23 December

Fridge work

Today’s the last delivery day for the year, so leave the postie’s Small Present in the letterbox. (Clearly labelled – you don’t want them to assume it’s to you rather than from you.)

Jam packed (and not just with jam).

Now you really need to get the fridge ready. Toss everything that you don’t need,[1] carefully consider what you’ll be storing and how you can fit it in and plan where everything will fit on Christmas Day. (I’m making extra room for a pre-cooked rolled pork loin and a supermarket quiche because I no longer have time to cook everything from scratch!)

Also fine-tune your Christmas Day food safety plan:

  • How will you cover food? Will you serve it in containers that have lids? Will you use plastic wrap and foil? (Put them on your shopping list for Christmas Eve if you don’t have enough.) Do you have your ham bag ready?
  • Remember to get all that food back into the fridge pronto and out of the danger zone.

You can cook frozen desserts and cheesecake today. Personally, I’m getting stuck into an ice cream plum pudding because there won’t be enough actual pudding to go around and no-one’s going to feel like waiting two months until something I whip up today has matured properly!

Wendy rang from Tullamarine and she said that they flew with a nice family who had also abandoned ship and don’t know what to do for Christmas because they were expecting to be on a cruise and now they’ve come home to an empty larder and an undecorated house so she invited them to my place, knowing that I always have plenty of everything!

So that’s twenty-five people for Christmas dinner! I’m going to have to buy some extra crackers and more wine and find some extra presents!

“Wendy,” I said, “do you think Gertruda would have time to cook a really big batch of sauerkraut pierogi for Christmas dinner?”

“I’m sure she’d love to,” she replied. “I’ll let her know straight away.”

“And something for dessert too?”

“Count on it,” she replied.

Then Gemma rang, checking if there was anything she could bring.

“Well,” I said cautiously, “how are you off for china?”

“We got a big dinner set for a wedding present that we hardly ever use!” she gushed. “I’ll bring it around!”

And she did. She’s got my sixteen-place white and gold plates and has added her twelve-place white and silver service and she’s currently bustling around, working out how to mix them together in a stylish way. She says she’ll bring glasses and cutlery tomorrow and now she’s talking about serviettes and centrepieces.

“I was going to do conifers and baubles,” I mentioned, “and I have big gold bowls for nuts and lollies.” (Note to self: will need more nuts and lollies.)

Gemma looked at me with my apron and oven mitts and said, “Please can I do it? I love this kind of thing and it was feeling so wrong to be sitting around on Christmas Eve Eve with nothing to do. I can do conifers and baubles and I’ll wrangle punch cups and serving spoons too. I promise it will look lovely.”

And that’s an offer too good to refuse.

By the time Hannah rang, I went to speaker phone straight away so that I could keep stirring.

“You need twenty-one crackers?” she asked.

“It’s twenty-five now,” I said. “Probably thirty tomorrow, the way things are going. And if you ask again on Christmas morning, I expect it will be a hundred.”

“How many crackers have you got?” she asked.

“Fourteen,” I replied.

“Pixie and Poppet are bouncing off the ceiling so we’ll sit down and make crackers together this afternoon and that might calm them down a bit. I’ll drop into the shops on my way over and get eleven trinkets. They won’t be up to your usual standard but I’ll find something.”

“Could you make the crackers silver?” I suggested, thinking of Gemma’s table décor. “And do you think we could have the girls in charge of the punch on the Day?”

“They’ll love it,” she assured me. “Should we start on the punch ice today?”

“Yes, please,” I replied.

[1] Like the leftover pasta from yesterday you thought you’d eat today but actually won’t because you’ll be too full of mince pies.

18 November

In print

Polish your letter until it sparkles and then proofread it carefully to catch any mistakes. If possible, ask someone else to proofread it too (since it seems to be impossible to catch all of one’s own errors)[1] and then format it attractively.[2]

Finally, print out the right number of copies of your letter and remember to do one for your archives.[3]


The office Christmas party plans are beginning to crystalise: it’s wassail and fruit punch with a “King Winter” theme and we’ll decorate with the holly and ivy that I still have way too much of in my backyard. We’ll describe the food as “medieval” and it will be bread and cheese and pickled onions (which means it could also be described as “cheap”) leaving the bulk of the budget for the wassail.

[1] Which, unfortunately, seems to be true in life in general as well as in writing.

[2] Having too much text to fit on two pages is not a cue to use a tiny font: it’s a cue to cut.

[3] Or not. Carol’s hoarding mother has carbon copies of every letter she wrote in her youth and, although these may potentially have historical value one day, the copies of every bill she has ever received have less narrative interest.

8 November

Present problems

Today is the day that St Nicholas arrives in the Netherlands by steamboat from Spain.[1]

If you don’t have enough ideas for presents yet, here are some suggestions for generating suggestions:

  • Check out the websites you bookmarked during the year.
  • Ask others: your kids may have good ideas about what their cousins want, for example.[2]
  • Quiz the people themselves! Many people enjoy being asked what they’d like.
  • Get them to initial your catalogues (see 14 October).

And remember that you’re buying to their taste, not yours.[3]

All I want for Christmas is…

It seems that Gemma has been listening when I’ve been talking about my blog and she offered up a brilliant compromise solution to the office party problem: a wassail bowl. This would be exotic as well as Christmassy and we could probably do it for nearly the same price as beer. I immediately suggested that we add a fruit punch for anyone who wants to stay upright, both ideas were accepted and I am starting to think that we might be able to make this work. (I have seen what a disaster to morale the bungled birthday cake roster was and I am afraid that a bad Christmas party could bring this company to its knees!)

[1] See? I’m not the only one who starts Christmas this early.

[2] And bad ideas too. My son Jeremy has tried to persuade me to buy all kinds of wicked practical jokes for his cousin Jack but I knew my sister Wendy would boomerang it all back to me faster than you could say “whoopee cushion”.

[3] Although I learned not to entirely ignore my own feelings when I gave my brother a record called “Disco Duck” when he was ten. He really wanted it and he was only ten so that doesn’t count against him but I hated it, and had to listen to it five times a day until he finally got sick of it.