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My New Year’s Resolutions (and how I’m going to try and actually keep them in 2015)

I totally cringed just writing that.  I mean, NY resolutions are such a cliched thing to do, and I was reading today that only 8% of us actually ever keep them.  8%!  Why do we even bother?

january 1st

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There is something undeniably electrifying about the blank canvas that is the new year.  The pregnant possibilities that this may be the year that you finally learn conversational French, go base jumping or meet the love of your life.  What’s not to love?

I have been successful at keeping some resolutions in the past, and absolutely woeful at others.  The resolutions that stuck had things in common, so here are my tips on how I keep them.

  1. I wrote them down and put them somewhere I could see them every day.  Having your goals right in your face keeps them fresh in your mind, and acts like an ever-present nag.  Guilt your way to keeping your resolutions if you must.
  2. I made them specific.  You all know this stuff.  It’s better to have a goal of ‘loosing 10 kilos’ than ‘I want to lose weight’.
  3. I started off small.  Don’t overdo it.  Your brain can only handle one or two new things at a time so there’s little point trying to change all of your life at once.  It’s just how we’re wired.  Be kind.  Give yourself grace.
  4. I turned them into habits.  The year I decided I wanted to be able to run 5k I got my butt out of bed early on set days of the week, as I knew that I come up with all sorts of excuses if I leave exercising until later in the day.  Getting up at 6am became automatic and meant my running was done and dusted before my brain could really switch on and complain too much.
  5. I planned for them throughout the year.  You want to learn a language?  How to cook ethnic food?  Play an instrument?  BOOK THE CLASS.  Pay the money and lock it in.
  6. I was accountable to others.  D and I usually make our resolutions together.  It’s so much easier if the people you live with are on board with you.  If you live alone, find a like-minded friend to join you.  This really, really works.  When I gave up sugar, I started blogging about it.  In hindsight, this was one of the best things I could have done.  Not only could I see the progress I had made right there in black and white, but I felt like I couldn’t let my readers down by eating sugar, so it kept me honest.

So in this spirit, here are my 2015 resolutions:

  • Complete our Dollar Diet.  Details of what a spending fast is are here.
  • Complete two months of Trim Healthy Mama on-plan eating.  Two months is long enough to see any benefits, and to know if it is going to be a realistic way of eating for D and I.  If we like it, we’ll continue.
  • Spend Monday nights writing my novels, and Tuesday and Thursday nights blogging.  I’ve even written out my weekly schedule (I’m a ‘J’ in Myers Briggs, in case you can’t tell…), I found the cutest weekly planner here.  How will I make the time?  By not watching TV or browsing the net on those nights (I don’t watch TV much anyway).  These two things are the biggest time wasters on the planet.  If you reckon you don’t have time for things, I guarantee you’ll suddenly have a bunch of free time if you limit your tv/internet time.

Do you make NY resolutions?  Have you ever kept them?

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Dollar Diet 2015: Getting into the mindset

The new year and the beginning of our Dollar Diet are almost here.  I’m getting more than a little bit excited about it!  Yes folks, I actually said that.  I am excited about scrimping and saving!

As we decided a few weeks ago to wait for the New Year to begin our spending fast, I’ve had a lot of time to contemplate the challenges it might throw at me.  Witness the fact that D and I took advantage of the Boxing Day sales to get some things that we just ‘had to have’ before the fast begins (like a new breadmaker, some boots for me because all my Winter shoes gave up the ghost this year and I didn’t want to be stuck wearing sneakers to church, plus a roll of newsprint paper for crafts with the tots).

It got me wondering just how much we in the Western world are stuck in scarcity thinking.  Seriously, it’s at epidemic proportions.  In New Zealand alone, Christmas spending broke a new record.  We are buying more stuff than ever before.  You can’t blame us.  We are BOMBARDED with advertising every single day.  The average person going about his or her daily life is exposed to approximately 600 ads a day.  600 a day.  Woah.  If you think you are immune to it, you are deluding yourself.  I spent a chunk of my Psych degree studying the effects of advertising and mass media, and trust me, it is so effective you don’t even know how you are being manipulated every day.

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Most of these ads play on our insecurities because that’s what sells.  You are not good-looking enough – here, buy our product, which will instantly transform you into a ravishing supermodel/make you look 10 pounds slimmer/make the ladies flock to you/make you wildly popular.  Your home is not enough – here, our product will turn your house into a show home that Martha Stewart would be proud of. Your cooking is not enough – no, spaghetti bolognaise no longer satisfies the modern palate.  You need to learn what to do with star anise, and how to make ganache with artisan Belgian chocolate.

YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH.  YOU ARE NOT OKAY JUST AS YOU ARE.  YOU NEED THIS PRODUCT.  BUY. BUY. BUY.

Just so you know, these messages are total crap.  A pack of lies.  Give the ad men the finger, because you know what?  You ARE enough, and you HAVE enough.

I have a roof over my head (and it’s a roof that I own), food in my belly and in my fridge, enough food to feed my children, clean drinking water, a wardrobe full of clothes, a husband who provides for me and my children, and enough money for a doctor should I need one.  I am rich beyond words to a huge number of my brothers and sisters around the world who live in poverty.  Being a better steward of my resources is just one way that I can get off the First World scarcity wagon.

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Our last pre-Dollar Diet = unbearable-feelings-of-scarcity-purchases aside, I have already noticed some changes in my behaviour when it comes to what I have, what I consume, and what I throw out.

  • I’m saving things like wrapping paper, bows, and those stupid ribbons they sew into women’s clothes to hang them up with (I hate those things!), because they will come in handy when giving special gifts next year (see this post for some of the special events coming up for me in 2015).
  • I’m eyeing up the things in our recycling bin like never before.  Those tin cans could be repurposed into skittles, and egg cartons into this.
  • I’m thinking about all the clothes I regularly wear, and putting them into different combinations.
  • I’m thinking of all the things I’m going to sell online.  And let me tell you, I have a LOT of stuff to sell.
  • Every time we’ve gone to our favourite bakery for a chicken roll at lunch time, I think ‘This really wouldn’t take me long to make if I had all the ingredients in the house‘.
  • I’ve gratefully accepted things like left-over icing(!) to make Sausage’s birthday cake with.  Peppa Pig, here you come.
  • Before buying something I’ve been thinking ‘Do I really need this?’  And you know what, several times I decided I didn’t.  Like I was tempted to buy some 60% off Christmas cards, but then I thought ‘This is silly, you can get Sausage to make cards next year.  Put that tot to work.’

And bear in mind that we haven’t even begun yet!  Imagine what a year of the Dollar Diet will do to my habits?

Dollar Diet, I’m glad you’re almost here.

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Christmas for Tots: creating family traditions

Despite being from the same faith, my husband and I come from families who celebrated Christmas quite differently.  This has meant we needed quite a lot of discussion to figure out what Christmas means to us as a new family unit.  Depending on how widely your backgrounds differ, it can be a bit of a minefield to navigate for new parents.

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My mother-in-law is Dutch, and this heritage has strongly influenced her approach to Christmas.  Christmas Eve was quite special, attending midnight services when the kids were old enough. Christmas Day was more about being together than presents, and therefore low-key.  From an early age, my husband and his brother were told the truth about Santa, and viewed him like any other fictional character.

My family LOVED Christmas.  It was a big deal in our house – lots of decorations, advent calendars, learning about how Christmas was celebrated in other countries, carols, the works.   It’s still my favourite time of the year.  As Christians my parents taught us that Christmas was a celebration of Jesus’ birth, but we still did Santa and Christmas stockings (actually, we had pillowcases – my brother and I thought this was genius as you could fit more in!).  Christmas Day meant a lovely dinner with all the trimmings, with our extended family.

So you can see we had quite different Christmases!

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My husband did not want to ‘do’ Santa with our children, and I am absolutely fine with that.  We agreed that we didn’t want to go overboard with gifts for the children.  The idea of buying kids super-expensive gifts for Christmas grates with me, and I hope that my kids will eventually learn that there is so much more to Christmas than presents.  Having said that, I don’t want my kids to miss out on the joy of waking up to a stocking of presents on Christmas morning, so they are getting them, albeit in the knowledge that the gifts are from Mum and Dad.  Sausage is getting a few inexpensive things in her stocking like a calendar with baby animals, a marshmallow Santa, and whiteboard markers (which she will not be able to get into without adult help!).

I read about a family who give their children three main presents like the Wise Men gave Jesus, so we’re going with that idea.  For her three presents she is getting:

  • A blackboard/whiteboard, which we got at a half price sale for $25.
  •  A playhouse – admittedly I only got this as it closely resembles one I had as a child.  My brother and I spent many happy hours playing in that thing! Cost – $25.
  • A book called Lulu’s Loo, as we are about to start toilet training.  Eloise has another Lulu book, and they are absolutely delightful, and also totally spot-on when it comes to what little girls like.  Cost $14.

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Chipolata is getting a cool polished wood turtle toy from Trade Aid ($25) and a book ($9).  He’s four and a half months old.  He’ll be more happy with some paper and some tinsel, but these are gifts he can grow into.

That’s actually more money than I would have liked to have spent, but I just could not go past that playhouse.  I know it will get used.  Next year all our presents for the kids will be handmade, as we are doing a spending fast.

My Dad gave Sausage a chocolate Advent calendar, which has been very helpful at building her anticipation of Christmas day.  Now it is empty, I will take off the cardboard and save the chocolate moulds to make Christmas chocolates with her next year.  I will definitely be making an advent calendar for her next year – perhaps one with decorations to put on the tree.

Tonight we started our first Christmas Eve tradition – home made pizza, and a movie.  My brother’s wife passed away this year, so he joined us, and I hope he will be a part of this tradition in the years to come.  We watched The Polar Express, which Sausage enjoyed quite a lot.  I did have to fast-forward through the slow-moving sections, but we still got the gist of the movie.

On Christmas day we will have a simple breakfast (although I will miss my Mum’s amazing pancakes…), let Sausage open her presents from us and then we are hosting lunch at our house with our extended family.

If your tots are ‘newly minted’ like mine, here are my tips for creating your own Christmas traditions:

  • Start off small.  Particularly if your kids are under two, they won’t remember what you did when next Christmas rolls around.  There’s no need to go the whole hog with Santa photos, driving around to look at the Christmas lights, Carols by Candlelight etc.  Park those for later years when they will actually be appreciated.
  • Keep presents few and simple.  Tots get overwhelmed quite easily, so showering them with gifts will most likely send them into overdrive.  A friend said her three year old was given lots of gifts by his grandparents last year.  He unwrapped the first one (a set of toy cars) and was so enamoured with that present, the rest were totally ignored.  This year his grandparents are keeping it simple and giving one gift only.
  • If you know your children will get lots of gifts from friends and relatives anyway, stagger them.  Let your children open presents received before Christmas early, or save them for later on in the Christmas break when boredom threatens to sink in.  Give your own gifts to them first thing in the morning if you are meeting with family later in the day.  Ask relatives in attendance if they mind your tot opening their present another day (although most people want to see their little faces when they open them, quite understandable!).
  • Choose traditions that will grow with your children.  Even as a jaded teenager, I still loved watching cheesy Christmas movies and singing carols.  Post-dinner Charades and Santa photos?  Probably not top of the list for teens.
  • Choose traditions that respect your family’s beliefs and heritage.  D and I are fortunate in that we are both Christians. but many couples come from different faith or atheist backgrounds.  This may mean compromise if one of you wants Santa and/or Christmas, while the other doesn’t.  There is always a middle ground if you can get creative.  We ‘do’ St Nicholas on December 6th in homage to my husband’s Dutch heritage (albeit very low-key), and my daughter really loves her books about him – although the other day she saw a picture of Santa and said ‘There’s Jesus!’, so clearly we still have some work to do, separating St Nick from the Jesus story!

I’d like to leave you with some words from one of my favourite carols “I heard the bells on Christmas Day“:

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Wellington Zoo for tots: a review

This week we had a mini holiday in Wellington as Sausage had a hospital check up for her club foot (it’s doing great, by the way).

Since having Sausage, it has been a dream of mine to take her to a zoo, as she is just crazy about animals.  I had taken her to Wellington Zoo before when she was seven months old, but that visit was more for me as the zoo offers $5 visits during August each year.  At that time she found it hard to see the animals – either because they were in the distance, or because they moved too quickly for her to track them.

Cuddles with the Sun Bear

Cuddles with the Sun Bear

This time around, she had a blast.

Wellington Zoo has upgraded a lot of its enclosures over the past few years, and these upgrades have been well worth the money.  Each area has been carefully planned and provides such wonderful ‘yes’ spaces for toddlers and older children.  Quite aside from the obvious attractions that the animals provide, there are so many things for toddlers to touch, climb on and explore.

Dotted around the zoo are things like a tuk-tuk and motorcycle, and a jeep embedded into the ground for safe exploration.

Tuk-tuk

Tuk-tuk fun!

There are animal sculptures to touch, cuddle and pose for photos with.  There is an African village where everything can be played with or sat on.

Swishing through the 'grass'

Swishing through the ‘grass’

There is even a little playground (conveniently located next to the Tuck Shop and loos) where your tot can run off some of that excitement.

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Wellington Zoo is free for children under 3, $10.50 for children up to 14 years, and $21.00 for adults (and there are also family concessions).  It’s not the cheapest thing to do in Wellington, but definitely worth it for the fun to be had, and to help care for those animals.  There are a few picnic spots, so you could take your own food to save money.

Just a tip: take a buggy.  Wellington Zoo is not for wimps.  Like most of the city, the zoo is very hilly and little legs will definitely get tired.  In fact, if you’re pushing said buggy, you might want to do some arm exercises beforehand to prepare. 🙂

As parents, my husband and I got so much joy from seeing our daughter’s sheer delight in seeing monkeys, giraffes, tigers, and red pandas for the first time.  I hope that her love for animals continues to grow, along with a growing awareness for conservation and our responsibility towards all the creatures on our planet.

As for her brother?  He slept almost the entire time.

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2015: The Year of our Dollar Diet

I love reading blogs on simple living and frugality, and one of my favourites is And Then We Saved.  Anna Newall Jones paid off 24k in 15 months (!) and shares her tips for frugal living in her practical and entertaining blog.  Anna came up with the idea of a spending fast, which basically involves only spending money on necessities for a whole YEAR.  When I read about it, I immediately thought ‘Sign me up!’.  UPDATE 20 APRIL 2015: for legal reasons I will be referring to my year of saving money as a Dollar Diet.

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I have rather a chequered past with money.  I have been really, really rubbish at dealing with money.  I’m not sure why, as both my parents are good at managing it.  Me, well, I’ve gotten myself into debt more times than I care to remember – generally by living above my means and burying my head in the sand when it came to the consequences.

I am proud to say that I am MUCH better with money these days, after making the decision several years ago to change my ways.

D and I live well considering that we live off one income so I can be a stay-at-home mum, but we can certainly do better than we are.  Anna recommends doing the Dollar Diet for at least a year, because it takes a long time to change your spending habits.  Unless you live completely self-sufficiently and off the grid, you’ve just got to spend some money, so the temptation to spend is still very much in your face.  A year long Dollar Diet appeals to me as it will be quite a challenge, and will force me to be much more creative with my current resources than I am at the moment.  When I bought up the idea of the fast, D was quite skeptical of my/us being able to stick with it.  I feel confident that we can.  In the year we got engaged and married, I’d made a pledge to only buy second-hand things that year, and I still managed to say my vows in a second-hand dress with second-hand shoes on my feet.

D and I are fortunate to not have debt, but we do have a couple of goals in mind to throw our extra savings at.  I have a dear friend in Australia who will be getting married in the not-too-distant future and I’d love for us to be able to attend her wedding, and we also need to replace our hot water cylinder which I’m pretty sure was on the ark with Noah and the animals.

Everyone will have different ‘needs’ that they will still have to spend money on while doing a fast, but here’s our list:

  • Groceries – and sticking to our strict budget!
  • Electricity, firewood
  • Internet/phone
  • Netflix
  • Insurances
  • Petrol, vehicle maintenance
  • Rates
  • Tithing, sponsor children, church activities
  • University money for kids (we put $10 a week into their accounts)
  • Doctor’s visits & prescriptions
  • Playgroups (we attend 3, at a total cost of $6 a week)
  • Haircuts (we both only get our hair cut 2 or 3 times a year)
  • Moisturizer, bug spray (mozzies LOVE me), undies – A
  • Theology papers, work trips, study trips, Toastmasters – D
  • Rubbish & recycling collection
  • Garden & house maintenance (we get our lawns mowed as our place is HUGE)
  • Chickens & chicken feed & maintenance (we haven’t got the chickens yet, but plan to in 2015)
  • Shoes & clothes for the children (but trying to get second-hand or free where appropriate)
  • Holidays (free accommodation where possible)
  • Eloise’s hospital appointments (she is still being treated for a club foot, which means 3-4 trips to Wellington a year)

That seems like a heck of a lot, and people who are really in debt might forgo things like the internet, Netflix, cell phones or holidays.  D needs internet for his work, and we figure that as we will be spending more time at home (not that we go out much, being parents of little kids!) Netflix is a good investment. We’re both movie buffs, and we love watching TV series’ together (we are slowly working our way through the excellent World War II series, Foyle’s War).  D insisted on still having holidays, his reasoning being that we need the change of scene as we are both at home most of the time (D works remotely from home).  We’re fortunate to know people with holiday homes at the beach who allow us to stay there for free or little cost.  As far as holidays go, the Dollar Diet is well-timed as we don’t want to venture far with our tots anyway.  It’s too much drama for us, and they sure as heck don’t appreciate exotic locales.

You might notice we don’t have a line for rent/mortgage.  That’s because we own our house outright.  As I said, we are very fortunate.  This was a major factor in our relocating to Whanganui.  House prices here are awesome.  If we’d stayed in Wellington I’d probably be back at work by now, in order to service a mortgage.

Here’s what else we won’t be spending money on next year:

  • clothes and shoes for D and I
  • gifts, cards and wrapping paper (they will have to be home made)
  • date nights – no going out to restaurants, or to movies 😦
  • eating out (no meeting friends at cafes, no sandwiches on the run, no coffees for D)
  • toy library subscription (it runs out in July)
  • childcare (due to constant pregnancy fatigue with my second child, our daughter was being looked after two afternoons a week.  We kept it going after the baby was born so as not to disrupt her routine, but will stop in the new year)
  • makeup for me
  • cute clothes for the children
  • gadgets/invention stuff for D (must raise cash if anything is wanted by selling things/earning through side business)
  • a new laptop for me
  • treasures in my favourite second-hand stores
  • lovely things for our house
  • books (sob, but that’s why libraries were invented, right?)
  • fancy holidays (unless my friend’s wedding date ends up being set for next year)
  • Plays, concerts, exhibitions, community events
  • Pizza at the Whanganui River Traders market (this may kill me…)
  • my subscription to Good magazine (ok, now I’m crying)
  • my subscription to the Wanganui Chronicle
  • cookies for church morning teas (just going to have to be more organised and bake them myself)

There’s undoubtedly a ton of other stuff we’d normally be spending our money on next year.  Not to mention the usual life events that crop up.  I’ve already bought my daughter’s birthday presents (her birthday is in January), but I’ll have to get creative for my son’s first birthday in August (and for all our family and friends birthdays).  One of my favourite cousins who I’ve not seen in 15 years is visiting us with her kids this January.  Another cousin is getting married in April, so again, creativity for a gift will be needed.  I turn 40 in July, and have a whole swag of good friends who will be joining the 40 club with me.  D is resuming his theology studies and will have a few teaching days out of town to attend.

The Dollar Diet will mean I have to ‘make do and mend’ if my clothes wear out.  It means inviting friends over to my house, or to have a picnic in a park rather than go out for coffee.  It means D and I will have to put our thinking caps on when it comes to date nights.  It will mean being organised – breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks at the ready.  Going to the library regularly.  Saving household waste like cereal boxes and milk bottles to make children’s crafts with.  Scouring the free community papers for free things to do (actually there is ALWAYS free stuff on in Whanganui).  Spending time in our garden to grow more veges.  Thinking up ways to earn money if a ‘want’ crops up – like selling things online, or at a market, bartering or time-banking skills.  For example, I plan to join a couple of groups next year and may need to rustle up some joining-fee money, so I’m already planning to sell things online.

I’m excited!  I’ll be updating you regularly once we begin on January 1st.

Would you ever do a Dollar Diet?

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How to take the crazy out of Christmas

How is it December already?  Last Christmas was just the other day, right?

This will be Sausage’s second Christmas, and while she is ready for it, I just want to slow it all down.

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I had a rare child-free afternoon yesterday (mostly spent taking my time at my favourite second-hand mega store, bliss) and needed to get a few things at the shops.  My normally peaceful town was full of frazzled people laden down with shopping bags.  It was even hard to find a parking space, quelle horreur!

Now, for the record: I LOVE Christmas.  I love decorating the tree and our house.  I love sending Christmas cards to my overseas and out of town friends.  I love giving gifts, and I love having all my family around the dinner table on Christmas day.  I love having a special day where I can celebrate and reflect on Jesus’s birth.  And I looooove that we get to have Christmas in Summer.

I do NOT love the commercialism of Christmas, with all the pressure to buy, buy, buy.  I do not love the pressure to have a Pinterest perfect Christmas house, or a Martha Stewart dinner.  I do not love the pressure put on people to all ‘be together with family’, which means this time of the year can be incredibly painful and lonely for those who have no one to share it with, who have lost loved ones, or who are unable to be with their loved ones for whatever reason.  This one day can cause a lot of heartache.

As my children are still very small (almost 2 and 4 months old) what Christmas will look like at our house is very much a work in progress.  Here’s how I keep sane at Christmas time:

  • Scale back the gifts.  I must confess that this has actually proved quite hard this year!  Yesterday I went through the gifts I bought for my kids and found I had what I consider to be too many gifts (as I am a rather organised person and tend to buy things here and there in advance, I hadn’t realised I’d gotten so much already).  We have Dutch heritage in our family so we like to celebrate St Nicholas Day (6 December).  Our eldest child will be getting a few small presents (like chocolate coins) in her shoes tomorrow, like they do in the Netherlands.  Although we don’t do Santa, I grew up with a stocking on Christmas morning and can’t let that go, so my eldest will be getting a few things like a calendar and a candy cane in hers.  But when it comes to the ‘main gifts’ our kids get three presents like the Wise Men gave Jesus: something they want, something they need, and something to read.  (Our son is only getting one gift, by the way – he’s a baby, he’s not going to know!)  Next year I will keep better track of what things I have already purchased so I can keep things even simpler, because I think the focus of Christmas for children needs to be on giving to others, gratitude, and on Christ – not presents.  The adults don’t do presents for each other, instead we do a $5 secret Santa which we’ve done in various guises (for specific people, generic, present-swapping game etc), and I for one don’t miss getting lots of hand creams and soaps and all that other female gift stuff that I don’t really want.
  • Keep your gifts low-cost.  I get rather irate when I see ads exhorting people to buy Dad a $599 BBQ for Christmas, a $899 tablet for your 6-year old, or to give your girlfriend a $1000 diamond necklace.  Really?  $1000 on a Christmas present???  That’s just all kinds of crazy.  Even if you’re not a Christian, Christmas doesn’t have to be all about presents.  An inexpensive, or hand-made gift with lots of thought put into it says ‘hey, I really know you‘ means much, much more than some expensive trinket from a chain store.  When it comes to kids, save big-ticket items (like bikes or computers) for their birthday.  It helps Christmas seem less about getting presents, so that you can focus on whatever it means for your family.
  • Limit the number of Christmas-related activities you do.  This time of year is nuts.  There are end-of-year parties coming out your ears, carols by candlelight, church services, parades, and all manner of things that you could choose to go to.  In New Zealand December heralds BBQ season.  You don’t have to do everything.  You just don’t.  If you’re feeling pressed for time, ask yourself – do I really need to go to this?  Are my kids really going to be scarred for life if they miss their fourth end-of-year breakup Christmas party for a group they belong to?  If they don’t see this year’s Santa Parade?  Are they going to think you are the worst parent ever because you don’t do Elf on a shelf (don’t even get me started on that one!)?
  • Get your presents ahead of time so you can avoid the stores in December.  Yeah, I know, this one is a no-brainer.  But do remember that pre-Christmas sales are not the only ones stores have.  Most stores seem to have sales every blimmin’ week!  Here, one of our major stores has a big toy sale in July.  We bought Sausage’s main present (an easel chalkboard/whiteboard) back then for 50% off and stashed it away.  Buying throughout the year not only means our bank balance doesn’t take a big hit in one go, it also means I only have one gift left to get (my secret Santa gift) and that’s it, I’m done.  No more silly season shopping for me.  You might want to keep better track of your purchases that I have this year so you don’t forget how much you’ve already bought!
  • Share the responsibility for the Christmas meal.  New Zealand Christmases are much more casual affairs than our Northern hemisphere counterparts due to the weather.  Who wants a heavy roast dinner and to be cooped up indoors when it’s summer?  Actually, mine do.  I was hoping my family would be happy with a simple BBQ – but no, they want a roast.  Sigh.  Anyway, despite this, we won’t be chained to the kitchen all day.  Everyone is contributing to the main meal in some way – someone is doing the roast, someone else the veges, someone else dessert etc.    Good food without the fuss.
  • If you’re the one with little kids, make people come to you!  Travelling with tots is stressful.  You need to take what seems to be a metric tonne of kid-related stuff with you just to keep them fed, clothed and occupied.  And often when you get to where you’re going you have to deal with an un-baby proofed house, disruption to sleep routines and all that sort of thing.  Of course staying with relatives can be lovely, but if you find the thought of shlepping everyone over to Grandma’s house five hours away is setting your teeth on edge, don’t do it.  Ask your relatives if they would mind coming to you to spare you from the drama.  If there’s several of you with kids, maybe let those with tantruming toddlers decide where will be easiest.  Save Christmases away from home for when your kids are old enough not to break Aunt Essie’s china, and are reliably sleeping through the night so they can share a room with 10 of their cousins and think that’s awesome.  Yes, it’s nice to be together but the world won’t end if you need to have a few Christmases at home by yourselves.
  • Remember the ‘reason for the season’.  I just winced typing that, it’s so cheesy.  But it’s also true.  Take Christmas back!  Don’t let the Ad Men or Martha Stewart tell you what Christmas should be about.  I do appreciate this special time when I can focus on what the gift of Christ has meant to me.  I sing Christmas carols and let myself think about what ‘peace on Earth’ might actually look like.  Even for non-Christians, the Christmas break can be a time of rest, and a chance to spend time on the things that nourish the soul.

– Wishing you and your family a very merry Christmas.