10 December

The chop

If your Christmas tree is a lopped pine, you can buy it this weekend and it should still be fine for at least a few days beyond the 25th. They do best away from the heat so don’t put them too close to sunny windows.[1]

My council offers a free tree pick up service in January and yours may too but you might need to register beforehand.[2]

2016-12-10
Make a trunk call.

We had planned to undecorate the conference room today but first Adam and then Jessica and then Laura texted me to say that they were sick and wouldn’t be able to make it so I texted them all back and said that we’d reschedule to tomorrow. (Being hungover is a self-inflicted injury and I don’t think it should get you out of cleaning up.)

This left me with plenty of time to meet up with my book club friend Sharon to exchange presents. Hers was wrapped in paper covered with her own whimsical cat sketches and she said that a local craft shop had persuaded her to design some gift wrap. It had turned out very well but she was agonising about whether doing a series of greeting cards would be too commercial.

I don’t see why it’s considered unartistic to make art that appeals to the masses but perhaps that’s why I’m an office worker rather than an artist.

[1] And my niece Emma told her mother that you also shouldn’t take your eyes off the baby when she’s close to the tree: she knew little Mia would enjoy crawling under the piney splendour but she didn’t know that Mia could actually reach up to the lower branches until she found a golden star in her mouth. (Both the baby and the bauble survived the experience.)

[2] My colleague Murray mulches his tree each year and spreads it on his flowerbeds – where you can occasionally see a shard of glittery plastic from a decoration he missed.

 

9 December

Gingerly

Cook your gingerbread. It will easily last till Christmas[1] and it’s good to have some on hand for unannounced Christmas guests.[2] Also if you package some up now (in festive cellophane or whatever), you’ll have some Small Presents ready should you suddenly need them.

2016-12-09
We three stegosauruses.

The board room looked like a medieval forest and the astonishment on the party-goers’ faces as they walked through the door was worth all of the holly pricks. I’d just finished adjusting some shaky foliage when Mariella from Corporate Comms shouted out to me from the opposite corner of the room.

“Janet!” she cried. “There’s something I have to tell you!” And she broke away from Meredith and Murray and headed toward me.

“What is it?” I asked when she reached me.

“Nothing,” she replied. “But I had to escape from Meredith. She’d already told me about every azalea she has ever planted, and she was about to start on her compost secrets.”

“Glad to be of service,” I responded.

“No, wait, there is something after all: have you tried the cheese?”

I hadn’t. (I’d been too busy anchoring the shaky pine tree by the window, which was threatening to crush the guests and turn Merrie England into the tragic chapters of Seven Little Australians.)

“It’s awful,” she said.

Jessica organised a bulk discount on cheese, and I hadn’t thought to tell her that quality is still important, even when you’re negotiating on quantity.

“People who don’t like cheese are refusing to touch it, and people who do like cheese are taking one bite and then backing away.”

I looked around and saw that Mariella was right.

“Maybe they’ll fill up on bread and pickled onions,” I said, hopefully.

“I don’t think so,” said Mariella. “You’ve done a good job with the wassail, and they’ll fill up on that instead.”

And she was right, but everyone was seemed to have fun (and the shaky pine tree stayed in place) so I’m counting it as a successful party.

[1] Although my friend Jenny had to keep Christmas treats in the linen cupboard to stop her kids finding them and eating them all in one sitting.

[2] This is the excuse my colleague Murray uses for buying an entire trolley-load of shortbread each December.

8 December

Do re mi

Would you like to sing carols on Christmas Day?[1] If so, it’s time to start brushing up on them:

  • Choose very familiar carols and print off plenty of copies of the lyrics: practically no-one knows the second verse of even the most famous carols.[2]
  • Practise your piano playing or guitar strumming or glockenspiel tapping or remind your accompanist to do so. Or get out your karaoke carols.
  • If your gang are slightly musical, you might like the rounds mentioned on 25 June.
  • If your gang are more musical, here’s a comparatively simply but very effective SATB[3] arrangement of “Silent Night”. (You’ll probably need to distribute this today to give people a chance to practise.) silent night
  • If your gang can be persuaded to sing but are not particularly musical, you could do “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a memory song (so you’ll be making up your own gifts around the circle)[4] and emphasise that it’s about memory and not pitch to remove performance anxiety.

I don’t know what I’ll be doing about carols this year. Wendy and I usually do a sing-along but Matthew seldom sings the right note[5] and I haven’t a clue if Auntie Gwen or Susan or Gemma or Paul are willing to warble “Wenceslas”.

2016-12-08
Not so silent when you sing it with a full choir.

The social club committee blocked out our calendars this afternoon so that Laura and Gemma could go to Laura’s uncle’s farmlet to cut down pine saplings and Adam and Jessica and I could drive to my house to bring back huge quantities of holly and ivy. I had recommended that they all wear gardening gloves and I would have taken such an instruction to mean that I should even cover up my hands but Jessica pretty much only covered up her hands and was wearing a skimpy top and a tiny skirt and suffered dreadfully (but manfully – she didn’t complain) with the holly.

[1] This is the plural “you”, not the singular “you”: the evening Uncle Geoff tried to pressgang his unmusical children into doing carols did not go well.

[2] But I like to sing, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground,” while I’m pulling up blackberries. (It’s from one of the less joyful verses of “Joy to the World”.)

[3] Consider “SATB” a shibboleth: if you don’t know what it means, you may not be ready to conduct this version of “Silent Night”.

[4] We once ended up with, “Five runner beans, four sides of beef, three mince tarts, two turkey rolls and a partridge in a pantry”.

[5] Matthew claims that he does hit the right note, just not at the right time.

7 December

Deck the cubicles

Some workplaces encourage their staff to decorate their workspaces – and some discourage it! If tinsel is forbidden to you but you’d like to decorate (and you don’t think it will get you sacked) put up Christmas cards because they’re difficult to object to and they do make a merry display. (Why not go out with your colleagues at lunchtime to a stationer or two-dollar shop to buy cards, and then come back and write them out for each other? You’ll bond like super glue.)

If there is a decoration competition, strategists often leave their display till the last minute so that they don’t tip their hand to their rivals, but I prefer beginning as soon as the season is declared open otherwise you don’t get the maximum enjoyment from your glitz.

Here’s a design I’ve won my sectional comps with. I called it “Cascade of Baubles”[1] and I put it together with a mountain of baubles (which I could buy for not much more than a dime a dozen by mid December), some bird netting I had at home and several boxes of paperclips I borrowed from the stationery cupboard (and returned in January).

2016-12-07
Cascade of baubles.

We’ve averted a last-minute office party crisis: Laura was supposed to organise a punch bowl for the wassail and had forgotten all about it. So she left work at 1pm and went to every op shop she passed on her way home until she encountered a capacious glass monstrosity in the sixth shop she tried, so all will be well. (Adam is quite certain that the magnificence of the wassail will blind everyone to the lack of beauty in the wassail bowl, but I think it’s more likely that the wassail will just blind them full stop.)

[1] My ex-colleague Donna called it “infestation of baubles” but she didn’t have an artistic bone in her body and was clearly jealous that her trite cardboard fireplace with slipshod cut-out stockings impressed no one.

6 December

Influx of cards

If you’re Belgian, this morning is when you will find the presents Sinterklaas left for you. And if you’ve grown too big for your dummy and left it in your shoe, Sinterklaas will have taken it away to look after it, leaving chocolate in its place (which is an exchange of vices that may not work in your favour).

As cards come in (if you still have anyone who sends them to you):

  • Update your address book with the sender’s return addresses (and their significant others, if they’ve mentioned them).[1]
  • Add the senders to your Christmas card list for next year.
  • You may want to respond to personal notes (email is fine).
  • If you get a card from someone you didn’t send one to, pop one in the post to them pronto![2]

Today is a good day to make lemon butter for your hampers[3] and make sure you keep at least one jar for yourself because it makes excellent Christmas desserts. (See 22 April.)

2016-12-06
Who loves you?

I am confident that these whipper-snapper ideas people have designed a good office party but I do not know yet that they can execute a good office party so I insisted we have a social club committee meeting at lunchtime today to go over the plans for Friday night. Sure enough, everyone thought everyone else was doing all the work and that they just had to swan in looking lovely. But now we’re all quite clear on who’s buying the alcohol (me: I have the purse strings), who’s mixing the wassail (Adam, who has been practising at home and has been looking quite bleary-eyed as a consequence), and who’s doing the final comms (Laura, who has already drawn a pretty series of posters and written some witty emails). (I particularly liked “R.S.V.P. = Really Special Vintage Party”.)

[1] Failing to mention significant others may also be significant: the first I knew of my friend Jenny’s separation was when she omitted Richard’s name from her Christmas cards.

[2] My old neighbour Gustav used to write “return to sender” on his and send them straight back and I don’t think anyone had to be told twice.

[3] Or passionfruit butter, by swapping passionfruit pulp for the lemon juice.

5 December

Gift tag accounting

This evening (St Nicholas Eve), Sinterklaas leaves presents for Dutch children. Sometimes he hides them in the house and leaves a clue behind; sometimes he leaves them in a sack on the doorstep, knocks on the door and runs away before the door is opened.[1]

Perhaps you’re starting to receive presents now even if your family doesn’t come from the Netherlands? As you unwrap each, keep the gift tag, write what the present was on the back of it (as if you were your own bridesmaid) and put them in a Christmas tin to help you write your present list for next year.[2]

2016-12-05
Tickets on yourself.

I ducked out to get presents for Gemma and Paul today and was glad that my present shopping is usually finished by now because the crowds are starting to hot up. I found a scarf for her, in a shade of turquoise she wears a lot, and a Guide Dogs calendar for him because the puppies were so darn cute. (I haven’t actually met him and all I know of his tastes is that he likes indoor cricket, but who can resist puppies?)

[1] Is he hiding something, is he merely shy, or is he on the spectrum?

[2] My cousin Peter used to also do a price check on the gifts he received and then use the dollar amount as an input to his present budget for the following year, but he dropped that tit-for-tat approach when he moved to his one-book-for-all model.

4 December

In chains

If you have kids, get them making paper chains because they are fun and festive.

The old-fashioned way is to glue strips of paper into loops, linking them as you go, but it’s easier, faster and less messy to use staples. And it’s easier again to use streamers (the boat kind rather than crepe paper) as links: just tear them off into the appropriate lengths and staple them together and you can churn out metres and metres of chain per hour. (This will be part of the appeal: small children will be thrilled that they’ve made something long and larger children will want to hang chains in every room. I draw the line at the wet areas myself but why not let them go gangbusters everywhere else?[1])

To be green, cut up old glossy magazines for the links and use paste made of sustainable flour as the glue.

2016-12-04
Jeremy made these chains from magazines when he was in high school: he targeted pictures with strong colours and got quite a colour scheme going.

I roamed around my back garden this afternoon[2] noting where the best holly was and I’m glad to say that I have some spitefully prickly stuff that looks very Christmassy. In fact, I’m wondering if I should clear it with Health and Safety before we decorate.

[1] My father came home late after an office Christmas party when I was a kid, sneaking in the front door without turning on the light so that he wouldn’t disturb anyone, and a paper chain came adrift from its mooring and tried to strangle him. He fought it off successfully but the surprise attack unnerved him and he wouldn’t let us drape paper chains over anything he counted as a fire exit from that point on.

[2] Or, as I more commonly refer to it, my back jungle.