Friday, January 30, 2009

Love Fridays ... and pencil rolls

I Love Fridays! They mean the weekend is coming up soon, and that means …. more pencil rolls! I’m hooked on pencil rolls right now.

Here is my first one ever. It’s very young – only six days old. I just made it on the weekend. Isn’t it cute?

It's super-easy to do, you just need two contrasting fat quarters, interfacing, some bias tape, and a ribbon.

I got the idea from Swede-Heart, whose pencil roll was featured on the sewmamsew blog. For those who aren’t familiar with Sew Mama Sew, let me just say that this is an incredible achievement. They are very selective with the items and photos they feature – it’s a real honour.

And I looked at this pencil roll and I thought: that is a simply fantastic idea. I wonder if I could make one of those?

So over the weekend in the Japanese bead shop I selected the beautiful orange, sage and chocolate pinwheel cotton, and up the road at Sew Bright I chose a patterned pumpkin cotton from the Michael Miller Farmer’s Market range. They also had a lovely stripy bias tape which I used to accent the edges.

It’s all straight lines:

  1. You cut the fat quarter in half lengthways and seal one piece with interfacing.
  2. Take the contrasting fat quarter and cut one third, lengthways. Seal this with interfacing as well.
  3. Add your bias tape to the top of the contrasting piece you’ve just sealed. Stitch very close to the edge so that it holds firmly
  4. Pin the two half pieces with wrong sides together, then pin the contrasting piece on top
  5. Sew all the way around the outside to secure the three pieces together.
  6. Cut your ribbon in half. At the right hand side juncture of the contrasting piece and the main body, sew the two ribbon pieces to the very edge of the outside body piece, in the middle. You want to be able to wrap these around the roll so make sure they’re long enough.
  7. Measure off your bias tap and pin all the way around the outside, making sure it covers up the join of the ribbon to the main body. Stitch close to the edge
  8. Measure out your pencil pockets – I find 2.5 cm is plenty and will fit an 18-pencil set inside. But if you have more pencils, make the pockets smaller
  9. Stitch straight lines to form the pockets

Voila! Your pencil roll is complete - and here is the result. I am so pleased with it – thank you so much Swede-Heart!

I made this second one for my niece the Squirrel.

See the cute fabric? – it has squirrels all over it. It’s a Japanese Trefle piece that’s been in my stash for a while and just waiting for the right opportunity.

Happy sixth birthday, Squirrel!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rafael Nadal's lucky undies

Whew …. This is our third day over 40 degrees and I am completely sapped of energy.

I can hardly summon the strength to type. My fingers are heavily plonking up and down on the keyboard rather than flying along nimbly as they usually do. In fact, I just typed “numbly” there instead of nimbly – I think that says it all.

And if I’m so whacked by the heat (and I usually *love* the heat), how are those players at the Australian Open coping? I heard someone say it can get to 60 degrees on centre court if it’s around 40 degrees in the air.

60 degrees!! Dearie me, it would be too much to bear just sitting in one place, let alone fighting out an athletic game of strength, skill and stamina. Jeez.

My One True Love and I actually went to the tennis last night, courtesy of some corporate largesse, and we watched the match between Rafael Nadal and Gilles Simon.

I’m not usually a big tennis fan … in fact, I spent the first half an hour in the Garnier tent having a little mini-facial which was deLIGHTfully refreshing given the heat, and then of course I got the freebie bag as I exited which had all manner of freebie full-sized products in it (though if anyone would like the spray-on tan-in-a-can and after-sun tan extender, please do let me know).

I digress. But I recommend it, if you're going.

So I’m not usually a big tennis fan but watching Nadal and Simon play was fantastic. We had quite good seats, quite close to the court, quite near the front (thank you Big Business) and so we were in the *perfect* position to watch Nadal repeatedly extract the wedgie from his butt cheeks about every ten seconds.

How many times can one guy pull his undies out of his crack?? It was awful! Like a car crash right in your vision – you can’t look away because it’s RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF YOU every five minutes.

In fact, there was something quite ritualistic about it, so maybe he’s so used to doing it that he doesn’t even realise he’s doing it any more. Maybe they’re his lucky undies and that’s why they give him the wedgie, because he’s been wearing them for ten thousand years? And now they're all loose and baggy? But he can’t wear another pair because they’re his lucky undies and without them he’ll lose the game?

But I mean really – can somebody please tell that guy how horrendous it looks, and while you’re there, could you please mention to him that some supportive trunks would eliminate the need for such a public display of undie-picking? Doesn’t Pat Rafter endorse some kind of Bonds Very Comfy Undies or other such product? If it’s good enough for Pat, it’s good enough for Rafael.

Anyway, the lucky undies clearly worked, because he beat Simon hands down - or should that be pants down?

6-4, 7-5, 7-5.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Cycling Widow's Weekend

Like every good cycling widow, as we got the car ready for our (read: his) three-day cycling extravaganza, I made sure there was plenty to keep me occupied.

Novel? Check. Weekend newspapers? Check. Swimming costume? Check? Sewing machine, assorted bits of fabric, thread, scissors, cutting mat, pencils, ruler? Check, check, check.

Yes, that’s right. On a three-day weekend to Bright for the Audax Alpine Classic, I took my sewing machine along for the ride.

But you can’t blame me - we rent a little house with a group of other cyclists, and everyone there does the road ride except me. I can handle a 20km cycle into town over mostly flat ground, but I cannot under any circumstances handle the thought of 200 kilometres, most of that uphill, and 12 hours in the saddle. Ouch!

So while they were off having gentle practice rides the day before, and then the full day of the actual event, and then the gentle recovery rides the day after, I took over the entire extendable kitchen table and had a whirl of a time.

I made up two cushions, Love and Home, out of lovely soft upholstery fabrics and cute cotton cut-outs. They look cute, don’t they? I’m going to put them on my next market stall, which is coming up all too quickly (and I haven’t enough stock …..)

Then for a break I wandered along the rail trail into town, which is about two and half kilometres from the holiday house. It was blazing hot, about 36 degrees, so I took my portable shade (my parasol) with me and it just about made the walk bearable.

Once in Bright I stumbled on two gorgeous little shops – one specialising in Japanese crafts, fabrics, beads and buttons, called BBBeads . Amazing! I bought lots of gorgeous little buttons which will become the eyes on my stuffed animals, and some beautiful Japanese cotton which I’ve already used. And the result is spectacular .... more to be revealed in the coming days

If you get the chance, go and visit Meg, the Japanese proprietor, either in person or via the website. She’s also going to be at the Stitches and Craft show in Melbourne in March if you feel like stopping by to fondle her wares, as it were.

I also went into Sew Bright Alpine Quilting, which stocks a fabulous range of my favourite Michael Miller fabrics as well as the Portobello Pixie pattern range, not to mention the most incredible quilts you’ve ever seen. I picked up an extra length of Ginger Blossom Breeze as well as a few fat quarters to fill out my stash (not that I need any more fabric, mind you).

I never knew that Bright was such a haven for the crafty type. It’s wonderful! I got so much done, I was very proud of myself. Three days of cycling is certainly enough time to sew oneself silly.

Oh, and for those who are interested, My One True Love and his mate Pommy John finished the ride in about eight hours, which is pretty impressive itself. The Gribble took nearly 12 hours and we started to think he might have fallen off the mountain! but lo and behold, just as we were dithering about whether to call someone or not, he rode slowly and painfully into view.
I think his bicycle seat is probably still imprinted on his rear end.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On Australia Day

Today is Australia Day, 26 January 2009. It’s also, and more importantly, my mother’s birthday. Happy birthday, mum.

So in honour of both auspicious occasions, here are three things I love about my mother.

1. My mother is a creative spark. She is the best knitter I know – mum can sit in front of the television and carry on a conversation while her fingers fly without stopping. I usually ask for a jumper or cardigan for my birthday present … because that way, I get to choose the pattern and colour of the wool, and I love it all the more because my mother’s made it. She also has an astonishing colour memory, which I’m lucky enough to have inherited from her, and a love of textiles which I’ve also developed. My mum has really helped to shape who I am today.

2. My mother is very sensible and practical. Mum is very down to earth and does not stand on ceremony. She taught me the value of appreciating the things you have, rather than longing for the things you don’t. It’s because of my mother that I love to have people round for the simplest of dinners – spaghetti bolognese, or a barbeque, and don’t worry about cooking up a feast of perfection. Mum taught me to be honest – and cynical! – and to see what is at the heart of a matter rather than what surrounds it.

3. My mother has a kind heart. I’ll never forget the way my mother cried after Pickles, one of her apricot poodles, was killed by a car. As I wrote in my childish handwriting in a diary at the time: “there is mourning all around our house”. Mum raised poddy lambs, saved broken birds, spent hundreds of dollars on sick cats and dogs, rescued strays, and showed me that despite her stiff-upper-lip exterior, her emotions run deep. It’s quite something to see my mother cooing over a small animal. She taught me that kindness to animals is truly kindness of the soul.

And now here are three things I love about Australia.

1. Waking up to the sound of a magpie. Let’s be clear. I am not fond of magpies per se. As a kid I was bombed in a terrifying and relentless attack which so scarred me that to this day I am cautious around magpies and their little orange eyes and their sharp and pointy beaks. Magpies are not kind-looking birds. They do not have the cheerful elegance of finches, nor the breath-taking plumage of peacocks, nor the haughty elegance of flamingos or the cheeky flappiness of penguins. Magpies are mean-looking birds. But there’s nothing like waking up to the melodic sounds of their warbling: cordle-ordle-wurble-doodle. Durdle-orble-wardle-oodle. I absolutely love it.

2. The rural countryside. The harsh beauty of Australia’s countryside is a little-appreciated thing. I’m not talking about the romance of the “outback” or the magnificent red sands of the desert. What I’m talking about is the ordinary beauty of the back road out of a small town, where gums line the roadway and beyond them are huge rolling paddocks burnt a pale shade of honey in the hard sun. The still and rusted windmill guarding an empty dam, its walls cracked from heat but still hoping for rain. The dust cloud streaming out in the distance, as a farmer bashes his ute across an unsealed road through the canola fields, which are as yellow as buttercups and waving in the breeze, and topped with an endless blue sky like an upside down bowl.

3. Our weather. I moan about it, but really you can’t fault the weather in Australia. When it’s hot, it’s not so hot that you can’t go outside without collapsing, like in Dubai. And when it’s cold, it’s not so cold that your breath freezes on the end of your nose, like in Europe and America. But when the days are 28 degrees and there’s no wind blowing, just a gentle breeze, and the sun is warm, and the pusses are stretched out and snoozing in the grass, that’s just about perfect.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Falling? or flying?

It was hot and sultry yesterday evening as I walked home along the creek trail.

The sun was burning on the back of my neck and I was glad I'd remembered to stick a hat in my backpack. Every step I took hurt my thighs a little. And my t-shirt stuck to me with sweat.

I saw four beautiful things in the hour it took me to get home.

First, Exhibit A - the big grey and white goose that lives on the creek.

He usually paddles up and down near one of my local train stations, but yesterday I saw him proudly in the middle of the creek near the waterfalls. He is a big fat duck, that one! He stood perfectly still so that I could take a photo of him.

Second, Exhibit B - the line of water markers that show the level of the creek. The stark black and white lines appeal to me, and the prettiness of the way they all line up down to the water has a certain symmetry that I like. They measure high water marks, and low water marks, and middling water marks.

But which is which? I suppose it depends entirely upon your perspective.

Thirdly, the mother duck and her seven little ducklings carefully negotiating a section of pebble rapids, until at last they all bobbed through and paddled out into the calmness of the deep water, with the mother duck at the front and the seven little babies strung out behind her like a ribbon trailing in the water.

Fourthly, the young man I saw being lifted onto a stretcher and fitted with a neck brace. It was at the notorious bridge section, where the path dives down a steep incline, and it's always covered with leaf litter and gravel and sticks. Nearby, his bicycle was leant up against the rocks lining the path, and his two friends stood there wordlessly. One was taking a photo with his mobile phone.

I had to walk past them on the path, and as I looked down at him – at his ripped t-shirt and his skinned knee, at the arm tied laterally across his chest, at the rolled-up towels keeping his torso in a straight line against the hard metal rails of the stretcher – I saw his left arm was torn and bloody, the skin grated and shredded, and some of the deepest bruises I’ve ever seen. They were already black, and getting darker.

His nose was a giant lump and his eye was cut, and I thought his collarbone was probably broken as well. His face was swelling.

As I took it all in the ambo looked briefly at me and I said to the bloke on the stretcher “You poor bugger!” and the ambo made a joke and said, “Who, me?”.

And I kept walking, and I thought of the arm I broke a year ago when I fell off my bike on a slope almost exactly the same gradient as this one, and of the way whenever I’m cycling along the creek trail I get off and walk my bike up and down this particular slope – I never ride it – and sometimes I feel a bit silly about doing that. But I probably won't feel silly anymore.

And I thought about what’s happened in the year since then, and I thought of the things I’ve learned about myself, and I wondered if I’d have learnt them if I hadn’t broken my arm. I thought of the questions I’ve been asking, and whether I’d have thought to ask them if I hadn’t been forced to. I wonder if I'd be looking for those answers at all.

So as I went past, I didn’t feel sorry for the chap on the stretcher, all wrapped in pain and bandages, because perhaps this accident is going to end up being good for him. It might even be great.
Because sometimes when you think you’re falling, it turns out you’re actually flying.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

One day at a time

They say it takes 21 days to form a new habit.

In my case, this means 21 days of moaning, groaning, sweating and cursing, before I am habituated back to the idea of eating less and exercising more.

Last week I went to the gym on four days, and this week I’ve kicked things up a notch by gymming every day as well as self-propelling myself to work. That is, I’ve cycled or I’ve walked in as well as gone off to work out at lunchtime.

So does that mean I’m seven days into the formation of my habit, or should I count the days I haven’t exercised as well? In which case it’s more like 10 days into my habit.

But I’m not sure that works, because it would mean I’m closer to the total 21-day milestone but have not exercised as much as I would have if we’re counting exercise days only. I’d be closer to my goal, but yet – and this is the true irony of the situation – actually further away.

And can I really count the day I had a wonderfully kilojoule-laden dinner with My One True Love for his birthday, as a day towards the 21-day milestone?

Or the days on which I had some of the yummy Nigella chocolate-hazelnut cake?

In which case I need to take a few days out of the equation, and I probably end up back around 5 days.

But then, perhaps exercise cancels *out* the chocolate-hazelnut cake, because there were definitely days on which I both ate cake, and went to the gym. So I can probably add a few days back in.

But then there were days on which I didn’t exercise, but didn’t eat cake either. What value do *those* days have?

This reasoning process reminds me too much of the iocane powder conundrum in The Princess Bride, and I'm getting exhausted just thinking about it.

Hey, does brain exercise count?? I can add some more days in!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Fatpuss by any other name

.....would smell as sweet?

Fatpuss has a number of monikers, nicknames, nom de plumes and pseudonyms, you see. Most - but not all - are related to his enormous bulk and girth.

This isn't surprising, considering the notoriety of the aforementioned enormous bulk and girth. The photo you see here is Fatpuss in his earlier, slimmer format (still growing, you see).

I've mentioned before that he had a real name once, but that we had to change it after a while because all he would ever respond to was Fatpuss, because that's all he ever heard us say.

He also hears us call him these things:

The Fat One. Self-explanatory, really.

Gigantor. Ditto

Fatticus Pussiatus. The original Latin of which Fatpuss is the common derivative.

Fathead. Believe me, this is not as cruel as it might sound. We actually discovered this is what The Neighbour calls the Fat One. We'd lived next door to The Neighbour for over two years when we accidentally set off the house alarm late one Sunday night. For well over half an hour it shattered the Sunday night calm into a million little pieces (to paraphrase James Frey) and the next day we gave all of our neighbours a box of chocolates to apologise - and also to hopefully stem the tide of hatred we worried might come our way. The Neighbour responded in kind by leaving a lovely note on the doorstop along with a chocolate artisan cake decorated with a picture of the Fathead in choc drops. Apparently Fathead goes to visit The Neighbour quite often, and without knowing what his actual name was, this is what The Neighbour dubbed him. For obvious reasons.

Fathead also goes to visit Harry and his nanny during the day - they live a few houses up on the same side of the street. In a similar vein, Harry and his nanny also took to calling him Fatso - which was just as well, because it's so close to his real name that he actually answers to it! Apparently Fathead is quite fond of Harry, in his own disdainful way.

The Mint Panda. This one stems from the trip My One True Love and I took to China. We did a hike along the Great Wall - not the touristy part at Badaling that you see on all the photos, where the Wall is wide and smooth and has high ramparts along the side and on gentle rolling inclines. Oh no, we did a hike along The Wall Less Travelled, which is ancient and crumbling and more resembles a goat-track in parts, with no lovely protective ramparts, only wide enough for one person so we all had to walk single file, not to mention the incredibly steep inclines UP HERE! and DOWN THERE! that had us slipping and sliding all over the place - I spent most of it clutching My One True Love's hand in an effort not to fall off and kill myself. I have a slight fear of being able to see where I might fall. It used to be a phobia, but then I did some cognitive behavioural therapy and it's much more manageable now. Before, I couldn't even walk up a flight of stairs that had gaps in them.

But I digress.

One of the sections of the Wall was so ruined that we had to climb down and take a detour through a valley for a few kilometres. It was filled with vegetation and bamboo (and donkeys, surprisingly), and one of our travelling companions remarked that they wouldn't be surprised to see a panda amble out, chewing on a bamboo stick.

The valley had a very minty smell - it must have been one of the plants growing in such profusion - and it reminded us of the smell of our catmint bushes at home. Fatpuss loves nothing more than to loll about on the catmint, chewing off the tender tips and smooching all over it. The poor bush suffers this indignity well. I swear there has to be some kind of psychotropic substance in that plant, because it makes Fatpuss absolutely and totally delirious with ecstasy. He's never happier than when he's lying around dazed in the catmint.

Not surprisingly, The Fat One is very territorial about it. He defends the bush vigorously and will immediately sit on any other puss who approaches it. Podae has learnt, through trial and error, not to approach the bush. Grimth is still in the error stage.

And so now we call Fatpuss the Mint Panda as well. It's a lovely nickname, it makes him sound all cute and round and benign; when in fact the truth is that he's cute and round and cold and aloof, except for momentary bursts of unexplained affection.

But we love him all the same.

Monday, January 19, 2009

I'm in buttony, soapy heaven

Aren’t weekends wonderful?

I use mine to catch up on all the sewing projects I’ve neglected during the week, when my hands are cuffed to the corporate wheel and there’s little time to relax and sew.

This Sunday I took the opportunity to go to a local weekly trash-and-treasure market on the other side of town.

The Amateur Actress volunteered to drive, so along with L’Auteur and The Renovators, we all squeezed into her tiny car (well, it was tiny with five of us inside it) and headed out for a morning of poking through stuff.

And what stuff there was to be had! I could not be-LIEVE how much rubbish there was. People seemed to have piled up all their old crap out of their garage and brought it along to sell. But what’s more amazing was that people were buying it.

I knocked around for half an hour before stumbling across the gold mine, which was a stall of vintage buttons run by a buttony old lady.

It was magnificent. I was delirious with happiness. I could have bought the lot.

Instead, I got four sets of matching buttons (red glass shanks, orange flowers, huge mustard velvet sofa cushion buttons and a quartet of glazed grey ones) for the grand total of $13. If I’d bought them in a real shop it would have cost me at least double.

She had so many buttons I could have happily filled up the bathtub with them and splashed around in them like some sort of habadashery dolphin.

As I wandered away feeling quite pleased with myself, I picked up a length of scarlet cotton velvet, a vintage orange and white checked tablecloth, and some cream suiting with a light pink pinstripe - for the grand total of seven dollars.

Then I rounded the corner and found a lovely little soap stall, where I picked up ten individual scented soaps for ten dollars.

This was PERFECT! I’ve been wanting to make some little soapy gifty things for my stall for a while now - fabric envelopes for soaps, tied with ribbon at the top – I think they’d look bright and colourful and they’re a perfect size for presents. Plus they’re a good way to use up my offcuts, as I don’t like to chuck anything out wastefully.

And these soaps were beautifully fragranced – I got frangipani, rose, olive, lemongrass, aloe vera, mango, patchouli, sandalwood, ocean and orange. Not to mention MUCH cheaper than buying them retail.

Then I scooted home and whizzed up some fabric envelopes using some of my scraps. I think they look really cheerful.

And now I’ve got the perfect source for all my buttony, soapy requirements – fantastic! I’m in buttony, soapy heaven.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Loving my Friday (now that work's over)

Who loves Fridays?


You never know what you might find on a Friday. Check out this wonderful giveaway opportunity from Silly Gilly .... and you could be in with a chance to win!

And now it's time for me to become acquainted with a lovely cold glass of wine.

Avagoodweegend, everyone.

My One True Love's birthday

Yesterday was My One True Love's birthday. Happy birthday, My One True Love!

This is a photo of a present I made him. He's an obsessive cyclist, and this is a musette he will use to put all sorts of bits and pieces into as those skintight knicks don't have pockets (obviously).

It's made from my favourite Echino fabric in blue and green. I've hung it off Mick the Fish in our backyard. We called him Mick in honour of Mick Jagger, because of his big, pouty mouth.

It was an in-betweeny birthday (no five or zero at the end) so we didn't go overboard with celebrations. A few friends around for dinner, a bit of wine, lots of laughs.

But I *did* make him a birthday cake. And I had plenty of time to think, as I whisked and whisked the eggwhites, which took FOREVER - and I realised was the first ever birthday cake I've made for him in our nearly eight years together.

It's amazing, I know, that I could have loved this man for so long and yet never made him a birthday cake before. I actually don't know why I haven't. I suppose in past years we've gone out to dinner, or we've celebrated in other ways, or it just hadn't occurred to me to do so.

But my mother gave me Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess for Christmas, and I decided it was time. I toasted hazelnuts, I shelled them, I whisked interminably, I poured, then I melted, then I whisked and whisked and whisked again, then I baked, then I cooled, then I melted some more, then I whisked again - the ganache icing this time - then I whisked, then I whisked, then I rested my aching arm, then I whisked, then I poured, and finally I feverishly decorated, just as he came through the door.

Before long, My One True Love and I joined the Amateur Actress, her newly arrived friend LÁuteur and our mate Pommy John, for a splendid meal of pizza and wine followed by the aforementioned chocolate and hazelnut extravaganza.

The cake was a hit, if I do say so myself, and now I'm determined to do more birthday baking.

Thanks mum for the book! I think I'm going to make the gin and tonic jelly this weekend .....

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Out of the chrysalis, a butterfly

Last night I was introduced to a startling new concept by the Amateur Actress and her good friend Cheekbones Galore.

The Amateur Actress had told me about this once before, but I dismissed it as one of her many unique and endearing eccentricities. Something that was specific to her alone.

After all, how could something so radical be true?

Over roast mushroom and parmesan risotto – a brave choice of dish to make on a night topping 37 degrees, considering you have to stand in front of the stove and stir it for around 45 minutes, sweat dripping from your brow but hopefully not into the dinner – I was re-educated.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the concept of “work shoes”.

Work shoes, I was told as we swilled back our sauvignon blanc in an effort to dampen the effects of the heat, or at least make us oblivious to it, are the pair of shoes that a young lady buys for work purposes. Work purposes are usually office roles but sometimes include venturing out on site or client visits, so they must be comfortable.

They explained it carefully, using small words so that I might understand all the better. Fair enough, I hear you think, that makes sense.

But hold on a minute there. Let’s look carefully at that sentence. I draw your eyes specifically to the section which reads “the pair of shoes”.

That’s THE PAIR. Singular. (can a pair be singular?)

Two shoes. That is, one pair. The single pair of shoes. For work.

If I hadn’t had two live people sitting in front of me declaring that they both had a pair of “work shoes”, I would not have believed it. How is that possible?

There are five days in the week! One pair of shoes cannot be expected to perform under such a degree of astonishing pressure! It is good for neither shoe nor foot!

Cheekbones Galore went on to explain that she wished she was the sort of person who could do the full change of outfit every day etc, with shoes, but that she simply wasn’t that kind of person no matter how she tried. And so she has work shoes, which she wears each day.

It goes without saying that I am not that kind of person. Not even close.

I change shoes and handbag each day to match my outfit, because I’m obsessive about it. Colours, style, heels and toes … each has a particular role to play and I can’t imagine trying to match the same pair of shoes to different outfits in that way, I just can’t. It wouldn't work.

But as I pondered this intriguing, and yet disturbing new concept of work shoes, I wondered if there wasn’t something to it.

The simplicity of approach … the ease of assembly …. the many, many (many many many) dollars saved on shoes ….. the sense of thrift and recessionista appeal …

But then I shook myself out of it.

Without my clothes, what would I be?

Part of what I love each night is mentally preparing the look I’ll wear to work in the morning, from the outerwear through accessories and down to underwear.

I take comfort from composing the perfect outfit, hoping that it will see me through another day of “challenges”, using my clothes as armour to give me succour and protection, to steel me against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the inevitable dagger thrusts and political power dramas that play out around you when you’re a corporate slave and beholden to the wheel.

Clothes have the power to transform you, I believe. They can change your outlook, give you strength, make you faster, flirtier or smarter. Clothes are exquisite - enchanting. They're a costume and a disguise. Sometimes they project the image we wish we were, rather than what we necessarily are.

I learnt this when I was given my first dress as a child. It probably wasn’t my first ever dress, but it was so amazing that I felt like it was the first. It was certainly the first I’d ever noticed, or cared about.

It was a checked madras with a drop waist, in colours of apricot, rose, taupe, scarlet, butter and marigold. It had a little sash that tied at the side. It was so absolutely and unashamedly feminine, and it was like nothing I'd ever worn before.

It was magical. When I put it on, my head pushed through the folds of cloth and they brushed my cheek as the dress fell down across my body. I felt as though I was being reborn into it. It wasn't me that emerged, it was someone else - like a butterfly out of a chrysalis. This new person was more delicate, more graceful, more pretty and more poised. For the first time in my life, and I must have been eight or nine, I really felt as though I was a proper girl.

This dress came from St Vincent De Paul. It wasn’t new. But I became a new person inside of it, and I loved who she was.

And so began my love affair with clothes. We've argued from time to time, and we've made some bad decisions, that's true. But it's part and parcel of the evolution of our style and we try not to go to bed angry.

We're still together, after all this time.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Waistline, waistline, go a-way

You know what? I do believe that my dreaded waistline is improving marginally – which it damn well should be considering how much I’ve been killing myself in the gym for the past week.

Okay, I know it’s only been a week and that isn’t a lot of time to make an actual difference, but from my perspective even a tiny, tiny psychological difference is worth it.

Yesterday for example, I rode my bike to work along the creek trail, which I think is around 17 or 18 kilometres long. And yes, while I admit about 70% of that is either flat or actually downhill, so it’s not a massive workout by any stretch, but it does still take me a good hour to do it. And then I rode home from work as well of course, except I was tired after the morning's exertions so I took the more direct route which is about 7 kilometres.

All in all it was about an hour and a half of exercise – and that’s got to count for something, right? Judging by how hot and sweaty I got and how tired my legs were, it must have counted, surely. AND I managed not to undo my good efforts by eating any rubbish.

I tell you though, it’s my rear end that’s tender today – why can’t they make bicycle seats with big cushions on them? Now *that* would be a worthwhile invention.

Today my waistline is concealed by a forest green wrap-around dress that ties under the bosom (I love these wrap dresses, they are so forgiving). It has bell sleeves to the elbow and falls to just below my knees. I’ve matched an aubergine camisole underneath that just peeks out of the v-neck created by the dress.

And because I have an uncontrollable need to accessorise perfectly, I’m wearing round-toed, bottle-green t-bar stacked heels that I picked up in a tiny little shop in Tokyo, in a tiny little street in a tiny little suburb.

It was full of tiny little clothes and tiny little shoes and MASSIVE BIG HANDBAGS with padlocks and chains and buckles and other quasi-bondage accoutrements.

Not to mention the tiny little shop assistants who laughed at my hulking Western frame (I’m all of five feet tall, and not gigantically fat or anything – Christmas trifle aside, of course).


Monday, January 12, 2009

For the Sister Of My Heart

FINALLY and at LAST, I’ve finished the present I’ve been working on for the Sister Of My Heart, my oldest girlfriend in the world. That is, the girlfriend I’ve known the longest, and not the actual oldest girlfriend in the world, who is probably 93 and living in China.

It was her birthday late in December, and I’d meant to have this finished and posted off to her in time …. But alas, I failed miserably, and how bad does that make me feel?

Yes, I was busy in December with two markets a week, not to mention my ordinary day job, plus of course Christmas was hurtling up towards me at a rate of knots with all of its usual duties and chores (I wrapped presents on Christmas Eve, and My One True Love and I never did find the time this year to actually put up a tree)… but that’s no excuse and I felt terrible that I wasn’t able to complete this in time.

She turned 35, which is a birthday definitely worth celebrating - my theory is that once you’re 30, you really only need to make a song and dance about birthdays that end with a zero or a 5. This was one of those, and I didn’t get my present to her on time.

I’ve been metaphorically flogging myself about it ever since.

Christmas came and went, my parents came to stay and left again, the New Year arrived while I was sleeping, I started back at work, and still this project sat there on the table, bereft and unloved. It started to stare at me accusingly every time I went near it. Last week I swear I heard it mutter something rude.

…. so this weekend I sat down at the sewing machine, and I got it done at last.

It’s a messenger bag made from this excellent Montessori pattern. I love these patterns, they’re very easy to use and you usually don’t have to photocopy the pattern pieces – they include everything you need rather than printing some pieces over others. You just cut them out and away you go.

What do you think of the end result?

I used a plain indigo denim for the body of the bag, and an Amy Butler design (one apricot/orange piece and one lemon/lime piece) for the pockets on the front and back.

My scrap box spat out a piece of red and yellow check for the accents across the top of the pockets, and I found a big wooden button in my button jar. The lining is old indienne print that’s been kicking around in my stash for a while.

And those adorable babushkas on the front? They come from an out-of-print fabric which I absolutely love and cannot find another scrap of. If anyone knows where I can get some more, please tell me!

I cut them out individually and stitched them onto some coloured wool felt to give them some stability, then pinked the edges for a decorative finish.

I’m quite pleased with the end result, though of course it has the usual errors and odd-looking bits. Despite all my careful efforts, my work never really looks professional and properly finished, it doesn’t matter how hard I try. It’s just as well that handmade things are on trend at the moment, because that’s the only “look” I can do!

I can picture the Sister Of My Heart wearing this across her body as she trips to work in the morning through the lovely dawn mist, wearing her new black satin volleys (they sounds great, don't they - I think I want some). It’s roomy enough inside for her to fit in her work shoes as well as a packed lunch plus a book for the train trip. And if she buys a magazine at the station on the way home it will slot perfectly into the big lemon/lime pocket on the back.

I’m going to get this into the post today, along with a grovelling note that recognises my tardiness and begs her forgiveness. Sometimes I can really be a crap friend, especially when you consider that I love the Sister Of My Heart like she’s family.

Today I am wearing a brown and green abstract-printed jersey wrap dress, with a chocolate camisole underneath. Chocolate brown pumps to match.

But my heart feels black today, because I should have finished this in time for her birthday, and so I ought to be wearing black instead.

Friday, January 9, 2009


So I mentioned My One True Love has a real gift when it comes to giving presents, and that he found me this original Bally poster.

Here it is in situ on our sitting-room wall. If you look very very closely, possibly using a magnifying glass, you will see on the chair to the left of the picture there is a little grey Podae all curled up and staring straight into the camera from his blankie. He loves that blankie, though the Fatpuss often commandeers it, which is his right as Top Cat. On those occasions the Podder paces back and forth in front of the chair anxiously, before giving up and sitting on the other one. It has no blankie and he considers it a very poor substitute.

But back to the poster. It's known alternately as the Lotus, Lotus Flowers or Ballerina Shoe poster. It was designed in 1973/74 by Bernard Villemot. It’s reasonably rare and depicts two women - a redhead and a brunette - showing off their new yellow and blue ballerina flats.

Villemot was a French poster artist (1911 – 1989) who began designing for Bally in 1967. His posters really came to define the brand, using very strong abstract imagery and the female form. They’re very graphic pieces which grab your attention.

He won the Grand Prix a number of times for his Bally art and kept producing designs right up until his death in 1989.

The posters were produced in limited lots of 500 or 1000, and they were meant to be exhibited outdoors – on hoardings, dans le metro, on building walls etc - but many were also kept indoors and that’s the reason there is a modern collection of vintage posters.

Outdoors, the posters would have become faded and torn with time .. plastered over, graffitied, they’d have flapped in the wind and deteriorated in the elements. I imagine elegant and sleek Parisiennes hurrying past them in light rain, clutching their fur collars closer to their throats, scarves fluttering out behind them.

My immense thanks go to the wonderful people who had the foresight to keep a few out of the weather.

If you’re interested, this excellent art and journalism blog has a good page on some of the posters Bernard Villemot designed for Orangina, not to mention lots of other interesting stuff.

Behold, the Bally poster

Fantastic news, my Bally poster has been properly hung on the sitting-room wall!

And today I am wearing yellow shoes that match the colour of the shoes in the poster.

My One True Love presented me with this magnificent piece of art for Christmas. I know, I know – what did I do to deserve this?

My One True Love has a real gift (har! har!) when it comes to presents.

Because he’s such a good listener, he files away little snippets of information that come up in conversation, and then pulls them out at just the right moment.

This poster is the result of a conversation he and I had a few years ago after I returned from Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. I lived there for a while … though that’s a whole other story.

While I was there I was able to indulge my taste for lovely Bally shoes and handbags, because of course I was earning tax-free money and I had nothing to spend it on except myself. In Dubai at the time, the company you worked for would pay your rent (or a decent proportion of it) which left you free to save or spend as you desired.

Did I save, or spend?

Let’s just say my shoe collection increased exponentially.

There was a little Bally shop in the BurJuman shopping centre down the road from my Belshalat apartment building in Bur Dubai. An ordinary shopping centre? No way – it had a Mercedes dealership out the front of it.

But the Bally shop was staffed by whippet-thin Japanese girls, an Indian bloke, and two Indian women. And it was fantastic! I think it used to get all the shoes and bags and belts which weren’t sold in Europe the preceding season, and would flog them off relatively cheaply.

There was another Bally shop in the CityCentre, but it was a pain to get to through the Dubai traffic, which is notoriously awful.

During my time In Dubai I bought:

* Mustard-yellow high-heeled maryjanes with a narrow toe and ankle strap
* And the matching mustard-yellow handbag
* Mustard yellow kitten-heeled slip on mules
* Navy kitten-heeled slip on mules (same shoe, different colour)
* Olive green pumps with a mid-size heel
* And the matching olive green tote with handles and additional shoulder strap
* Sky-blue pumps with a mid-size heel. I remember writing to a girlfriend at the time: “who needs sky-blue shoes”? Answer: me, obviously!
* Black work shoes for My One True Love

I’ve been mildly obsessed with Bally ever since my time in Dubai, though these days it’s more through observation than participation. Because of course the pieces here are much more expensive (current season rather than European offcasts) and my dollars are sadly no longer tax-free. Oh and then of course there’s the mortgage ….

My One True Love surprised me in China though, in Xian where we stayed to see the Terracotta Warriors, by buying me a superb lilac quilted shoulderbag as an extravagant present. I didn’t even know China HAD Bally, and he managed to find the store.

He really is amazing.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

From Brooks Brothers to Burberry

Dear god, this waistline – when will it ever end?

Today I am wearing my pleated Brooks Brothers skirt, and it’s sitting more tightly than it used to. Damn the Christmas trifle!

The skirt is made from a light wool material, with a button-through front detail and four wide pleats either side of the middle seam. It’s knee-length and lined. I’m not sure what colour you’d call it … tobacco, perhaps?

I got it in Chicago last year, at the Brooks Brothers store on the Magic Mile, right around the corner from the Peninsula where I stayed. I love Brooks Brothers – they are having a great January sale right now with up to 60% off, you should have a look at the gorgeous little twinsets and jumpers.

I bought this skirt along with a raspberry-sorbet coloured cashmere twinset, and a powder blue cable cashmere twinset. They were a good buy at the time, and every time I put one on I get a compliment from someone.

It’s the colours as well as the quality – the raspberry is that perfect shade of fresh summer blush, and the powder blue is gentle. And they're both so soft and lovely to wear against your skin.

Both sets accord with my view that I should buy less clothes, but better value ones. (Okay, now is the time to admit that yesterday I ordered a navy blue twinset and a lovely rose-coloured cashmere turtleneck from the current sale. But I saved over 50%!)

I’m coordinating my outfit today with a Burberry shirt; the classic beige background with black and white tartan and a burgundy-coloured stripe running through it.

I love this shirt, it’s a knock-off I got in Beijing the year before last. Not one of those knock-offs that falls apart the minute you wash it however, this is a decent one - you should seee the stitching, it's incredibly precise - the collar sits perfectly and all the seams are overlocked properly.

And it cost me all of a whole ten dollars. Now that’s what I call good value!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

15 minutes of fame

I just had a very surreal experience on the street!

To wit: I eschewed the team lunch just now and headed out to get some noodles. Because after the many trifle incidents over Christmas, a team lunch involving pizza and wine is not what I need right now. Light Japanese noodles are much more what I need right now. In a small size.

But do you think any of my favourite places were open? No they were not. I found this out after I trekked all the way across town in the 30 degree heat only to find that Yen Sushi Noodle is closed until January 12.

Okay, I thought, Ume Sushi it is. So I trekked all the back across town, only to find that Ume Sushi is closed until January 19. Insert swear words here.

Okay, I thought. I'll go the newsagent and pick up a copy of that magazine I've been meaning to get for a friend.....

So I'm walking up the road, in the heat, when I spy a woman in a cute skirt - it was the skirt that caught my attention at first, it was mid-thigh length in a tulip cut and made out of some lovely blue patterned material - and she was loaded down with bags. January sales, I expect.

But lo and behold, when I look closer I notice that slung over her right shoulder is my red Vespa tote bag!!

Of course I don't mean "my" actual tote bag - I mean one of the bags that I sell at my monthly market stall. It's made out of lovely Echino material from Japan, I'll post a photo of the bag itself in the next day or so. It gave me such a rush to see it on a real live person. And it was jam-packed with stuff too, it was really doing some work for her.

I really had to resist the urge to rush up and tap her on the shoulder and proudly proclaim its provenance (see your bag? I made your bag! It was me!). I thought that might be a bit much though, not to mention a bit full of myself - viz conflicting feelings mentioned earlier.

But we got to the traffic lights at more or less the same time and I have to say, I couldn't help beaming a big smile at her, which she was probably either confused or startled by, coming out of nowhere as it did.

It was a great feeling. So I trotted off to the newsagent to get the magazine, feeling all shiny and pleased with myself.

Inside the newsagent a woman was flicking through the particular magazine that I wanted ... it's a wedding magazine. And as I paused and tsked and waited, mentally tapping my foot, she flicked through the pages and paused at the one where My One True Love and I and our wedding is featured on a page.

I think she felt my rosy glow, because she looked over her shoulder at me (and my rather big smile) and put the magazine back on the rack- perhaps she could feel my hot breath on the back of her neck - and so I was able to snatch it up as casually as possible before stampeding over to the cash register to pay for it before someone else did.

Two moments of fame within earshot of each other - I'm all aflush with feelings of happiness. And just think, if either of my noodle bars had been open, I'd never have known. I'd have had my lunch and wandered back to work in the heat, none the wiser.

Instead, I bought two sushi rolls and ate them, virtuously.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Ringing in the new year

The Amateur Actress asked me about my New Year Resolutions while we were on the train to work this morning.

I know many people don't like them, don't make them, and if they do make them, don't keep them.

I however, love love love New Year Resolutions. Although I inevitably tend to slip off the end of virtue and into resigned habituation somewhere around April, I do love the thought that you can start the year afresh, vowing to be better, smarter, stronger, brighter, just by waking up in January.

This year, I resolve the following:
  1. 2009 is the year of good style. No more daggy outfits thrown together. This year I will be poised and groomed. I will be true to my own style and buy only what suits me extraordinarily well, or that which I love and cannot live without. This may or may not save me money. For example, that stripy yellow Trelise Cooper dress I saw in a window in Carlton, I can have that although it doesn't technically suit me, because I love it. The style is great - sleeveless, fitted bodice, full skirt - but the colour is not so good. Yellow is the colour of death on me, it makes me look as though I have hepatitis, but I love it so I wear it (usually on my bottom half so that I don't frighten people at work). Perhaps this goes against the resolution to have good style, as the only diseases that ever seem to be in fashion are anorexia, but then I did say style and not fashion. And also, the dress has stripy blocks of white, red, navy and possibly purple, which help to mitigate all that yellow.

  2. In 2009 I will relearn the value of a treat. When I was little, fizzy drink was only for special occasions. Possibly because it used to make me throw up if I drank it after dark, so my parents made it a rule - but you get the gist. When I was younger, chocolate was only for special occasions. When I started working, if I wanted to buy something I had to save up for it. If it was out of my budget, it did not go on my credit card. Now though, I earn a reasonable wage and if I want something, I can usually buy it. Oh, not the strand of baroque pearls I've always fancied of course, but certainly a dress, or cute shoes, or a bottle of wine, or dinner at a nice restaurant, and so on. And all of this diminishes the value of the treat. Christmas isn't so special anymore. Birthdays can pale. I want to experience the excitement and anticipation of special events without needing to spend ever more money to get the thrill. And this leads me to resolution number 3:

  3. In 2009 I will spend less money. I have plenty of stuff. I don't need more "stuff". As my good friend Neil once said when we were in Damascus in Syria and I was desperate to go back to get the matching silver wedding cup to the one I purchased the day before: it won't make you happy. And he was right. I think part of my quest to quietening the unease inside me, or finding a centre of calm, or discovering what it is that's worrying me, is that I need to divest myself of "stuff". And that includes unnecessary and unhealthy habits as well as unnecessary things. It's not going super well so far, although that Trelise Cooper dress was on sale and therefore I saved myself around $200. It's a weak justification, I know.

I have a couple of other resolutions - eat less, exercise more, be nicer to people, don't be as competitive at work - but these are less "resolutions" than they are "year-round maxims I wish I could live by".

So let's see how things go in 2009. I'll keep you posted.

(Today I am wearing another wrap-around dress - all the better to hide the trifle I ate at Christmas - in a stretchy black material patterned with red, orange, blue and cream flowers. It's nicer in person than it might sound. I have camel-coloured flats on, with a red trim bow highlight and a black patent toe section.)

Introducing the Fatpuss

Today I am wearing a black and blue wraparound dress that ties at the waist. It has bracelet sleeves. I have put a black camisole underneath, and matched with black wedges and tiny black enamel earrings.

Yesterday evening, Fatpuss sat at the front door and scowled heavily, while Podae pranced about and the Grimth just purred, as he always does.

Fatpuss is an absolutely massive cat. He's a British Shorthair, which means he's solid and stocky, with stumpy little legs, a short fat tail, and a big round head. He's completely black, from the top of his tiny ears to the tip of his furry tail. Great golden eyes survey the world, they're the only touch of colour on him except for three white hairs on his left flank.

He's also very fat - hence the name.

He did have a real name once, but all he ever heard us say was Fatpuss (what a fat puss; where's the fat puss; come here you fat puss; who's a big fatty fat puss) and now it's all he'll answer to.

Although we do also call him Gigantor.

Our housemate, the Amateur Actress, calls him Fatticus Pussiatus - a Latin interpretation, you could say. Or Harry Potter-esque? He's so imperious and majestic that it actually suits him very well.

But mostly it's just Fatpuss. We even had to change the name on his vet file and his collar tag, because the nurses used to call him by his real name and he'd just sit there stolidly, ignoring them.

Mind you, he's good at ignoring people. That's part of his charm. As a British Shorthair he has a character which can best be described as "aloof". Which is to say, he hardly responds to anything. Fatpuss exists in his own world, only surfacing from his deep internal contemplation long enough to demand affection (rarely) or food (a great deal more often).

Anyway, he's cross with us because yesterday My One True Love cleaned and oiled our front and back decks.

It means the deck is oily until the coating soaks in. Which means Fatpuss can't cross the deck to the back door to be let in, which is his favourite route, because he doesn't want to get oil on his paws. He walked on it accidentally yesterday, and it wasn't until three-quarters of the way across that it penetrated his inscrutable demeanour that something wasn't quite right.

You should have seen him, he actually put the brakes on and tried to go into reverse, before discovering that option still had him on the oily surface. So he tippy-toed quickly across to the threshold of the back door and yowled to be let in: Oh my god! there is SOMETHING ON THE DECK! my paws feel all STRANGE! I can't be-LIEVE you would let this happen to me!

If only he had gone around the side and used the cat flap, we wouldn't be in this position. But he prefers to use the human doors, because they offer the best access to his home comforts, and also means he has a shorter distance to walk from garden to sofa.

Fatpuss is not a lover of exercise, as you no doubt will have gathered from his name. He'd much rather sit patiently at the back door than walk around the side and let himself in through the cat flap in the laundry. Of course, this could be because the cat flap is getting to be a bit of a squeeze these days ... but it's also because he's inherently lazy.

He's so lazy in fact, that when he wants to go in or out the front door, he just sits there and stares at it - willing it to open through the sheer power of his mind. He won't miaow to let us know he's there, he just stares intently at the frame of the door and waits for one of us to pick up the pulsing electromagnetic waves he's sending us.

And sadly, he's now trained us very effectively to check and see if the Fat One needs to go in or out, and more often than not we see him there, and lo and behold, Fatpuss gets door service.


Hello, and welcome to my world



If there's anybody out there - just nod if you can hear me.....

Today is the first day of my new life. I'm seeking something, though I'm not sure what, and I'm hoping this blog will help me find it.

Mind you, I'm not quite sure how writing about my life on the interweb will lead me to blinding clarity, but then I've always been the kind of person who works things out through the written word rather than the spoken one.

I've reached a crossroads, you see. If you looked at me from the outside you would see a reasonably happy, reasonably successful, and reasonably satisfied person. But that doesn't seem to be enough anymore.

It's been creeping up slowly, I think.

2008 was a pretty tough year for various reasons. I had a nasty accident at the beginning of the year. A friendship ruptured badly. I had difficulties at work. And the financial crisis that has engulfed us all certainly engulfed me with it.

There was only a single shining beacon in 2008 that sustained me, and that was my marriage to My One True Love. But more about that later.

So that - more or less - was 2008. I get that it was hard, and thank god it's behind me now. At the drinks we had here at work in the week before Christmas, I blurted a toast to "the end of 2008" and my boss's boss shot me a dirty look. You're not meant to say things like that at work ... I should have toasted the end to the challenges of 2008, or the unknown challenges yet to come in 2009, the endless, endless, challenges ...

But I digress, because work is the least of my worries. In actual fact I have a splendid job - it's intellectually nourishing, the work sustains me, I have excellent colleagues, and despite my occasional whining, I enjoy it for the most part.

It's the ennui I don't understand.

The faint, shifting sensation, growing ever stronger, that there must be more to life than this. That deep down, I'm unhappy, and I don't know why.

I worry that I'm entering the mid-life crisis phase, except why would I be entering that just as all the jigsaw puzzle pieces of my world are slotting into place, and the picture that's being revealed looks pretty rosy?

I suppose essentially, that's the question. And that's why I'm here.

Fear not though gentle reader, it won't be all doom and gloom. I do in fact have a life outside the inside of my own head, and it primarily involves my lovely husband, my three cute cats, and my sewing. I'm a crap seamstress, but I have enthusiasm at least. I live a life split between domesticity, the professional sphere, and my creative outlets.

So I promise to try to tell you amusing stories. I will post pictures of my latest dodgy sewing creations. You will hear tales of the three furry babies (and I confess this may well be the most interesting part of my blog).

Often I'll tell you what I'm wearing, as my clothes act as a barometer of my mood. Beware of me when I'm in black.

Today however, I'm wearing a chocolate brown dress with empire-line bodice and button-through placket. It has a full skirt (all the better to hide the effects of the trifle I've been scoffing since Christmas) that falls to mid-calf. I have a wide black grosgrain ribbon tied at the empire line and it highlights the black ballet flats I've got on as well as the long black resin bobble necklace I've accessorised with. I have my serious glasses on - after all, it is the first day back at work.

Deep breath, then.

Here goes.