Do I dare change our Christmas traditions?

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See our Christmas wreath? It’s the same one I’ve pulled out of the cupboard since before my man and I had our kids. And the Christmas lilies? Every year they stand happily in the same vase in the hallway. I remember one year, after I was a little tardy in my Christmas lily buying, my boy saying ‘ah, now it smells like Christmas!’ when they finally made their appearance. Traditions are important, right? They bind us to our family. They bind us to our culture. But I have a question. Well, two. What do you do when traditions start feeling routine? Are you allowed to tweak them?

Here’s our situation. We have a small family. There’s me, my man and our now-grown-up boy and girl. My man and I each have one un-partnered sibling, and then there’s my parents and my man’s mum and her husband. My mother-in-law’s family is all in the UK. With such a little bunch of us, and with no-one having to juggle competing family demands, it makes sense for us to all do Christmas together. And since our family of four sits in the centre of both extended families, and our house has the most suitable space – and a pool – we host the day. When the kids were younger this was great – no need to ferry between different houses and they didn’t need to be parted from their pressies.  The day has a routine. Everyone arrives, drinks are poured, the usual seats are plonked down into, presents are distributed and opened. ‘Thank yous’ and nods are shared around the room and the nibblies I’ve prepared are eaten before we sit down at our thoughtfully arranged places *wink*, crack open the Christmas bonbons and try to get the streamers from the poppers to drape from the light fitting that hangs above the table. There’s seafood for entree, ham and turkey with roast potatoes, various salads then plum pudding studded with the old thr’pences and shillings that belonged to my nanna. By 4pm everyone is ‘full to pussy’s bow’ and the male members of the family seem to have flaked out around various rooms in the house (not quite sure why this is when it is my mum and me doing the food prep!). But after eighteen years of doing the hosting bit, with the same crowd, I’m starting to feel like some of the excitement has gone from the day. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and I feel blessed that I have been able to spend every Christmas Day with my parents and my brother for so many years. And my man has been able to spend it with his brother and mum, and each set of grandparents has been able to spend it with their only grandchildren. How fortunate are we? But now that we don’t have the Christmas energy of little people infusing our day, I feel like we need to do something different to give the day a bit of a rev up. But how far can you break with tradition without ruining the day?

Could I throw some snags and chicken on the barbie, and as long as there are pressies and bonbons would that be enough to make it feel like Christmas? Could I change it from lunch to dinner? Could we all go to a restaurant for lunch?

Last year, I decided to scrap the entree and just go for more substantial pre-lunch nibbles. I thought this might leave a little more room in our tums so that we could actually enjoy eating some pudding! My mum seemed a little hesitant when I suggested this but I think it worked okay! This year I’m adding an ice-cream plum pudding to the dessert menu after my boy said that he finds the traditional one a little filling at the end of the meal. My mum suggested we could ditch the pudding for something like a lemon tart (we’re not a pav family) but I think for my brother and my English mother-in-law, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a pud! We only ever have turkey at Christmas so it wouldn’t feel quite the same without that on the table.

And that would be the worst thing. To have a Christmas Day that doesn’t feel like Christmas – even if the day isn’t as thrilling or exciting as I remember it as a child, or when own boy and girl were little. Maybe it’s not the traditions I need to tweak, but the way I think about it. This is what Christmas is for us and this is what holds us together as a family. One day, I assume, I’ll have to share my kids – and grandkids! – with other families on Christmas Day so perhaps it’s best that I not tamper with our traditions too much in the meantime. Maybe some extra baubles hanging around the house, an updated Christmas playlist and that ice cream plum pudding are all we need.

Have you ever changed your traditions? Did it work? Or did it make you yearn for the way it was?

I hope you have a happy Christmas Day however you celebrate.

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Taking Stock: September ’17

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I may be a crafty type and an arts lover but gee, I’m also a big footy fan and today is the AFL Grand Final! As a Hawks supporter I’ve been lucky enough to see plenty of premierships, but today it’s the rest of the family going through Grand Final anxiety! Thirty seven years since the Tigers last premiership – my man was there as a 14 year old! – and the first time my boy and girl have seen their team in a Grand Final! They’ve headed down to the Tigers’ home ground to watch on the live screen with thousands of other Tiges supporters. With the house to myself, and before the match hits the screen here, I’ll do a quick ‘Taking Stock’. Thanks Pip for the inspiration!

Watching: lots of footy preview shows!

Reading: Ache by Eliza Henry Jones and footy analyses

Cooking: pasta for dinner, I think

Eating: cheesymite scroll – because it’s yellow and black

Making: an arc-y weaving

Hearing: the washing machine beeping at the end of its cycle

Getting: over a cold

Feeling: butterflies in my tummy

Hoping: for a Tigers win, of course!

Looking: at my pile of ironing

Smelling: the lingering aroma of cheese toasties

Needing: to proof read my boy’s history research project

Wishing: that we weren’t switching to daylight savings this weekend. It’s too early for me!

Noticing: how nice and tidy my garden looks since the huge clean up I gave it yesterday

Enjoying: watching the little charges I work with developing their skills and imaginations

Thinking: it would be nice to have a holiday

Needing: a drink – tea or water will suffice. Feeling a little parched

Wearing: nothing with red or blue! Don’t want to appear to be in any supporting the Crows!

And that’s September! Hope yours has been a good one! GO TIGES!!!

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Tell me a story

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I’ve been thinking about stories a bit in the past few weeks. When I was little I loved reading stories that allowed me to escape my small, conscientious, timid life. I delighted in the rebellious escapades of the naughtiest girl in the school.  I marvelled at what it would be like to be as bold and adventurous as the Famous Five, the Secret Seven, Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. Gosh, my mum wouldn’t let me play outside in our unfenced front garden, and I was only permitted to walk home from school via the side streets rather than along the main road (okay, it was the era of some strange child abductions but still…). My anxious, pimply, adolescent self longed to be one of the girls in the Sweet Dreams novels. Imagine being asked to ‘go steady’ and wear a letterman jacket! As a suburban Melbourne girl, I’m not quite sure I actually knew what that meant but it was clearly the pinnacle of teenage boy-girl relationships. Stories were for entertainment and escapism. True stories? Blah! So boring! Where was the fun in reading about other people’s lives? It all seemed way too earnest to my younger self. I did enough ‘learning’ at school. I didn’t need it when I snuggled down under my blankets at night or was wiling away the school holidays.

But, of course, as we add more years to our lives, our tastes can broaden and change. I still love reading novels and short stories for entertainment and escapism but I have come to appreciate the rewards of reading about the lives of others. A few weeks back, I went to the opening night of the Emerging Writers’ Festival. Melanie Cheng, who was the winner of the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, spoke to the audience and she had a great line about writers being the “personal trainers of empathy”. I loved that! It made me think about some of the writers whose stories I have been reading recently, not just in book form but also online, and how they have helped open my eyes and understanding of life experiences different from my own. I have thought about Magda and how societal attitudes contributed to the pain that tortured her as she sought to accept her sexuality, Maxine’s many encounters with racist attitudes in Australia, and why representation of diversity in the media is so important to Carly. I challenge anyone to read the personal stories in They Cannot Take the Sky or to listen to The Messenger podcast and not understand the damage the Australian government is inflicting upon asylum seekers (disclosure: I provide transcribing assistance to Behind the Wire). I have remembered the blog posts Sarah and Amanda have shared about anxiety and MS and how they have reflected experiences in my own life.

Reading – or listening – to the stories of other people’s lives is not about escapism. It is about staring life in the face. Sometimes that can be confronting. At other times, it can be comforting.

There have been times when I have wondered about blogging. What is the point of it all? What am I writing about? For what purpose? Perhaps you have felt that too. Maybe we should reassure ourselves that whenever we write, we are telling a story about part of our life. It is a way to connect with others – and even if that is only with one reader – in sharing our stories we are opening the door to understanding and empathy.

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Taking Stock: June ’17

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Here we are! Middle of the year! 2017 has so far been exciting, disappointing, relaxing, busy, liberating but on the whole MUCH more pleasant than 2016! Phew! So…drawing inspiration from Meet Me At Mikes, this is how the mid point of the year finds me.

Making: chocolate hedgehog slice, collages, a weaving. Busy hands!

Eating: chocolate hedgehog!

Drinking: peppermint tea

Cooking: lots of soup! Broccoli and zucchini, pumpkin, cauliflower. Excellent for lunches and for filling tummies that may be needing meals early, late, whenever!

Hearing: the radio in the background

Listening: to Trace after seeing Rachael Brown interviewed on The Project. We used to live in Thornbury so I have a clear picture of where these events took place. I hope the airing of the podcast will help solve the mystery of Maria’s brutal murder.

Reading: The Good People

Watching: Broadchurch season 3. Gosh, I love Olivia Colman! She’s in the Emma Thompson class for me. She always produces such authentic performances.

Wishing: the tradesmen we’ve had hanging around the house for the last few months would finally finish their jobs. They’re all lovely and I greatly appreciate their efforts to return our home to ship shape condition, but you know when you just want to have the house quiet and to yourself?

Wondering: lots of things! Why do I have so much milk left over this week? Why have so many apparently-sturdy teabags been spilling their contents whilst steeping in boiling water lately? How long will the queue for the Van Gogh exhibition  be today? Would I like Grantchester? Why is marriage equality still an issue in this country?

Pondering: a blog post that has been running around in my head but hasn’t made it to the page yet

Buying; wool for weaving – online and in person

Enjoying: a mid-week dinner and movie date with my man!

Pretending: we are back in New York! Cold weather, a visit to the NGV planned, and tickets to three shows in five days booked!

Looking: forward to seeing Kat Stewart in White Rabbit Red Rabbit tonight

Thinking: about ‘career’ plans

Knowing: I should go for a walk soon – and empty the rubbish bins…

Noticing: I’ve had less hot flushes lately. Happy dance!

Enjoying: going to a yoga class with my boy!

Bookmarking: lots of different colour palettes

Liking: cold weather and cosy scarves

Loving: these cakes. Oh my!

Is your year progressing nicely?

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I’m average. How about you?

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Yesterday I read this article by Kerri Sackville , this one by Krista O’Reilly and this one by Jodi Gibson exploring whether it’s okay to be content with being average in a society that celebrates high achievers. I thought they were pretty interesting because I’ve often thought about the pressure, or need, we have to be remarkable. To be noticed. To be recognised. To set goals and push to achieve them. We are told that if we can dream it we can do it (to which my man always says it’s his dream to fly naked across the sky but no matter how much he dreams it, that ain’t gonna happen!). What is it that drives us – or, at least, some of us – to pursue high achievement? Or to desire fame for the recognition that that brings? Can we aim high, can we live atop lofty peaks but still maintain our happiness, health and relationships? And what if we don’t want to dream big? Are we letting ourselves down if we don’t ‘reach our potential’? So many questions!

I know that there are remarkable people out there. People with enormous capacity and focus, who can take on a multitude of roles and responsibilities with apparent ease. I’ve met people who are highly proficient across a multitude of disciplines – art, music, sport, high academic ability, and who are genuinely delightful company to boot. I’ve read about people who have fabulous ideas and motivation and make things happen for the benefit of others in society. I salute these people. The world needs them.

I can feel a bit deflated looking at these high achievers. I sometimes look at their efforts and think ‘and I have done …?’ Do you ever feel like that? Here’s the thing. I did an Arts/Law degree at uni. I worked hard. I was focussed on those marks. The plan? I was aiming for that ‘big 4’ commercial firm. I’d keep working hard. I’d make partner. Imagine the status that would come with that! The reality? Got into the firm I had so wanted to join and…hated it! Stuck it out for a few years, fell into depression. Working there was unsustainable. So I ditched it. Career number two? Stay-at-home mum. There’s no status, no recognition in that! I know when I resigned that there were mutterings behind my back along the lines of ‘how can she waste all that study?’, ‘why would she give up being a lawyer to be a mum?’ But status can’t overcome being unhappy in what you do. I was happy to be a mum – and, to be honest, it’s what I’d always wanted to be. Why should I feel I’ve let myself down in any way by making that choice? That’s not the same as saying that I don’t want to do my best at whatever I do. If I’m going to do something, I’ll always do it to the best of my ability. But I’m never going to be ‘the best’ at anything. Nor do I need to be ‘the best’ at anything. I doubt I’ll ever be recognised for some stellar achievement, or have people stopping me in the streets to take a selfie with me. But that’s okay. I’ve managed to bring two functioning adults into the world, I still love the man I married 25 years ago, and I’ve gathered some friends along the way. That’s enough for me. Why would I want any more? Why should I need any more?

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This was Monday night

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On Monday morning my girl’s Year 12 result flashed up on her phone. The stresses and self doubt of the last couple of years lifted from our shoulders as she ran to us, her face a combination of happiness, shock and relief. It was enough for her to be able to study her course of choice at her uni of choice. Hugs, moist eyes, and the eloquently expressed congratulations of her brother – ‘I f****** told you!’ – as he flung his arms around her! By evening, the boy had headed to work and the girl was out having dinner with a friend. Just me and the man at home, and he was beavering away in the study. ‘Think I’ll have a glass of wine,’ I said. ‘Think I’ll finish watching Gilmore Girls,’ I said. ‘Actually, think I’ll have A BATH whilst watching Gilmore Girls,’ I thought. The girl texted that she had decided to go back to her friend’s for the night so I didn’t need to do a pick up but could take my book to bed and, with any luck, nod off before the snores that usually hinder my attempts to sleep, commenced!

What is this strange new world? Where is the routine? The predictability? It’s like we’re living in a share house – with less disputes about food and bills! – rather than the mum/dad/kids home of just a few weeks ago. I am acting super chill about their social plans but inside my mummy-bird voice is twittering ‘please come home safely’ and peaceful sleep does not arrive for me until I hear the key in the front door – and then its slam and thumping footsteps down the hall.

And so to all of you labouring under the weight of end of year school concerts, sports break ups, kriskringles, money collections for teacher presents, I remember the precision planning required to coordinate it all. I remember the ‘Really? You need a costume for tomorrow morning?’ I remember being unable to imagine that life would ever be any different. But different it becomes, and a strange new world of wine, tv and soaky baths awaits!

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*Added bonus – no more school lunches and trying to think of what to pack for snack. Gosh, that was a pain!

Taking Stock: October ’16

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Hello lovelies! How are you going? Are you getting your Halloween on? It’s certainly gaining in popularity here in Melbourne. I’ve been noticing on my walks around the street that people have already been decorating their houses. That’s a bit different from previous years when the decorations only seemed to pop up on the day. I’ll make sure we have lollies ready to go but we won’t be doing anything else. Both kiddies have their heads buried in books, notes, or tapping away at keyboards as they’re in the middle of their end of year assessments. The pressure to achieve particular marks to get into courses or higher levels of study – eugh! I always fall into a state of inertia at this time of the year, tip-toeing around the house, delivering sustaining snacks and making cups of tea, doling out the hugs when the a bit of emotional support is needed.   There hasn’t been much levity in our house of late! So what has been sustaining me?

Making: crochet flowers for this project

Drinking: champagne with other parents whilst our girls were in their English exam!

Eating: chocolate

Cooking: my girl’s favourites – anything with chicken, salmon or pasta!

Watching: not a lot. Just started Deep Water which has a stellar Australian cast

Reading: This House of Grief by Helen Garner. I thought it may be a bit macabre and voyeuristic but I’ve been assured the focus is more on the legal and criminal procedure of the case rather than the case itself

Wearing: activewear!

Hearing: the washing machine thudding and whirring

Looking: at the blue sky and sunshine out my window

Hoping: both kiddies are satisfied with their efforts at the end of the year

Needing: to put a bit more thought into holiday planning for the end of the year

Looking: forward to a birthday lunch with friends later today

Wishing: my girl was not so critical of herself

Feeling: a bit emotionally drained. It’s been a demanding few years

Wanting: a magic wand so that I could give the other three people in this house what they want

Knowing: that not getting a particular mark is not the end of the world. Just have to convince others of that!

Hmm. Seems to be a bit of a theme running through that! Guess that’s just where we are at at the moment – and that’s what ‘taking stock’ is all about, isn’t it? Just taking moment to notice what is going on, being experienced, at a particular point in time. Sometimes they’re cheery, sometimes a little more fraught. What would your ‘taking stock’ look like at the moment? Thanks to Pip for the inspiration!

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