23 June

Gingerbread cottages

Weeny tiny gingerbread houses make excellent Small Presents. Use a standard 4‑walled design with sloped roof but keep the sides under 10cm and decorate with small lollies.[1] (You won’t need many.) Again, this is a good December activity for children but, again, they need a lot of supervision.[2]

23 jun 2016.jpg
Gingerbread dolls’ house.

“The snow is looking good,” I said to Don.

“All it will take is a couple of days of rain and we’ll be bushwalking in sleet,” warned Don.

If he’s this grumpy when there’s half a metre of snow, I must remember not to talk to him if it does all get washed away before we head up.

[1] My son Jeremy once tiled a little roof with red lentils. It looked quite realistic but no one wanted to eat it.

[2] And they might not want a lot of dinner afterwards.

22 June

Sing hosanna

If you’re fervently Christian, you have a wide choice of Christmas music. All of the Christmas hymns are yours and you can also make hay with these carols and songs about the nativity:

  • Angels We Have Heard on High
  • Away in a Manger
  • Calypso Carol
  • Do You Hear What I Hear
  • The First Noel
  • Go Tell It on the Mountain
  • God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
  • I Saw Three Ships
  • Mary’s Boy Child
  • O Holy Night
  • We Three Kings
  • What Child Is This
  • Little Drummer Boy[1]

The three ships of the carol sailed into Bethlehem, which is landlocked. (Another Christmas miracle!)

I have gone right out on a limb for Jack and I do hope it isn’t too far. I was discussing conjuring with my colleague Murray and he mentioned that he was into illusions as a young man and still has the apparatus one needs for sawing a lady in half. He also said that:

  • He hasn’t used it for years
  • He was never very good at it[2]
  • His wife is always complaining about how much room it takes up in the garage

You can see where I’m going with this: I bought it for a pittance and I do hope Jack will like it.

[1] Hannah, Ben and Emma did their own version of this for our Christmas concert many years ago. They called it “Carol of the Bum” and I assume they were headed for a pants-down finale but I don’t know for sure because Don bustled them off the stage early in the second verse.

[2] But surely this doesn’t mean that he had to have an ambulance in attendance!

21 June

The bleak midwinter

It’s midwinter and it’s a good day for winter planting!

I’m not much of a gardener, so I don’t know when to plant geraniums (although I do know that you plant garlic on the shortest day of the year and harvest it on the longest) but if you plan to:

  • grow presents[1]
  • grow fruit and vegetables for the Christmas board[2]
  • grow flowers for your Christmas display

decide what you want, work out when to plant it and get it into your calendar… or, in the case of garlic, into the garden.[3]

21 jun 2016.jpg
Pot luck.

My brother Matthew isn’t much of a gardener either[4] and he told me today that although he has always assumed that his inner city terrace house was a mere stepping stone to a rambling suburban house in a shady, classic garden,[5] now that he is reviewing his life based on what he has, rather than what he thinks may be around the corner, he has recognised that he is happy with his current abode: it’s the right size for him,[6] he likes the furniture and decor,[7] the location is very convenient and he barely manages to control his two square metres of cumquats and low maintenance ground covers and doesn’t particularly want to spend his weekends pruning and mowing. So he’s going to stay where he is… and renovate the bathroom. (Just as well he doesn’t have to have it done by Christmas!)

[1] I’m thinking hanging baskets here, not my artist friend Sharon’s mould Christmas trees.

[2] Or even fungi. When my friend Jill was living in a flat in her student days, she grew three different kinds of mushrooms in her bedroom (Deliberately. Although her best friend was living in a share house that was so damp that the occupants grew toadstools in the shower accidentally) and she used to bring a bouquet as a present when she went visiting.

[3] My friend Fiona’s daughter Eloise seriously believed for most of her primary school years that the absence of vampires around their house was entirely due to her mother’s garlic crop.

[4] He once assumed that spirit gum and ghost gums were the same thing.

[5] I think his vision included a hammock but not a hedge trimmer.

[6] “Having a small wardrobe is a good excuse not to go clothes shopping,” he says.

[7] Matthew says his signature style is low key, easy living. Wendy calls it “Lazy Bachelor”.

20 June

Get nicked

St Nicholas was a bishop from Myra (now in Turkey) who lived in the 4th century. Legend says he used to give gifts secretly, putting money into shoes and dropping coins down chimneys,[1] and his Yuletide image has him in red bishop robes with a red mitre[2] riding a white horse, leaving out presents for children on his feast day (6 December) while the children leave carrots or hay in their shoes for his horse.

St Nicholas is well suited to staunch Christians and not well suited to staunch non-Christians.

20 jun 2016.jpg
Babies in mangers and carrots in shoes – the lines are getting crossed.

[1] Which was surely a risky tactic whether the fire was going or not.

[2] Hardly a subtle disguise for secret do-gooding.

19 June

DIY baubles

In the 70s, it was fashionable to make Christmas decorations with polystyrene balls and pins. Here’s how it works:

  • Take a dressmaking pin (the shorter the better)
  • Load it up with a seed bead and then a sequin[1]
  • Push it into the polystyrene ball
  • Repeat until you’ve covered the ball
  • Add a hanging loop
  • Voila!

This is not cheap and it’s easy to make really horrible baubles this way[2] but it’s also possible to make pretty sparkly things (and everyone’s tree needs its fair quota of pretty sparkly things).

19 jun 2016.jpg
Baubles for babies beginners.

Hannah invited Jeremy and me round for lunch: her friend Lachlan had cooked a huge pot of borscht for her the night before and Hannah’s plan was that we’d help her with the leftovers (which were delicious). When I asked Hannah why Lachlan had cooked her a bucket of borscht, she said it was a combination of him being given a lot of beetroot by a neighbour and living in the kind of share house where it was impossible to find a clean saucepan so he liked to come round to her flat to cook. (She also mentioned that she now has a pink wooden spoon due to the tenacity of beetroot pigments, but that it was an acceptable cost for a vat of good soup.)

[1] Add a bugle bead between the seed bead and the sequin if you think that “prickly” is a good quality for a bauble.

[2] Which is what my cousins did as children and those baubles remain on Auntie Margie’s Christmas tree to this day (which is awe-inspiring but not in the modern sense of “magnificent”: in the medieval sense of “striking one with dread and fear”).

18 June

Going for a song

In the olden days, people used to gather round the piano[1] and sing songs together and it was more about making music than listening to music so you didn’t have to be a diva to join in. Now we’ve got superb, word‑class music in earshot all day long so there’s no particular reason to listen to untrained amateurs trill shaky renditions of the song of the day… no particular reason to listen, that is, but there are still particular reasons to sing as one of those untrained amateurs, including that singing is fun and it’s also good for you physically.[2]

Given how hard it is to get modern Australians even to sing “Happy birthday”, your chances of organising a sing-along are pretty low at any time other than Christmas, but carol singing is one of those archaic activities (like buying biscuits in tins) that still gets a Yuletide airing and here are some forms of it that might appeal to you:

  • the aforementioned gathering around a musical instrument
  • carolling from door to door[3]
  • karaoke
  • your local “Carols by Candlelight”
  • a proper choir[4]

and the standard can be whatever your bunch are capable of:

  • foghorn unison on “The Little Drummer Boy”
  • someone does the descant on “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”
  • four-part harmony on “Silent Night”
  • Handel’s Messiah in your city’s concert hall

You may be surprised by how much you’ll enjoy carol singing: why not give it a go?

18 jun 2016.jpg
Carols by standard lamp.

I asked Jack what he wanted for his birthday. He started with jet pack, then went to drone and then to droid. (My aunt gave Matthew a dictionary when he turned eighteen but that was back when books were still a thing.)

[1] Or the organ or the guitar or the squeezebox.

[2] Mostly. My friend Fiona’s sister Melanie sprained her throat trying to sing a note that could shatter a glass. (There was no damage to the glass.)

[3] Best to let your neighbourhood know about this ahead of time. (My neighbour Gustav once set the dogs on some carollers. (To be fair, he thought they were collecting for charity.))

[4] Some are happy to take on members just for the Christmas season and, if not, why not join for the whole year?

17 June

Transparently so

Church window biscuits look amazing but taste as artificial as cheap lollies. So cook them for the spectacle[1] rather than to tickle your palate, or with children (who generally have a lot of fun with them, and often like cheap lollies). Damp air is not kind to sugar so bake them on the day you plan to serve them.

Church Window Biscuits

17 jun 2016.jpg

MAKES : 20
START : 45 minutes before

10 boiled lollies                                                1 tsp vanilla essence

125g butter                                                      2 cups plain flour

2/3 cup icing sugar


Set over to 180°C. Line 2 baking trays with baking paper. Crush lollies.

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in vanilla and egg. Stir in flour.

Roll dough to a thickness of 5mm, cut circles from dough and place the circles on the baking tray. Then cut small shapes out of the middles of the circles and add the crushed lollies to the hole.

Cook for 10 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool on trays.


I asked my sister Wendy what Jack would like for his birthday. She said that she’s getting him some gym equipment which didn’t help me at all. (When the kids were little, it was easy to walk into a toyshop and come out five minutes later with a gift they were bound to love. I wish they had toyshops for adults too.)[2]

[1] My niece Emma once made a gingerbread house on a gingerbread road and she used church window biscuits to make traffic lights. (I can’t see her cooking something as fiddly as that again until her baby is quite a lot older.)

[2] Wait. They do: hardware megastores.