Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Shrinky-dink dollies

As you may know I've been playing around a lot lately with shrinking plastic. I've already used old yoghurt containers to make jewellery parts and used shrinking plastic (bought at a crafts shop) to make wine glass tags to keep my guests from confusing their glasses at parties. It's becoming a bit of an obsession of mine to sit down in front of the oven and watch the magic take place!

My latest shrinking adventure combines another of my huge life's obsessions; paper dolls.  I've been an avid collector of them since before I can remember. Back in Canada I have thousands of uncut paper doll books in storage (as soon as I get a larger house over here I'll finally have them shipped) and a nice growing European collection as well.

the dolls drawn out in pencil
To avoid cutting up my precious books but to be able to share my love of them with Sera I have been photocopying some of the rarer versions and cutting them up to play with but when I got the shrinking bug I had a new idea - shrinky-dink paper dolls!

Doing some research I found out that I'm not the first person to have thought of this... Check out this post by another momma shrinking up some dolls for her daughter.

I drew out the dolls and clothes by tracing in pencil a paper doll we had just gotten as a gift (thanks mum!) and altering the design to look more like a grown up version of Sera. Then I let Sera colour the clothes any way she liked with Sharpies (permanent markers... Watch out for clothes and furniture!!). We did four outfits and shoes.  I carefully coloured in the doll asking Sera what colours she would like for the various elements and polished up her finished clothes with details like bows and polka dots where needed.
concentrating on making things pink

After cutting out all the pieces we shrunk them in the oven as usual... Low heat for three minutes or until flattened out. Then left them on the counter to cool. Unfortunately, the shoes came out way too tiny to use (pinky fingernail tiny) but the clothes were adorable, colourful and fun!

into the oven as usual
Instead of using velcro strips as in the tutorial mentioned above or another obvious choice, magnets, I decided to borrow an idea from my shrinky wine tags and use patafix/bluetack for attaching the clothes to the doll.  It worked out perfectly because it meant that the was nothing permanently marking the doll. The results were wonderful and Sera was very proud that she designed the clothes.

The only down side of the project was that the patafix is tiny and tempting for little mouths.... This is not a toy to leave with your child unsupervised if they're on the younger side of the scale. Both because of the patafix and the clothes, which are small enough to be dangerous if ingested!

I'd say that the perfect age to try this activity is around five or six years old. That way the child can do a little more work on the clothes and doll and you can make two or more dolls at a time.  Another alternative would be to not have the dolls dress up at all and instead to create characters for a play scene that you put together with your child. Maybe the technique could even be used for homework projects and dioramas!?
teeny tiny shrunken dollies!

I'm sure we'll find another project for shrinking plastic quite soon!

Monday, 29 July 2013

Postcards from Cattolica

We just got back from a sunny week on the beach in Cattolica, Italy. Despite the name, this resort town is not a haven for religious zealots, quite the contrary in fact, unlike most cities in Italy I didn't see a single church during our stay.

No, the Catholic religion isn't the main draw for this resort town. The main draw is the beach. And oh! How the Italians worship their beloved Mare and Spiaggia you might start thinking that this was a religious experience after-all! The entire seafront is tiled with stabilimenti balinear (bathing establishments... private access beaches) each one with rows upon rows of sun chairs and umbrellas set up like pews to worship the sun and sea. This resort city did start out as a stop on pilgrimages (hence the name) but has been a tourist haven and beach destination since the end of the first world war.  Each hotel is affiliated with a beach and when you arrive the first day you're given your seat (back row for us) for the rest of your stay. You can leave your sand toys and towels overnight and find them fresh and ready the next day for more fun in the sun.

Cattolica is not a place I would have enjoyed a few years ago.  The beaches are crowded despite having rented your own little space.  The water isn't crystal or clear or even blue for that matter, but more of a cloudy forest green.  The sand is nicer than I've seen on Puglia's free beaches in that it's cleaned daily (you're paying for that too) but it's nothing compared to my exotic beach experiences of Australia and Thailand or my childhood memories of time spent in Florida or New England.  Regardless, it was sandy enough for Sera to enjoy playing in the shade for hours on end every morning of our stay and get herself breaded with it like a squirming ,laughing chicken breast, ready for the fryer.

In the evenings the city cools down but the nightlife really heats up. After dinner swarms of people take to the pedestrian shopping streets and boardwalk which seem to stretch all the way to Rimini and beyond and just wander around, trying to digest the traditionally abundant vacation food consumed.  I have to admit that we overate as well, consuming starters, first and second courses at every meal, including breakfast!  There were young people everywhere and bars and restaurants were full but there wasn't the same rowdy feeling you can sense in cities like Las Vegas or several islands of Greece.  All in all it seemed like a place for young people on beach based holidays, families with children and teens who hadn't quite ventured out on their own yet, but who were allowed to socialise with the friends they'd met on vacation after sundown without chaperone's.

As a young mum (I like that saying better than a mother of young children as it implies that I'm young as well), the place was fantastic and a perfect family destination. Sera had the time of her life!  In every waking moment the girl was having a blast.  Between jumping in the city's play-fountain, swimming in the sea, playing in the sand, splashing in the pool, making friends in baby-dance, playing in the kids' room and consuming as much ice cream as she could manage the girl just barely had enough time to get in her naps and overnight sleep.  She seemed carefree and entertained the entire time.

Now, that's not to say that I was carefree and entertained. Going on holiday with a two-year-old is not much different than staying at home with a two year old in that it's a lot of work for mum. If Sera was in the pool I was in the pool monitoring her jumps and dives (she's getting quite good but I'm still terrified she'll smash into the wall).  If she was playing in the sand I was on 'stay in the shade Sera!' and brushing sand from her eyes mode.  If she was in the ocean I was on the lookout for crabs, stones she could step on, and her head bobbing under. In other words, lots of hard work... but seeing how much fun she was having and in the moments I did just relax and let things go I was totally and completely happy.

The reason we chose Cattolica this year also had a lot to do with Sera's grandparents and the proximity to their home in Puglia. Cattolica is just about half way driving for all of us.  I think that with the way things went this week we'll probably think about doing the same thing next year.  Maybe we'll see you there!

Friday, 19 July 2013

Memory quilting: Part 1

time to give new life to some old favourites!
I find that one of the hardest things about watching Sera grow up is parting with some of the clothes that I can remember her looking lovely in, or that she wore on some milestone or other. Kids' clothes get stained however, and there's only so much space in my little loft to keep everything and every season she grows out of more and more and the memories keep building up!

I do tend to give a lot away to other mums with younger daughters, but there are some pieces that I love too much and are too personal to part with.

I did try to do some altering of some clothes which we can still get some use out of like the pink and balloons skirt which I reworked to last longer, but not everything is suitable for that kind of modification, and anyhow, a solution like that is still only temporary.

Beautiful Chevrons - Heather at the Quilt Barn
For a while now I've been kicking around the idea of making a memory quilt with Sera's baby clothes and have finally gotten around to sorting what's really to keep for her for when she's older (or for another baby...?) and what needs to go into the quilt so it can be on display and so that she can cherish it for years to come.

I've never actually quilted before either so have done some research as to what's needed and ordered my tools on line... For now a rotary cutter, cutting mat, and quilting ruler.

Here are some quilts which inspire me... click on the links to visit their sites! I have no clue what kind of design to go for yet, but love the idea of mixing squares and stripes and different colours and patters.

If you're interested in seeing more of my inspiration and collection of tutorials for this project visit and follow my Memory Quilt Board on Pinterest!

Nadine has an etsy shop where you can buy treasures like this one
a gorgeous quilt by Amy Smart over at Diary of a Quilter

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Gardaland with a 2 year old

We were in Gardaland recently having received tickets as a gift from a friend some of the questions I'm asked by any other mums and dads I mention it to is 'did Sera enjoy it / did you have fun / how was it?' so here goes:

Gardaland is Italy's biggest and well known theme park located next to a whole bunch of newer theme parks by Lago di Garda, a 1.5 hour drive from Milan.  The lake in itself hosts a billion reasons for visiting, but the theme park attracts even more tourists to the area and those who are looking to spend part of the day getting away from all that natural beauty.

The park itself boasts loads of rides and attractions for teens and adults and I think that that's really it's main draw.  There are a whole load of thrill rides and roller coasters and the yearly investment seems to be in those types of attractions. I guess the target audience isn't parents of little kiddies, but rather the 6 and over crown, and especially the 14 and over crowd.

In terms of the little guys, there is an area called fantasy land with a few train rides, a banana 'boat' which spins, but not on water, some horse ride, a few plane rides and other really really boring rides for the parents but which toddlers really enjoy.  Sera was frightened by one of the plane rides but I was on it with her so it was fine.  In other areas of the park you can find shows including a Madagascar branded circus act, a magic show with bubbles and a puppet show that the little ones can enjoy. There are also two carousels, a Pirates of the Caribbean copy and a magic house that gives the illusion of flipping upside down, all of which a 2 year old can ride on.... though at times on some of the rides I was thinking that we were being quite irresponsible parents subjecting Sera to strong images and ideas. I was terrified of the sea monster at the end of the pirate ride and Sera just said 'again!'.

We had lunch at the burger restaurant Covo dei Bucaneri near the pirates ride and later, after Sera fell asleep from all the fun we had a surprisingly good dinner (I had steak) at the Locanda di Corsaro Nero, also near the pirate ride.  Though the prices are more expensive than outside the park, both lunch and dinner exceeded expectations and far surpassed anything I ever ate at a Disney resort.

Sera really enjoyed the day and we had a great time watching her enjoy herself.  Her favourite by far was one of the carousels where every time it stopped she got to choose another animal or seat without having to get off and get back in line. She liked the princess carriage the most.

Seeing how it's so close I figure we'll probably go back another time, maybe when she's 6 or so so that she can enjoy more of the rides and have a stronger memory of the day.  I'm happy we didn't pay for the tickets however as there was a vast majority of the park we didn't get to see or enjoy yet.  All in all it was a really lovely day and I'd give it a 8 out of 10 and recommend it to friends.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

battling the cottony cushion scale

the cottony cushion scale

What feeling do you get in your stomach after looking at these guys for a little while? If your answer is disgust and horror mixed with a bit of nausea then we're on the same page.

Meet the cottony cushion scale, a recent tenant on my lemon tree potted outside my front door (and also living in the neighbours' roses).  The large white textured things are the mothers with egg sacks and you can see the young crawling around and setting up their own homes.

This thing is gross... don't try to touch the plant if it's infested, as I did originally, thinking cutting of the branches would help.. they're sticky and sickly and quite big.

I've starting war with the pest seeing how the colony is getting out of control now and I've spotted emigrants on the farthest branches threatening my other plants. I went to the garden centre in the hopes of finding a natural, non-pesticide solution, but because of the temperatures, season and size of the colony they told me I had no choice and sold me Zapi Insetticida Universale Abbattente (I've since learnt that I've been completely overcharged... I don't like to badmouth on my blog, but if you want to know what garden centre NOT to go to drop me a line... I'll give you a hint, it's really really close to where I live).

I contacted my neighbour to see if I could treat her roses as well. They have a large infestation in the upper vines so it's advisable to cut the plant down a bit and only treat the areas where needed. She gave me the ok.

Out I went, moved around my plants and discovered to my horror that my chinotto plant (another citrus, with orange like fruit and very fragrant flowers) and my other lemon tree were also showing the first signs of infestation! Oh no!

I got the shears out and got rid of the worst affected branches, even though the resulting forms were less than pretty. The chinotto looks like it had a haircut at a rave.  Then I started spraying the pesticide solution on  every branch and the tops and bottoms of every leaf until the plants were dripping.  As I sprayed I saw how some of the smaller white insects lost their coating and turned orange. Yuck yuck yuck!

I have to treat the plant again in a few weeks and I'm hoping that the product works cause I'd hate to lose these plants. I'm going to give my battle a few months, and if I see I'm losing, cut all three plants right back and hope for the best next spring, but I'm hoping it wont get to that stage.

Pests really are a pest aren't they?  Have you had any experiences with them or can you gardeners out there give me some new advise?

Monday, 15 July 2013

autoimmunity - part 3

advanced thrombotic microangiopathy: for something that almost killed me its rather beautiful!
I never intended for this to be a blog about medical conditions and I'm sorry for all of you faithful readers who come to see my crafting posts who have to put up with an occasional downer as well.

I didn't even expect to have to write a post on autoimmunity again for a little while. I know you're all dying to hear more about homeopathy and gluten free from my last post of the series but something unexpected came up this Wednesday which I think can help teach a super important, and in my case, life saving lesson to even the healthiest of my readers.

Here's the story:  I have always suffered from PCOS (polycistic ovaries syndrome) and have managed my symptoms successfully with the regular old birth control pill. There's much discussion as to the cause of PCOS and whether or not it's related to autoimmunity, but no one knows for sure. Regardless, since I've been taking the pill for about 20 years now (with a few brakes including a large one to allow for my little princess) for me it seemed something so natural, essential (for the PCOS symptoms) and irrelevant almost to the point of not mentioning it to doctors when I give my medical history.

When I was pregnant, I had a few extra tests done because of my autoimmunity to make sure that the pregnancy wouldn't be at risk for some as-ofyet unknown factors. I had some specific tests done which my immunologist assured me 'In your case shouldn't come back positive', but a few did... specifically the anticardiolipid antibodies and the lupus anticoagulant, which put together,  in most cases mean Antiphospholipid Syndrome.  Enough large words and links to Wikipedia.... In normal lingo that means my blood is thick and sticky and is very dangerous in pregnancy for miscarriage, stillbirths or lots of other nasty things that you don't want to hear when you're pregnant. I ran straight back to the doc with the results and was put on baby aspirin for the rest of the pregnancy with my levels being monitored closely and regular ultrasounds to make sure the baby was ok.  4 weeks before my due date I had to stop taking the aspirin (which increases the risk of hemorrhage during delivery) and in fact, Sera was born almost 2 weeks early and quite underweight for her gestational age.

I took my new baby home and after 40 days of injecting blood thinners to make sure that I didn't have strange clotting in my uterus never thought about Antiphospholipid Syndrome, or APS, again.

Until Wednesday; when, by chance I mentioned to my immunologist that I had had a abdominal ultrasound (for more fun autoimmune problems) and that all the technician had found was my PCOS which 'I already knew I had anyways and am controlling with the birth control pill' - I said.

I have never seen a doctor turn white. Especially not my doc, who I've known for five years now and who I pass most appointments joking around with.  He started leafing through my entire folder and repeating 'but I didn't know you were taking the pill... did I know? No, I didn't know... did I?'

Well, no he didn't... at least he didn't know I had restarted taking the pill about 4 months after Sera was born when the PCOS started to creep up again.  My gynaecologist prescribed it and since I didn't know much about Antiphospholipid Syndrome (nor do most people or doctors) didn't mention that to the gyno either... I didn't think it was something I had to mention.  I had always taking the pill before with no problems.

But it turns out there is a problem, a very serious one actually.  APS and oral contraceptives don't play nice together at all apparently... they both thicken the blood and mixed can cause significant problems such as deep vein thrombosis, stroke, heart attack, and pumonary embolism (what fun to hear... imagine me now in the doc's office and the colour of my face!)  The immunologist ran upstairs to the Thrombosis clinique with my data and came back with a game-plan:  stop taking the pill immediately, get these and tese and these blood tests (13 samples!) and when you have the results we'll figure out what to do about the PCOS and if you need more treatment for the APS.

Dear readers,  I have always had APS (or at least as long as y other autoimmune problems) so we're talking about roughly 13-20 years of walking around with a super-high risk of the above-mentioned killers and not knowing about it.  I'm having a hard time getting my mind around it, but am grateful and thankful to now know. I had been considering postponing the appointment on Wednesday but am so happy I went. The simple conversation with my doc may have saved my life and I'm lucky to have had it.

Even after stopping the pill I will have to learn more about APS and how to scan myself for warning signs of the potential problems related to it.  I noticed a bruise on my leg this morning which I would have normally not thought twice about, but will be keeping a close eye on it (although I think that it would be too coincidentaly to have a DVT 2 days after learning that you have a syndrome that created DVTs... there would have to be some strange powers at work).

The biggest lesson I learnt from the experience is that you should tell your doctor EVERYTHING... even the things you think are not important, even the things that you think that you already told them. 

not me talking with not my doctor

Had I told my immunologist back in 2011 that I was thinking of taking the pill again or had started to take it then he would have told me not to and that I couldn't and had I told my gynaecologist that I had APS (having understood its' significance) there's no way he would have prescribed me the pill... we would have had to find a new way to control the PCOS.  For as much as I am an expert on my health and have learnt to be in these past 13 years, I'm not a full expert and will need to learn to collaborate more with my docs and to live with a new full-disclosure at the risk of being banal policy.  For in as many times as I've filled out a form and they've asked what medications I take and I've written 'the contraceptive pill' and they're told me it's irrelevant, in my case it was VERY relevant this info and I had erroneously let myself be convinced otherwise.

The second biggest lesson I learnt is that when you are diagnosed with something, or prescribed something you need to go and find out everything you can about that illness or medication, then you have to make sure you ask questions... over and over.  Sometimes doctors don't know what they're doing.

I'm going to have to find out if there are alternatives which don't cause thrombosis that can help with my PCOS.  I'm not looking forward to the symptoms coming back and the pain that goes with them.  The thrombosis clinic mentioned one drug that may work and has fewer risks but I haven't looked into it yet as I have to wait for my blood results on the 19th.  I'm a bit worried about what the future holds for me with regards to that but as I mentioned before there were other times I lived with the symptoms and I'm sure I can do it again.

As all of my medical posts, this was a long and heavy one, but I'm sure that you understand it's been a strange and heavy few days for me.  If anyone out there is going through something similar I'd love to exchange ideas or tell you a bit more about my experiences.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, 12 July 2013

& Other Stories

I dont normally gush about a shop. In fact I often rather dislike shopping and hardly ever manage to go into the centre. Between the congestion charge and the parking it's an investment even to think about venturing into the cerchia die bastoni. On Wednesday however, I let Sera play hooky from nursery on the occasion of my mom being in Milan for a visit and we went into town.

I'm thrilled we did as I found my new favourite shop! & Other Stories only opened this past April and today was the first time I stepped inside, though I'm kicking myself that I didn't line up in the queue for the launch 3 months ago!

Spread over four floors of prime space in the heart of Milan's shopping district (the part at least for people like me who can't afford designers brands) on Corso vittorio Emmanuele, the store has a perfect layout and keeps you circulating over and over again. I was a little overwhelmed at first because I didn't expect the overload of things that I like... Jewellery, bags and gorgeous shoes just as you walk in the door.

On the first floor the elevator opened up onto rows of beauty counters with items of all colours in lovely packaging. I couldn't resist and picked up a gloss in Lemister Peach Lame (on sale @ 50% - €4.50), and a lipstick in Raynes Salmon (€15 euros regular price as its from the new colours).

On the top floor there were loads more styles of jewellery, clothes, tops, dresses, gorgeous lingerie and other accessories. Down in the basement I found an asymmetrical cotton dress for the summer on sale and grabbed that as well. I spent roughly 20-25 minutes per floor just browsing and checking each and very last item they had to offer, even Sera was patient enough to stay and have a look for that amount of time... There was so much to see and displayed beautifully.

The prices are absolutely decent even at full price, but watch out, it does all add up if you can't contain yourself and pick and choose between all the lovely treasures you'll find here. I decided that on this trip I'd limit my purchases a little bit to allow myself something to look forward to on my next visit. I also think that with the great variety of different and very unusual items the may become my first stop when seeking out birthday presents for my friends in the future... Even just a gift card would be perfect.

& Other Stories is located on Corso Vittorio Emanuele in Milan and you can visit them on line at www.stories.com

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Lido di Segirno

We spent this past Sunday at the Lido di Segrino after purchasing a promotional package for entry and lunch.  On their website you can see similar promotions from 20-25€ depending on what you're interested in doing or eating.

It takes about 50 minutes to drive from Milan and can be a nice family day out. We waded in the beautiful lake, ate a light lunch, swam in the little pool and even went out for a canoe ride.

If I'm being entirely critical however I'd have to say that we probably wouldn't return.  With only a little tiny bit of effort the place could have been amazing and instead the establishment had overlooked some critical details. The shoreline wasn't maintained well with the grass only cut and polished until about 15 meters to the water and then inexplicably left overgrown. There was also some very large sharp rocks which could have easily been moved out of the way of potential bathers and bits of rubbish which had floated ashore that was not removed. The pool is very small at roughly 3x6 meters in diameter, about 110cm deep at all parts and wasn't supervised. Therefore it was full of rowdy teenagers and adults splashing jumping and generally being anti-social (and quite dangerous actually).  At the restaurant the waiter was confused and couldn't remember table numbers.  The bathrooms weren't clean (a pet-peeve of mine, it can ruin my day).

On the plus side, lakes are not really appreciated in Italy the same way they are in Canada and I was thrilled to be able to share some time in a canoe with the people I love most.  We did encounter some high winds on the way back to shore and only just beat a storm (check out the sky in the photo!), but it was still a lot of fun. Especially since I wasn't the one paddling!

It's a bit of a shame because the place could have been a 10 out of 10 in terms of a family fun day, but instead it can only claim a 6 out of 10 and for just silly reasons. I hope that they figure out some of these issues so that we can go back and check it out another time but as it is now, I'll keep looking for my paradise by the lake.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Wine, cheese and Salumi party

I entertain at home quite a bit. I've thrown more than a few dinner parties and am always on the lookout for new recipes or presentation ideas for my next event.  Every few years though I decide to have a bigger affair and throw myself a birthday party. My most recent was this past Saturday evening.

First off we went to do the grocery shopping. Do you think we bought enough wine?

I decided to put all of our saved wood wine crates to use and use them to present the food instead of using plates and bowls. Here's an example of some of the crackers on display:

We chose to use real wine glasses instead of plastic ones and so I needed a system to be able to have each guest remember which glass was theirs. I have recently been playing around with recycling plastics by shrinking it in the oven and then turning it into jewellery so I thought that the same technique could be put to good use with the wine 'charms'.

I wrote out 30 words of characteristics that somellier's use when describing wines which can also be used to describe people, cut them all out and shrank them.  I then attached each to the base of a wine glass with 'patafix/funtack' which is a gum-like reusable sticking compound easily found in any office supply store. 

When the guests arrived I had each of them choose a glass with a characteristic that they thought best described them. It was fun because everyone remembered which glass was theirs and not all of the characteristics were entirely flattering. .  I guess if you turn up late to one of my events you deserve some gentle teasing... how does one choose between shallow and vicious?

We had a baby buffet for the 4 kids who attended and some outdoor toys set up. It was fun that they could choose what to eat all by themselves and kept them quite busy for a while.
 Everyone seemed to have a wonderful time, all of the food was eaten and people even asked me for the recipe for my dip - the only thing I actually had to prepare for the evening. The rest of the food was salumi, cheeses or raw (fruit and veg).  Since I also put out a lot of different types of crackers and breads to be eaten with caponata, patè or cheeses I made sure to lay out some brown paper on the table and handwrite the names of the different sauces and salsas so people would know what they were eating.
It really was a super easy and fun event to host and really a hit.  I love that there were only a few plates to clean up (but of course, all those wine glasses needed hand washing) and that we could use the space outside our house.  I could have never had the same 30 people in my tiny loft.

Special thanks go out to my hubby for being the best wine -server and DJ, to my friend Stefy who although couldn't be there lent me 18 wine glasses and didn't flinch when I only returned 16 and my special surprise guest and fantastic helper - my mom - who flew all the way to Milan from Montreal Canada just to help celebrate!

Thursday, 4 July 2013


I turned 34 sometime today. Taking in account for time zones... Who knows' "when" and well, even if time exists... But that's not what this post is about.

I was going to write a nice long one about things I've learnt in the past 34 years but the I came across a great post by Benny Hsu who has already done that (coincidentally on his 34th) so I thought I'd share it here instead of being redundant. It's my birthday gift to you! The testifies blog is pretty awesome as well.


It's funny because I agree with almost all of his 34 points in the article, but if you had spoken with me last year, most of them wouldn't even have crossed my mind. So icon has changed since then!

My 34th year will be remembered as the year I packed up my mental baggage and set out on the most important journey that I will probably ever embark on in my life - the voyage and amazing adventure of knowing myself and my place in this world. I started meditating, have almost finally taken full responsibility for my health and have learnt more about myself in the past year than I had in all of the years preceding it! How lucky I am to have finally started down the rocky, smooth, absurd, boring, exhilarating, fantastical, frightening, reassuring, never-ending road to self-discovery and realisation!

I wish a happy day to all of my readers and will be sending out some of the joy I feel today to each and every one of you!

Stay tuned for updates on my long weekend of celebrating!