Good Old Toys

I adore old-fashioned toys. Just like other vintage and antique goodies they have character and charm that is so enticing. And I can’t help but contemplate the children who played with them in another era, before computer games and perhaps television existed. It is this history too, that draws me in. And of course, preloved toys are also green toys, so that’s another reason to smile.

One of the joys of shopping for these oldies is that I’m frequently delighted by my discoveries. I might come across toys I’ve never seen or heard of…or some that I recall from my own childhood or from old family photos. The excitement can’t possibly be matched with a visit to a modern toy super store (unless we’re talking about my daughter; the only time she entered one of these toy shops my husband and I couldn’t extract her without bribery…a tactic I normally avoid).

My son turned one recently so I was given the perfect excuse for some olden-day toy shopping (via my not so olden computer). I bought these sweet wooden vintage table skittles from Little Flea Vintage, one of my favourite etsy stores.  They look gorgeous with their bright colours, sitting up on my son’s chest of drawers. I think so anyway.

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Whether or not Master J agrees I don’t know, but he loves to play with his new…ahem…old toy. Which so far involves banging two skittles together (they double as claves), banging a skittle on another object or banging me with a skittle. But that’s OK.  I suspect these skittles have been subjected to this kind of treatment before.  They are toys that have stood the tests of time and juvenile destruction, so I’m sure they’ll be alright.

Some day soon my son will be lining the said skittles up and knocking them down with the ball (which is too small to safely offer him at present). And if Master J has inherited the ‘lover of old things’ gene, he will treasure this gift for years to come, until passing it on to its next little owner.

P.S. My mum bought Master J the cute crocheted horse by Anne-Claire Petit from a fabulous shop called Vintage Stash.

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Upcycling: Comfy Pet Bed

Do you have a pet in need of a comfy bed?  If you have an indoor cat like I do, no doubt its not short on beds.  But if you want to provide a special place for your pet to snuggle on its own…or just another option…take a look at these fabulous pet beds from Molly Mutt, a US based company.

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The Molly Mutt Dog Bed Duvets, which come in a range of sizes and shapes, consist of a removable and washable cover as well as a ‘stuff sack’ which is designed to be filled with old clothes and bedding that are no longer usable.  Think old socks, undies, holey shirts and tracksuit pants!  What a fabulous idea for keeping these items out of landfill…and providing your best fur friend with a luxury bed of its own.

The openable sack and removable cover also allow for regular cleaning, airing and sunning (even the clothes within can be washed), which not only keeps your pet clean, but is also an important part of environmental flea control.

When I first discovered these I had one of those ‘why hadn’t I thought of that?’ moments. Then I had a ‘how can I do this in an even more eco-friendly way?’ moment.  The Molly Mutt beds are fabulous and a perfect option if you don’t have time for DIY (you can buy them in Australia from here and here) but they are transported all the way from the US, and they’re not made of eco-friendly materials.

So I came up with my own version.  Here it is:

Find an old cushion cover that’s no longer fit for display (mine was covered in horrible brown stains that just wouldn’t vanish).  If you have a dog who likes to rearrange its bed, choose a cover with a secure closure such as a zipper or buttons.  Use the cushion cover as the ‘stuff sack’ by filling it with old clothes or bedding.  Since my pet bed was a small size, I found it worked best to use small items of clothing (underwear and socks) or cut up larger items to fit in and form a nicely shaped cushion.

Old stained cushion cover

Make a basic pet bed cover with preloved fabric.  For my cat bed I used an old baby blanket made out of a soft, thick flannelette.  Cut out a square of fabric that’s slightly larger than the old cushion cover that you’re using – you need to include the seam allowance (1-1.5cm for each side) as well as a bit extra so the filled cushion cover fits inside the pet bed cover (about 0.5-1cm).

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Then, cut out two rectangular pieces of fabric that have their length the same as the square’s side, but the width about 2/3 the side of the square.  Hem one side of each rectangle along the length (this will become the part that opens)…or use an old blanket or similar that already has a finished edge.

Cushion cover instructions

Place the square of fabric right side up, and fit the two rectangular pieces, right side down, onto the square so that they overlap.

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Cushion cover instructionsThen simply sew around the edges of the square (with your 1-1.5cm seam allowance).  For durability, double-stitch the corners and the fabric-overlap on either side of the opening.  Zig-zag or overlock the seam edges if the fabric is prone to fraying (the baby blanket was felt-like so it didn’t fray when cut).  Clip the corners…turn right side out…and you’ve made your cover.  Very quick and easy!

Cushion cover instructions

The same principles can be used for different sized beds, and if you don’t have a suitable old cushion cover for the sack, try an old pillow protector or pillow slip instead (the square European style would be ideal).  Or make one yourself in the same way as the bed cover.

Obi on cat bed

Of course, Obi still makes a bed out of everyone else’s bed, the space underneath everyone else’s bed, the lounge, the cosy chair in the study, the pouffe, the change table, the jute bag that holds my fabric scraps, and even the floor.  But he does seem extra happy when he’s curled up on his special cat bed that I custom-made with my old socks and underwear. Perhaps he knows he’s doing his bit for the environment.

P.S. This is not a paid advertisement (I wish)…I just wanted to share a clever idea!

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Lovely New Zealand

Hi again!  I’ve had a little break.  A lovely holiday in gorgeous New Zealand, with husband, my mum and the kids!  We spent a couple of weeks traversing the North Island and experiencing some delightful parts of this breath-taking place.  The last time I visited New Zealand was on my honeymoon.  With the addition of two young children this was quite a different trip – riding in a slow, bumpy, motorhome…travelling only a couple of hours each day interspersed with nappy changes, breastfeeding, cleaning mess…ensuring everyone was donned with sunscreen, hat, socks, shoes and clean undies before exiting the motorhome (myself included)…general entertaining of kids and keeping the peace.  Yes…quite different.  I think I returned far more exhausted than on my honeymoon, despite the fact that I covered more ground and scaled more heights during the latter.

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But we had an amazing trip – well worth the effort.  Just like pushing your body to its limits to reach the mountain summit and be rewarded by an otherwise unobtainable view.  We did literally push our bodies to their full capacity of exertion too.  Not that we tackled any super treks…but each time we did a walk we had to carry the kids most of the way.  Luckily my 12kg baby was in a sling.  Our 16kg preschooler was not!  And she insisted on being carried quite a bit of the time….mostly by Daddy.  But when baby was asleep and having a free ride with Daddy one time guess who carried Miss L for an hour of ups and downs, twists and turns, through a New Zealand forest?!

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I’m not complaining though.  This was a perfect opportunity to teach our kids about respecting nature and a beautiful foreign land whilst experiencing it ourselves.  Here are some of the special places that we visited (all in the North Island):

Driving Creek Railway, Coramandel Town

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View from the railway lookout

Cathedral Cove, The Coramandels

Gemstone Bay, Cathedral Cove Walk

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Maungatautari Ecological Island, Waipa

Maungatautari Ecological Island - tree ferns

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Hobbiton, Mattamatta (I know …it’s not exactly wilderness…but a must see for LOTR/Hobbit fans and a living gallery of a wonderful way of life…with real and beautiful productive gardens)!

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Hobbiton - Bilbo's tree on horizon

Karangahake Gorge

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Te Puia, Rotorua

Pohutu Geyser

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You might notice in a few of the photos that the countryside is looking quite dry.  That’s because New Zealand’s north island is currently experiencing a severe drought – its worst in decades apparently.  You need to look at the bits of the pic’s that have no trees and mostly grass (and not the irrigated part of the Hobbiton photos)!  Compare the lush green of the Hobbiton garden to the non-Hobbiton dry paddocks in the background.  The weather was also unusually warm, which is typical since I’d packed loads of cold-weather clothes – thermals, beanies, scarves, woollen socks, Goretex jackets – all of which we had no use for!  Coupled with the absence of rain (this is New Zealand we’re talking) it was a little disconcerting.  Coupled with the fact that we’d just left Australia in pouring rain (with flooding occurring all over the place yet again) wearing winter clothes which were promptly removed on arrival in Aukland…it was rather worrying.

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Anyway, fortunately New Zealand was still beautiful with shades of brown blanketing the countryside and the lack of rain made sight-seeing with kids much easier.   Although very tired, I came home feeling mentally refreshed.

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I get a quiet thrill from immersing myself in nature, especially when it’s as amazing as the kiwi country.  And it reminds me of what we have to lose if we as a species take more than what we were allocated in the first place.  It reminds me that nature is incredibly powerful and will carry on, without humans.  It reminds me that if we want nature to continue to provide for us we need to give it some credit for its role in our world.

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Crafting Green

I love doing all sorts of craft.  Here are some ideas on greening up your crafting:

Use vintage fabrics or offcuts – charity shops are an excellent source of remnant fabrics and you’ll often find gorgeous vintage pieces, at very low prices.  There are some fabulous vintage fabric sellers online too…check out one of my favourites here.  Keep the tiny scraps of fabric left-over from your projects – cut up as you go and store in a bag/container to be used as stuffing.

Fabrics: offcuts, vintage and up cycled

Upcycle!  Transform worn-out, stained or torn pieces into something new – just avoid the areas of the item that have these flaws.  Old tablecloths, pillow cases, tea towels, woollen blankets, scarves, jumpers (woollen and polarfleece), jeans, shirts, and baby blankets have all found new life in my hands.  Your own cupboards will no doubt be a source of such fabrics, but charity stores again are a useful place to look.

Build up a collection of sewing bits and pieces by sourcing second-hand and vintage supplies, again from charity stores and online (ebay and Etsy are excellent).  These may have been used previously – eg, tools, buttons, remnant embroidery threads – or be old but unused and possibly still in original packaging – zippers, thread, needles, press studs, bias binding, etc!  I get excited when I scour the sewing/crafting section of charity stores…the best part is that everything is a discovery…you just don’t know what you might find!

Sewing supplies

No need to buy brand spanking new knitting needles and crochet hooks, either!  I’ve found all of mine on ebay and the local Vinnie’s and Salvo’s stores.  Ditto for yarn.  I try to tailor my projects to using what I have – patchwork squares, granny squares, softies and small items all lend themselves to using up scraps of yarn.

Buttons, knitting needles, crochet hooks

When second-hand or vintage isn’t available, choose supplies that are made of eco-friendly materials – organic/biodynamic cotton and wool, bamboo, hemp, pure wool felt and recycled PET felt.  These are all available through online sellers.

Become an organised hoarder!  Before throwing away an item ask yourself whether it could be used for craft.  I store broken crockery in labelled containers waiting for the mosaic masterpiece I’m going to create one day!  Although corks are recyclable, they are a versatile addition to your craft supplies – check out this idea for a cute home-made stamp.  Bits and pieces such as beads, broken jewellery, buckles, lengths of ribbon, and magnets all lend themselves to craft.

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If you are into paper crafts, collect pretty or interesting papers, card and the aforementioned bits and pieces – invitations, postage stamps, playing cards, greeting cards, board game pieces, and envelopes are fabulous materials for card making, scrapbooking and other paper projects.  This Etsy site has an amazing array of such supplies available for purchase (all vintage/second-hand).

English: Sheet of US Postage stamps, 1940 issu...

The key to not getting into mess and clutter by hanging on to all this stuff is to arrange items into categories (buttons, ribbons, stamps, corks, papers, fabrics, etc) and store them where they can be easily located.  And if you need inspiration or ideas on what to do with anything from an old belt buckle to a pair of holy denim jeans…I give you one word only…Pinterest!

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An Australian first – Free soft plastic recycling at Coles!

I just wanted to share this fabulous news:

An Australian first – Free soft plastic recycling at Coles – RNY News.

This kind of thing gets me very excited!

I hate plastic…that it is produced from petrochemicals…that it doesn’t biodegrade completely in a reasonable time…that it is responsible for the deaths of millions of unsuspecting animals in the ocean and on land.   I would rather we didn’t have plastic in the first place, but in the world I know, it is hard to avoid.  If we have options for recycling plastic, it helps keep it out of our oceans and wilderness areas, and reduces the need to produce more from scratch.

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Plastic Ocean (Photo credit: Kevin Krejci)

Well done to the companies involved in this initiative!  If you read the link you will notice the drop-off service is currently only available at selected Coles supermarkets, however, the recycling company (Replas) is also accepting soft plastics in the mail.  I’m thinking plastic bags are very light and very squashable, so you could fit lots and lots in a post bag to send to Coolaroo, Victoria.

Trader Joes overpackaged food

Food in plastic!  Note, it’s the bag-type plastic we’re talking here; the plastic containers are mostly already recyclable.

Tomorrow I shall choose a suitably sized parcel bag from my stash of used ones, address it so it’s ready to pop in the post, and start filling it with plastics that I would otherwise be forced to throw in the bin (and feel very uncomfortable doing so).    Although I will still endeavour to minimise my purchases of plastic-clad food, I’ll feel much better knowing that this disposable packaging of mine will be transformed into non-disposable, long-lasting outdoor furniture and signage, for schools and community groups.

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Playing in the Kitchen

Miss L was lucky enough to be given her cousins’ lovely timber play kitchen a couple of years ago.  She spends hours in it – preparing picnic food, supper for her toys, whipping up cakes and batches of biscuits, making tea…not much dish washing goes on though.  Hmmm…I might have to encourage that a little.

The kitchen is stocked with a few hand-me-down items (little metal pots, fruit and vegies, teapot), but mostly it contains old real kitchenware and items otherwise destined for landfill or recycling.  Shabby or slightly broken cooking utensils and equipment that no longer has a place in my kitchen, often end up in Lucy’s – a perspex jug that cracked when it fell onto the tile floor (repaired with superglue), worn plastic mixing bowls, a  ladel and whisk, a wooden chopping board, and even old tea towels.

I find it quite silly that you can actually buy pretend packages and food containers for children’s play.  Once empty, the real ones make far superior toys for the play kitchen because they are the real thing – you can’t get any more authentic!  Plus by reusing these containers we are doing something positive for the environment and teaching our children about reducing waste.

I especially like to use containers that aren’t recyclable, since if they’re not used for something else after the food, their next destination is the bin (I try not to buy food in non-recyclable packaging though).  The containers/packaging might serve a different purpose in the pretend kitchen – think outside the square.  Plastic trays become oven trays, plastic trays with little depressions for cakes/muffins become muffin trays.

Also, containers that hold some basic cooking staples (especially for baking) and can be easily recognised by kids are a must.  Salt and pepper (in the plastic shakers), baking powder, cream of tartar, vanilla, egg cartons, butter/margarine containers all help to make the kids’ kitchen more authentic.

The tea set is a lovely, very sturdy one made of 100% recycled plastic milk cartons.  It would be very simple and inexpensive to make up a tea set from charity shop finds – espresso cups and saucers are ideal as they’re small, and likewise there are plenty of small size teapots around.  If the kids are too young to handle crockery without breakages, then choose stainless steel or plastic (if you can find it).  Or just buy a second hand play tea set…but the real stuff is very cool!

Miss L also has a gorgeous vintage Japanese tea set that was passed on to her by a special Great Great Aunty who had kept it since she was six-years-old.  That’s packed away for another year or two!

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Upcycling: Cute Picture Frame Magnets

Miss L and I did some crafting together today.  When I explained what I had in mind she responded, ‘No!  I want to do drawing with my sparkly pens!’, in typical preschooler defiance.  She did do drawing, and it was beautiful.  But she was intrigued by what I was creating and quickly changed projects.

So we made some cute little photo/picture frame magnets for the fridge, using the top rims of tin cans and old/unwanted advertising magnets.  Together.  We had fun!  Here’s what we did.

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Find a tin can with a ring-pull lid.  Open it (using the ring-pull), remove lid and use whatever’s inside!  Wash and dry can.  Then use a can opener to go around the top of the already opened can to remove the rim.  One of the more modern types of can openers (like that pictured) will do the job.

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You will be left with a useful tin (minus the sharp bit on the inside) to house all sorts of goodies… as well as an interesting tin ring.  (It was the need to get rid of the sharp edge that’s left at the top of a ring-pull can after opening, that led me to discover this upcycling-worthy item.)

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Can you see that this otherwise piece of rubbish (well, actually, recycling!) is a perfect little frame?  (Click on the photo above to see the pattern of close lines on the rim).  So, find a sweet picture, a photo of a loved one or your child’s artwork.  Use the tin frame like a viewfinder to choose the best part of the picture then trace around the outside of the frame there.  Cut out your circle neatly.

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Then glue the frame onto the picture using PVC glue (I just happened to have it) or something else that will glue metal to paper.  It’s easiest to apply the glue to the frame rather than the picture.  And remember: with glue, less is more!  Alternatively, cut your picture to fit inside the frame, glue the wrong-side edge to the front of the inside rim, then glue a piece of card (re-use an old card, cereal box, etc) on to back of the picture and frame.  This produces a sturdier result, but I prefer the neater look with the picture behind the frame (you don’t need to cut quite as neatly, either)!

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You might want to leave the glue to dry a bit before the next step, which is glueing on the magnet.  Find a heavyish object to place on top – I used another tin can (with contents).  For the magnet I cut a square piece  from an old advertising magnet (I could have done a circle but I find it easier to cut square shapes).  I have a stash of these just through keeping old ones that I’ve acquired over the years.  I’m not a fan of advertising magnets – they’re not necessary, not recyclable (though at least re-usable) and create extra landfill.  But being on the receiving end of them has been unavoidable at times.  Anyway, these magnets make a nice flat backing surface for the picture, and you don’t have to go out and buy more stuff.

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Apply a thin layer of glue to the magnet (printed side), then place onto the back of the picture.

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Leave to dry, picture side up, with a heavy object on top.

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Your lovely framed picture magnet is complete.  They look much nicer on the fridge than business names and phone numbers (and real estate calendars)!  You could also make little doll house picture frames using the same method, minus the magnet.  Or cut out pic’s and sit them inside jar lids and glue a magnet on the back…but I like the look of the pattern on the tin rim.

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Dried Fruit

I purchased a second-hand food dehydrator on ebay a couple of years ago, after I’d had a glut of tomatoes and had tried my hand at drying them in the oven.  The tomato dehydrating in the oven was not the best idea as it was the middle of summer (which is when we tend to have gluts of tomatoes) and I was required to leave the oven slightly ajar to allow moisture to escape, plus I could only do a small number at a time, having only two racks in the oven.  The oven also uses a fair bit of power…though we were on solar at least.  I did try the drying outdoors in the sun method…but our climate was way too humid for that…so there wasn’t much drying going on.

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Since buying the food dehydrator I actually haven’t tried tomatoes in it!  Well, I haven’t had a glut of them again, for a number of reasons…but I’m looking forward to it happening again soon…maybe next season…just so I can pop them in the dehydrator. I have, however, tried some other fruits – mostly kiwifruit (scrumptious), banana (much healthier than those banana ‘chips’, which frequently contain palm oil), and orange and orange peel (a handy way to preserve orange peel for all kinds of uses – in cooking or around the home).  Kiwifruit has been a favourite amongst our household…in fact today I discovered my daughter had consumed half a jar full (that’s quite a lot of kiwifruit) while I was distracted on the phone!

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Apart from being a way of storing home-grown produce, I love the fact that we can have preserved food in the cupboard without having bought it in some kind of plastic packaging.  Even if you’re not growing your own produce, you can still  make dried fruit inexpensively and minus the plastic.  Once dehydrated, I store the fruit in a clean dry jar in the pantry or fridge.

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Of course food dehydrating is not limited to fruit.  You can also do vegetables, herbs (for cooking or tea) and spices (make your own garlic, ginger or turmeric powder if you’re growing them in the garden), flowers, meat and more!

P.S. I hope you don’t mind all the kiwifruit pic’s!  I just love how they look when they’re sliced. 🙂

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Upcycling: Pretty Fabric Bangles

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I made these cute fabric-covered bangles for my little girl the other day.  I’d been meaning to make some since I saw a lovely bunch of them at the local handmade markets.  Rather than buying new materials for craft projects, I like to up-cycle old stuff that’s destined for the bin.  I’d already bought a couple of preloved hard plastic bangles complete with bright pink and bright blue animal prints from a charity store – fabric-covering the solution to these being fashionable again.  They will have to be covered another time because Miss L found some used glow sticks on our recent camping trip and insisted on bringing them home…Mummy took them aside when Miss L was sleeping and turned them into something much prettier.  Miss L agreed they were lovely with the nice fabric.

Covering the bangles with fabric is a very quick and simple process.  Simply cut a length of fabric (I used a vintage fabric remnants from a charity store) around 25mm wide and up to a metre long – I used 80cm lengths for these bangles as they are small.  Fold in one side of the strip to the centre, running along it’s entire length and ironing in place as you go.  Do the same with the other side, so that you end up with a long length of fabric with neat folded edges on either side.  Then start wrapping!

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I found that I didn’t need to glue the fabric in place at the start, but if you find it’s wanting to slip away then feel free to add a small dab of glue to secure the fabric to the bangle.  You need to be quite firm with the wrapping, keeping a hold on the free fabric strip as you go.

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Keep wrapping until the bangle’s covered and you reach the end of the strip.  Then simply glue the end in place (I used PVA)  inconspicuously on the inner side of the bangle.

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You can whip up…or wrap up…a bundle of these in no time.  They ‘d make great gifts for little girls…or big girls if you use regular size bangles.

Do you have some old, ugly bangles from the 80’s or 90’s you could cover?  Or are you wondering what you could do with some expired glow sticks that your kids have acquired?  Then give bangle-covering a go!

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Summer Holiday

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My family of four spent a week camping on the shores of Myall Lake a couple of weeks ago. What a special and ideal place to holiday with young kids! We had a prime camping spot just metres from a little lakeside beach (with white sand!!) and we were welcomed within minutes of arriving by some friendly resident wildlife. It was not surprising that the animals were so keen to make our acquaintance…after we ate our first meal! We quickly became very familiar with several cheeky black ducks, a large nonchalant goanna, some noisy noisy miners and the tamest blue-faced honeyeaters I’ve ever encountered.

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The lake was a perfect swimming spot for young kids, being only waist high, very calm and brackish (so not inclined to sting and clear the sinuses like the salt water at the beach, but also not inclined to be smelly and murky, like some freshwater lakes) and no nasties like sharks (apparently…though unless the water is only ankle high and miles upstream from the ocean I always imagine there might be that one adventurous shark waiting to catch me unawares). My four-year-old daughter increased her swimming confidence dramatically over one week because of no fear and basically not getting out of the water much at all. Which worked well with those recent hot days that the whole of Australia experienced.

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I always enjoy a good camping trip. It awakens some very fond childhood memories. It reminds me that there are certain things we have or do in life that really aren’t that important…and others that are super important and special (like just hanging out with my family). It helps me connect with nature and the outdoors. And it gives me a chance to slacken off a bit with housework…though I was slightly uncomfortable with my husband’s decision that feet didn’t require de-sanding before entering the annexe, and consequently found myself sweeping it out several times a day.

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We will definitely be returning to this camping spot…for more swimming, kayaking, sailing, sandcastle constructing, eating yummy camp food, sitting back watching nature, making new friends, and hopefully reuniting with the friends (animals included) we made this summer.

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Do you like to go camping? Or do you loathe it?! Where is your fave camping spot? Maybe you haven’t been since you were a kid. I’d love to hear your camping stories.

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January 21, 2013 · 1:13 am