Thursday, December 16, 2010

Scent of a house

We all know that flowers bring colour and freshness into a house and a scent that can't be replicated even with the most beautiful candles. Last week I was privileged to have a magazine come to photograph my house and between flowers that I'd bought, flowers I picked from the garden, and flowers they brought with them, the house looked like a mini-florist! We had lillies and roses and berries and gladioli and liseanthus on tables and mantlepieces. They weren't all used in the photographs (and the ones that were were certainly styled better than in my happy snaps above!) but they provided a lovely feel to the house and have lasted throughout the week. If only they lasted indefinitely but I guess that's the charm of them - temporal beauty and new types always in season!

Gorgeous and girly

Away from the main shopping streets of Ballarat is a little gem packed with frilly and feminine treasures. The Vintage China Company sits on the corner of a busy roundabout and is a labyrinth of little rooms filled with dainty aprons, beautiful English teacup trios, French Provincial jugs, Robert Gordon pottery and pretty ornaments. I bought some little Christmas presents and they did the most sublime girly gift wrapping. The shop also houses a beautiful little tearoom, perfect for a girly get together and high tea for any occasion. I haven't sampled their cakes but they look delectable with a great range of tarts and cupcakes and slices. Oh, and there's a newly opened spa on the corner opposite so you could easily combine high tea with beauty treatment indulgence. The Vintage China Company is on the corner of Doveton and Macarthur Streets at 451 Doveton St North, Ballarat. And no, I didn't get paid for this little advert - nor do I know anyone who works there! For all my girlfriends, this could be the place for my next birthday celebration! See

Monday, December 13, 2010

A feast for foodies

We went to the Ballarat Lakeside Farmer's Market on Saturday and there was a palpable feeling of festivity in the air. Not only that but there were so many beautiful berries and summer fruits for sale. Who can resist two large containers of strawberries freshly picked by the berry farmer and then sold to you by the same person? Or locally made fetta cheese or huge bunches of mint and coriander that you can smell metres before you get to the stall? Farmer's markets are all over the place now. We lived in Middle Park in Melbourne in 2008-2009 and used to love the Gasworks Market in Port Melbourne. Now we're a bit closer to the land and the people selling the goods have often only driven a short distance from the farm. Inspired by the fresh produce and seasonal delights, we cooked a lovely meal for friends on Saturday night. It was meant to be a BBQ but the weather just wasn't reliable so instead we made lemon chicken and cous cous, kofta with a yoghurt and mint sauce, fetta, tomato and bean salad, potatos roasted in sundried tomato oil; and then we had oversized fresh strawberries and lemon delicious pudding for dessert. Yum Yum! Dinner was made all the more special because we were eating off plates that used to belong to my Nanna and other old English ones that I'd sourced from a local market.  
The festive season is upon us! If you're local to Ballarat, the farmer's market is on again next Saturday morning. And elsewhere I'm sure there's a plethora of other markets showcasing Christmas and summer treats!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A message for the festive season

Can you believe it's the 1st of December? I thought as we enter the silly season, the season of spending too much money and eating too much, that we should remember to keep calm. Of course the original 'Keep Calm and Carry On' posters were intended to raise optimism and a sense of solidarity and normality for those stoic Brits during WW2. An inspiring message for any occasion really. And don't forget to enjoy yourselves as you rush around and battle crowds in the Christmas rush, as you bake, as you decorate the tree, as you go on holiday. Take a few hours, if you can, to make some gifts or decorations and you'll feel all the merrier for having been creative. I for one am making Christmas cards this year.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hidden treasures

One of the joys of moving to a new town or city is discovering new places. Of course you miss the old and are often nostalgic for places that you romanticise in your mind. When you first move to a new place or even visit a new place, you are only seeing a few layers. It takes time to really understand and appreciate the hidden places and nuances of culture and attitudes in a new place.
I remember when I moved to London that I loved its pulse and energy from the start, I loved its history and its grandeur and its feeling of being at the centre of the world. However, it was a good six months before I felt like I really knew how the transport systems worked, which newspapers were the most informative or interesting, and the reputation of areas. And probably a few years before I really had some insight into the subtle cultural differences between Central London, Greater London and then England. Layer upon layer, you discover a new place. 
Some people say you're not a local to Ballarat until you've lived here for over thirty years! Having been here one year, I'm making a concerted effort to discover how the city works, how the people think, how country living is different to big-city living, and most of all where the best places are to sit, eat and read or relax. As a city with a significant history of the gold-rush era, many visitors to Ballarat would only ever see Sovereign Hill or the Art Gallery. Just like many visitors to London never get past the major galleries, Westminster Abbey, Soho, Kensington or Covent Garden. 
So, pictured is a little bit of hidden Ballarat. A secret spot to sit and sip tea surrounded by beauty. Sssh, don't tell but it's in the Botanical Gardens in the greenhouse.

To market, To market

This morning I visited a beautiful market showcasing young designers and their flare for creating innovative, colourful, beautiful children's clothing and toys. The market was held in a local school hall and was one of the best collections of consistently gorgeous products across all stalls that I've ever seen. I could have easily bought goods from everyone there! From clothing to hair accessories to toys and decorative items, talented young things showcased their hand-made goods. With business names like Little Puddles, Giggles, Cute Little Sparrow, Myrtle and Grace, Little Ray and Birdie Jane, how could they not promote gorgeous goods?
For those of you in the market for gifts for nieces and nephews or your own little ones, the next Sugar and Spice Market will be held on the morning of Sunday 27th February in Ballarat (or the 13th as per the Sugar and Spice blog? TBC). They also pop up at different times in Woodend and Mornington.
Well worth a visit! 

There is a big park in Ballarat, Victoria Park, that reminds me greatly of the untamed, wild and beautiful parks in London such as Richmond Park. Although the Ballarat one has no deer!
Victoria Park isn't a typical Australian park in that it's massive, it's overgrown and there's nothing kept or pristine about it. It's the sort of place where you could drive or ride through and not see another person. Of course this raises a safety issue but for now let's focus on the beauty of it. Here is a photo of an avenue of trees within the park.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Following from my previous blog post . . .

This restaurant menu saddened me a little when I saw it!

Festive fun

It's now November and the year has flown by. All of a sudden I'm seeing displays of Christmas cards in homeware stores and supermarket aisles, bigger crowds in the shops, restaurants advertising for Christmas dinner bookings, and even a few streets decorated. At this time of year there's always a big list of things to do: presents to buy, decorations to make or buy, decisions about where Christmas festivities will be held and summer holiday planning. 
For me, having the opportunity to celebrate Christmas in Europe for four years was amazing as it gave a whole new meaning to the traditions. Firstly, Christmas lights make more sense in the Northern Hemisphere where it gets dark early, and large hot meals are actually needed to warm the tummy and the soul in the Winter cold. I love the pageantry of the celebrations in the places where they originated. Present shopping on Kings Rd or Regent St in London and elbowing through the crowds and escaping the cold in shops, eating strudel and chestnuts in Vienna for Christmas dinner, the Christmas markets in Vienna with their strudel for sale and gingerbread houses, the snow on the Dolomites in Northern Italy. These are just a few of the experiences I was privileged to have.
Now I'm looking forward to donning flip flops, paddling in the sea, BBQs on the beach, long summer evenings and the smell of Aerogaurd in the air to dissaude the mossies! Christmas is a breakfast BBQ with my husband's family and a noisy household full of over-excited kids and piles of Christmas presents which quickly turns into piles of paper and ribbon; Christmas with my family is usually a quieter affair with an informal lunch of salads and cold meats but this year there's three little kids so it'll turn into something more lively. 
I love Christmas afternoons when everyone is full of turkey and pudding and we laze on the couch reading our new books or the blurbs on new DVDs, kids try out their new bikes and we walk along the beach. There's a feeling of wonderful togetherness and relaxation - the calm after the storm of organising it all! Now let the festivities begin . . .

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A book to behold

En route to the beach recently I spotted a sign for a collectables fair in Geelong. Collectables are not really my thing but I thought I'd stop and have a look nonetheless just in case I could get my hands on some treasure - preferably a gramophone which I've wanted for a few years now. My husband obliged and stayed in the car with our sleeping baby. I entered a big hall full of trestle tables with all manner of goods from swap cards to old postcards to vintage toys to books. Ever the bookish type, I made sure to cast my eye over the old tomes hoping to find an old travelogue or history book. I was thrilled to spot a large green title called 'Countries of the World, sixth volume: Siberia to Zanzibar'. I opened it with great anticipation and the opening line caught my attention and told me that I had to buy it: 'Siberia is the land of the future'! OK, so the book was published in the 1920s when there was a very different geopolitical feel to today! When I flicked through its musty brown pages I was very excited to see old black and white photos and to my delight - some coloured photochromes. Even better was at the start of each country or city entry, there is a map. I'm a big fan of looking at maps and seeing how country borders and names have changed over time. It comes from my love of history and examining maps before and after the world wars to see how lines were re-drawn. Of course the dissolution of empires in the twentieth century wreaked havoc on cartographer's lives too as countries changed names and border posts were moved. One of my history lecturers at uni would place overhead projections over each other to see how geography had changed.  I was pulsing with excitement as I looked through the pages and holding my breath that I could afford it. Thankfully the vendor didn't know what a find it was and sold it to me for $5! I'm not an advocate of ripping up books but for that price I thought I could tear out a page or two and not lose sleep over it. Here's a photo of the world map and a picture of Venice that I extracted from its pages. Perfect ornaments for my mantlepiece and wonderful examples of eras long gone. Plus there's even a section on old Hobart, which to me is fascinating as it's where I spent much of my childhood.

A carpet caper

Since buying a small but beautiful rug in Istanbul a few years ago, I have been on the lookout for other Persian-style rugs to adorn my floor. I've seen some beautiful ones but of course the price tag is often hefty - the finer the knots, the greater the wool or silk quality always up the dollars. I thought that maybe I could become one of those people who have an eye for such treasures and snap them up at garage sales, but alas I haven't spotted any carpets for sale - Persian or otherwise. 
As is always the case, it's when you're not looking that you find what you're looking for. I recently went to the farmer's market in Talbot (which I'm sure I've waxed lyrical about on this blog before) and spotted a bric-a-brac shop I hadn't seen previously. There out the front was a rolled up carpet! I was hesitant as I unrolled it as I've unrolled hundreds of carpets while sipping mint tea in Marrakech and Istanbul only to discover that the pattern or colours on the back differ quite a lot from those on the upside. So, I was delighted to discover that this carpet was to my taste and even better cost only $40 (even Ikea sells 'Persian' carpets now for hundreds of dollars!) I don't think it's a particularly fine quality one or even necessarily Persian but I like it and it looks similar to the real ones! Here it is in my lounge room. 
Keep your eyes out for such finds as they are out there if you look long and hard enough!

What's your ideal home?

My friend Olivia has been asking me to write more blogs and reminding me that I've been slack in not doing so. So, I'm going to make a concerted effort to write weekly! I have a photo of a beautiful English manor as my screensaver and it got me thinking about where I'd live if I had the choice of anywhere in the world and unlimited money of course! A palazzo on the Grand Canal in Venice, a villa on Lake Como, a house overlooking the ocean anywhere really, an English countryside manor, a designer apartment in Copenhagen, a pied-a-terre on Paris's Left Bank? These are all places that hold great appeal to me. 
What does your ideal home look like?

Friday, September 10, 2010

A picturesque place

While I'm talking about Turkey, I wanted to share with you these photos of a place called Alacati on the Cesme Peninsula near the city of Izmir on the Aegean Coast. From memory, Alacati is a bit of a drive from other places that would attract tourists, but for me it was worth a stop for its provincial looking stone houses, winding laneways, flower-filed windowsills and trendy cafes. The kind of place where you can just meander and unwind for a few days.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Turkish tiles

Blue and white ceramics, whether they be from China, England, Vietnam, Turkey, Morocco, or Thailand, always catch my eye and usually burn a hole in whatever currency I'm carrying! I have many treasured ceramics from my travels, all of which tell a story and enable me to gaze upon them! I've visited many a palace in various countries where wall tiles adorn and decorate. Bangkok's Grand Palace has some stunning tiles. These photos were taken at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, namely in the legendary and fabled harem. So, without going into detail about design or history, here they are simply as objects of beauty for you to enjoy.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Spring has sprung

OK, so the weather here in Ballarat is still a bit gloomy. It's been raining non-stop for weeks and the sky has been mostly grey, although I have had two half-days weeding the garden in the sunshine. I have been busy reading about what to plant and am busily preparing my garden beds. I've set my budget and am going to visit the local farmer's markets and nurseries to buy up big. It's a whole new project and I'm sure I have a heap to learn. I suspect my garden will end up like an English wildflower one with no structure or neatness.
To welcome Spring, here's a photo of the beautiful camellias growing in my garden.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How does your garden grow?

Yesterday we had a rare ray of sunshine and I took the opportunity to do some long overdue weeding of the garden. I have grand hopes for my garden but of course need to spend many hours pruning and planting, weeding and watering, before the vision in my head will be tangible. 
As I'm new to gardening, I've been reading magazines and even a few gardening books about what I should be doing in each season. Ballarat is of course far colder than most of Australia so I'm assuming that if someone says to do something in August, then I can do it in September. 
As inspiration for me and you, I've included here some photos of beautiful gardens that I've been privileged to go to. Capability Brown's famous Stourhead garden is the first photo (top to bottom), and one of my all-time favourite places. It's grand and set around a lake, and ornamental temples and grottoes dot the landscape. The second photo was taken at Scotney Castle, a beautiful quintessentially English garden. Yves Saint Laurent's Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech with its tropical plants and bright yellows, blues and greens is next. Followed by the ornamental gardens in Palace Baiha, also in Marrakech. The final photo was in my English gardens file, and I must admit that I can't recall which garden it was taken at. This is what happens when one is passionate about English gardens and has visited so many!
I hope you enjoy these images and they inspire you to create your garden, albeit likely on a slightly less grand scale!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Melbourne mini-break

I had a stint calling London home, and have recently moved to Ballarat, but Melbourne is my hometown. I've known its tram routes and laneways and cafes and gallery spaces. Browsed in its best bookshops, known its hidden shops and where to find the best Vietnamese and Italian food. I've watched its streetscapes and people change over time. I've waited at Flinders Street Station meeting friends and walked around Southbank countless times. I recall when Fed Square housed the brown box gas and fuel buildings, and the excitement of the city loop stations opening. I remember when Daimuru opened in Melbourne Central and I remember when it closed down, and the shopping centre was re-developed. I remember the expansion of the city when Crown and Jeff's shed opened, and later Docklands. I've seen the cityscape broaden and grow, and watched as the Eureka superseded the Rialto, and Spencer Street became Southern Cross. Stadiums have changed names, buildings have come and gone, shops have had opening and closing sales. I've worked in companies both at the Paris end of Collins Street and the business and law end. I spent four years at Melbourne Uni and knew every street name in Carlton. I spent nearly a year amid the microfilm and tomes of the State Library, researching for my Honours' thesis. I was married at the Windsor Hotel. 
Sometimes it's not until you've been away from a place for a while that you realise how much you love it. I always loved Melbourne during my uni years and beyond, but when I moved to London it far exceeded Melbourne in every way - everything is more exciting, bigger, brighter, busier, with a far greater reach of history and status, and the world at your fingertips than Melbourne could ever achieve. 
Last week I had a Melbourne mini-break, seeing my own city through fresh eyes and enjoying every element of it. I started with a beautiful lunch at the National Gallery. It's one of my favourite Melbourne places with its gilt mirrors adorning one wall and its tiered stands of afternoon tea delights. It was made all the more special because I was with my baby girl, and last year when I was there I was only just pregnant. I then wandered around the marvellous European Masters exhibition from the Stadel Gallery and saw amazing works by Sisley, Degas, Renoir, Rodin and Ernst. I appreciated it all the more as I knew I had limited time because my baby girl wasn't far off a change/feed/nap, so I couldn't spend the usual amount of time perusing paintings. I then wandered Melbourne's many laneways, appreciating street art and popping into shops I haven't been in for a while. Next stop was David Jones's newly refurbished store. When it was under renovation, the signs said it would be the world's most beautiful department store, a claim I felt was far-fetched, given places like Galeries Lafayette in Paris and Harrods in London. Nonetheless, the new store is elegant and airy and sophisticated and has some lovely labels. From there it was a trip to Ikea, which is always either hideous or wonderful depending on the crowds shuffling through, and this time it was quiet which enabled me to wander and browse without feeling the pressure of being herded through specified walkways.
The final stop, a few days later, was the Langham Hotel chocolate afternoon tea. An annual indulgence and treat, and much looked forward to. Two hours of chocolate indulgence from souffle to fondue to tarts and macaroons and cake. My husband and I left feeling full and ready for some fruit and veg. Even our baby girl who only has one tooth got a taste, sucking on strawberries.
So, once a year take yourself into your city. Leave the car and suburbs behind and tram it, train it, walk it, and give yourself a little indulgence discovering and appreciating the hidden gems of your hometown.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Two beautiful photos

Again, I can't claim that I took these photos. Both are by my mum on her recent journey to France and England. The rooftops are of course Parisian. The grove of trees reminds me of an old Henri Cartier-Bresson photo that I love. Anyway, I find both photos beautiful and inspiring and hope you do too!

Fun furnishings

It's been a joy to decorate my daughter's room. It's been great fun taking pieces from our house and placing them in her room - a model London bus, our old red Ikea couch that we bought thirteen years ago!, and a Tintin in Saigon lacquered picture, among other objects. I've also loved finding pre-loved pieces that I think she'll enjoy one day - a vintage pram from a garage sale, the little Provincial style chest of drawers pictured, which was bought at a church flea market, and old picture books that I've framed.
The photos above show the huge difference that decorating walls can make. The lower photo was taken when we had a small gallery of pictures on her wall, and the one above is the current decor featuring beautiful Cath Kidston wallpaper that my sister-in-law, Pip, gave to us. We just had enough to cover the wall next to the window, and I think it makes the perfect feature wall - pretty and girly without being pink! Decorating that wall with wallpaper meant moving all the other pictures to the larger wall, and I think this works to great effect so that we now have a gallery of pictures. Already my daughter delights in looking up at all the different colours.
It's nice to be able to put hooks in the wall after so many rental properties, and we'll no doubt change the pictures around as time goes by.

Cool photo

This is actually a photo my mum recently took in Paris. I just love it! He looks very cool but the car loaded with what looks like his wordly goods is so cutesy and compact. I think the street scene behind is very chic, the boulangerie and bar are very quintessentially Parisian. Is he waiting for his love? Annoyed that someone hasn't turned up to meet him? Accidentally parked in a pedestrian zone? Every picture tells a story.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Beautiful Ballarat

Blogging has taken a major backseat lately as I've been juggling motherhood, freelance editing and having guests to stay. So, if anyone is still reading the blog, I thought I'd share these photos that I took a few weeks ago. For those of you who've heard that there's no water in the lake in Ballarat, you might not believe that these pics are indeed of the lake. We've had a lot of rainfall, and while the lake isn't even half full, it did look like it on this wintery evening.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Display and de-clutter

When decorating a home, it's always a decision between minimising displays or showing off everything you've ever collected. Sometimes though, a display of well-loved or precious objects can often de-clutter your cupboard space. The best advice is to rotate your displays so that not everything is out at once. And this way, you get to enjoy everything! 
I have a circa 1930s Kodak Brownie camera usually on display by itself, but I pulled out a very cool 1950s Braun camera that used to belong to my grandfather and a 2000 film SLR of my dad's. Together the three cameras represent three generations of keen photographers (not that I've ever actually taken photos with the Brownie). 
Likewise the old bubble bath bottles could just gather dust in the cupboard but together make a pretty display.