December 30, 2012

I'm dreaming of a Wet Christmas

Am I the only person this side of the equator who rugged up in a big woolly cardigan and ugg boots on Christmas day?

I had imagined we would spend Christmas afternoon on the beach, as we usually do, running quickly on tippy toes across hot sand to the cool spot where the waves fizz out on the shoreline and snoozing sporadically under the shade of our beach umbrella, a few ham sandwiches chilling in the esky and the kids digging holes to China in the wet sand.

Instead, we put Francesca to bed, snuggled up on the sofa with a cup of tea and some fruitcake, and watched movies while the rain pelted down outside. Did I say pelted? I mean pelted, bucketed and poured from the sky. Rain, rain and more rain. Flowing like tequila at a hen's night.

And it was lovely.

This Christmas was always going to be different, our first without John's mum, our beloved matriarch who passed away in March. The rest of the extended family were scattered around the country, hunkering down in their own family units. We were happy to hunker. The weather was perfect for hunkering.

We had a big dinner on Christmas Eve with family and a few friends, our giant timber dining table groaning on it's railway sleeper legs under turkey, ham and all the other usual gastronomic suspects. I made a coconut and brown sugar pavlova and our friend Susie made a batch of wicked chocolate ice cream and some white chocolate champagne sponge cakes. We were sitting out on the deck when the rain started drumming  on the tin roof overhead; it was going to be a wet old night for Santa and the reindeer to be going about their business.

Our mornings always start with a 6 on the clock due to early rising offspring and Christmas morning was no different. We let the kids open one present each and an early morning bike ride in search of a swing, a surf and a coffee seemed in order. We are fortunate in that the local bakery is owned by some friendly neighbourhood Cambodians whose religion doesn't include an immaculate conception and a home birth attended by shepherds, and therefore have no problem making we Christian folk a cappuccino and a chocolate croissant on Christmas morning.

But because I actually do think that it's important to acknowledge and celebrate the real reason for Christmas, off to 8am mass we went. I love the Christmas Day service, not least of all because one gets to sing Christmas hymns unabashedly at the top of one's voice. But it's also a beautiful time to reflect on the year ahead. Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, celebrates a new life.

New life.

To me that means we all get another chance. To live gracefully. To love fully. To forgive wholeheartedly, including ourselves. To be the best possible person we can be. That's what I reflected on as I belted out Silent Night and tried to stop Francesca from licking the coins for the collection plate.

I usually get a little bah-humbug and nervy around Christmas. I think it's the general sense of being overwhelmed - trying to choose the perfect gifts for everybody, making sure I remember everyone and stashing away a few extra generic gifts to reciprocate unexpected gifts from someone else, negotiating menus and grocery lists for the big day, and the night before and the day after when all the supermarkets will be closed - it all leaves me feeling a bit short of breath and jittery. I blame the mall. I once got stuck in the car park at the local shopping mall for 45 minutes, unable to find a free space and unable to leave. In my nightmares I'm the fourth wise man who can't find a spot to park my camel in crowded Bethlehem and baby Jesus leaves town without my gift of tinned shortbread.

I'm kidding. Sort of. I do get overwhelmed and nervous though. By December 24th I'm desperately seeking Christmas, determinedly humming carols while wrapping presents and trying to find the Christmas spirit in the faces of Lisa Wilkinson and Karl Stefanovic as they host Carols by Candlelight on the TV. Every year I feel I have to hunt Christmas down and wrestle it to the ground, pinning it down and sucking the spirit out of it by force.

It always come to me eventually though, the spirit. Usually when the TV and all the lights are off, except those of the slowly blinking Christmas tree, and I'm writing messages of love and hope on the cards for my children and husband. The stillness, the specialness, of Christmas creeps up on me then and wraps itself around me and I realise I didn't need to chase it down after all.

This year, with all of its strange difference to Christmases past - no big trip to the family heartland in Melbourne, no Dorothy, no massive lunch to prepare - was certainly calmer in the lead up, but I still had to wait for the spirit to come to me. This year, however, I decided to let it in without the mad chase.

How was your Christmas? Do you feel the same as me or are you simply bursting with Christmas spirit from the moment those chocolate coins appear in Coles? If the latter, tell me your secret. I'll pay you. In chocolate coins.

Here's our Christmas in pictures:

December 14, 2012

Bowling & Babycinos

I'm indulging in a bit of "alliterative title poaching" from my friend Mauz, whose blog Mauz & Sparky is hilarious and clever in the extreme (hers is one of those wine-worthy blogs - you know, the ones where you pour yourself a cheeky chardonnay, settle in for a good read and end up snorting said chardonnay through nostrils as you guffaw through each post). Mauz loves a bit of alliteration as her most recent post Bridges, Brides & Bucket Lists will attest. I daresay she is also partial to the occasional rhyming couplet (Manbags, Gypsy's Rags & Wet Stags anyone?)

Anyhoo, don't go visiting Mauz just yet. I've got stuff to tell you!

As I mentioned in my last post, we decided to partake of a little Barraclough-style therapy and head up the coast for a week with our two youngest kids. It's been quite a year, with the death of my beloved mother in law in March being the lowest point, and some other issues that we will just put under the heading of "What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger (and Drunker)".

We also discovered that there is a juvenile equivalent to the Fat, Forty & Fired mid-life crisis that some men go through. It's called Nine, Nervous & Not Quite Right and our Jack was the poster boy. But instead of solving it by getting him a younger wife and a Ferrari, we loaded up the car with fishing gear, surfboards and Minties and went to Crescent Head.

Apparently, this can be a tough time for boys. Who knew? But doing a bit of reading and talking to other mums of nine year old boys, there are some common themes. Transitioning into middle primary school, where the workload is ramped up, mixed with a little hormonal action and a whole lot of the chest-beating alpha male stuff that goes along with it left our fella with some very real physical symptoms that, after numerous trips to the doctor and various tests, can now be attributed to anxiety. Because when we took him out of school and up the coast, the symptoms - crippling stomach cramps and a persistent vocal tic (a sort of grunting hum littering his speech) that had both plagued him for six months - disappeared in 24 hours.

I'm now wondering if my crippling case of procrastination on 'work' days could potentially be solved by a trip to Florence. I'm thinking YES.

But I digress.

Crescent Head is one of those tiny coastal hamlets somewhere on the Australian coast, boasting a pub, a club, a butcher, a baker but, as far as I know, no candlestick makers. You can, however, get a decent Thai meal at the local motel and the chemist does a good line in buckets, spades and other colourful sand moving equipment. You can play tennis or barefoot bowls, and there's a fab little 6 hole golf course on the headland that will have you teeing off the edge of a crevasse while the rolling swell of the Pacific belts into the hard slate walls of the rocky inlet way below. Many a golf ball has been sacrificed to the briny below that crevasse and I can imagine whole cities built of bleached white golf balls by the sea creatures that live there.

The main attraction, however, is the beach. It has, so they tell me, a totally bodacious surf break, full of bangin' bad ass barrels and rad right-handers that go on forever. Man.

(Wow, see that? I totally channeled a Californian Rastafarian just then)

But what I really love about the beach is the lagoon. With its little pools and sandy edges, it's toddler heaven and protected by the fiercer easterlies. Then when the tide turns and the water rushes in from the ocean, everyone jumps into the middle of the swelling lagoon to be swept upstream to the upper reaches of Killick Creek - a great spot to hang out as the sun goes down and throw a line into the middle of a school of bream. We did that and Jack caught the first fish. I hunt! I am male! Hear me roar!

As far as your eye can see to the north, it's just miles of wild, uninterrupted beachscape - broad blonde sand dunes and scrubby trees against a backdrop of low-rise mountains. Classic Aussie coast.

We spent hours on the beach every day, ate flaky fresh vanilla slices at the bakery, drank G&Ts on the barefoot bowling green and dined out most nights. Nearly every day we all ended up in the spa together with Francesca playing baristas, making us 'chinos' at the tap by jooshing the 'milk' in a plastic jug. (Does our daughter spend too much time in cafes? Don't be silly. But while the other kids are making cups of tea, she does a fairly mean double macchiato. Just saying.)

John and I tag teamed on kid duty so we could get some time alone; he went for surfs and massages, I ran down the golf greens, did yoga every day and read three novels.

But the best thing of all was that Jack, our gorgeous blue eyed boy, found his mojo and we couldn't have asked for more.

Embarrassing Side Note:
As the only photographer on the holiday, there is only one picture of me. Somehow, and certainly not on purpose, I've managed to give my unflatteringly shaped shadow a fancy little bikini wax. That's what you get for trying to be arty!

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