Christmas Gift Idea - White Chocolate Rocky Road (with Printable Gift Tag)

Friday, December 19, 2014

This is one of my "go to" Christmas gifts for teachers, friends, family, whoever.  I once made it for my boss and he apparently wouldn't share a single bit of it with his wife! It is delicious, highly "moreish" and super simple to make - like SUPER simple.  Plus it has pistachios and cranberries in it so it's practically a health food!

I use the "Gourmet Rocky Road" recipe from Taste.  You can find it here.

I also put together a little "Tis the Season" gift tag which you can download here.  You can either double-side print it or attach two labels, which is what I did because I didn't have access to a printer which would do double-sided printing. Either way looks good.

If I don't pop back in here before Christmas, I wish you and your family the very best Christmas, full of joy, good health, love, peace and quality time spent with loved ones ... plus lots of Rocky Road - 'tis the season after all! xxx

Classmate Gift with FREE printable tag

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sadly, it is time for my son to say good-bye to his Canadian classmates this week as our 6 month break in Canada draws to a close.  He has been with this new class since September and apart from a bit of a rough day on Day 1, he has absolutely loved it and will genuinely miss his new-found friends. We wanted to give them all a little something before we left and we thought this simple, inexpensive and sugar-free gift would be just "write".

If you want to put together these fun little pencils yourself, you can download the printed tag here.  PS: I left off "Merry Christmas" on the free printable tag so you can use it all year round. 

I like Goats, Green Tea Ice-cream and Sparkly Shoes. Who Am I?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I am Emma Watkins.  The Yellow Wiggle!

Did you know that about Emma?  No?  Neither did I but recently I was very lucky (and very excited) to have a little chat with her about her new life with The Wiggles and I found out lots of interesting things about her and the way she spends her days. Not only is she gorgeous and bright and bubbly, and in my opinion the perfect complement to the existing group, she works like a horse, has an insanely busy schedule and tours and sleeps in a bus with 12 bunk beds! That, in itself, travelling in a bus with a bunch of "Wigglers", is no mean feat and would take a very special kind of person.  Read on to find out more about Emma - a very special person and Wiggle indeed.
How did you feel the moment you stepped on to the stage as “the Yellow Wiggle”?

Our first show as Wiggles was up at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast and Simon, Lachy and I were so nervous. As soon as we came out on stage though all the children were dancing, so I think we felt relieved. The most amazing thing for me that show were some children yelled out my name and firstly I couldn't work out how they knew my name. It didn’t occur to me that children knew my name and I still get startled when I hear my name being called out. Most of all, it was an absolute honour to step out as a Wiggle for the first time. Wearing the yellow skivvy after looking up to Greg Wiggle when I was little is just a dream come true.

The Wiggles are older than you, which means you must’ve grown up watching them – now you’re one of them! Is that crazily surreal at times?

I am 25 years old and the former Wiggles are 24 years running so I was part of the original generation of fans! At the age of 6, The Wiggles were in town performing their stage show called "Wiggledance" and Mum had taken my sister Hayley, our friend Kate and me to watch The Wiggles. That particular concert was also being filmed to make into a DVD so the audience were told they may be filmed. Sure enough we all got copies of the VHS at the time and towards the end during the song 'Wags the Dog' the cameras cut away to the audience dancing and there you see my sister and I jumping next to our friend Kate all in matching dresses that Mum made, how embarrassing! Now when I think of this concert and wearing the yellow skivvy now I feel so honoured to continue this amazing wiggly journey.

You have definitely stolen the hearts of your littlest fans – do you have every toddler in town recognising you in the street, or can you get around incognito once the yellow costume is off?

It’s definitely started to become more apparent! More often it’s the parents and the grandparents and I have had a few approach me to say ‘Thank you’ for giving them some peace and quiet in the mornings. If I’m dressed up it’s excitement everywhere but when I'm not in yellow I get noticed because of my red hair!

It’s lovely to see you, as one of the most recent members to join the group and the first female, as the focus on the new Wiggles DVD “Emma's Bowtiful Day!”.  You must feel honoured and very proud.  Do you pinch yourself sometimes?

It is the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me! I think particularly because I used to watch The Wiggles when I was little, sometimes it feels so bizarre. But what an honour to not only wear the yellow skivvy after my favourite wiggle, Greg, but to have the opportunity to carry on the wiggly legend and music for future generations of children. 

On the new DVD "Emma's Bowtiful Day!" there are a selection of episodes from our first TV series of "Ready, Steady, Wiggle!" I was able to choose some of my favourite and one in particular 'Excuse Meow!' where we were on set and Greg Wiggle just dropped in to say hello that day on set and we realised that we both knew how to speak a little bit of Dutch. So he taught me an old Dutch nursery rhyme, 'Poesje Mauw', about a little kitten drinking milk and it was one of the nicest moments where Greg and I got to sing together and I just had to put this episode on the DVD, such a lovely memory.

This is probably an odd question but how much thought went into the design of your Wiggles costume, being that you are the first ever Australian female Wiggle?  I, for one, love that it is a very conservative design, that it complements the boys’ outfits beautifully and is not in any way “showy”.

Oh wow, thank you! Well, Anthony asked me straight off ‘what do you want to wear?’ and because I never wore pants ever (and I've never owned a pair of jeans) we thought it would be more appropriate to wear a skirt. Before I was a Wiggle I always wore bows in my hair so I asked if I could include that too. For the big Australian arena show I have added sparkles to my shoes and bows which is just the most exciting addition for me. I guess you can never have too much sparkle.

The Wiggles tour of the US and Canada looked pretty hectic and must’ve been gruelling on all of you.  How do you prepare yourself for a tour and maintain your health, fitness and energy (especially your energy!) during the touring months?

It’s a really big touring schedule where we tour around Australia and internationally for about 8 months of the year! For the last two years in particular we have been touring immensely and when we are back in Australia we have been filming new DVDs and episodes for our TV series "Ready, Steady, Wiggle!" For me, over the last three years, I have changed my fitness and diet quite a lot, realising what works for me. I make sure I eat yummy, real, healthy food and changing up my exercise between shows and even between tours. I have a dance background and lately I’ve been revisiting my love for dance to keep my fitness between shows. I have been doing a ballet barre at least every day, a bit of pointe to keep up my strength and pilates when I can fit it in. 

How do you relax between shows while on tour?

There isn’t a lot of time in between the shows as this year sometimes we have had four shows a day. But all year I’ve been working quite intensely on my ballet training so in between the shows I have been strengthening my feet by practising pointe exercises in my dressing room. This year I have been through 10 pairs of pointe shoes already and I try to decorate them each in their own unique style. 

What does a normal work-day look like for you?

Well, it just isn’t, but on tour the days do start to get a rhythm. When we tour North America we travel and sleep on a big tour bus that has 12 bunk beds. So normally we would arrive at the theatre about midday for a sound check, then get ready for a meet and greet with some children who may have special needs or are competition winners. Then do one show at 3:30pm then relax, dinner and warm up again for a second show at 6pm. A little bit of after show food on the bus then we will travel on average about 8 hours during the night and when we wake up we are in a new city! Sometimes if we are early into the next city we might pop into hotel rooms for a few hours. Then it’s brekkie, a quick ballet barre warm up then I have time to do my hair and makeup ready to start all over again.

What did you do before your days of “toot, toot, chugga chugging and driving the big red car” (and before your other Wiggles roles)?

May I say that driving the Big Red Car is one of the most exciting things I've ever had to do! I started ballet and Irish dancing after seeing the wiggly dancers on the early Wiggles shows. Ever since I have been learning all different styles of dancing, including jazz, tap, contemporary, hip hop etc. Just before I started wiggling I was dancing in India for some Bollywood film premieres, studying film editing at Sydney Film School and teaching dance in my spare time.

Name three of your most favourite things?

Goats! I love goats, particularly baby goats. I’ve always wanted one as a pet.
Green tea ice cream - it’s my favourite flavour and it’s never too rich.
Giraffes - I know I chose two animals but I love animals, so much so I sponsor the giraffes at Taronga Zoo. They are just so elegant, beautiful and have the longest eye lashes!!!

So, there you have it. Straight from the Yellow Wiggle herself. Isn't she amazing? And how completely funny, and ironic, that she unwittingly featured in a Wiggles concert DVD when she was just 6 six years old.  To become a Wiggle was her destiny.  No doubt about it. I think we will see her wiggling, giggling, twirling and sparkling until her hair turns a greyer shade of red.  I know her little fans around the world would be happy about that!

Thank you, Roadshow Entertainment, for the opportunity to speak to Emma - it was enlightening, uplifting and full of warm, fuzzy, wiggly fun! 

Be sure to check out Emma's new DVD, "Emma's Bowtiful Day!" - the perfect stocking filler this Christmas!!

Christmas - and a little bit of handmade

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

My little family and I are hoping for a white Christmas this year, and with all the snow that has fallen recently, I'm sure we're going to get it!  Our normal Christmas day is hot, dry and it always involves the beach and most often a barbecued breakfast.  A cold, white, "traditional" Christmas - like we have seen for years in all the movies - will certainly be a big change for us as well as a fun novelty.  We are very excited.

Being away from home means we are also away from our "stuff".  Our Advent Calendar is rolled up in one of a hundred storage boxes (I made a new one last year but didn't get time to blog about it - here is one I did a few years ago), along with our Christmas stockings and our decorations.  I know I could've easily bought an advent calendar and stockings but one of the lovely things about living here is I've had a bit more time than I normally have at home (no school runs, no work and I have family living right next door = ideal) so I decided it would be nice to make a few things.

I went with a very basic stocking design.  I drafted the shape of a stocking onto some tracing paper (actually it was baking paper - gotta use what you've got!) and used a very rustic hessian (burlap) as my material choice.  So that Santa can differentiate whose stocking is whose, and so that I don't end up with Lego and Playdough, I cut out our initials, using a bright red fabric, and sewed them on (you could also just stick them on but I like the sewn look and hope they will last longer).  I then just attached a loop of ribbon and sewed them right up - seams on the outside, raw edges 'n all!  I neatened the edges with pinking shears. I have no idea whether they will fray or not - I'll let you know next year.  They are plain and they are simple - I love that.

For the Advent Calendar I used my very good friend's (aka Martha Stewartmini-stocking idea which was not only cute but really easy to pull together.  She has a great tutorial on her website so although today is December 1st (the official start date of the Advent Calendar, but not necessarily what has to be done), you could probably whip some up in no time at all - even if not for a calendar but for decoration, or for gift giving.  Martha suggested using metal tags for numbering but I couldn't find any at Michael's so I stencilled on the numbers instead using a Handmade Charlotte stencil set that I already had.  To be honest, I probably would've gone with slightly smaller numbers but because I already had a numbered set I didn't want to go and buy another ... and I'm impatient and wanted to get on with it!  I used a white acrylic household paint for the grey and red stockings and a red craft paint for the white stockings - again, just using what I had laying around.  I wasn't sure whether I would pop them all in a basket, hang them on our tree or attach them to the wall somehow.  In the end, I decided to peg them all from a ribbon that is hanging from each side of the window.  There's not a whole lot of wall space in our little cottage so hanging them vertically works well for us, and it's nice to have them on display, looking all fun and Christmas'ey.  

I will be using A Little Delightful's advent cards again this year, for about the fifth year running.  I don't use all of them but Bianca also includes blank cards in her printables so you can write your own advent activities (thanks Bianca!).  I probably use the blank ones the most.  This year I will be including a few treats (I just bought a small bag of the red Lindt chocolate balls), a few little inexpensive gifts (that the kids need to hunt for - the note in the calendar gives them clues), activities (Christmas craft, reading a Christmas story etc) and on the 24th they always get a new pair of pyjama's - this is for totally selfish reasons ... so that they look cute in the photos on Christmas Day!  It's a Mumma's prerogative, you know.

I also had the urge to make a felt ball garland.  I have had a bit of a love for felt balls for quite a while now and I knew that a garland of balls would be quick and easy.  I ordered 80 of the balls from Craft Wool Felt on Etsy and chose some colours that I liked and that worked with my stockings and calendar.  It came together in about 15 minutes - I just threaded the balls onto white embroidery floss, made a knot at both ends of the garland and that was that.  I didn't bother knotting after each ball - the balls pretty much stay where you put them but if one should move you can just slide it back in place.  It really couldn't get much simpler, and I love the way it looks on the fireplace mantel.  I'm just so excited to have a fireplace and mantel that I can hang stockings from - it's just so traditionally Christmas.  And once the snow falls again and the place is all white and soft and fluffy, I'll be all overcome with the spirit of Christmas!

Oh, and we spray-painted some branches and hung our favourite little acorn decorations all over them and then decided our little acorn people needed a home too, so we added them in as well.  From all reports they are very happy with this new arrangement.  Oh yes, it is definitely feeling very much like Christmas around here!  

What's happening at your house this year?  Do you DIY any of your decorations, or do you prefer the beauties that are in the shops?  Ohhhhhh, there are some lovely ones, isn't there? Do you do an Advent Calendar with your kids? Do you have any special traditions?  I'd love to hear what they are.

DIY Cold Packs

Saturday, November 22, 2014

I don't know what it is but my daughter loves herself a good cold pack.  She asks for one whenever she has a fall, stubs her toe, gets a scratch, has an aching body part or just generally needs to feel better.  She recently pulled too much nail from her thumb, which made it sting when she sucked it and so she needed a cold pack "weally, weally wickly" so she could get back to sucking it asap!

Normally, I grab a frozen lunchbox brick from the freezer, wrap it in a tea-towel and hand it to her. It is neither comfortable, nor attractive and quite often the brick doesn't make it back into the freezer once it has tended her wounds - then I'm out of lunchbox bricks for my son's lunchbox ... and well, that's just frustrating.

Being that I am in Canada right now (without my machine) and haven't sewn anything for months, I have been feeling the need to sew a little something - nothing too big or too complex, because I would need to use my mother-in-law's vintage (40+ years old) machine, just something straightforward and simple.  It came to me.  I knew just the thing.  Of course, my daughter needed her very own cold pack. Perfect! And I would get to keep my lunchbox bricks nicely frozen in the freezer!

I decided to DIY the actual cold pack as well.  It is extremely simple.  You just need to half fill a sandwich bag (a heavy duty one is the best) with 1 part rubbing alcohol and 2 parts water, squeeze out as much air as possible, seal well (I added two layers of duct tape to the top of the bag) and pop it in the freezer.  It freezes nicely but because of the rubbing alcohol it doesn't completely solidify and will be pliable very quickly (much better than a solid old freezer brick!).

I made the cold pack covers using a red and a white flannel and went with a "first aid" theme because I thought it was kind of appropriate and I knew they would stand out in the freezer and not be mistaken for a lunchbox cooler.  I sewed them in a very basic pillowcase style of cover so that I could easily remove them for washing.

So, my simple little sewing project using a vintage Singer turned out pretty okay and is probably one of the most practical things I have made.  And with all the slippery snow we've had here lately, and my Aussie children still learning how to walk carefully in it, I'm sure the packs will get plenty of use!

Now, onto some Christmas sewing.  It's getting so close.

Happy Halloween (a cute 'n quirky alternative)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

I can't believe I'm going to say this as I sit here in my Canadian holiday cottage surrounded by pumpkins and Halloween-loving folk, but I'm not a big fan of Halloween.  I never have been.  I don't know if it's because I don't like orange - it doesn't like me either (it looks hideous on me), or because it transports me back to the '80's and memories of my bright orange Datsun 200b complete with brown vinyl roof.  Come to think of it those colours would fit right in over here at this time of the year!

Anyway, I knew I would have to come to the party and get into the Halloween spirit (did I tell you I have illuminated pumpkins around my mantelpiece right now? I am rockin' this "getting into it" thing) so when I found a pumpkin idea that was neither orange nor spooky, and from one of my favourite magazines over here, Country Living, I did a happy-Halloween dance.  This is what I found ...

A deer.  A beautiful, quirky, very white, very sweet Halloween "deer".  A dear deer, if you like.

To make this funny little fellow you will need:

A white pumpkin
(Such as Lumina, or an orange pumpkin painted white. Even though I already had a white one I gave it a coat of white spray-paint just to cover a few scratches and bruises)
Two branches
Coloured Yarn
Buttons for eyes
Felt for ears and nose

We started off by wrapping coloured yarn tightly around two branches that we found on the trail behind our cottage.  My niece and I sat together for an hour or two wrapping a branch each.  It was actually very cathartic and a relaxing way to spend some time together.  My 3 year old had a go at wrapping too (and lasted about 10 minutes) - can you guess which is her branch?  

Once my pumpkin was dry I cut out two holes for the antlers - angling down so the antlers would stick up not out.  My holes weren't the perfect size so I just stuffed some cotton wool balls around the antlers for a snug fit.  I then attached two buttons for the eyes and a piece of triangular felt for the nose with hot glue.  I cut slits into the side of the pumpkin and squished in the ears which were folded felt triangles (I rounded off the top of the triangles so the ears ended up looking more like in the magazine - leaving the triangles pointy at the top just didn't seem to work). 

And then there he was.  A sweet little Halloween woodland creature with not a hint of orange and not in the least bit spooky.  Just how I like it.

How about you - do you celebrate Halloween?  Do you stick to the traditional type of decorating and activities, or are you like me and shy away from all that is orange and spooky?

Happy Halloween!

DIY Tray Makeover

Monday, October 13, 2014

I love myself a bit of DIY and it's no secret that I have a pretty humongous big crush on all things "Martha", so when I discovered the fabulous range of Martha Stewart stencils at Michaels I knew it was time to combine my two loves.  And, coincidentally, a few weeks earlier I had bought myself a couple of vintage trays from a Habitat for Humanity store for $1.75 each, planning to DIY them in some way, shape or form.  I also wanted to try using spray-paint.  I haven't had much luck with it in the past but I constantly see it being used beautifully all over the net, to revamp anything and everything, so I decided to have one last crack.

I started off by giving both trays a light sand and cleaned them both with a damp cloth.  I then painted the trays white using an acrylic paint, not a spray-paint.  I didn't think the spray-paint would cover the dark colours very well and I probably would've had to do a whole load of coats for even, full coverage which just seemed like a waste of time and paint so I applied two coats of plain white with a brush. If I had used a primer underneath I probably would've gotten away with just one coat of paint - but I didn't have any primer so I just laid the paint on nice and thick.  

Once it was dry I got ready to stencil.  I decided on which design I wanted to use (I chose the "Arabesque" stencil set which comes with a variety of beautiful patterns to chose from), played around with the positioning and then sprayed some spray adhesive onto the back of the stencil and stuck it down.  I was having trouble getting the stencil to stick to the tray where the tray curved - no matter what I did it kept pulling away.  I tried adding more adhesive, adding tape and also just holding it down with my hand as I sprayed (dumb, dumb idea).  I didn't think it was going to end well but I grabbed my can of "Island Splash" spray-paint and sprayed away anyway, giving it a couple of coats back and forth.  Once I had the coverage I was happy with I hesitantly pulled back the stencil, hoping for the best, but kinda knowing it probably wouldn't be fabulous.  This is what I found ...

A dismal effort.  It was official - I sucked at stencilling!  I was close to throwing it in the "too hard basket" but stubbornness won over and I decided to have another go.  I sanded off the majority of the blue stencil, added another two coats of white paint, chose a different stencil - one that wouldn't be affected by those pesky curves in the tray - and opted for a different colour.  This time I went with a yellow called "Sun Yellow".  I followed the same process as before - positioned the stencils where I wanted them on the tray, added some spray adhesive to the back, stuck them down nice and firmly and then lightly sprayed over the stencils using a back and forth motion.  I felt more confident this time.  I had high hopes for success.  I peeled back the stencils hesitantly.  This is what I found ...

Hoorah-freakin'-hoorah!  I had done it.  It had worked.  No bleeds, no blurs and no blobs!  Thank goodness for that.  Now I needed a cup of tea and about a week before I even began to contemplate DIY'ing the second tray.

Here's the tray in action - serving up a nice cup of tea and a muffin to enjoy on the porch.  Doesn't she look lovely? I'm so glad I was patient with her.

For the second tray, I envisioned stripes - again, using spray-paint but tape instead of a stencil.  I also wanted to use yellow again - for some reason I just wasn't sold on the blue.  I had already painted the tray white so it was just a matter of adding some painters tape where I wanted the stripes.  I was very lazy with this and didn't do any measuring - I just whacked the tape on where I thought it looked right.  

I then sprayed on a few light coats of yellow until I had the coverage I wanted.  While the paint was still wet, I pulled off the tape - not so hesitantly this time (full of confidence now!) - and joy of joys it worked.  Hap, hap, happy days! 

I am not exactly sure how or where I will use this tray but it's such a versatile little thing and could be used in a heap of different ways.  It could be used to serve drinks.

To hold my massive jewellery collection.

Or even just to brighten up the dinner table.

It doesn't really matter - it's cute, it's bright and it's a happy little thing to have hanging around in my house.

In the end I'm glad I persisted with the makeover and gave these little gems a new lease on life but am I now a spray-paint convert?  Ummm, not necessarily.  The same effect would've been achieved with normal painting but I think for some stencilling purposes spray-painting may be much quicker and less labour intensive than having to use special stencil brushes and stencil paints, but then again you have a lot more control and no over-spray to worry about, so I'm not sure.  Spray-painting worked for me this time and I will definitely try it again but I'm divided as to which method I prefer. I guess ultimately it just depends on the project.

Anyway, for fun, here's a little "before & after"...

Have you spray-painted anything lately?  Did it work?  Were you happy with the result?