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Monday, 21 December 2015

Christmas Wishes

Hello friends!  I can't believe that we are counting down the days to Christmas!  This year has not been without its challenges for Monsieur and I and in many ways I will be glad to ring in a new year and its chance to start afresh.  When we first set up house together, I was swept up by the idea that our home had to look "perfect" at Christmastime. Inevitably, chasing perfection just led to a lot of stress and feelings of inadequacy.  Now, I am at an age when I don't feel the need to buy a whole set of new decorations each Christmas.  Instead, I look forward to bringing out of storage old, sentimental favourites. I try hard not to be seduced by the twinkling displays as going down that avenue just leads to a budget blowout.  This year, only a couple new to me vintage gems crept into the house.

I do love these wooden pyramids!  They are a lovely twist on the traditional Nativity scene.  There are tiny shepherds and sheep on the second level and the Three Wise Men are on the bottom level.  The next one is not a candelabra but a music box.

They are so sweet and charming and the craftmanship is admirable.  In line with trying to inject more meaning into gift giving, this year, I have started giving away family heirlooms to family members.  If it is something that they truly desire and it gives them pleasure, I don't see the point in having them wait forever.  Obviously, a family "treasure" is by nature second hand.  Do you think it is tacky to give a gift that is secondhand, vintage or antique?  I would love to know your thoughts.  So far, the reaction has been positive.  And I have to say, selfishly, that one less trip to the mall is always a good thing!
I wish you all a lovely Holiday Season.  See you in the New Year!

I am linking up with A Stroll Thru Life.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

From Retro Glam to Scandinavian Cool, A Vintage Bar Two Ways

Change has been been blowing in my little corner of the world.  Monsieur is away in Montreal visiting an ill family member.  While he is away, I have been catching up on the laundry pile, also known as Mt. Washmore.  I have been switching things up a little too as a bit of a respite from the everlasting laundry.  Part of slowing down, for me, has been reassessing what is in my home. What works for me, what inspires me, what can I let go?  Lately, a yearning has been growing within me for clean and simple lines and a more cohesive colour palette.  More and more I find myself staring, entranced, at photographs of stark Scandinavian interiors.  Now, I will never be a minimalist as I am too much of a magpie for that and Monsieur loves being surrounded by familiar, sentimental things.  But I did want to make a nominal nod in that direction, at least.  In accordance with this yearning, my current bar display kept catching my eye but not in a good way.  I do still like it a lot but the Hollywood Regency look of the cranberry red and gold colour palette just wasn't doing it for me any more.  I think I detect a latent obsession as I have blogged about my bar here.  I seem to waver continuously between warm, gold tones and its polar opposite, silvery frosty hues.  Here is an old, before photo of it.

Monsieur loves the glassware and the brass pineapple so I have not gotten rid of them, just packed them away.  Who knows, they may make a reappearance at Christmas time as the colours are appropriate for that time of year.  Here is a photograph of the new bar.

From retro glam to Scandinavian cool!  I love the long white lines of the pitcher and icy look of the glassware.  I think they would still work over the holiday season as the new look reminds me of snow and ice.

Which look do you prefer?  I have to say that even with my yearning for simpler lines and neutral colours, there will always be room in my life for sparkly shoes.

After all, life can't always be about doing laundry.  I hope you all have a lovely weekend!

I am linking up with Natasha in Oz and Have a Cup of Mrs Olson.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

A Monstrous Cookie Halloween

In my continuing quest to slow down, I have temporarily put aside learning how to bake a decent loaf of bread due to Monsieur's increasingly frequent comments regarding a passing gluten intolerance. Strangely, this intolerance tends to disappear when cookies and cakes are on the menu.  Hmmm, I think I will have to try my hand at baking cookies.  I am very fond of ginger and molasses cookies and, as I had unearthed a long forgotten carton of molasses in the kitchen cupboard, I set about attempting to bake them.  I used a recipe from epicurious.com which I won't copy here for various reasons to be explained later.  I have never used molasses in cooking before and so had no idea how hard it was to get out of the carton.  I wonder what Monsieur thought when he came home and saw this.

Note that I do not have a mixer.  In this house, mixing is done a la Little House On The Prairie style, with elbow grease and a wooden spoon.  The molasses is so viscous that I am unable to mix it consistently throughout the cookie dough.  I am sure that extreme minimalists everywhere would applaud my exhaustive and exhausting efforts with a wooden spoon.  However, all I can think of is the time Monsieur came home with a steam vacuum cleaner instead of a mixer.  Honestly, a steam vac!  In despair, I give up and throw the batch of "cookies" into the oven and hope for the best.
Suffice to say, the cookies are a failure.  They don't rise or spread out and develop strange crevasses all over. In fact, with the strange spotted colouring, they almost look like chocolate chip cookies.  In fact, they look like Frankenstein monster cookies!

Gloomily, I eat a breakfast cereal bar wrapped in a non-recyclable wrapper.  Yes, I know.  Fortified with mass-produced food, I am determined to try again.  Forget faffing with molasses, also known as edible road tar (although if you have experience cooking or baking with molasses please send along any tips or suggestions!).  This time I will try that old standby, chocolate chip cookies.  I have a bag of peanut butter chips so I decide to switch out the chocolate chips.  Obviously, my rebellious spirit is still alive and kicking.  I use a recipe from Martha Stewart's website.  Thank heavens, the Queen of All Things Good doesn't disappoint.

Strangely, though, the cookies nearest the heating element stayed smallish (the row at the top) while the cookies on the tray further away from the heating element in the oven spread out more (the row on the bottom).  Baking is an exact science and to me a mysterious one.  Still, whatever their size, they taste scrumptious.

  Perfect for a Hootin' Halloween.

Or, for would-be Dragons and Dragonettes, a Roarin' Halloween.
Wherever you are, I hope you have a Spooktacular Halloween!

I'm linking up with Natasha In Oz.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Trying To Grow An Indoor Herb Garden

I guess the title says it all as in I'm trying, desperately trying, to grow an indoor herb garden.  I've read many suggestions about the benefits of growing your own herbs as you can harvest them when needed and use them right away.  I have found that there is quite a bit of waste involved with buying herbs as we only ever use a bit of it and then the rest goes mouldy before it gets used up.  The problem is that I don't have a backyard or a balcony.  But herbs are just weeds and we all know weeds have evolved to grow anywhere. So I thought, why not trying growing them indoors?  When I saw this glass miniature greenhouse at Ikea, I was entranced.
via Ikea.com

I had these romantic visions of casually sauntering over to my lovely miniature greenhouse that was perched in my kitchen bay window and snipping off a few leaves of herbaly goodness which then gets tossed nonchalantly into my Michelin star recipe.  Like so...
via Ikea.com

Maybe I would have so many herbs that I could make my own cosmetics!  Yessss!!!  BUT my kitchen has no deep bay window, no natural light and very little counter space.  In fact, I was stumped as to where to put this green house, miniature though it was.  Insert sad face.  Still I was game to try and so, rustling up a couple of tiny coconut husk cups for starting seedlings, I decided to try growing dill and cilantro.  After many days spent on bended knee waiting and then pleading (and ignoring Monsieur's postulations about a watched pot or in this case watched dirt...), this is what I had.

That's right...nothing.  Insert another sad face.  Why???  Why??  Were the seeds old?  But seeds, by definition, are young.  How can they be old before they have even started growing??  You will see that, in an ecstasy of optimism, I even labelled my little seedling pots.  Hmmm...I am beginning to think that this business of simple living is not so simple after all.
At this point, I remembered reading somewhere that a good way of jumpstarting a garden is to just buy seedlings or save the roots of store bought herbs (if they come with roots attached).  I saved the roots of a green onion and lo and behold it grew one stalk and then another!  Obviously, it is the one in the blue pot.

I was so excited and admittedly took an inordinate amount of childish pleasure out of watching it rocket upwards especially after the dill and cilantro failure.  And then, one morning, I checked on it and the first stalk, now a long tall stalk, had inexplicably flopped over. Was I supposed to stake it?  I have heard of staking tomato plants but spring onions?  I guess I should harvest it as it looks a wee bit pathetic flopped over like that.  You will see that I have a basil plant to the left.  It was bought as a seedling and is still in a plastic pot because I am too afraid of transferring it to a proper plant pot for fear of killing it.  I think that next year, when there are more seedlings available in the nursery, I will buy a few and do my best to keep up an indoor herb garden.  I haven't given up the dream completely.  Do you do indoor container gardening?  Any suggestions on growing herbs indoors, please send them my way!

I am linking up with Natasha in Oz.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Adventures In Baking Bread

Simple living in a large metropolitan city has seemed, at times, a near impossibility.  For example, trying to eat organic, local food has been a source of great frustration.  I don't have a backyard so I can't grow my own vegetables.  True farmers markets are few and far between and tend to be at odd hours like between 3 and 7 pm on a Tuesday which makes them inaccessible to anyone holding a full time job.  Even trying to be more frugal with the grocery budget has been a difficult task as I find that groceries are at least 30% higher than out in the suburbs.  However, I persevered and thought to myself, "Why not start this seemingly impossible journey with teaching myself that most basic of life skills, baking bread? After all, every journey starts with one step."  Now, I will never be one of those people who springs out of bed at 4 am every day and bakes a loaf of bread.  But I was willing to get up at 7 am and bake bread once a week.  I used the No Knead recipe which I found on the Down To Earth blog.

The great thing about this recipe is that you prepare the dough the evening before and let it rise over night.   I think the name of the recipe is a bit misleading because there is some kneading involved. Now, you are advised to flour your hands and the board lightly but I can attest that you actually need a lot of flour and to dust the board regularly otherwise you will have a sticky, gluey mess all over your hands.

I did slash the top but I don't think it was deep enough because, somehow, magically, while in the oven, the dough decided to thumb its glutinous nose at me and mend itself back together again.  Monsieur assures me that, for my very first loaf, it was a passable attempt but he is being very, very kind.  There is no doubt that, if used to conk someone on the head, it could be classed as a dangerous weapon.  I am not sure if it was because of the lack of a slash on the top preventing it from rising or the finicky nature of my oven that never gets very hot.  Well, Rome wasn't built in a day so....I tried again, only this time with rye flour.  I mixed the dough and the next morning peeked in the bowl expecting to see a giant mushroom cloud of risen dough.  And...nothing.  It was a soggy lumpy mess.

Ugh!!  Why?? Why?? Is rye, by its very nature, too fibrous to do anything except sink wilfully towards the earth?  In an effort not to waste the dough, I mixed in a cup of white flour and hoped for the best.  Luckily, in 2 hours, it had risen considerably.  I toasted some almonds and added it to the top of the dough ball.  This time, I made sure to make deep slashes to the top.

 Well, this is looking more like a homemade loaf!

I used a toasted slice for my version of a beef brisket sandwich.

The Down To Earth recipe is a variation of a recipe from the New York Times which calls for the dough to rise twice and be kneaded twice.  The rye loaf was still on the heavy side so, next time I will try the New York Times recipe and knead it twice to see if that produces a lighter loaf. I guess this blog post is more of an anti-post that shows all the stumbles and not just picture perfect, Pinterest-worthy triumphs.  My main takeaway from this is to persevere and not give up.  If any of you have any tips or suggestions, this budding baker would love to hear from you!

I am linking up with Natasha in Oz.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Simple Hair Care

Hello friends!  I never thought the day would come when my hair would become a topic for discussion but the day has now arrived.  Of late, I have noticed that I have been losing quite a bit of hair.  I know that the hair shaft tends to thin with age but I think that stress may be playing a large part as well.  Monsieur is a baldy and soon I think I will end up being his twin.  I had been using Jason Aloe Vera shampoo and conditioner for a while but I suspect that they have changed their formula as the last bottles I bought smelled absolutely vile. So I thought now was as good a time as any to overhaul my hair care routine.  I searched around and ended up getting Desert Essence Organics Fragrance Free Shampoo.

I really like the fact that it is fragrance free as I am not fond of heavily scented body care products.  It is 100% vegan/wheat & gluten free and doesn't contain any parabens, sodium lauryl/laureth sulfates, phthalates, artificial fragrances or colors, silicones, EDTA, glycol or petroleum based ingredients.  And most importantly, to me anyway, it is cruelty free.  There is a fragrance free conditioner but I have found that the shampoo is so mild that I am going to try skipping the conditioner.  I do find that organic products tend to be a bit on the pricy side so I thought that, if I can skip the conditioner, the cost of the shampoo will be somewhat mitigated.  Also, with one less product to buy, it means that my hair care routine is now much more simple.  There was a time when I used a plethora of hair grooming products, but I found that none of them really delivered the magical results promised and I grew tired of the constant hit to my wallet.  Plus with stress levels at maximum, I just wanted a straightforward routine without a lot of fuss.  If you have any recommendations on shampoos, please let me know!  I have been researching vitamins and supplements to help my fast diminishing strands so if you have any tips or suggestions, please let me know as well!  Of course, I can't leave a blog post, even if it is on hair care, without a quick snapshot of something vintage.

I was very pleased to thrift this vintage gilt mirror tray.  The gold is still lustrous and the gilded edge really pretty.  I have always had a fascination with vanity tables and all the lovely things associated with them although I have never had the room to have one.  However, a mirror tray on a dresser has the same impact and is a good compromise.  On it, I have a vintage wooden brush. I have heard that regular brushing helps to restore the hair's vitality.  I also use a wide toothed comb for sorting out tangles and knots.  So that's it, my simplified hair care routine.  Do you have a hair care routine?

A quick note that this is not a sponsored post and I have no affiliation with Desert Essence.
I am linking up with A Stroll Thru Life.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Decluttering My Wardrobe Slowly

I want my wardrobe to look like this:

Via Google Images

The problem is that it doesn't.  If I showed you a picture of what my closet really looks like, you would likely rear back in horror.  I live in a small home without a lot of storage.  I have one closet and it isn't a walk-in. Besides my closet, I have 3 drawers in a dresser that I share with Monsieur.  Because there isn't a lot of storage in the home,  my closet has become a dumping ground for other things besides clothes.  It has got to a point where trying to hang up something involves a lot of pushing and shoving and a certain degree of anger.  Have you heard of Marie Kondo?  All of a sudden she is being talked about everywhere.  Her method involves dumping all of one's clothes on the floor and decluttering in one shot.  Now I have a confession to make which probably won't shock you.  I have a sentimental attachment to my clothes, especially the ones that I wore to a significant event.  The thought of doing a huge declutter all at once filled me with feelings of overwhelm.  Also, if I got rid of everything I didn't like, I would probably end up with just the clothes I am currently wearing.  But something had to be done so I thought I would start with my sock drawer.  After all, what could be difficult about discarding holey socks and bagged out tights?

So, not the most Pinterest-worthy photo on the planet but every time I look at my sock drawer, I am filled with delight and a sense of accomplishment.  I did the same to my lingerie drawer which I won't show here (TMI) and then to my last remaining drawer which holds sweaters and t shirts.  

I have to say that folding everything into small packets is a fantastic idea.  Now I can see everything at a glance.  Having scaled these small mountains, I have started the process of decluttering my wardrobe by going through my closet one item at a time and really asking myself if I want to keep it.  It goes against Marie Kondo's advice of doing a big declutter in one sitting but it is working for me.  I have also been doing a lot of research into building a capsule wardrobe.  Have you heard of Project 333?  Basically, you put together a capsule wardrobe of 33 items which you wear for 3 months.  I am a creature of habit and I know that I tend to wear my favourite clothes over and over again.  Most people wear 20% of their clothes 80% of the time.  I think my percentage of clothes worn is probably 10%!  So if I concentrate on removing the excess and just focus on keeping my favourites, I think that will make the decluttering process a lot easier.  Last night, I did a tally of my favourite Spring/Summer items and realized I had the makings of a 33 item capsule wardrobe!  I was so thrilled and excited.  What does your wardrobe look like?  Please let me know of any tips or tricks you have up your sleeve!

I am linking up with A Stroll Thru Life.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Moving Towards A Slow Home

Dear lone reader in the Aussie hinterlands, I apologize profusely for the lack of posts lately.  Without going into overshare, life got in the way and blogging fell off the radar.  I was slogging along in a career that stressed me to no end, Monsieur's health which has always been precarious, took a nosedive and it all became much too much.  I went to Australia over the New Year and when I came back I took many, many steps back from everything.  The last few months have seen me trying to figure out the maze that had become my life.  I had heard of zero waste living but it seemed too extreme. I had heard of minimalism but didn't ever think it was for me either.  I just couldn't see myself living surrounded by white walls, a bed, a bowl and a spoon.  I like having things that are beautiful and inspiring to me, around me.

As you can see, no white walls but there has been a fair bit of decluttering.  Entire, once greatly loved collections have gone marching out the door.  There used to be lots of knick knacks on the piano but I am very pleased with the pared back mantelscape.  It isn't minimal by any means but the important thing is that it makes me happy.  The same goes with the new plate on the wall.  It is a recent thrifted acquisition and is the perfect size for that spot.  

Right now, I am not sure where to take this blog.  Sometimes I think that 2014 was the year where a lot of the blogs that I used to read, many of them hugely popular, decided to turn off the lights.  I am just small potatoes compared to them but I can only guess that what I currently feel is likely similar to what they felt. I used to love talking about thrifting and decorating my home on a shoestring budget.  I wanted to show that you could have an amazing home without spending big bucks.  This isn't to say that I don't love the thrill of finding something that is perfect for the home but I don't thrift as much as I used to and, when I do, I am a lot more choosy about what I bring home.   In the midst of this soul searching, somehow I stumbled on to Slow Living.  Again, I didn't think it was for me as I thought that extreme minimalism was a big part of Slow Living. But now I think that it is my life and it is up to me to make and break the "rules."  And maybe there aren't any rules, just what works for me.  So my focus lately has been on how to slow down my life in a way that makes sense for me.  Case in point, I finally ditched my obsession with vintage tablecloths.  I know that this is likely sacrilege to the vintage lovers out there but I had to face up to the fact that tablecloths will accumulate stains and the fussing over stains and hours of ironing trying to get them perfectly wrinkle free just wasn't worth the stress.  When I thrifted this French inspired ticking stripe table runner by Cynthia Rowley, it was a revelation.
It dresses up the old  table without all the maintenance of a tablecloth and gets removed for sit down meals. This shift may seem trivial to most but, trust me, for this vintage lovin' gal, it was a huge step!  And in the spirit of minimalism, the table runner is my only runner for now and for the foreseeable future.
And so, lone reader in the Aussie hinterlands, I promise to try to be a better blogger in the future and I hope you will continue to follow along with my journey.

Linking up with A Stroll Thru Life, Sir Thrift A Lot.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Review of the Sydney Boulevard Hotel

Happy New Year!  I am back from my trip to Australia.  Life still feels a little surreal for me as I left a place at the height of summer and came back to a freezing Canadian winter.  Looking back, I am very glad in my choice of hotel. Considering the frightful cost of the plane ticket, I did entertain, however briefly, the idea of staying at a hostel or backpackers hotel. However, the photos of dingy rooms and massive quantity of poor reviews put paid to that notion. I did check out www.airbnb.com as well with initial high hopes.  Most of the listings were in residential areas outside of the CBD and I have the feeling that the property owners know that Sydney is a hot tourist destination and charge accordingly.  I figured that for the same cost I could get a hotel room with breakfast included.  My requirements were that the hotel be easily accessible to major attractions in Sydney's CBD., include breakfast and offer internet access.  Because I was travelling on my own, I didn't want to waste time trying to figure out how to get to places and finding something for breakfast first thing in the morning, every morning.  I used www.orbitz.com after trying a number of different travel websites. I have to say that it takes a few tries to become familiar with navigating these sites. Unless the hotel is actively advertising special features, they just don't show up or aren't readily recognizable on search results.  So if you are feeling frustrated using these sites, be patient and take your time getting familiar with it.  It was purely by chance that I clicked on the Sydney Boulevard Hotel (part of the Bayview Group of Hotels) and then clicked on their room options. It offers various room options involving size of bed, type of view and whether breakfast is included. There was no room option for just a double bed so I picked a room with 2 double beds. I was pleased to see that a breakfast buffet was included in the price of the room and free in-room wi fi access. My biggest bone of contention was that a lot of hotels charge for internet access and if they do offer "free" internet access, it is only in the hotel lobby and with a time constraint. The Sydney Boulevard Hotel is a few blocks outside of the CBD, so their rates are not as crazy sky high as the hotels right in the district but still within walking distance to must sees such as the Sydney Opera House.

There were lots of little touches in the room that showed that a fair amount of thought had been put into anticipating the needs of their guests.  The room included an in-room personal safe, a full size iron and ironing board, bathrobe, mini fridge, alarm clock, large wall mounted TV and two luscious Australian wool blankets. I was so tempted to ask if I could buy one of the blankets. The iron and ironing board were much appreciated and put to good use.  Even though I had rolled all of my clothes, several of them still ended up massively wrinkled.  Tucked into a drawer was a tea and coffee station with a teapot and hot water kettle and a stack of biscuits.

I loved the bathroom with its modern above counter square sink.  Notice the hair dryer on the wall.

I wasn't prepared to pay extra for a room with an "Emerald View" or a "Harbour View" but this view of the Northern portion of Sydney downtown was more than adequate.

I was half expecting a Continental breakfast offering so was really pleased to see a really extensive breakfast buffet.  I didn't fly to the other side of the world to eat canned fruit but there was always fresh watermelon on offer and a rotating selection of fresh fruit such as oranges, kiwi, honeydew and cantaloupe.  

On the other side was a line of chafing dishes with sausages, bacon, ham and eggs.

The best part of the buffet was the pancake machine!  Yes, I need this for my kitchen.

A typical breakfast for me.

I do think that finding the right accommodation for your needs can make or break a vacation.  Overall, I would say that I was really happy with my choice.  Weirdly, even though I was satisfied with the hotel, being away from home made me appreciate it even more.  One of the first things I said when I came home was, "This place isn't too shabby after all!"  It may have had something to do with the fact that Monsieur had very thoughtfully vaccuumed and mopped before my arrival and a little something to do with the old saying "Distance makes the heart grown fonder."  Yes, that is the Christmas tree which was still up when I came back but has since been removed to the compost pile.

I guess, at the end of the day, there's no place like home.

Note:  This is not a sponsored post.  Accommodations were paid for by me.
I am linking up with A Stroll Thru Life.

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