Friday, August 18, 2017

Dressing the Petite Plus Sized Apple Shape...The Dress...

Here is the tale of the perfect dress for the Apple shape. If you have a figure like my gorgeous daughter, pictured here ready for her Senior Formal, this is not for! Isn't she fabulous?
It has been years since I wore a dress that was anything but what might be kindly called 'floaty'.
I actually prefer the lean look bestowed upon my small, curvy, squishy frame, that wearing slender pants and a shirt gives.
Thanks to my French Chic Academy course however, I am learning to reassess my obsession with pants, and re-evaluating my aversion to dresses and skirts. After all, those French ladies know how to rock a flirty skirt and heels!
I've been digesting information on how to use stripes and diagonals, to guide the eye away from your least favourite features, and towards those that make the most of your shape, much as an arrow would.
The dress in these photographs, purchased to wear to my daughters Senior Formal Parent Meet & Greet, is just about perfect for me, and will be for you too.
 Here is why:
1.  The black section in the centre, disguises a round tummy
2. The three quarter sleeves cover less-than-toned upper arms. I have a real 'thing' about my upper arms. Silliness really. I had a real 'thing' about my upper arms when they were stick thin too!
3. The stripes on the sleeve cuffs, attract the eye to slender wrists, and away from the aforementioned upper arms.
4. The asymmetrical neckline, draws attention to the face, hair, neck and chest, without being unnecessarily revealing.
5. The bands of thin black and white diagonal stripes, form a solid V shape or arrow, pointing first to the neckline, then to the waist, then away from the mid-section to the hemline, where another asymmetrical feature, takes the eye to the knees and ankles. Neckline-Waistline-Hemline is a great visual trick for we Apple shapes.
6. The paler coloured sections advance, drawing the eye, and the darker colour recedes, making the eye ignore those areas.
7. The point of the asymmetrical hemline is black underneath the diagonal band, so attracts the eye, and literally points to the feet to show off ankles and pretty shoes. I don't know about you, but I have another obsession....pretty shoes! So this is a great strategy for me!
8. This dress has no excess voluminous fabric, the usual trick for clothing manufactured for we more curvy types. More fabric, just makes us look more curvy. And not in a good way. That's a lesson that's taken me years to learn! This fabric is a thick stretch with a bit of substance, so that it skims the curves, making you look taller and leaner. It doesn't buckle or crinkle, or go out of shape when worn either.
9. The length of this dress is perfect for a Petite Apple Shape. The shorter part of the hemline is just on the knee, with the asymmetrical point, taking it to just below.
10. The addition of low cut silver pumps with a peeptoe, adds further length to the leg. The nude sandals shown in the top photograph achieve the same effect, but not quite as prettily. On the website from which I purchased the dress, it was styled with similar pumps (court shoes) but in black. I prefer the sleek look that metallic or nude shoes give to the foot. Either way, adding a 'low cut' shoe in a metallic or nude shade, gives the illusion of longer legs and height. If choosing a nude, tan or skin toned shoe, straps across the foot are okay. If choosing a colour, stick with a low cut pump so as not to cut your leg length off, making you look shorter.
11. A matching bag, means that accessories merge and compliment one another, rather than being an additional feature in themselves, allowing the dress to take centre stage. I chose both shoes and bag in a silver faux snakeskin.
12. The overall effect of this dress, with it's arrow type asymmetrical details, is to make the wearer look taller and more slender (at least till I stand next to my statuesque daughter!), and it achieves this goal admirably.

I bought my dress at Birdsnest here. Note that the model pictured, is certainly taller and more slender than I am by far, but I just knew, thanks to Marie-Anne Lecouer and her Academy, that this dress would work for me. These days I am far more adept, at unseeing the model, and looking more closely at the dress to make those decisions.
My shoes were purchased at Styletread here.
My bag was a lucky find on eBay, with a co-operative local seller who speedily posted it in time for it's arrival for the event, but you can find a similar one here.  That one would not have arrived in time for me, but you might be looking further ahead than I was!
I have to say that this is not a style of dress I ever would have chosen left to my own devices. I would have gravitated towards the floaty look dished up to we Apple shaped folk since time immemorial. I would have shopped at the last minute, got frustrated and tearful, and ended up feeling that I had presented myself in a less than favourable light, through sheer lack of choices.
But given a bit of education thanks to the French Chic Academy, a bit more choice thanks to the world wide web, and the luxury of time on my side (except for the little clutch bag!), I was able to research an appropriate style for my shape, source it and get it posted, in plenty of time for my event.
What about you my fellow Petite Plus Apple friend. Would this dress work for you too?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Nannas Recipes....The History of the Dolly Varden Cake...

You thought a Dolly Varden cake was a cake with a doll rising Phoenix like, from it's centre, right?
Nup. A real Dolly Varden cake harks back to a character from a Charles Dickens novel. In the novel series Barnaby Rudge, tributes aplenty describe this fetching creature, seen above, depicted on a Christmas card. Such was her allure that in some countries, she was honoured with Chintz patterns which then adorned ladies vanity tables and wardrobes for years.
Yet others named a (pink and green!) trout after her. Truly.
We in Australia and New Zealand, chose to pay tribute to Dolly Varden by baking a cake.
During a recent declutter of my  hoard  collection of home d├ęcor, gardening and cooking magazines, I actually found a recipe for a true Dolly Varden cake. Mimicking Dolly herself, this was a fanciful confection of three layers. One a fruit cake layer, which then sandwiched itself with layers of red jam, between two layers of butter cake. This was then lovingly decorated with mint green icing and baby pink flowers, to thus commemorate a mode of dress inspired by Dolly, that saw frothy layers and over-embellishments, for years to come. Note Dollys mint green and baby pink outfit, pictured in the card illustration above.
I decided to recreate the Dolly Varden cake, giving it a more modern spin.
I started by baking two Butter Cakes, allowing them to cool, before splitting each in half.

I made a Raspberry Chia seed icing to mimic the jam, by simply making a batch of normal glace` icing (simply icing sugar/powdered sugar, and water), adding 1 cup of thawed frozen raspberries and 1/4 cup of white Chia seeds. This was refrigerated until it formed a nice spreading consistency, thanks to the Chia seeds.

I used this to sandwich my four layers of cake. I could have just used three, to keep things more authentic, but having thrown authenticity out the window, I really couldn't see the point.
My apologies for the lighting in these shots. I do my best cake decorating work at night ;-)

My cake layered with Raspberry Chia Seed Icing, was then refrigerated overnight.
The next morning, I make a batch of Buttercream Frosting, and tinted it palest mint green by using a tootpick, dipped into the food colouring, and adding it bit by bit.
I piled this atop my cake...

...and spread it quickly using a spatula, creating this whipped effect to represent the frothy layers of Dollys skirts...
...I then added pink edible pearls (Cachous), and pale pink pre-purchased flowers.

I thought Dolly's 'dress' needed more colour, so I also added these yellow flowers, reversing the pink ones with yellow centres. To me, Chintz is always yellow...

 I loved my pretty Dolly Varden Cake.
Are you tempted to make one?

Friday, August 4, 2017

Nannas Recipes....Slow Cooked Beef packets!

You don't need complicated recipes and packet mixes to make a fabulous casserole. All you need is flavour, thickener, and stock.
Those you can do yourself. Tomato paste is a great flavour base, cornflour is thickener, and stock, well, any stock cube or home made stock will do. Add herbs and spices to your liking, of course.
Here's how I do mine...
For a casserole that feeds 3-4 people, you'll need:
Casserole steak/Osso Bucco/Lamb shanks (about 800gms/1-2lbs)
1 small carrot per person
1 chopped onion
2 heaped tablespoons Tomato Paste
Stock cube
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup hot water
2 heaped teaspoons Cornflour
Bay leaf
Fresh herbs for serving if you wish
In the bottom of your slow cooker or pan, mix the chopped onion, tomato paste, garlic, crushed stock cube, and bay leaf.
Mix the cornflour with enough cold water to make a paste, and add the hot water to it. Stir till smooth and add to the mixture in the slow cooker.
It will look a bit like lumpy tomato soup.

Cut the steak into large cubes. I don't use lean steak for casseroles. You need a little fat to tenderise the meat. I do trim the meat of any large rounds of fat, however. All things in moderation ;-)
I also keep the chunks fairly large, so that they don't disintegrate into nothing over the long, slow cooking process. If I'm using Osso Bucco, I add the pieces whole, and if it's Lamb Shanks, I make sure I've asked the butcher to trim them so they fit into my original 70s Monier Slow Cooker,

Mix the chunks of meet, with the tomato based sauce in the slow cooker, until it's well coated.

Add your peeled carrots. I add mine whole and cut them up when they're cooked.

Now here is a trick that Nanna taught me to prevent the casserole drying out. Cover the lot with a generous wad of cooking foil. Just sort of crumple it loosely over the top of the contents of the slow cooker. This keeps everything lovely and moist.
The other trick, is to cook your casserole on the High setting for the first two hours. This brings the ingredients up to simmering heat, so that the cooking process gets humming along. Reduce the temperature to Low for 4-6 hours after that if you have a newer slow cooker, as these don't seem to be as 'slow' as the older versions. In my bright orange 70s original, I keep the temperature on High for six hours, and that's perfect.
If you're short on time, a great trick is to start the cooking process in a large pan or wok, to bring the ingredients up to that all important simmering heat, then transfer it all to the slow cooker. This shaves about two hours off your cooking time :)
You can serve this alone with fresh herbs sprinkled on top, or with mashed vegetables, steamed vegetables, rice, or pasta. We like it on it's own, with lots of fresh herbs and even a bit of lemon zest or shaved parmesan.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Orchids on your Budget Christmas Series #12...Christmas 2017...DIY Dolls..

Orchids on Your Budget was a gorgeous little handbook for the financially bereft. Written by Marjorie Hillis back in the 1930's, it gave advice on all manner of ways to remain Societally Respected Whilst Undergoing Financial Changes.
I've mentioned this darling little book before. You can read about it in my Christmas Gifting series here:
The thing about Christmas, is that it's really about getting your mindset around the fact that it's about giving, not necessarily spending.
If you're facing a financially challenging time now, or leading up to Christmas, or in fact any other celebration, getting your mindset right is vital. Otherwise, you're going to make things even more uncomfortable for yourself than they are currently.
Every year, make a point of learning a new skill. Something that you can use to create gifts. Whether that's baking, cooking, mixing marinades, making liqueurs, sewing, candle making, crochet, knitting, embroidering, ceramics, pottery, propagating plants, art, photography, card making...whatever...get good enough at it, to gift that skill proudly.
It goes without saying too, that it really needs to be something you can purchase the materials for, relatively inexpensively. There is no point in spending $300, to save money and make your own gifts, if you don't have $300 to start with.
In my recent post here, I talked about using eBay to purchase the components of lovely individualised gifts. An outlay of just $6 per gift, can mean savings of $30 on a similarly packaged purchased gift. You just have to be clever.
By all means window shop, but do so with the intention of replicating what you see, in some form. Not for buying!
I have two granddaughters, so I've been admiring hand made dolls in specialty shops and on Etsy.
Hand made dolls fetch big dollars, and can range from $65 for something really very simple, up to the hundreds of dollars for the type that are more like pieces of art.
I haven't made dolls before. I had three sons before I had a daughter, and she has lived and breathed dance more than dolls in her 17 1/2 years!
So I'm starting off simple as far as doll making goes. I can work my way up from there. That's the thing you see. Don't make it so difficult for yourself, that the results are less than you'd like and you give up. That's no fun!
When I saw these pre-printed fabric Doll panels on sale for just $6 each panel, with each panel yielding 6 dolls/doll cushions, I knew I'd found my starting point.
These dolls, or doll cushions if you prefer to think of them that way, are 45cms tall (18"), and are super cute. Each one resembles a Princess or Fairy, and you can leave them as is, simply cutting, stitching a front and a back panel together, and filling them with stuffing. I've chosen to use the panel as a base for embellishments of all kinds. You could also cut shapes from toning or contrasting fabrics for the alternate sides, thus getting twice as many dollies from your panel.
You need:
Pre printed Fabric Doll Panels
Polyester stuffing
Embellishments eg buttons, beads, sequins, lace, ribbon
Needle and thread
Sewing machine or patience to hand stitch the front and back together by hand!
Cut out your Doll shapes. This was a little tedious, as I had 12 to cut out. But I just cozied up on the couch and spent a peaceful time, while watching Househunters International, sipping tea, and snipping Dolly shapes.
Here's Dolly before I started embellishing her. See, you can easily leave her as is, or paint her with glitter or pearl paint, or trim her with lace and ribbon too. I used the dots on her gown, the flowers on her belt, the star on her wand and the jewels in her tiara as my embellishment guides.

I had two jars worth of mixed white buttons left over from some costume making, and I wanted to use the existing pattern on the doll as my guide for embellishment. So I  had a grand old time, digging through those to find enough matching buttons in various sizes and shapes. It was actually quite therapeutic finding matching buttons and sequins for those diminishing sized dots. I felt good about using up the buttons too!
If you needed to buy them, about $10 gets you literally 100s of white buttons to play with, so it's still an inexpensive embellishment. I also used sequins (very cost effective) and bugle beads. All of these were sourced from the Clearance table at the Haberdashery on one occasion or another for under $1 a packet.
It takes an hour or two of dedicated stitching to sew the embellishments, but none of it is difficult. I gave my Dolly little bugle bead earrings, and a faux strand of pearls too.

 Once I'd embellished Dolly to my liking, I paired her front with her back, right sides together, and stitched around her outside edge. I made sure I started at the bottom of her hemline, so that when I filled her with Polyfill (stuffing), I could hand stitch the opening, and make it almost unnoticeable. Don't forget this bit. You don't want Dolly's hand stitched opening at the top of her head like some mad Frankenstein!

Turn Dolly right way out, using the opening you've left for the stuffing. Much like turning a freshly washed sock right way out....

Now Dolly will look like this...

It's helpful at this point, to turn the seams of your opening in, and press them with a hot iron. This will assist enormously, when you come to use your Ladder Stitch to stitch her closed. Iron Dolly too, so that she's nice and smooth.
Grab your Fibre Fill (polyester stuffing) and gently push the stuffing into Dolly, ensuring that she is evenly packed all the way through. You might have to wiggle and tug the fibrefill around a fair bit to make this happen.

Stitch Dolly's opening shut, using tiny Ladder stitches.

If Dolly is now a little creased for her adventures, you can hold her (very carefully!), over the steam from the tea kettle, to smooth out any remaining creases, and plump her up.

And you're done.
My Dolly took about three hours all up. But that's mainly because I chose to decorate her with LOTS of buttons and beads. I love the textural finish this gives her. I also popped three little Jingle Bells inside Dolly when I was filling her with fibrefill, so she jingles happily when moved.
It's worth mentioning that these are NOT for children under 3, who might be tempted to put Dolly's buttons and beads into their mouths.
They do however make a super cute doll toy or doll cushion for children from 4-ish and up. You know your children best. Use your own discretion.
I'm off to finish my second little Moppet.
She's clothed in Lavender and mother of pearl buttons and sequins, and is going to be just as pretty as Dolly!
Dolly cost me no more than $3 and some time to create. And I still have 5 more just like her to create, to gift to the children in my family this Christmas.
Start now. Or at least soon. And you too, can have Dolly and Moppet to gift this year.

Monday, July 31, 2017

DIY & Budgeting...What it means to me to be a Homemaker...

I had a really good week this week. I love a week where I really feel like I've contributed to the home in a big way, don't you? It really vindicates our traditional family position, and silences the critics.
The conundrum of being a Stay At Home Mum
I've found that being a stay-at-home Mum draws criticism from a few fronts. Just occasionally, not often. I've been called a Kept Woman (not my capitals!), a Stepford Wife (not really a flattering term either), and accused of not living in the real world. Ahem. What about the 20+ years I spent living in the 'real world' as a single parent with three sons, one with a severe disability, working and studying at the same time? That's pretty darned real, folks.
What about those times when I had to negotiate payment plans for our utilities bill because having two teenaged sons, a tweenaged niece and an out of work brother in the house meant our telephone and electricity useage was off the scale, and I was the only income earning person in the household? Or the times when I only had $25 a week for a number of weeks, to feed us all? Even going back thirty years, that wasn't a lot of money to feed six people. Then there was that time when my 15 year old car blew a head gasket, and I couldn't afford to have it fixed, and had to be up at 4am to get to work by 8am, and didn't arrive home till 8pm? I did that for several months before I'd saved enough for the repairs. Character building stuff ;-)
I've had my tough financial times. I learned from them. They did not kill me. As the saying goes, they made me stronger....or at least fearless. I know, even to this day, that tough financial times pass. You get through them. You keep body and soul together, you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you keep on keeping on. You name a platitude. I've lived!
That said, things have changed for me in the last 20 something years. I met a lovely man. He adopted my disabled son. My older boys were teens by then, and didn't need 'adopting', but they think of him fondly, and refer to us as 'The Parents', thus making my husband 'The Dad' by osmosis.
My Man and I agreed from the outset that he would indeed be The Man, and I would keep the home fires burning. We both knew where our strengths lay. He was a whiz at earning the money, and I was a Homemaker raised by two generations of Homemakers.
After two decades of doing it tough on my own, this was a huge burden lifted from my shoulders. It's worked for us. If it's not your cup of tea, that's fine too. I've done the whole Career Girl thing, and frankly, it wasn't what it was cracked up to be either. I loved it at the time, but I had to. I was on my own. There was only me to earn the money to keep a roof over our heads, and food in our bellies. It was hard splitting myself in half to be Money Earner, and Mum, when there was no Dad.
If you however, find it enormously rewarding and fulfilling, then I respect that too. I liked being a Career Girl for a while. I learned enormously from the experience of those years. I learned too, from working in the Events, Health Care, Media, Retail, and Food Service industries. Many of those lessons, are things that I have successfully carried over into my home life. No experience or education, is ever wasted :)
Finding your passion
I thought I was doing well as a Career Girl, but funnily enough, through being the best Homemaker that I can be, I've really found my passion. Blogging, running menu planning and grocery shopping workshops, and writing for a money saving website, have been just some of the great pleasures born of being a Career Homemaker. Sometimes it's worth trusting that there's a world out there beyond 'paid work'.
I love the challenge of baking a cake to rival a bought one, of creating candles to gift that smell as glorious as the ones with a $65 price tag, of having my family sit down to a restaurant worthy meal. These things bring me joy. I've always loved cooking and crafts of all kinds, and finding a way to craft a beautiful gift without the sensational price tag, has always been a special pleasure.

The Best of Both Worlds
The lessons of two different lifestyles, one the Working Mum, the other the Stay At Home version, have led to a surprising revelation.

I can generate greater financial value by treating Homemaking as a career choice, than by working in an outside paid role.


And not because I didn't have a successful career life. I did. In fact, there are many lessons I learned in my corporate life, that have translated well to my home life. Skills like time management, controlling budgets and rosters, menu planning and costing, and even dealing with the difficult people, are all skills I learned as a Career girl, that have been invaluable in my home life. These skills have enhanced my homemaking potential beyond what I ever believed possible.

What skills do you have, or have you had, in your Corporate existence, that serve you well in your home life?

Practice makes Perfect-ish 
Of course, I value the heirloom skills I learned at my Nannas and Mothers knee, as much as any of my tertiary or corporate skills, now that I have time to utilise them.
I remember the first celebration cake I made without my Mums help. Mum and Nanna were fabulous cake bakers and decorators, and contributed a cake to many a wedding, 21st and Christening. The first few cakes I made without their input, well...let's just say, there was room for improvement *wink*. I didn't let that defeat me though. I kept trying. I read. I bought magazines and borrowed books from the library. I practised. I failed. I tried again. I got better at Cake-ing.
Over time, I improved my skills in many DIY areas. But it took time. Years in some cases. I've tried my hand at embroidery, sewing, knitting, crochet, card making, candle making, scrapbooking, tie-dyeing, watercolour painting, and dozens of other gift creation or life enhancement skills. I got better at some things like cake decorating, embroidery, sewing and candle making, and never really got the hang of others. But this too, showed me where my strengths lay, and gave me the skills and confidence to create beautiful items that people might pay big money for. You can do it too. 
You. Just. Keep. Practising.
In just the last year, I've perfected my Bullion Rose embroidery. These are also known as Grub Roses, and I have Annabel at The Bluebirds are Nesting to thank for the simple tip of using a Straw Needle for these. Perfection had escaped me for many years for the simple reason that I was using the wrong type of needle!
Obsessed with roses as I am, I only recently found the time to teach myself how to paint Swoosh Roses. I'd admired these for a long, long time, and had no idea how simple they are to replicate until now...

Find the things you love. Learn how to replicate them. You too, may be pleasantly surprised at how simple they are to craft.
My Insourcing Efforts for the Week
This week, my Homemaking, or rather Insourcing efforts, as I prefer to call them these days, led me to stocking my cupboard plentifully, embellishing my home beautifully, and feeding my family abundantly.
I said yes to an offer of home grown oranges and mandarins.
I said yes to baking a historically correct (lol!) Dolly Varden cake. Just because I rather fancied it's pretty pastel colours. A true Dolly Varden cake is nothing to do with dolls. It's fashioned on a character in a Charles Dickens novel, and has to do with the colours and embellishments on the cake, being similar to the frothy dresses worn by that character :)
I said yes to attempting to paint some of the little roses I'd admired for many years, and discovered that they were so easy, it's ridiculous!

I added lace to some manilla tags I'd painted with those same roses, and added them to my gift wrapping stash.

I shopped at a local thrift store that I haunt from time to time. While there, I found this table lamp, similar to one I'd been admiring online for $265. I had found the shantung shade weeks ago for just $15 (brand new and still in the packaging), and knew that if I were patient, the lamp base would find it's way to me. And it did. For just $35. Patience rewarded.

My efforts to find linen in the colour I wanted had been thwarted by the current trend towards minimalism. Likewise Mattress Ticking for cushion covers in tones I admired, had been scarce on the ground. I was specifically looking for the fine striped mattress ticking, not the more trendy variegated stripes in differing widths. But here I found it. Brand new, still in the packaging, in the form of a duvet cover. Fabric is fabric is fabric. Smoky blues and lemon tones, roses one side, traditional looking mattress ticking the other. And more than enough in a duvet cover for cushions and napery. $10 for what ends up being several generous metres. Thankyou Universe.

A vintage colander (strainer), was to be had for around the $20 mark, to add to my French style pot hanger in my new kitchen, and how could I say no to a pretty vintage, blue and white mixing bowl, embellished with roses AND mattress ticking style stripes, to add to my pantry for just $4?

A picture in a magazine of a sliding kitchen pantry drawer like my own, holding a wicker basket piled high with green apples, fired my imagination...
...leading to this purchase for just $2...

...scrubbed clean, it's going to be a feast for the eyes piled high with green apples. I love the feeling of sheer abundance that these elements lend to my home, and green apples and a thrifted wicker basket cost me less than $5...
I've  always thought that fruit piled into baskets and bowls makes the home feel plentiful :)

Finally, I snipped a whole roll of white lace trim, left over from costume making a few years ago, into shorter lengths for gift tags. Being a craft junkie sometimes means having just the right bits and pieces ready to go, to entice you to get going on a productive crafting session!
Being a Homemaker generated a retail value this week, of...
5 kgs oranges gifted....value $15
4 kgs mandarins gifted....value $12
Dolly Varden cake...$10 spent...value $55
Gifts (dolls and cushions) and tags generated...$6 spent...value $165
Lamp base purchase...$50 spent....value $265
Fabric for napery and cushions sourced at $10...value $100
Kitchenware sourced at $24...value $90
Basket paid $2...value $65
Lace trimmed for use $0 spent....value $10
Total value generated by me this week $747
Less Total spent $102
My value in the home this week $645.
And that's conservative, not taking into consideration all that I do each and every day in making meals, acting as counsellor, beauty therapist, shoulder to cry on, and motivator. Of course there's keeping my family well presented and well nourished, cleaning, gardening, washing the dog, gardening, and meal preparation. All of that is worth something too!
I'm worth my weight in gold. Honestly.
What did you do this week that added to your families' enjoyment of life?