Monday, November 19, 2012

Books and Birthdays!


  November and December are the birthday months in our home when six out of nine members of our family celebrate birthdays! I'll share about the birthday bash first before I show you my gorgeous new books. We now have another official adult in the family as my daughter (the one in the photo below) turned eighteen. She arrived home just in time from a holiday in New Zealand to help with the preparations for her party. After having no rain for several months you can guess what happened on the day. Yes, the rain arrived just in time for the party with 50 people expected... we didn't want to retire inside now we have this huge outdoor entertaining area so we set out the market gazebo and tied a tarpaulin from the roof!

The Birthday Girl in Bangkok, Thailand.
 She has since traveled to Malaysia and New Zealand.
 She is returning to the the orphanage in Thailand for a second missions trip early next year.

We had decided against hiring a spit for a roast and purchased a gas fired pizza oven from Aldi for a great price. A gourmet pizza party where you get people to design their own pizzas is a sure fire hit and a lot less work as I can testify. It was so simple to get ready. We used Aldi's ready-made pizza bases (I usually make my own but not for 50 people on one night!) and had everything set out in order for people to spread and sprinkle on their bases. A choice of tomato, sweet chilli, barbecue or plum sauces. Platters of sliced tomatoes and zucchini, meats including chicken and pepperoni, bowls of roasted peppers, red onions and olives, jugs of fresh herbs and of course lots of mozzarella cheese! The oven cooked the pizzas to crispy perfection and they were enjoyed by all. A special pizza paddle found on ebay arrived just in time for the party and made the process of removing pizzas from the oven a breeze. I highly recommend you invest in a pizza stone if you are partial to pizza.

Dessert was the birthday cake - a chocolate cake shaped into a huge number 18 plus a few extra cheesecakes and sweet biscuits that guests brought along. An air hockey game set up in a corner kept younger children occupied on a rainy night and the families and young people present chatted, cooked and consumed pizza. We had a tea and coffee station set up in the corner of the kitchen. I even pulled out the popcorn machine and roasted up some of our green coffee beans. The aroma of freshly roasted coffee was incredible and the guests who tried our coffee thought it was great!

It truly was a fuss free night - no fancy tables (though I did slip a few cake stands onto the dessert table!) silly slide shows or long speeches, just a great night of fellowship with family and friends. How wonderful it is to have teenagers who want to celebrate their birthdays at home and don't need to 'go out on the town' or have an alcohol fueled event to feel like they are having fun.

It was actually my birthday on the day of my daughter's party. Couldn't really be avoided seeing it fell on the Saturday. I didn't miss out as I went out for dinner the night before with my husband leaving behind toddlers and teenagers. I was also blessed with books  - three in total and they are my kind of books.

Simple Pleasures Annabel Langbein

My daughter brought me home two books from New Zealand. The first was her gift to me and I am so looking forward to trying the recipes from Annabel Langbein's new book 'Simple Pleasures' which accompanies the second series of the Free Range Cook which is yet to arrive on our television screens here in Australia. Once I have tried a few of the recipes I might review it at my blog but give me time... I'm making lots of cake stands in the lead up to Christmas which doesn't leave me much time to make cakes or experiment with new and exciting food and recipes.

 The other book which also hails from New Zealand from the very region where we dairy farmed is Riverstone Kitchen - recipes from a chef's garden by Bevan Smith. Riverstone kitchen was Cuisine magazine's Restaurant of the year in 2010/11 which is a pretty good accolade. Why was it not there when we lived there? It was just 'down the road' from our former farm according to my daughter who spent a week in the South Island, mainly in the Waitaki. My mother in law bought this book for me on her annual salmon fishing trip and the chef must have been there when she popped in because it is a signed copy! The recipes like Annabel Langbein's focus on fresh, seasonal produce. I don't like pretentious cook books so any chef who is prepared to include his 'Mum's Date and Apricot Scones' in one of his cook books wins my vote. It all looks like good, wholesome and honest fare with ingredients I can easily source - apart from the whitebait which we last enjoyed on our holiday to New Zealand two summers ago and almost choked on when we were told how much it was worth!


I was presented with one more book on my birthday. As I unwrapped it, I thought at first there may have not been good sibling communication and I was about to get myself a second copy of Annabel Langbein's new cook book but no, my son had bought me 'Celebrate' by Pippa Middleton. Yes - the Pippa Middleton, the sister of Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge. No time for a lengthy review here but let me tell you I am loving this book. Beautiful photography and tonnes of ideas for, as what the cover terms 'British festivities for family and friends'. A whole year of them no less, organized into seasons. It is not at all pretentious and not in the least bit 'posh'. No over-styled tables or 'tablescapes' which require hours of work and artful arranging. Pippa keeps it simple and attainable.There are recipes, crafts, useful tips and games this British girl (that's me!) remembers from her childhood.

Barbecues, campfires, birthday parties and Christmas are just some of the occasions featured and the focus is on family and friends being together and having fun and making wonderful memories rather than 'entertaining' to impress. My kind of book - totally! There's even a chapter on Afternoon Tea and tiered cake stands feature in some of the photographs. Pippa suggests gluing glasses between mismatched plates to make cake stands. If only she had given me a call - I would have gladly drilled some pretty plates for her! I'll browse her chapter for a few more high tea pointers as in two weeks time I have a speaking engagement at a high tea. I'm sharing about how I set up my business 'Tiers for Tea' and talking about high tea in general. I'll set up a table with china, cake stands and other tea time accessories which shouldn't be too much of a problem to source! Only problem will be deciding what to take with me.

I never intended for this post to be so long but wanted to catch you all up with my life at the moment. I have markets most weekends up to Christmas. Last month we melted on a 40 degree day as did most of my soy candles in teacups - they softened enough to ruin and hot gusts of wind blew dust into the wax! I'm learning to deal with the disappointments which inevitably come when you are starting a small business. My website for the vintage china hire is coming along nicely and looks very stylish and professional. It fits beautifully on an iphone screen for easy scrolling. This lovely cake stand is part of the 'Coming up Roses' collection. I could have sold this stand ten times over but decided to keep it for the hire collection as I can imagine how beautiful it would look on a dessert table filled with chocolate truffles and strawberries or petits four!  I've written up terms and conditions for hiring the china, making and cancellation of bookings and I'm realizing that I need to be firm and apply them for all occasions, even informal bookings.

It's almost December and I haven't even pulled out the Christmas tree. I hope to have my tree up this week but also want to set out a Christmas table and decorate it using my cake stands and teacups and take some photographs to show people how they could be used as festive centrepieces. Maybe my next post will be full of inspiration for Christmas, so come back for another visit soon!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

More Lessons from Plumfield

' 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, while Grandpa March cultivated the little mind with wisdom - not tasking it with long, hard lessons, parrot-learned, but helping it to unfold as naturally and beautifully as sun and dew help roses bloom.'

From 'Little Men' by Louisa May Alcott

This is one of the passages from Little Men that I just had to write down on the 'inspiration' page of my homeschool journal. So much wisdom in one short passage, especially for parents of boys! After many years on this homeschool journey I am in absolute agreement with Miss Alcott on the influence of the home. I have seen this outworked in the lives of all my children. The boy in this picture has an innocent and loving heart. He is gentle, generous and kind to all he comes into contact with and people take notice and tell me that he is the type of boy they want their sons to be friends with. I have found that the approach that Jo and her Professor used with their boys at Plumfield also works well with my boys and this son in particular.

He needs wholesome food - and we do our best to provide this by growing our own fruit and vegetables, making meals at home from scratch and limiting the amount of sweet, refined or takeaway foods.

Exercise -  There was a time when we were involved in too many sports and extra-curricular activities. Realizing the pressure and unwanted stress this was bringing into our lives we pulled out of a number of activities, and found a sport that all of the children could be involved in on the same day at the same time which happens to be ice skating. It is a family and age integrated lesson (anyone of any age is welcome to join the class) and works in well with our schedule. My sporty boy also plays tennis but the rest of their exercise takes part in 'God's gymnasium' - the great outdoors which brings the added benefit of fresh air and no subscription or insurance fees!

He has always been a tree climber.
We nicknamed him 'gecko boy' when he was younger!

A gentle approach to learning. How I wish I had read 'Little Men' earlier on. I was rather inpatient for my first son to 'get it'. I relied on text books and 'busywork' and just wanted him to read fluently. Some lessons ended in tears and frustration. He just wasn't ready and needed more hands on activities and less work which required him to sit still and write out answers. Thankfully, I worked this out, gained the confidence to set aside the regimented, non-flexible curriculum and implemented my own 'delight directed' home learning programme using all kinds of resources. That same boy who did not enjoy putting pen to paper will finish his degree next year without the burden of a student loan to pay back. He writes assignments and exam papers and often receives marks of distinction and high distinction.

I am far more patient and relaxed these days. I understand that children learn at different rates. I allow my home to be a Plumfield of sorts at times. If you have read the book you will know what I mean. We don't have a carriage house to turn into a museum but there are often 'specimens' lying around (usually rocks as we have so much quartz on our property). Sometimes, it feels more like a zoo or rather the reptile enclosure. We know our frogs and we know our snakes.

 When it comes to the latter, we operate with caution and commonsense but have learned to set aside fear which is counter-productive. Can't resist showing you the snake that visited us last week. It came through a window into our master bedroom one warm evening and my husband did not see it on the floor but felt it brush past his feet. First time obedience paid off as the toddler who was following behind, immediately responded to his daddy's command and left the room. The snake was very obliging - it did not rear up or respond with aggression but slithered up and over into the nearby metal rubbish bin! I stood at the door and watched this with fascination. Once upon a time I would have run a mile!

 Much consultation of field guides and googling of images led us to conclude that it was a brown tree snake and it was released back into the bush after lots of debating and close up study -  possible because it was contained in a metal mesh bin with a very heavy book placed on top and could not escape. It sure makes life exciting for a boy when you get to study snakes for real! My children are now familiar with the facts about the brown tree snake. That it is venomous but difficult for it to inject its venom as its fangs are located in the back of its mouth. We were very glad that it wasn't a highly venomous tiger snake but found out that the brown tree snake because of its stripes and nocturnal habits is sometimes referred to as the 'night tiger'.

I hope you enjoyed this lesson from Plumfield. I'm not so sure you enjoyed the lesson from Eden about snakes though but they are a fact of life here and something you must learn to live with. If you move to Australia and the real estate description of a property says 'abundant wildlife' you can be be assured that sooner or later you will encounter a snake. Maybe not inside the house (this is the 3rd snake to come inside in 10 years) but there again we have more than our fair share - over 8 different species observed over the years!

I have at least one more lesson from Plumfield to share but cannot promise an exact date for that post. My daughter (the little girl in this picture who is now 17) is in New Zealand at the moment and we are planning her 18TH birthday party for when she returns. I don't have to make her a cake, she wants to make her own! Her brothers have always appreciated her baking. Her younger sister has stepped into her shoes and has been enjoying having full reign in the kitchen! The photo above was taken when we lived in New Zealand. Notice the family resemblance - my boys were always blonder than my girls! I have lots of markets in the lead up to Christmas for my cake stand business. Right now I have to go and read another chapter of 'The Hobbit' to the boy who features in the photos for this post. We have just finished what he called the 'best book ever' 'Brandon Chase' by an author known as BB first published in 1944 which is about 3 boys who run off and live in the forest for almost a year who survive by hunting and fishing. Even my toddler would ask for this book to be read to him and when asked if he knew what it was about told me that the boys in the story climbed a big tree. Wow, how much they absorb when you read living books to them!

Until next time.


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