Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sailing on the Leeuwin

Thanks for the birthday love! It turned out to be a fantastic day! Starting with blowing out the candles on his Geburtstagbrezel, we did all sorts of frivolous and fun things all day (have you test-driven a Mini Cooper Countryman?) until winding it up with a twilight sail on the Leeuwin tall ship.

Onboard, there are lots of options for those with get-up-and-go. You can heave sails, climb the mast, crawl out on the bowspirit, take a tour below decks, or even help steer. If you happen to be prone to seasickness or a fear of heights (ahem), you will probably be quite happy just going along for the beautiful ride (as long as you remember to take your seasickness tablets 30 minutes before departure). A friend graciously looked after our girls so we could enjoy the sail as a date. What a fantastic birthday!

Friday, January 27, 2012

A birthday tradition

Some traditions are worth losing a little sleep over.

Tonight, I went out to dinner with a good girlfriend. We had been meaning to catch up for a while, and our night out was great fun. I got home at around 9:30—still relatively early—but everyone was fast asleep. I could have happily joined them but then I remembered, I have a tradition to uphold, and I put myself straight to work.

Tomorrow is my husband’s birthday, and in our family, we agree that birthdays should start with cake and candles and the birthday song. Hubby opts for Geburtstagbrezel instead of cake (that’s our New Year’s traditional treat--Neujahrsbrezel from his baker-uncle’s recipe--that he feels is too good to only have once per year).

We’re normally in bed by 10. Lately, it’s been even earlier. Right now, it’s nearly midnight. Yes, my eyes are droopy, but the brezel is made, the dining room is decorated, the table is set for breakfast and the birthday gifts are at his place, waiting to be discovered.

Totally worth it.
Happy Birthday to my best friend and love!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Happy Australia Day!

Nice fireworks, Perth!
We especially appreciated the coordinated lightning storm.

We watched the display from the Mosman Park escarpment with a few hundred of our closest friends.

Happy Australia Day, everyone!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It's not easy being 3

Our house was due for inspection today. In Australia, the rental company inspects the property every 12 weeks, assuring the owner there is no damage (and often checking up on the tenants' housekeeping skills as a side effect). I've been cleaning all morning, and the girls were happily engaged in one of their favorite past-times, dancing. After a while, they asked and I readily agreed to put on the DVD of their ballet recital so they could dance along. It bought me such good uninterrupted cleaning time that I broke my own rule and put on a second dance DVD afterwards. That didn't work out so well.

On my pass through the living room, I could see they were both sitting and watching rather than dancing. Watching is almost always bad news. Inevitably, they get tired and grumpy and begin to squabble. It wasn't long before Ellie came to tattle on Stephanie for hitting. When I tried to have a talk with her, she bit me...HARD (yes, she broke the skin through my shorts!). I couldn't believe it. I tossed her into her room for time out, and she spit in my face when it was time to come out. Repeatedly. This is not the Stephanie we know at all.

And then I remembered: she's 3. I've been cleaning and busy all morning, putting her needs (and whims) on the back burner. No, I can't keep doing your costume changes, sweetie. Okay, one last hairstyle change but that's it! Stephanie, I'm cleaning!
It was a bit too much. Understandably.

Priority reminder!

The house inspection is important, sure, but these are my children. It was time to decide the house was "clean enough". Let the inspection chips fall where they may. I pulled her into my lap for a long, soft cuddle and felt her little body completely relax. Then, I read her a story and then another. And she wrapped her little arms around my neck, gave me a huge squeeze and apologized from the bottom of her sweet little heart for biting me and spitting. Balance is restored. Everyone is happy and relaxed again.

And you know what? The inspection went just fine.

Friday, January 20, 2012

New blog update

Hi there!

A week on, I thought I'd give you a little update on the new blog idea. This week, I met with the lovely ladies of Media on Mars in North Fremantle, and I had a nice chat with them about what I was hoping to do with my new website. All I knew about their work had been gleaned from drive-by observations of their shop and a desire to support local businesses. It turns out what I had in mind isn't the type of work they typically do. Ah well. I appreciated the chat and the input. I also got a new link out of the chat: one of the women who works there has a fun blog at a little piece of pie.

I'm still rolling with it. My head is swimming with ideas, and I think I can get it going with the help of some books (Blogging for Dummies and Wordpress for Dummies). I'm giving myself another month or so (the domain rights expire mid-March). Looks like I'll be studying up on web-schtuff this weekend...

I hope you've got some fun things in mind for your own weekend! What will you be up to?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Poll up, contest adapted

I've added a running poll on the sidebar for those of you following the Muses this Mardi Gras season. My contest will run until just beyond the end of the Muses parade, midnight on February 16th. I may have to throw in some genuine King Cake to sweeten the deal.

Happy Mardi Gras, y'all!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Getting my glitter on (and a contest)

The title of this blog is "A Muse Abroad". Ever wondered what that was all about?
I am a Muse!
Now, this isn't an average case of self-aggrandizement. When I say I am a Muse, I mean I am a member of the Krewe of Muses, an amazing all-women Mardi Gras club in New Orleans.

For you Aussies, know that Mardi Gras in New Orleans is nothing like Mardi Gras in Sydney. It has a long-standing cultural history. You can find pictures and stories all over the internet, so I'll just give you the very short run-down. Each parade is run by a krewe. The closer you get to Mardi Gras (the day before Ash Wednesday), the more elaborate (and more elite) the parade and krewe tend to be. Muses rolls on Thursday, the night the holiday kicks itself into high gear. Muses parades always have a contemporary, satirical theme, and the parade is consistently voted the best parade in all of Mardi Gras. Muses are extremely generous with their throws (all the plastic beads, stuffed toys and miscellaneous schtuff that you cannot imagine ever wanting until you find yourself at the parade caught up in the thrill screaming "Throw Me Something, Sista'!"). The most exclusive, sought after throw from a Muses parade is the symbolic high-heeled shoe, which Muses elaborately decorate in glitter. Each is individual, a one-off and highly prized. Some of my previous creations:

After a five year break, I will be riding with the Muses this year! The parade rolls on February 16th, so I'd better get going on my shoes. A local station just did a story with some of the ladies from my float, so if you'd like to see glitterizing in action, check it out here. In the meantime, I think I'll run a little contest here.

Would you like a Muses shoe? Maybe some throws? Any throws from this year's parade are top secret at the moment, so you'll have to wait until after the February ride. Just for fun and for the contest, I urge you to take a look at the nine Muses and let me know which might inspire you most. I'll leave this running until the end of January. Perhaps I'll post a running tally of answers on the sidebar. We could all use a bit of inspiration!

"Happy are they whom the Muses love!"

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pumpkin chocolate chip muffins

A current favorite recipe around here is pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. The girls love them because of the chocolate chips. This mama is happy to bake them often because they are made with lots of goodies: whole wheat flour, flaxseed, pumpkin. And in case gail drops by for a chat, these muffins are vegan too!

I've adapted this recipe a bit from the original. I've noticed that using packed pumpkin from the tin results in a very thick, dry batter (not so when I roast and puree my own, thus the substitutions I include), but the finished texture is fine. I swapped chocolate chips for the recommended carob (mostly because I can't find good carob chips) and cut the added sugar in half. The original also recommends cinnamon-sugar sprinkled over the top, which is yummy but no one notices when I leave it off. The muffins are fully yummy in this sugar-reduced state, so I may continue to cut it down a tablespoon at a time.

Pumpkin chocolate chip muffins
adapted from "Vegan Lunch Box" by Jennifer McCann

1 cup pureed pumpkin, sweet potato or butternut squash
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup canola oil
2 Tablespoons ground flaxseed/linseed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 2/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda/bicarb
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (ground fresh is best)
1/3 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray or line with muffin cups.
Put pumpkin, water, canola oil, flaxseed and vanilla in a blender or food processor and process on high for at least 1 minute, until light in color and well-blended.
In large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add pumpkin mixture and mix with wooden spoon or spatula until well-blended.
Fold in chocolate chips.
Spoon into muffin cups.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool for 5 minutes in the pan; then, remove from tin and finish cooling on wire rack.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hatching an idea

Last year, Hubby went away for work (unheard of!) and I bought a domain name. As you do. What I was thinking, I really cannot say. I don't know about web design. I am big on ideas but small on follow-through. So, here's this post for accountability. This afternoon, I contacted a local company about helping me build a site on my (nearly year-old and yet unused) domain. If they can help me achieve something close to my vision, you will be the first to know. In the meantime, expect to come back here to rambling nonsense and the occasional useful recipe (hey, at least I'm honest).

Wishing you a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Journaling in the new year

After years of journaling hiatus, I feel it's time to start journaling again...but where to start? How to start? The truth is, it isn't easy anymore. My thoughts run faster and longer than my opportunities to record them, and frankly, sometimes it just feels like one more thing to do (and who needs that?).

Magically, today in my inbox was an email that should have gone to junk, but somehow didn't. It was from the stationer kikki.K, all about journaling in the new year. The blog offers up a stream of great journaling prompts to get you writing. The most meaningful tips came from this entry. The essence (in my words):

Get going! No rules!
Realize that habits take time to form. Every time you skip journal time makes it easier to skip the next day and the next...
Take the pressure off an outcome and simply put pen to paper, even if that means doodling or even simply drawing a grid on the page.
Ideas: Record a quote. Print out and glue in a photo from the day. Draw. Doodle.
Making that time for yourself and your journal is what really counts.

Have you been toying with the idea of journaling?
What has your new year looked like thus far?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Salad dressing on my face

You read that right.
I put salad dressing on my face.
On purpose.
Crazy, no?

The truth is it seems I have very sensitive, dry skin. My last (expensive!) night cream gave me dermatitis on my face. Not a good look and quasi-permanent, which is very disheartening. My dermatologist told me point blank that the beauty industry is an industry and that we don't need any of the creams and serums and concoctions they want to sell us, no matter the price point. We need a clean face, which can be achieved with a good soap (I use Dr. Bronner's bar soap), and sunscreen during the day and that's it. She conceded I should use a moisturizer if it makes me more comfortable (it does), but which one?

It seems the answer is salad dressing.
Oh yes, my friends.

This is another recipe from A Home Companion, the source of my homemade laundry detergent. Having finally run out of all samples and anything else resembling moisturizer I could use at night, I decided to whip up a batch of Magic Night Cream.

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
about 1 tablespoon water
3 drops lavender essential oil, optional

Blend olive oil and vinegar. Slowly add water to make a creamy texture. Add essential oil to mask salad dressing smell if desired. Store in the fridge in a glass jar. Give it a vigorous shake before using because contents will settle and separate.

I omitted the essential oil as not to provoke the dermatitis. Yes, it smells like salad dressing. Does it work like magic? Yes! The oil sinks in relatively quickly (no oil on my pillow), leaving beautiful, soft, well-moisturized skin in the morning.

Try it, I dare you.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Banana cupcakes

Last night, I pulled one of my old what-to-feed-littles cookbooks from the shelf and had a curious flip-through. This morning when we were invited to a friend's house for morning tea, this recipe was fresh in my mind. It baked up in no time because--get this, Mamas--you whip up the entire recipe in the food processor! Yippeee! I've included regular instructions too, in case you don't have a food processor, but for those of you who do, this may become a go-to recipe. Enjoy!

Banana cupcakes*
from "Feeding Made Easy" by Gina Ford

175g (6 oz) butter
50g (2 oz) caster sugar
225g (8 oz) self-raising flour (I used wholemeal)
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
3 very ripe bananas
85 mL (3 fl oz) maple syrup

Preheat oven to 180c/350F.
Line muffin tin with paper cases.

Cream butter and sugar together. Beat the eggs in separate bowl and gradually add to butter-sugar mixture. Fold in flour and baking powder, then mashed bananas and maple syrup. Mix until well combined.

or even better...

In a food processor, whiz together butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and eggs until well mixed. Add bananas and maple syrup. Mix until smooth.

Spoon into muffin cases (maybe 2/3 full) and bake 15-20 minutes until well risen and firm to the touch. Cool for 5 minutes in tin and then remove from tin and finish cooling on wire rack.
Watch them disappear.

*this recipe was listed as "banana muffins" but with so much sugar and butter, calling them cupcakes seems more accurate

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Penguin Island, polarized

With a few scalding exceptions here and there, we've been enjoying an incredibly mild summer in Perth this year. Over the weekend, the temperature didn't even crest 90F (amazing!), so we decided to make the most of it and spend some time down at Penguin Island. Penguin Island is part of a marine nature reserve and is home to a fairy penguin colony as well as a variety of other seabirds (including the original owners of large white pelican feather my girl found).

The penguins are molting right now and are pretty stressed out, so they were all hiding. It's best to keep your distance (at least 5m), so we left them well alone and enjoyed the crystal clear sea.

The water is stunning. The Indian Ocean simply cannot be beat for beauty, methinks. Unless you enhance the view with polarized lenses. Check it out.

I snapped away with my camera for a while until I realized my camera wouldn't see what I saw through my polarized sunglasses. So, I simply popped my sunglasses over the camera lens. Voila! (of course, you can buy a polarized filter too; this was just my cheap, easy, on-the-spot solution, and it works pretty well)

How was your weekend?
Wishing you a great start to the week!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Neighborly Big and Tall, completed

I finally completed knitting the vest for my friend, Kaye. Given how I let this project drag out, I thought I might feel some form of disgust when it was finally over--a big "Never again!" Not so. I'm quite happy. Despite (because of) the hideous ripping-back-to-lower-the-stripe incident three months ago, the final result is quite pleasing and I feel very proud to send it out into the world.

It's an adult-sized version of Jennifer Casa's Neighborly pattern. All of my (rambling) ravelry notes can be found here. I'm not overly impressed with the flared-out bottom edge given that there are the same number of stitches there as through all the stripes, but I'm hoping it will magically resolve itself through wear and washing (or maybe it won't and she won't mind).

Kaye seems to like it, which is the important part.

Hey, it only took me four months to get it done! And in about six months' time, the weather should be cool enough for Kaye to wear it.

Next up, Ishbel?