We went to visit the family yesterday and had a lovely time on the Gold Coast. It's such a busy place and a big contrast to where we live, but although we were close to shops and department stores, and drove by Ikea, we didn't enter, we concentrated on the family. It was easy to do. We passed by so many people shopping, it reminded me how easy it is to get sucked in by expectations and be left with unnecessary bills to face in the new year. I have been there.
We called in to see Shane, Sarndra and Alexander in their new flat. They moved last weekend and have found a modern and spacious new home in a quiet neighbourhood. Alex has grown so much. He smiles and his whole face lights up, he's a real charmer. Unfortunately, Shane had to go to work and Sarndra was still busy unpacking so we left them after a short time and went to Kerry and Sunny's. We made plans to get together over the holidays.
Jamie has grown a lot too and no doubt will be walking soon. He wasn't quite sure of us when we walked in but soon he was smiling and his usual happy self. Sunny prepared a delicious lunch of Korean BBQ. She had a meat plate with beef and thinly sliced pork belly and vegetable platters with cabbage, cucumbers, onion, bok choy, radishes, sesame leaves and kimchi. We all had our own little seasoning containers with salt, pepper and sesame oil. So we sat around the table, talking, while the Korean BBQ in the centre cooked the meat. The meat is cut in small pieces so we all used the sesame leaves and cabbage to make little mixed rolls of meat and vegetables. It really was delicious. Jamie sat between Sunny and me in his high chair - eating sweet potato, playing with sweet potato and dropping sweet potato. Hmmmm, just like his father used to do.
Jamie was looking at Hanno in this photo.
After lunch we all walked across the road to a park and playground on the water's edge. Families, teenagers and little children were swimming and playing. Dads and their kids were playing on the flying fox and little bikes attached to a steel track like a railway line. Kids were swinging, a couple of dads were fishing and there were a few picnics. It was such a contrast to the shopping madness just a short distance away. All of this was free - the kids were having a lot of fun, it just needed a commitment to go there and play.
On the way home I thought about that scene in the park and the shopping crowds we passed on the way home. On the one hand there were families connected, playing and enjoying themselves in the park - all free; and then there were rushing shoppers spending money. I wished there was more of one and less of the other and I wondered why some families spend time and some spend money. But I guess if I knew the answer to that or how to fix it, we have a lot more happy people.
And as we drove home, three familiar things popped into my head that I have just now put words to:
Organising yourself will help you get through all those extra tasks you have around the holiday period. Start your planning early so you have enough time to hand-make some of your gifts or search for perfect gifts at the right price. One gift per person is enough. The things they call stocking stuffers are unnecessary. Work out what you'll be eating and drinking over the holidays so you can start drinks fermenting and get your baking done. The freezer is your friend at Christmas.
Now is the time of year when people start to wind down. If you aren't doing that, work out ways to give yourself some time off - no matter what work you do, this is important. It's okay to say no to invitations. Concentrate on your family and friends at this time of year. Draw everyone close, smile, offer hospitality, take photos, play, read, reminisce, talk about your future plans, ask others about theirs. All these simple things bring families together.
Keep it simple
Well organised, simple family gatherings are a joy at Christmas time. If you're having a large gathering, ask everyone to bring a plate. No one minds doing that, in fact most people love being asked. And when it comes to gifts, keep it simple. No one needs elaborate gifts, no one needs a lot of gifts. If your children are still young, don't create an expectation in them that Christmas is the time when they get whatever they want. All children really need is love, a good education and a fine family; all they really want is to be loved and to spend time with the people they love. It's fine to pepper that with small gifts but it hurts the family, and the child in the long run, if you go into debt to give expensive gifts. It also creates an unrealistic expectation - for everyone.
It doesn't take much to step back from the holiday craziness and watch it from the sidelines.
Today is the first day of summer in Australia. It's also the first day of the first Test cricket match. I have my knitting ready. Today I'll be parked up in front of the TV relaxing, fan on, ice cubes clinking. I am not sure what your pleasures are but I hope you have some of them in your life today.