Archive for the ‘holidays’ Category

A couple of days ago, my family and I returned from our summer vacation. Summer in New Zealand heralds Christmas and the long break from school. It’s the annual chance to escape from the city for a while and take a breather.

This year, my two younger boys travelled with their father to visit the other half of their family who live in the lower South Island.

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I decided to spend the holiday at the beach with my eldest son and his family. We travelled to stay at my father’s former home (now holiday accommodation) with it’s spectacular view of the sea.

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This meant I got to spend ten days in the company of my first grandchild, a squeezable six-month-old baby girl.

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I had looked forward to it for months, as I’d only spent time with my granddaughter for a few hours at a time prior to that and it hadn’t been long enough to form a proper bond with her.

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It was such a heart warming experience to watch my son with his daughter. His life is coming together. He qualified as a plumber and gasfitter in 2018. He’s met a terrific partner; they’re engaged to be married. She already has two children and they’ve had their first child together, and they make an excellent team. It’s gratifying to witness your child being a responsible parent. He’s a great father and takes care of his family. What better sight is there to see.

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There’s something special about the summer holidays, isn’t there? When you get to spend time with family under the same roof. It was relaxing and wonderful to hang out together for an extended period. It was even more fun having a new baby in the family. We had the very great joy of introducing her to some things. I relished introducing her to Kiwi classic children’s books by Lynley Dodd, The Nickle Nackle Tree and the Hairy Maclary series.

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We took her to the beach for the very first time.

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We gave her first whole fruit to herself, a nectarine. She noshed big chunks out of it.

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We introduced her to badminton! She was a dab hand, straight away, at bashing the racket on the concrete and making dings in the rim.

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We taught her the art of selfies.

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We showed her how to wear a fetching Santa suit at the beach and make all the females swoon with adoration.

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Suffice to say, my granddaughter and I have bonded at last. I think it was better I was on holiday without the younger boys because it gave me the chance to focus on the baby.

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I returned to the city to collect my two youngest sons from the airport, and we were all home safe and sound by the evening of New Year’s Day.

I have had a little think about my intentions for the next twelve months and written them down in a notebook, which feels like a way of making myself accountable. Despite the doomsdayers and naysayers, I feel optimistic and excited about the year ahead. Life is what you make it, as my dear old dad always said, and I’ve started 2019 feeling refreshed and revitalised in every way.

Happy New Year to you and yours! Here’s to a rockin’ 2019!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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On the seventh day, God rested. His grandchildren must have been out of town. ~ Gene Perret

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Subscribe to my Newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

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Last Saturday, the youngest son left New Zealand along with twenty-six other kids, on this year’s ‘Californian Adventure.’ The trip is organized and run each year by Koru Care NZ, a charitable trust based in the South Island of New Zealand, whose mission statement is ‘making dreams come true for seriously ill and disabled children.’

As the last days counted down before departure, the tension began to mount, which escalated into pure adrenalin. We all got swept up in it. The tide of enthusiasm skipped from the kids, who were racing from all parts of the country to meet at Auckland International Airport, to the parents, whether through the Facebook page they’d set up or via those who could be there in person.

The kids were so happy, it was a force to be reckoned with.

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The photos started flooding into the Facebook page, which has became my favourite port of call every day since. The organisers have been brilliant, because through the steady stream of pictures, we parents have been able to follow along for the ride.

Part one of their grand adventure has been spectacular.

The first day in California was a free day, to give everyone time to get over the jetlag. There were pictures of kids swimming in the pool and eating ice creams and visiting the local food joints. In these pictures, I can see the youngest son is still finding his feet, still feeling a bit awkward with his new companions. Their second day, they took a bus ride to visit the California Highway Patrol where the kids watched demonstrations by the officers and learned about the work they do. They received souvenirs and were allowed to take photographs sitting on the bikes and cars.

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At this stage, the kids and the adults were visibly starting to relax more in the photos, and it seemed they were getting to know one another. I could tell the youngest son had befriended the other heart kid he was sharing a room with. In the pictures, the kids were chatting and getting on.

The whole group dynamic seemed to be becoming more like a family.

The fourth day, they took a bus tour to see the Hollywood Walk of Fame. There was a video taken of the kids screaming when they saw the Hollywood sign. The excitement was infectious. They went to Universal Studios, where they visited Harry Potter’s World and the Staples Centre. In these photos, the youngest son is having fun. There is a hilarious video posted on the KoruCare page of my son and others standing in front of a huge transformer.

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The robot knocked off the son’s cap and said, ‘Pick up your hat.’ The son picked it up and the transformer knocked it off again. This was repeated four times to greater and greater laughter from the crowd, and the funny part was the transformer laughed each time too. The group of kids around the youngest son seem tight-knit, and everyone’s in a great mood. The footage absolutely made my day.

It constantly amazes me how much joy my son’s good fortune is bringing me. I’m so happy for him I could burst!

Today, being the fifth day of their Californian Adventure, the Koru Care team visited SeaWorld in San Diego. That would have been the first time my son has ever seen a display like that, and I’m sure he would have been in awe and wonder.

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The way the trip has been organized, every morning the kids are told where they are going that day, they have no idea beforehand. The youngest son’s carer had explained the intention behind it being ‘that every morning will be like Christmas morning.’

I wish I could be a fly on the wall for tomorrow morning. Because tomorrow they get to go to … drum roll, please … Disneyland!

33674968_10155287787936744_7223338404287610880_nThe reactions should be priceless. My son will be over the moon. As his cousin was pointing out to me today, ‘This is a big step up from having gone on his first roller coaster ride, this year.’ In January, the boys and I had visited our first ever fun fair. The boys couldn’t get enough of the rides, and the youngest son said it was the most fun he’d ever had. So, for a treat, in May, I paid for him and friends and family to go to Rainbow’s End for his thirteenth birthday. He spent a delirious day going on every ride. That was when he went on his first rollercoaster. And here we are, in October, and he’s about to go to Disneyland! He’ll be in seventh heaven.

I’m so grateful to the good folk who do all the fund raising for these trips and the running of Koru Care Nz What an incredible organization. Support in any way you can. Thank you!

 

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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“May your dreams be larger than mountains and may you have the courage to scale their summits.” -Harley King

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A few months ago, our family got some great news. The youngest son had been chosen as a “heart kid” (a child who has undergone open heart surgery) to go along on this year’s ‘California Adventure.’ A trip to Disneyland is organized and run each year by Koru Care Charitable Trust NZ, ‘making dreams come true for seriously ill and disabled children.’

I overheard a conversation the youngest son was having yesterday with friends while playing Fortnite. One member of the squad asked, “Why do you get to go to Disneyland?” and another answered, “It’s his reward for surviving heart surgery.” That’s the truth and yet, my youngest felt bad about accepting the gift. He said he felt someone else should be going on the trip in his place because he ‘didn’t deserve it.’

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And so, I gently reminded him of the terrifying journey of the first five years of his life. It was an endlessly harrowing ride for me as his chief nurse and caregiver.

The youngest of my three boys was born in 2005, with complex congenital heart disorder (or CHD), although we did not know that at the time. The first clue came when he started coughing at three weeks old, though he had no other symptoms of ill health.

The cough would come and go from then on, however when he did contract the flu, then his health would plummet fast and the cough would become life threatening and continuous. It took me five years to figure out what was wrong, as we went down the road of misdiagnoses and educated guesses, and countless trial treatments.

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Finally, after trying everything, I told our doctor the whole story. She listened carefully to his chest. Her diagnosis of a heart murmur then led us on to the hospital tests, which finally confirmed the actual problem was a sizeable hole in his heart or atrial septal defect. The medical part of our journey began there.

In 2010, he underwent double bypass open heart surgery. The operation was later added to the “unusual casebook.” The “hole” in his heart was ‘more than just a hole, there was only a rim between the upper chambers,’ the surgeon, Dr. Elizabeth Rumball, told us later, ‘and his heart had grown a single vein from the liver to the bottom of the heart,’ something she had never seen before. Dr. Rumball had to figure out how create an autologous pericardial patch to fix both issues.

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After six hours of surgery, my five-year-old woke up in Pediatric Intensive Care, with a gash down his chest, in a lot of pain. Only three days out from the surgery, he’d been moved to the high dependency unit and was already taking his first steps. Three days later, we were released to go home.

We’ve come a long way since those days. The youngest son starts high school, next year. One of the teachers asked me how having had the surgery affects him now. I said, he’s fine now, yet, he will always be that little bit “fragile,” and he won’t have quite the same stamina and energy levels as other kids. Child heart patients are also susceptible to emotional, developmental and behavioural problems. We haven’t had any issues there, so far.

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He has to take daily medications and rest a little more than other kids his own age. But, generally he is healthy, fit and well. He bikes to school each day. And, wonderfully, gone are the days and nights of coughing. He has quality of life and the prospect of a healthy future ahead.

With a bit of gentle prodding on my part, the youngest son had remembered his journey and accepted that maybe it was acceptable for him to go on the California Adventure.

After another month and a half, I started the process of medical clearance for him to take the trip. I started on doing the paperwork, and buying the things he would need to take with him. I borrowed luggage and we went to get some money changed into U.S currency.

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As the weeks have gone by, the pressure to have everything in order has increased. And in the last two weeks, I’ve been flat tack. Tonight, the bags are packed. The boy has had his nails trimmed, and he’s had a haircut.

Everything is done, at last.

On Saturday, he leaves on the California Adventure with twenty-four other lucky kids.

The youngest son said, “I don’t feel happy very much, but about this trip, I feel the happiest I’ve ever been.”

The joy! What parent doesn’t want to hear that?

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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You don’t have favourites among your children but you do have allies. ~ Zadie Smith

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Blessed be the ties that bind generations. ~ Unknown

To our eyes looking on, our father appeared to be doing well, living independently in his own home until the last of his days, with a little help from my sisters. However, since his death, we have been discovering the true extent to which he had let things go. At the grand old age of eighty-four, dear dad had still been making his own meals and driving his own car without any problem and lived a full, busy life in the Coromandel Peninsula. Yet, property maintenance was one of the things he’d let slip.

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When dad died in February this year, as our last surviving parent, it fell to us to clear our parents’ property. It took a long time just to start to sort out the possessions. Dad’s garage alone took weeks of effort. We always used to joke, when he was alive, that our father was ‘the guy who had it all, and kept it in his garage.’ His double garage was stacked to the gunnels with stuff dating back to the luggage that had come over on the ship with mum and my two sisters in 1962. Our goal became just to see the floor.

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It was only when we began to see the floor, and get through that stage of constant sorting and waste elimination that the house itself became a focus. That was when my sister discovered the rotting timbers and non-regulation home handiwork. That was when she found that the sea air had corroded the bolts holding certain key structural things like the upstairs deck. That was when we heard that the damage had gone so far the deck would need replacing within the next few years. The reality hit home.

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Dad, for all his integrity and goodness and spirit, had let the reins slip a bit. Our new family co-owners decided to invest in the place, which means we may be lucky enough to holiday there together as family for the foreseeable future, as long as most visits are accompanied by a working bee to get the maintenance done. We might be able to keep our parents’ property but only if we’re prepared to work for it.

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The boys and I just came home from the usual “boys’ trip” we do every school holidays. We met my brother and nephew and niece at dad’s home by the seaside, where my sister had been working hard.

We went to the beach. We worked in Grandpa’s garage.

We played basketball. We threw out a skip worth of rubbish.

We went to a 60th birthday party. We scrubbed and cleaned the conservatory from floor to ceiling.

It’s wonderful to spend time together and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of hard work to earn your cold beer at the end of the day.

The joy is in living for an extended period under the same roof that’s what it’s all about.

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The other very nice thing that has started to happen as the jobs get ticked off one-by-one, is that we have started to witness our parents’ dilapidated home gaining a new lease of life. The effort being put in behind the scenes by various family members has been herculean. Each improvement transforms the old place a little more. It has “a million dollar view” as we like to say, so it has great potential.

If the property can become a source of passive income stream for the co-owners then it’s possible we might be able to keep it in the family.

It’s a wonderful feeling. It feels like keeping our connection to our parents, who are buried in the small town. It feels like it would make dear old dad happy, who had once expressed a wish we keep the place ‘if we could.’

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It feels like providing that link to family history for our children and grandchildren, the tradition of coming together there in holiday times and at Christmas.

Therefore I am happy and willing to work as much as needed and even contribute money, if necessary, in order to keep the old homestead in the family. In these turbulent times, there’s nothing more important.

To go “home,” it feels immeasurably comforting simply to be there. You feel grounded and settled into neutral again. While at the same time you feel supercharged with energy like you put your finger in a light socket. We came home and I felt rejuvenated.

For me, the little seaside town is my turangawaewae or the place in the world I most feel my roots. What about you, where’s your turangawaewae?

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Family is the most important thing in the world. ~ Princess Diana

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My brother and I decided to start the school holidays with a working bee. We made our first “boys trip” to mums and dads home by the sea since our father died.

I wanted to continue the tradition we had set up years ago, of taking our sons to the family homestead and spending time together during each school holidays. Back then, of course, the family vacays had been primarily for us to gather the boys around their grandfather in a regular fashion. However, after dad died in February, my brother was ready to abandon the holiday get-together – so much so, that we didn’t meet up there in the last school break. My kids and I really missed it.

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These family sabbaticals are essential, to my way of thinking. Otherwise, we see one another briefly a few times a year for birthdays and other celebrations. It’s not long enough to keep the fabric of our familial relationships alive and breathing. The internet is great and all very well. But, a true actual connection with your people comes through face-to-face conversations and spending time together.

I said, ‘I would like to continue the “boys’ trips” for as long as our teenagers want to go.’ My brother agreed, and we met in mums and dads quaint wood cabin on the first day of the holidays.

IMG_2957Unfortunately, without our parents there to maintain the place, when we drive up, it’s to a wild wonderland of weeds and overgrown paths. We’re also still reclaiming the land from the wilderness which had begun to overtake the gardens in the last few years of dad’s life. Upon every stay there now, we are reminded of how much work there is to be done.

The flat downstairs has been successfully renovated for renting out. The upstairs doesn’t need anything doing inside. It’s the house exterior and the grounds that need drastic elbow grease applied. Therefore, every trip is a working bee, by extension.

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We classed our stay at Grandpa’s as the ‘fifth working bee,’ and while we were there, we took three trailers of rubbish to the dump, marking the 23rd trip made to release our parents’ plethora of stuff.

Although the kids helped at times, mostly they wanted to have fun. Left to their own devices, they reverted to teenage things: like trekking down to the reserve to play ball, or lying around playing cards, and even tried their hands at cooking. They got to play cards with us in the evenings and watch movies lying on mattresses pulled before the fire.

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We didn’t trek up to the peak of the mountain, we didn’t go to the beach or the golf course, nor did we catch any fish. We worked hard on the family property, made meals together, and got to hang out in each other’s company for four days. And it was wonderful.

The best memories in life are made of such simple shared times as these.

It was such a delight to be in the fresh air of the seaside. It was such a pleasure to have an open fire, which we left burning all day on the really cold days, and it was satisfying to see the neglected areas come to life with a bit of TLC.

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We aim to slowly do the clean up and improvements on the house exterior, as well as to make the gardens low-maintenance, except for the veggie gardens, which we’ll hopefully keep going. We need to repaint, and to redo the steps and the ramp.

There is a huge amount to be done. But, nothing is daunting when you have a team alongside and you do each stint together. Every day, we moved mountains of rubbish and cleared whole areas of weeds. I made big pots of food each night and we feasted as only those who are truly hungry can. You’re exhausted and replete and sleep well.

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I particularly enjoy the conversations in the car. On this trip, my young nephew, who sat shotgun, was able to whip out his phone and check messages sometimes. But, the rest of the journey, we were stuck together with nothing to do but talk. You get to cover a broad spectrum of topics and catch up on everything. You can’t wander away and make food. You can’t read. Your attention is focused on what is being said. Car-bound conversations are some of the best I’ve ever had.

We finished our break by plotting the next one! We know it’ll be more blood, sweat and tears and, yet, we can’t wait.

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts. ~ Author Unknown

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I think when you have kids at the age of fifteen and twelve. you’re daily reminded by the sheer size of your children that the days of raising them are nearly over. At this stage, every milestone, every Christmas and New Year’s, has a slight touch of pathos, and there is the ever present awareness of appreciating their last days of childhood, their last carefree days of their youth.

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The six weeks the boys have off from school every summer has been one of the parts of parenting I’ve relished over the years. Never more so than now.

Of course, for a writer, who works from home, it is also a lot noisier, and it is more chaotic and harder to concentrate having the kids underfoot, yet, it’s an undeniable opportunity to spend time and bond together.

I would never allow myself to take that sort of time off writing usually, but because the kids need shepherding, help, driving about, as well as to be fed and watered during the holidays, I say, ‘it’s okay, I must.’ I end up taking the breaks with them.

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That’s no mean feat, because it takes a lot to stop me. I’m like a speeding locomotive. I get so much done during the year that when the festive season approaches, I’ll typically keep writing right up to Christmas Eve. This last Christmas, I stayed at my desk until 11.30 p.m. on the 24th before I finally conceded and closed the file on the work-in-progress, The Last Tree, and put the computer away.

When I finally do go on holiday, I like to go off the grid. I don’t take any devices with me, not even a phone. I think time away from the internet is very important for the creative soul, to replenish itself in nature and natural things.

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The kids and I, along with my eldest son spent the festive break with family at dad’s place, from Christmas to after New Year’s, for days of sun, sand and surf.

Burying children repeatedly in the sand

IMG_1454Eating fish and chips with the cousins

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hanging out together

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climbing mountains…

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…and more eating together.

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Once the kids and I returned to the city, we spent a day at the beach, a couple of days shopping for gadgets and supplies, a picnic with the family, friends coming over, dinner out, as well as a day trip to the fun fair.

It’s two weeks into the New Year and I still haven’t returned to work fully. It’s lovely to let go of the reigns, to take the foot off the accelerator for a few weeks, and remember what it is to have no agenda apart from having fun and connecting with the family, with no jobs to do other than to keep the food coming!

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We’re nearing the end of the kids’ long break, though. There are only one and a half weeks left. Thoughts turn towards preparation for school: stationary, uniforms, shoes, and of course, paying the various fees. But, there will be one or two more “play dates” for the boys and most likely, a few swims first.

All in all, our break has covered the bases, and I have to say, I like the feeling of 2018. Heading into the year of the Earth Dog, despite everything going on in the world, I feel a tentative optimism.

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I’m reminded of a great one of my dear grandmother’s invocations, once said to my sister and me and never forgotten.

One day when Gran was struggling with her health issues, she said to us, ‘let us go forward with a confident sense of anticipation.’ That quaint saying or “Nanism,” as I once coined my grandmother’s little repeated phrases, has become a favourite of ours, and it encapsulates my sense of the year ahead.

What’s your sense of 2018? Can you move forward with a confident sense of anticipation? 

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Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Remember there are more aspects to good health than the physical body, work just as hard on finding your mental, emotional and spiritual happiness too. ~ Holly Butcher

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Over the festive period and summer holidays this year, I’ve been getting out more socially. My oldest friends finally managed to prise me out of my writer’s cave. I get so intense about my work, that it’s actually quite a relief to take a minute off and be reminded to cut loose again. When a girlfriend I hadn’t seen in thirty-five years, turned to greet the rest of us old high school mates, as we arrived in the bar last night with, “Right ladies, it’s time for cocktails,” you know it’s time to party.

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Now that my friends and I are into our fifties, the conversation topics will always include stories of our children and aging parents. Romy Halliwell put it best when she said; Middle age is that time in life when children and parents cause you equal amounts of worry.

Yet, there is great comfort and surcease to be had by sharing these stories of anxiety. We hear tips, we gain new ideas for how to do things.

Each event has been a lot of fun! It’s nice to see everyone again and catch up.

At the same time, I approach social events a little differently to other people. As a writer, I absorb lots of details, and a party is like being bombarded with information. Israeli author, David Grossman, once said, ‘Telling your secrets to an author is very much like hugging a pickpocket.’ That’s a great analogy. I come home from social events loaded with ideas and voices and colours, enriched with the minutiae of people’s lives.

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The conversations have covered all the important bases, too: we’ve discovered one another’s current home locations, marital status, and career situations.

There is one subject however, which I try to avoid at all costs. Money. The stark reality for the majority of authors, is that they will never recoup the production costs, let alone make a living out of writing fiction.

From what I understand, very few fiction authors do.

When talking about the subject of money, I always think of a friend who collaborated with us on the Kissed by an Angel anthology. Ellen Warach Leventhal. Ellen said that, during an author visit to an Elementary School in the States, this was her favourite response from a fourth grader: “You work hard, you don’t know if you’ll ever get paid for it, and you aren’t rich? Man, not sure I want to do that.”

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Or, I remember picture book creator, Don Tate’s recent Facebook post, which said, ‘Book birthdays are exciting but, let’s face it, they’re quiet. After many years of hard work, a book is finally available for sale. There are no trumpets. There is no confetti. Heck, there ain’t even no money. So, I like to make my book birthday’s as special as possible.’

Good on him, for throwing a big shindig to celebrate every book, and for being honest about this business.

A top tier of authors do make a fantastic living, and there is good money to be made. The rest of us have to slog it out for the sales. Like most authors and artists I know, I have to maintain a whole variety of other income streams, in order to survive.

Therefore, when I go out socially, and I’m making conversation with old mates, it gets awkward when everyone is comparing “what are you doing now” stories.

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My tale of hard won self-published books comes across sounding pretty weak, even to my ears, alongside the dizzying career heights of my professional female friends.

After listening to their stellar achievements I heard myself saying, “Producing a book is a lot of hard work.” “I need to sell a hundred books to get my first royalty cheque.” Somehow, it didn’t sound quite as glamorous!

Then, I thought of the letter left by Holly Butcher, the twenty-seven-year-old with cancer, which I read on Facebook today. She said of our worries, I swear you will not be thinking of those things when it is your turn to go.

This reminded me about to get real about what matters.

Last night, instead of trying to compete with success stories, I concentrated on sharing with my friends how much fun and fulfilment I get from writing fiction for children. Do what makes your heart sing, right? In the end, that’s what really matters.

Is your profession your passion in 2018?

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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‘I’d rather sing one wild song and burst my heart with it, than live a thousand years watching my digestion and being afraid of the wet.’ ~ Jack London

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I have talked about my homemade festive cards in previous posts, however, since there have been lots of new subscribers to this blog in 2017, in the spirit of the season, I’d like to welcome everyone aboard and share the idea again.

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I make a festive card featuring my kids each year. The tradition began with the birth of my middle child, Samuel in 2002, and continued when the youngest was born three years later, featuring both the youngest boys on the cover.

In one little festive-themed image, I could instantly update friends and family about the kids’ progress, and using cards recycled from the year before. It was a win-win situation. The homemade card is easy, super cheap being made out of mostly recycled materials, and most importantly, it’s fun to do.

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Every year, towards the end of November, I make my kids sit and pose for the Xmas photo. There’s always a lot of moaning and groaning. But, eventually they cooperate, and we always get a good picture. Sometimes they help with the crafting of the cards, yet even if they don’t, that really is the fun part, crafting the end result.

So, if you’d like to start a new family tradition and try making the card yourself, here’s the process:

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Start by taking your chosen photo and reducing the size to fit your choice of card size. I like to do miniatures so the pictures are small and dinky. I am able to get eight miniatures onto an A4 page. Once you’ve set them out on the page the way you want it print as many pages as needed. I usually limit it to sixteen cards in total, as they do take a bit of time and one has to divide one’s time between a lot of activities at Christmas.

Next, cut out the pictures.

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I make templates for the size of the card and the layer of decorative paper in between, and the photo, so a bit of the decorative paper and a border of the card itself will show around the image, in other words, each is progressively larger. Using a template keeps things uniform and pleasing to the eye, and saves time each year.

For the cardboard, I buy cheap bulk packs of old Christmas cards from charity shops. Sometimes, I save the cards we’ve received from the year before and recycle them by pasting white paper over the writing inside.

Either way, cut out sixteen pieces of cardboard to the size of the first template.

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Cut out sixteen pieces of festive themed paper, to the next size template.

Glue the paper onto the front of the card. Don’t worry about whether the patterns match or if you’ve got the layers running in different directions. This is art. Be funky and wild and have fun with it. Go crazy, man!

Then, trim your photo to the size of the picture template.

Choose your bling. I use a type of synthetic crafting fibre which my mother bought for me at a crafting fair many moons ago, which forms a sheet of shimmery stuff. With names like Cotton Candy and Lemon Sparkle you can’t go wrong. I take a clump of that, and iron it flat, then I cut the sheet into small strips or rectangles to add a touch of shimmer. You could also cut up cellophane or tinsel. Alternatively, you could use good old glitter.

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Paste your family photo on top of this background decorative paper, trapping the synthetic fiber, tinsel or cellophane in between.

Decorate! Let ‘er rip and have fun embellishing the fronts of the cards. Sometimes I use glitter, beads and doodads. But, this year, I just added stickers, using up all the kids’ festive themed stickers. Double bonus!

Write a personal message inside each card and send them snail mail to friends and family.

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Fifteen years later and the satisfaction hasn’t waned. I’ve just mailed fourteen handmade cards to friends and family and it feels lovely.

I always make sure there are two cards left over, one for me, as a keepsake, and one “spare.” The funny thing is, every year without fail, I get asked by a random person whether they could receive one of our cards, and I say, ‘yes, I happen to have one left over.’ The spare always finds a home! Last year, the spare went to Paeroa, New Zealand, and this year, it went to Istanbul, Turkey!

We get a terrific response to our cards. Let us know if you do, too!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love. ~ Hamilton Wright Mabie

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Subscribe to my Newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

There is nothing quite like the smell of an extra spicy fruit cake baking in the oven, however, the Queen of them all is the old English style Christmas Cake. In essence, it’s a deeply rich fruit mixture heavy on the fruit and steeped in rum or brandy. Thick and dense, it bakes for up to four hours on a low heat, which is a nice long time for the smell to permeate the house. We love it.

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I come from a family of British immigrants to New Zealand, and despite the fact we have summer in the festive season, my parents continued the tradition of the “Christmas Cake.” I have raised my boys with our own version of the family tradition. At the end of November, my kids and I don our aprons and head into the kitchen for the labour of love.

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I think the secret to a good result is in soaking the fruit in orange juice and rum or brandy overnight. In the old English style, the ratio of dried fruit to flour is about four to one. Typically, there will be raisins, currants, sultanas and chopped dates. Most recipes call for glace cherries and crystallised ginger, but, as I’m not fond of these ingredients, I like to add chopped dried apricots and figs and extra blanched almonds.

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This year, my boys and I came up with a fun idea for a crafty gift. We only used half the batter for the traditional rectangular cake, which will be iced closer to Christmas with brandy butter icing.

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The other half of the batter, we fashioned into rough balls and baked in muffin tins. In this form, they take half the time, roughly two to two and a half hours at a low heat. They form a nice firm ball. Once cool, we dusted them lightly with sifted icing sugar.

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We wrapped the individual balls in baking paper, making neat little parcels with cotton gift ties.

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I had been collecting gift boxes and tins from the thrift stores the last few weeks. We wrapped the paper parcels in cellophane wrap to ensure they will stay fresh as long as possible and divided the balls between the tins and boxes.

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We wrote a personalised message on a gift tag inside each lid.

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We tied a ribbon on each box and there you have it, our Christmas Cake Balls as a gift you can make with your kids and give away at this year.

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Do you make your own gifts or have your own crafting traditions at this time of year? If so, let us know!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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It is never too late to start enjoying a happy childhood. ~ Joy Cowley

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Subscribe to my Newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

*Courtesy warning: contains meat products.*

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I wish you could smell my kitchen right now. The smell is savoury, deeply fragrant and spicy. I’ve spent the whole day making meatballs. And let me tell you, it has been so much fun.

For those of us with children at school, we’re coming to the time of year when the kids take their next holidays. My thoughts have swung forward to organizing our next trip to visit grandpa.

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With travel in mind, the first thing I do is start to plan the food. This time, I plan to make a batch of pumpkin soup and freeze it into small batches to take with us. I like to take a few pre-made things. That way I don’t have to spend a lot of time making food when I’d rather be spending time with my father or with the kids.

I recently went to see a “medical herbalist.” She takes a comprehensive look at diet and lifestyle. She suggests herbs and some kind of eating plan. Mine discovered a few things absent nutritionally from my diet and she sent me an eating plan as well as a great list of suggested snacks.  Boiled eggs. Check. Tahini or hummus with vegetable sticks. Check. And homemade meatballs, “a small concentrated bundle of protein, handy to have as they last well in the fridge.”

I had never considered making meatballs to have on hand as a snack. I thought, what a great snack food for my hungry growing boys as well. I’m always looking for easy protein options for them.

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Mini meatballs would be the perfect thing to go in the boys’ lunchboxes for school as well as for the upcoming car journey. Why mini? Kids like small foods. So I decided to come up with a “healthy meatball” I would feel good about the kids and I eating on a regular basis. I retreated to my kitchen lab today and I came with a tasty low fat treat. The nice thing about having precooked meatballs with you on vacation is that they make a great sandwich or roll filling and can form the basis of a nice dinner with the addition of pasta and tomato sauce.

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Here’s my mini meatball:

Combine 375g mince, fresh herbs and a good dose of dried mixed herbs, fresh ginger grated on the fine grater, a cup of crumbled fresh Vogels (or wholemeal) bread (not the crusts), 2 tbs tomato sauce (I added a few diced angel tomatoes), a handful of minced fresh greens like spinach or silverbeet, I used the light-green inner of one leek, finely chopped, plus a glug of good olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper.

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The best part is smooshing all the ingredients between your fingers and then rolling balls of the mixture between your hands. In case you’re wondering, yes, it is just like rolling play dough into balls as a child! I’ve heard chefs say before that meatballs are a favourite recipe and now I can see way. It was brilliant fun.

All it takes is chopping and mixing a bunch of ingredients, pinch into small balls and you’re done.

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However, as meat is fatty, and I’d added some good fat to make it stick together, I didn’t want to add more fat by frying the balls in a pan. I wanted to bake them like miniature meatloaves. I came up with the solution of placing each little ball in a miniature container.

I baked them for 30-40 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius.

When they came out they were each sitting, bubbling, in an inch of oil.

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At this point, you have to be ready with paper towels spread over the baking rack, and a pair of tongs. You want to whisk those meatballs out of the oil as fast as you can to prevent them from soaking the oil back up again. If they hit the paper towel warm they’ll continue leaking even more excess oil. The resulting meatball will retain some of the fat but most of it has been rendered.

Take them off the paper and let them cool the rest of the way on the baking rack. Freeze in relatively small batches, so you can take out half a dozen at a time and still have some for another day.

Our mini meatballs look and taste great, they’re our family’s healthy take on an old favourite.

Do you have a go-to recipe to take on holiday?

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Do your little bit of good where you are; it is those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world. ~ Desmond Tutu

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Subscribe to my Newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com