23 December 2008

A Different Kind of Christmas...

Yep, it's been different than the one I planned. With the recent loss of Mr G's dad, we have somehow found ourselves trimming the excess - by which I mean stressful things, unimportant things, too-difficult things.

But in the middle of all the trimming back, we have found that some things we never expected have occurred - like more fun, more time together as a family, and more meaning - which is what I hoped for all along, anyway.

There have been random fun things like Mr G constructing a cubby for the kids in the lounge out of chairs and blankets so they could watch TV.


There have been great suggestions from the kids, like Dash's idea to camp in the garden... which we did yesterday. That was fantastic.









Daddy set the tent up for the kids (after they had tidied up the garden), and they had a picnic lunch, played board games, soccer and rode bikes together. We had a BBQ tea (done on the George Foreman Grilll, to save getting out the BBQ) then read and told stories in the tent until the sun went down, and we could see all the Christmas lights in our backyard.

Today Princess helped me make Jamie Oliver's Christmas Mince Pies... and glaze the Christmas Ham. (By the way if you are making Jamie's pies, I don't know how he got them out of the tins so easily - mine stuck like crazy, but came out eventually! I think I needed lots more grease in the tins! Click here for the recipe, they are so yummy)


There has been minimal shopping (more like brief forays into the madness when only absolutely necessary), and so far no visit to Santa or the Christmas Lights in Franklin Ave.

We have kind of been circling the wagons, cocooned in our little family nest, away from the crowds and hustle bustle which only makes us crazy and stressed.

This is my last post til after Christmas, so I hope you all have a good one. For us, it's going to be quiet. Just our little family. But we are planning to relax and enjoy it, spreading out the presents throughout the day, and eating treats already. We will visit friends and family around the country after Boxing Day and New Years, when we will get to use our hoards of fireworks and champagne...!

Merry Christmas to you all, and thanks to Gail and Sophie for nominating me for a Christmas Spirit Award.

Sorry, I'm not following the rules to the letter, but I re-nominate Sophie, Gail and Rebecca (who have all been nominated by others as well) and here's my top five favourite things about Christmas...


1. Christmas Sounds: I love Christmas music, with my #1 favourite carol being "O Holy Night". My favourite version is by Celine Dion. I play my homemade Christmas CDs constantly to help get in the festive mood.

2. Christmas Food: This year's top favourites are my Mum's Glazed Ham (recipe below) and something new this year, Jamie Oliver's Mince Pies.

3. Christmas Smells: I love the smell of Pine trees, spices, Christmas baking, and even the smell of tinsel!

4. Christmas Morning: I look forward to this all year, and the magic has been recaptured since we've had kids. Their little shiny eyes and glowing cheeks as we open the lounge door to reveal Santa's grotto... And all those Presents!!!

5. Christmas Magic: This is the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you see all your hard work pay off and your family gets another years worth of great memories. This is topped off by the Christmas DVD footage - and new for me this year, the ability to edit my own! I am burning a secret surprise DVD for Mr G as we speak, with messages from the kids.






So, "I want to wish you a Merry Christmas, from the bottom of my heart....!"

Luv and Christmas wishes from
Simone
xxx






Mum's Glazed Christmas Ham


Ingreds

1 half-cob smoked Christmas Ham
Brown sugar (a goodly amount)
Sherry (a decent splodge, enough to make a sticky paste when added to the brown sugar)
Mustard Powder (1 teaspoon)
Whole Cloves (half packet)







Put the brown sugar in a bowl and add the mustard and sherry; mix to a nice thick syrup.

Peel the rind off the ham and score the fat diagonally to form a criss-cross pattern.

Place the ham in a roasting dish, and brush the glaze over thickly.

Poke in the cloves until the whole ham is studded.

Bake slowly on the lowest oven setting for 1.5-2 hours or until it is golden. You can brush over more glaze if you like. (Don't use the fan setting).

This ham has the best flavour ever. It is my staple Christmas food, and great for sammies on Boxing Day. Enjoy. xx
18 December 2008

Homemade Gifts...

Princess was sick last night (more fun for us with lots of vomiting), and so she had the morning at home today.


We spent the morning putting together her special gifts for her kindy teachers and friends.
I had run out of time to think what to get, so made use of what I had in the cupboard, but I think these gifts bundles look pretty special?

They contain: Christmas Mince pies and bites, some Cadbury favourites, Hershey Kisses and candy canes. We made love hearts and stars out of glittery pipecleaners to jazz them up, and wrapped the whole lot in cellophane with a big bow.

When Princess had her "broken leg" I had ordered some beads from AJMs. They are so reasonable and the package came so quickly, I totally recommend this website. The acrylic beads were about .01c each! They also have that great stretching wire for threading; so guess what we made? Bracelets for all her friends.


I packaged them in these cute gauze bags I had left over from the Fairy party. Hmmm, I am feeling very crafty and pleased with myself!

It's very fortunate that I got in early with organising the extended family's gifts this year, with all that has happened. I went for a pretty-much home-made approach for the grandparents... (Grandma if you're tempted to read this, back away slowly!!)

One of our great finds were DIY Photo Blocks, $13 for a set of 3 available on TradeMe (the service from this seller was very prompt, I recommend this guy). I photographed some of the kids' most vibrant artwork (with the setting on macro) and then got prints done on matt photographic paper. With the photo blocks being 4x4 square, it was easy to peel the adhesive, apply the print then trim around the edges for a perfect fit. They are available in black or white. I was so pleased with the finished result. Each Grandmother got a set of 3.

Another staple for the Christmas Parcels was a family 12-month calendar from DigitalMax. A few years ago I tried doing my own, and by the time I had bought ink cartridges, special heavy paper, and spiral binding the cost was about $20 each, with a lot of hard work and frustration.

The DigitalMax ones are fantastic - the best I have got from anywhere. They are on a lovely thick A4 card, with nice wire spiral-binding. You can choose themes and backgrounds; you can add text and highlight special dates with photos and text. They cost $24.95 each but duplicates are 20% off. The best thing about these gifts is you can do it without having to leave home!

I also made a few people PhotoBooks; the small ones are great value at $19.95 for 7x5 size, also with 20% off for duplicates.

DigitalMax sent an email round - you can still order in time for Christmas until midnight tonight and pickup from a store you designate for free, by entering this code at the "checkout": PICKUPD8. So if you're still at a loss for what to send Grandma....? get uploading, I guess!

P.S. I've been wanting to post a link to Rebecca's "Last Christmas I Gave You..." post, and here seems like a good place for it! Love ya Becs!
16 December 2008

Christmas Party



After my hubby's father passed away in early December, our idea for an elaborate Christmas Party morphed into a relaxed "thanksgiving" BBQ with friends and neighbours at a slightly later date...

The prep was actually the most relaxed of any event I've done lately. We even sat and had Scottish kippers, Pork pies and shandys for lunch under the grapevine to the sound of Christmas carols...

There were lights to hang, outdoor furniture to scrub, a Tree to get and decorate...


Hubby brought home a live pine tree (mmm!) which we set up outside. The kids went crazy tree decorating it with home-made decorations and rejects from the "grown-ups tree" inside. I just let them go for it, and they had a great time.


Thanksgiving Tree
When Miss Fab had her leg in a cast, we had spent a morning recycling old Christmas cards into "Thanksgiving Ornaments", which we set up in a basket next to the pine tree.

Miss Fab cut out christmas pictures from the cards and I clipped on some curling ribbon. The idea: Take a card from the basket and write on the back something you're thankful for this year, then tie it on the tree. It was lovely reading what people had written.


Family Fundraising Project
Also I quickly painted up a sign to show what the kids had managed to raise through their Christmas project efforts: $392. Not too shabby!

Catering was almost non-existant, just a very relaxed "bring food to share" kind of BBQ, with the five families who could still make the new date.

Mr G wasn't quite up to being Santa yet, so his mate Stu stepped up. Bless Him! We weren't sure where this Santa's accent was from??!! and his wig kept slipping into his eyes, and his belt kept falling off... Sorry no photos; too busy filming (and laughing). Poor Stuey. He definitely gave it 100%!


The little girls had great fun with the face paint and hair mascara ( left over from the many birthdays - it pays to have a ready supply!); thanks to the mummies who painted the cute Christmas faces!

There was backyard cricket and soccer, trampolining, trike-riding and some basketball... plus eating... drinking... eating... drinking...

Two fun-loving families got their kids all gussied up in Christmas theme. The "star" attraction was 1-year-old Immy - dressed as a star, in a super-cute costume her clever daddy had made for their church Christmas Production.

The families who dressed up also happened to be the long-stayers, so I pulled out the prizes I'd put together long ago when the Party was going to be a big deal: Some Cadbury Favourites and one of my Christmas Mix CDs.

They were all most excited and said they were hoping the prize would be one of my CDs... which is why they'd bothered dressing up. I have to say, the Christmas CDs you get in the stores have a pretty pathetic mix of songs; I like my own much better!

The food highlight of the night was definitely Gail's Outrageous Toffee Pecan Pudding (click here for the recipe) My humble offering was my very easy, but yummy Cheats' Christmas Trifle. I will put the recipe below, for those who were asking...

When the sun began to set the lights looked fantastic. One of the six-year-old guests sat gazing at the twinkling colours and then turned and said to me, "Simone I think the lights are fascinating..." Bless!

After everyone had left, me and Mr G made a half-hearted attempt at tidying up, sat for five minutes outside watching the lights with a glass of wine, and then dragged our aching bodies off to bed.

{In retrospect it may have been a bit much too soon. But we did it. At least we did it.}

The Ghosts of Christmas Parties Past...
Photobucket

Mr G stars as Santa... he turns up on a bicycle decorated with tinsel, carrying a sack full of sweets for a lolly scramble, races, the Statues Game and whatever else he comes up with off the top of his head. He speaks in a deep booming voice and says ho-ho-ho a lot. He's a brilliant Santa. Brilliant. Smart-alec kids whisper to me: "I know who that is, it's Dash's dad!!!" Ahhh you can't put anything past kids these days.

Photobucket
PhotobucketAnother time we staged an impromptu show to the beautiful Nativity Story, "Room for a Little One". I collected beards, hats and masks for each creature in the story and Mr G (Santa) picked the parts and read out the story while the kids and parents acted it out. It was priceless. Kind Ox, Old Dog, Stray Cat, Small Mouse and Tired Donkey all made room for a Little One in our backyard.

(Click here for the interactive Book on Amazon; Best Christmas story ever)



Easy Peasy Christmas Trifle

Ingredients:

1 medium unfilled trifle from the supermarket
2 cups of frozen or fresh berries
2 packets of raspberry jelly, dissolved in 3 cups of boiling water
1ltr packet of Meadowfresh custard
1 250ml bottle of whipping cream
1 Cadbury flake bar

(You do the first bit of this trifle the day before you want to eat it, so the jelly can set)

Chop up the sponge cake into chunks and place in a large, deep serving bowl.
Mix the (defrosted) berries through, then pour over the jelly mixture. Leave to cool then place in fridge to set.
The next day pour in the custard over the sponge/jelly mixture. Use the whole packet. Before serving, whip the cream with a little bit of icing sugar, and spread in a thick layer over the custard. Crumble up the flake bar and sprinkle over the top.

(My favourite breakfast food on Boxing Day is leftover trifle... aren't I sad??)
14 December 2008

Some Good News...




Well, not long after I had posted my story about Princess's broken leg, Mr G phoned me and told me: Her Ankle Is Not Broken After All!

Whew! It was getting to be hard work keeping that dynamo happy to be sitting still!

The doctor had read the x-ray wrong or something(??) Turns out to be just soft tissue damage; she still needs the dressing changed every day for the wicked lacerations, but thankfully it's just a week of no trampoline rather than FOUR WEEKS of not moving.

Princess is already back to her old bouncing-ball self (never walking anywhere - just skipping, running, dancing, jumping, twirling...) It's a miracle to us.

Goes to show, you just can't keep a good girl down...!
12 December 2008

Life Goes On...

Well, the fun just hasn't stopped at our house lately! And by "fun" I mean drama!

Yesterday Mr G was feeling quite sentimental and decided to take the kids to school/kindy on his push-bike, as a type of "bonding" and because he has memories of his dad doing that with him.

Dash was enthusiastic, to say the least, and off they went, no incidents. Then back came Daddy for Round Two (Princess).

At this point I have to say, that as a responsible mother, I came out and said cautiously but without nagging (out of respect for his recent trauma and loss): Babe, I don't think that looks safe... I don't like the look of that!

"Ahhh, it'll be fine. No worries. She'll be right..." or words to that effect, came the reply.

I went back to my task of getting the baby down for his morning nap, when to my dismay I heard distant wails, inceasing in volume, which sounded terribly familiar... like, perhaps it was my daughter??

I walked to the front door, shaking my head in a kind of wry, "I told you so" way. And then I saw her ankle.

I literally had to bite my tongue to stop from screaming! The state of that poor child's ankle.

Apparently she had put her foot into the wheel as they went around a corner - and her foot stopped the bike. All 100kg of Geordie-forward-motion was brought to a halt by a four-year-old sized ankle-in-the-spokes.

There was a black lump the size of a baseball on her ankle, which was also lacerated and bleeding.

I tried very hard to keep my comments to myself as Mr G bundled Princess into the car and dashed her off for an x-ray.

Yep, Fractured. In a cast for 4 weeks. At the beginning of summer, and the Christmas holidays. Oh boy! What a way to round out an already tough week.

Of course Mr G feels awful. I decided to say no more, as he was already beating up on himself, and didn't need my help.

He's back at the doctors' as I write this, for them to check it, then he is wheeling her around St Lukes mall and taking her for coffee and some new (cast-friendly) clothes.

Well, there go my remaining Christmas shopping plans. Looks like it's all going to be online or Late Night!

Princess has been a little trooper. She may have drama-queen tendencies over life's minor issues (clothing, hairdo's) but when it comes to the big stuff, she is so brave.

This is not the first time she has broken a limb.

My first-ever ambulance trip was with her as 20-month-old, when she fell off the roof of her playhouse (copying her brother) and snapped her arm right through. She followed this up with a precautionary cast on her leg, a few weeks later, when doctors suspected a growth-plate fracture (which turned out to be not the case). There's a very sweet picture of her with her two casts on. I was embarrassed to be seen in public!

She has had lovely visits from some of her friends, who have come armed with books, paints, puzzles, home-made cards and cookies. Her friend Max's little brother Ru even lent her his special toy leopard to cuddle. Everyone who knows her realises how tough it will be for her to sit still for the next 4 weeks!

To add to the fun, as well as having a daughter who can't move, I now have a baby who can't sit still! Yep, Scrag is on the move. Practically crawling, but otherwise rolling and moving commando-style all over the house. Nothing is safe. Thank goodness I put the tree up high!
So... its' going to be a very different kind of Christmas than the one I planned. It is all forcing me to slow down, and let the less-important stuff just drop away. Fun huh??!!
10 December 2008

So Proud...














Yesterday was my hubby's father's funeral.
He wore a kilt in honour of his dad, who was Scottish; Rob was sent off with the bagpipes playing and a lovely service, with many tears.
What can I say? It's been so emotional, this last week.
My hubby got a call from the hospital last Wednesday morning (can it be only a week ago??) to say, "You'd better get in here, your dad has taken a turn for the worst..."
It came as a huge shock because we had only received the dreaded "Cancer" diagnosis 5 days earlier. The prognosis had been: "Weeks to Months" and so we had been planning a last Christmas with Grandad.

All of a sudden, weeks/months had turned into days.

I followed my gut instinct and insisted to my poor panic-stricken husband that we take the kids up straight away to see grandad. He is now so glad that we did. That brief hug and kiss was their goodbye. Only a day later Rob had passed peacefully from this world to the next.

The kids took it hard, struggling to understand what it meant that grandad had died.
Dash said, "It's not fair!" and ran to his room and slammed the door.

But God has been so good to us; it just so happened that my mum and dad (who live 7 hours away) were in town visiting, so the children were greatly comforted by having their other grandparents close at such a time.

Dash kept sidling up to my dad and wrapping himself around him, clinging on for all it was worth; it brought tears to my eyes. I am so grateful that God arranged things this way, to comfort my precious babies.

Princess is usually the emotional barometer of our family, and true-to-form we have had a tough week with her, behaviour-wise.
We decided on Monday that it was probably best if she stayed with friend rather than attend the funeral, and this has turned out to be the best decision for her.

On the other hand, nothing would stop Dash from being there, in every sense of the word.

He had been dreaming about his grandad, and we had decided not to let him view the open casket, as we were worried what it could mean for his vivid imagination.
However, he was determined. When we weren't looking, he tried to sneak into the viewing room to see his Grandad. At that point we decided to go with his wishes and took him by the hand and went in with him.

Dash went very quiet, and sat on the chair next to Grandad's head. He insisted on staying there, while I stood beside him, until the coffin was closed for the service. Then he clutched the framed photograph of himself and his Grandad, and went to sit by himself in the front row watching the slideshow.

He sat taking it all in, refusing all cuddles, just needing his space to process it all.

When he did accept an arm around him, it was daddy he needed.

He says regularly and out-of-the-blue, "I am so sad Grandad died, are you?" and "I wish Grandad didn't die, do you?"

But I really think it helped him seeing his Grandad. He looked peaceful, and not too strange. It seems to have helped Dash settle something in his heart.

He has not let go of the framed photo.

Our hearts go out to our little guy, so brave, so mature. We are so proud of him.

It's such an unknown thing, how do we help our little people understand their loss, and grieve, without burdening them with too much information?

We have spent a lot of time answering the children's questions; reassuring them that the real Grandad is in heaven with Jesus.

Step by step we are feeling our way, answering questions as they come up, making special time to just be together. The Christmas rush has been put on hold. The Christmas Party has been postponed and turned into a Thanksgiving BBQ.

All of a sudden the unimportant has melted away and what we are left with is a gratitude to God for his love and Grace, and a renewed sense of closeness to family. Which I guess is actually what Christmas is really all about anyway... xx
08 December 2008

Goodbye Grandad













Our beloved Grandad Robert (my hubby's father) passed away this week, after a very short but brave fight with Cancer.

He died on Thursday 4th December, 2 months after his 59th birthday.

We know he is in Heaven with Jesus, and we have been amazed at God's amazing comfort, love and grace through this whole time.

Thankfully the children got to say goodbye to their Grandad the day before he died. Rob passed away surrounded by family, knowing he was loved, and at peace with God.

The Funeral is tomorrow (Tuesday) 11.30am at Howick Funeral Home, 35 Wellington St, Howick.

We love you Rob and we will miss you so much. But your struggle is over and you are now whole and healed. We'll never forget you - we just wish we'd taken more photos and video footage... how could we have known that last time you came for tea was the last time ever?

We are sad, but hopeful, with peace in our hearts because we know that right now you are having a coffee with Jesus. Until we meet again... xxx


Goodbye Grandad, we love you... xxx

07 December 2008

Jungle Party


For Dash's fourth Birthday we had a Jungle Party. That was in the pre-soccer days, when everything was about animals. Dash was most commonly seen at that stage with a tiger tail attached to his shorts, scampering around on all fours.

His favourite viewing was Nature DVDs... so of course it was a Jungle Party for his fourth birthday!

We had just moved into our new house, with the large jungle-like backyard. Perfect!

I set the food up on a table under the carport (where the grapevine was growing) so it was very jungle-like. To add to the effect I also hung strands of green tinsel at each end, like jungle vines.

The table cloth was a $2 shop plastic one which I had printed with leaves and paw prints myself. I made a "paw" by cutting circles out of polystyrene and sticking them into a paw shape with toothpicks. I then applied brown poster paint to it and "printed" paw prints all over the cloth. The leaves were actual large leaves, painted green and then used to print leaves on.

This was a very home-made party, and didn't cost very much at all.

The kids were all asked to come dressed as their favourite animal. Could we find a tiger costume for Dash? Nope. A friend got hold of a really cool elephant one, which Dash kept on for five minutes and then went and put his old tiger tail on!

The food was simple, lots of fruit (watermelon, grapes, pineapple, bananas), jelly snakes and crocodiles, Jungle Juice plus the usual standard party fare. Cups and plates were green plastic disposable ones (10 for $2) with animal stickers on them.


Dash helped me stick the stickers on, of course. (The kids love being involved in the preparation for their parties).


I was hugely pleased with my cake and still think it's one of the best ones I've ever done. The trees were made out of wafer straws with a toothpick poked in to attach the spearmint leaves. I painted the grass and river using food colouring; there were jube rocks, jelly crocodiles and snakes in the trees, and a Flake bar log over the river. The river roughly formed a number 4.


For the games, we kept it simple. Daddy (with a Baloo the Bear mask I had created from a monkey one) was the Master of Games.

There was a game of cat and mouse (now called Tiger and Monkey) where the kids all hold hands in a circle and the Tiger has to chase the Monkey until they're caught; the circle can lift their arms to let the Monkey inside to hide, or drop them down to keep the Tiger out. It's great fun, lots of squealing! And so easy to organise.

Then some dancing competitions... the kids went inside and Daddy got them going doing animal moves to Jungle Music on DVD, songs from Jungle Book and Madagascar: I like to Move It, I Want to be like You and Bear Necessities. Tee Hee. Great fun to watch.

While they were boogying, I quickly hid the Treasure Hunt cards around the garden that I had prepared earlier...

For the Treasure Hunt I had printed out photos of jungle animals I had found using Google Image Search. These I stuck onto brown cardboard and printed the back with a paw print. I printed extra "dummy" paw prints onto brown card as well. These cards were hidden all around the garden.

Daddy had a checklist of all the animals.

The kids were all given a pair of home-made binoculars (made with toilet rolls I had collected for weeks beforehand). Then they had to scour the garden for the animal cards and bring them to Daddy when one was found.

Daddy turned the whole thing from a simple idea into a great amount of fun, by getting the kids to do animal impressions and making a great fuss (giving a prize and getting everyone cheering) to each kid who had found an animal card. Hugely entertaining.

Then it was party bag time...

I googled lots of animal characters on the internet, and made party bags individualised for each guest, by printing out a different animal character for each person. I used characters from all the Disney movies that featured animals: Lion King, Madagascar, the Wild, Jungle Book... The images were cut out and stuck onto white paper bags with handles. Dash chose which friend got which picture.

They had also got a drinking straw to match. I printed out A4 sheets with the characters on and got them laminated, then painstakingly cut them out and stuck them on the tops of the drinking straws. That way each kid could find their own straw (no sharing of germs).

Dash and his friends all had a fabulous time. It didn't cost much (just some creativity) and afterwards all the mums said we should hire Mr G out for kids birthday parties.


This was the party where it all started for me. It set the standard and from then on, we have been a crazy birthday party family!


Toilet Roll Binoculars

You will need...
Two toilet rolls per guest (with all the scraps of paper removed)
Silver Duct Tape (from the $2 Shop)
Black Poster paint
String
A Hole Punch



  1. Paint each toilet roll black and leave to dry (the birthday child can help with this, lots of fun and hard to get wrong)
  2. Cut lengths of duct tape and then cut in half lengthways (so it is thinner)
  3. Tape two toilet rolls together with one piece of duct tape near the top and one near the bottom
  4. Punch a hole on the outside of each toilet roll for the string to tie onto.
  5. Tie string through the two holes, so binoculars can be worn around the neck
    That's it!
(Dash and Miss Fab continued to play with their binoculars for ages afterwards until they finally fell apart, a year later. We also re-used the treasure hunt cards again and again - a very simple home-made game which could be done inside or out)



  • CLICK HERE for my FREE Printable Jungle Party Invitation
  • or get this personalised invitation on my Etsy Shop...

Source: etsy.com via Simone on Pinterest