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 🙂

pop up choirThis week our local library organised a pop-choir event as part of Adult Learners Week. About a dozen of us congregated in the meeting area at the back of the building, keen to give singing in the library – rather than just borrowing books (etc.) – a whirl.

The branch librarian greeted us all with her usual bubbly enthusiasm, then handed us over to another of the choir master. Brian – a librarian by profession, was wearing his musicians’ hat for the morning. He  was an enthusiastic and gentle instructor, and we set about rocking the library for the next hour or so under his very capable guidance.

We sang what might seem like an odd selection of music, but it was all aimed at being accessible to any level of vocal ability. First up was a simple African spiritual, presumably because none of us would have any preconceptions as to what it would sound like. Brian took us through the verse and the chorus one line at a time, putting the bits together as we gained confidence in the pronunciation, cadence and tune. Then he introduced a second part, a rhythmic dum-dum-da-dum, for the deeper voices, and brought all that together. All enormously good fun.

After that we had a go at Silent Night, The 12 Days of Xmas, a hymn of unknown name (I’ve misplaced the songsheet) and, finally, Take me Home Country Road (John Denver) to end on a jolly note. It was all done A Cappella and, despite the wide variation in voice types and strengths, it sounded great – from where I was sitting at least. I it certainly brought a large number of curious library users down to the back of the library to listen.

On the way home I wondered why I don’t sing more often. I used to… but somewhere along the line I think I may have stopped actively engaging with music. But the act of singing is exhilarating and something that I now realise I’ve missed. My brief session in the library certainly left me feeling happy, with a smile that lasted pretty much all day. I guess that’d be the singing-induced endorphins zipping around in my system.

Whatever it was, I definitely felt more engaged and enthusiastic in general – and was pleased to hear that are plans afoot to run more events of this sort, culminating in a small Xmas concert in the library. In the meantime, the house is once again being subjected to my exceedingly eclectic assortment of music – my more or less tuneful warbling – and my increased happiness-factor 🙂

Our voices have been silent, and it’s not doing us any goodTania de Jong AM.

BabyMolly_2014Miss Molly entered our lives almost two years ago, capturing our hearts from the moment we met her at Valkyrian Dobermans. We’ve learned a whole lot about the breed since we brought her home, sitting on my lap – but the surprises keep on coming 🙂

Molly en route home_2014

Like every other Doberman we’ve met, MissM’s very affectionate and people-oriented. She took to sleeping on our bed early in the piece and likes to colonise the couch – usually squished up next to (or on) one of us. The phrase ‘velcro dog’ or even ‘parrot-dog‘ describes her perfectly: she has no concept of personal space, preferring to be close to (or on) one of us… an ever-present, 26kg shadow.


We were warned that Dobermans are athletic – and this appears to equate to ‘runs and jumps like a crazy thing and has boundless energy.’ Daily walks are a must for MissM, and these need to be augmented by a good run a couple of times a week. It makes a huge difference to both her happiness and our sanity!

MissM out for a runDobermans can have a propensity to suck on (or chew) blankets. MissM is one of these – and seems to particularly enjoy the blanket we have on our bed… Preventative measures are in place but, given that her grandmother still does it, we may be doomed on this one.

The biggest hurdle we’ve faced – the one we come up against on a daily basis – is that dobermans can be darned stubborn. And by this I mean really, really stubborn. MissM does obey commands – but, like many two year olds, it tends to be in her own good time, thank you very much.

MissM in a rare moment of calmOur young lady is very protective and has a giant bark that she’s very willing to use any time anyone comes through the gate. This can result in some nervous visitors… She also seems to think she’s smaller than than she really is and will persist in trying to fit into fruit boxes 🙂

Molly in a box

Dobermans respond well to training… eventually, but not to drama or negative/forceful discipline. It takes consistent, patient training and positive reinforcement. Luckily, Himself is all about patience – so the game is gradually going our way.

Molly at school_23aug16

All in all, whilst her first two years have been frenetic, she’s been a great addition to our lives. Cassie, our six month old Welsh Springer pup, is her best buddy. Happy birthday, MissM 🙂


It’s the end of #blogjune… Will I miss it? Yes and no – my daily brain strain will enjoy having a little holiday, but the commitment to write something every day has been a very useful exercise. Thank you to all the June-bloggers who posted and who read my posts. It’s been fun 🙂

Actual June also comes to an end today – and with it the third of the food-drives hosted by Menagerie10 (our place). Last December some friends and I decided to collect food to help out those less fortunate than us. Sharing some Christmas cheer by giving, rather than receiving, sounded like a good idea. So we agreed to each set aside one durable food item every day up until 19 December. Then DaughterDearest and I went out to delivered the boxes of food to the Foodbank and were given a little tour of the facility.

We were very impressed with the set up – and with the great work that Foodbank does right around Australia. So much so, that I decided to host four Foodbank food drives this year. I started a Facebook group and invited a few people to join in and commit to fighting hunger in Australia by donating a tin/container of food each week. The result was that I delivered 55kg of assorted comestibles to Foodbank at the end of March.

Foodbank delivery1_2016Today, Cassie-puppy accompanied me back out to Foodbank to deliver the group’s second care package of the year: this time 25kg of food, all most gratefully received and put into stock for distribution. Watching the forklift drive away with the boxes felt good. Good to know that my friends and family are prepared to to care about the homeless and needy – and to do something concrete and practical to help out. So, thanks everyone – I hope you all felt a little warm glow too 🙂

Foodbank deliiver_20160630

We have two more collections this year, one for delivery to Foodbank at the end of September and one just before Christmas. So if there’s anyone out there (in the Perth region) who’d care to donate to the next appeal, please let me know. This poster outlines the sorts of things that are most appropriate – please note: no glass or bottles.

foodbank poster


Things that make me smile:

  • Glovens (mitten-gloves) completed, crocheted in multicoloured 100% wool – hands now warm and toasty.
  • Meeting my work deadline for a quarterly print run
  • Jam success – and several jars sent to new homes 🙂
  • Mid-winter gathering of family and friends – so much tasty food!
  • Toasting marshmallows over open fire using new toasting forks invented by Himself for the occasion. We have leftover marshmallows…
  • Email from Amazon informing me that books sales really happened:  “This royalty payment notification is for Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) sales recorded in the AU Kindle Store…”