Burgers and Beers Party

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Last weekend we threw Ryan a laid back ‘Burgers and Beers’ party for his 30th. If I was going to get away with doing a theme for him, it had to be blokey enough. So I set up a DIY burger buffet that turned out to be a hit. Guests had a choice of traditional burger buns, ciabatta or sourdough rolls, along with Mexican beef patty’s, Italian chicken patty’s, and for the less adventurous: plain old beef. To customise their burgers I had a wide range of toppings and sauces to choose from. And because man does not live by burgers alone, I served up a large basket of chips purchased from the local Fish and Chips shop, as well as a couple of salads.

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Beers were a given, but, to cater for the designated drivers and the underaged, we also had non-alcoholic refreshments. Don’t you just love the apple slices in the water? It makes for a nice change from lemon…

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To continue with the DIY theme, I set up a S’mores bar for dessert. (No guests of mine are ever going to walk away without a sugar coma – no siree bob). With four types of biscuits and chocolate flavours to choose from, there were so many possible combinations. Especially when you add the choice of peanut butter, Nutella, caramel or lemon curd! (My favourite combination: Marie biscuits, white chocolate, white marshmallow and lemon curd. I called it, ahem, *sultry voice* The Lemon Meringue). I also made sure to place a framed list of suggestions on the table in case the guests were too tipsy to figure it out on their own. Because, you know, it happens…

Making the fire pit was a lot of fun. I had my dad knock together a long, wooden box that I filled with tins of chafing fuel and river pebbles. It worked so well, looked really cool, and the fuel lasted for a couple of hours.

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As sunset gave way to stars, the evening rounded off with a donut tower and late night laughter beneath strings of white fairy lights. Perfection!

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A Little Cupcake Porn

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Monday was Ryan’s 30th birthday and, as I do every year, I whipped up a very large batch of cupcakes for him to take to work and share. 72 of them to be exact. And this isn’t counting all the other times throughout the year that I ship Ryan off with a box or two. His co-workers have come to know my cupcakes so well (complete with moaning and drooling) that it has now become a part of my identity. Every time I meet one of Ryan’s co-workers for the first time I’m greeted with, “Oh yeah, Cupcake Lady!”

So this week I made three of Ryan’s favourite flavours – chocolate, honeycomb and cherry ripe – and decided to have some fun photographing them. Who doesn’t love a little cupcake porn?

 

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In the mood for cupcakes yet?

 

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The Boisterous Princess

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The title pretty much sums up my Alina. The boisterous princess. She loves all things girly – jewellery, shoes, tiaras and clothes – and can hold her own in a stick-sword or nerf gun fight. She loves cuddling her puppy and tackling her dad. She fits in well with the boys. She’s loud and never stops talking. She loves books and music, and rearranging her room. She’s not afraid to get her crazy on, or to dance with her whole heart in public. She loves to sing and demands for people to listen as she does. She assures us she will become a rock star, and her ability to belt out some serious notes leaves us no room for doubt. She’s sweet and caring, wild and stubborn. Bossy, artistic, infuriating and hilarious.

Which is why I thought a photo shoot with gemstones and gumleaves would be perfect for her – a beautiful mix of opposites.

Review – Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

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I don’t think I’ve ever connected with a novel on a personal level the way I have with Since You’ve Been Gone. It is a story that is resounding with me to the point that I’m writing this post the moment I closed the book. It has left me feeling challenged and nostalgic and inspired. It has left me wanting more out of life and yearning to be brave – even if it’s in a small way. “I don’t think you have to do something so big to be brave. And it’s the little things that are harder anyway.

Since You’ve Been Gone is about a girl called Emily who’s best friend mysteriously disappears from town and leaves behind nothing but an intimidating to-do list for wallflower Emily to tick off. Things like kiss a stranger, steal something, and go skinny dipping. Hoping it will somehow lead her to her best friend, Emily starts out small. But in fulfilling these tasks she finds herself interweaving with new opportunities, and making friends she wouldn’t otherwise have made if she never stepped out of her comfort zone.

And as the sun rose behind us and he bent his head down to kiss me again, I leaned forward. Toward him, and to whatever came next.

The reason why I connected with this book so deeply boils down to one thing. The main character is me. I am Emily.

It’s like Morgan took a picture of my soul and painted its image with words. Emily’s every thought, every reaction, every insecurity is a carbon copy of me. And I think it’s because of this fact, and understanding her so completely, that I was brought to tears a few times. Not because it’s a sad book, but because I walk in her shoes. I felt her moments as if they were mine. I know exactly what it’s like to go to a party and feel like everyone is silently judging you, all while feeling like you’re about to cry. I know the internal monologue that revolves in your mind, of all the things you should be saying out loud, but then nothing finds its way out. I know what it’s like to be so afraid of leaving your comfort zone that it ends up making someone else angry, because “what’s the big deal?”

As Emily starts crossing off the ‘easy’ things on her list, I see myself in that too. The older I get I find that I push myself more to step out from behind that wall. But because I’m still in the ‘easy things’ stage, reading about Emily taking on the bigger, scarier tasks gave me a huge rush. I felt her freedom in letting go. I felt her release and I was strangely energised because of it. I want to experience that for myself and Emily has inspired me to do it.

One of my favourite moments in the book is when Emily goes home dressed in Frank’s clothes, after a night of dancing and skinny dipping:

I killed the engine and caught my reflection in the rearview mirror. My hair was in tangles, and the wedding makeup I’d worn was half washed off, half smeared under my eyes. But my cheeks were flushed and even though I looked like a mess, I looked happy. I looked like someone who’d had a night, and had a story to tell about it. Which was, I realized as I collected my dress and heels in my arms and made my way, yawning, to the front door in the cool early light, exactly what had happened.

As I read that I smiled with her. I felt the smudged mascara on my own face, the weariness and contentment in my body and the early morning air on my skin. I lived that moment with her.

As I like to do with all books I read, I chose my favourite swoon-worthy scene: “Indoor camping,” Frank repeated. He gave me a look. “Someone once told me that in a well-ordered universe it’s the only way to camp.” You will need to read the book to understand this… But trust me. *Swoon*

The friendship between Emily and Frank was refreshingly realistic. The growing of their attraction toward each other was so slow and subtle, so lifelike that it took me back to my teen years, to the boys who were my ‘Frank’. It couldn’t have been more beautifully done. And of course I will forever be impressed by Morgan’s ability to gift us with a completely real personality in Emily.

After reading this book I find myself with a final thought: In a well-ordered universe I’d have my own to-do list to be challenged with – minus the skinny dipping, of course.

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Find out more about the author at morganmatson.com or read her blog at morganmatsonbooks.tumblr.com

Puppy Love – My Two Girls

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It has been way too long since I last used my camera instead of whipping out my iPhone. Looking at these photos I don’t know why I ever stopped. I guess I should blame it on convenience, which is a poor, poor excuse. Especially for someone who’s always loved photography.

Since deciding to give my website a revamp – which should be happening soon – I’ve been snapping my own pictures to use for the site, rather than buying stock images. Suddenly it’s rekindled my love of photography and I find myself leaving the camera around the house, readily available for moments like these.

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I caught my two girls having a cuddle out in the grass like they do every day. (These two are best friends and it’s so adorable). But this time I decided to go all paparazzi in between mashing potatoes and flipping meatballs in the frying pan. I’m so glad I did, even though I only managed to snap a few before Willa came running to lick my camera lens. (The puppy, not the girl – and yes, this needs clarification).

Doing so has reminded me how important these moments are, to remembering and treasuring them. And there’s no better way than in a beautiful photo.

Updating Your Bedding

My five tips for updating your bedding

It was high time I had a change of bedding. Not just because ours had passed it’s Visual Use By Date (ick!), but because a change in decor leaves me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. What’s that old saying? – A change is as good as a holiday. Well, I never get to go on holidays, so change I must! I didn’t have the money to splurge on some top quality bedding like I usually do, so for the sake of my sanity I decided to settle for a trip to IKEA just to freshen up my room. The splurging can wait!

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The “Before”

If you follow me on Pinterest you would have seen from my many pins that I’m absolutely in love with dark blue lately. I’m talking deep, dark, all-enveloping blue. Something about it reminds me of winter (my favourite season) and curling up with a book and a blanket. So it made sense that the dark blue bedding called to me like a beacon across the great expanse that is IKEA. I all but ran to them with my arms wide open. (Though I may or may not have done this before) *Shifty eyes*

Lucky for me, my mum was in need of some new bedding too. Because of this I was able to con her into purchasing a set of my choosing just so we could swap a couple of the pillow cases. I am not a fan of a matching set. I’d much rather put together a few different pieces that complement each other – and this is my rule in all things ‘decor’. So here is how my bed came together:

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I love the look of wrinkled bedding. I think it makes it look cosy and ‘lived in’, don’t you?

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As you can see, I kept my black european pillows and grey cushion from the ‘before’ photo. I added my new doona cover and plaid pillow cases (thank you, mum), and finished it off with a smaller, brown cushion I pilfered from my daughter’s room, and the throw blanket I took from our living room. One thing I love about decorating your home is moving pieces from one room to another to get a new look, without having to cough up some dough!

Just for fun, here are some pics of my daughter’s bed. (I’m so jealous of all that girliness! )

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If you’re in need of an update, here are my tips for a bed makeover:

Mix it up! - Don’t just throw on a matching set and walk away. Use different patterns, shades or colours on your pillow cases to your doona/duvet cover. To save money, work with what you’ve got. Keep the scatter cushions that went with your last set and work with it. Purchase a new cover that complements them. Or if you want to buy some new cushions or throws, move the old into the living room and give your couch or armchair a spruce too. Re-use!!

Use different textures - Add some knitted european pillows alongside some earthy cotton. Or to glam it up, some glitzy sequinned cushions on some otherwise simple bedding. Don’t be confined by the “matchy-matchy” mentality so many people have.

Throw blankets are a must – Give your room that extra level of comfort and homeyness. Literally toss them or drape them on the bed for a relaxed appearance, or fold it neatly to lay across the width of your bed for a tailored look. Placing it at the end of your bed will give the illusion that your bed is longer, bigger.

Use my rule for pillow placement – For a king sized bed: Place three european pillows side by side. Set four standard pillows in front of them and finish it off with three to four decorative cushions. For a queen sized bed: Layer two european pillows with two to four standard ones in front, and complete the look with two or three cushions.

Make your bed everyday – Your room will instantly look so much cleaner and tidier for it. And besides, you’ll have a gorgeous new bed to show off, even if it’s only to yourself!

 

If you need a little inspiration, head over to decoholic.org for a tonne of ideas. I’ll leave you with a few of my favourites…

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What updates have you given your bedroom? Share them with me on Instagram!

Hosting Christmas

Anyone who knows me, knows I love hosting a party. I love entertaining as much as I love my child. It’s basically my M.O. Even when there is no party to be had I will plan one for the fun of it, or offer to help with someone else’s. (Because I am that weird party-lady who will even take over your party planning if you so much as give her an inch). Put that together with Christmas, my favourite time of the year, and you’ll find an exploding, gushing, so-excited-I-can’t-sleep Mel on your hands. This should give you an indication of how I reacted when I was asked to host Christmas last year.

Right away I knew it wouldn’t be just another ‘Christmas’ for me. No simple family gathering with paper plates and a plastic table”cloth”. Those words don’t exist in my vocabulary.

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Christmas Day belongs to the husband’s family. (Mine celebrates on Christmas Eve as the Finns do – a story for another time). Usually we would swing by the hosting house, have lunch, open some presents and then be gone after a few hours. With the planning in my hands I decided to mix it up with a big family dinner.

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The day began with family trickling in all morning as I pottered in the kitchen and served up an antipasto lunch. We had a spread of cheeses, quince, grissini and other fancy-shmancy crackers that I never normally buy. Dukkah and fresh bread was a hit, not to mention my paste/dip concoction of blitzed fetta and semi-dried tomato – so good! So good, in fact, that in the past my brother-in-law has taken to sandwiching the stuff between slices of bread. These were all balanced nicely with olives, stuffed bell peppers and meats, and a range of fruit and nuts. With a big meal ahead of us, grazing was the smartest idea. And of course I had to have a giant bowl of assorted chocolates for everyone to pilfer throughout the day.

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My daughter’s skills, with gingerbread as her medium, were also on display!

When it came to the beverages I had set up my drink dispensers on a large, wooden crate and filled them with options of water, apple & guava juice and a fizzy, peach iced tea – the orange slices, raspberries and mint I added made it all look so pretty and summery!

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For the dinner I really wanted us all to sit together. Most Christmas’s we end up plonking ourselves wherever we can find a seat or we spread out in the backyard. So, in order to make a table large enough to fit 20 people I added two trestles to my dining table. The size of it, however, meant I would have a hard time finding tablecloths to fit not only the length, but the width of my very wide dining table. To remedy this I bought two lengths of some deep blue fabric to run down it, overlapping in the middle. After adding some runners I already had, I adorned the the table with gold and glittery ornaments, bulbed votives, and I borrowed my mum’s gold-lined plates. I finished off the look with windings of some creeping potato vine.

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For dinner everyone pitched in by bringing in sides, salads, and a delicious chunk of ham. I even had turkey roasting away in the oven, along with a traditional Finnish dish called Peruna Laatikko – a kind of baked mash potato. With everything under control in the kitchen it allowed the family to relax, and boy did they! I had people lounging and napping on the sofas, lending a peaceful, homey mood to the day! At dinner the meats stayed hot in a chafing dish – greatest investment ever – and everyone filled themselves with what had to be the tastiest Christmas dinner. The real cherry on top for me was seeing how happy everyone was to be seated at the same table. Mission accomplished!

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The night rounded off with a giant pavlova, Christmas pudding and more than a few tipsy guests lingering till 11pm. With many compliments such as, “This was the best Christmas ever”, they all culminated to one last comment, “So…next year?” I was left feeling pretty chuffed, and it’s safe to say I tucked myself into bed that night with a smile on my face.

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