Diving in

Diving into Cassowary Falls

You know that old platitude about feeling the fear and doing it anyway? The picture above embodies that for me.

But alongside the fear, it was a moment in which I felt intensely, joyously, indescribably happy and alive. Pretty much as only diving into a hidden, waterfall-fed pool in the middle of the world’s oldest rainforest can make you feel.

So while fear and that incandescent spark that punches you in the lungs with joy every now and then are uncomfortable bedfellows, they are fellows nonetheless. For me, anyway.

I actually did this trip to Far North Queensland 12 months ago (and yep, have been meaning to write about it since then – I am not awesome at keeping up at the moment) but as we are about to embark on another couple of trips I feel the clammy hand of fear and worry mixing with the sweet anticipation. I kind of accept that this is how it will always be for me now. Post-Bali bombings I am a much more frightened, cautious person. But if I let that go to its natural conclusion I would also be a hermit. I’m tempted sometimes.

Creek fed by Cassowary Falls

Instead, I keep on diving in. Because I just cannot let the fear take up the whole bed. I deserve at least half the space. And all the doona.

The trip to this waterfall was extraordinary.

We usually go to Far North Queensland for our annual family holiday anyway but this time I had tagged along as a spouse on a conference handsome husband had been asked to speak at.

The conference organisers arranged for the attending partners to explore either the rainforest or the reef. I was the only one who chose the rainforest tour. Which meant I got a private 4 hour tour of a part of the world I am obsessed with. My idea of total heaven.

Coincidentally, the group booked to run the tour, Daintree Discovery Tours, was the company we have always gone out with the three other times we have explored the Daintree and my guide that day was the owner of the company, Grant, whom I had met before. So when he realised it was just me we changed all the plans (as I had already done a number of the things he had planned) and devised a custom trip instead.

The highlight of which was Cassowary Falls. The falls are on private property and access to them is very limited. We drove in through the rainforest, across a croc-infested tributary of the Daintree River and onto farm land.

I have always loved the farm land in this area. It’s such a beautiful contrast:  the manicured green pasture with the wild rainforest in the background.

Daintree River tributary and pasture

It’s not all green and pleasant though. The cows that graze along this river are sometimes taken by crocodiles if they stray too close to the edge. Yep, they’re bloody big crocs.

So we drove in and then swapped cars for the final kilometre into the falls.

This was the view behind us – and you can see it’s a serious truck with those roll bars…

Daintree pastoral land

and this was what lay ahead.

The track to Cassowary Falls

We forded creeks, and bumped our way over muddy tracks through fields and into the forest again.

Crossing the creek to Cassowary Falls

You have to walk the last 100 metres or so and then, suddenly, you find yourself in an oasis. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to stand on the rocky edge of a tranquil pool, the falls thundering down and the rainforest looming all around, lush and persistent.

And not another soul. It was pretty much a religious experience.

Turtle on a log - Cassowary Falls

Grant convinced me two swim over to the falls and then dive back in. I knew the minute I saw the place that I was going to do that.

I mean, I knew it was safe to dive where I did because Grant did it first and showed me where to aim for a shallow dive. And I knew it was too high and cold for crocodiles. But still.  There are cow-eating crocs just a couple of kilometres away and, well, what if genetic mutation has bred a cold-water tolerant, waterfall pool-loving man-eater of some kind?

It’s funny, the fear is there but something else takes over: the overwhelming desire to experience, to make the most of the moment regardless of the risk – real or perceived.

The next shot gives you a sense of the scale. You can see my little head floating below, looking back in wonder at the falls. Actually I’m watching a water dragon lizard scramble up the rocks but you can’t quite make him out.

Cassowary Falls in the Daintree

So if there was a croc lurking in the deep he did not grab me. The turtles sunning themselves on logs stayed well clear and my only wildlife encounter was with the tiny leeches that attached themselves between my toes. Again. What is it with me and leeches? Grant said he’d never come across one in all his time bringing people into the falls.  I, however, as this post attests, have now had more than my fair share of encounters with these suckers in this part of the world.

This photo makes me laugh.

Zebra truck

I mean, any day you get to go off-roading in a zebra truck is a good day.

The road to Port Douglas - sugar cane fields

After Cassowary Falls we had lunch at a private spot at Mossman Gorge. Once again, a beautiful experience. And once again I got to swim in the crystal clear waters of the gorge all on my own. I still can’t quite believe it.

Mossman Gorge through tree

 

Aboriginal artefacts

The year before when we were in Port Douglas for our annual family holiday we did a guided walk through this part of the rainforest (near Mossman Gorge) with one of the elders of the Kuku Yalanji tribe, the traditional owners of this land. It was one of the highlights of all our trips there.

Tall trees in Daintree

I know I’m swiftly running out of superlatives but this part of the world does that to you.

Daintree canopy

Our guide was Harold and he is a revered elder and a renowned medicine man who not only uses the rainforest as his pharmacy but is also used by the North Queensland police as a professional tracker in hard-to-crack cases. He uses his peoples’ traditional song lines to navigate and locate people who are lost in the rainforest.

Harold the healer

A thick book Harold showed us at the end of the walk attests to the fact he has healed hundreds of people from all over the world. As an interesting aside, he is also Cathy Freeman’s uncle and officiated at her wedding!

Aboriginal body paint

Here’s a hot n’ sweaty baby Betty!

Hot baby Betty in Daintree

She appreciated the swim at the end in this magical place.

Mossman Gorge

Harold was a superb  guide and pointed out the eleventy billion things that can kill you but also talked about all the natural remedies and tools he uses ranging from plants and berries through to the pincers of the ubiquitous green ants that can be used in place of stitches  or surgical staples to keep wounds closed.

Daintree flora on a tree

There are berries that look so similar that pretty much only a Kuku Yalanji member could tell apart; one heals, the other send you blind. There are cancer-inhibiting plants. These are just starting to be explored by western medical interests. Happily, any profits that flow from future medical discoveries  from this area – and the potential is HUGE -  will be fed back into this community. That gives me comfort.

As we walked through dense forest the rhythmic echo of wood on wood became louder and louder. Suddenly a clearing emerged; a natural amphitheatre and there we listened to stories of the aboriginal dreamtime from this area.

IMG_5012

I can’t recommend both of these tours enough. Daintree Discovery Tours  for a general tour of the area and a Dreamtime tour with the Mossman Gorge Centre.

I don’t know why I feel such a strong pull to this part of Australia.But I just can’t get enough of it.

Cane fields with burning off FNQ

Here are some of my other posts about Port Douglas and surrounds:

Our Holiday

I survived 

Far North Queensland

Summer Snapshots

Summer Snapshots 2

River Drifting 

Listen to Sir David Attenborough’s endorsement of the Daintree Rainforest over and above even the Amazon!

So tomorrow morning we head to the airport for our next adventure. One familiar place and one entirely new for us.

Deep breath. Dive in.

Gilded easter eggs: a tutorial

Easter egg decorated with gold foil bunny

What you need:

Gold craft foil egg decorating supplies collage

  • Metallic craft foil (I used the one I found at my local craft store, Jones Tones, but there are many brands)
  • Double-sided adhesive tape
  • Eggs

This year I went hunting for white eggs as almost all the eggs you get here, in Melbourne at least, are the brown variety. I tracked some down at the Victoria Market and I’m now obsessed with their creamy, milky purity.

Six 6 white eggs in  carton

Contrary to popular belief, the shells of white eggs are not bleached. White eggs are produced by certain breeds of chook.

What to do:

1. Blow or boil your eggs.

2. Use double-sided tape to create adhesive patterns on your eggs.

3. Rub the dull side of your metallic foil sheet over your sticky bits – or follow the instructions in your pack. Which all sounds vaguely inappropriate but it’s up to you as to how far you want to take that. I am personally known for taking things one step too far so you can guess where I am likely to end up.

You can use strips of double sided tape applied to baking paper and a paper punch to create tiny bunny stickers as I did in the first photo in the post.

Or for something more ornate, a border paper punch is a little fiddly but creates a beautiful result.

Easter egg decorated with gold scallop design

Or you can just cut strips of your tape to create this simple effect.

Easter egg decorated with gold foil band

However, no matter what method you use, there is no doubt that playdough eggs rolled in glitter produce the most spectacular eggs. As Olive’s creation here attests.

 

Glitter rolled playdough egg

God, how I love a glittery finger.

Bunny ear headbands: a tutorial

Orange dot and tan linen bunny ear headbands for Easter

I’m not a huge fan of the fluffy bunny ear headbands that abound at Easter but these, my loves, are an entirely different kettle of fish. These I love. These transcend festive timelines and should, nay SHALT, be worn at any time of year.

The beauty of this tutorial is in the simplicity of the wire insert. No need to sew casings, thread wire delicately through small spaces; the fabric alone and the coiled wire I use is enough to get your ears perky but malleable. Not a phrase I thought I would ever write.

What you need:

Supplies for Easter bunny ear headband

  • Fabric – 1/4 metre is plenty.
  • Plastic headband form (1.5cm wide, 38cm around the outside arc).
  • 45cm florist’s wire or other thin, malleable wire.

What to do:

1. Cut the following pieces from your fabric:

a) One rectangle 5cm x 39-40cm.

b) two rectangular pieces 5.5cm x 35cm that will end up looking like this:

Bunny ear headband pattern measurements_edited-1

2. But let’s make our headband cover first.  With right sides of your fabric together, sew the first piece of fabric into a tube using a 3mm seam. I just use the narrow part of my presser foot as a guide i.e. sew keeping the left hand side of the presser foot on the outside edge of your fabric.

3. Turn the tube so that the right side is now on the outside. Turning tubes this narrow can be a bit of a pain. If you’re struggling, this is a good method. I actually have a little device I bought that helps with this process. Any good sewing shop should have one.

Tube of fabric for bunny ear headband

4. Take your two rectangular pieces and lay them right side together. Measure and mark 6cm from one end, then measure and mark 23 cm on from that.

5. From the end of your 23cm long marking, freehand some curvy bunny ears to each end of your fabric rectangle. These don’t have to be perfect (and indeed better if they’re not in my view because you show me a perfect bunny and I’ll show you…well, never mind but I will show you if you want me to) so don’t be too concerned about getting it completely even.

Bunny ear pattern drawn onto fabric strip

6. Cut out 2 of your bunny ear pattern and sew (right side together) using the same 3mm seam allowance, leaving a 5cm gap to turn your fabric right side out.

7.  Once you’ve turned your ears right side out, you might like to gently press them. Or not, if you’re a rough nut like that.

8. At each end of your wire, make a rough coil like this:

Wire insert for bunny ear headbands

When you lay your wire on your turned out bunny ears, the coils should reach about 2/3 of the way towards each end.

9. Insert wire into your ears. You will need to bend it to get it in and then manipulate it straight again once it’s inside.

10. Sew your 5cm gap closed.

11. Slip your thin fabric tube over your headband form and either glue or sew ends closed.

12. Tie on your bunny ears wherever you like ‘em. If you’re a lopsided bunny-lover, the world is your oyster at this point.

Fan of the droopy ear?

Tan linen bunny ears headband

I used slightly different measurements for the longer linen ears : 23 cm in the middle and 11cm at each end. Also, I had to wind two pieces of wire together so the insert was long enough.

If your headband form is a different size I think this works as a general rule for covering: measure the width, double it and then add 2cm extra which allows for wriggle room and a 3mm seam allowance.

Orange dot and tan linen bunny ear headbands

Obviously these would look a lot better if I had actual kids to model them but since these are Easter gifts for my girls,  and we are still 3 sleeps out, we will have to make do with these pics sans heads.

orange dot bunny ears headband 2

I’ll update the post after Easter to include photos of  them being worn. If they’re worn. I’m tipping they will be. But then I’ve been wrong in the past. That one time. Just that one time.

We are staying put this Easter and I am looking forward to a quiet long weekend. Does anyone have extra-exciting plans this chocolate-gilded weekend? Please someone tell me they are egg hunting in the gardens of Raffles in Singapore or attending mass at St Peters. Whatever your plans be they modest or grand, travel safely my darlings and, if you do celebrate, Happy Easter. If you don’t, just grab the chocolate anyway yeah?

 

Villa Vajra, Ubud, Bali

Pool reflections Villa Vajra

Bali seems like a long-ago dream but fragments of our trip still pop into my head almost every day and I am still contemplating the effect the trip had on me.

Jungle baby

In some ways, with hindsight, I can barely believe I did it. Old neural pathways, as plastic as they apparently have the capacity to be, can be deeply entrenched grooves and some days I wonder at how I had the courage not only to go back but to take the kids and my parents.

Dragon fly

I think in some ways I had to kind of shut down a bit in the lead up to the trip in order to be able to do it. And in the aftermath, even now almost 6 months later, I’m still examining how I felt and how I feel now.

Just outside Villa Vajra's gate

As blissful as it was, I have to confess, that not all of the trip was smooth sailing for me. After the high of arriving and reaching our beautiful villa, I kind of slumped a bit around the third day. Long-time readers here will know the harrowing back story to the this trip you’d be forgiven for wondering why I didn’t anticipate that. I’ve been asking myself the same question.  But after such a euphoric arrival and a strong sense of “I made it”,  I don’t think I wanted to concede there might be more hard work to do. But there was. And the ferocity of the way in which it manifested was, frankly, a pain in the arse.

Javanese tea pot, batik placemats

I spent large swathes of my time attempting to control the negative thought loops that played on a never-ending reel in my head. The noise was not always Bali bombing-related but equally horrifying; terrifying fears of loss and pain writ large in the silent pre-dawn. This usually started around 3am when I would be jolted awake by an amorphous but powerful anxiety. It didn’t really abate until 8am when we all met for breakfast and the distractions of the day gave me an opportunity to divert myself from the internal cacophony.

Meditation view (full size)

I tried to summon peace. To coax calm. To meditate through it, around it, despite it. To reason it away. To surf it. To accept it and allow it to take its course. None of which really worked. And yes, I know effort and meditation are diametrically opposed but I just could not let go. I felt deeply upset that despite the beauty and serenity of my surroundings I could not make my inner landscape reflect the outer one during those blue hours.

Meditation bale

I read a quote recently that resonated with me. In a nutshell it said  “the only zen you find on the tops of mountains is the zen you bring up there.” My zen, as it turns out, did not really come along for the ride.

Girls in rice field

But that’s okay. I’m not surprised or conceding failure or  judging myself. I just felt a bit disappointed that there was such a mighty daily struggle.

Dancing girl before performance

One day, Olive developed a pretty severe and sudden infection the pain of which made her hysterical and not an hour after we had calmed her with pain relief medication and started a swift course of antibiotics, Sophia stepped on a wasp the size of a small bird. These big black Balinese wasps do not muck around my friends. They fly semi-vertically, dragged down by their weighty, poisonous behinds.

Tropical breakfast

Thankfully, she did not have a severe reaction, but she had some pretty serious localised swelling and if her screams were anything to go by, quite a lot of pain.

The utterly heavenly staff at the villa were amazing. They quickly retrieved necessary medicine, calmed anxious parents and, most importantly, soothed upset children with some kind of magical, relaxing massage to the afflicted areas.

Ketut

I found though, I guess unsurprisingly, that my capacity to cope with these relatively minor stressors was severely diminished. Even though I knew in my rational mind that they were okay and their lives were not endangered, I had felt, even if briefly, that they might have been. Just as I felt all those years ago in the immediate aftermath of the bombings. That made me freak out. Later. In the privacy of our bedroom. Not in front of the kids. So, yeah, that bit was not relaxing.

Offering with mini biscuit

But if I’ve made it sound as though it was 10 days of pure mental anguish then I’ve misled you. When I wasn’t trying to deal, I was absorbing with wonder our very beautiful surroundings at Villa Vajra and, paradoxically, loving every minute of being back in Bali. I was relaxing and laughing with my family.

In spite of the pretty robust processing going on in my mind, I couldn’t fail to be soothed at certain times by the breathtaking beauty of our immediate surroundings.

Javanese tea house

The staff, as I’ve alluded to, were beyond perfect. They became a part of our family.

Girls and Balinese dancers

Joel and Nirgrantha, who own the villa and live nearby, were beautiful hosts. Recently Joel  sent me pictures of the stunning  new ironwood boardwalk they have just put in through the rice paddies. They are also in the process of bedding down an extensive organic garden.

The fact I am still in touch with all of them should give you a sense of how amazing they all are.

If you want a little more detail about the villa, you can read my review on trip advisor here. I review there as ‘trovamiqui’. Which means “find me here” in Italian.

Villa Vajra - light and palms and bliss

Meals were extraordinary. The brilliant chefs  prepared whatever we felt like ranging from Balinese dishes to fish and chips for the kids when they craved something familiar. After the first 5 days or so we just gave free reign to the chefs to prepare whatever Balinese specialities they thought we would enjoy. Each meal was a veritable feast. An abundance of fresh, locally-sourced, authentically Balinese food. We were in heaven.

Nasi campur

Other highlights included getting some young, beautifully-costumed Balinese dancers into the villa one night, some traditional rindik musicians the next and of course the wonderful Galungan parade I talked about in this post.

We also had classic family times, the best of which was Pool Olympics. We spent a whole morning competing individually in such little-known events as “swimming with pearl earrings” (an event inspired by my elegant mother who swims with her neck thrust high out of the water using delicate strokes to keep both her hair and pearl earrings from getting wet) , “canon bombing”, “water pistol target shooting ” (no fun unless the target is a human face)  “creative diving”  and “underwater smooching”.

Kids and Andrew in pool

Andrew and I even performed an opening ceremony in the pool. Seeing the combination of amusement and embarrassed horror on my kids’ faces as their father and I did (badly) synchronised swimming, generally thrashed around like dead weights and concluded with a spectacular finale complete with high lift was hilarious.  For us. There is a video of it. That I will never show you!

I have so many hilarious photos  and videos from that morning but given our antics and the fact we were all in our swimming costumes, the rest of my family would kill me if I posted them here.  I choose life. So here’s one of Olive’s medal-winning canon bombs instead.

Olive pool bomb gif

Frangipani medals were awarded at the end (I won swimming with pearls, btw, like mother, like daughter) and Sophia cites pool olympics as the highlight of the trip. It’s the biggest little things, yes?

Mum and I outside Villa Vajra

So an amazing trip overall. Not as relaxing mentally as I would have liked but, as with everything I’ve ever done, I wouldn’t change the experience one iota. I suppose because I trust, with the benefit of hindsight at least, that that is how my experience at that time and in that place was supposed to unfold. Now if I could just learn to do that in the present…

Villa Vajra's vajra

Love and hearts and a bit more love

Pink heart-shaped lamington

My handsome husband never buys me Valentine’s gifts. Which is just the way I like it. I just don’t believe in all the hyped-up commercialism of V-Day. What I do believe in, however, is love. And while I like to shower my peeps in it on any given day, I like positively saturating them on Feb 14th with little tokens to remind them that my love for them runs deeper than Dolly Parton’s cleavage.

Jar of candy hearts

Yep. Deep.

This year I was inspired by a picture I bought ages ago from beautiful Etsy artist Golly Bard.

Jar of Love

Jar of Love hangs in my study and I love it every bit as much as I did when I bought it 4 years ago.

So I made the baby Bettys their own little jars chockfull of love.

Jar of hearts birdseye views

I also like to go totally overboard with their lunches and pack those full of love too. 

Love lunch

Frankly, I defy anyone to tell me that anything says “I love you” more than a pink, heart-shaped lamington.

My grandmother, Betty, used to make these lamos as a treat for us when  we would visit her in the school holidays. We looked forward to them like mad things.

I made this card (from this Photojojo tutorial) for my most handsome of husbands. It’s a shot from our wedding in Bali.

Valentine's card with cut-out heart

I love that pic however, in a startling coincidence, I do appear to be sporting horrifyingly over-sculpted eyebrows very similar to those of a certain infamous Australian who has just been released from a Balinese prison this week.  Well, at least I have the excuse that it was 2001.

I hope your Valentine’s Day and life in general is brimming with that many splendoured thing.

jar of hearts with hearts spilling out

A gentle slide into 2014

Well I dunno about you but I am almost pathologically avoiding engaging my mind with the new year in any way other than holiday mode.

We went on a road trip just after Christmas that took in Metung in Gippsland, Mollymook on the NSW South Coast, Sydney and back again. Only when we got back to Metung I couldn’t bring myself to leave for Melbourne on the appointed day so the girls and I hung around for another week. It was blissful.

So we’re just back and I am still kind of drifting along. And I’m going to just keep going like this for a bit I think. Not least because tomorrow’s predicted high of 43 degrees signals the start of what is shaping up to be a blistering heatwave. And in my books, temps like that give me carte blanche to move very slowly indeed. I mean, it would be bad for our health to do very much, you understand.

So these pics. Now I know I am pretty much the absolute last to the party but joining Instagram has meant I’ve used my camera phone a lot more than I ever have. And it’s been a bit of a revelation. All the shots in this post were taken with my iPhone 5S. The camera is fantastic and it’s kind of a relief not to lug around my big DSLR every now and then.

If you want any more information click  the “Instagram” in the top right corner.

I wish I could work out how to embed just the pictures and not the “likes”. I gave it a desultory go last night but as my head still thinks its sitting on a deck chair looking out over water it refused to comply.

There are lots more on my Instagram feed including a v cute koala we spied on Raymond Island (which is no great feat as frankly you do have to be blind not to see a koala on the island) and a shot taken 60 metres underground at Buchan Caves of a miraculous crystal formation. If you follow me, let me know you’ve come via the blog. I’ll love you even more than I already do.

Is anyone else feeling as dreamy and drifty as I? I hope at least some of you are – because that would be indicative of equally happy holidays.

[EDITED TO ADD: It looks as though my Instgram pics aren't showing up in the WordPress mailout.  If you are subscribed that way and can't see the pictures,you'll have to click through to the blog. Bugger. Sorry.]

Last Christmassy bits

Top of Christmas cake

The ham is all but finished, the tree is swiftly desiccating, the presents have been well and truly played with and we have travelled a scenic coastal route for about 1300 kms in the last few days to be in Sydney with dear friends for New Year’s Eve.

I do loves me a brand spanking new year. A fresh slate, endless opportunities and possibilities. Makes me itch with anticipation.

Just before 2013 dissolves into a shiny new dawn, I did just want to show you the last Christmas-related bits.

We had our big family Christmas on Christmas Eve this year which may well become a new thing for us as it leaves Christmas Day to really relax. It felt kind of European and somehow extra Christmassy and there’s nothing like a twinkling light or two and flickering candle to really up the atmosphere.

We did the whole shebang: 8 kilo turkey and whole leg of ham with all the trimmings. The ham was, if I do say so myself, spectacular this year. I brought it to a festive sheen with a quince paste, honey and mustard glaze. Delish.

whole baked ham with calico handle

My mum always makes Christmas cakes and plum pudding to an old family recipe. This year I decorated the top of our cake with the cutest snowman ever (made by Sophia a couple of Christmases ago), some paint chip pine trees (the colour, appropriately, “fir green”) and a sprinkling of icing sugar snow.

Christmas cake with snowman and pine trees

This was one of the most treasured gifts this year: a new blankie. Think she likes it?

Olive with her blankie

Despite the slightly Euro feel to this year’s celebrations, we went with an Australian bush Christmas theme for the table eating. Mum and I spray-painted gum leaves and gum nuts silver which combined with the minty greens and coral of fresh gum and blossoms made a beautiful centre-piece.

Gum tree Christmas table centre piece

The girls made gifts for each other and this year Sophia’s form Olive was, well, unintentionally hilarious.

The only thing Olive loves more than baby dolls is the thought of herself as a baby. So we combined the two. I printed a photo of Olive’s baby face onto some fabric and then Sophia drew in the other details. After that we cut it out, I sewed it together and Sophia stuffed it. I should have left a slightly larger seam allowance around the head of the doll. Because this is not what Olive looked like as a babe!

Olive doll sibling present

The irony is that her head was more like a pumpkin than this pin-headed weirdo would have you believe.

From this angle she looks slightly closer to herself. But still like an alien.

Olive doll

I made a desultory attempt to talk Soph into us making another but she was happy with it. And, more importantly, as the next photo attests, Olive was delighted. I love the way Soph is looking at her to gauge her reaction.

Olive opening her sibling present

Olive did remarkably well despite her enormous cast in decorating this mug for her big sister using ceramic pens. Sophia fancies herself quite the tea drinker (even though the tea is never actually consumed in any vaster quantities than a sip or two) so she was thrilled to have her very own cup for that purpose.

Sophia's sibling present mug

Last of all, I wanted to show you these sweet little panforte. A heavily spiced dense cake, I used to overdose on these regularly when we lived in Italy. This was my first go at making them myself and they worked beautifully. And my kitchen smelled like Christmas on a stick from grinding all the fresh spices: whole nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, cardamom seeds and vanilla pods.

Panforte

Panforte in little cake tin

wrapped this one as a gift for a girlfriend and put it on the Christmas-set the table just to get quick shot but next year I think I might try to make a heap of these in advance and use them as take-home place settings. Tell her she’s dreaming….sighs a voice in the background!

Homemade panettone

See you on the flip side my darlings. Have a fabulous start to 2014.

Christmas baking: vanilla shortbread

Tray of homemade shortbread  

I love cooking for my family and friends. Having people in our house and feeding them, nourishing them, gives me great joy. So it should come as no surprise that I love giving gifts of food too. Recently I’ve been giving out jars of our olives and small slabs of homemade quince paste but wanted to do something more Christmassy.

Shortbread with wooden knife to make star imprintI think homemade biscuits are a beautiful Christmas tradition and this year I decided to jettison my fear and attempt shortbread. 

Stack of homemade shortbread_edited-1    Stack of homemade shortbread side on

I don’t know why it scared me but it did – something about not overworking the dough. I always like a forgiving dough and shortbread seemed just a little too precious for my liking.

Trio of Christmas tree shortbreadsTurns out I had shortbread all wrong. It’s really not too tricky.

These turned out so well (although the next batch will leave the oven just 3 minutes earlier so they stay perfectly pale all over) and I decorated them very simply.

Trio of homemade shortbreadI popped some greaseproof paper inside paper bags  - to stop grease stains from the high butter content – and gave them out to our school crossing guards who do a wonderful job of glaring at speeding cars and generally keeping us safe as we brave a busy thoroughfare on our way to school each morning.

Bag of shortbread with holly stamp

What about you guys? Any favourite Christmas biscuits? Do you give homemade food as gifts?

Crumbly homemade shortbread

Well, that’s been a veritable flurry of pre-Christmas posts hasn’t it? I assure you I will return to my sporadic ways from now on. I always seem to get a Christmas ant in my pant right before Christmas about documenting all the good stuff.

I hope you and yours have the MOST wonderful Christmas or other festive celebration – be happy and safe and sound. I do truly wish you all love and light.

Christmas Traditions

One of the things I was most excited about when I was pregnant with Sophia, was the thought of future family traditions. And they come easy at Christmas.

You’ve met our elf on the shelf and these are some of the others.

1. Letters to Father Christmas.

In these shots (taken last December) Olive is dictating to her sisterly scribe.

Girls composing letters to Santa  Girls writing letters to Father Christmas

2. Advent Calendar

After last year’s debacle when my daily bespoke creations petered out around the 15th and the mere thought of coming up with new ideas made me cranky, this year I invested in a ready-made calendar. The girls are loving this Playmobil Santa’s Letter Depot set. We’re still waiting on the big-ticket items: the tree, reindeer and sleigh.

Playmobil Advent Calendar

3. Setting out the Christmas books.

Stack of Christmas books

Every year on December 1st we get and decorate our tree and put out the Christmas books. I try to add a couple to the pile each year. These are scenes from some of our favourites. I love coming back to these same books every year and re-reading them in the evenings with the kids.Christmas Book collage

4. Gingerbread House

We don’t do this every year as it is time-consuming. This year, in the interests of staying calm and festive, I bought a kit for this Christmas shack. And I’m loving it – for every reason. Especially as we have an Australian Bush Christmas kind of  theme in mind for the table this year.

Christmas gingerbread shack

5. Christmas pyjamas

Each Christmas Eve the girls get a special pair of matching Christmas pyjamas. They are not always overtly Christmassy (although this year’s with the cute red and white stripey bow have a hint) but just something to build the excitement. As if it needs building on Christmas Eve. We are usually at fever pitch by about Dec 21st.

Christmas pyjamas Sophia package

And I just had to show you this. This is the letter written by Sophia to Father Christmas last year. It’s all very expected until the P.S.  Last year a girl in Sophia’s class began bullying her and we spent much of last year trying to help her deal with that. Anyway, her request made me laugh and seems, in this mamma’s biased mind in any case, perfectly appropriate!

Letter to Father Christmas

Not exactly in keeping with the Christmas spirit, but it did make me laugh. When you’re 7, getting someone banished to FC’s naughty list is the equivalent of bringing in the regiments.

Even better though, she’s asked the big guy to make sure he doesn’t forget the ones who were her stalwart supporters. Now that’s the Christmas spirit.

Meet Jingle: our elf on the shelf

Elf on the Shelf collage

Jingle arrives in December (sometimes not quite on the 1st because he occasionally gets lost flying in) and watches the kids behaviour through December. He flies home to the North Pole every night to report to Father Christmas and back to us each dawn. So, yes, he is essentially a whistle-blowing behavioural motivation coach.

He likes to change positions every morning. Sometimes it can be tricky to find him. Turns out he’s partial to using the kids underpants as a flying fox. Should I be worried?

He’s a cheeky elf, our Jingle, and he would be even cheekier if the voice of reason (i.e.handsome husband) didn’t step in from time to time and point out the children may be traumatised rather than delighted if Jingle tapes himself to the the wall with gaffer tape hostage-style.

A quick search on “naughty elf on the shelf” on Pinterest is an edifying activity. I think he’ll only get naughtier as the girls get older.

Elf on the shelf snow flour angel

Whaddya think: cute Christmas tradition or creepy peeping tom tale-teller?