24 December – Christmas Eve

Eve

Get up, open the last door on the Advent calendar, wolf down some toast and head off to the greengrocer! Be early to avoid the crowds (and to find the best cherries) and bear in mind that there are two attitudes you can take to this:

  • you can be grumpy that the shops are crowded and you can’t find the sugar snap peas and you’ve still got so much to do
  • you can enjoy the excitement in the kids and the tingle of anticipation in the adults around you and you can think of this preparation as a fun part of the feast.

You probably have quite a few things to cook today but you have good running sheets so, again, enjoy the preparation – and the flavours and the aromas. (My house smells like red wine and spices right now, because I’ve just been mulling the fruit for breakfast tomorrow.)

24 dec 2016
Throw open all the doors!

Matthew and Don and Jack came over early with the trailer and have been pushing tables around on the deck. They tried one long rectangle but it didn’t fit so now they’re toying with a U-shape, which they don’t have enough tablecloths for, and I’ve just heard Jack mention white sheets (!) and he said he’ll get some from home if Don will take the trailer back to pick up his magic apparatus. And you know what? I think they’re thoroughly enjoying themselves. (I hope it’s not me that ends up sitting on one of those folding picnic chairs though.)

Jeremy and Danni volunteered for the last-minute present shopping so I sent them off to the mall with my purse[1] and they came home with fancy candles! But I’ve never even met the boat people and for all I know they might like candles. Now the love birds are wrapping the gift wax in the lounge room – in birthday paper because I used up the last of the Christmas paper on Caitlin’s present. (I hope the boat people like dinosaurs in party hats because that’s the wrapping they’re getting.)

Then Ben and Cassidy came around with some of the stuff Wendy has cooked for tomorrow (I do not know why she thought it would fit in my fridge!) and, after Cassidy astonished me by telling me that she was looking forward to a slice of Wendy’s lemon meringue pie,[2] they decided to decorate the deck (which has plenty of fairy lights on it but they won’t be any good at midday). They used all the decorations I excluded from my decoration plan (mostly because I don’t like them – like the ceramic elf with the evil squint) and are now making paper chains from Christmas catalogues. Some would say the result is looking very gaudy but I’m willing to go with “festive”.

Auntie Gwen and Susan, who arrived at ten and are staying tonight and tomorrow night, are peeling potatoes for the potato salad (I was planning a German potato salad but Auntie Gwen is doing her own thing and I have no idea what it will be except that I think she said something about anchovies), and Gemma is folding napkins (they’re paper but I admit they’re looking very good) and has her husband Paul polishing glasses and cutlery ready for tomorrow.

Everyone’s getting in each other’s way but they don’t seem to mind. In fact, I absolutely think the word for today is “merry”.

[1] “We usually do our Christmas shopping in the Boxing Day sales,” said Danni. “There are a lot of advantages to being Serbian.”

[2] “Moderation is important,” she said earnestly. “Really?” I replied, trying very hard not to be sarcastic. “Oh yes. I’ve learned that a little bit of sugar can be a good thing.”

“I’ll bear that in mind,” I said.

17 December

Shop till you stop

Embrace the warmth and light of the summer morning and hit the supermarket early. Take your list and your green bags, and make sure you have a cool bag and some freezer bricks too.[1]

2016-12-17
Ship-shape shopping.

William and I met in the mall this afternoon[2] and went to the crystal section of the best department store. The moment we were within flailing distance of displays of china, William put his hands into his pockets and refused to take them out again.

“I’m not touching anything,” he said. “I can afford one vase but I can’t afford breakages.”

We found a vase I’m sure Jill will love but William wouldn’t handle it so I carried it to the service desk for him. And he wouldn’t even take his hands out of his pockets to liberate his wallet, so I paid for it too. (He transferred the cost to my bank account as soon as we left the shop and bumped into a shopper as he did so, so I understand his strategy.)

[1] In case the warmth of the summer morning is too warm.

[2] Which was Hell. Unless you’re lonesome for the peak-hour crowds of Tokyo, you should be glad you’ve finished your Christmas shopping.

 

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.

24 November

Defaulting

How’s your Christmas shopping going? If it’s not close to finished yet, it might be time for the default shop: that’s where you choose one shop, walk in[1] and stay there until you’ve found a present for everyone on your list.[2] But don’t be too fussy – by now, although you’re still trying to get a good present for everyone, you can accept that the gifts may not be perfect and that a few people may get something that doesn’t excite them. You do better when you can, but when you can’t, don’t let it worry you. Not every present has to be perfect every time. (But this is not an invitation to throw away your standards entirely, as my colleague Murray did the year after he was criticised for giving his family hampers of ill-fitting underwear, when he abdicated all care and gave everyone supermarket gift cards.)

2016-11-24
When your default shop is a fair trade store, you can be certain that someone will get something good for Christmas (the maker for sure, and your recipient perhaps).

I thought I’d finished my own present shopping, but I was just going to send a card to Auntie Gwen and Susan and now that they’re coming to Christmas dinner, I think I should give them presents, particularly since there are only four of us! I don’t have any specific ideas (this is something that I haven’t been working on all year) so I guess I’ll just wander around the shops and hope to be inspired. (People complain (justifiably) about toys being marketed in pink to make it clear they’re for girls, but right now I’d love to go to a shop that had purple packaging on everything that was suitable for retired nurses.) I’ll have to buy some wrapping paper too – I’ve already allocated all the upcycled gift bags that I made.

[1] Or log on.

[2] Don is notoriously difficult to buy for. Last year, when my daughter heard that I was heading out to get a present for him and wouldn’t be back till I had one, she advised me to take a thermos and a sleeping bag.

19 November

If you don’t like the steady trickle Christmas shop, or if you lack the time on the average day or lack a convenient emporium, then you can do your Christmas shopping in one big bang: allocate a morning (or a whole day) to go to a big shopping centre. Prepare yourself the night before: you’ll need comfortable shoes and a capacious bag and you should read your present list and your ideas through carefully and plan your approach.[1]

Theoretically, it’s still a good idea to get the presents you’re sure about first because you may get inspiration for the people you don’t have gifts for. In practice, this might lead to you walking the length of the shopping centre ten times over so, unless you’re keen for this to be physical exercise as well as a logistic exercise, shop geographically by visiting each relevant shop as you pass it.

Take your goods back to the car whenever they get too heavy[2] and stop frequently, either for food (whether from the food court or your own packed lunch, depending on your culinary and fiscal preferences) or just to do something revitalising (like reading the paper).[3]

Save the receipts – both for your records and in case you need to return anything.

2016-11-19
Ready, set, shop!

I bought a really pretty china tea set for Pixie and some lovely wooden farm animals for Poppet. (I don’t know when I’ll see them over Christmas yet but I’ll make sure we meet some time in December.)

[1] My cousin Brian shops online but he still allocates a whole morning for it and he sits down in his study and wanders through web sites until he’s filled his Christmas list. (But he doesn’t wear comfortable shoes … or anything at all. He said he did it naked one particularly humid day and found it did such a good job of keeping his teenagers out of his study while he shopped that he has now made it a tradition.)

[2] Ignore this instruction if you travel by bus (and, if you do travel by bus, consider adding a weight limit to your price limit for presents).

[3] Or Snapchatting pictures of horrible items to your brother and threatening to buy them for him for Christmas, as Hannah did last year.

11 November

Remotely interested in shopping

Buying presents through the internet or by old-school mail order is particularly good for people who live a long way away because you can have the present delivered directly to their address.[1]

Some caveats:

  • If you want it to be a surprise, perhaps you can address it to someone else in the household and ask them to keep it from the recipient.[2]
  • Some of these websites have gift wrapping services but some don’t.
  • If you’re sending a present to someone who lives overseas, buy it from a website based in their country and organise local postage.[3]
11 nov 2016.jpg
Post haste.

Christmas Day 1970: Mum wanted to put Matthew to bed after our Mallee cousins left. Dad suggested that he skip his nightly bath but Mum looked at his jelly-smeared hands[4] and the mouth that had been eating lollies constantly since the morning and decided bathing wasn’t optional. Matthew didn’t want to miss anything[5] and started crying but then Auntie Pat suggested that Steve (who was a year older and hence a year cooler and a source of much fun)[6] join him in the bath and so the party continued and everything was fine.

[1] This works for nearly everyone but not for my friend Jenny’s brother-in-law when he spent a year in the Antarctic at one of the research stations. (He had a white Christmas, even though it was actually summer.)

[2] My friend Fiona and I cycled around Tasmania together after we left school and each bought our fathers “Tasmanian Wilderness” calendars for Christmas. The calendars came with good, sturdy mailing pouches, which meant we could send them home safely straight away but the pouches were emblazoned with logos that gave the game away. So I sent one to me c/o Fiona’s address and she sent one to herself c/o my address, and we each said, “Oh, it’s for my friend’s dad,” when we got home … but then just kept the one we had in our hands.

[3] Where possible. Not even Father Christmas delivers to Antarctica (even though he’s dressed for it).

[4] He had been forced to use a spoon when eating jelly, but that doesn’t stop a four-year-old from making a mess.

[5] Or perhaps he was resisting yet another change of clothes.

[6] I believe this is when Steve taught Matthew how to make fart sounds by blowing into the crook of his elbow.

4 November

Reining it in

Sticking to your budget requires discipline:

  • Don’t buy a present that’s over budget unless you’ve already made the savings elsewhere.
  • Don’t buy dubious presents early in November: you may come across something better later.
  • It is okay to buy dubious presents late in November but only if you promise yourself that you won’t replace the compromise present with something else at the last minute. (Buying twice is False Bargain #2.)
  • If you get a surprisingly good bargain, don’t feel obliged to add anything else: a good present is a good present even if it’s cheap.[1]
2016-11-04
“Surprise me,” she said. “I’ve got you something you’ll hate,” I replied.

Of course, all of this is much easier if you have a very generous present budget.

“You won’t believe what Gertruda is giving us for Christmas!” Wendy said to me in an excited phone call at lunchtime. “A tropical island cruise! New Caledonia and Vanuatu! In suites with balconies!”

Gertruda, although stubborn (and, apparently, devious) is both well-off[2] and generous, which is a happy combination for both the giver and the receivers.

[1] My mother tended to do this. She’d buy a scarf for her sister and be worried that maybe it wasn’t quite right so she’d add a book and, although logic says that the combination should have felt like an even more generous gift, the extra book just telegraphed that she thought there was something wrong with the scarf.

[2] Although she’s not so heavily laden, now that she has sold most of her jewels.