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!

Celebrate

Party

How is it possibly even Monday again? I mean I know it’s a cliche to talk about the weekend going by so fast but I HONESTLY think I blinked and missed it.

Approximately two hours ago (in my head) it was midday on Friday and one of my best friends in the world, Cara, was due to arrive any minute on a visit from Sydney. Then she DID arrive and I couldn’t even go to the tram stop let alone the airport to meet her, because a) I didn’t have a car and b) Harry was sleeping upstairs in his cot. Poor Cara made it to our place in between showers and hailstorms and… we think that was SLEET. What? How cold was it in Melbourne this weekend!?! I kept seeing friends’ feeds on Facebook of frolics in the snow basically just outside town and it was all so beautiful.

Cara and a bunch of our other friends joined us at the Epworth Gala Ball on Saturday night, which was organised by Mr B and his team. Just us and more than 1300 other people, raising money for medical research. (Cara was adorable because she’s from Sydney and the cold weather was killing her so she wore thermals under her dress. She is a stunner so she could get away with it, but I still thought it was pretty funny). And permit me a little boast but I am so incredibly proud of Mr B and the people who work with and for him because that night they raised $5.6 million to go to medical research. That is INSANE. There were two people on our table who pledged a million and 1.2 million each to this cause. When the first woman announced her gift – a lovely lady in her 80s – you could literally feel 1300 people hold their breath. We were all thinking, “Did she actually say what I think she said?” and then the whole room erupted in applause.

The ball had a “Rio Carnival” theme and later we were all up and dancing to cheesy Latin music, including the 80-something-year-old lady. I want to be like her when I’m old. Not just rich and generous (although that would be nice), but also fun and cheeky and celebratory and go-get-em fun-loving. She has lost her husband, and battled cancer more than once. She and her late husband made their money by sheer hard work. They weren’t tycoons or heirs, they were hard-working, careful-saving, and smart. And now she gives and gives and gives again to charity, because she genuinely cares. Then she laughs and cracks a slightly-blue joke, and tears it up on the dance floor.

Another highlight of the evening was when, during the Latin-style dancing, they announced a conga line. I said to Mr B “Let’s sneak away,” because there is NOTHING WORSE than a conga line. And he agreed. So I started to walk back to our table and he had his hand on my waist and the next minute we looked behind us and there were six or more people all holding onto us and it turned out WE HAD STARTED THE CONGA LINE. Which was horrifying and hilarious in the same moment.

We stayed in a hotel that night and Mr B didn’t get in until almost 4am and I didn’t sleep much before that because babies and hotel rooms don’t always go well together, and we all four of us ended up in the bed together. Thank goodness for luxurious, king-sized hotel beds! When we woke the next morning, bleary and tired but on massive highs from the night’s success, it was so beautiful. Everybody smiled at each other all at once. Madeleine threw herself across my body to kiss Harry, and Harry exploded into giggles. Then we ordered a big breakfast and ate it in our room overlooking the city.

I strapped Harry to me in the Ergo and walked out into Melbourne’s coldest morning in 16 years. Cara texted me. “It is 1 degree!” and I said “Isn’t it great?” and she simply responded “ONE DEGREE.” I guess she was glad of those thermals. Harry and I were each others’ hot water bottles so he quickly fell asleep and we were fine as we walked from Crown Casino to Gertrude Street where we met Cara, and Madeleine and Mr B caught up with us. By this time the day had warmed up to one of those perfect sunny winter’s days that are like peering at the world through the finest layer of ice and nothing is more clean.

Madeleine was a trooper despite the night of broken sleep and no nap, and only had one meltdown all day. So we all rocked up to yum cha before heading home, where Madeleine and I picked and washed lemons to make preserves while Mr B and Harry had a nanna-nap together.

And the next minute the kids were both asleep in bed and Mr B and I were watching something cheesy on the TV and the weekend was over just like that and I SWEAR everything I’ve just written only happened a couple of hours ago, and the weekend is about to begin.

Party printable: ice-cream + circus elephant

NaomiBulger-ice-cream-elephant-invitationWhen I was planning the invitations for my friend Pip’s ice-cream baby-shower last weekend, I asked her for some ideas as to what she would like me to use as a theme. One of the thoughts she had was something to do with elephants. Trying to mix elephants with ice-cream wasn’t what I’d call a natural visual pairing, but I am nothing if not ambitious. In the end, I decided to paint a cute circus elephant balancing on a big, round scoop of ice-cream.

A couple of people have asked me if they could use this picture, which is super flattering as I don’t imagine there is a LOT of demand for blue-and-purple circus elephants balancing on top of blue ice-cream. But yes of course I’m happy for the picture to be used!

If this is you, you can download the invitation here, or download just the picture here. I hope your party is super fun!

Instagram crush – Nectar and Stone

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Recently I discovered the Instagram account of dessert designer Donna-Caroline Khoo of Nectar & Stone. I don’t think I’ve seen desserts so beautiful in a long time, if ever! Those pastel-hued Mayan pyramids of chocolate, topped with gold leaf? Stunning! One day when I’m rich I will send a block of those to all of the friends I love, just because.

Whose photos are making you drool lately?

All images are from the Nectar & Stone website, used with permission