11 December 2014

Christmas for the Five Senses (when you're unChristmassy)

I may have struggled with feeling un-Christmassy in Christmases past, but those old grinchy years aint got nothing on this year. Really and truly, I am the most un-Christmassy I've ever ever been - at least since having kids, anyway.

I've been trying to figure out the reason and have narrowed the culprits down to two main causes:
  1. My kids are getting older. NONE of them believe in Santa anymore - not a single one. The magical wide-eyed wonder of the Christmas season has dimmed in their eyes; hence, the dimming of wonder in my own. When the kids were little, I got to relive the childhood magic of Christmas through them. Now that it is waning for them, it has waned for me too.
  2. I'm now a working mum - I am still working right up to the 19th of December. There's no time for Christmas crafting, creating or leisurely browsing of festively decorated malls. For me it's the mad scramble to fit it all in before the deadline.
Hence, no magic.

I'll bet there's got to be a few of you out there, who for various reasons (like me) have lost the Christmas Spark. In the hurry flurry of mall-madness and To-Do lists, is it any wonder that the Christmas Spirit has gone AWOL for some of us?

In an effort to recapture the old lost magic, I was browsing through a few of my old Christmas posts and came across one that really spoke to me, and I thought since I am both time-and-inspiration poor these days, I'd share it again in a bid to recapture some of my old Christmas zing.

It might just spark something for us reluctant Grinches. So making an encore from Christmas 2011, here is...


I decided the other week that Christmas really is a celebration for all five senses.
Sight, taste, smell, hearing, touch.

For the eyes, there have been the sights of Christmas: watching favourite Christmas movies (like The Nativity Story, Polar Express), the spectacle of 10,000 glowsticks lighting up Vector Arena, blinking Christmas lights, decorations everywhere you look... Christmas is a visual feast.

My ears have soaked up the sounds of Christmas - new Christmas songs which ushered in the season with joy and old favourites which have moved me to tears.

The smells of Christmas filled our home - our pine Christmas tree, the whiff of cloves hung on doorhandles. The aroma of baking tarts and glazing ham, mulling wine and roasting turkey. Each scent evokes the ghosts of Christmas past; reviving memories, reminding us how fast the years are flying by.

The taste of Christmas is still to come. Oh the Christmas goodies. The loosened belts, the groaning bellies {and please oh please some Lindt Chocolates in my stocking?}

What about  the touch of Christmas? If Christmas is for the five senses, where does touch fit in? Is it in the creating, the crafting, the baking, the making? Well, yes.

Or is it most especially in the giving? The way your life touches another as you reach out and give a gift? Show you care? Share what you have? YES!

Christmas is  more about touch than anything else, I realised.
And my kids are watching me. Watching us.

Dash had his eyes opened the other day as we were driving back from dropping off the gear to the City Mission.
"Mum there were real poor people there," he said to me as he climbed back into the car.
The line had stretched out the door, people queuing up for help at Christmas.
There followed a whole discussion about why they needed help, and how we are blessed to have enough to share with those who don't, and why we give.
"Son," Mr G said, "One day you'll find out that giving is actually more of a buzz than getting. Really."

I looked at my husband and I knew he was speaking truth out of his heart. He lives it, he's not just spouting an idea. I felt grateful to be married to a generous man, who is modeling generosity and philanthropy to our children.

They see when we give to those in need. They'll remember how we make time as a family at Christmas to collect gifts and household items and take them to the City Mission.
They'll be storing up memories of how they helped fill up a shopping trolley with Christmas treats and delivered it to friends who needed a boost.

They are learning that THIS IS JUST WHAT WE DO AT CHRISTMAS.
It's as much a part of Christmas as decorating the tree and eating candy canes.
We give. Share. Reach out. Touch.
And in doing that, we discover the real JOY of Christmas.


In my time-poor, magic-diminished Christmas I can increase my Christmas spirit by surrounding my five senses with Christmasness. I can take my family to pick out a live tree from a Christmas tree farm, even if I don't feel like it. Watch the Nativity Movie to remind myself of the reason for the season. Take friends to see our church's production of Scrooge*.

I can throw an impromptu Christmas party after school for the kids I work with and their parents, creating lasting memories for them. (Photos in this post are from that party which I literally threw together after I finished work at 11am today.)

And finally I can give. Of myself. Of the money I've earned. Find someone to bless and make a difference to their Christmas.

(And if I'm still not feeling it, I'll download some Pentatonix Christmas hits. "Mary Did You Know" is a guaranteed chill-inducer.)

*"Scrooge" is on this Sunday at the Aotea Centre 10am and 5pm. Tickets $5 with all proceeds going to a very good cause, just can't remember what it is! If you want to come let me know!

How about you? How's the Christmas Spirit levels at your place?

04 December 2014

Grateful in December

Eek, December??!! How on earth did that happen?
I'm kind of a little bit in shock.

As the end of the year hurtles towards me and the season-which-shall-remain-nameless MUST be named (Christmas - there I said it) I have decided to begin the last month of the year with a bit of Grateful Therapy.
I mean, I know November is the traditional month for thanksgiving and all, but I'm a little slow. So bear with me, as I give thanks for the blessings in my life.

Firstly, I am thankful for the Chicken Pox. What?? Yes, you heard me. I am THANKFUL FOR CHICKEN POX. Scrag came out in spots last Friday, he's the last member of our family to ever have the pox, so he and I have been in quarantine this week. No work for me, no school for him. Aside from the itchy suffering of my poor wee lad (which has now abated thank goodness) this has been an amazing time to just catch my breath. therefore I am grateful for the pox.

Grateful I've gotten to spend a week at home with the sweetest little lad you could ever wish for. Grateful I've had time and space to do some serious DIY in preparation for the imminent arrival of Grandma et al. Grateful I've been able to go at my own pace, and just be home at this time of the year.
It may be slightly weird but I am indeed grateful for Chicken Pox.

Next on my list, I am grateful for prayers answered. Living breathing miracles do happen, people. When you are a parent and you are worried about one of your offspring, it is a wonderful thing to know you can call out to the One who knows that child best and ask for help. Believing - deep down in my gut believing - that the One who made the hugeness of the Universe holds my child in His hands is beyond comforting.

Especially when those cries for help are ANSWERED. When you pray for someone to come alongside your child, a mentor, a listening ear. Someone who your anxious child can talk to when they don't want to talk to you. And then, the coolest young man, who you have known since he was a kid, OF HIS OWN VOLITION comes alongside your child. Takes time out to come over and hang out, listens, talks, gives advice, and says: "I was just like you when I was your age; I know what that's like, I get it..." And your child, who worries about the future looks at this awesome young man and says, "He was like me, and look at him now." And that child begins to Hope.

Well, I call that a miracle and an answered prayer. And I am so so very beyond grateful.
Grateful to this wonderful young man and grateful to God who sent him to us.

More to be grateful for: I was born in New Zealand. What are the odds?
I was driving along though our city the other night and it hit me, the chances of being born in this beautiful country are teeny tiny. There are, after all, only FOUR MILLION of us Kiwis here in Godzone. That's a drop in the ocean of the human population. China and India have villages with bigger populations than that!

But somehow I got to be born in this beautiful land, a free country, where I can believe what I want to believe, wear what I want to wear, get an education and pursue my dreams. When I or my family get sick we don't have to worry about losing everything because the Government (who we are free to disagree with without fear of arrest) has got it covered. My child who is always at the emergency clinic with injury after injury? Covered. Medical treatment = FREE. Education = FREE.
We have beaches, mountains, green spaces wherever we turn. We live in Paradise. And I am so so grateful.

And then it's Christmas. I am summoning my grateful and in spite of the fact that I am the least Christmassy I have EVER been, I am deciding to focus on the REASON for the season.

Just this morning I received an email from a church in Alabama who, tonight, are performing my Christmas story for their community. It's amazing. My little story is being performed around the world! I'm so grateful.

There's so much more I could say but I really need to get out of my PJs and get my girlie to the (free) fracture clinic to check her broken toe. Yep, it's all go round here. But I'm taking my Grateful with me.

How bout you? Watcha grateful for lately??
28 November 2014

Our Epic Hunger Games Party

Here it is at last - Dash's 12th birthday Hunger Games party which has consumed my imagination (and creative energies) for months. As a total Hunger Games fan (the books AND the movies) this was a party I got so excited about creating. Right from the start I knew just what I wanted it to be: a water battle in our backyard arena (complete with cardboard cornucopia) and then hanging out in our very own Hob where we would indulge in delights from Mellark's Bakery and cook fresh rabbit (AKA chicken) over the fire...

Here's how it went.

Creating the Atmosphere (decorating)

The Hob (for the uninitiated) is the place in District 12 where Katniss first finds her Mockingjay pin. It's where she goes to sell the squirrel/birds/rabbit she shoots; it's the Black Market where people from the district trade illegally. It's grotty and dingy... and fun to recreate in our carport with the help of pallets from the dump, coffee sacks from Geoff's Emporium ($2 a pop) and a bit of graffiti/stencilling...

The lemonade stand was reworked into a rustic version of itself, with the drink dispenser sitting pretty on a log I found under the deck and the extra straws in a clean-but-rusty tin can. The "refreshments" sign ("no tesserae required") was a piece of leftover rotten decking, swiftly hand-lettered with old housepaint, to match the one I threw together for "The Hob".

I individualised my mini milk bottles with printable labels from each district, to make it easy for kids to keep track of their bottle. (Printables here; paper Straws from KiwiCakes).

The Mockingjay symbol was stencilled onto sacking using housepaint and an old rag; I used an old door and stapled-up black building paper as the background for yet more graffiti: the ironic rebels slogan, "The odds are NEVER in our favor" (from Catching Fire when Katniss spots the symbol and words flashing by the train).

On the other side of the carport we have Mellark Bakery - you know, the one belonging to Peeta's family? Peeta Mellark??? (printable sign and and bread wrappers here)

The Plan
Such a simple Plan. The tributes arrive dressed in black (if they read their invitation), and hang out in the Hob until all are assembled.

Then we have a Reaping to determine which Tribute represents which District (actually predetermined with names written on District slips ahead of time). Each tribute receives a wristband with a hand-stamped District tag. This represents their life in the Games. It also helps them keep track of which drink bottle is theirs.

The idea is that when the Games (water battle) begins you have to preserve/protect your own "life" while collecting other Tributes' lives on your other arm. Once your "life" is gone you are out of the games. And a cannon will sound (a sound effect I found on iTunes). The tally of points will be recorded on the blackboard (more points for staying in longer, extra points for collecting "lives"); the Victors will be determined by the points and receive a handy stencilled Mockingjay gear bag filled with treats.

We'd invited twelve Tributes, one for each of the Districts (appropriate since Dash was turning twelve), but on the day we were one Tribute short... so I came up with a cute plan. We wrote Scrag's name down on the slip for District Twelve and when his name was reaped, he pretended to quake with fear and his brave big sister stepped forward and said: "I volunteer as tribute!" Sound familiar? Haha.

To help the tributes battle it out I prepared a cardboard box cornucopia - what else? - with gear bags, water guns, water bombs etc spilling out...

The Tributes waited on their pedestals (foil plates, in circle) until the gun went off and then... let the Games begin (and may the odds be EVER in your favor!)...

The Action

Once the start cannon sounded, it was all on. Water water everywhere. It proved pretty hard to take people's lives off them: the kids must have actually listened to the pep talk the Gamemaker (Mr G) had given them about "no kicking, no punching, no dangerous tackling..."

So mostly they just threw water at each other and had a blast...

If things got a bit crazy the Gamemaker intervened with his hose... (no lives were lost)

Did I mention that we spent all of Friday afternoon and evening putting up a 16-foot pool in our backyard? 19,000 litres of water and all day/night to fill. But it was worth the sting on our water bill.
Even though it was freezing (because our spring has been PATHETIC and the sun was not shining) the kids did not care...

Luckily I'd also told them to bring a change of clothes... (luckily most of them actually read their invitations).

What can I say? It was EPIC. Not quite to plan because they all played super nice and were therefore hard to "kill" but in the end it didn't matter because they all had FUN and got super duper wet.

Which was a good thing we had a nice fire going in the Hob to get them all warmed up aye?

Food and Drink
Hungry, thirsty twelve-year-old tributes need a lot of sustenance. On offer we had...

"Burning coal" chocolate cupcakes and Nightlock berry bites 

TO DRINK: delicious green tea  sugar-free nightlock berry punch...

and Capitol WATER... (until someone stole the supplies for the water battle)...

 Delicious crusty loaves from Mellark Bakery...

A gratuitous fruit offering in the form of orange segments, and some Cola Rollers (from Kiwicakes) in a cool-as metal gumball machine...

And of course, we served up fresh rabbit (shot by Katniss this morning)...

We cooked our "rabbit" skewers over the fire...

And also sizzled sausages...

Hunger Games Party - cooking sausages over the fire

... to munch on with Mellark's finest bread...

Hunger Games Party - sausages in Mellark Bakery Bread

...and finished off our feast by toasting marshmallows.

Hunger Games Party - cooking over the fire in the Hob

You just can't beat toasting marshmallows.

Toasting marshmallows

When all was said and done, we brought out the Mockingjay birthday cake...

Mockingjay birthday cake

It looks OK now but what a drama I had making this cake! It was all coming together and then, I messed it up. Luckily I was able to save it with the help of some melted barley sugar flames. I'll be sharing that story soon: how NOT to kill a Mockingjay cake.

Hunger games birthday party

Back to the party (which by now is winding down); there was an attempt to light the candles before the wind blew them out... the birthday song was sung and some very sweet speeches were made by the birthday boy and his friends to each other.

Favors: Mockingjay pendants with printable district tags

Parents arrived, tributes received their "Thank you for coming" Mockingjay pendants (which I found on this awesome Etsy shop; you can contact the owner directly for supplies) and we waved goodbye...

[I stencilled the bags with a Mockingjay - how to's here]
All that was left was to have a sleepover with three friends and go to see the much-anticipated MOCKINGJAY movie to finish the day (woop). Nobody won the Hunger Games*** so we took the unclaimed Victors bags of treats with us, one per sleepover guest (they were stencilled with Mockingjays and everything).

The party was over. We survived the Hunger Games with no loss of life or limb. It was crazy, it was wet, it was noisy, it was EPIC.

And the birthday boy called it "an unforgettable day" (on his IG birthday selfie). Which is what matters most after all.


*** Haymitch actually says this to Katniss in Catching Fire. "Nobody WINS the Hunger Games. You SURVIVE the Hunger Games..." Ironic much?)