There is only one guarantee in life: Everything changes

Some people are resistant to change – particularly from middle age onwards – while others embrace it. Some of us want to cram as many crazy, new experiences into our twilight years, while others take comfort from what they know.

On a personal level, I have always embraced change, which explains my itchy feet, numerous house moves, and embarrassingly full resume, but for many others change signals a threat to their safety. It explains (not justifies) the reaction of some people to immigrants or women in more powerful positions in the workplace.

I stole the title of this post from a piece written by Zach J.Payne on Medium. It seemed appropriate to discuss the comment as we race towards Christmas with its obscene display of overspending at the same time as bush fires rage around us and tv series such as Years and Years keep us awake at night.

But it is not only Australia’s archaic approach to climate change or our problem with overspending that has taken the bang out of the crackers this Christmas. It is also a tiredness caused by the never-ending murders and abuse of women at the hands of the patriarchy – in the last few weeks, another woman was burnt to death on the way to her rape trial whilst another died in a menstruation hut. It is a tiredness caused by the increase in mental illness in our children – that no one seems to be tackling with any seriousness, and a tiredness caused by tragedies such as the White Island eruption with its timely reminder of the fragility of our lives.

But perhaps the biggest source of my fear is what is happening on the political world stage right now, with the terrifying rise of the right, the possible impeachment of Trump, and the British election today. The scariest truth to come out of this year for me is that even democracies can be governed by self-serving lunatics.

It is really not surprising that the tinsel and fairy lights have done little to assuage those fears, when it is increasingly hard to feel any positivity about the state of the world – even from my position of privilege. The only thing that keeps many of us going is hope. It is the belief, however far-flung it feels right now, that everything does indeed change, and that in general, good beats evil. After all, the Berlin Wall did come down, fascism was beaten in two world wars, Irish women now have the right to abortions, and there are continued improvements in our treatment of serious illnesses – which means that in the west our longevity improves all of the time. That is, if we still have a world to live in, of course.

And on a micro level, we experienced one of those changes last Sunday, when our son joined us at our Christmas party.

As you know, Christmas is a special time for me. It represents everything I aspire to in terms of family, togetherness and belonging – even if our reality isn’t always that chocolate box version. But his arrival was a surprise. Why? Because we have organised many family events over the past few years that he has promised to attend and then been a no-show. He is, after all, a young man in his early twenties who is not comfortable with large groups – especially large groups of Boomers and Gen Xers who are aware of his struggles. So much so, (was it) only a few years ago that I truly believed that one day we might end up estranged, to be reconciled in twenty years time on one of those cheesy programmes on tv, or (worst case) at visitors time in prison.

Actually, that’s a lie, because my worst case scenario was when I thought he might not be here at all.

And yet, if anyone asked me twenty-two years ago if I thought I would find myself in this position, I would have laughed in their face. I mean…I’m far from perfect parent material, but I am a middle-class woman with privilege who tried (desperately) to tick most points off Dr Spock’s checklist.

But I had a child who was and is (very much) his own person. One who only now is growing happier in his own skin – although it is obvious he will never embrace the “system” he was born into – who also suffers from a neurological condition that makes life that bit harder for him. And while I may be a tad prone to catastrophizing, (which my friends will confirm), those fears about his future felt very real at the time. And so, even now, (and we’re far from out of the woods), it takes only the smallest gesture of love from my son to throw me into an emotional tailspin of gratitude and relief – much to my daughter’s disgust.

But as time moves on, I have seen that shit happens to everyone – it’s just that most people don’t feel the need to write about everything that happens to them :). That’s life. The good news is that (in general) we learn how to cope with the holes in the road that try to fuck up the suspension on the car. And as the journalist Jan Fran said when she was a guest on the Wilosophy podcast and was asked about the thing she is most proud of in her life – a huge measure of our personal success has to be how we REACT to situations and change.

It never ceases to amaze me how capable we human beings are in the face of pain and tragedy. Right now, in Queensland and New South Wales, homeowners are risking their lives to save their properties alongside volunteer fire fighters who will be giving up Christmas to help them. Those homeowners don’t know if their houses will still be standing tomorrow – all they have is hope. But they are coping, because they have to. Today, the families of those killed on White Island will feel utter hopelessness as the bodies of their loved ones are retrieved to be laid to rest, but one day they will find some meaning to their loss – because what else is there?

Everything changes and not always for the better, but we are more resilient than we think. 2020 is another year that will bring new change and challenge. That lunatic Boris looks like he will get back in, I have no doubt that Trump will find some corrupt way to out-manoeuvre the US judicial system, and Scomo will continue to pray to his god to put out the fires. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.

So all the rest of us can hope is that other changes that come out of next year are for the better, and that more activists like Greta Thunberg and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez don’t give up and stay angry enough to lead them.

The 7 Best Ways To Find Your Christmas Spirit When You’re A Grinch

In spite of my newfound, VERY mature thoughts about the insignificance of consumerism in my life at this time here, I have launched myself full throttle into Christmas.

Living room with full of Christmas decorations.

To be honest, I’m a bit of a Christmas tragic. We were fortunate to have a mother who made the festivities so special for us that even though she died in December, the month remains my favourite in the year. In some ways, I suppose, I want to uphold her tradition of Christmas madness because it feels like a celebration of her life. My sister is as bad. So much so, we have an annual race to get the tree up first. I won this year. (Just saying, Ange).

When we lived in the UK, we used to wait until mid December before we put the tree up – although I’m sure that has changed as the world gets more and more embroiled in the commercialism of the season. But here, in Australia, we kick off the celebrations much earlier, probably because it is the start of our long summer holidays, or possibly for the benefit of the many migrants who struggle to find their Christmas spirit.

I fully commit. While many of my British circle don’t feel Christmas is the same in a hot climate, I have embraced the morning swim on Christmas morning with gusto, followed by turkey and Christmas pudding – even in 35-degree heat!

Needless to say, by late November I’ve already mentally signed off for the year and entrenched myself fully in plans for our annual Chrissy Drinks, what to wear on the special days, and Christmas shopping. This year, I’m even going to see White Christmas with some fellow Christmas freaks.

So, if you’re a Grinch and need some help in the Christmas spirit department, here are my 7 great ways to find it:

1.Add some sparkle to your home. OBVS, a tree is the best, but if you can’t be bothered, a liberal dose of tinsel and coloured lights will do the trick. I have a rather fetching bauble head piece that I wear.

2. Nothing beats the aroma of Christmas spices. I still make Delia’s Red Cabbage each year, even though everyone in the family hates it. The smell of cloves and cinnamon push me up one more notch on the Christmas madness scale.

3. Fish out the Christmas movies. I can recommend the latest piece of schmalz from the UK – Last Christmas – in spite of the reviews. Emma Thompson is superb, Emilia Clarke is magnetic, and Henry Golding makes for some lovely tree candy. Although, for my money you can’t beat The Holiday or the Christmas scenes in Bridget Jones.

4. Go to Aldi and stock up on all their yummy Christmas treats. It is a scientifically-proven fact that calories don’t count at Christmas and while you might think you don’t need that DIY Gingerbread House, of course you do!

5. Christmas music – At home, in the car, in the shower. Sex is good, but absolutely nothing beats dancing around the kitchen to Mariah’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”

6. Give/Donate/Be Kind. So we all know that the old saying that giving is better than receiving is a load of old bollocks, but even the biggest cynic knows that nothing beats the high to be had from “giving.” If you can find a way to donate or help someone at Christmas, I promise you’ll enjoy yours all the more. Whatever your budget, even the tiniest act of generosity can make a difference to those less fortunate than you. Buy charity Christmas, donate some cash, help the koalas, or thank the firemen, but make a difference! This year, I’m going to “donate a plate” for the homeless via The Wayside Chapel here.

7. Don’t be a Grinch and you might actually enjoy it. Be positive. Don’t worry about who you don’t like or who doesn’t like you at Christmas lunch, family feuds, or undercooking the turkey. There are fewer and fewer occasions when families and communities get the opportunity to simply BE together, so whether you are religious or not, look at Christmas that way. It is a reminder about what is important. No one’s really coming for the turkey (who would?) or the booze – they’re coming to see you, to see each other. They’re coming for that magical sense of belonging that lose sight of in our busy lives. Christmas has this incredible power to reinstate it.

Fortunately for me, after almost thirty years together, Scrooge has resigned himself to my craziness at this time of the year. He refuses to indulge in it – evidently, he has picked up that it is much safer not to burst my Christmas bauble – but each year, he dutifully buys the ice for the Christmas party, mixes the drinks, and then (I imagine) he rolls his eyes the minute my back is turned. On Boxing Day, when I am rocking in a corner, he skips around the house singing his self-penned “Christmas Is Over” song with gay abandon.

How Do You Defrost A Turkey Quickly? Asking For A Friend

The red cabbage is out of the oven to the somewhat predictable retching noises from NC – proof that she is a rubbish vegetarian. The presents are wrapped and under the tree – apart from mine, which I have no doubt will be remembered sometime between the closing credits of Elf and bedtime. And the Princess thinks that I haven’t noticed the number of gingerbread biscuits she has snuck from our mouths.

I’m freaking that the turkey won’t be defrosted in time or that I’ve forgotten something major from the list of what I am contributing tomorrow – even though it feels like I’ve done a supermarket sweep of the Coles’ shelves every day of this month. I’m worried that Kurt will forget that tomorrow is the big day and that I need my vacuum back, or that the Princess won’t fit into her outfit.

But we are as ready as we will ever be, or need to be. For we will be in the company of good friends – our surrogate family in Oz – who will forgive me if my turkey gives them listeria or if the pavlova cascades off the plate like a volcano because I didn’t want to put my glass down long enough to whip the cream to soft peaks.

We are lucky, but some are not.

A good friend from the UK posted this on her Facebook timeline a few days ago:

This time of year is not great for everyone, so my house is a safe zone. Coffee or tea can be on in minutes. Wine can be brought out as well. My table is non-judgmental. Any family or friend who needs to chat, eat or drink is welcome. We can talk, share a laugh, a cry, or just listen. If you’re hungry, I’ll feed you. I will always do my best to be available… you are always welcome!! This is an old-school value that has been lost to technology…a text, Facetime, gif or emoji is NOT the equivalent. I’m hoping that at least one friend copies this and posts it if you feel the same. I just did from another friend. Merry Christmas!

Likewise, there’s always room at our table should you find yourself alone on Christmas Day on the Northern Beaches of Sydney.

I’ll save the New Year’s reflections and aspirations for 2019 for once the Christmas craziness has died down and I’ve reduced my medication back to its normal dosage. It will give me something to do in that scary vacuum of too much over-thinking time between Christmas and New Year.

But until then, thanks for reading, and a Happy Christmas to everyone!

BTW: How do you defrost a turkey quickly? Asking for a friend.

Are Women Just As Guilty Of Disempowering Men As They Are Of Avoiding The “Emotional Labor” Of Christmas?

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

‘But you enjoy it,’ the old man retorts defensively when I moan about him not chipping in with the organization of social events, the ongoing responsibilities of our adult children, and – dare I mention it – Christmas.

You might have read in the news this week about the disparity between the practical and “emotional labor” experienced by women versus men at Christmas – as in, (for the most part, it seems), men do fuck all. Even Caitlin Moran had a moan in The Times about being the only member of her family to turn on the table lamps in her house – a gripe I can sympathize with as the only member of ours who gives a fuck about creating a relaxing ambiance.

And yet, I have a confession to make. I am one of those women who is guilty of enabling that disparity. I take ownership of pretty much every Christmas chore, from present-shopping and wrapping to the organization of the food, (most of which, admittedly, we probably don’t need Turkish Delight, anyone?), and dressing the tree.

Similarly, Laura Bates highlighted the “third shift” of responsibility that women take on in her article in The Guardian last weekend:

“There is a third shift, which is less often acknowledged. This is the mental load of planning social engagements, remembering thank-you notes and praising kind teachers, keeping track of nativity plays and Christmas pantomimes and organising the logistics of travel and sleeping arrangements.”

And before any of you men turn on me with some petty argument that women do these things because they don’t work or are working part-time – I say, BULLSHIT! – I know plenty of women that organize Christmas, do the bulk of raising the kids, and work full-time.

However, in our case, the disparity between myself and the old man has arisen as a result of our disproportionate levels of interest when it comes to the season. I love Christmas and I have certain unhealthy expectations about how we celebrate it. I would go so far as to admit that I have an inexplicable need to celebrate the tradition in a crass ‘go big or go home kind of way’ that I hold my mother responsible for – in spite of my lack of faith.

But the old man hates it. To describe him as a “humbug” or Grinch would be doing a disservice to both, but having been raised by a mother who abhorred the celebration for personal reasons, and with an inherent dislike of spending money “unnecessarily,” Christmas is an annual decadence he could easily live without.

So, while it’s all well and good during the build-up of my December rage to feel like he’s taking me for granted, I am aware that my real reason for disempowering him has more to do with my fear that Christmas lunch will turn out to be nothing more special than our normal Sunday roast.

And I won’t do that to myself the kids.

I suppose he has a point when he ridicules my insistence that we continue to buy pressies for relatives we hardly ever see and nephews and nieces who earn more than us – but in my defense, the dog loves her Christmas stocking! 

It’s not like I truly believe that we have to buy our kids’ love (much). And yet, Christmas is one of the few occasions during the year that pulls us together as a family – particularly now that the kids have left home – and if I did pull the plug on our KMart Christmas, I’m not certain we would ever see them again!

The occasion is also an excuse to reconnect with extended family since we moved to Australia, especially now that the years seem to be slipping by so quickly.

But far be it for me to belittle the emotional labor involved and the pressure such holidays cause in the (often) vain attempt to cater to different personalities, food tolerances, and diaries. And although we have yet to reach the stage where our children are forced to choose between which family to spend the day with, when that day comes, I know that I will be devastated.

As it is, this year Kurt is working on Christmas Day, and it has taken every ounce of my willpower not to march up to his boss and tell him how personally responsible he is for wrecking our family Christmas – even though the shift is an invaluable step in Kurt’s journey to independence and I couldn’t be prouder of him for doing it.

So, as I open my pressie from the old man this year –  and disguise my bitterness that it was (no doubt) me who chose it and wrapped it in the dregs of the Christmas paper – I know that I will only have myself to blame. The truth is that the old man would share the load if I asked him. Begrudgingly, perhaps, and with the kind of unforgivable rookie mistakes that it would take the remainder of our marriage for me to forgive him for the request of a detailed manual and specification of exactly what to do and where to go.

But the simple fact of the matter is, that Christmas just wouldn’t be the same.

Can I Suggest Eating Mindfully This Christmas Rather Than Dieting?

Let’s make a pact and enforce a community embargo against dieting this Christmas.

I won’t be dieting. In fact, I will be eating all of the pigs-in-blanket, swigging the whole jug of brandy custard, and scoffing every one of the purple Quality Street!

In Joanna Nell’s book, The Single Ladies Of Jacaranda Village, her doctor advises 80-something Peggy not to diet, but rather to ‘start eating mindfully.’ He elaborates: ‘I want you to think about every single thing you put into your mouth. I want you to taste it as you chew and listen to your body so you can work out when you’ve had enough.’

Easier said than done, I know – particularly at Christmas and when you’ve been raised by a war baby. And yet, the words of Peggy’s doctor really do make sense. He wants her to think more carefully about her relationship with food along with other adjustments to her lifestyle that will help her maintain her weight, rather than increase it.

No one should be miserable or deny themselves at Christmas, but it’s important to recognize when you’re full, make smart choices about what you eat, and exercise.

I’ve been trying to find that balance for a while. In calorie-speak, I have learned that when if I want a wine or two at night, I need to sacrifice bad carbs (such as potatoes or rice) with my dinner; I know that drinking water during the day fills me up and that chewing my food more slowly helps me feel more satisfied. I am also aware that the first mouthful of food is like the first sip of wine – it’s always the best!

I suppose that what I have been doing unconsciously for a while is eating more mindfully. The “eating healthily” part is easy for me – I love healthy food – although portion control, not so much. But I have also pushed myself to incorporate exercise into my routine each day. I don’t go on the scales anymore – why, when there are still women being murdered and Trump to depress me? – so instead, I gauge my weight by how my clothes fit.

Sadly, gauging your weight by how your clothes fit is becoming an increasingly difficult exercise due to the way that women’s sizing works.

The other day I tried on a bikini top in Bonds. I do not have a large bust, but because I have always carried some extra weight had a wide back (and didn’t want to spoil my day quite so early on), I attempted to be realistic and opted first for a size Large… moved swiftly onto the Extra-Large… and then, instead of beating myself up about it (and cutting up the Extra-Large into tiny pieces and shoving them down the front of the lovely sales assistant’s dress), I walked out of that shop with my head held high.

Generally, I wear a size 12-14 in tops, and yet I couldn’t squeeze my puppies into an Extra-Large. How can that make sense when the average size of women in Australia is a size 16?

So what do we do? How do we cater for the range of different shapes and sizes that women come in, without encouraging obesity? The only solution that I can see is education. 

I’m no scientist, but I’m always surprised by how little most people understand about the risks associated with processed food, portion control, sugar and the way our metabolism slows down with age. And that’s without taking into account the emotional eaters and drinkers among us or those of us in menopause.

I stopped self-flagellating over bad eating days a while ago. Like everyone, I have shit to deal with. Some days I feel on top of the world and others I want to never leave the house, and even though food is not my natural go-to substitute for happiness or self-medication – I’m wino! – I am guilty of major blow-outs like everyone else.

However, I’ve changed the way I handle them, which has nothing to do with the fact that I feel invisible anyway, or because these days I give zero fucks about pretty much most things, or even the emergence (finally) of some middle-aged wisdom. The alternative to getting depressed about something that is pretty irrelevant in my life right now – even if the magazines try to convince us otherwise – is to try to think calmly and positively for a solution to reverse the damage – such as half wine-half water, a few more salads, or some brisker walks. 

I’m already looking forward to those brisk walks this Christmas.

Have you got any other tips to share about eating mindfully? 

Recipe For The Best Christmas Punch, (Or How To Get Your Friends Slaughtered At Your Christmas Party)

So, this year’s Christmas party is done and dusted. More than thirty of us sweltered under the deck on what felt like the hottest day of the past month – as ordained by climate change or whichever God seems to take such personal pleasure out of fucking up my life as often as possible.

And yet, other than NC’s comments about how my plastic glasses were killing turtles, the permanent gush of sweat dribbling down my back, the red punch stains down my new silk lounge pants, the soggy lettuce in the mini prawn cocktails, the coriander I bought instead of mint, or (as per usual), my inability to remember to cook up the bulk of the frozen savory appetizers after a few glasses of aforementioned punch, all went surprisingly well.

Photo from original Taste recipe

I’ve decided that along with Michael Buble’s Christmas songs on repeat, watching the expressions on the faces of kids eating olives for the first time and Amaretto mince pies, a good Christmas punch is an absolute necessity for a Christmas party. And once our core group of 50-somethings had nervously sniffed our version, got to grips with their (justified) fears about what was in it, (because of work the next day etc), it didn’t take long until we found ourselves on a community mission to finish all eighteen litres of the devilish stuff.

The old man – who knocks up a mean Sangria for each birthday party – tried out a new punch recipe this year – The Berry Christmas Punch from Taste. And because it’s Christmas and the season for giving, and it received such a wealth of slurred compliments (I think), I thought I’d gift it to you.

BERRY CHRISTMAS PUNCH (6 Servings)

Ingredients:

1.5 litres of raspberry/cranberry juice, well-chilled

2 x 187ml Sparkling wine, well-chilled

1/2 cup of Cointreau

2 limes

250g strawberries

150g blueberries

120g raspberries

1/4 cup of fresh mint leaves

Method:

Pour the cranberry juice, sparkling wine and Cointreau into punch bowl. Use your hands to squeeze some of the juice from the limes into the punch. Stir to combine. Add the squeezed limes to the punch.

Add the strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and mint leaves.

FYI, a few changes we made from the original recipe: we used cranberry juice and a bottle of processed lime juice for $2 in place of the 12 limes at $1.50 each – WTF? Also, there was no mint in our version, for obvious reasons.

You’re welcome!

I’m Not Quite Ready To Wear A Leopard-Print Kaftan This Christmas

Full-Length Kaftan by MollyKaftans

How’s everyone faring in the depressing search for the perfect dress for Christmas parties and, ultimately, the big day?

I’m going to admit that – having trailed all the stores to the north of Sydney and exhausted the seemingly limitless stocks of The Iconic (and the patience of the very crabby lady at our local post office who handles my returns) – I’ve decided to opt for pants this year.

You see, I’ve reached the conclusion that there isn’t a dress waistband sturdy or stretchy enough to cope with the number of Pigs-In-Blankets and Christmas pud I intend to put in my belly this year.

I’ve also reached a level of post-winter, middle-aged lardiness where shift dresses in size 14 make me look like I’m wearing a tent – albeit that I haven’t quite reached the point of no return that is the Kaftan.

So this year, I figured that a smart pair of natural-colored culottes – neutrals are currently the rage in that center of fashion excellence commonly known as the Northern Beaches of Sydney – with the diamante-encrusted top I forage from the wardrobe every December, will do the trick. 

To be honest, I’m not fretting about my decision, not when to “dress up” in Australia can simply mean the choice of a pair of sandals over a pair of thongs. 

Unlike London, where the refusal to dress appropriately for an occasion is almost as disrespectful as not ordering the roast in the pub on Sunday – a cultural difference that I miss. Albeit that there few rules over there (and certainly no apologies) when it comes to daytime fashion – making it easier for middle-aged women stuck in that impasse of whether to dress for their age or wear what they bloody well want – there are rules about evening wear. Particularly at Christmas, when you wouldn’t be seen dead out at night in anything less sparkly than the Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square.

And while their climate provides the mature woman with the perfect excuse to drown sagging boobs in voluminous jumpers and tuck escapee paunches into thick woolly tights – and trust me, it is possible to look stylish in winter woollies with such a vast range of jumpers and sturdy winter coats available in the shops – the British take fashion up a few notches at night. Unlike Sydney, where due to the climate or the laid-back culture – I’m not sure which – you’d struggle to spot a sequinned cocktail dress at the ballet.

But understandably, many British fashions simply wouldn’t work over here – and that’s not just because our seasons are out of kilter. Brits embrace color and elements of fun and quirkiness in their style – undoubtedly a concession to the climate – but that could be a terrifying prospect to the breed of middle-aged women who adhere to the motto that “black is the new black”. 

So, while in Britain, the little black dress has been ousted in favor of metallics, luxurious textures in deep reds, purples, and orange, and this year’s print of choice, the animal print – a design that I have avoided like the plague since I hit my fifties…because, cougars – I may have to place my leopard-print kaftan on hold until I reach the true zenith of not-giving-a-fuckery, (which I imagine will be closer to my sixtieth year). Although, admittedly, that time is starting to feel reassuringly closer.

Have you reached the point of no return?