Wednesday, 27 November 2013

DIY 'Family Friendly' Advent Calendar and a New Family Christmas Tradition

This will be our third Christmas in Australia and it's definitely the first time I am really starting to feel properly Christmasy again.  It's been a real adjustment going from a traditional Northern Hemisphere Christmas to a hot and sunny Aussie Christmas.  Although there are quite a few similarities, like the colour red, great food and Santa, but they also couldn't be more different. You definitely wouldn't be having warm red wine, roasted chestnuts and roaring fires in Sydney - nor would you expect to see blooming jacaranda's, days on the beach and a symphony of cicadas in England!!

My parents (and grandparents) have always made a big deal of Christmas and now that I have found my feet again I really want to do the same for my kids.  I have so many amazing memories of the pure excitement and joy that Christmas brings.

Last week my great friend Amanda and I spent almost the whole day making a DIY advent calendar.  Thank goodness for Amanda as I would never have been able to come up with something quite so fabulous on my own.  Crafting is not something I usually choose to do - I'm just not a fan a mess and usually run a mile in the opposite direction when someone mentions glitter!!  However it was strangely therapeutic (partly because the only kid with us was Miss L and she was happy to just potter around us and leave us to it).

We only meant to spend a couple of hours making our advent calendars but once Miss L very obligingly fell asleep on the arm chair we just carried on all the way until school pick up.  It was such a lovely, relaxing day and we chatted about everything from kids to christmas to you name - we covered it!

Fast asleep in Amanda's studio. Such an accommodating little munchkin!
I was chuffed to bits with my calendar and can't wait until December 1st for the kids to start it. I've hung it up in their toy room and it's all ready to go.

Each day on the calendar there a christmas 'activity' and the idea behind it is to really get the kids excited about the run up to Christmas and to create our own family traditions. (I suggest you get your diary out before you add your activities if you want to do this as will need to make sure you can fit them into routine).

These are the activities we'll be doing this year

1st Dec:    Put up the Christmas decorations and decorate the Christmas tree together.
2nd Dec:   Get some new Christmas PJ's (for the kids - but you could too??).
3rd Dec:    Read the story of Christmas together.
4th Dec:    Get a special treat today (I have bought some little chocolate santa's).
5th Dec:    A special family dinner out.
6th Dec:    Watch a Christmas movie with ice-cream and popcorn.
7th Dec:    Play Christmas music all day.
8th Dec:    Visit Santa and get your Santa photos done :)
9th Dec:    Donate a gift to the Wishing Tree Foundation.
10th Dec:  Write you letters to Santa and take them to the post box.
11th Dec:  A special Christmas treat just from Mum.
12th Dec:  Do some Christmas baking.
13th Dec:  Have an indoor picnic by the Christmas tree for dinner.
14th Dec:  Put your Christmas stocking out.
15th Dec:  Go on a Christmas outing to see the city lights.
16th Dec:  Make/write your christmas cards for your friends and family.
17th Dec:  A special Christmas treat just from Dad.
18th Dec:  Make your teacher a Christmas gift.
19th Dec:  Go on an evening drive/walk to look at all the Christmas lights in the neighbouthood.
20th Dec:  Make some Christmas hand prints or craft
21st Dec:  Choose another Christmas movie to watch with popcorn and ice-cream.
22nd Dec:  Go Christmas shopping to buy each other a gift.
23rd Dec:  Do a fun Christmas holiday activity like ice-skating
24th Dec:  Leave out some snacks and a note for Santa and his reindeer

If you would like the full instructions on how to make this beautiful advent calendar yourself, you can get it from Amanda's blog at My Little Table Designs HERE.

Do you have any favourite Christmas traditions that your family does every year??

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Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Nigella Lawson's Christmas Cake Recipe (converted to Thermomix)

I've always wanted to make a proper Christmas Cake from scratch but it's always seemed a bit ambitious for me! And besides, my mum has always made the Christmas Cake and it just seems like a 'mummy' thing to do at Christmas.  Newsflash....... I am the mummy now - eeeek!!!  Seems a bit surreal when I say it like that.  Do you have anything that you still think of as 'a job for mum' - but YOU ARE the mum??

My mum is coming to Sydney for Christmas this year (Yipeeee), so I though I had better make an effort and get this Christmas Cake baked.  I decided to go with a Nigella Lawson recipe as, well really - you can't beat Nigella at Christmas time!

I opened up the book and the first sentence said 'This cake should be made about 3 months prior to Christmas Day".  OOOOPS!!  Well that's a fail before I've even started!  I bet my mum knew that!!

The reason you have to make it so early is that is needs to be fed with a little brandy every week until Christmas.  I figured if I just fed it a little extra then I'd be just fine making it now (I hope).

So here goes...... (Oh and although I have used my thermomix, I didn't really need it this time, so this recipe can quite easily be made without it).

850g mixed fruit (currents, sultanas, raisons etc)
100g glace cherries chopped into halves
75g mixed peel
75g slivered almonds
350g plain flour
1 tsp cinnemon
3/4 tsp mixed spice
275g butter
200g soft brown sugar
5 eggs
A few capfuls of brandy (I'll let you decide how many is a few)

  1. Mix the dried fruits with the cherries and the peel in a large bowl.  Add a few capfuls of Brandy (I added 3 I think - or maybe 4??).  Mix it all together and wrap the bowl in a tea towel.  Leave it to soak for around 24 hours.   
  2. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees.
  3. Add the butter to the thermomix and cream is really well on speed 6/7 for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and cream again for another 10 seconds.
  4. Add the sugar and cream together with the butter until it's light and fluffy.  Speed 7 for 30 seconds.  Scrape down the sides and repeat.  
  5. Weigh out the flour and put it in a separate bowl.
  6. Add the eggs one at a time with a table spoon of flour.  Beat for about 5 seconds on speed 5 for each one.  I had never done this flour trick before when beating eggs - Nigella says it stops the mixture from curdling and it really works!!  
  7. Add the rest of the flour with the mixed spice and cinnamon and mix gently on speed 5 for about 10-15 seconds.
  8. Add to your big bowl of fruit and fold it all together until everything is mixed through.   
  9. Double line a cake tin with baking paper.  This bit is not easy (for me anyway) and there were a few curses whilst I was trying to get it on properly.  Oh and FYI cellotape does not stick to baking paper!!  Once you have achieved this, scoop the mixture into the tin as evenly as possible.  Use the back of a spoon to flatten it out.
  10. Another Nigella tip, which I thought was pretty awesome was to make a little hollow in the middle of the cake with a teaspoon before putting it in the oven.  It stops the cake from rising unevenly - and it REALLY WORKS!! 
  11. Wrap another layer of baking paper around the outside of the tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 3 and 3/4 hours.  That's what the recipe said but I took mine out of the oven after 2.5 hours as I think it was ready.  A knife came out the middle clean and I could hear my mum in my head saying 'Don't dry it out!!".
  12. Allow to completely cool.  Poke a few holes into the top of the cake and tip over another capful of brandy allowing it to soak into the holes.  Repeat this 'feeding' process every week until christmas (or in my case, twice a week as I'm playing catch up).  
  13. To store the cake on the lead up to Christmas you will need to wrap it up in more baking paper and tie it up with string.  Then put it into an air tight tin and only take it out for 'feeding'. 
I really enjoyed making this cake and it was much easier than I initially thought.  Unfortunately I won't be able to tell you how it tastes until after Christmas, but I am quietly optimistic.  To finish it off,  I'll firstly put a layer of apricot jam over it, followed by a layer of marzipan (my favourite part) and then finally some white Royal Icing.

The other night I went to a cake decorating class and I made an angel out of fondant.  I was SUPER PROUD of my little angel and she will most definitely be going on top of this cake!! (and Miss H has first dips on eating her).
She's a little bit wonky but I still think she's cute :)
Have you made your Christmas Cake yet??

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Monday, 25 November 2013

Photobox! Review and a beautiful canvas giveaway

I have always loved photos!  Although I'm no expert behind the lens, I do just LOVE capturing 'moments', especially of the kids.  There is something so special about looking back at old photos and remembering those (often forgotten) moments.  The kids love it too and often ask to look at our wedding photos or their baby pictures.  Even though everything is digital these days I still love to have actual prints. I have frames up all over our house and I don't think you can every have too many.

I started using Photobox to do all my prints quite a few years ago now, when I was still living in England, and I just love how easy their website is to use.  Once you sign up and create an account you can then upload your photos straight from your computer to their website.  You can even organise them into albums to make them easier to work with.  The uploading is really simple and doesn't take long at all.  Once your photos are uploaded there is just so many things you can do with them - and it's actually quite fun :)

I've used photobox to do all my printing and there are loads reasons why I love them and will always go back.
  • They are so reasonably priced, with standard prints from $0.15 each and enlargements from $0.49 each.
  • The quality and the colours are always fantastic.  I have never once been disappointed.  If a photo is not going to come out perfectly then the photobox website will give you a little sad face next to that  image.  If you click on it, it will tell the reason - which is most often that the image is not big enough for the size print you're after.  I love that they give you this warning so you don't waste your money on a print that isn't going to be perfect.
  • You can order your prints from the comfort of your home and don't have to sit in the shop trying your best to concentrate on what you're doing, while keeping an eye on the kids (who in my case keep disappearing down the toy isle).
  • Delivery is quick and efficient and never takes longer than a few days.

The other thing I have often used photobox for are their photo books, canvas prints and photo calendars.  They are so easy to make and there are just so many options you can choose from too. I made a photo book for both my parents and my in-laws after they visited us here in Sydney for the first time last year.  They were so beautiful and personal and made such a wonderful reminder of their holiday with the grandkids.  I actually wish I'd got one made for me too.

I also make up a photo calendar for my mother in-law every year for Christmas as it makes her so happy and she loves it.  Photobox are brilliant for Christmas (or birthday) gifts, especially if you have family abroad.  I often order from the Photobox UK site when I'm sending something to my mum as it means I only pay the local postage, which saves me the stupendous cost of overseas postage (which is often more than the item you're posting).


Every time I walk into the kids playroom this beautiful canvas makes me smile.  I love it x
With Christmas rapidly approaching the lovely team at Photobox have agreed to let me run a little competition.  YAY!!  The prize is a gorgeous classic 50.8cm by 40.6cm canvas print of your favourite photo.  The competition is open to Mrs D plus 3 readers in both Australia and the UK. All you have to do to enter is follow me on Instagram at mrsdbplus3, upload the picture you would like to have printed on canvas and hashtag it #mrsdcanvas.  Good luck.  The winner will be announced on instagram on 1st December.

Don't forget if you sign up to photobox now you will get 40 FREE prints!!!  Perfect if you want to do an framing for Christmas gifts.

*Disclaimer:  I have not been paid to write this review although I was gifted the beautiful canvas print on the image above.  All options and photos are my own.

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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Wordless Wednesday - Some overdue sunshine with my little flower picker

The sun came out this morning! Actual, proper, blue sky, yellow ball sunshine, for the first time in ages (I must have turned into an honorary Aussie as it's only been just over a week of rain and I've been having terrible withdrawals).  After dropping the big kids at school and Kindy, filling up with petrol, getting my pink slip done (MOT for those who've never heard of pink slip) and a few other bla bla jobs, I decided not to bother going home to continue with the mountain of washing and all the other boring house jobs.  Instead I thought I'd take Miss L (who had been patiently melting in the back of the car) out for a walk.  She was absolutely delighted to be outside and ran around in circles for the first five minutes.
It was a slow start because she found the water!

Picking flowers

We saw a friend who took a photos for us x

I hope you're having a happy Wednesday.  If not, try and step out of your routine for a moment - it's awesome!!

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Friday, 15 November 2013

The next chapter in our lives.........

This week our lovely little house in England went on the market for sale.  It was a really bittersweet moment seeing it up on the real estate website this morning in all it's glory.  To us it was so much more than just a house, it was our home.  The very first home that Mr D and I bought and lived in together.  It was the very first building block to the foundation of our family. It was where both Master J and Miss H were born.  It seems so long ago now but it was where so many memories are locked away.  Looking at all the photos online this morning brought them all flooding back, and I can almost hear the voices and conversations of precious friends and family as they've come and gone, in and out of that little house.  It feels very sad to be selling up, but on the flip side we've made Australia our new home now and we have to look forward in order to really move forward.  Beside we have our very own Aussie bub now in Miss L.
This is how it appears on the web at the moment.  If anyone is interested in buying it -let me know :))))))) (but you have to love it as much as we did).  You can view it HERE
When we first bought the house it was a total wreck and Mr D and I re-decorated every inch of it bit by bit.  Well actually it was mostly Mr D!  He is such an annoying perfectionist that he wouldn't let me anywhere near a paint brush, and when I did attempt to do a bit of painting he would hover over me like a dragonfly until I handed over the brush!!  We did have a great agreement though: I would choose all the colours and the decor and he would do all the DIY!!!! Who can argue with that?? (one day I'll tell you my secret - or maybe it's being a crap painter??)

It wasn't all plain sailing though, we did have several DIY disasters along the way.  I remember the day when Mr D decided to re-tile the kitchen.  He pulled all the appliances out of the kitchen including the fridge and washing machine and left them unconnected in the middle of the dining room so he could work.  The only problem was that he was off to the USA on a business trip early the next morning, and by the afternoon he was no where near finished!!!!!!  "You can't just leave me for a week with a tiny baby and no fridge or washing machine!!!" I wailed, freaking out - mid meltdown!!!  (I had visions of having to move in with my mum for a few days for the second time since Master J was born).  Luckily he managed to finish it all on time - at about 6am the following morning, just an hour before his taxi arrived to take him to the airport!!!  What an awesome hubby!!
The garden was another HUGE project we he tackled!  Mr D took it very seriously and even put string across the lawn to make sure it was all completely level.  He was very precious about his grass (and got teased mercilessly but all his mates) but it did look absolutely fantastic when it was all finished.  My job was to choose and buy the flowers, which I loved. The whole project was a slightly stressful at times as I'm sure you can image that English weather and ALL THAT MUD was a nightmare!!!)  I have just showed Master J these pictures and he doesn't remember them at all.  It seems so strange that such a huge part of our lives will be pretty much non existent in the kids lives.
This was taken during the last summer before we left for Australia
Miss H's very first bedroom
Mmmmmmm maybe I did used to do a bit of baking!!!! (All out of a packet though - look how far I've come).
The day we had to pack up and leave happened so quickly that we didn't really have a chance to reflect or say goodbye properly.  The removal men invaded like a swarm of ants and anything and everything in sight was boxed, packaged and packed up before you could say your name backwards.  They were so thorough that when we unpacked a few months later the bin that had been in Pete's office was still full of crumpled up papers!!!  It was a bitterly cold February day and Nanny Soph (the kids nanny) brought them back to the house before the big van left so that they could see it and say goodbye to our home.  Miss H sleep through the whole thing and Master J and I had a little cry.  I don't think he actually understood what was happening and just cried because I did!!  After that we went to live with Granny and Grandpa for a month before the big trip to Aus.
When we first arrived in Sydney, not knowing a single person, I really wasn't sure how long we would last and keeping our home in England was like having a bit of a safely blanket.  I had no idea how far we would come in two years and how much we would change and grow as a family. I smile fondly when I think about the old me and how different my life was not so long ago. Somedays I miss her, but on the whole I couldn't be happier here (Just wish my family would move too - hint, hint).

The age old saying the your home is where your heart is couldn't be truer for us.

Have you ever had a big house or country move before?  How did you cope?

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Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Tiny Star biscuits for kids (just like tiny teddies but homemade)

My kids LOVE Tiny Teddie biscuits and I have to admit they are the perfect little treat to carry in your handbag, pop in a lunchbox or pull out for morning tea.  I normally always have a stash in my pantry to shove in my bag before leaving the house as a 'just in case I need a snack snack' but yesterday morning I got caught out and my stash was empty!!!!!!  A very bad oversight indeed as a handful of cut apples just didn't cut the bacon after the promise of teddies!! So I decided to make my own.

Seriously I don't know why I haven't done this before as they were SO EASY!!!
120g Caster sugar (or just raw sugar if using a thermomix)
240g butter
1 tsb vanilla essence
360g wholemeal flour (or you could just use plain flour)
40g hundreds and thousands (or 20g cocoa powder or 40g chocolate chips)

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees.
  2. Add the raw sugar to the thermomix and whizz for 10 seconds on speed 9/10 to give you caster sugar.  Scrape down the sides.
  3. Add the butter and vanilla and cream together for 30 seconds on speed 5/6.  Scrape down the sides and repeat for another 5 seconds if necessary.  
  4. Add the flour (and cocoa powder if using) and mix for 10 seconds on speed 6, until the mixture roughly resembles bread crumb texture.
  5. Add the hundreds and thousands and set the thermomix to closed lid and knead for 30 seconds on interval speed until you have a dough.  
  6. If you want to make chocolate stars then add 20g cocoa instead of hundred & thousands or you could add chocolate chips, but just make sure you crush them a bit first so that they they are teeny tiny.
  7. Roll the dough into a big ball and either wrap it up in a thermomat if you have one, otherwise cling-film will do.  Pop it in the fridge for half and hour.  
  8. Roll the dough out until it is about 2cm thick and then cut our your shapes using a tiny thumb sized cutter.  I have to admit, this bit is a bit fiddly and time consuming because you have to do so many, but it is worth it in the end.  
  9. Bake in the oven for 10 - 12 minutes, allow to cool and then enjoy.
I only used 3/4 of the dough and saved the rest for Miss H as she wanted to make her 'own' shapes and not just stars.  You could also freeze whatever dough you don't use and save it for a rainy day.  Just make sure you wrap it up in cling-film and label it before you put it in the freezer!!

Store your tiny stars in a cute tin or you could buy some little zip lock bags and add 8 to 10 little stars into each one. That way they are just as handy to chuck in your bag (for emergency snacks) as the 'real deal' tiny teddies!!
I have used my thermomix but if you don't have one they are just as easy to make.  Put everything in a bowl together and use your hands to mix it all together.  Make sure the butter and sugar and well mixed before you add the dry ingredients to make your dough (if you have a hand held mixer use that first and then your hands to get a perfect dough).


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Sunday, 10 November 2013

Chloe's Law. Say NO to bullying!

Image Credit
Did anyone watch 60 minutes on TV last night?  There was a documentary about a bright, beautiful young teenager that tragically took her own life, as she felt it was her only escape from the horrendous (and totally unnecessary) bullying that she had endured.  It left me feeling physically sick!  Like a stone made of lead had sunk to the pit of my stomach.  I just CANNOT comprehend how children (or anyone) can be so cruel to each other.

Chloe Elizabeth Fergusson was a 15 year old teenager from Tasmania who should have had her whole life to look forward to.  Instead she was physically and mentally bullied until she felt that she had no other way out but to take her own life.  What's even more tragic is that due to the fairly new phenomenon of Cyber Bullying via Social Media, she literally had no safe place.  The sad truth is that Chloe is not the only one.

I truly believe that it is every parents responsibility to teach their children empathy and to make sure that they understand that bullying of ANY KIND is wrong and unacceptable.  I often wonder if the bullies actually realise how they are making their victim feel, and the dramatic effect that their actions are having on a person life.  Would they continue to bully if they really understood what it felt like to be on the receiving end??

We should also teach our children how to recognise bullying if they see it and to have the courage to report it. Chloe's attacks were reported to the police ,but currently there are no formal anti bullying laws in place, so nothing could be done.  Chloe's amazing sister Cassie has created the campaign "Chloe's Law' to help make that change.

If you would like to get involved and 'SAY NO TO BULLYING' you can find more information the Chloe's Law Facebook Page.  You can also wear a blue ribbon today to show your support.

If you missed 60 Minutes last night you can watch it HERE.

If you read this and need something to talk to, you can phone the Kids Helpline on 1800 551800 or head to or

My Little Table Designs Review and Christmas Giveaway

I'm so excited to write this review as the brains behind this gorgeous company is a really great and lovely friend of mine. Amanda stared My Little Table Designs about 12 months ago and we met one day at a market on Sydney's Northern Beaches where she was selling her beautiful little table cloths.  We got chatting, we hit it off and have been friends ever since - with lots of absolutely essential wine brainstorming evenings and play-dates with the kids (not at the same time of course).

A little Bit about My Little Table Designs

Amanda is a mum of two, a primary school teacher and business owner, so as you can image, she has her hands pretty full. She is also one of the smiliest, bubbliest and most passionate people you could ever meet.

She is most passionate about children and their learning experiences through play.  Since becoming a mum she realised how difficult it is to find activities for children that are FUN and EDUCATIONAL as well as providing a great platform for play between mums (and dads) and their children.

Amanda is also a sewer and she started out by making the cutest table cloths for little girls to play pretend 'high tea'.  She soon discovered that just by 'setting up' a table (or the floor) with a brightly coloured tablecloth, kids were drawn to it and wanted to 'play' almost anything.  This gave her the idea to branch out further into children's 'play' and so she stared to both import and create beautiful toys and crafts for kids to create themselves.  Every toy is 'unfinished' and within each pack is everything a child needs to 'finish' or 'create' that toy - which they can then play with or treasure.  They also create a platform for kids imaginations to go wild, which is one of the best forms of early learning.  You can find out more about Amanda and My little Table on her website and Facebook page.

This month (November) Amanda has set up a little POP UP SHOP on Sydney's Northern Beaches, where mums can both pop in and do some christmas shopping, as well as enjoy a cup of tea or glass of bubbles and a good chat.  Amanda is on hand to answer any questions you might have and she has also organised a whole bunch of fantastic workshops for christmas, including:
  • Cake Decorating where you will learn how to cover and decorate a cake using fondant and create your very own cute little angel to go on top.  This workshop is run by the lovely Sunny from So Sensational Cakes.
  • Mini Mind Spa's where mums can come and learn how to 'play' with their kids, delivered by expert coach for mums Dina Cooper at Hoogi.
  • A kids Photography workshop where parents can get tips on how to take better photos of their kids using their own cameras.  This workshop is run by the lovely Robyn from Please don't Say Cheese.
  • A range of mummy craft workshops including making christmas cards, advent calendars and teacher appreciation gifts.  These will be run by Amanda herself.
Be sure to book as there are only limited spaces available.  

My Little Table Pop Up Shop is located on 900 Pittwater Road, Dee Why and is open from the 11th to 27th November
I popped into the shop the other day and it was just fabulous!!  I had actually just intended to show my support and maybe purchase a thing or two and I ended up doing ALMOST ALL OF MY CHRISTMAS SHOPPING for the kids!!!  How awesome is that???  I can't tell you how great it feels to have made a big dent in my shopping.  Christmas shopping can be quite a daunting task and getting organised ahead of time is just amazing - more time to enjoy the festivities.   I'm actually starting to feel really Christmassy already and super excited to see the kids faces on christmas morning.

My Little Table Designs stocks gifts from:
- Le Toy Van
- Seeding
- Eebo
- Purple Cow
- Mud Puppy
As well as craft packs, gifts and table cloths that Amanda has made.  Prices range from $2 up to $120, with the average price being around $30.  All items cater for boys and girls who love to play ranging from age 2 to 12.

I think one of my most favourite things was the pizza box craft packs.  Amanda has created a whole range of 'ready to go' craft packs for kids and parents to get creative.  Everything you need is packed away in a plain card pizza box and all you have to add is a little imagination.  Amanda says that as parents we usually and instinctually go for box sets that are all beautifully presented, but kids are the opposite.  They see those as 'finished products' where there is nothing left for them to do. By putting the kits into plain pizza boxes the kids can't wait to get stuck in and make something from their own imagination.  All three of my kids LOVED their boxes and made beautiful stain glass christmas window pieces out of a simple sheet of sticky contact and lots of sparkly bits and bobs.  Happy kids and happy me (especially as there was very little mess).

These stocking filler packs are fantastic and they come so beautifully packed too.
Now for the exciting part!!!!!!!!!!!  Amanda has offered to giveaway a stocking filler gift pack to one lucky Mrs D plus 3 reader for Christmas.  The stocking filler gift packs can be catered for a boy or a girl (or gender neutral) and they contain EVERYTHING you need to fill your child's stocking!!
So if you live on the Northern Beaches do pop in and visit My Little Table's Shop, and don't worry if you're too far away, she has everything available to purchase online.

So how is everyone doing with their Christmas shopping??  Have you started yet or are you one to leave everything to the last minute??

*Disclaimer:  I have not been paid to write this review, I did it because I wanted to and I would hate for anyone to miss out on all these cool things because they didn't know about it.  All photos and opinions are my own unless otherwise stated.  The Giveaway is only available to Australian residents (sorry).