Switched Off

Life had been getting busier for some time. There were the usual school events and birthday parties, overseas guests and work commitments. Then there was the June/July onslaught of family birthdays that had me in a perpetual state of either buying a gift, or wrapping one. Weekends saw us crumpled on the living room sofa, exhausted, and most often with an iPad in hand. We were increasingly using screen time as a way to check out of our busy lives but what we were really doing was checking out from each other.

On wintery days when everyone was especially tired we would tell ourselves that a home day was what we needed to relax. But a home day inevitably turned into a day of monitoring screen time, and when we asked the children to turn the devices off they would head to the TV. We wanted our kids to relax but how relaxing was it really? The more games the children played, the more they argued and the more annoyed I became. Our daughter is easily over stimulated and gaming made her anxious and irritable. My son never wanted to turn his game off. My fairly strict screen time policy wasn't working. I felt constantly harassed by my children for more time in front of a screen and was thoroughly tired of hearing fights over who laid claim to the computer or the iPad first.

One morning recently I crept in to say good morning to my children, slowing opening the curtains and taking a moment to look at them warm and sleepy in their beds.
"Good morning darlings," I said as I walked towards their bunk bed to give them a kiss.
"Can we use the IPad?"

How had we got here? I'd always parented consciously hadn't I? I was aware of the importance of spending time together, just the four of us, I thought I had systems in place. I thought of our game-free Sunday rule but when I really looked at it I realised the kids had just transferred their game time to watching reruns of Dragons: Riders of Berk on the TV. I knew something had to change.

It feels like the older my kids get, the harder carving out simple family time together becomes. I decided to be intentional about it, blocking out time on our busy schedule to hang out together without any distractions. Without warning our kids woke up one sunny Saturday morning to find a note taped to the TV screen announcing that the weekend would be screen free. I won't lie to you, there were a few tears. But they were quickly forgotten and within minutes the kids had found a toy they'd not played with in months. It was dragged out and set up and they happily played with it all morning. 

In the afternoon I wanted to get the family outdoors. Not only was it important to spend time as a family, I wanted to spend time in nature too. We live in a beautiful part of the world, on the edge of a National Park. There's no good reason why we shouldn't be out there enjoying it every chance we get. I suggested a bush walk to find the creek we'd heard was sitting in the valley near our house. No one wanted to go. It was getting colder, they were in the middle of a game, my husband felt tired, can we just do it another day? I kicked them out the door anyway, choosing to stay back and make dinner. I put on some music and tidied and cooked in silence. An hour and a half later the door swung open and the children raced down the hall. They burst in out of breath, their eyes bright and cheeks rosy from the cold. They couldn't find the creek! Ben bounced up and down on a burnt out log! Jemima led the way back home! Over and over again that night I heard the words "That was so much fun."

The simplest things, the things that don't cost a cent - they're the best bits. One moment my son was a rascal of a two year old bolting whenever he saw the opportunity. The next moment he's a sensitive and inquisitive seven year old, learning what kind of person he is quite separate from his mum and dad. This parenting thing, it goes so fast. Let's not waste it. 

Why not block off a weekend in your calendar to be completely screen free? Make the commitment to spend some time in nature with your kids. I promise you'll end the weekend feeling energised and well, happy. Here are some of my favourite reconnecting activities:

Nature treasure trail

Find a bush walk that your troop can cope with and prepare well by making sure that everyone is wearing good footwear (trust me, nothing ends a bush walk quicker than a blister on a child's heel). Pack some food and plan your departure time so that you can have a stop for morning or afternoon tea. In private, write out a list of items for each child to find on the walk. Pack a bag for each of them to put their treasures in. Keep the list and the bags as a surprise for when you arrive. Here are some items from our treasure trail list:

Something smooth
Something spikey
Something green
Something beautiful
Something you've never seen before
Something cold
Something the size of your thumb
Something round
Something bumpy

Fairy/elf houses

You don't even need to leave your backyard for this one. Find a little nook in your garden to create you own fairy or elf house. Use stones and pieces of wood for furniture, petals for blankets, leaves for carpet - let your imagination run wild. Join in with your children or make your own. As you're creating talk to your kids about who they think might live there, what do they look like, do they have any pets?

Bird feeders

We have lots of feathered visitors to our backyard including a rowdy gang of cockatoos and a trio of kookaburra who laugh themselves silly at 6am every morning. I'm of the opinion that you can never have too many birds and these feeders are just the thing to entice them to come calling.

Collect some pine ones or if they're scarce, a bottle brush cone or a banksia pod will all work. Tie a long piece of string to one end of the cone. Lightly coat in peanut butter (the no salt and sugar kind) then roll in a tray of bird seed. We use parrot seed here in Australia but choose what's right for your habitat. Hang the cones from branches of trees or along your fence if you're treeless, and wait for the birds to arrive. Dusk and early morning is a good time for feathery callers.

Walnut boats

For this project you need some walnuts in the shell, some Blu-tack, some toothpicks and some paper. Give each child a collection of walnuts and see if they work out how to crack them open without smashing the shells. Let them experiment. A small hammer or a rock is a good tool to get started. Once you have some half shells (save the nuts for later!) you can make your boats. Pop a small ball of Blu-tack into the inside of each boat. Then using scissors, cut a small triangle of paper and thread the toothpick through it to make a sail. Poke the end of the toothpick sail into your blue tack. Fill a sink or large bowl with water and let your walnut boats set sail. 

Stick sculptures

Head out to your backyard or a local park and spend a few minutes gathering up fallen tree branches, sticks, feathers, leaves – anything goes! Make a stick sculpture in anyway you choose – make it big, small, something you can climb inside or something completely crazy.

Beach combing

The beach is undoubtedly one of most precious gifts nature has given us. We often save the beach for summer days but I love a wintery day at the beach. I love the wind in my face and a scarf drawn tightly around my neck, the wild sea, the roar in my ears and the grandness of it all. Kids love activities with a purpose so beach combing is perfect for them - and it's made even more fun with these small beach bags.

These beach bags are great because the netting allows the sand to fall through. I made mine from cheap netting from the dance fabric section of a big craft store. It was about $2 per metre. I measured out a rectangle, cut two pieces, then sewed them together making sure to go over the seam twice so that’s double-stitched. Then I added handles made from cotton tape. My kids take these every time we go to the beach.

Chair Pads

Today I picked up four of these chairs from a garage sale:

We needed new chairs. Bad. When we arrived in Australia four years ago we bought the cheapest dining chair Ikea sold, which for the record was about $12 each. They lasted pretty well for a $12 chair but a few months ago the last one broke. We've been sitting on a mixture of broken chairs and a stool while we discussed what kind of chairs we wanted to purchase next. What we really want are Emeco chairs but since we're on a budget and are saving for a house it felt like a frivolous purchase. So then we debated buying second hand retro chairs, like Parker ones if we were lucky. But we already have a Chiswell dining table and a Parker sideboard in that room and we didn't want to be too retro. Finally the decision was made yesterday when I spotted four of these replica Eames chairs on a garage sale website. They were $90 for four, which is a great deal. They won't be our forever chairs, but they were the right price and they'll do until we can afford the Emeco ones we really love.

The only problem with them is that they need a chair pad. They're quite comfy on their own if you don't have a bony behind like I do. For me, I need the cushion. This afternoon I whipped up four chair pads out of some fabric I had. Here's how to make some yourself:

This is my fabric. Amazing, 1950s - 60s thick cotton that was once used as a cover for sunroom furniture. I bought a huge piece for $5 from an op shop two years ago.

I found a pot lid about the size I needed and used that as a template to cut out the circles for the chair pads. I added about 1.5cm all around for a seam allowance. I have four chairs so I cut out 8 circles for the front and back pieces.

Next I cut four pieces of cotton tape to use as a tie. I didn't want ties showing at the back of the chairs so I sewed them underneath. The wire design of the chair means I could tie it from the bottom instead of the back.

With right sides together I sewed around the edge, leaving a gap for the stuffing.

I then turned them out the right way and folded the circles in half and then in half again. I marked the point with a pen (this will be the centre of the circle). I then stitched a piece of cotton tape in the centre spot making sure to go over the stitching at least twice. I did this before stuffing because I wanted the chair pads to have some depth and an almost tufted look.

Next step was to stuff each one with hobby fill stuffing. I then pinned the open edge and sewed it stuff. 

Super easy and took only about 15 mins once they were cut out. Total cost was $10 for the hobby fill and the cotton tape. They were so easy to do I might even make more. Could I become a woman who changes her chair cushions to match the season? I easily could.

Shop Your Style Icon

For me, it's always been Audrey. There's nobody past nor present as effortlessly elegant or poised as she. Somehow the simplest of silhouettes look stunning on her. Never too little, never too much.

Today I'm going to show you how to incorporate some iconic style your very own wardrobe. All that's involved is a bit of research and a critical eye. Ready? Let's go!


If your style icon is a film star you must have an all-time favourite movie that they star in. Your first step is to look at images, television series, or films and take note of what you love. Look at colours, make up, jewellery, hair cuts, bags, shoes, and hem lengths. Is there anything characteristic that ties it all together? Make some notes as you go, or start up a Pinterest board for inspiration.

This is Audrey in the 1953 film Roman Holiday. When I saw it recently I was drawn to the pockets in her full skirt, the wide belt that cinches in the narrowest part of her waist, and the strong collar of her shirt. I love that little scarf at her neck too.

Hello cigarette pants! In the second picture she has another strong structured collar. She's wearing ballet flats - I told you she was my kind of woman.

In this photo we've got shorts with a patterned shirt, again with some structure to it - especially in the cuffs.

Be Critical

So now we have a good sense of our style icon but how do you actually wear it? This is where a critical eye comes in. Obviously I am not Audrey Hepburn. You're not your style icon either. And that's awesome because what we want is for your style to come through here. If I walked around in a black dress and enormous sunglasses with my hair piled high and a cigarette holder hanging out of my mouth people would point at me. The idea isn't that you look like you're off to a costume party.

If your style icon is a skinny minny and you're not it doesn't matter one bit. You can still incorporate their style into your look. Maybe it's some stiletto heels with a splash of colour like Carey from Sex and the City, or black eye-liner and pale lips with a wide necked off the shoulder t-shirt like Brigitte Bardot. Perhaps it's a red lip and some sparkles like Marilyn Monroe, or some tailored pants and a sharply tailored shirt reminiscent of Katharine Hepburn.

Pick what you can get away with and be honest about what you can't.

Find the Goods

Let's look at Audrey.

As you know I'm a huge fan of thrift shopping. You can find some wonderful things for next to nothing in thrift stores, but it's all a game of chance. If you're after specific pieces try eBay or Etsy's vintage clothing sections. You'll pay more, but you'll find exactly what you're after and remember, vintage is still much cheaper than new.

A patterned cigarette pant is a great 1950s look teamed with a cardigan in a block colour and a crisp white blouse. Here are some vintage finds I saw on Etsy today:

1950s Cigarette Pant by Vintage Salvation on Etsy.

1950s pants by Maybel57 on Etsy
Match it with a simple vintage top:

1950s Blouse by VintageBoxFashions on Etsy.

Or a fitted white shirt:

Asos fitted shirt from Asos.com
If you can't find a vintage pant there are new options on websites like Asos:

River Island Printed Cigarette Trouser from Asos.com
Or reproduction pieces on websites like Collectif:

Bonnie Blackwatch Cigarette Trousers from Collectif.
If a patterned pant is too much for you swap it up by having a plain coloured pant and a patterned shirt.

1950s shorts by Allencompany on Etsy.

1950s shorts by Camp Bettie on Etsy.
Asos Luxe stripe tee from Asos.com.
The aim here is to find pieces that have the flavour of your style icon - they don't have to match exactly. I love everything about Audrey (except all of those cushions and bags with her face printed on them) but for you it might be Twiggi, or Madonna in her Desperately Seeking Susan phase. Maybe it's the 1940s that tickle your fancy, or 1980s shoulder pad glam. Whatever it is, don't be afraid to incorporate it into your wardrobe. Fashion is meant to be fun!

Fermentation - Sauerkraut!

For the last few months I've been really excited by the process of making fermented foods, and how I can introduce what I've been working on into our diets.

For those of you not yet in the know, fermented foods such as kefir milk, sauerkraut, and kombucha tea have a whole gang of great bacteria in them which aid digestion and offer a huge range of other health benefits to boot.

In the past the guts in our family have been in a sorry state. We have three with gluten intolerance, one with a wheat/egg allergy, two with lactose intolerance, and one who has behaviour issues after eating some foods. We've all had numerous doses of antibiotics, and unfortunately the first two years of our wee boy's life were spent dosing him up with various different things in order to keep him functioning.

I'm convinced that we could all benefit from sorting out the bacteria in our guts. There are loads of different (some quite extreme) diets out there addressing the link between the gut and psychological/physiological symptoms but with our already restricted diet I'm not prepared to dive into anything like that without some proper testing first. What we are doing, is having a go at making and eating some fermented probiotic rich foods.

Today I thought I'd write a few words about sauerkraut.

What is it?
Sauerkraut is basically fermented cabbage. It has a pickled, slightly sour taste that goes great with cold meats, sausage, corned beef and cheeses. If you like pickled onions or gherkins you're going to love sauerkraut!

How do you make it?
It's made by grating cabbage finely, rubbing salt into it, then letting it sit under a weight until it bubbles and ferments.

How does cabbage turn into sauerkraut?
The magic happens by a process called lacto-fermentation. The cabbage has a natural amount of beneficial bacteria on its surface and when you submerge it in brine (salty water) the bacteria converts the natural sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid, which naturally preserves the vegetable content.

How long does it take?
You need a minimum of three days to make one jar, longer for a big crock of it.

Why should I eat it?
Sauerkraut contains many of the same probiotics as a bowl full of yoghurt, but without the dairy - which is great for the lactose intolerant amongst us. It's great for your tummy and it's really yummy too!

Can't I just buy it?
Sure! There are some great brands of sauerkraut on the market. I like Eden Organic Sauerkraut because it uses organic cabbage and only contains cabbage, salt and water - just like it should. It has a yummy tangy taste that's not too strong. It's also $7 a jar from my local co-op - which is why I'm interested in making my own.

With home made sauerkraut you can control the flavour by testing pieces and taking bottling it when it suits your taste buds. You can add spices to it, use red cabbage... there are lots and lots of options when you do it yourself.

What do I need to be aware of?
As with all fermented food,  you need to be aware of hygiene. Keep your work surface, hands and jars super clean. 

When your sauerkraut is fermenting you may see some bubbles or white foam come to the top - that's normal. It may even bubble over - so it's important to use a big jar and put a plate underneath to catch any spills.

If you get any mould on the top it may be because you've put your jar in a place that's too hot. You can scrape the top layer off and keep going - the lactic acid is a powerful preservative. If anything looks very dodgy, smells bad, or if there is any fur growing in it use your best judgement. It may be best to start again.

For more info on recipes and the process of making sauerkraut check out:

Wild Fermentation
The Kitchn

Blue Mountains Vintage Trail

An Insider’s Guide to finding bargains in the Blue Mountains

Whether you’re looking for clothing, retro homewares, a piece of mid-century furniture or that last elusive item to finish off your collection, the Blue Mountains is the perfect place to spend a day exploring the many vintage stores on offer.  Follow me on my perfect day out doing the ‘op shop hop’ from Glenbrook in the Lower Mountains to Blackheath at the very top.

  Blue Mountains Australia
  • Start at Glenbrook village, the gateway to the Blue Mountains and just 10km west of Penrith. Fuel up with a coffee at one of the many quirky cafes such as Jazz Apple or the recently opened 2773. When you’re ready to hit the shops stroll down Ross Street to the local Vinnie’s where you’ll find a small thrift store that has a good selection of clothing and homewares. On your way back up Ross Street make sure you check out Frippery, an op shop that specialises in vintage clothing.

  •  Heading west up the Great Western Highway to Blaxland you’ll find Vinnie’s on the main road. If you park behind the shops you’ll see that this Vinnie’s has an extensive furniture section downstairs with some great bargains to be had. Upstairs you’ll find clothing, manchester, homewares and jewellery. Back out on the main road there is a small Bibles for Missions op shop where prices are cheap and there are many treasures waiting to be discovered. Make time to stop for a chat with the friendly and knowledgeable volunteers.
  •  The next stop is Springwood where a newly opened Salvos has a large range of clothing, kitchen items and electronic goods. Stop in the shops for a snack or head straight to the Vinnie’s on Macquarie Road.

  • It’s time to make our way to Katoomba where we’ll be spending a couple of hours visiting some of the best op shops in the mountains. Start at Salvos located on Waratah Street down a steep driveway. There are often great furniture sales at this store as well as a good range of clothing, shoes, kitchen items and linen. Keep walking down Waratah Street and you’ll come across Vinnie’s which has an upstairs area full of linen and craft items as well as a separate room for furniture. Just past Vinnie’s is the Cat Defence Charity Shop, a small thrift store bursting with vintage homewares.  Head back up Waratah Street towards Katoomba Street where you’ll find an abundance of cafes and restaurants. This is the perfect place to put down those shopping bags and take a break over something good to eat. Suitably refreshed, take a stroll up Katoomba Street visiting the many antique shops along the way. One of my favourites is Macarthur Arcade which boasts a huge selection of vintage homewares and mid-century furniture. Once you reach the top of Katoomba Street carry on past the round-a-bout to Bathurst Road where you’ll find the Boutique Op Shop. This op shop is a recent addition to my regular hit list. I love the care the staff take in displaying their items and the great range they have on offer.

  •   The last stop on our Vintage Trail is Blackheath just west of Katoomba. Start at the Vinnie’s just across the railway tracks before walking down Govetts Leap Road to the Victory Theatre Antique Centre and Café.  This enormous antique shop contains two floors of homewares, clothing, jewellery, furniture and porcelains and more. There is always something wonderful to discover here. Finally, pop in to one of Blackheath’s many cafes for one last top up before heading home, hopefully with your arms full of vintage finds! 

Trail Notes
·       Most op shops are closed on Sunday so make sure to check the opening hours online before you plan your trip
·       Carry some cash with you as many op shops don’t accept cards
·       All of the shops listed in this guide as located close to Railway Stations so you can utilise public transport


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