Christmas in Oz

December 2nd, 2009

by Christine Holroyd

australia-christmasMy parents separated many years ago, so I try to juggle things there, and my brother lives in Western Australia, too far away. We don’t get to see him for Christmas any more, which saddens me somewhat. My Dad usually spends Christmas Eve with us, staying overnight; and lately, we’ve had lovely evening walks to look at the decorations on the homes around the area; or we drive to other locations to view them. We have to wait till about 9 p.m., because it is still so light here until late – and often it tends to be quite balmy outside. Lovely!

On Christmas Day, Father Christmas continues the tradition of placing a sack of toys at the foot of Charlotte’s bed. Often it is filled with smaller things, and the larger gift is waiting in the lounge room by the Christmas tree. We have a gift opening session, but usually wait for Mum to arrive. Mum and Dad are fine in one another’s company, which makes it nice for Charlotte in particular to have her Grandad and Nanna around on Christmas morning.  Then Dad spends his afternoon with our lifelong friends and we take Mum with us to Peter’s sisters for a gathering with his family.

Peter prepares sushi on Christmas Eve to take along to add to the delicious and healthy array of food that his sister has prepared. Lots of salads and a BBQ for the meat eaters. We usually sit outdoors to eat our tucker. Gift giving is kept to a minimum. Peter has 8 sisters and a brother, so his Dad prepares a list each year and lets us know who we are buying a gift for. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see the whole family, but still it is a grand affair. So long as it isn’t wet, we play some sort of ball game, maybe fly a kite, and sit about having good conversation, good wine with the food and plenty of laughs.

Boxing Day is usually a ‘drop in’ day at our home from mid-morning to evening time, for anyone at a loose end. Good food and conversation outdoors is to be had yet again, with a game of table tennis thrown in afterwards and trampolining for the kids. Before and after Christmas, we continue to do the rounds of the homes in the evening, with their beautiful decorations, at Charlotte’s request. We also keep adding to our own collection and I have always loved the sparkles, so the more lights the better from my perspective. I’m still a kid at heart.

In closing, I must say that for me, Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas over here because it is usually warm and it gets dark quite late. I personally love cold, snow-filled Christmases, snuggling in front of a fire, looking out at the lights from early evening, but still it is a time of fun, laughter and family gatherings which I thoroughly enjoy at anytime of the year.

I hope wherever you are and whatever you do in your neck of the woods, that yours is a truly magical one.

christine
Today’s guest post was written by Christine Holroyd, of Gippsland, Australia. You can read more of this “whacky and hyper” mum’s adventures on her blog
, gippsygirl.com

A Welsh Christmas from Down Under

November 30th, 2009

littlechris

by Christine Holroyd

I have wonderful strong memories of my cold, Welsh Christmases. Snow, sparkling lights and early, dark nights. We’d have snowball fights, and Mum tells me I can’t remember the times I used to cry and feel miserable because I was so cold. Despite my strong memory of many things from as early as two years old, that is not one of them.

My name is Christine Holroyd and I live in an area called West Gippsland in Australia. I moved from Wales, UK when I was 4 years old with my Mum, Dad and older brother. The countryside here in Winter with snow on the local mountains is very reminiscent of the beautiful area I came from, so after years of traveling, this is the place I now call home, living with my partner, Peter; our 4 year old daughter, Charlotte; and one of Peter’s three older children (and his mates) from time to time.

We arrived from Wales, all those years ago, by ship after one month at sea to a heat wave in this area. I seemed to adapt instantly and find that I love extremes in weather. We were blessed to have a home to go to, and Dad had a job, due to his correspondence with some people from this area. They are still our good friends to this day; and so our new Christmas Tradition began.

Christmas Day would be at their place and Boxing Day at our home then the next year we’d swap. Firstly, I’d wake up at home to a pillow case full of goodies at the foot of my bed from Father Christmas. What a treat! My brother and I would head into Mum and Dads room with our sacks and open things delightedly in front of them on the bed. I loved the fun and frivolity of it all. Without fail there would be an apple and mandarin in with our toys. I think I would have been quite upset had Father Christmas forgotten them, but he never disappointed.

Then it was time to open things around the Christmas tree in the lounge, sent from relatives living in England and Canada, as well as giving Mum and Dad their gifts. Then we’d excitedly head off for another gift opening session around our friends’ Christmas tree; and then it was outside for the start of a cricket match, no matter how hot.

We’d play until lunchtime, which was at a long table inside with Christmas crackers to snap open, and wonderful food to eat. Lots of laughter around the table and maybe another game of cricket or some relaxation after lunch. As we got older (and to this day on the odd occasion that I spend Christmas with this family), we would play some fun board game after a very light evening meal of leftovers… having spent the day much the same way as when I was a child.

Now that I’m a Mum, Christmas is still so much fun… but the emphasis is on Charlotte and hopefully giving her some wonderful memories to look back on.

Visit Christine’s blog, Gippsygirl.com, to find out more about “the musings of a Whacky and Hyper Mum” down under… or, from Christine’s perspective, right side up!

Christine Holroyd © 2009
gippsygirl.com

Hitting the Forest Trail

November 29th, 2009

woodsHitting the forest trail is one of the best family activities to do, during the Christmas season. It doesn’t matter whether you have 3 feet of snow, which we usually do in the Canadian north (we resort to cross-country skies – though I’ve always preferred snowshoes) or a light dusting “barely enough to cool a Hobbit’s toes”, as J.R. R. Tolkien once famously said.  The air in a winter forest seems to clean out every cell of your body, invigorating your lungs.

And one other reason my frugal dad like it as a family activity: it’s free!

If you live in the city, there’s sure to be a park large enough to have some forest paths. If you don’t mind traveling, or if you live in the countryside, just look for your nearest State forest in the U.S., or County forest in Canada.

The peace you find in a winter forest is a wonderful antidote for the stress of 21st century life, and there’s always the lure of finding out what’s round the next bend…

I believe in teaching children early to respect and enjoy nature (and wildlife). They’ll never learn it, unless they learn it from you. Besides, you can do things like gather pine cones in the forest, and make easy Christmas ornaments, when you get home.

pinecone-ornamentsWalks in the forest with my dad are just a beautiful, precious memory for me now. He’s been dead for many years and my walking days are past, thanks to disability. But I’m lucky:  I live in a little cabin in the woods, surrounded by forest. I only have to open my door to hear the whispering of the trees and the rushing of the wind; and then I remember the fun I had as a child, on those family walks, long ago.

So if you make it to a State or County forest this winter, take a walk for me. ;)

Making Christmas Ornaments from Marshmallows

November 28th, 2009

kaths-snowballMaking Christmas ornaments from marshmallows is one of the simpler ways of having some craft fun with your children or grandchildren. Going through my photographs, I found a picture of this marshmallow tree decoration my granddaughter Katherine made a few years ago. I remember how much fun she had, making it, and how proud she was of the results. So I’ve put it on the list of craft ideas to explore with her little sister, Emily,  next week.

Since Katherine made this one at school, it got me suddenly thinking about public school teachers, and how much we take it for granted when our kids come home with projects like this. Having been doing crafts with Emily for the last 3 weeks, I’m beginning to have some appreciation of the preparation – though ideas are everywhere around us!

But these little ornaments truly are easy to make. And you’ll have a lovely decoration at the end of your craft session, (providing your `Emily’ hasn’t eaten all the marshmallows!)

  • You need:
  • Styrofoam balls
  • Ribbon, cut into 9″ pieces
  • Large beaded-end dress-making pins (multi-colored beads work best)
  • Miniature marshmallows

1. Stick a pin through the center of the ribbon and into your styrofoam ball, so that each end is identical in length. Tie knot at top. (Now you have a loop, for hanging your ornament on the tree.)

2. Push one marshmallow on each pin, then push pin with marshmallow into styrofoam ball, as far as it will go.  Repeat, until entire ball is covered, making sure all the marshmallows are packed tightly together.

3. Hang ornament on tree.

Simple, isn’t it?

But, knowing Emily, I won’t be surprised if she wants us to make Polar bears, snowmen and who knows what else, besides!

Homemade Christmas Decorations 101

November 27th, 2009

cdsJust a quick post today, for those looking for tips on how to make homemade Christmas decorations.  Favecraft has a  section on how to make Christmas ornaments of all shapes and types – from ones made out of old CD’s (a wonderfully green way to dispose of them) to a Santa with a textured beard.

I get a lot of my craft ideas from Favecraft. You can find the decorations page by clicking on the underlined direct link, below:

Favecraft Decorations Page

Have fun!

A Very Unusual Christmas Ornament

November 26th, 2009

CharlieToday – on Thanksgiving – I received a very unusual Christmas Decoration. When I put my Christmas tree up, I’ll be blessed by a very special little boy smiling at me from my tree. His name is Charlie, and he has Down syndrome.

How did I get to meet Charlie? Through Reece’s Rainbow, a non-profit organization that helps fund families wishing to travel to foreign countries, to adopt high-risk children who would most likely otherwise not find a home.

Many of these children don’t just have Down syndrome, but suffer from other conditions such as FAS, or severe birth deformities and health challenges like Treacher-Collins syndrome.

In many countries, there is still real social stigma against such children (often aggravated by economic conditions that don’t allow families to adopt high needs children). By comparison, we’re very fortunate in North America – even in these current economic times.

No Shortage of Families Wishing to Adopt

Americans have opened up their hearts to these children, and there is no shortage of families wishing to adopt! The cost of overseas travel and other high associated expenses are often a huge barrier, however.  And that’s exactly what Reece’s Rainbow is working to eliminate – by accepting donations for many individual “high risk” children to help their prospective new families bring them home.

I asked Andrea Roberts, the director of Reece’s, what she meant by “high risk”. She explained that many children are only given adequate care during babyhood. At a certain point (depending on the country and area) these children are shipped off to institutions, where there is very little one-on-one interaction, therapy or treatment for special needs.

You can donate to help a child unite with an adoptive “forever” family any time – and there is no commitment to sign up for regular donations. Any amount, any time, is welcome: But Reece’s Rainbow is making a special push to raise $1,000 towards each child’s adoption fund by Christmas for this predominantly “high risk” group.

A Lovely Surprise

Today, as a thanks for helping Charlie, I received a beautiful ornament decorated with his photo to put on my tree.  I immediately rushed to the special Christmas page, to see how his little fund (empty when I sent my gift) was coming along. When I first checked out the page and sent a gift for little Charlie only a few short weeks ago, there was less than a $100 total on the entire page in donations.

But if you go to Reece’s Rainbow’s special Christmas page today, prepare to have your heart thoroughly warmed by the results for each of these beautiful children – a true testament to North American generosity!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Holiday Wreaths for Toddlers

November 25th, 2009

ursula
Today’s guest post is courtesy of my daughter Ursula – the best mom I’ve ever seen! This is just one of the ways in which Ursula entertained 2 ½ year old Leo Michael today…

You will need:
leo-michael

  • 1 paper plate
  • Non-toxic craft glue or double-sided tape
  • Green construction paper
  • Red construction paper

Cut the center out of the paper plate, so that only the rim remains. This will be the base for your wreath.

wreathNext, trace child’s hand on the scrap cardboard from center of plate.  Cut out hand shape, and use as a template.

Trace hand template on green construction paper many times.

Cut green hand prints. These will be the leaves of your wreath!

Cut circles from red paper to use as ornaments.

First, have child adhere leaves to base.  Afterwards, attach ornaments.

For a creative twist, try using festive wrapping paper, old Christmas cards or stickers for ornaments. The sky is the limit!

Ursula Miller-Gareri  © 2009

Christmas Activities for Children: The Hidden Benefits

November 24th, 2009

clowning-aroundThere’s one huge hidden benefit to creating and getting involved in Christmas activities for children. Even though they initially might insist they want to watch the latest mesmerizing program on TV (and you feel tired enough to secretly want this yourself), you’ll find you won’t have to handcuff them, to get them hooked into a Christmas activity.

Children are by nature creatures of the moment, ready to be distracted into having fun any time – and they secretly love having your full attention.

A simple  way to do it – help them make easy Christmas crafts. And that doesn’t just apply to girls – boys like to do crafts too (though they won’t often admit it.) The secret is to lay out your craft supplies, get started – and watch them join in.

The big key to a successful craft session lies in resisting any urge you might have to take over and do the crafts for them. Don’t criticize their choice of colors, or try to force them to apply adult standards of good design taste. Just to provide them with the materials and be there beside them, to answer questions, teach safe procedures, help when asked – and most of all, just share the moment.

cherriesOne of the best hidden benefits in making time for special Christmas activities with children is not only the memory you create for both of you, but the time you invest in listening.

When little hands are busy, tongues start to chatter. You may hear more about what’s going on in their lives – sometimes really startling things, like the problem they’re having with the bully on the school bus or the trouble they’re having with their eyesight – than you ever would by asking.

Consider It an Investment…

It also builds self-confidence as they tackle new tasks (carefully supervised by you) -  and find themselves rewarded for their efforts with your genuine praise.  The more you interact with a child in a positive, happy way, the healthier and more secure an adult you’ll turn out.

There are other activities you can share with your children:

  • Wrapping presents
  • Decorating
  • Christmas baking
  • Having your own little Christmas party
  • Having a doll Christmas party
  • Singing carols

No matter how busy your life is or how exhausted you feel, stopping the madness to invest in and help children you love on their journey towards turning into becoming  independent, happy adults is the greatest gift you could ever give them – and yourself!

Isn’t that worth taking time for? :)

Dysfunctional Family Christmas Gift Ideas

November 23rd, 2009

chicken-soupAlthough our family of artists, writers, musicians (and one lonely little plumber) are occasionally viewed as “eccentric”, probably only 100% left-brained people would be quick to label all of us, except one, as truly “dysfunctional”. (And that one isn’t the plumber!)

However, a traumatic family event with a bittersweet ending prompted me to submit a story – under a pen name – to Chicken Soup for the Soul: All In The Family, which promptly got accepted.

I received my copies of the book just the other week. I laughed when I saw the subtitle:  “101 Incredible Stories about Our Funny, Quirky, Lovable & Dysfunctional Families.”  (Emphasis mine – I’ll admit, I thought: “No wonder my story got accepted for that particular volume.”)

Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family is not your run-of-the-mill Chicken Soup fare. Nestled among the hilariously funny, warm and fuzzy ones you’ll find a batch of incredibly poignant heart-breakers featuring truly traumatic events caused by alcoholism, abuse, mental illness, poverty… the sort of candid stuff Chicken Soup doesn’t usually admit even exists. But the ultimate effect is the same as ever: Inspiring, healing, elevating – and entertaining. It’s easy to while away the time reading these rich personal stories.

My favorite story – and it’s not mine – is one where the Christmas turkey accidentally got stuffed with marijuana by unsuspecting, strait-laced parents. (And I’m pretty strait-laced, myself!)

Jack Canfield must have been a little nervous about this departure from Chicken Soup’s apple-pie image, but he needn’t have worried. Within a couple of weeks of its release, I received a letter from publisher Amy Newark saying: “We had to do a second printing before we even got to the on-sale date of October 20th! We have had an amazing start with the book, with strong sales the first week…” and that it had been “chosen by our distributors for our special stand-alone Christmas displays, which you will see at CVS and other stores around Thanksgiving.

But it doesn’t matter whether your favorite stories involve Animals, Angels, Sports, Moms, Dads, Kids or even Truly Dysfunctional Families – I am reminded that Chicken Soup books make great Christmas gifts . (There’s even a “Christmas” version out in the book shops, right now!)

And even better, they make great holiday reading.

Easy Christmas Cookie Recipes: Gwen’s Melt-In-Your-Mouth Shortbread

November 22nd, 2009

christmas-shortbreadAnother family recipe – this time from the Canadian side. Of all the Christmas cookie recipes on the planet, this one has to be the easiest. It comes to us courtesy of my mother-in-law. Gwen worked as primary breadwinner most of her adult life, and has always been proud of Not Being Domestic.

However, while I’d never dare dispute that claim, I have to point out that she is also the most hospitable woman on the planet, always ready to host guests, entertain or donate a batch of cookies or a casserole to church functions, those in need or family parties.

How do you combine the gift of hospitality with Not Being Domestic?  You create or find the easiest recipes on the planet - that’s how!

Gwen’s Easy Christmas Shortbread are as much a part of our traditional Christmas fare as barszcz and pierogies. This is what you nibble not only on Christmas Eve, but for days afterward (while you’re too full to really want much else).

These are especially good with coffee and a tangerine…

Ingredients:

  • ½lb. butter, softened
  • ½ cup brown Sugar
  • 2 ½ cups flour

emmy-2-cookiesCream butter till soft.  Add brown sugar in small quantities, cream well till smooth.  Beat in flour in small quantities, up to about 2 cups.  Turn out onto floured board, knead in remaining ½ cup flour.  Roll.  Cut shapes with cookie cutter.  Prick with fork.  Decorate with red and green glazed cherry halves, if desired.

Bake at 350° for 15-20 minutes, till very lightly browned.