give away or throw away all those soft toys and teething rings and rattles that your baby doesn’t use any more

13. Do the whole wedding thing and make a note of who gave your baby what gifts, so you can properly thank them later.

14. Give the party an end time. Not only does that politely protect you from folks who are prone to linger (after all, you have a baby who is probably in desperate need of a nap), it also gives people a sense of what to expect and how they can plan their day without finding it dominated by your party

(Photos are mostly from before the party, just to give you an idea of our simple, picnic-adapted decorations, because I didn’t want to show other people’s children and almost every picture included someone else’s child. It was a good party that way!)

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That’s all I’ve got for now. Have fun!