This Year COVID Won The Battle, But Not The War

Three days ago, I was putting the finishing touches to a post for you about Christmas party dresses, of all things. To my shame, I was bemoaning the limited choice for those of us middle-aged women who aren’t a size 8, don’t have legs as long as a giraffe, and who may not feel flashing their arse cheeks to their boss at the Christmas office party.

Photo by DIAO DARIUS on Unsplash

Three days ago, I was almost completely removed from the impact of COVID as I sat drinking coffee with close friends in a beach cafe. Naively, we chatted excitedly about our forthcoming festivities, our own private celebration in the middle of next week, and the end of this horrible year.

Twenty-four hours later, our provincial world was shattered when we became the latest hotspot in Australia for the virus.

Our hospitals are now on major alert, our borders have been shut down, stores and pubs are closed, and Christmas drinks cancelled. While friends of mine try frantically to get their children back from other states and countries, Kurt and I find ourselves in self-isolation.

Christmas is effectively cancelled.

Only the day before the news, I splurged on the turkey for our seven close friends who were joining us around our table this year. Now it will feed three, because not even our daughter is not allowed to enter our “dark side” of Sydney.

This new cluster in a handful of Sydney’s smaller suburbs has come as a nasty shock to a country that was never smug about its quick suppression of the virus, but was perhaps guilty of an element of complacency over the past few months.

COVID isn’t picky.

As such, it is with a much heavier heart than I expected that I wish you a Merry Christmas this year – a year that has provided us (and many others) with the usual bag of mixed blessings.

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been quieter on this site than usual this year – mainly because I decided that life had thrown more than enough shit without the addition of mine.

However, like you, I continue to fight through each day, to take each as it comes, and to control what I can. An I know that’s not always an easy task, so for anyone out there feeling a bit blue at the moment, please remember that tomorrow is a new day, and to hang in there.

The only way to fight this virus is to keep listening to our scientists, and to put our own needs aside for those more vulnerable. Christmas will be different this year, but some things won’t change – I’ve no doubt I will lose the plot sometime before lunch reaches the table, I’ll fall over at some point during the day, and the odds are also pretty high that I’ll leave one bowl of vegetables in the microwave – that we won’t discover until Boxing Day.

But imagine what Christmas will be like for those who have lost someone, those who are quarantining on their own in self-isolation, or those who are sick and live in permanent fear of catching the virus. And let’s be grateful for what we have.

It would be much easier for me to stake my claim to the big sofa for the next couple of days, crack open the box of Quality Street, and feel bloody sorry for myself. But I won’t.

I’ve decided not to let this thing beat us. COVID might have won the battle, but it ain’t gonna win the war. So let’s get our boxing gloves on and fight this virus in a common sense way. During the Second World War, Churchill promised that we would “never surrender”, and that’s my approach for next year. So wear your mask and wash your hands.

I’ve already lit the torch on Christmas at our house. I’m not suggesting that we fight the virus with mince pies, but I’ve already tested the Aldi ones and the marzipan topping was a nice touch. The Turkish Delight and chocolate-coated pretzels are next on my hit list.

The presents are wrapped and under the tree, the karaoke machine is charging, and the Baileys is cooling in the fridge for later this evening when I begin my research into the best turkey recipes.

And once everything is set, I’ll start to think seriously about how I can hold my loved ones even tighter next year.

Stay safe!

xx

The Only Guarantee In Life Is That Everything Changes

Some people are resistant to change – particularly from middle age onwards – while others embrace it. Some of us want to cram as many crazy, new experiences into our twilight years, while others take comfort from what they know.

On a personal level, I have always embraced change. That need explains my itchy feet, the numerous house moves, and the embarrassingly full resume, but for others unnecessary change threatens their safety. I believe that explains (not justifies) the reaction of some people to immigrants or women who hold powerful positions in the workplace.

I stole the idea for the title of this post from a piece written by Zach J.Payne on Medium. It seemed appropriate to discuss the meaning of the words as we race towards Christmas and its overindulgence while bush fires rage around us and the blatant foresight of tv series such as Years and Years keep us awake at night.

However, it is not only Australia’s archaic approach to climate change or problem with overspending that has taken the bang out of the crackers this Christmas. That exhaustion has also been caused by the never-ending cycle of murders and abuse of women at the hands of men. In the last few weeks alone, another woman was burnt to death on the way to her rape trial whilst another died in a menstruation hut. The tiredness is also caused by the worrying increase in mental illness in our children – that no one seems to be tackling with any seriousness – and tragedies such as the White Island eruption.

Perhaps, the biggest cause of my fear at the moment is what is happening on the world political stage right now, with the terrifying rise of the right, the possible impeachment of Trump, and the British election. The scariest truth to come out of this year for me is that we are voting in self-serving narcissists.

And the tinsel and fairy lights have done little to assuage those fears this year. It is increasingly difficult to feel positive about the overall state of the world – even from my position of privilege. And so, the only thing that keeps us going is hope. That things will change – however far-flung that feels right now. That, in general, good beats evil.

We need to remember that the Berlin Wall did come down, fascism was beaten in two world wars, women in Ireland now have the right to abortions, and improvements continue in terms of the eradication of serious illness – which means that in the west our longevity improves all of the time.

That is, if we still have a world to live in, of course.

On a micro level, we experienced one of those changes last Sunday, when our son joined us at our Christmas party.

As many of you know, Christmas is a special time for me. It represents everything I aspire to in terms of family, togetherness and belonging – even if our reality isn’t always that chocolate box version.

His arrival was a surprise. Why? Because we have organised many family events over the past few years that he has promised to attend and then been a no-show. He is, after all, a young man in his early twenties who is not comfortable with large groups – especially large groups of Boomers and Gen Xers who know about his struggles. So much so, it was only a few years ago that I truly believed that one day we might become estranged, only to be reconciled in twenty years time on one of those cheesy programmes on tv, or (worst case) at visitors time in prison.

That’s a lie, because my worst case scenario has always been the fear he might not be here at all.

And yet, if anyone asked me twenty-two years ago if I thought I would find myself in this position, I would have laughed. I mean…I’m far from perfect parent material, but I am a middle-class woman with privilege who tried (desperately) to tick off most points on Dr Spock’s perfect parent checklist.

However, I had a child who was and is very much his own person. One who is only now growing happier in his own skin – even though, I will be very surprised if he ever embraces the “system” wholeheartedly. Being neurodiverse makes life that bit harder for him. And while I may be a tad prone to catastrophizing, those fears about his future have felt very real for a very long time. And so, even now, (and we’re far from out of the woods), I grab at any scrap of love he throws at me with gratitude and relief – to my daughter’s disgust.

Shit happens to everyone. That’s life. The good news is that (in general) we learn how to cope with the holes in the road that try to fuck up the suspension on the car. And as the journalist Jan Fran said when she was a guest on the Wilosophy podcast and Wil asked her what she is most proud of in her life, the importance of how we REACT to situations and change is a pretty big thing to learn.

It never ceases to amaze me how capable we human beings are in the face of pain and tragedy. Right now, in Queensland and New South Wales, homeowners are risking their lives to save their properties alongside volunteer fire fighters who will have to give up their own Christmas to help them. Those homeowners don’t know if their houses will still be standing tomorrow – all they have is hope. But they are coping, because they have to. Today, the families of those killed on White Island will feel utter hopelessness as the bodies of their loved ones are retrieved to be laid to rest, but one day they will find some meaning to their loss – because what else is there?

Everything changes and not always for the better, but we are more resilient than we think. 2020 is another year that will bring change and challenge. That lunatic Boris looks like he will get back in, no doubt Trump will find some corrupt way to out-manoeuvre the US judicial system, and Scomo will continue to pray to his god to put out the fires. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.

So all the rest of us can hope is that other changes emerge from next year for the better of mankind, and that more activists like Greta Thunberg and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez stay angry enough to lead them.

The 7 Best Ways To Find Your Christmas Spirit If You’re A Grinch

In spite of my newfound, VERY mature thoughts about the insignificance of consumerism in my life at this time here, I have launched myself full throttle into Christmas.

Living room with full of Christmas decorations.

To be honest, I’m a bit of a Christmas tragic. We were fortunate to have a mother who made the festivities so special for us that even though she died in December, the month remains my favourite in the year. In some ways, I suppose, I want to uphold her tradition of Christmas madness because it feels like a celebration of her life. My sister is as bad. So much so, we have an annual race to get the tree up first. I won this year. (Just saying, Ange).

When we lived in the UK, we used to wait until mid December before we put the tree up – although I’m sure that has changed as the world gets more and more embroiled in the commercialism of the season. But here, in Australia, we kick off the celebrations much earlier, probably because it is the start of our long summer holidays, or possibly for the benefit of the many migrants who struggle to find their Christmas spirit.

I fully commit. While many of my British circle don’t feel Christmas is the same in a hot climate, I have embraced the morning swim on Christmas morning with gusto, followed by turkey and Christmas pudding – even in 35-degree heat!

Needless to say, by late November I’ve already mentally signed off for the year and entrenched myself fully in plans for our annual Chrissy Drinks, what to wear on the special days, and Christmas shopping. This year, I’m even going to see White Christmas with some fellow Christmas freaks.

So, if you’re a Grinch and need some help in the Christmas spirit department, here are my 7 great ways to find it:

1.Add some sparkle to your home. OBVS, a tree is the best, but if you can’t be bothered, a liberal dose of tinsel and coloured lights will do the trick. I have a rather fetching bauble head piece that I wear.

2. Nothing beats the aroma of Christmas spices. I still make Delia’s Red Cabbage each year, even though everyone in the family hates it. The smell of cloves and cinnamon push me up one more notch on the Christmas madness scale.

3. Fish out the Christmas movies. I can recommend the latest piece of schmalz from the UK – Last Christmas – in spite of the reviews. Emma Thompson is superb, Emilia Clarke is magnetic, and Henry Golding makes for some lovely tree candy. Although, for my money you can’t beat The Holiday or the Christmas scenes in Bridget Jones.

4. Go to Aldi and stock up on all their yummy Christmas treats. It is a scientifically-proven fact that calories don’t count at Christmas and while you might think you don’t need that DIY Gingerbread House, of course you do!

5. Christmas music – At home, in the car, in the shower. Sex is good, but absolutely nothing beats dancing around the kitchen to Mariah’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”

6. Give/Donate/Be Kind. So we all know that the old saying that giving is better than receiving is a load of old bollocks, but even the biggest cynic knows that nothing beats the high to be had from “giving.” If you can find a way to donate or help someone at Christmas, I promise you’ll enjoy yours all the more. Whatever your budget, even the tiniest act of generosity can make a difference to those less fortunate than you. Buy charity Christmas, donate some cash, help the koalas, or thank the firemen, but make a difference! This year, I’m going to “donate a plate” for the homeless via The Wayside Chapel here.

7. Don’t be a Grinch and you might actually enjoy it. Be positive. Don’t worry about who you don’t like or who doesn’t like you at Christmas lunch, family feuds, or undercooking the turkey. There are fewer and fewer occasions when families and communities get the opportunity to simply BE together, so whether you are religious or not, look at Christmas that way. It is a reminder about what is important. No one’s really coming for the turkey (who would?) or the booze – they’re coming to see you, to see each other. They’re coming for that magical sense of belonging that lose sight of in our busy lives. Christmas has this incredible power to reinstate it.

Fortunately for me, after almost thirty years together, Scrooge has resigned himself to my craziness at this time of the year. He refuses to indulge in it – evidently, he has picked up that it is much safer not to burst my Christmas bauble – but each year, he dutifully buys the ice for the Christmas party, mixes the drinks, and then (I imagine) he rolls his eyes the minute my back is turned. On Boxing Day, when I am rocking in a corner, he skips around the house singing his self-penned “Christmas Is Over” song with gay abandon.

How Do You Defrost A Turkey Quickly? Asking For A Friend

The red cabbage is out of the oven to the somewhat predictable retching noises from NC – proof that she is a rubbish vegetarian. The presents are wrapped and under the tree – apart from mine, which I have no doubt will be remembered sometime between the closing credits of Elf and bedtime. And the Princess thinks that I haven’t noticed the number of gingerbread biscuits she has snuck from our mouths.

I’m freaking that the turkey won’t be defrosted in time or that I’ve forgotten something major from the list of what I am contributing tomorrow – even though it feels like I’ve done a supermarket sweep of the Coles’ shelves every day of this month. I’m worried that Kurt will forget that tomorrow is the big day and that I need my vacuum back, or that the Princess won’t fit into her outfit.

But we are as ready as we will ever be, or need to be. For we will be in the company of good friends – our surrogate family in Oz – who will forgive me if my turkey gives them listeria or if the pavlova cascades off the plate like a volcano because I didn’t want to put my glass down long enough to whip the cream to soft peaks.

We are lucky, but some are not.

A good friend from the UK posted this on her Facebook timeline a few days ago:

This time of year is not great for everyone, so my house is a safe zone. Coffee or tea can be on in minutes. Wine can be brought out as well. My table is non-judgmental. Any family or friend who needs to chat, eat or drink is welcome. We can talk, share a laugh, a cry, or just listen. If you’re hungry, I’ll feed you. I will always do my best to be available… you are always welcome!! This is an old-school value that has been lost to technology…a text, Facetime, gif or emoji is NOT the equivalent. I’m hoping that at least one friend copies this and posts it if you feel the same. I just did from another friend. Merry Christmas!

Likewise, there’s always room at our table should you find yourself alone on Christmas Day on the Northern Beaches of Sydney.

I’ll save the New Year’s reflections and aspirations for 2019 for once the Christmas craziness has died down and I’ve reduced my medication back to its normal dosage. It will give me something to do in that scary vacuum of too much over-thinking time between Christmas and New Year.

But until then, thanks for reading, and a Happy Christmas to everyone!

BTW: How do you defrost a turkey quickly? Asking for a friend.

Are Women Just As Guilty Of Disempowering Men As They Are Of Avoiding The “Emotional Labor” Of Christmas?

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

‘But you enjoy it,’ the old man retorts defensively when I moan about him not chipping in with the organization of social events, the ongoing responsibilities of our adult children, and – dare I mention it – Christmas.

You might have read in the news this week about the disparity between the practical and “emotional labor” experienced by women versus men at Christmas – as in, (for the most part, it seems), men do fuck all. Even Caitlin Moran had a moan in The Times about being the only member of her family to turn on the table lamps in her house – a gripe I can sympathize with as the only member of ours who gives a fuck about creating a relaxing ambiance.

And yet, I have a confession to make. I am one of those women who is guilty of enabling that disparity. I take ownership of pretty much every Christmas chore, from present-shopping and wrapping to the organization of the food, (most of which, admittedly, we probably don’t need Turkish Delight, anyone?), and dressing the tree.

Similarly, Laura Bates highlighted the “third shift” of responsibility that women take on in her article in The Guardian last weekend:

“There is a third shift, which is less often acknowledged. This is the mental load of planning social engagements, remembering thank-you notes and praising kind teachers, keeping track of nativity plays and Christmas pantomimes and organising the logistics of travel and sleeping arrangements.”

And before any of you men turn on me with some petty argument that women do these things because they don’t work or are working part-time – I say, BULLSHIT! – I know plenty of women that organize Christmas, do the bulk of raising the kids, and work full-time.

However, in our case, the disparity between myself and the old man has arisen as a result of our disproportionate levels of interest when it comes to the season. I love Christmas and I have certain unhealthy expectations about how we celebrate it. I would go so far as to admit that I have an inexplicable need to celebrate the tradition in a crass ‘go big or go home kind of way’ that I hold my mother responsible for – in spite of my lack of faith.

But the old man hates it. To describe him as a “humbug” or Grinch would be doing a disservice to both, but having been raised by a mother who abhorred the celebration for personal reasons, and with an inherent dislike of spending money “unnecessarily,” Christmas is an annual decadence he could easily live without.

So, while it’s all well and good during the build-up of my December rage to feel like he’s taking me for granted, I am aware that my real reason for disempowering him has more to do with my fear that Christmas lunch will turn out to be nothing more special than our normal Sunday roast.

And I won’t do that to myself the kids.

I suppose he has a point when he ridicules my insistence that we continue to buy pressies for relatives we hardly ever see and nephews and nieces who earn more than us – but in my defense, the dog loves her Christmas stocking! 

It’s not like I truly believe that we have to buy our kids’ love (much). And yet, Christmas is one of the few occasions during the year that pulls us together as a family – particularly now that the kids have left home – and if I did pull the plug on our KMart Christmas, I’m not certain we would ever see them again!

The occasion is also an excuse to reconnect with extended family since we moved to Australia, especially now that the years seem to be slipping by so quickly.

But far be it for me to belittle the emotional labor involved and the pressure such holidays cause in the (often) vain attempt to cater to different personalities, food tolerances, and diaries. And although we have yet to reach the stage where our children are forced to choose between which family to spend the day with, when that day comes, I know that I will be devastated.

As it is, this year Kurt is working on Christmas Day, and it has taken every ounce of my willpower not to march up to his boss and tell him how personally responsible he is for wrecking our family Christmas – even though the shift is an invaluable step in Kurt’s journey to independence and I couldn’t be prouder of him for doing it.

So, as I open my pressie from the old man this year –  and disguise my bitterness that it was (no doubt) me who chose it and wrapped it in the dregs of the Christmas paper – I know that I will only have myself to blame. The truth is that the old man would share the load if I asked him. Begrudgingly, perhaps, and with the kind of unforgivable rookie mistakes that it would take the remainder of our marriage for me to forgive him for the request of a detailed manual and specification of exactly what to do and where to go.

But the simple fact of the matter is, that Christmas just wouldn’t be the same.

Can I Suggest Eating Mindfully This Christmas Rather Than Dieting?

Let’s make a pact and enforce a community embargo against dieting this Christmas.

I won’t be dieting. In fact, I will be eating all of the pigs-in-blanket, swigging the whole jug of brandy custard, and scoffing every one of the purple Quality Street!

In Joanna Nell’s book, The Single Ladies Of Jacaranda Village, her doctor advises 80-something Peggy not to diet, but rather to ‘start eating mindfully.’ He elaborates: ‘I want you to think about every single thing you put into your mouth. I want you to taste it as you chew and listen to your body so you can work out when you’ve had enough.’

Easier said than done, I know – particularly at Christmas and when you’ve been raised by a war baby. And yet, the words of Peggy’s doctor really do make sense. He wants her to think more carefully about her relationship with food along with other adjustments to her lifestyle that will help her maintain her weight, rather than increase it.

No one should be miserable or deny themselves at Christmas, but it’s important to recognize when you’re full, make smart choices about what you eat, and exercise.

I’ve been trying to find that balance for a while. In calorie-speak, I have learned that when if I want a wine or two at night, I need to sacrifice bad carbs (such as potatoes or rice) with my dinner; I know that drinking water during the day fills me up and that chewing my food more slowly helps me feel more satisfied. I am also aware that the first mouthful of food is like the first sip of wine – it’s always the best!

I suppose that what I have been doing unconsciously for a while is eating more mindfully. The “eating healthily” part is easy for me – I love healthy food – although portion control, not so much. But I have also pushed myself to incorporate exercise into my routine each day. I don’t go on the scales anymore – why, when there are still women being murdered and Trump to depress me? – so instead, I gauge my weight by how my clothes fit.

Sadly, gauging your weight by how your clothes fit is becoming an increasingly difficult exercise due to the way that women’s sizing works.

The other day I tried on a bikini top in Bonds. I do not have a large bust, but because I have always carried some extra weight had a wide back (and didn’t want to spoil my day quite so early on), I attempted to be realistic and opted first for a size Large… moved swiftly onto the Extra-Large… and then, instead of beating myself up about it (and cutting up the Extra-Large into tiny pieces and shoving them down the front of the lovely sales assistant’s dress), I walked out of that shop with my head held high.

Generally, I wear a size 12-14 in tops, and yet I couldn’t squeeze my puppies into an Extra-Large. How can that make sense when the average size of women in Australia is a size 16?

So what do we do? How do we cater for the range of different shapes and sizes that women come in, without encouraging obesity? The only solution that I can see is education. 

I’m no scientist, but I’m always surprised by how little most people understand about the risks associated with processed food, portion control, sugar and the way our metabolism slows down with age. And that’s without taking into account the emotional eaters and drinkers among us or those of us in menopause.

I stopped self-flagellating over bad eating days a while ago. Like everyone, I have shit to deal with. Some days I feel on top of the world and others I want to never leave the house, and even though food is not my natural go-to substitute for happiness or self-medication – I’m wino! – I am guilty of major blow-outs like everyone else.

However, I’ve changed the way I handle them, which has nothing to do with the fact that I feel invisible anyway, or because these days I give zero fucks about pretty much most things, or even the emergence (finally) of some middle-aged wisdom. The alternative to getting depressed about something that is pretty irrelevant in my life right now – even if the magazines try to convince us otherwise – is to try to think calmly and positively for a solution to reverse the damage – such as half wine-half water, a few more salads, or some brisker walks. 

I’m already looking forward to those brisk walks this Christmas.

Have you got any other tips to share about eating mindfully? 

Recipe For The Best Christmas Punch, (Or How To Get Your Friends Slaughtered At Your Christmas Party)

So, this year’s Christmas party is done and dusted. More than thirty of us sweltered under the deck on what felt like the hottest day of the past month – as ordained by climate change or whichever God seems to take such personal pleasure out of fucking up my life as often as possible.

And yet, other than NC’s comments about how my plastic glasses were killing turtles, the permanent gush of sweat dribbling down my back, the red punch stains down my new silk lounge pants, the soggy lettuce in the mini prawn cocktails, the coriander I bought instead of mint, or (as per usual), my inability to remember to cook up the bulk of the frozen savory appetizers after a few glasses of aforementioned punch, all went surprisingly well.

Photo from original Taste recipe

I’ve decided that along with Michael Buble’s Christmas songs on repeat, watching the expressions on the faces of kids eating olives for the first time and Amaretto mince pies, a good Christmas punch is an absolute necessity for a Christmas party. And once our core group of 50-somethings had nervously sniffed our version, got to grips with their (justified) fears about what was in it, (because of work the next day etc), it didn’t take long until we found ourselves on a community mission to finish all eighteen litres of the devilish stuff.

The old man – who knocks up a mean Sangria for each birthday party – tried out a new punch recipe this year – The Berry Christmas Punch from Taste. And because it’s Christmas and the season for giving, and it received such a wealth of slurred compliments (I think), I thought I’d gift it to you.

BERRY CHRISTMAS PUNCH (6 Servings)

Ingredients:

1.5 litres of raspberry/cranberry juice, well-chilled

2 x 187ml Sparkling wine, well-chilled

1/2 cup of Cointreau

2 limes

250g strawberries

150g blueberries

120g raspberries

1/4 cup of fresh mint leaves

Method:

Pour the cranberry juice, sparkling wine and Cointreau into punch bowl. Use your hands to squeeze some of the juice from the limes into the punch. Stir to combine. Add the squeezed limes to the punch.

Add the strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and mint leaves.

FYI, a few changes we made from the original recipe: we used cranberry juice and a bottle of processed lime juice for $2 in place of the 12 limes at $1.50 each – WTF? Also, there was no mint in our version, for obvious reasons.

You’re welcome!

I’m Not Quite Ready To Wear A Leopard-Print Kaftan This Christmas

Full-Length Kaftan by MollyKaftans

How’s everyone faring in the depressing search for the perfect dress for Christmas parties and, ultimately, the big day?

I’m going to admit that – having trailed all the stores to the north of Sydney and exhausted the seemingly limitless stocks of The Iconic (and the patience of the very crabby lady at our local post office who handles my returns) – I’ve decided to opt for pants this year.

You see, I’ve reached the conclusion that there isn’t a dress waistband sturdy or stretchy enough to cope with the number of Pigs-In-Blankets and Christmas pud I intend to put in my belly this year.

I’ve also reached a level of post-winter, middle-aged lardiness where shift dresses in size 14 make me look like I’m wearing a tent – albeit that I haven’t quite reached the point of no return that is the Kaftan.

So this year, I figured that a smart pair of natural-colored culottes – neutrals are currently the rage in that center of fashion excellence commonly known as the Northern Beaches of Sydney – with the diamante-encrusted top I forage from the wardrobe every December, will do the trick. 

To be honest, I’m not fretting about my decision, not when to “dress up” in Australia can simply mean the choice of a pair of sandals over a pair of thongs. 

Unlike London, where the refusal to dress appropriately for an occasion is almost as disrespectful as not ordering the roast in the pub on Sunday – a cultural difference that I miss. Albeit that there few rules over there (and certainly no apologies) when it comes to daytime fashion – making it easier for middle-aged women stuck in that impasse of whether to dress for their age or wear what they bloody well want – there are rules about evening wear. Particularly at Christmas, when you wouldn’t be seen dead out at night in anything less sparkly than the Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square.

And while their climate provides the mature woman with the perfect excuse to drown sagging boobs in voluminous jumpers and tuck escapee paunches into thick woolly tights – and trust me, it is possible to look stylish in winter woollies with such a vast range of jumpers and sturdy winter coats available in the shops – the British take fashion up a few notches at night. Unlike Sydney, where due to the climate or the laid-back culture – I’m not sure which – you’d struggle to spot a sequinned cocktail dress at the ballet.

But understandably, many British fashions simply wouldn’t work over here – and that’s not just because our seasons are out of kilter. Brits embrace color and elements of fun and quirkiness in their style – undoubtedly a concession to the climate – but that could be a terrifying prospect to the breed of middle-aged women who adhere to the motto that “black is the new black”. 

So, while in Britain, the little black dress has been ousted in favor of metallics, luxurious textures in deep reds, purples, and orange, and this year’s print of choice, the animal print – a design that I have avoided like the plague since I hit my fifties…because, cougars – I may have to place my leopard-print kaftan on hold until I reach the true zenith of not-giving-a-fuckery, (which I imagine will be closer to my sixtieth year). Although, admittedly, that time is starting to feel reassuringly closer.

Have you reached the point of no return?

It Must Suck To Be A Vegetarian At Christmas

I never thought I’d say this, but for once I find myself in total agreement with my father’s view that political correctness has gone mad.

According to The Independent newspaper in the UK, a researcher has proposed that idioms such as “bringing home the bacon” and “flogging a dead horse” should be removed from the English language because the imagery they create is offensive and upsetting to vegans and vegetarians.

Veganism is on the increase, and at a time when some celebrate Veganuary and it’s just as easy to buy veggie burgers and sausages in supermarkets as the genuine dead animal, while I agree that an awareness of the sensitivities of others is important, where does it end?

The next step will be to stop insulting plant life as well, because surely, “as thin as a twig” has to be body shaming to the twig in the same way that the accusation of being “as red as a beetroot” is typically used as a derogatory observation.

It’s never easy to make a stand for your beliefs – particularly when it comes to food choices and intolerances – in the face of, (shall we say), old-fashioned principles. However, sometimes Karma has a funny way of evening the score. And one of those times took place during my recent holiday as my father reached into the fridge for a swig of orange juice one morning and grabbed at my carton of almond milk instead.

A smile may have crossed my lips as I watched him spit the offensive liquid over the kitchen floor after the barrage of insults inflicted on both NC and myself in relation to our dietary choices – hers vegetarian, and mine dairy-free.

For this is a man who prides himself on being a “war baby,” and hence, eats everything – a fact that was rammed down my throat as a child every time I refused to clear my plate of food – which was often because there is NOTHING (shudder) the man will not eat.

“Sell-by” and “best before” dates are ridiculed in his house. Indeed, the more moldy and unappealing a piece of food appears, the more gusto the man demonstrates in its consumption.

That was why I was careful to remind him about NC’s vegetarianism prior to our arrival – she only eats fish when she feels like it is pushed – a warning that was met by the usual muffled grumblings of disgust. And when I went on to inform him that I was currently dairy-free – for health reasons – I’m certain that his derogatory whoop of disgust traveled from the northern to the southern hemisphere with the speed of light.

If I’m honest, I knew that I was pushing my luck when I requested vegan cheese and almond milk – although anyone would think my request was that he smuggle a stash of heroin through Bali rather than be seen buying vegan cheese from Waitrose.

For, as I suspected, it is still not deemed fully socially acceptable in some circles of the UK to be vegetarian or lactose intolerant, which makes it tricky to eat out. Added to which, the British diet is influenced by the climate and is heavily laden with meat. But while the word tofu may still be met with some confusion, I did manage to find a decent coffee with rice-coconut milk as a substitute and we were also introduced to a fabulous veggo restaurant near Oxford Circus called Ethos. And trust me, there’s no danger of getting fat there either because they charge you by the weight of your plate.

I pity vegans, particularly at this time of the year.

A roast without meat, (or in Australia, shellfish and salads, but without the shellfish), is nothing to get excited about at Christmas lunch, and neither is Mum’s nut roast substitute that everyone knows is little more than reconstituted stuffing.

But, each to their own.

Poor NC remained admirably stoic as her Grandad ranted off a list of sustainable fish to her every mealtime while we stayed with him – a list he had learned by heart in an attempt to either understand or ridicule her beliefs – I’m not sure which. And as I watched him force-feed her prawns and mussels, he made me swear to consume every last morsel of vegan cheese from the fridge prior to my departure, just in case it contaminated the dead animals.

Prioritizing Your Fucks This Christmas

box-2953722_1920

Don’t get me wrong, I BLOODY LOVE CHRISTMAS, but there are certain seasonal chores necessary for its success that have lost their appeal over time.

I give you:

 

Making your own mince pies, pudding, gravy, stuffing or bread sauce

Cooking a whole turkey, as opposed to a super-processed crown from the supermarket where the birds are actually trained to make their own stuffing

Leaving fake snowy footprints, wine or carrots in the hallway

and gift-wrapping,

 

The standard of my gift-wrapping, above all, has slipped dramatically over the years – a drop in standards that I believe correlates directly to the fucks I now give in middle age.

 

In the old days – when I cared – I used to take a massive, misplaced pride in making sure that my wrapping was better than anyone else’s color-themed to the tree with matching ribbons, bows and yes, sometimes even foliage, and I took my time over the process. I saw each gift as a symbol of my creativity and thoughtfulness. I cut the paper straight and carefully with our best scissors, and my joins were seamless. I didn’t buy gifts that couldn’t be wrapped perfectly and I was so proud of what I achieved, I grieved as my family carelessly undid my work on Christmas day, with scant regard for my mental health.

 

One year I even made cinnamon and fig cookie gift tags with an infusion of mulled wine…had you there!

 

This year, I bought Target wrapping paper, post office string and one hundred-for-one, stick-on gift tags, in part as a cost-saving exercise and in part because I’ve prioritized my fucks this year. And although the cost-saving element was the old man’s my decision, I have found the transition trickier than I thought. Put it this way – it is difficult not to wash my hands each time I handle the Target paper. It doesn’t smell like David Jones paper, nor does it have its thick, dependable texture. It is thin and creases in the wrong places, and it makes no allowances for sticky tape mistakes, leaving white I’m cheap marks as evidence.

 

My gifts still look colorful and festive in an I’m poor, fun kind of way, and have still been wrapped with love, but they’ve lost their Mr Bean in Love Actually element of pretentiousness. They look like they’ve traveled the world and run out of money for food halfway around. Their corners are loose and flabby and bits of the gift poke through the cracks where the joints don’t quite meet, or where the cheap paper hasn’t withstood sharp corners – rather like my body in a bikini at the moment, if you can bring yourself to conjure up such an image so close to Christmas lunch. I’m also embarrassed to admit that some of the gifts have been patched because I’ve run out of one paper and done an emergency graft with a mismatched donor paper – and it hasn’t quite taken.

 

However, the pain will be more bearable this year as I watch Kurt shred his wrapping, and we will have more money to put to a charitable cause, such as wine.

The Naughty List And Outsourcing Parenting At Christmas

Anyway, according to my hairdresser, who planted the grapevine and is obviously the fount of all knowledge around here, there are now several Christmas apps where parents/kids can connect with Santa before Christmas. You input all your kid’s information into your phone – nickname, age, shoe size etc – so that Facebook nets all their personal details really early on in their life – and then when your child misbehaves, you call Santa to reprimand aforementioned embarrassment to kid-kind and pray he adds them to his naughty list.

santas-list-1902129_1920

I just can’t understand where this increase in anxiety in our kids has come from, can you?

 

I suspect that this is another example of outsourcing parenting, and call me old-fashioned, but imagine you’re four or five years old and naive AF – because the reality of the world hasn’t set in yet, you still live through your imagination, and your Mum has yet to dress the Christmas Tree when you’re out – and in the lead up to THE biggest and most exciting event of the year, Santa puts you in the doghouse.

 

Worse – this strange man is going to be in your room in a few weeks time!

 

I thought Christmas was one of those sacrosanct, untouchable festivities – like birthdays – that you couldn’t mess with, not even to teach your feral kids a life lesson. Because…PTSD.

 

Every parent has lost the plot in these awful weeks leading to Christmas. In desperation, we’ve all lobbed cruel, empty threats about Santa filling their stocking with coal or vegetables – but a REAL FUCKING PHONE CALL from the big man himself? Seriously? That’s got to be ten on a scale of one to ten of terrifying that makes the scary man you know is hiding under your bed laughable and ensures that you’ll never be alone in your bedroom again – and certainly not on Christmas Eve.

 

It also makes Santa, Bad Cop, and as there are so few symbols of peace, love, and generosity left to cling to these days, I think that’s kind of sad.

 

Personally, I prefer the gentler approach of an idea I saw on Facebook, where you wrap empty boxes, put them under the tree and each time your kid misbehaves, you throw one into the fire.

How To Dress The Christmas Tree Without Losing Your Sanity First

One piece of advice I will be eternally grateful to my mother for is ‘don’t take life too seriously,’ and I have been forced to live by this approach each year as I dress the Christmas Tree. 23915791_1546298868783446_2538083681710659730_n

 

Because…kids.

 

And it has very nearly killed me.

 

Every year I think that this will be the year we grow up as a family and I will be allowed to create those trees you see in home magazines, where they don’t have kids or animals and they do have loads of money,  and every year it’s the same. Either: a) I’m disappointed with the result, because it looks boring rather than sophisticated and so and I start to slap all the crappy ornaments and tinsel back onto it, or b) Kurt redesigns he thinks I’m not looking.

 

I know that Christmas is about bringing joy to the family and it’s probably about time that I accepted that my family likes a bit of kitsch at Christmas, but…

 

This year I decided to grasp my first opportunity to decorate the tree myself – although the kids don’t know that yet. I’d meticulously planned the day for a while – it’s called taking advantage while the kids are out earning money (not for rent, I hasten to add, but for their weekly supply of avocado on toast and party drugs). ‘It just happened that way,’ I’m going to say when their disappointed faces walk through the door later this evening and they realize that they can’t destroy my Christmas tree, nay my Christmas, for the first time in, like, forever.

 

And I have made some style improvements this year. I have decided that as the kids still live at home on the basis of our goodwill, I get to say what goes on MY fucking tree. Which means I’ve erased all memory of those dreadful kindy homemade decorations which for the past fifteen years I’ve stuck around the back of the tree and the minute I turn my back, Kurt replaces at the front; and I’ve also attempted a color theme, so any ornament that hasn’t met the stringent demands of my design brief has copped it.

 

In light of my new experience today, here are my tips for a perfect tree:

 

Do not let the children anywhere near it.

A bottle of festive wine will be required before attempting to unravel the lights/tinsel/fake snowballs on a string because some selfish fucker just shoved them in the box last year. This is a mindfuck of a test in the early stages of the process that (if you’re not careful/drunk enough) can completely ruin your festive cheer before you’ve really started.

Use a dodgy adapter for the lights so that any children that do touch the tree will be shocked into not touching it again.

Lather the branches in as much tinsel as they will hold for superior kitschiness.

The more naff animal ornaments, the naffer your tree will be.

Destroy any baubles that do not tie in with your color theme – don’t get all emotional about the fugly bauble that your grandmother left you – your creativity is under public scrutiny here, and the glass ball wrapped in a doily could fuck that up. It is with sadness that I must report that the pink bauble that NC made in her first year at school (barf!) didn’t coordinate with the organic effect that I hoped to achieve with my white/red/aqua/tropical/Hamptons/beach themed tree – as such, it has been laid to rest this year.

Theming is difficult with OCD. Try to remind yourself that the tree is a natural thing (mine happens to be artificially natural) and therefore not perfect. If that doesn’t work, take everything off and start again.

Book cats into the cattery for the duration of the holidays or use as an alternative to turkey for Christmas lunch.

 

What Do You Do When Your Daughter Rejects The Most Sacrosanct Of Family Christmas Traditions?

There has been a rollercoaster of changes in our house recently, all of which are interfering with the slow and steady build up to Christmas and my preparations that I pride myself on each year. That’s the thing about this stage of parenting – one minute you’re stumbling along in a fug of wet-towel-on-the-floor acceptance, and the next thing you know, their entitled asses are off without as much as a wave goodbye.  

 

donkey-105719_1920
Meet “Sacrifice”

 

Friends of ours recently arrived home from a long trip overseas to discover that their youngest had left the nest while they were away and I could tell by the emptiness in my friend’s eyes that she is still adjusting to the echoes in the house.

 

And just before Christmas. Very cruel.

 

At least NC has given us some time to acclimatize to the news that she is leaving us to manage her brother by ourselves for pastures new, but this bold new independence has empowered her in other ways as well. She now believes she can call the shots in terms of change in other long-held bastions of family tradition as well – and as you know, change is something neither my husband nor my son does well.

 

This Christmas, she has dared to request that instead of the cheap tat that Santa normally delivers to her Christmas stocking, that she has fewer, more useful gifts than the one-dollar bath bombs, multi packs of hairbands and five-for-one knickers with the days of the week emblazoned on the front of them, from Target.

 

Now, it’s one thing to get my head around her leaving us alone with her brother just before Christmas –  but quite another when she decides to alter Santa’s responsibilities. As it is, I’ve had to accept that my mince pie is now vegan and veggie sausages have been added to the food mountain list for the past two Christmas’. Before I know it, she’ll be demanding sustainable gifts, or worse, suggest donating my personal gift budget to some donkey or goat in Africa – an act of questionable generosity that a friend of mine swears she does each year in place of our Christmas cards.

 

I like to think I am progressive and I certainly believe in change for the better, but you don’t mess with Christmas and customs that (albeit, may have scant regard for the religious connotations of the festival), yet continue to remain sacrosanct to our traditional family values.

 

There is a joy to tradition. It’s like having a holiday home and knowing that your own wine glass is there waiting for you each time you go. In the same way that there were certain things you could count on as a child – you would be eating your lunch for dinner if you didn’t finish it, there was absolutely no leeway for negotiation over bedtimes, you had to have one bath once a week, and there was always that comforting certainty of a giant tube of Smarties, an orange and a net of stale chocolate coins in your Christmas stocking.

 

I know that other families’ approach the gift-thing in different ways, but in our house, the stocking has always come from Santa and the more expensive gifts come from family, are wrapped and placed under the tree. As marketed by the retailers who import the tat from Asia, what Santa puts in stockings are “fillers”, and as such, not gifts that really serve a purpose. It is the crap that sits in your room once all the chocolate has gone, until the realization that it is useless tat sinks in – usually somewhere around New year. It is first-world materialism, and nothing to be proud of, so perhaps NC has a point and I should stop supporting child labor, play Hare Krishna instead of Buble as I dress the tree this year, and name my donkey “sacrifice.”

Christmas In The Sun

A few days before Christmas I couldn’t decide whether the sparkle of the festivities had begun to dim with age.

 

beach-1102692_1280

 

It’s not like they don’t go as hard here in Australia, it’s just different to what I’m used to and so takes a little longer to get the Christmas juices flowing.

 

In spite of being tight on cash when I was a child, Mum always made Christmas a massive event at our house, that included trips into London to taste the first roasted chestnuts in Oxford St and to see the Christmas lights. Here, outside of the plastic commercialism offered by the malls, I’m finding it hard to locate my Christmas spirit and when I see images online of fog and frost and the twinkling lights in London, I feel a familiar sense of yearning.

 

This year, I feared that the old man – more commonly referred to as Scrooge in December – would finally succeed at blowing out all the Christmas lights on my efforts. He began to torment me with his favourite song ‘Christmas is nearly over’ the day before Christmas Eve, and there were a few moments there where I almost succumbed to the pressure and joined in with a sigh of surrender.

 

Christmas holds few surprises these days with older kids. It’s too risky to buy them some random gift in the hope they’ll be gracious enough to pretend they like it, hence generally they know beforehand what’s under the tree so we’re not subjected to resting bitch faces over the turkey.

 

Even more boring is that these days I have to employ some restraint around the excesses of food and alcohol because my blooming middle-aged baby belly doesn’t possess the same recovery skills of its youth. There is some middle-aged wisdom that helps us remember that what we put in our mouths these days isn’t going anywhere else afterwards and that two portions of Christmas pud probably isn’t an option with the three to four months of bikini weather that lie ahead.

 

The radio helped. Smooth FM cranked out Buble and Mariah and as the first whiffs of Delia’s red cabbage wafted from the cook top, by early evening on Christmas Even I felt my Humbug stony heart begin to melt and a sense of excitement emerge as the combination of aromatic Christmas spices began to circulate the house.

 

Christmas morning dawned and we awoke before the kids – something I still need to get used to, although the Princess had been sniffing around the balls in her stocking for at least an hour – and I lay there for a few moments and questioned how I felt about the day now. Then in bounded Kurt, a ball of puppyish excitement, followed by NC, who snuggled into bed next to Scrooge to share a mutual look of disdain at how the brainless half of the family sucks them into this annual festivity so cruelly each year.

 

And in spite of the temperature, the lack of snow men and the distinct whiff of barbies being heated in readiness, Christmas had arrived.