Family fun or frenzied festivies

1 December 2011
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:

Start early
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.

Find balance
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.


  1. Seems I hear more and more people around me perplexed about how to "simplify" this Christmas. Some of them almost seeking validation or permission to do so; others really wondering where to start, etc.

    Your specific suggestions here seem so fundamental and clear. Common sense, I think, would lead most of us to very similar conclusion!

  2. Your Jamie has grown into a handsome young man -he looks very well. We have a granddaughter the same age so I am interested in people who are just under 1 year.

    Your comment about spending time versus spending money reminds me of a story my daughter in law told me.
    They were having an unofficial street party about this time last year. A neighbour was saying she disciplines her children by removing electronic games . Daughter said they did not have any electronic games. Neighbour thought that very odd. But she thought it even odder when son said they took grandson to nippers every week - that involved a 20 minute drive. Everyone has different ideas.

  3. Lovely post with lovely photos. I had a conversation with my daughter yesterday about gift giving at Christmas. She was married earlier this year and now has an 8 year old stepson. His expectations at this time of year are very different from what she plans for her child which is due in February.We discussed the idea of just having 1 or 2 gifts but he has already been set up for something different. Very tricky situation and no easy answer!

  4. If only your words could be turned into a community service announcement - some families spend time and some families spend money - which family is the happiest? A great post Rhonda - I hope lots of people read it and take note.

  5. A very timely post Rhonda...and so true! Lovely pics of the family and that lunch looks so yummy! That park you are speaking about is a great spot for families, have been there many times when i used to live on the Gold Coast and it keeps getting better. So great to have such a free resource for families.
    I had to go to the shops yesterday morning and got back out again pretty quickly..i couldn't believe how quickly crowds gathered....just to run around and 'shop'. Was glad to get home!
    Enjoy your relaxation....can't believe it is only just now the first day of Summer!
    Jode x

  6. Such truth in your post, Rhonda. I've seen many a child (countless times) surrounded by expensive gifts left untouched while the child busily and happily plays with the boxes and wrap that the gifts came in! You are spot on about setting expectations. One well thought out, quality, versatile and open ended toy is worth SO much more than a room full of expensive plastic. Enjoying and celebrating the holiday season shouldn't be reliant on consumerism. Time together, fun together, rest together, play together - those are the memories that are remembered long after the memory of expensive, short lived toys.

    I like to focus on the 5 senses at special times. The sights and smells of the holidays evoke strong and lasting memories. Baking, cooking, decorating, singing... all involve the use of our senses and firmly establish lovely memories for a lifetime. You are correct - all children really want is time with those who love them :)

  7. Gorgeous pics of your little grandson.

    I liked your comment about not creating the expectation in children of getting everything they want at Christmas. My daughter started a tradition of celebrating Advent and then the 12 days of Christmas until 12th night...6th January, from when the children were tiny. They bake, or make jam or preserves, and make small crafts suitable to their age level, and then each day they visit a neighbour, a housebound older person in the commumty or a women's shelter, and give their gifts. She was determined that they didn't associate Christmas with one day where they were inundated with gifts. They're all older now, but still plan what they'll make, and who'll they'll visit. It's a lovely way to spend Christmas.

  8. It sounds like you had a lovely visit with your family! Those are some smart, yet simple, observations you've made about how to keep the holiday from getting crazy. Thanks. Enjoy your day!

  9. What a delightful visit you had!

    I agree with you about the focus of some on spending time and the others on money. Sharing joy together does not required tons of gifts etc...that usually does not bring happiness in the long run anyway!

    Jamie is getting so big, Rhonda. Beautiful boy. Is Sarndra blogging? Do you mind sharing her blog address again?

    Enjoy your summer and your Cricket!

  10. Such a cute grandson! My littlest child just turned one and is walking around - such a fun age! Have a blessed week ahead!

  11. You are right! I have had to do some shopping for a few small gifts this afternoon in the limited selection of shops in our local market town, and I have hated it as usual - and I cannot contemplate spending a day in a shopping centre/mall at all - that would be a nightmare for me! I spent an hour, got most of the gifts I needed, and came home! I'm almost done with the shopping now, and so relieved that I can spend my time on doing crafty things with the children or at home, preparing the house.

  12. Mrs Rabe, Sarndra is well and happily busy being a mum. She blogs occasionally when she has some spare time.

  13. Love that photo of Jamie looking at Hanno!

    "eating sweet potato, playing with sweet potato and dropping sweet potato. Hmmmm, just like his father used to do."

    Or is that just like his chef father still does? :)

  14. I have sat here reading this post with a big smile on my face. This is just how we are doing christmas!
    I planned my christmas gifts (90% which are handmade) back in June. Started to make them in September.
    We have my family coming here for christmas day and it's a very simple relax day with cold meat and salad platters. Lots of relaxing, having fun, and catching up.
    Boxing day we are have a very relaxed BBQ her with my IL's, BIL and nephew.
    We have deliberately chose to not give our youngest boys (aged 3 and 2) too many presents.

  15. I don't think I do, Kerry. I'll have a look to see if I have any photos, or maybe take some more.

  16. Hi Rhonda

    It's so true what you say. I'm one that's totally against all the consumerism at Christmas time but with a 7 yo and a 5 yo, it's what you have to do sometimes. My kids have seen Santa, once, which will be enough. There'll be one more trip to the shops before the big day and that will be to go to the cinema. My kids are given second hand toys I've sourced from garage sales, op shops and Freecycle. There'll be just one I need to buy (which I found out what it is they wanted when they asked Santa - and they only asked for one). Most of the things I have for them are practical, learning things, not toys, like a knitting nancy, sewing supplies and gardening tools for my son. Decorations for the tree are ones we've made every year plus a few vintage pieces I've picked up from op shops. I was left shaking my head last night at my daughter's school Christmas carols when every child seemed to bearing wearing something flashing on a Christmas hat or around their neck or wearing reindeer antlers. It's totally ridiculous the amount of rubbish you can buy in the dollar stores. My daughter wore 2 reindeer hair pins made from ribbon and a red and white dress she's had for 2 years. Don't even get me started on those reindeer antlers for cars!

    Anne @ Domesblissity xx

  17. Not sure why, but this post made me very sad. I remember my mother counting the Christmas presents when she thought we weren't looking, to be sure that my brother and I both got the exact same number.

    I remember the HUGE build up... like somehow all of your wildest dreams were gonna come true on Christmas morning... and then the enormous let down upon discovering that the beautifully wrapped present under the tree contained a hideously ugly lime green turtleneck sweater.

    I also remember being at a friend's house one summer day. Her mom popped her head in the room and said "Hey girls, wanna go to the park?" And just like that she swooped us up and we spent a lovely afternoon running and playing at the playground. It was just something they did on a regular basis. Oh, what I would have given for just one such day with my own mother.

  18. Rhonda, this was a very thoughtful post. We're emigrating from Texas to Brisbane in May for my husband's job. Just this weekend, my husband and I were wondering what the Christmas holidays were like over there. It sounds a lot like America although we've been in the full Christmas frenzy since October (really). It's exhausting. Our family isn't religious, but we deeply enjoy spending time with our extended family and baking bread and sleeping in just a little bit and catching up over coffee in the morning. The hysterical obligation to buy people more and more things is so distracting and upsetting to me. By the time December 25th has come around, I'm sick of Christmas and just want to get it over with.

    We're viewed as Scrooges I think, especially since we have a toddler and baby on the way. Our relatives can't understand why we make gifts for them and why we ask them not to give our son tons of toys and presents. A small toy or outfit is fine. If they want to spend more, a donation to his college fund is more than appreciated but we'd really rather they just spend time with us anyway.

    I'm really enjoying your pictures as we'll be not too far from your neck of the woods come winter. We're very excited to making Queensland our home for the next several years.

  19. Another good post. The food sounds so fresh & wonderful. Your grandson is just adorable!
    I so agree with you about Christmas time. We do buy gifts for our children & friends but long ago decided that going into debt over it is just crazy. -I always think all your teaching your children is that they "need" way too much & then you are stressed out for the next 6 months trying to figure out how to pay for it.--Crazy! Sweet & simple is for me.
    Merry Christmas to you!

  20. We always stuff a stocking for each other but we have rules. You get a "proper" present from each family member (normally books) and then we all work to fill stockings with homemade goodies. If you didn't at least help make it it isn't allowed in the stocking so I get jars of lemon curd and chutney, knitted mittens, and hand-drawn notecards every year. It's not expensive but it's lots of fun and my brother and I get all of the treats that we can't make for ourselves at school. :)

    Lauren M.

  21. Post from the other end of the world, from Poland
    First of all - sorry for my poor English. It's nice to think that somewhere in the world - as now in Australia - just start summer. For several days I have on my mind your calendulas** shown on november 25 and all your blog. Your calendulas are for me like a memory of summer, because in november in Poland winter begins. And all of your blog is for me like a distant memory of childhood, when everything was simple and everything was still possible to do. Now for me it is already november, not everything can be done, but still a little “yes, we can!” Therefore I decided to start my own blog and let myself take your calendulas to my blog in statu nascendi. If you wish, you can certainly use my posts.
    As for the cover of your book: it is well designed, with a touching simplicity
    As a preparation for Christmas: in your blog I found the idea to make for my wife soap as a gift for Christmas. I have some free time now, because I'm sick and I'm not working, so maybe I can to make soap. It will be dried only three weeks, it must be enough,
    thank you
    Have a nice day
    ** I found out where it came from the Latin name of these flowers: "Calendula officinalis is the common marigold, and was supposed to blossom on the calends of every month, whence the name" - I read in the dictionary. Calends – meant the end of the month in ancient Rome.

  22. Hi Rhonda, I so enjoyed reading this post and seeing the pictures of your beautiful Grandson. For years now,I have planned for Xmas by putting money aside every fortnight from our pension. $5 for Xmas food, and whatever I can afford gets put aside for presents. Even when we were in the workforce, we would NEVER buy presents on credit.I find I have more than enough and most get one gift, with the exception of my elderly DM who gets a few smaller gifts of things she really loves. The Xmas food money is more than enough for special treats-half a ham, fresh chicken, and the stonefruits that my DH loves. I stopped buying all those nibbly things a few years back as even after having quite a few guests, there was still things being thrown out after Xmas! :( I make a boiled fruit cake ( the one with mashed pumpkin), Xmas shortbread cookies, this year I will make sausage rolls, marinated wings, chinese spare-ribs and keep them in the freezer in case I need to put together something for unexpected guests. Will probably make a few other things to freeze as well.
    I received a very interesting email yesterday, urging us Aussies to start a new tradition of not buying cheap overseas presents and wrapping them in overseas made paper, but to think about vouchers from our own local businesses and help our fellow Aussies who are struggling, for example vouchers for haircuts/oil change/handyman/lawnmowing/gardening/cleaning/ironing, etc I know most of us can do these things ourselves, but some can't or are working and "time poor" so it is worth a thought and it is helping a local business at the same time. A win-win situation.:) Sandy.

  23. After what news reports say was a record-breaking Black Friday, it was refreshing to read your post. What my kids, who are teenagers, still love most about the holidays are the traditions: cutting the tree, baking cookies, making a gingerbread house, making our own chocolate advent calendars, handmade gifts. In the gift department, Christmas for us is a time to restock necessaries, perhaps a winter coat or jeans(thrifted is fine), boots, socks and give something handmade -- a beaded bracelet, something knitted, a poem. IMO, whether one makes and bakes is not important, what is important is creating meaningful traditions that strengthen family ties.



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