30 December 2012

Outdoor Lounging Bliss

It's hot and sticky here in Auckland. Our sub-tropical Summer is in full force,
with 98% humidity and bursts of showers followed by steamy sunshine. 

This is how we see in the new year, here downunder. Relaxing in the shade, praying for a whiff of a breeze.
[you may recognise some of these sweet faces]

Yesterday with a succession of friends passing through, we decided to create a pin-worthy outdoor room to lounge in.

I strung rope between two trees and used pegs to clip on a white muslin throw, which we weighted down with old tyres to create a half-tent.

We added more mosquito nets, our Chinese trader camping mat and some fake ivy along with bean bags, cushions and...

...the oak daybed, for a true outdoor lounge experience.

Here is my friend Louisa chilling in the shade with her iPad. She and Miss Fab were playing Temple Run  and watching One Direction clips while we lounged about...

I wore a cowboy hat, to help keep off the sun. Like my selfie?

There was even a hammock (hogged by the Scrag)...

... and Grandma's sunlounger, brightened up with a red spotty quilt.

Now we know just what to do when the sun beats down and the breeze is nowhere to be found... we create an outdoor lounge in the back garden, and relax there until the sun goes down.

(Is it hot where you are...? or are you shivering your way through a Northern winter??)
27 December 2012

Buckets of Tears

Today was spent at the funeral of a dear friend, David Kent, who passed away in the wee small hours of Christmas Eve after a three-year battle with cancer.

I cried buckets of tears.
Not so much for myself and my own sadness at his loss, but for the sense of Heaven touching Earth that was so apparent at his funeral.
It was less a funeral than a "sending off". A salute. A celebration and tribute to the life of a man who lived to bless others. Common themes were repeated over and over: Generous. Kind. Wise. Legend. Fun.

Though he and his beautiful wife had no children of their own, hundreds of tributes flooded in about "Uncle David" from the children he loved. He would go to church with his pockets stuffed full of lollies, ready to be shared with any little person who wandered by.

David was known as the Lolly Man, adored by kids of all ages. His bright blue coffin was loaded with lollies, one last gift from the Lolly Man. At the end of the service the kids were invited to come and take some lollies; an impromptu lolly scramble had me weeping again as I could almost see David sitting there watching the proceedings from his front row seat in Heaven, with a grin on his face. There was nothing stuffy or stodgey about David.

[the kids getting the lollies from "Uncle David" one last time...]

Words are really inadequate to describe David's sending off.
With a dripping face, I sat and listened to person after person tell of how David had touched their life with his generosity, his humour, his time, his advice.

Some funerals you attend, there is a sense of unrelenting pain and grief.
At David's funeral there was sadness, sorrow and loss... but overriding it all was a very real sense of hope.
David's faith was the defining thing in his life. Everything he did was to serve and love God and people.

I couldn't help but feel as if when David passed through to the next life he left the door open a crack and Heaven was leaking through to us left behind. Or as if Heaven had rushed in to fill the vacuum David left.

As David's bright blue coffin exited the building, carried on the shoulders of people young and old who loved and admired this wonderful man, there was a spontaneous standing ovation.
As one, we all stood to our feet and clapped and cheered to honour this friend who has run his race, completed his course.

"Oh death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?" were the words ringing in my heart.
A Bible verse that comes to life in the face of loss.

We mourn the loss of a wonderful person from our life here on Earth.
But as his best mate and our long-time pastor Bruce said, "His body may have lost the fight with cancer, but he is now free and healed, and now he's seeing Jesus face to face."

[Photos Borrowed from David's Facebook page]

It's hard to express to those who may not share the faith we have, just how real Heaven is at these times. When Death is close, Heaven is closer.
Heaven has taken away Death's sting. We have Hope. Death is not the end of the story, just the chapter.
In those moments when someone has just passed on to the next life, Heaven is almost glimpse-able through the veil.

I came away from the funeral feeling like a wrung-out dishrag with all the crying I did; but also with a sense of gratitude for my Faith and the Hope that we have in Jesus.
I have a deep sense of being blessed with a wonderful Church family (who give the most amazing send-offs); I am thankful for long-established ties and deep secure roots which are rare and precious.
And more than anything I came away with a renewed desire to live my life in such a way that one day, I will have a send-off like David just had.
A celebration of a wonderful life.

Thankyou David for all that you were to us here in this life.
We look forward to seeing you again on the other side.
(and don't worry we will ALL look after Aunty Lyn for you)


(David's favourite song, played over and over in his last few days; made me weep, so moving)
25 December 2012

Merry (Gingerbread) Christmas

There has been a lot of gingerbread this Christmas... but not much blogging.

Probably you should blame all the gingerbread.

There's been gingerbread muffins (with cream cheese icing). Big gingerbread men. And little ginger babies.

I bought myself some Christmas roses. Since I was hosting Mr G's Work Christmas Do. Managed to persuade him to let me get the lovely green check tablecloth as well. Bonus!

I actually made something I pinned on Pinterest. Look at the cute attention to detail on this baby.
(I was so proud of myself)

We've had a few BBQ's with neighbours and workmates at our house, in between rainshowers. Our guests seem to enjoy themselves... it could be gingerbread, but it's more likely to be the Sangria.

Tomorrow I'll be making Two Batches (one to take to the Folks for lunch, one to share with friends for tea).

Today I made Eggnog...

...which I shared with my friend Mel, after we played a couple of rounds of Appreciation Training with our offspring... and a bit of Gingerbread House Building...

It made it tricky that Mel's daughter is egg-allergic, so no royal icing on their house. We used White Chocolate instead. (I think hers will be yummier)

Ours came from a kit. Don't be fooled by it's neatness and uniformity. That didn't last long...

....see what I mean???

 Here's Mel's finished article... egg free....

And the kids had fun... which is what counts. A delightful (if somewhat sticky) way to spend Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve wouldn't be complete without a visit from Santa. I thought maybe this year they were too big for this tradition, but the Tween's face fell when I suggested that Santa might not need to drop by tonight...
Apparently NOT too big at all (YAY).

So the stockings are hung by the chimney with care. The prezzies are wrapped and piled up under the tree. Four more minutes and it's midnight... Christmas here in NZ.

I hope you have a Merry one wherever you are.

And just in case you haven't seen it yet, here's An Unexpected Christmas...

God Bless and Merry Christmas 
23 December 2012

Christmas Classics: It's a Wonderful Life

We have just finished watching "It's a Wonderful Life", the classic 1946 black'n'white movie starring Jimmy Stewart.
I was never a fan of classic movies until I watched this one. Way back in the Nineties a friend of mine twisted my arm and promised me I would love it - and she was right. This movie showed me that oldies can be goodies. And I have never forgotten this movie. I have looked for it in DVD shops around Christmas but failed to find it. Then I spotted it on Fatso's list of Christmas movies... yay Fatso!

If you are running out of inspiration, sick of the rat race and need something sweet and lovely to refresh your soul, get your hands on this classic movie.
If it's raining where you are, snuggle up with a loved one or two.
Watch this movie. It's medicine for a jaded soul.

Don't worry that it's old and not in colour. Miss Fab watched it right along with us and loved it too.
Can't find it in the DVD shops? Quick sign up to Fatso (with a month free trial using the special code for my readers: FAMILY45) and order this movie. If you hurry you might even get it in time for Christmas.

But even if you've left it too late for Christmas, don't sweat - it's only very loosely a Christmas Movie. Probably it's an even better one to watch with a New Year breathing down our neck.

George Bailey spends his life putting his dreams on hold, putting others first. Finally in a crisis on Christmas Eve he hits rock bottom and wishes he's never been born. An angel is sent to show him what life would be like if he hadn't, and George realises just how many lives his had touched... and saved. It's a movie about selflessness, generosity and how life is worth more than personal gain.

So quick, go get your hands on "Its a Wonderful Life". It's an Oscar-winning classic for a reason. Timeless, brilliant and with a message that's still relevant.

19 December 2012

Appreciation Training (to avoid the Christmas Cringe)

I was talking with my friend yesterday, sipping tea and nattering about the joys of Christmas while our offspring played in the garden. My friend mentioned her horror of those cringe-worthy moments at Christmas where Aunt Ethel gives your kid some undies or socks and (being kids) they say, "Awww, socks????" (Or worse, they run out of gifts and blurt, "Have I got any more?" coming off looking like greedy brats. Cringe.)

We were laughing and remembering those cringe-factor moments from our kids' early Christmases, when I was reminded of a fun game we played a few years back with the older two. Appreciation Training.

As I explained the game to my friend, she got all enthusiastic and said, "We should totally do this! Like together. The kids will get into it more if there are other kids there..."

So we made a plan. On Christmas Eve Day we are going to get our kids together and stick lollies on our packaged gingerbread houses. Then we are going to have a fun game of Appreciation Training, in preparation for Christmas Day. I feel fairly confident that we should avoid the worst of the Cringe-worthy moments with Aunt Ethel this year...

Here's how to Play...

Collect a bunch of totally random bits and pieces. Scour the junk drawer, the washing pile, the recycle bin. I am talking old socks, bottle tops, giant undies, pegs... Collect enough for roughly three "gifts" per kid. Then wrap them up and pop them in a bag. You will also need a bag of lollies/sweets as "rewards".

Assemble the children and explain to them the rules. They pick a present from the bag, open it and do their best to show gratitude and say something positive about the present. Extra points (lollies) awarded for creativity. Then let the fun begin....

This is truly a good laugh, as well as being a powerful lesson in the art of gift-appreciation. It's not that we are teaching our children to be fake, rather we are teaching them socially-appropriate responses to the gift of woolly socks, helping avoid Aunt Ethel's mortification or displeasure and most importantly reminding them that it's the THOUGHT that COUNTS. 

Aunt Ethel hobbled on her arthritic knees all the way to KMart. She stood in front of the sock display and hand-picked those socks just for you, Jimmy. She made an effort. She spent her hard-earned retirement pennies. THAT's why we show appreciation to Aunt Ethel.

 Of course you can also suggest that a kiss and a hug as well as a hearty thankyou will go a long way to warming Aunt Ethel's heart.
In fact in our family we only give Santa the credit for the content of the Stockings. The rest of the pile is duly credited to the people who spent the time perusing junk mail for great deals, listening into conversations about Christmas Wishes and braving the madding crowd to secure those wishes for beloved offspring. In other words, Mum and Dad. We get the ecstatic Thankyou's, the gleeful hugs and kisses we have earned.

(And just in case we have missed a beat and they didn't really want those Superman Boxer Shorts....? Well, they have been well-trained in the art of appreciation anyway...)

May you have a very Merry Appreciative Christmas!
16 December 2012

An Unexpected Christmas (the Movie of my Book)

[Photos taken during filming An Unexpected Christmas by Jerome Box]

This is it. The lovely Movie-version of my humble Christmas book. It "premiered" at Glow tonight, to an audience of nine-and-a-half-thousand. I had goosebumps most of the night and more than anything, felt an overwhelming sense of joy at being part of something so wonderful which shares the timeless story of Jesus' arrival on our planet. I got to help tell the Greatest Story Ever Told. What a privilege.

I suspect you'll like LOVE the movie. It's not just cute and whimsical, clever or creative. There's something more to it which raises the hairs on the back of your neck. And as I watch this over and over I am in awe of my young neighbour who plays "God"... When you watch it you will see what I mean.

[Photos From Glow - taken by Glow Team]

The film is at last up on YouTube and I just couldn't wait to share it with you here on my blog. So watch it. Share it. Get your kids to watch it. Get your kids' friends to watch it... and most of all ENJOY and have a BLESSED CHRISTMAS full of Peace and Joy.

15 December 2012

Christmas Classics: Our Top Ten Movies

This Christmas season we are sharing our favourite feel-good Christmas Movie Classics to help get us all in the festive spirit. We'll also share ideas for seasonal snacks and decorating.

With Christmas approaching rapidly and the kids off school, we thought we'd share with you our Christmas Must-Watch Movie List. We'd love you to share your favourite Christmas movies with us too... so leave us a comment so we can check out your faves...

  1. The Polar Express (We watch this every year; reviewed here)
  2. Elf (Our new favourite; reviewed here)
  3. Arthur Christmas (reviewed here)
  4. The Nativity Story (a great version of the Christmas Story, we watch it every year)
  5. The Grinch (starring Jim Carrey, funny but a bit scary for littlies in parts)
  6. The Santa Clause (reviewed here; the first one is the best but 2 & 3 are cool follow-ups)
  7. Home Alone (funny slapstick comedy - but more meaning than what you'd think at first glance)
  8. The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe (not exactly a Christmas movie but a wonderful magical classic story and it does have Christmas in it)
  9. Miracle on 34th Street (the classic version is lovely; me and Miss Fab love this one.)
  10. A Muppet Christmas Carol (a funny, less scary option than the new Christmas Carol; an oldie but a goodie)

Here's what our experts have to say about their Favourite Christmas Movies.

Dash. B. Cool: "My favourite Christmas movie is Home Alone cos it's funny. The robbers are funny when they keep doing wacky and funny things. That's what makes it cool. I like Home Alone 1 the best but the other one is cool too."

Foxy Fab: "I like the Home Alone movies. I like the first one best. I really want to watch the Muppet Christmas carol this Christmas so i hope she gets it soon!"

Super Scrag: "My favourite Christmas Movie is The Polar Express. I like the train and the Hot Chocolate part. I also like The Grinch but I also like The Santa Clause. He's funny and he gets fat and turns into Santa Claus."


What are your favourite Christmas Movies? Share your faves with us below by leaving a comment... (we're always looking for new Christmas movies to check out)

12 December 2012

My Guide to an UnStressy Christmas

You may have noticed an absence of Christmas crafting posts here on my blog, a dearth of Christmas  recipes, a lack of Christmas how to's. Well noted, those who did. For the rest of you, where have you been? (No seriously, where have you been? It's been awfully quiet around here. Is it like the end of the year or something???)

So I am figuring since it's been so quiet that you are madly rushing around buying presents/baking gingerbread/mulling wine/decking the halls/recreating endless stuff you've found on Pinterest/getting into the holiday spirit...? Yeah me too. Although I have to admit that this year I have taken a very laid back approach to Christmas Fever which is quite unlike me. In years gone by I would have been Advent Calendar-ing and Elf-on-the-Shelfing with the best of them. 

My teeth would be nearly ground to nubs from the sheer effort of trying to drag my family kicking and screaming into the Spirit of Christmas. Whether they liked it or not. Whether they complained or not. Whether it killed me or not.

And of course I would be madly blogging about it all. Photographing every step of creating my glue-gun bunting, recording in painful detail how to wrap the teachers gifts so nicely with cellophane and ribbon.

Now... well I seem to be just playing my Christmas music and looking forward to Glow on Sunday. I haven't even made a Christmas list yet (but 80% of my Christmas shopping is done (though that's a wild guess not an actual fact)).

And as I occasionally browse through Pinterest aimlessly pinning things I know I will never create, I wonder: How's everyone doing out there? Are you surviving the rush or wishing it was over already? Drowning in things to do... or actually enjoying the season? So for what it's worth I thought I'd share with you a random list of things that are helping me enjoy Christmas. And not Stress. And not be tempted to create everything I see on Pinterest.

Here goes...

Simoney's Guide to Surviving (and Enjoying) Christmas

[Peace is the Most important thing; Candles help too]

1. Figure out What's Most Important to You About Christmas (and then use that to reprioritise everything)
Sounds obvious, but sometimes we can get so caught up in the activity of the season that we forget to stop and think: What is this really all for?
Who are the people we most want to spend time with this season? (make time for them)
What are the things we most enjoy doing as a family at this time of the year? (make time for those)

Take stock, take a breath and ditch everything that doesn't add to the enjoyment of Christmas. By which I mean Peace, Joy and a Mother who isn't coming off like a stressed-out Shrew as she tries to accomplish all her seasonal plans for delightful family traditions. (Speaking from experience here, people).

[A Pine Tree and Twinkle lights plus years of collected decorations = the best kind of Tree for us]

2. Find a Way to Connect with the Reason for the Season
For me, I stopped stressing about to-do lists and began actually enjoying the season when I found a way to reconnect with the meaning of Christmas for me, i.e. the Christmas Story

I initially did it by writing a Christmas book for my Children, but I keep that Christmas meaning close to me now in a number of other ways...
  • Christmas Music: This year I have downloaded songs from the Hillsong Christmas albums via iTunes as my old Christmas music was boring me. On iTunes I can pick just the songs I want and make my own mixes. Bonus.
  • Christmas shows: We look forward to Glow - always a magical event - and our church Nativity Play; this along with a few other local events where we can meet friends and relax without too many crowds helps make it feel like Christmas. We'll avoid the crowds and the rush at the major city wide events and stay local.
  • Christmas Books: One year I wrote An Unexpected Christmas; last year made a photobook of all our Christmas memories on Snapfish, as a family gift we open on Christmas Eve. Keep an eye out for specials - I got mine 50% off. I love to add a new Christmas book to our collection each year.
  • Christmas Movies: Watch old favourites and rediscover new ones. This time of year there are lots of Christmas films showing on TV, so plan to record a bunch, or check out Fatso and the classics they have which are hard to find in video stores (I have a free month's trial offer for my readers with code FAMILY45; this is a great time of year to use it)
  • Christmas Giving: we always try to find a way to bless others at Christmas, whether its gifts for kids through City Mission or dropping a hamper off to bless another family or doing chores to earn money for something from the Tear Fund Gift for Life catalogue for some kids in Africa... Blessing others at this time of the year helps offset greed and commercialism (and always leads to great warm fuzzies).
[Spotted at a Cafe: Rudolf cookies = Gingerbread men upside down]

3. Limit Obligations
Sometimes the stress comes from being pulled in too many directions by various obligations. Some of these we can't avoid, but others we can free ourselves from.
For instance, Christmas Cards.
I am just not a Christmas Card person. Never have been.
We send Christmas cards only to my hubby's English family (because they are Very Big in England) but our friends and acquaintances know that if they don't get a card from us, it's not because we don't like them. It's cos we don't do Christmas Cards.
Same with gift giving. We get Christmas Gifts for our immediate family. The children give thankyou gifts to their teachers. Sometimes (if we get around to it) we take cookies to the neighbours.

But there are no obligations. We won't stress ourselves out doing it, we'll just do what we can.

4. Don't Reinvent the Wheel - Take Shortcuts
You can have the fun without all the stress. Don't tear your hair out over a handmade gingerbread house that won't stick together: get a kit from the store (twenty bucks from Kmart). Use store-bought custard and sponge cake for the trifle, a Cowells pavlova, an Aunt Betty's Christmas Pudd.

Sure, do some baking with the kids, mull the wine yourself, but don't feel like you have to do everything from scratch. Take a deep breath... and find a shortcut.

(Oh and here's one that'll save your Christmas Eve: Wrap the presents as you buy them. Don't wait until Christmas Eve and do them all at once. A Thankless back-breaking exercise which is sure to keep you up late wondering why you bought so much stuff. Wrap-as-you-go lets you just chill and enjoy Christmas Eve, mulled wine, (store-bought) Christmas mince tarts and candlelight...)

5. Don't Compare to Others, but Fill the House with Christmas in your own way
The danger of sites like Pinterest is that we can start to compare our efforts to the awesomeness we see there. Down this road of comparison lies discontent and disatisfaction. Don't go there.
Sure, look for inspiration on the net, on Pinterest, on crafty blogs... but don't let it make you feel like your Christmas efforts are not "enough".

Instead fill your house with a sense of the season, your special memories and things that mean Christmas to you. Whether it's your childrens' old kindy decorations, burning scented candles, stringing up some twinkle lights, decorating a real pine tree (for that Christmas scent) with the decorations you've collected through the years (or some humble glue-gun Christmas bunting). 

But most of all... think PEACE. Think JOY. Think LOVE. If anything on your list hinders these things, it's maybe time to edit your to-do list....? 

So what if we've ticked off doing all the Christmas activities and traditions from our list but we've exhausted ourselves in the process and can't wait til the whole jolly rigmarole is over. Sometimes less is more.

Now go and have a beautiful blessed unstressy Christmas. xx

(This year I have added the joy of spray glue to my Glue-Gun Queen repertoire with my new nifty no-sew Christmas Bunting. I sprayed glue onto felt and then pressed gingham and and a bit of old lavalava onto the felt, to stiffen it and make it double-sided. Then I cut out triangle flags and glue gunned them onto white bias binding, on two sides. You'd never know it wasn't stitched. No fraying or curling. The whole thing took me 30 minutes, while I watched The Grinch with Scrag. I just felt like trying out my idea for spray glue so I dug around in my leftovers box and voila! Cost = ZIP)

Favourite Stories from past Christmases about finding the meaning...