Monday, 30 December 2013

December dreaming

Well the wrapping paper has been recycled and the endless lists of To Do and Urgent To Do and Last Minute Gifts and Christmas Card Lists (yes, I do still send a few) have been scrunched up for good. 

So what's left? 
Happy memories of family, friends, food and fun.
Slightly expanded waist lines.
The odd box of chocolates and mince pies still adorning the table after dinner.
A candy cane or two melting into the bottom of my handbag - eek!

Enough reflection. Time to go straight to the pictorial highlights: 

Love this one of girls exhausted in oversized chair on one of the final last minute shopping trips.

Snowflake fairy lights twinkling each night.

Decorating with letters.

Writing a few Christmas cards - especially to the older relatives we don't see that often.

Enjoying a decorated tree.

Moving the tree around a bit, just in case there was somewhere better...(there wasn't. It went back to the bay window)

A Christmas table at my parent's home - that always shines with love and care and  screams (in a nice way) welcome! Come celebrate!

Cousins enjoying each other.

Novelty guests. Who sang!

Special food you hadn't cooked before and had prayed hard would turn out alright. (Red velvet chocolate cheesecake) yum.

And then at the next family event..
Competitions to see who could wear the most Christmas hats. Jesse won.

Ma's famous Christmas trifle.

A Cath Kidston spatula for me from my cool travelling niece, straight off the plane from London that morning!

There's lots more, but perhaps you are feeling, as I am, slightly overloaded. Mentally. Physically. Emotionally. (I didn't cry when I unwrapped that spatula. But I could have.)

Hope you get to use these few days between Christmas and New Year to put your feet up, read a book or two and bask in some post-Christmas glow.

It's a little too soon to start planning for the new year. But it doesn't hurt to spend a little time dreaming...

Monday, 23 December 2013

Clanging Bells and Popping Treats

Well the list of activities and tasks has been long, but there has been some fun along the way.
The Santa photo (I've posted before on why I do this..) was undertaken with a false sense of security on my part. Arch had been giving Santa happy waves across crowded vistas for some time now, so I (foolishly it turned out) thought he'd be okay with the photo.
Not true.
He was okay until we got right up close. Then he refused everything. Refused to be held, refused to sit near, refused to look at the camera, refused to smile.
All of this lovely behaviour culminated in a bright idea to let him hold Santa's big brass bell.
It worked last year.
Even Santa's good will was tested when Arch threw the bell on to the ground while screaming "Noooooo! No bell!!"
Um. Okay.

Apparently we were the most challenging group they'd had that day, week, Christmas.
We took our photo, not too bad under the circumstances, and made a run for it. Hopefully that Santa will have forgotten us by next year..

Then we moved on to Gingerbread houses!
And honestly I didn't feel any pressure from the fact that every man, woman and child had posted amazing masterpieces on Face Book. That didn't put us off at all.

YES the gingerbread house decorating was undertaken and completed without last year's trauma, or infighting or me struggling to hold it together in the face of yet another family Christmas tradition that should be fun, and yet, strangely, often, isn't.

I thank COLES supermarkets. Who, in their wisdom, imported a Canadian Christmas village kit, with small well-shaped houses. The kit came complete with a huge piping bag of industrial strength icing (nothing fell down. Or off. Or over!) and a bright array of lollies. Unfortunately I only realised the kit came with lollies after I'd bought a bag full of confectionery myself. Strangely, no one complained.
The kit was not costly, (like way under $20, maybe $10?!) and we all had great fun - even the ten-year-old who pretended he was over it, and even the toddler who last year ran amok! The kids each chose a house they were happy with and the results were even, dare I say, aesthetically pleasing!

Christmas baking has increased apace too, with the obligatory Christmas gingerbread shapes. Yes i got the mix out of a box. Quick and easy are my mantras this year.
Actually that's my mantra most years, come to think of it.

My brain wave was the decorating. Two words: Popping candy. It reminded me of an Enid Blyton special treat from the top of the faraway tree. Remember Sylvie's popping biscuits which exploded honey into the children's mouths?
Me too. That was my inspiration.

And, sticking with my popping theme, here is what I did for a quick and fun Christmas snack.
Did make me realise I should have put "Large saucepan with proper fitting lid" on my Christmas list. Oh well, maybe next year.

Salted caramel popcorn, presented in gorgeous Christmas cupcake paper holders (front ones Robert Gordon, while red and white ones were $2 for a dozen at a party shop). I added pecans to the first batch - and no nuts to the second (fussy kids!). Both went down a treat.

What are your fail-safe Christmas food ideas and traditions?
Are you planning a huge feast for Christmas Day?
Do you find Christmas cooking fun and relaxing, with smiling children as helpers and a spotless kitchen (because everyone helped clean up) ten minutes after?


Monday, 16 December 2013

Don't throw out the baby!

Man I do love Christmas!
If you'd read my last post or two, you may have been starting to wonder...

The miracle of a Saviour being born into our world is not something to ever grow tired of hearing about or celebrating. 

Yes it's a manic time of year and I've done my fair share of moaning about the stresses and strains that can seem all-consuming. But I fear I've let that obscure the chance to truly revel in all that this time of the year holds - particularly for Christians. 

The virgin Mary had a baby boy.
Can we stop apologising for that?
Same with the stable and the animals and the wise men and shepherds. It's all written down in the Bible as the beginning of the most amazing story ever told. 

It doesn't come with a disclaimer, saying:

Yeah at some stage you're all going to get sick of this cute little tale. You'll realise that the December date is a fake, that it's more to do with winter solstice and that Christmas is really a pagan festival we've mistakenly made our own. 
You'll explain that the wise men arrived when Jesus was way out of nappies; The inn wasn't really an inn and the stable wasn't really a stable; Mary was actually much older with several other children and the star was just the northern lights playing havoc in the sky. And what would some dumb shepherds in a field somewhere know anyhow? 

You'll be so "over" the carol singing - played more in shopping centres than churches these days - and complain about the crassness of rampant commercialism (I mean the junk mail is endless!). You'll deride the greed and wastefulness of giving gifts, carefully dressing up your alternative as a self-righteous charitable act that hopefully lets you off the hook for the rest of the year.

You'll tell everyone that Santa is evil and Bing Crosby sucks and that Jesus died and that that is ALL that matters...

Except that that's not what the Bible says. 

It details the miracle of Christmas. Yes, a miracle took place in a story the Bible foretold: complete with the shepherds and no room in the inn. It gave us Mary's song and the words to Handel's Messiah and Joy to the World and Silent Night... 

So why do we treat the whole thing as being a bit naff or passé?

It's a nonsense to try to separate Jesus' birth and life from his death and resurrection. You can't have one with out the other. Glossing over the birth details as if they were a Hallmark plot instead of Biblical truth is not an option. Nor does the Bible require us to ignore one event at the expense of the other.

Where's our sense of wonder and awe? Our gratitude for what God has done?

The Christmas story is a vital part of the great narrative of Jesus the King and Saviour of the world. We can't convey the significance of his death while ignoring the facts of a human/godly birth and a holy life. 

Anyone who has struggled with convincing a non-believer that Jesus died for them, should know that treating his birth and life story as a fuzzy optional extra just makes Christians look silly and confused.

Just saying..

So on Saturday, as I sipped my delicious gingerbread latte from Starbucks (why can't they make them all year round? Why? Why?) and watched the hordes of sometimes happy but mostly harried people rush past, I really wished that Christians would stop criticising Christmas. 
I decided I would.

Two years ago we held a nativity play in our backyard to celebrate Arch's first birthday. It seemed fitting, having had a baby so close to Christmas Day. Two years on I feel I've lost something... I think I may have given my kids the message that this time of year is more a shopping/cooking/socialising frenzy where Mum is cranky and they're mostly being a pain. I've let the busyness and trivia obscure the wonder. I've let the joy be sucked out of one of the highlights of the Christian calendar. 


So I'm urging you because mainly I'm urging myself, to resist the urge to throw the baby out with the cinnamon-infused bath water. Let's turn the mixed messages of Christmas into one big fat joyful message of Christ, the King of Christmas*. God gave us the Christmas story for a reason - so let's celebrate it!

* Christ the King of Christmas by Colin Buchanan - a fantastic song illustrating how we can use Christmas symbols positively to share the gospel. 

Friday, 13 December 2013

Christmas Insomnia and decorating hazards

I've had a bad case of Christmas insomnia.
Self-diagnosed, obviously.
My husband is sceptical. Of course.
But regardless, it is a reality.

At some stage in the night, usually between 1.30 and 2.30am, something will wake me up. Sometimes it is the sound of someone else in the house getting up to use the bathroom. Why they can't just wait till morning is beyond me.

Sometimes it is the sound of a bird night-chirping. Again, I ask you, what stupid bird does this? Why can't they wait 'til morning?
Speaking of birds, check out these gorgeous fabric clip-on bird ornaments I snaffled at Bed Bath n Table (30% all Christmas)

Sometimes I wake because my winter snowflake pjs are too hot. Yes it is mid summer here, but they are so Christmassy and I'm not changing them. 

Anyway, whatever wakes me up is beside the point. The point is that once I'm awake, I can't go back to sleep. For hours. The Christmas OVERTHINKING takes over.

So my lack of sleep together with some over-full days of holiday fun and general overwroughtness of the under-tens in the household, has lead to a fair bit of breathing into a paper bag on my part.

And what a wonderful Christmas bag I found to breathe in to.
Thank you Kikki.K.

Not thanks so much to Kikki.K for outing my purchases on Facebook. Here's hoping the relatives don't get too curious. They do have some lovely things. Look here. 

So what with all the deep breathing and all, my hopes and plans for mass-December posting have not really eventuated. Um sorry about that.

Forgive me?

You're all busy too, right?

So, onto the important topic of gift-giving. Like me, you're probably wondering why you've left so many bits and pieces to (almost) the last minute?

Maybe like me, you're wondering how you can get these gorgeous outdoor setting plates from Pottery Barn (unbreakable melamine that looks like ceramic!) as a Christmas gift when you've already agreed with your husband/wife/partner/family to give each other plants.. ?!

Look at all the colours! See how they gleam? 
So if I sound a little over the whole "it's the most wonderful time of the year.." mantra, perhaps I am. Just a little.

The fact is, just like every other time of the year, sometimes things go smoothly and happily, and everything feels right with the world. Other times not.

Did I mention I stuck a cute silver mini reindeer head to a wall?
I knew that the bluetack probably wasn't strong enough to hold it there. 
It wasn't. 
The reindeer fell off and the antlers shattered. There is nothing wonderful about a reindeer with smashed antlers.

Just saying.

So on to decorating. Have you noticed that some people are happy to scatter just a few little Christmassy things around? They don't over do it. They have a few carefully chosen pieces to portray their Christmas spirit. 

Like here where I've tastefully arranged three op shop glasses (50c each!) with gingerbread and cranberry votive candles and a sprig of holly on a silver tray.
So simple.
So sweet.

Or here, I've displayed the Fisher Price Nativity Scene on Arch's bookshelf. I've banned all the Noah's Ark animals from joining in and kept it simple. Like it probably was on the night, in Bethlehem, so long ago.

It's such a great gift for a toddler or little friend - we all love this set. (And they're in the shops again this year - check out Myer or KMart.)

Some people's decorating goes way over the top. Everything is so bright and glarey you need sunglasses to look. Even at night.

Oh look, here's my bookshelves. Someone has covered them in lights.
So over the top.

Or some people just go straight for the chaos of Christmas Clutter.
Hmm, no need to search Pinterest for this one.
Where are my sunglasses?

Some people only have to go near the Christmas trim shop before they are wildly grabbing every junky thing they can get their hands on.

Who are these naughty children? And where is their mother?

* * *

Here's something much more soothing - the Christmas scene in my friend Jos' beautiful back room. So tranquil, white and peaceful.
Maybe I'll just go and spend the next few days over at her house.

So whether you're decorating big or small - I hope you're enjoying the countdown to Christmas with all of the ups and downs, insomnia and sleep, reindeers with intact antlers and the general chaos that makes up this time of year.

Just remember: It's the most wonderful time of the year...

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Cheap and Cheerful Gourmet Gifts for Teachers

Our school has finished the year confoundedly early (Why? Why? #howtheheckshouldiknow? #holidaypanic!!) This has had numerous ramifications on the everyday life of our family. The main one being CHAOS.

I was not prepared for the Christmas rush hitting me on December 1 with sledgehammer-like force. There I was all happy about the Christmas countdown, when it said 42 and 38 days to go. When it hit 25 I bravely posted a snowman counting down photo. See how the snowman is not really smiling? He knows what's coming..

Suddenly I found myself staring down the barrel of nine weeks holiday (actually 8.5 weeks, but you get my drift) that included a lot of trips to the supermarket with four kids in tow. Not to mention the Christmas shopping I haven't done yet and the busy round of events and festivities. Eek!

So I did what any sensible person would do when faced with this potentially stressful situation. I mass deleted emails.
Sorry to all those trying to make contact. Yes I missed three end-of-year dinners and three lots of teacher/present $ collecting. I hope I haven't offended too many people. I kind of had my own idea for teacher gifts. And with Christmas baking to do, I had to go off line in order to focus.

Loved these as an accessory to otherwise plain Christmas cupcakes. Packs going cheap in ALDI.
These are plain vanilla cupcakes with peppermint flavoured icing and red and green sprinkles. Simple. But Cute.
As for the teacher gifts, there were going to be quite a few. Teachers are amazing people. They deserve a special treat or two.
While I may not have been organised on every level, I had been collecting:
  • Jam
  • Silver Spoons
  • Puddings
  • Tea
  • Vintage Bowls 
My first inspiration came from a photo posted by the lovely girls at  Fete Press, whose magazine and website is very swoon worthy. They had put this together: two lovely jams with some quirky and delectable looking spoons. And I loved the simplicity of it as a gift idea.
Everyone likes jam, don't they? It's a little luxury that doesn't cost the earth, and doesn't become tomorrow's clutter. It's useful and sweet and enjoyable, and then it's gone.

I went with the French Bonne Maman jams, which are easy to find in supermarkets or fruit shops. They cost around $5 a jar, and the packaging is lovely. Their range includes the amazing Chestnut Cream, Caramel Spread and Quince Jelly, so there's something to suit every taste.

Also in the supermarket are Christmas puddings to suit most tastes. I stayed with the 'name' brands: Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal. Great packaging and inexpensive at around $7 each.

Same with the tea. I chose some gourmet blends from the supermarket shelves. Good looking boxes with snazzy flavours. Had to be under $5.

The trick is finding inexpensive foodstuffs with a gourmet "special occasion" feel. Things the recipient wouldn't necessarily buy for themselves - but will hopefully enjoy as a special treat. Heck, if they don't like  jam/pudding (and it could be my staple diet this holiday, considering how much I've accumulated) they can always re-gift it. Try doing that with a "Best Teacher" mug!

Next I was rubbing my thrifting hands with glee over a stash of silver cutlery in my local op shop going for 50c a piece.  Perhaps not as functional as a wooden spoon but more my style of vintage chic meets Downton Abbey elegance. A nice silver spoon (and I wasn't picky on sizes or styles) is beautiful and practical stuck into a luscious jar of jam on any table.

If the silver spoon idea seems a bit too hard, go to any kitchen shop to pick up a spoon that looks good enough on its own.

So I matched boxes of tea with jam and a spoon, and mini puddings with tea and a spoon. I was happy with the results. All gifts came in under $12 each and I hope the teachers find them useful and yummy and fun.

I don't really resent them for finishing school so early.

Not really.

And I loved this gorgeous Hanks jam that fitted perfectly into a vintage china bowl with a shiny silver spoon on the side. The labelling is snazzy and the flavour, Strawberry and Vanilla Bean sounds amazing. Also good to be buying Australian of course.

For wrapping, brown paper and cellophane look good, with ribbon and a dash of tinsel for bling. I added the spoon to the outside of the wrapping.

Know why?

Because the spoon is the WOW factor - something a little unexpected, cute and useful.
Teachers like that sort of thing. Trust me.

do you have many gifts to give?
fresh out of ideas?
I'm putting more on my Facebook page - like me for info on bargains and brands I've found to help you.
(It'll distract me from the panic..)

Monday, 25 November 2013

Turning Seven

This week, in our family's birthday-filled lead up to Christmas, my six-year-old turned seven.
Seems like a milestone birthday to me. Six is so young, full of starts and beginnings and 'being too little' to do stuff the older kids can do...

But SEVEN seems to denote arrival. You're one of the big kids now. Expected to pull your weight, to know more things, to set an example for the younger ones.

Sigh. Oh to be six again...

If there are in fact any drawbacks to turning seven, Mim seemed oblivious to them. Excitement levels at her impending birthday and party had been rising by the day/week/hour. A jumping bean with an unhealthy dose of the "it's all about me" behaviour was starting to get a bit much. Parental threats to call off everything to do with birthdays/parties and presents had initially been taken to heart and caused some dampening of the high spirits. But by late last week, nothing could detract from the rapidly approaching celebrations.
The day was going to happen, rain or shine.

Which incidentally it did. Rain and shine that is.

I realise meteorologists can't be right ALL of the time... but surely in the interests of job satisfaction occasionally giving a forecast that proves to be accurate, could be achievable? Wouldn't you say?

In the end I suppose all the differing forecasts came true. Blue sky, black clouds, thunder, humidity, torrential downpours, cold snaps and sparkly shafts of light. We had it all, often all at once!

So in the lead up, between stressing about what the weather would and wouldn't do, I had a few other things to worry about. Like integrating the joint themes of Princess / Fairy / Mermaid (PFM). A challenge, I admit. But I felt like all bases were being covered with the planned activities:
  • Dressing as Princesses (P)
  • Painting a fairy house (F)
  • Swimming (M)
But trifles such as multiple themes and what to do if the weather was bad, faded as more pressing issues arose.

Like what time the party was supposed to start?!

At 9.30am I was feeling good, all my preparations were going smoothly.
"We're on track with an hour to go", I proudly announced to Eleanore, as I finished off decorating the last of the cupcakes.
"An hour?" Ellie looked sceptical. "The party starts at ten."
"Ten?" I scoffed, trying to believe my nine-year-old who pretty much is always right, might this time be stupidly wrong.
"Quick!" I said, "There's a spare invitation in the TV room. Go and see what it says." Ellie dashed off and was soon back, waving the invitation in the air. "The party starts at ten Mum. That's what you've written here!"

Oh. My. Goodness.

Suddenly any feelings of well-organised smugness evaporated into a cloud of dust I felt like choking on. I looked around the bomb-site kitchen and wondered what to do next.
And then...
"Someone's here already!" came screaming kids from outside (Kid. Excited Mim who'd been waiting at the letterbox for the past hour).
"WHAT!!?" I stared at Ellie in horror. She stared back looking equally appalled.
Mim appeared breathless at the door. "One of my guests is here already. And Dad's in the swimming pool in his undies!"

Oh Lord. Take me now.

Can I just say that the next few hours were a blur?!
A (mostly) happy mix of panic, excitement, shrieking, rain, sun, glitter, sprinkles, laughing and (some) crying (not me, mostly, thankfully), food and fun.

Here are some pictures to prove it:

At this stage, pre-party, the sun was shining. The craft was all set out and ready to go..

I found the perfect bird/fairy houses at Riot Craft. $5 each and they were just what I'd been looking for.


Serious decorating taking place. That's me at the back. Seriously wondering how long this party was going to be going for..

Here's the birthday girl with a friend and their fairy house crafty efforts.

Then came swimming. Then came food - weather was deteriorating at this point - but a little rain never hurt anyone.

After outing my failed macaroons and wand biscuits on Facebook, my lovely friend Meryl offered to make these gorgeous tea cup bikkies.
Aren't they fabulous?!

I decorated plain vanilla cupcakes with a meringue (bought!) top.
Easy and cute.
Yes that's Mim, wearing her birthday dressing gown. One of many outfits worn on the day.

Coloured popcorn, mini hotdogs, jelly in teacups and lemonade in cute bottles ($1.50 each at Hot Dollar).
Then as the rain came down, we dashed inside for the cake.
The only outside thing we missed was the piñata (attacked later by the family when the sun came out again).

Oh and I bought the cake at the local supermarket. I'd made one myself earlier in the week, just for the family to eat on the actual birth day. Mim said it was nice, but that she'd really wanted an Avengers Cake.
(I took this suggestion with a lack of good humour. What? How does that fit in with our multiple themes? What have the Avengers got to do with anything?)

I found a cake with a tiara wearing Barbie sitting on a lily pad:
Princess / Fairy / Mermaid / nothing to do with the Avengers (PFMntdwA)