By agreement, our extended family Christmas festivities are hosted turn-and-turn-about at various family members’ homes. The host(ess) for the year generally decides on the lunch menu, orders the ham/turkey/other, and decides on a few other items to produce in-house. Then she recruits various family members assist with the rest of the catering in some way. Usually this involves someone being asked to bring some nibbles, a couple of people to bring salads, and one or two to get creative with desserts.

Everyone shares the load in some way and fine time is had by one and all. The day itself is usually full of noise and laughter, fun and frivolity. By the time we’ve enjoyed some snacks and a celebratory drink, had a swim and then worked our way through a long, lazy lunch, we’re all pretty much ready for a nap.

But wait… there’s still dessert to be conquered!

To give everyone some time to recover enough to enjoy the tasty treats on offer, this is when we usually get one or more of the youngsters to act as Santa and distribute the gifts. It tends to bump us all out of our food hangovers and generate some renewed interest – which we can then usually all sustain through dessert, coffee and eventual departure home to collapse in comfort.

Several years ago Boychilde came to me with an idea. He said he’d noticed that everyone was spending an awful lot of time and money running around buying gifts each year and that, as often as not, the gifts turned out to be things that the recipients didn’t really want – or already had. He wasn’t sure it was such a great plan and wondered what my thoughts were on introducing something different.

Although I genuinely appreciate the thought that goes into every gift I get, I definitely agreed and was on-side for a change of pace. The question then was how to change the system in such a way as to retain the happy Christmassey feel whilst simultaneously limiting expenditure, gift awkwardness and the headless-chook runaround of last minute gift gathering.

The idea of introducing something along the lines of a Secret Santa or Kris Kringel, where everyone in the extended family only bought – and received – one gift sounded like a plausible solution. The next step was to unleash the idea on the rest of the family. We thrashed out  a few more details and, rather to my surprise, the siblings, nieces and nephews all jumped on board with alacrity. I guess the timing was right for everyone.

As a group, we decided on the budget for the Secret Santa gifts, then agreed that it would be an even better idea we each come up with a list of three items to that set dollar value for their Santa to choose from. This way everyone’d get something they wanted… but they wouldn’t know exactly what until they opened their gift just before dessert-time. Perfect!

We got together for a pre-Christmas afternoon tea about a month before d-day, consumed fruit mince pies and each drew one of the lists out of a hat. Then it was up to each of us as to what we chose from that list. We’d each bring our wrapped mystery Santa-gift (for a specific individual) along on Christmas day, pop it under the tree anonymously, and wait for the before-dessert grand reveal.

And so a new family tradition was well and truly born. This year is our 10th Secret Santa family gathering (time flies!) and I’ve had fun with my Xmas shopping – which is still a refreshing change after years of dreading it! This year my niece and her daughters, with help from my sister and her family, is hosting the event – and it’s going to be fabulous.

Bring it on, Secret Santas 🙂

It’s always deeply satisfying to make tasty things for my family (and pets), and this week is no exception.

With Cassie and Molly both at school this term, we’re going through a prodigious amount of puppy training treats. This week I’m trying out something new: Tuna Fudge. I found the recipe on the dog club’s website and thought it would provide some variation for the (not at all picky) dogs. It’s a much less messy and time consuming option than the liver treats I made a couple of weeks ago, so I may stick to these for a while. I did change the recipe slightly, using one cup of plain flour + (about) ¾ of a cup of polenta (corn meal) in place of the wholemeal flour.  The dogs approve 🙂

tuna fudge_31jul16

While the training treats were baking, I did the final preparation of some Rosemary Seasalt Dutch Oven Bread for our lunch. I mixed up the dough yesterday, using ½ a cup of my excess sourdough starter in place of the suggested amount of active dry yeast. This may be what resulted in the bread not rising a whole lot (and thus turning out pretty dense), but the crust was absolutely delicious!

I’ll do some research into getting the quantity of starter right, but will definitely make it again. So much yum – particularly on a blustery winters day. There’s not a lot out there to beat freshly made (hot) bread with lashing of butter!

rosemary seasalt sourdough_31jul16

What I need now is a really great chicken and corn soup recipe to try out as an accompaniment… Any suggestions?

When I was about nine or ten years old, my maternal grandparents came to live with us for a while. Grandad was poorly and Gran needed help, so my bedroom became theirs and my kid brother and I shared his very large room. It was no big deal for the two of us – and having the grandparents around was fun.

Perhaps that’s when I first took on board the idea that multigenerational households are a logical way of life for families. Clearly I’m not alone in thinking so. According to the City Futures Research Centre, more and more Australian families are choosing to live this way. For some families this includes adult children who either continue to live at home or move back in for a while, and/or ageing parents or grandparents who move in with their children rather than entering an aged-care facility.

This shift could be happening for any number of reasons, but it seems to me that it’s at least partly a practical response to increasing societal pressures. The job market is uncertain and very mobile, house prices, childcare and living expenses continue to climb whilst wages remain static or, at best, creep up gradually. We’re all living longer, but may not have anticipated the sharp cost increases or our continued longevity. The result in many cases is that superannuation/pension schemes may not provide an adequate income to last the distance.

There are any number of pluses to multigenerational households, such as shared expenses, assistance with child-care and transport, shared cooking and shopping duties, company and conversation, and being able to keep an eye on one’s ageing parents. It also provides ongoing training for children, adults and older people in getting along together, and can narrow the generation gap through sharing.

However, adult children often feel that parents never quite view them as having grown up, which can result in ongoing conflict. Ageing parents moving in with a family may also experience this roadblock. Other issues that could arise are differing needs for quiet, privacy, special diets, personality conflicts, mobility assistance, sharing of chores, and clarifying financial arrangements – to name just a few. If not addressed up front and managed on an ongoing basis, any or all of these things can result in a household imploding.

Whilst I acknowledge that it’s not something everyone might want to do, I believe that the positives of multigenerational households far outweigh the negatives. But it does require ongoing mindful engagement from all parties. As long as the group communicates respectfully, plans and remains flexible, most things can be worked out.

Last year our household grew by three cats, four chicken, a number of quail – and an adult child and her partner. After 11 months they were ecstatic to finally move into their own house – and we were pretty happy to not longer have the noisy (!) chickens in the front yard. But the four of us managed to work around each other pretty well all year, having talked about how to manage issues in advance. It can work 🙂

chickens and mollypup_dec2014

I started this chicken piñata on a whim a couple of weeks ago, mostly to fill time whilst puppy-sitting. But, as it progressed,  the process started to become quite compulsive. The simple balloon body soon grew a neck, another (smaller) balloon for a head, a tail (constructed in two stages), a beak, plumage and, finally, a pair of very handsome feet.  Wet weather is not ideal for this sort of project, but it can be done. Each stage involved many strips of very sticky papier mâché, followed by some time in front of my hair dryer and/or the heater to dry and harden the layers.

It took us 16 days to shape the body, apply 6-7 layers of papier mâché (some areas needed extra, for strengthening), cover it with two layers of paint, add some fine details, insert strings to hang it up, cut a hatch in the top and then finally fill it with lollies. All in all it took about 40 hours from start to finish.  A long haul, but we both had lots of fun and found it both creative and surprisingly relaxing.


pinata early stages

pinata final stages

pinata completed_7may2016




Neil Gaiman  is one of my favourite authors. I find his stories captivating, and the audio versions – read by him – are a delight. So when I came across a memoir/manifesto by Amanda Palmer, I bought it simply because she and Neil are a couple. Yup – fangirl – I admit it.

gaiman and palmer_Screen-Shot-2015-11-02-at-8.50.29-AM

The other reason I bought the The Art of Asking was that the title caught my attentionIt’s catchy and I was curious as to what this punk-cabaret, folk singing, ukele-playing, quirky artist had to say.

In order to relate to Amanda and her story more personally – and order to hear her voice and her music – I got it as an audio book. I also tracked down her very popular  Ted talk  (as have about 7,732,843 other people!), and gained the following insights from the combination:

  • Amanda is a great story teller, has worked hard to be a successful artist, and has a strong fanbase.
  • I’m not crazy about her music, but find the lyrics thought provoking and often very moving.
  • Audio books are fabulous – especially when read by the author 🙂
  • Direct interaction between the fanbase and artists, with fans deciding how much they’re prepared to / able to pay for merchandise of various sorts is the way forward. To quote Amanda, “I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is, How do we make people pay for music? What if we started asking, How do we let people pay for music?”  Whilst no longer new, this a terrific (although underutilized) concept and one with which I wholeheartedly agree – but more on that another time.
  • Finally, the core topic of the book: it’s important to learn to ask for help – not demand it or expect it to magically arrive.

Amanda’s story of the difficulties and successes she’s had in this area is an excellent vehicle to get this last point across. She talks about the ongoing struggle with allowing herself to be helped and, more specifically, with asking for help as a constant negotiation between ego and need.

Her solution is to trust, both in herself and others, and to allow herself to “give and receive fearlessly”. It’s sound advice – but it still left me pondering why I often find asking for help so darn difficult.

mumMy siblings and I were raised by an uber-Mum. We loved, respected and, to some extent, feared her. She was a strong woman in a time when being a strong woman meant survival. She never asked for help, she just got on with things and bent the world to suit her. She didn’t acknowledge fear and  appeared completely invulnerable.  At least this is what our childish perspective led us to believe, and this belief shaped the people we became.

Years later it occurred to me that my mother simply didn’t have the leisure to allow herself to sit back, or the opportunity to seek out emotional support. She worked hard to make our lives comfortable, navigating her way around an unreliable spouse, frequent upheavals as he changed jobs/towns/directions, a gaggle of children, an alienated extended family, a full time job and a very limited income.

Unfortunately, what it took far longer for me to understand is that never asking for help tends to make people appear unapproachable. No-one wants to risk offering help if it’s going to be brusquely rejected. And no-one wants to ask such a person for help for fear of being judged as inadequate in some way. It effectively isolates people from one another.

As a society we are enculturated to believe that asking for help reveals weakness, neediness, incompetence – or all three. We fear being perceived as selfish. We fear that asking for help might result in us incurring a debt that we will be called on at some future date. We fear loss of control. We fear.

We meander through life, sometimes directionless, sometimes with a plan. In many instances we really could do with a helping hand, a willing ear, a visit from a friend, a small kindness to ease the load we carry. But we don’t ask. We soldier on – fearful, or not wishing to impose a burden on others, or too proud to show our vulnerabilities.

Mum did eventually lean on us a little when she became too ill to manage alone. It was only then that she allowed her vulnerability to be glimpsed. Did she think we’d see it as weakness, that we’d think less of her? This was so very far from the truth. Instead, my admiration and respect for my mother grew exponentially. Every shadow brought her more clearly into focus, allowed me to get to know her a little better.

Nevertheless, my mother’s carefully controlled vulnerability has continued to influence my choices. Fortunately I’ve had the leisure to make different choices and to make them far earlier.  It comes down to being acknowledging the baggage and then setting it aside,  a bit at a time. Then work towards falling into trust by asking for, accepting and offering help graciously when it’s needed. After all, who will ask me for help if I allow fear or pride (ego) to – actively or passively – send out the message that asking equals weakness?

It’s my hope that my children find this process of allowing people to help them, to care for them and to share with them a less complex one than I did. It’s also my hope that my siblings have managed to find their own way through this shared socially constructed minefield. It’s never too late to learn to ask for help – in big or small ways.