Today is the start of the mid-winter month in Scandinavia, when gnomes and trolls run wild and no work is allowed. In Australia, we have schoolchildren running wild and there’s plenty of work still to be done in workplaces around the country but it gets harder and harder to fit it around the end of year festivities.
As with so many Christmas tasks, you might prefer to wrap all your presents in one big session, in which case you should schedule it appropriately into your (jam-packed) calendar now and, since this a good task for the whole household, you may need to find a mutually convenient time across everyone’s schedules. (This won’t be easy but my sister Wendy solved the problem a few years back by not allowing anyone to have breakfast until they’d wrapped a present first.)
Alternatively, if you like to wrap slowly, start now and do a few each night in front of the television (or in front of the fairy lights and Christmas carols).
My colleague Murray surprised me with a Christmas present at the HR morning tea today: a kitchen timer shaped like a cupcake. It was to thank me for the cooking lessons (and I so appreciated his appreciation that I felt like giving him a Christmas present too) and he said that if he’d realised how much people like you when you put a torte on the table, he’d have gone straight to the cakes as a young man and would have left the curried sausages to his middle years.
 A few years back, my son Jeremy spent an entire winter holiday on the couch in a zebra onesie, drinking hot chocolate and watching wildlife documentaries. When I suggested that he get some fresh air, he sighed and asked me how long it was going to take for me to realise that we were now living in a virtual world.
 To the festive morning tea in the HR department this morning, Murray brought
some documents that he needed signed by the HR director,
which, I feel, does not quite demonstrate the proper Christmas spirit.
If you’re into the icing arts, a Christmas cake is a good platform for them so jump in soon so that you can use the cake as a table centrepiece throughout the festive season.
But if you’re not keen on piped lace and sugar angels, skip the icing. You could put a cake frill around the edges (which is a good option if you decorated the top with almonds) or put an actual Christmas decoration on top provided it’s not going to shed glitter or other inedible substances and that you’re going to be able to wash the cake crumbs off it later.
Gemma at work mentioned that she and her husband Paul have decided not to go home to Western Australia for Christmas. They do now have a social circle in Melbourne but, although you can celebrate your birthday with friends, they’re usually busy with their families at Christmas so she was asking me about very small turkeys. (“They’re called chickens,” I said.)
“Would you like to have Christmas with us?” I asked, and she would.
I’m feeling merrier already (and I think I can justify pudding and trifle and cheesecake and fruit salad for a table of six).
 Like Auntie Pat: she didn’t just ice mince tarts, she considered cakes mere vehicles for frosting and she would even ice plain biscuits, particularly if she was practising a new technique or a dicey colour scheme. (Her family forced her to draw the line at toast.)
 Because Cassidy is not the only person who thinks that’s too much sugar.
 Nanna had a plastic sleigh she saved for this purpose every year.
If your children will be making cards, the last weekend in November is a good time to begin. Set small children up with crayons and be ready to snatch the cards away when they look good and to write a description of the drawing on the inside. Middle-sized children often like to add shiny things and to cut and paste. Older, less artistic children who feel shy about their skills or short of ideas can adopt any of my adult suggestions from previous weeks.
Grandparents usually like homemade cards and so do crafty people. Some teachers appreciate them. Children of the same age as the artist usually don’t.
My cousin Bronwyn invited me around for lunch and we had a fragrant, vegetable-rich curry and a nut cake sprinkled with shredded coconut.
“You were right,” she said as she served me cake. “Getting on top of pre-diabetes is about exercise, healthy eating and GI, and sugar is just a part of that.”
“Life is better with a little bit of sweetness,” I agreed.
“Life is better when your blood glucose levels are down, you’re feeling good and you’ve lost enough weight to fit into the trousers stashed at the back of the wardrobe,” corrected Bronwyn. “I’d think I was lucky to be diagnosed with pre-diabetes … but then I remember the nerve damage and the kidney failure and the blindness. They trump trousers.”
 My friend Jill advises against a method she tried when her son William was a toddler: she let him step in trays of paint and then run over a sheet of paper and she cut out the best footprints and pasted them onto card blanks. The cards they produced were sweet and quirky but Jill says the mess reached biblical proportions.
 I am fond of shiny things myself, and this is one of the 217 reasons I like Christmas.
 It’s quite safe: my adult cards are devoid of adult content.
 A small slice of nut cake, and it had no icing under the coconut.