Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kumquat Recipes

Left: Kumquat & Mandarin Sauce
Right: Kumquat & Mandarin Jelly

It is a beautiful day at eight acres of eden. The sun is shining after days of rain and against the backdrop of green, from my kitchen door I can see little glimpses of orange... they are the oval fruits of the kumquat tree.

I have always been puzzled by kumquats or should it be cumquats.. if anyone could enlighten me on the correct spelling I would be grateful! It is what to do with the fruit; I believe some citrus aficionados can eat them straight off the tree, peel and all.... I tried to convince the children to raid this tree rather than the mandarin tree but they could not be persuaded! I also understand you can preserve them in brandy, that does not appeal to me either; but not wanting to let these little fruits go to waste, I had to try something, so over the weekend began the great kumquat experiment!

In previous seasons I have used the fruit as a table decoration for a Mid Winter Christmas dinner (Christmas in July) and they do look stunning set out on a platter around the base of a twinkling candle. Last year I made marmalade but with apologies to Paddington Bear, I am not that fond of marmalade! I much prefer the smoother texture of jams and jellies. I made my first jelly earlier this year from the fruit of our cherry guava tree and it was delicious... could I possibly make a jelly from kumquats? I decided to give it a go! I picked a basketful of kumquats - about 1.2 kilos of fruit. I also picked a few lemons, some mandarins from the top of the tree where the children can't reach (our mandarins are so sweet this year) and some lovely Tahitian limes. Don't they make a colourful display?

After admiring the colours of our winter citrus and eating a few of the mandarins before the children spotted them, it was onto making the first recipe...could not find one in a book, so I can lay claim to this one and take the blame if it does not work for you... but it did work for me!

Kumquat and Mandarin Jelly

1.Into a preserving pan add 1-1.2 kilos of kumquats, sliced in half

2. Together with 6 peeled mandarins, the grated rind of 1 lemon and 2 limes

3.Cover with water and bring to the boil

4. Add 1 kilo of raw sugar, turn down heat and simmer for at least 1 hour

Check and stir often to prevent burning on base of pan. The kumquats and mandarins will darken and go syrupy.

When mixture has cooled sufficiently spoon into a muslin bag. I used a large 'chux or j cloth' which I tied up and hung from the knob of an overhead kitchen cabinet. Suspend over a bowl to catch the 'jelly' which drips down. Do not be tempted to squeeze the fruit through the cloth, this will result in a cloudy jelly. I left mine to drip overnight.

The following morning I had a small bowl of sweet jelly with a definite marmalade flavour but no pieces of peel which was spooned into a sterilized jar. I was a little disappointed with the yield... just one jar of jelly but all you need is a very thin layer on a piece of warm toast, rather than a dollop. But wait there's more..... Do not discard the syrupy peel from the muslin bag. I used this to make recipe no2....

Kumquat and Mandarin Sauce

1.Toss the kumquats back into the pot

2. Add 1-2 cups of boiling water... be careful, you are making sauce not kumquat water!

3.Place in your processor and whizz up. My processor died some time ago and I have been making do with my stick blender so had to use this instead.

4.Drain the sauce through a sieve or colander into a bowl. Place into a sterilized bottle and seal.

What to do with the sauce.... it is very sweet and you would only want a teensy drizzle on ice cream but it is winter here... perhaps I could use the sauce to make a cake? Today that is just what I did. There are a few slices left which I have hidden, in order to save some for my husband to try when he returns from work. My youngest son returned from the patio with an empty plate exclaiming 'That cake was delicious mum! Any more?' So it has passed the family taste test! The sauce gives the cake a beautiful rich orange hue and a subtle flavour of citrus.

Kumquat and Mandarin Cake

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius

In a large mixing bowl

1.Cream together 150 grams butter together with 2/3 cups raw sugar and 1/3 cup rapadura

Do not omit the rapadura, it helps to give the cake its richer colour. You could substitute brown sugar but rapadura is the healthier option

2.Add two eggs and mix well

3. Add 1/2 cup of kumquat and mandarin sauce, mix well.

4. Add 1 and 1/2 cups wholewheat flour. I used my freshly milled organic, bio dynamic flour

5. With 1 tsp baking (bicarb) soda. Mix well

6. Add 1/4 cup milk. Mix well.

7. Spoon batter into a greased 20cm baking tin (I use a round silicone baking container)

8. Bake 20 - 25 minutes until cake is golden and a skewer inserted comes out clean.

9. Cool and turn out. Sprinkle with icing sugar and enjoy. It is lovely served with a dollop of fresh cream and a cup of refreshing hot tea!

Keep your jars of sauce and jelly in the fridge. I think the sauce will be used up soon, as I am sure I will receive some more requests this week for another 'Kumquat cake'. There are more kumquats ripening on the tree and I am thinking of drying some to use on my garlands and wreathes at Christmas time... the great kumquat experiment continues!

With love and joy,

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Father's Hands

Her Father's Joy
This favourite family photo was taken in 1997
in the South Island of New Zealand

This week my husband celebrates his 44th birthday. The children are excited! They love birthdays and they love their dad. They have already bought his favourite sweet treats and wrapped them and hidden them away and my eldest daughter is deciding what kind of cake she should bake for him this year. I asked them to make him a special card and to think of all the ways in which their dad used his hands to help his family. The sentiments flowed and I would love to share them with you as a tribute to a husband and a father who has used his hands in so many different ways to bless his children.

My Father's Hands

Held me as a newborn baby and counted every child a blessing

Stroked my head as I went to sleep in his arms

Held my hand tight as we crossed a busy road

Nurturing hands, gentle hands, safe hands

My Father's hands

Threw a ball in my direction and said 'Catch!'

Picked up a pencil and showed me how to draw a dinosaur

Handed me the pencil and said 'Now you try!'

Encouraging hands

My Father's Hands

Hammered nails into wood and built me a cubby house

Held a spade to dig gardens to grow food for our family

Slapped render onto the walls of the swimming pool he built for our family

Hard working hands, strong hands, resourceful hands

My Father's Hands

Reach into his wallet and pull out money to pay for ice creams!

Turn the wheel and change the gears when he drives us where we need to go

Hold spanners to fix cars at work

Hold spanners to help those who break down on the highway

Pick up snakes in the chicken house!

Release the snakes into the bush knowing that they will return!

Generous hands, helping hands

My Father's Hands

Shake the hands of other men as he says 'G'Day Mate' or 'Welcome to our home'

Wave at the people he passes on our country road

Friendly Hands, Hospitable Hands

My Father's Hands

Punch the air in victory when the All Blacks beat Australia!

Are raised in despair when they are beaten by France

Are raised in despair when New South Wales loses again to Queensland

Cheering Hands! Victorious hands

My Father's Hands

Are raised to worship his Lord - the source of his strength

Worshiping hands

This is the front of our special 'Father's Hands' birthday card, On the outline of the hands (which belong to each twin!) is a verse from the Bible which says

'Let the favour of God be upon us And confirm for us the work of our hands Yes confirm the work of our hands' Psalm 90 v17

And many thanks to a fellow blogger Kristen the 'Pajama Mama' in Texas for alerting me to this translation. I decided to search the Word for more verses that relate to hands and here are just a few of the ones I found.

'Let your hand become my help for I have chosen your precepts'
Psalm 119 v173

'The works of His hands are verity and justice; All His precepts are sure.'
Psalm 111v7

'You have a mighty arm strong is your hand and high is your right hand'.
Psalm 89v13

'Thus I will bless you while I live; I will lift up my hands in your name.'
Psalm 63v4

Oh that fathers would lift up their hands while they live... strong and mighty hands as they lead their families and raise their children; fathers who have chosen to live according to the Lord's precepts. Fathers who do not raise their hands in anger, fathers who use their hands to reach for the hands of their children rather than the remote control and say 'Let's go outside and play'..

I give thanks for a husband and a father who uses his hands wisely, to do good, not harm. A father who is loved by his family who want to honour him as he celebrates another year of...

Hard work... it's going to pay off, the pool is going to look fantastic and it will bring our family so much pleasure and we can invite people over as we continue to open up our home and offer hospitality. Your vision for this project has been inspiring. Natural swimming pools are the way of the future! Roll on summer!

Laughter and celebration... and here's hoping NSW come right! And the All Blacks win the Bledisloe!

Faith and family Thank you for your commitment to our family, for your uncompromising belief that God's heart is for the restoration of the family and for your desire that our family live, work and minister... together!

God has confirmed the work of your hands... these children are your reward...

Your arrows as in a warrior's hand.. 'Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them'
Your olive plants all around your table... Behold thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.'

Happy Birthday! We love you dad!

I'd love to hear how you honour the fathers in your life. I would be honoured if you chose to use our 'Father's Hands Project' and I hope that it has inspired you. Let me know how it turns out!

With love and joy,

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Raising Well Mannered Children

'They're not from around here - Can't be, those children are so well behaved, such good manners, definitely not from New South Wales' - These were some of the comments I was overhearing from a conversation between a group of elderly ladies sitting at the next table in a restaurant where my family was enjoying a meal. My husband and I soon realized that the ladies were discussing our children. We tried hard to keep a straight face as the group then started to work out which state in Australia we were from. They were certain we were not from New South Wales or Queensland and were putting their money on Tasmania when one lady could not resist and leaned across and asked 'Excuse me, we were just wondering where you are from?' We told her we had just moved to the area from New Zealand. 'We knew it!' she exclaimed and turned back to her friends.
On our trip home we discussed this incident and the fact that people watch others, especially families and take notice when they see something out of the ordinary and this was the sad fact, our children who knew how to behave in a restaurant were a rarity - children who stayed in their seats and did not run around, who sat quietly, said please and thank you and finished all the food on their plates, made these ladies sit up and take notice. I asked my husband why they thought we were not locals and at that precise moment a missile hit the windscreen of our car. My husband braked and pulled over without incident thankfully and went to investigate. The missile was a firework thrown by a boy in a group of children standing on the pavement outside a house.. their own it turned out, they thought it was 'hysterical' and were oblivious to the potential for causing a serious accident as a result of their anti-social behaviour. 'There's my answer' I remarked to my husband as he returned to the car shaking his head.
Since that first restaurant incident we have been approached by many people and complimented on our children 's behaviour and friendly nature. It soon became apparent that Australians are naturally forthcoming and far less reserved than Kiwis. In the bank manager's office we were informed that our children were the best behaved children he had ever had in his office. In stores and at the farmer's markets, it seemed wherever we went, people wanted to let us know that they were impressed by our family.
I'm not sharing these stories to boast or proclaim perfection, for my children are not perfect and there are times when they let us and themselves down and they especially need to be reminded that it is just as important to be kind and courteous to one another at home, as it is, when they are out in public. However, the comments and approaches from strangers, have been a great source of encouragement to me as a mother who has desired to teach her children well and has stressed to them from an early age, that they are 'ambassadors' who represent our family and their Lord, wherever they go, whatever they do - how they speak to people and how they present themselves, in dress and appearance and facial expression, reflects their inner attitude and sends a message to others, and of course how they conduct themselves - manners matter!

A smiling happy face!
Encourage your children to smile!
Frowning, scowling faces turn others away
A loving, joyous atmosphere in your home and knowing that they are loved and accepted will enable smiles to come naturally

We talked about being family ambassadors in depth around our family meal table this year, as we had made the decision to allow our three older children to travel to New Zealand by themselves for a holiday with their grandparents. We would drive them to Sydney to 'see them' on the plane and they would be met at Auckland airport but for two weeks we would not be around to supervise them, to remind them of any matter or to sort out any disputes. I was of course a little anxious but we told them that we trusted them and we prayed for them before they boarded the plane. They are at the gate in this photograph, the two older ones saying 'Hurry up mum and take the picture!' and the younger daughter is giddy with excitement!

I am pleased to report that that were excellent ambassadors, they were kind, courteous and helpful. One relative let me know that our beautiful children were a credit to us - more encouragement for the heart of a mother! And they had a wonderful time, fishing, boating, eating ice cream and all those things you get to do at the beach!

But courteous well mannered children do not happen overnight. There are children who are quieter and those who are more spirited but whatever your child's personality, it is possible to raise well mannered children, who stand out from the crowd for all the right reasons.

Now, please bear with me. I do understand that some parents face more challenges than others. Sometimes, an underlying disorder can result in undesirable behaviour. I used to work with people with challenging behaviours and I know what it is like when out in public, the stares and rude comments from those who did not realize that these able bodied people who appeared relatively 'normal' had severe social limitations, often as a result of years of institutionalization. However, this didn't stop us from taking our clients into the community. We gave careful consideration to the environments we would visit - noisy, crowded places caused some individuals considerable distress and over stimulated others, so we chose quieter cafes, art galleries and shops and found that being in a natural environment had a calming effect so we often incorporated forest walks and strolls along the riverbank into our community skills programme. With lots of positive encouragement and a calm approach we saw dramatic improvements in behaviour. And it was often the case that the people I worked with were friendlier and more respectful than many members of the general public we encountered!
Whether your children have limitations or not, I think that giving consideration to the environment and how you speak to your children is important; snapping angrily, barking orders and nagging do not help you gain cooperation and are doing you no favours and later on I will describe how changing where and when I shopped transformed my supermarket shopping experience with young children.

Having worked with people who were unpredictable and having dealt with outbursts and sometimes episodes of physical violence, I have to say my child's first tantrum was a non-event in comparison but nevertheless, we were determined as parents, not to allow tantrums, unruly or disrespectful behaviour to become the norm, viewed as 'just a phase' or excused as 'it's just boys being boys'. We wanted to raise well mannered children! And so we set boundaries and reinforced appropriate behaviour. These are some of the ideas and practical advice for specific situations which worked for us and I hope you find them helpful.

At the shops Where you are most likely to see children behaving badly and yes we can blame the stores for setting out chocolate and candy at child height or we can take responsibility and teach our children how to behave in a store. I rarely shop alone. My children usually accompany me. You could leave them at home with dad and shop in the evening and I realize this must save the sanity of some mothers but if you leave them behind, they are not receiving the opportunity to learn how one behaves in a supermarket. I see this as a chance to teach my children how to shop and I encourage them to help, the younger children fetch items for me. They know exactly what we buy and the uncomplicated layout at the store we shop at (Aldi) makes a big difference. The older children are still learning about shopping too, I encourage them to read labels for me and work out savings on quantities. Not only are they helping me and saving us time but also learning about budgeting and food additives as we strive to make the best choices for the sake of our health.

What transformed my shopping experience with children was changing where I shopped and the time of day I chose to do our weekly grocery shop. I now shop at Aldi on a Saturday morning at 8am as soon as the store opens. There are less people, the shelves have been restocked and there are virtually no queues. I use trolley bags which attach to the trolley so there is little time spent packing bags which is a time when children can become bored and distracted. I used to shop at a bigger chain following gymnastics lessons at 5pm on a weekday. There was more traffic, the store was crowded, queues long and children tired and hungry. You get the picture... stressed mum, stressed children arriving home late and causing dad stress. Today, my shopping is a pleasant experience and it doesn't phase me at all. It only takes me 20 minutes! So plan your shop well and take a list and if you meet a friend resist the temptation to start a long conversation in the aisle... these are the times when children can become distracted. Be a mum on a mission! The goal - a smooth, stress free shopping experience even with toddlers! It is possible! And when you arrive home, have everyone help unpack and put away the groceries. It is a team effort in this household and helping around the house is encouraged from an early age as this picture shows!

Twin sinks for twin helpers!

Let your no be no but sometimes say yes!
At the checkout, the whole family helps unload from the trolley, which has to be done quickly at Aldi. There are no chocolate bars at child height but the younger children sometimes ask for treats such as chocolate or ice cream (frozen yogurt). They understand if mum says no, not this week but on other weeks I surprise them and say 'Your sister is making her special chocolate mocha pudding tonight, shall we buy a chocolate bar and we might need ice cream to go with it!' They cheer and return home bursting through the door to tell dad 'Mocha tonight!'
A little angel! Not always of course, but teaching my children to be helpful at home and when out and about, means I can refute those comments such as 'Oh double trouble!' and 'You've got your hands full' to which I can reply 'I have a lot of extra hands to help!'

Another 'angel' who brings the blessings of heaven into my life!

Set a good example I love Aldi's approach which allows the person behind you with only a few items to go in front of you. We live in a selfish society where people have grown accustomed to being served and the 'I was here first' notion prevails. I am very aware that if I start to voice my frustration and 'whinge' because the queue is long or the service poor, my children will be likely to pick up on this and develop the same negative' everyone is against me' attitude. So I encourage them to look out for ways in which they can serve others... simple acts of kindness such as picking up the coins someone has dropped and handing them back, passing a bag for the fruit to the person waiting behind you, smiling at the checkout operator and showing genuine interest if she starts to tell you about her day. The most touching act of kindness I encountered at the checkout was carried out by my dear husband who once paid for a young man's groceries who did not have enough cash and was going to have to return some items from his basket. The checkout girl's mouth fell open and the young man was so appreciative, saying he would never forget this, as he went on his way and best of all, our children were watching, learning a lesson from their dad in how to treat others.

Table manners Start by teaching table manners at home and yes you do need to sit around the table with the television turned off! Simple rules apply and they are not hard to reinforce. Wait for grace, Do not talk with your mouth full, Use your knife and fork Don't shovel food into your mouth, Chew properly and of course Say please and thank you and ask for permission to leave the table.
We have always required our children to finish what is on their plate. Sometimes young children have 'eyes bigger than their tummies' so hand out smaller helpings and tell them they can have more if they finish the first portion. This rule especially applies to Weetbix at breakfast time! If vegetables or salad accompanies the meal, everyone is expected to have some on their plate.
Of course we make allowances for likes and dislikes but within reason. One daughter is not fond of pineapple but the rest of the family enjoy it on their pizza, she is not allowed to scrape it off. Most of the family do not like mushrooms (I love them!) so I do not use them in my dishes very often. However, if we visit someone's home for dinner and mushrooms are in the lasagne, we expect everyone to eat them.
These guidelines reinforced at home mean we can expect our children to apply them when out of the home, at restaurants and church functions where food is served.

Eating Out The fast food industry has certainly directed its advertising at families with its 'eat quickly, using your hands from paper wrappers and move on' approach. The playgrounds at these venues also mean that children become accustomed to leaving the table and are often exposed to overly boisterous behaviour as older children with no regard for the 'littlies' shove past and climb over younger children. I am not saying you should never visit a fast food restaurant or allow your children into the adventure playground but if you only ever eat out at these type of outlets I would encourage you to consider some alternatives. Perhaps you could visit the fast food outlet on a less regular basis and have a family fund for special trips to family restaurants where you can sit down to eat meals served on plates with waitress service, it may cost a little more but the menu options will be a lot healthier. Many of these bistro style restaurants have special lunchtime and 'children eat free' deals.
When I had two young children and had to spend a full day in town running errands for the dairy farm we operated, the fast food outlet was the easiest option especially during winter. And then one day I discovered a lovely little cafe tucked away down a side alley. Its menu was a lot healthier and the prices were reasonable. There was room to park the stroller and it had waitress service. I decided to take my children here for lunch, usually once a month; on warmer days we would take a picnic to the park. I used this trip to the cafe as a teaching opportunity. I would choose food from the menu which was not too messy to eat such as toasted sandwiches and as I sat with my toddlers I would whisper instructions 'Chew your food' Eat the crusts too' 'Don't shuffle in your seat'. Eating lunch here became an enjoyable experience and the children did not miss the playground!

At Church Our children sit with us at church rather than being allowed to go and sit with friends as most children are allowed to. They don't pick up inappropriate behaviors such as chatting and giggling during the worship and text messaging during the sermon. I take a few quiet toys for the twins such as a dolly to cuddle, board books and threading puzzles but I do not give them snacks such as crackers or biscuits which create crumbs. I used to take a few grapes but found they would drop them and want to retrieve them from under the seats causing a distraction. Our church serves fruit, crackers, cheese and dips after the service so now the girls wait until then. A table is usually set out for the children but if this does not happen we teach our children to wait, to let adults go first, to only take one item at a time and not to make multiple return trips. You may be thinking 'what strict parents!' but I am saddened to say that some of the most selfish, gluttonous behaviour we have observed has been at church events where food is served buffet style, as hoardes of children descend on the tables grabbing handfuls of food and stuffing their mouths. Our 'after church' lunch experience at the first church we attended as a newly married couple was like this, we used to call it 'feeding time at the zoo', often there was not enough food left for the adults and we vowed then, that when we had children we would not allow them to behave in this way.
I'm pleased we were 'strict' in enforcing this, it means we can take our children to weddings and other formal events with the reassurance that they will conduct themselves in a worthy manner. And this is what people take note of - it is what the elderly ladies in the restaurant observed which gave them cause to debate our 'state of origin'. And by the way, I realize these ladies were being somewhat discriminatory, (we think they had one too many glasses of wine!) as I don't believe that where you come from, affects your behaviour, it is how you are raised!

It takes time, it takes tons of patience and sometimes you will be disappointed when they 'drop the ball' and forget what they have been taught but the rewards of instilling good manners and appropriate behaviour will bring you many rewards. It is not a case of raising 'meek and mild' children who are seen and not heard. My children are lively and talkative (some more than others!) and they interact with others in a positive, mature manner which is always so well received and sometimes they simply amaze me, as my 11 year old daughter did one day when she remembered that some stall holders at the market had recently returned from New Zealand. She asked them if they had enjoyed their holiday and they were so thrilled to be asked by a child who was genuinely interested to hear about their experience of her birth country. They had obviously had a wonderful time and they proceeded to tell us all about their trip. I later told my daughter that I was delighted to see that she had been so pleasant and friendly to this couple who were usually very quiet and reserved.
And sometimes no words are needed. As my teenage son helped me unload groceries at the checkout one day, a lady came to me close to tears 'You have made my day' she said 'To see a teenage boy helping his mother in this day and age, it has restored my faith in the younger generation'

Can I encourage you to go and restore some faith and spread some hope. Our world certainly needs it. We desperately need young people who see beyond themselves, responsible, compassionate, caring individuals who will contribute in positive ways to the society in which they live. Starting with teaching manners and showing your children how to respect others, will go a long way as you take your children on the journey from childhood, through adolescence to adulthood.

I finish this post with some inspiration from my favourite author Louisa May Alcott who describes the influence of Jo upon the tribe of boisterous boys that she and her husband had taken in at their home 'Plumfield' in the book 'Little Men'. This book although a work of fiction has inspired me to follow Jo's example, as I raise my own children.

- 'because she carefully fostered in him gentle manners, love of children, respect for women, old and young and helpful ways about the house.'

- the natural refinement which nothing but home influence can teach gave him sweet and simple manners; his mother had cherished an innocent and loving heart in him, his father had watched over the physical growth of his boy and kept the little body straight and strong on wholesome food and exercise and sleep.'

Until next time,
With love and joy,

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Family Bathroom and Stylish Solutions to Vanity Clutter!

I am blessed to have a big, beautiful bathroom in the new extension to our home that my talented 'owner-builder' husband built. I would love to share with you the ideas which we implemented, which make this bathroom entirely functional for a family of eight and a pleasure to use.
It is such a contrast to the original bathroom which was located off the dining room - nowhere near the bedrooms. When first time visitors would ask if this was the pantry, we would slide back the door to reveal the tiniest, dreariest bathroom. To 'queue for the loo' was an accepted part of family life for our first four years in this home and when we began to plan our new extension, along with the extra bedrooms, a big family bathroom and an en suite for mum and dad, went onto the list of requirements sent to the architect.

I have always wanted a claw foot bath and in this home, my dream was finally realized. We opted for a modern reproduction, it's lighter and does not require the floor to be reinforced, as would be the case with an old cast iron bath. It is also easy to clean and the shower head attachment is ideal for washing the hair of toddlers!

I'm so pleased we decided to pay a bit extra and order the largest size of bath in the range. The bathroom company actually made a mistake and sent out the wrong size bath, the smallest one, which we decided was only suitable for a jockey to recline in! The mistake was rectified and our longer bath is just simply wonderful to lie back in and soak away the worries of the week! So therapeutic, especially when I add some lavender oil to the bath water and the fragrance fills the room. I hope to find a wire bath rack to fit across but it has to be made from copper to match our taps and other accessories.
I personally, do not use the bath on a daily basis, it really feels more like a special treat when I do find the time to use my bath though! It is ideal for bathing the twins and it is not uncommon for the water to be reused by the older children. There is also a corner shower unit which is the preferred choice of the male species in the house!

The bathroom vanity is a result of my husband's 'kiwi ingenuity'. I wanted a large timber vanity with twin basins but the only ones which would do justice to the long wall it would sit against, were horrendously expensive - more than our budget for all the bathroom fixtures combined!
It is actually a DVD unit! The two cupboards at either end conceal the plumbing (just had to remove the top shelf to achieve this) for the matching ceramic bowls which were inserted into the holes cut into the top of the unit.

The drawers designed to hold DVDs are perfect for storing spare toilet rolls and tall bottles. The shelf where a DVD player would sit, transforms into a shelf for storage of extra towels which I roll up 'hotel style'. The vanity affords us plenty of storage, something which designers often overlook for family bathrooms. A tiny wall cabinet really is not even worth installing! The mirror with its wrought iron trim matches the unit and comes from the same range of furniture. Together the unit and mirror minus the bowls and tap ware cost us $800. The bowls were approximately $130 each and we purchased the copper taps on eBay.

When searching for copper taps on the Internet, I found out some interesting facts about copper - did you know it one of the most effective metals for germ resistance? There is a current research project underway in some Australian hospitals where they are trialling the use of copper for taps, basins and even door plates.
We chose copper because I have an aversion to chrome, we love its 'olde- worlde' look and its gorgeous, warm, burnished tones really do complement timber. We have not been able to find copper feet for our claw foot bath - they are made of brass but we will eventually change them to white.

And perhaps my most favourite thing in the bathroom is my free standing towel rail with its ornate iron work. I just love it! It was an anniversary gift from my husband. We bought this gorgeous piece from my favourite store 'The Complete Garden'. My husband says they should have a sign out front to warn men 'Do not allow your wife to enter this store unless you are prepared to wait for at least one hour!' By the way, 'The Complete Garden' is misleading, it does not just sell garden furniture but a wonderful array of home accessories, if you like French provincial style you will find it hard to resist this store. It sells lamps, wall plaques, picture frames, candle holders and urns. When we bought the towel rail it came with a bonus, a $20 voucher to be used the following month. My husband dropped me off with a ridiculous request - 'Don't be long!' I was looking for a wall candle holder for the bathroom but fell in love with this copper urn.

My husband liked it too but wondered what on earth I would use it for other than decorative purposes. I love items that are not just beautiful but also practical and I already knew what the urn would be used for. The bathroom vanity is often covered with clutter - soaps, tubes of toothpaste and bottles of tea tree oil (my teenage daughter's favourite skin cleanser!) The urn holds and disguises all of this bathroom paraphernalia and keeps it looking tidy. Everyday items are within easy reach, no bending down to search through drawers or cupboards and it makes wiping down the vanity top a breeze.

Before - vanity clutter ruins the effect!

After - into the urn it all goes to hide away! Hint - choose an urn with a lid!

I'm hoping to find coordinating candle holders for the walls - any excuse to return to my favourite store but I am prepared to wait until we have the funds to add these finishing touches.

This is one of the lessons I have learned from building - to be a patient renovator. There are lots of bare walls waiting for mirrors or the perfect picture or art work but rather than fill the space with 'make do' stuff I will wait until we can afford the 'right thing'. The bathroom window is yet to be installed, heavy plastic suffices for now but I will wait until we come across the perfect window for our bathroom - in a colonial style or maybe a lead light one, which is within our budget.
Not over extending ourselves in order to have everything finished and 'perfect' straight away is important. In the meantime, a cedar blind disguises the 'plastic window', purchased brand new at a garage sale for only $10. I was watching 'Home Made' last evening on television, a show in which two teams of designers compete against each other with a set budget to renovate a home within 3 days. One of the designers managed to totally revamp a dated bathroom with new fixtures and tiles but she overlooked the old window and left it untouched which the judges pointed out could have been easily disguised with an inexpensive roller blind. Sometimes the best solutions are so simple to achieve and do not need to cost a lot of money.

When searching for our bathroom fixtures, we attended 'homemaker' auctions and bought a frame less glass shower for our en suite bathroom which cost less than the shower unit in the main bathroom (the reverse is usually the case), we also found an upmarket toilet suite and at the same auction, lighting was on offer but no one was chasing lighting that day, except us. We were the only bidders and saved ourselves hundreds of dollars!

The white tiles laid throughout our home including both bathrooms, are seconds but you would never guess. We chose white tiles as our main floor covering (we have no carpet in this home, the bedrooms have timber floors) after noticing on a trip to Indonesia many years ago, that most of the homes had either white or light coloured tiles and the homes stayed cool throughout the day, despite the searing heat. Yes, we can confirm, this works. Our home stays much cooler for longer during summer and has drastically cut down the usage of the air conditioner.

But white tiles for a family home... mm, they are cool underfoot, they do look good and are less likely to date and they are so easy to clean, it is just keeping them clean which is the main issue. Mopping is a major task but ripping up the carpets and tiling right through has given our home a continuity and it looks and feels bigger. It was probably the best decision we made- no more flea and dust mite harbouring fibres and accidental spills or toddler 'accidents' - no problem! The tiles were laid by a friend who tiles for a living and he taught my children a new life skill - grouting! They did most of the grouting and did a really good job but they were all in agreement - tiling was one trade they would never pursue as a career!

We now operate a shoe free policy in this home, (slippers are permitted!) another lesson we learned from Indonesia. My husband grew up on a farm and his home had cream carpet so removing shoes at the door was second nature to him. We also lived in a region of New Zealand which had a high proportion of Maori people and the sight of a pile of shoes on the front porch was not unusual. We often visited the homes of Maori friends and neighbours and it was no drama to remove shoes as custom required. Our shoe free home is simply making life easier, less dirt is tracked in and therefore I spend less time cleaning. Not all our visitors abide by our policy (most do oblige thankfully) and do not see or choose to ignore the sign at the door requesting removal of shoes and I sigh and silently think 'just don't visit Japan, Hawaii or the North Island of New Zealand and know it will be another night of mopping! OK I know it serves me right for choosing white tiles but I love them, I love my home and I especially love my bathroom! And as for the old bathroom, we turned it into an office and home library where I sit right now and type.

Until next time,

With love and joy,



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