Friday, 30 December 2011

Prolonging the Sparkle

We are in that rather blissful inbetween time of Christmas and New Year, when it's still okay to loll around the house in your PJs till mid-morning, eat mince pies for breakfast and smile (instead of growl) when you see toys and wrapping paper spread ALL over the floor from one end of the house to the other.

We got up yesterday morning (after some early morning rattiness - kids, not adults) and felt motivated to pack everyone into the car and drive to the city. I made everyone dress up. I have pictures from early last century of my great grandmother dressed up for shopping trips to the city, and I'm determined to carry on the tradition. We were too late (obviously) for the Christmas windows at DJs, but we still got to see the wonderful glittering tree at the Queen Victoria Building.
This is one of Sydney's most beautiful buildings, and at Christmas time it is especially sparkly. The kids walk around wide eyed, and so do I!

It was mostly tourists milling around rather than the chaotic bargain obsessed shoppers we'd been expecting to see. Eleanore and Miriam were a bit sad to discover a magical winter wonderland cave (now locked up) where, up until Christmas Eve, Santa photos were being taken. Maybe next year..

We ventured to our favourite city bookshop (well favourite when accompanied by three children and a stroller - it's BIG!) as our Christmas money was burning a hole in our collective pockets. Tintin figures were cunningly displayed all around the kids book section, so we all had fun choosing our favourite. Mine was the middle sized figure of tintin and snowy peeking out of the chinese ginger jar. It was over $300! So we settled for the $10 figures instead.

The view from the bookshop windows, over George Street kept everyone entertained. We even got waves from tourists zooming past in the openair double-decker bus!

And I was thrilled to find a boxed set of the Taschen Guide Books I had been coveting admiring prior to Christmas. These are mini versions of the big book I had seen, so that for each city there is a smaller pocket-sized edition devoted to Cafes, Restaurants and Bars; Shopping; and Hotels. I can now study the places to be to my heart's content, were I to travel to Berlin, New York, London or Paris (or hopefully all four). Sigh...

And we did venture in to a few of the glamourous shops where for a while I pretended I was considering major purchases. In the COACH store I was busily admiring a patchwork leather tote complete with appliqued bling and sequins.
"Four children?" the tiny salesgirl enquired of me, gazing at my entourage with a troubled look on her face.
"Yes" I answered proudly.
"This bag not for you, they'll pick off the sequins."
And that's how I saved myself $300.
So with that, we headed home. We were tired, but happy. It had been a fun day.

 Ellie's top is from the GAP Paris store.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Celebration Overload

Yes! I entered the vortex of rampant Christmas eating celebrating, with some trepidation...but have come out the other side, fatter relieved and victorious! The kids are verging on overwrought, due to so many days now of early mornings, late nights, and gift gorging. We tried to reign it in (ha ha) but somewhere along the way it always seems to get slightly out of hand. But overall I can honestly say that we've enjoyed all the extended family time, fabulous food and frenetic activity. Highlights were singing carols at church, laughing at corny jokes from crackers (Q. What do ghosts eat? A. Ghoulash), flouncing around in fancy clothes (okay, that was mainly just me), building amazing things from lego (okay, that was totally not me), eating mince pies, watching Arch crawl around while unknowingly wearing glowing reindeer antlers, laughing at the kids antics...

My favourite gift for Arch - the FP Little People Nativity Set

We loved the Huggies Xmas Nappies and star singlets (this one $3 at Cotton On) were practically a uniform!

The girls decorated gingerbread
My Mother-in-law's beautiful ham

Jonathan and I prepared our standard dessert fare (above right), which works so well at Christmas time. It's a layered thing, part trifle, part sundae, part tiramisu. We use a range of lovely glasses to serve it in. We crumbled mince pies on the base and from there we layered frozen berries (raspberries and blueberries), vanilla icecream, meringue, peanut brittle, coffee flavoured cream and shaved chocolate on top. Amazingly yummy!
We're all looking forward to Eleanore cooking Italian dishes for us this coming year. She's keen and this cook book should provide great directions.
Due to the unpredictable weather, we ditched our plans for the BBQ/seafood options and went more traditional. Ham and turkey with gorgeous side salads were all prepared in advance, and even the cooks got to relax and enjoy it!
Gifts consisted of lego, yoyos, swatch watches, books and more books. We also embraced zhu zhus (fake guinea pigs for those unlucky enough to miss out on them this year.. don't worry, your turn will come).

And when all the presents are finally opened, and the wrapping paper has been recycled (we hope), and the last of the ham has been eaten (should happen by early Feb) we will hopefully look back on the Christmas chaos of 2011 and remember that:
  1. Jesus was born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, bringing light to the world, and for that we thank God for such a wondrous thing,
  2. Our kids need to be taught to love each other, and show love and kindness and generosity to others (doesn't always come naturally, funnily enough), and 
  3. that Christmas is a time to love: family, friends, outsiders, the world!
Hope your Christmas was all these things.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Look, Feel, Taste and Scent of Christmas

This time of year is sensory overload for me. I want it all you see! The look, the feel, the taste, the scent of all things Christmassy. Frankly I can't get enough of it, and even setting up our tree in the last weeks of November and sometimes not taking it down until late January (one year I waited till February!) does not seem enough time to fully revel in all the pleasures of this Christmas season.  I see everything through my "Christmas Eyes", honing in on anything red, gold, silver, bronze, sparkly, glitzy and preferably all of those things - decorating potential is everywhere!

The Look: Usually at Christmas I am scooping up the December issues of the home decorating magazines, actually I'm still doing that in January/February for the overseas issues (which for reasons I do not understand, take 4-6 weeks after Dec to get here), or looking at previous year's issues for ideas and colours. So far I've found the local mags a disappointment. Have you noticed tinsel is out of favour? Except for the supermarket magazines, no one is decorating their tree with tinsel. It's obviously been deemed too tacky.  Too bad I say. I think a Christmas tree looks near nude without at least some tinsel. And kids love it. If you do want a tinsel-less tree, at least stuff some in to a large glass vase or a bowl and use it to adorn tables or bookshelves. 

Also I can't not mention the treasures that can be found in op shops at this time of year. Old china, silver and glass can be found for giveaway prices and can be used to serve Christmas treats, hold decorations or just look wonderful. The burgundy and gold plate in my top picture was only $3 and is just begging to be covered in mince pies.

The Feel: From bristly green garlands (which I love and have several of, they look wonderful on top of cupboards or high shelves - why should only those with mantlepieces have all the fun??) to soft pom pom braiding or glittery sequined cushions (the gold and silver ones in my top pic were $4ea from KMart!) Christmassy fabulous things to feel are everywhere!

At a fabric shop I found some fantastic silky gold material I'm going to use as a Christmas Day tablecloth. The gold circle design is modern but understated, so it will easily fit in with whatever china and glass I decide to use. It was only $10 a metre and I make sure I get enough drop that noone will notice that I haven't hemmed it (far too time consuming).

Speaking of the tactile, did you notice the gorgeous box in my top photo labelled "Artificial Snow"? I found it on the quirky gift table in a Sussan shop (whoever is doing their gift buying is really really good at it). The box looks like something that could have been discovered in an ancient junk, magic or toy shop. I had no idea what I would find inside the box. It turned out there was a medium sized clip lock bag full of a feathery mixture of pure white powder (?) mixed with sparkly pearly glitter. My kids gasped with delight when I showed them - it is as light and soft as snow!

The Taste: Wow, hard to know where to start here. Obviously everyone has their favourite Christmas foods and treats, and I'm going to show (uncharacteristic restraint) and just mention a few things I'm enjoying.

I love Rocky Road - and mini versions provide the delight of a bite-sized piece (without feeling like you've got to eat a whole slab, which seems like a good idea when you start, but is quickly regretted half way through). These mini cupcake holders with a cute holly pattern were $2 for 200 in Hot Dollar.  For these I used mini marshmallows, turkish delight, roasted chopped almonds and dark/milk choc.

I hadn't made snowballs before, but now realise I should have been as they are SO EASY! One tin of sweetened condensed milk, 4 cups of dessicated coconut and icing sugar. I wasn't great at mixing in the pink food colouring so mine are abit more eclectic than the soft pink ones I was copying.

The gorgeous mini cupcakes (holly ones are cinnamon flavoured, santa ones are vanilla) were $10 for 2 dozen from Coles and saved me so much hassle for Archie's party I've added the General Manager of Coles to my Christmas card list. Oh, and the the edible hanging christmas balls (top photo) were also from Coles and look so glamourous in a crystal bowl. They seem to be diminishing in number by the day, but the kids swear they haven't touched them..

Flavoured Christmas Coffee is not for everyone. But for me, it is heaven in a mug. I just love it and one year I did buy up all the boxes I could find in a post-Christmas DJ's sale and drink buttery rum flavoured coffee for about eight months until the slightest whiff made Jonathan run heaving for the bathroom. It's not that easy to find (unless you live in the USA who excel at flavoured coffee) but this brand is cognac flavoured (abit like a pudding) and is available in DJs. Gorgeous friends gave us this box and we've already finished it so am off to find some more. Give yourself a treat! 
The Scent: Decent Christmas scented candles are widely available (soy based seems to be healthiest. Don't buy chinese made candles under any circumstance. The Americans do great ones.) and come in numerous Christmas inspired scents: my faves are apple and raisin; gingerbread; cranberry and cinnamon. They don't have to be overpowering and DO make your house smell divine. Try Crabtree & Evelyn, L'Occitane or Partylite.  

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A Christmas Birthday Party

 Christmas has had a bad wrap concerning birthdays for too long! In my family this is mainly because my brother, having the misfortune to be born on the 28th December, has a lifetime of non-existant parties (except for a weird one held mid-year when he was about 8) and forgotten celebrations to draw on (we're sorry Nate, really we are!). Christmas IS about a birthday after all, so I decided that I wasn't going to let the fact that Arch was born on the 19th December be a downer. Surely I could successfully meld the two wonderful celebrations into ONE event, and make double the fun, couldn't I?
I had the perfect invitation:

and it seemed too good an opportunity to miss, these are what traditions are made of after all! I had visions of a pool party (not quite in keeping with the wintery theme of the card) however, as the weather turned increasingly wintery and the guest list hit 25 (that was just the kids) I ditched the swimming idea and replaced it with a far more christmassy birth day idea - A nativity play!

I was a tiny bit pushy and asked if each family could bring costumes for the play and a plate of food. I think this was okay, though can I say at this point that returning from holidays the day BEFORE your party is a DUMB idea - unless you want insomnia and regular panic attacks about all the things you need to do but can't...

It was a great success! The rain held off for all the important bits, the treasure hunt, eating and the nativity play and the house wasn't even slightly trashed in the inbetween bits. My friends brought wonderful food and gave fabulous help in crowd control and catering. Half way through I could honestly say I was enjoying myself, the birthday boy was happy (just not in the photos) and the festive cheer was contagious!

With great costumes, a decrepit cubby house that needed no imagination to stand in as the inn, eager kids and Eleanore determinedly narrating from the kid's Bible, it was wonderful. I think we all realised what a blessing these children are and how precious it is to share the Christmas story with them. 
Any angst in the lead up has been blissfully forgotten and I'm already thinking of ideas for next year's event. Only one thing yet to be determined could be the date. I wonder if Arch would mind celebrating his Christmas birthday party in July?

Archie is ONE!

The Christmas Angels
Mary, Joseph and King Herod (historical accuracy not great here..)

The Inn Keeper pointing out the benefits of his stable

We ended up with two Marys - both beautiful!

Wise Persons delivering gifts

The Troupe

And the Party Bag (love it!)

Friday, 16 December 2011

Sweet memories are made of this

Memory makes up such an important part of our lives. We constantly draw on both the good and the bad to give us a reference points for the present. As the end of year approaches it's almost impossible not to find yourself recalling how much has happened in twelve months - marvelling at what seems like 'only yesterday' was actually months ago, and how much has changed...

This is my grandfather enjoying Christmas lunch on December 18, 2010. Always larger than life he's been threatening "this could be my last Christmas" for years. It was part of our tradition to laugh it off. He turned 98 in July, and it seemed like he'd go on forever. This man  climbed the Himylayas in his 70s; sailed a boat to New Caledonia in his 80s; and fell off his roof at age 93 while vacuuming leaves out of the gutters. (In retrospect, not a good idea.)

Archie, December 2010

January 2011
Archie was born on December 19 last year. The year since has been at times exhausting (he hardly slept for the first eight months!) but full of joy as we have watched with delight this little person grow and develop. He has been smothered with love by his older brother and sisters. Time will only tell if this over-stimulatory environment has a lasting effect on his personality and life! Happy memories...

Here is Grandpa in February cuddling Archie, his 18th great grandchild. I was thrilled to have four generations all together, with 30 years separating him (98) from my mother (68), then me (38) and my son Jesse (8). Grandpa loved babies. He cuddled Archie and said to me: "Look at him Sah, he's perfect. Isn't this the best thing you've ever done!?"
I had to agree.
In October this year, after a short illness, Grandpa died.
Christmas won't be the same without him. We loved him very much and miss him every day. I'm thankful for all the wonderful memories he gave us. One day I'll tell Archie about the fascinating character his Great Grandfather was.
I'm hoping that if you've got some sad memories from the past year that are weighing heavily on your mind, you'll have some good and even happy memories to think of too. They won't cancel out the pain, but they'll remind you of the beauty in life and relationships that lives on.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Festive Farewells (and tears..)

Well we're really in the thick of it now. The year's activities are winding up, we're celebrating lots of endings: end of preschool, end of playgroup, end of school, end of tantrums...oh, no, actually some things just seem to go on and on..

Are your kids overwrought this time of year or is it just mine (please don't let it just be mine!)? I've been slightly surprised (and a little bit pleased) to discover in conversations that lots of families seem to be experiencing the 'over it' feeling that seems to come with this busy BUSY BUSY time of year. So yah it's not just my kids who seem to be losing the plot. Yes it's great to have the chance to party hard, with more Christmas chaos festivities to come. But man, I do have to keep reminding myself that it's been a BIG year, and that with celebrating and winding down, comes the range of emotions that kids aren't that great at controlling. So I'll endeavour to keep perspective when someone is screaming the house down, because "she made an angry face at me" or "he won't share the textas". I'll also try not to cram so much into every freaking day that no one has time to just chill. That way we might all get to stop and smell the pinecones...

Arch enjoying his new independence at final Playgroup day

Mim's final day at Preschool

Final Playgroup - and farewell to the wonderful Karen

Friday, 9 December 2011

Christmas Craft (for dummies)

 No home should be without a green macaroni wreath this Christmas
I've already outed myself as not a big fan of craft. I'd love to be more crafty, but so far my efforts have been fairly pathetic. However, in the interests of making my kids well-rounded creative individuals I occasionally rise to the challenge, and Christmas provides some good opportunities for stuff pretty much anyone can do.
I've bought a few pre-packaged sets of craft. We're talking basic here: A Christmas Star pack ($2.99) that comes with 100 cardboard stars in a variety of colours. Apparently we have to provide the glitter, sequins and stickers to adorn them with (what do you expect for $2.99?) What will we do with these decorated stars? Probably just use some as gift tags, some strewn on the table for Christmas lunch, and possibly some strung together as a garland (but I'm getting tired just thinking about that).

I have also bought some Christmas Picture Cards ($2.99) that have 5 assorted designs on 25 different cards. It just gives younger kids abit more direction if they start whinging that they don't know how to draw a reindeer/santa/stable/angel. I'll get them to write some messages and hand them out to their friends and school/preschool/Sunday school teachers.

I told you they were basic!
Speaking of Christmas messages, Jesse and Eleanore got quite keen on writing Christmas messages last year. It's not a bad exercise to encourage. Just a small reminder for them to think of others when the world seems to be screaming: It's ALL about you! I took some photos of the results because the sentiments (and execution) were precious!
In case you didn't catch that, we're the best parents Eleanore has ever had!

 So remember, peace on earth and ho ho ho!

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Christmas Card Connundrum

How many people beside my mother-in-law still bother with Christmas cards? Has emailing/facebooking/tweeting taken over? (Not for her! With a week until December, hers were posted last Friday..) I do love paper cards: old fashioned ones, ones with a bit of sparkle, or something nostalgic or humourous... it's hard to go past a bit of Christmas cheer you can hold in your hand. And, ignoring the sort that say "To:... From:..." (because they don't really count), it's a great way of getting a greeting and some news from friends you might not have seen all year. Although the Christmas letter can sometimes be a bit daunting with the details of everyone's health issues (gastro in September, October and November..) and awards (Johnny, 5, has a scholarship to Oxford) D'oh.

But I must admit, over the past eight years (since having children), my enthusiasm has waned somewhat. Some years I've plonked the last cards in to the post some time around New Year's Day and tried not to feel humiliated at my obvious lack of organisational skills. Other years, I've just admitted defeat and not sent any at all, which has a nasty follow-on effect, because card giving is also about card receiving, and if you miss a year as I did, you suddenly find you drop off the list for a lot of people. Moving house multiple times doesn't help either, as any change in address means some people never find you again (try people)

I have a box of cards (used and unused) together with address labels, envelopes, stickers and coloured pens all ready to go. Unfortunately, that box (well it's a crate really) is somewhere under our house, and I'm not sure I can bribe the kids enough to climb in and drag it out.

So how to re-enthuse all of you out there who think cards are passe and an outmoded form of Season's Greeting? I love this idea of Martha Stewart's on how to display your cards. It's a decorating idea that anyone can do, it will be unique to your household and look fabulous! If you don't already have a mirror hanging up in a living room, eating area or hall way, get to it! They can be relatively inexpensive from any homewares section, or check out 2nd hand stores or garage sales. Grab some thin tinsel and string up your cards!

Friday, 2 December 2011

These Books are Made for Reading

 I've been experimenting with Christmassy effects on photos. Cheesy huh!

Are you a fan of the personalised Christmas card? I'm undecided. I like the fact that at Christmas time (as with the Santa photo) you can get an updated picture of what everyone looks like. But it still sits slightly uneasily with me, in that it seems to take the focus off the real meaning of Christmas.. I guess putting a photo inside a card rather than a photo on the outside, is just a small distinction... hmm, still unsure.

I haven't listed any books in a while, so here's some ideas taken from the Chronicle Books website. Located in San Francisco, this publishing company has never been afraid to mix quirky with quality. I don't love everything they print, but there's plenty of exceptional stuff to like!

I had to read this title about 3x before I worked out what i think it means. I'm more interested at the moment in How to Have my First Child Fourth - but I'm guessing it's probably too late once the child in question has already been born? Still, I'd recommend this book to anyone who hasn't yet had kids (the target audience, as noted on the cover); because frankly, once you've had some, it becomes abundantly clear that (personality wise) they are what they are and it's pretty darn hard to change them!  Published 2010; By Kerrie Colburn and Rob Sorensen

The Life and Love of Trees is full of the most wonderful images of remarkable trees. With over 150 colour photographs capturing what is described as "the charming and familiar to the scary and rare"! This book is artwork combined with some insightful text by Lewis Blackwell, who for ten years led the world-renowned Getty Images, and has become increasingly known for his interest and expertise in environmental matters.
Published 2009; text by Lewis Blackwell

And now one for the kids (or maybe not): If you're a dinosaur, all of your friends are dead. If you're a pirate, all of your friends have scurvy. If you're a tree, all of your friends are end tables. Each page of this laugh-out-loud illustrated humor book showcases the downside of being everything from a clown to a cassette tape to a zombie. Cute and dark all at once, this hilarious children's book for adults teaches valuable lessons about life while exploring each cartoon character's unique grievance and wide-eyed predicament. From the sock whose only friends have gone missing to the houseplant whose friends are being slowly killed by irresponsible plant owners (like you), All My Friends Are Dead presents a delightful primer for laughing at the inevitable.
Published 2010; by Avery Monsen and Jory John

Nomad - by Sydney stylist Sybella Court is the latest offering from this style queen who has had a fine career in interior decorating and general style setting in the USA and Australia. Her shop The Society Inc is located in Paddington, and one day when I muster the energy I may even get there to take a look. Her previous book, ETC was beautifully produced and a fabulous showcase of Court's eclectic bower bird look. She makes people who have hoarding tendencies (like me) feel better about themselves because her collections leave ours for dead! This book looks equally attractive, and has a travelling element, which should broaden its appeal. Go forth and buy it I say!
NOMAD: A Global Approach to Interior Style
by Sybella Court, photographs by Chris Court

And if all that reading/buying/perusing has left you exhausted, I can strongly recommend a good old fashioned box of Darrell Lea's Assorted Peppermint Carton. It's STILL only $7.95 and is a very effective pick-me-up together with a hot cup of tea.
e n j o y !