Avoiding Festive Fatigue

carols by candlelight

We’re back at that time of year where, if you’re not careful, life can feel like one long to-do list. My own list is epic. Finish writing cards. Post cards. Get daughter to write her cards. Make shortbread as present for class eldest’s class teacher. Take teacher presents into preschool. Make cranberry sauce to put in freezer. Post presents that need posting. Wrap other presents. Pay credit card bill (gulp). Update Ocado order. Finalise stocking fillers. Make mince pies. Water Christmas tree. Do all the things I need to do every day which don’t stop just because its Christmas.

But I want to stop and hit pause, so that I’m not so shattered by Christmas I don’t enjoy it. And ideally, so that I enjoy the last few days before Christmas, as in many ways they are the best bit. Here are my top five ways to avoid festive fatigue.

1 Go and sing some carols

For me, Christmas without a church service or two is like icing without cake. All the surrounding frippery can be beautifully sweet, but without the cake itself it can feel sickly and cloying. I’m not particularly religious, but the Christmas message of love, peace and joy never fails to uplift and inspire me. And taking time out to sing beautiful carols in a lovely place imbues me with a sense of peace and calm which lasts far longer than the service itself. One of our most beloved family traditions is going to the service of crib blessing in Trafalgar Square every Advent. Sadly we missed it this year as Anna was ill, and we missed the local carols in the village square for the same reason. However, yesterday evening I made a last-minute decision that Anna could have a slightly late bedtime, and we whizzed off to the carols by candlelight service in our local parish church. I had been feeling overwrought and overwhelmed all day, but I ended it feeling peaceful, loving and festive.

2 Do something you like 

A lot of Christmas is for children, and as parents we bend over backwards to ensure that they have the most perfect and memorable time possible. But they won’t enjoy any of that nearly so much with a grumpy, snappy mummy. I hope that making the time to go for a Christmas drink with a friend, lighting a scented candle and snuggling in whilst listening to some carols with my favourite Christmassy books to read, and going to that carol service will help me keep my cool and my patience as the children’s Pre-Christmas Tension rises.

3. Don’t try and do everything

There is so much to do at this time of year. Parties, drinks, Christmas fairs, grottoes, carol singing, lights, meals out, pantomimes, films, shopping , festive family craft sessions and so on and so on. If you try and do everything that comes your way you will be exhausted and frazzled. Take a moment to think about your family, and what you actually enjoy doing, and concentrate on a few activities that will feel really special and meaningful (even if that’s just watching a favourite Christmas film together whilst drinking hot chocolate) rather than squeezing everything in to what will end up feeling like a giant, sparkly, headache inducing blur. You won’t enjoy it, and your children probably won’t enjoy it either.

4. Cut corners and delegate

I am not going to send cards to children at my toddler’s preschool, because she barely remembers any of her little friends’ names, and can’t write.  When my friend brings her children round for a pre-Christmas catch-up/play date they will get frozen pizza for tea (maybe with some cherry tomatoes and cucumber on the side), because the point is that we all spend time together, rather than me being stuck in the kitchen trying to rustle up some home-made delight that at least half the children will probably reject on sight anyway. My husband is in charge of wrapping presents (although I still haven’t found a way of getting someone else to wrap his presents!), doing the decorations and setting the festive tables, and although I don’t cut many corners on Christmas Day cooking because I love doing (and easting!) the whole shebang, I am more than happy for my mother-in-law to contribute her delicious bread-sauce, brandy butter and ham for the festive feast.

5. Remember the bigger picture

Will anyone really look back and say “oh, Christmas 2017 was a big disappointment – mum forgot the maple glaze for the parsnips”? A piece of advice I read of this year and try (though often fail) to heed, is when something goes wrong or causes you anxiety, stop and think whether it will still bother you in five years time. If the answer is no, then stop fretting. I think this advice applies more than ever at Christmas. Children, and indeed everyone, will remember an atmosphere of warmth and love and a sense of magical anticipation. That doesn’t need you to work yourself into the ground, or spend more money than you can really afford – in fact probably the exact opposite.

Oh, and a final thought – this is a horrible, germy time of year. Force feed everyone a good multivitamin, get out in the fresh air when you can, and stock up on the Dettol spray to try and contain things if the bugs do strike!

 

 

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Friendship after children

 

I’m up against it again this week, with husband once more away for work for a few nights, and the toddler full of cold and so even more demanding than usual. I haven’t found time to write one of my usual blog posts here, but I have just published this piece on friendship after children for Selfish Mother blogline, if you fancy a browse.

On the Jumble Trail

I have always loved shopping. As a child it was a real treat to go into town with my mum on a Saturday, just the two of us while my dad and brother did ‘boy’ things. She’d treat me to a fry-up in the C&A cafe (showing my age now), or delicious cakes in our favourite little cafe on a side street. My favourite shops then, aged about ten were good ol’ C&A and Tammy Girl.

Then when I was into my teens I’d still spend Saturdays hanging out in town with my girl friends. A Spicy Bean burger and a milkshake in Burger King, and longing looks at the clothes we couldn’t afford in TopShop, River Island and Miss Selfridge, before buying a new brightly coloured nail varnish and getting the bus home.

When I had my own pay check to spend and was working in Central London I could sneak out at lunchtime or after work to browse the shops and Oxford Street, and I had the money to treat myself sometimes. I will fit into that much-beloved size 10 leather pencil skirt again one day…

After having children, actually going to the shops could be less pleasurable. Tantrums and sticky fingers and cramped (or, heaven forbid, communal) changing rooms made it more chore than pleasure. Luckily for me I became a mum in the age of internet shopping. It’s a great way to pass the time when you’re pinioned to the sofa under a breastfeeding baby, and you can try the clothes on in the privacy of your own bedroom. Preferably by candlelight for that flattering glow. I also discovered some new favourite brands for my dress-like-a-mum style – hello Boden!

yellow dressFor me, though, there is no shopping experience more pleasurable than hunting down that elusive bargain. I’ve blogged before about my fabulous local Sell or Swap group, and how much I love combining local community with the chance to acquire some lovely new treats. Yesterday was one better than that with a local Jumble Trail. Around one hundred local people put a stall outside their house, selling off their unwanted goods, and the rest of us enjoyed the very British experience of a jumble sale in the pouring rain. I took the money I’d recently made on Sell or Swap to spend, and for the grand total of about £30 managed to get Anna a huge pile of books in the Rainbow Magic series which she is obsessed with at present, a beautiful turquoise gravy jug which looks lovely on my dresser and can even be called in to service for gravy dispension as required, a yellow chiffon dress, a White Stuff skirt with a cute bright pink bird print, an Orla Kiely scarf and a stunning navy blue silk top embellished with silver sequins for me, two pretty dresses for Anna, and a gorgeous wooden rocking horse for Sophia. rocking horseOh, and some home-made cakes, of course! I was on a total high at my lovely haul of stuff, but also at the chance to catch up with local friends, and meet some more. My idea of a perfect Sunday!

Twenty-Fourth Day of Advent: Christmas

xmas cakeWell, I had to end with Christmas, didn’t I? Regular readers of this blog and my Advent posts in particular will probably have picked up that I absolutely adore Christmas. I don’t want anything Christmassy to intrude until December because I feel it spoils it, but from 1 December, bring it on. I love the carols, the candles, the cooking, the eating, the choosing gifts and receiving them, the little family rituals, the cheesy Christmas tunes, Anna’s palpable excitement (which is about to shoot off the scale). Everything.

I also love the message of Christmas. I blogged before about my ambivalent relationship with Christianity, but equally how can I not warm to the message of Peace on Earth? One of my absolute favourite carols is It Came Upon the Midnight Clear and I can’t hear it without crying. Partly because it was my Nanna’s favourite and so reminds me of her, and partly because of the verse

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

Somehow Christmas brings alive the possibility that we might hush our noise and listen to the angel song. There is so much redolent symbolism. Stars and candles giving light, angels giving messages of peace and love, the evergreens with which we decorate our home reminding us even though the days are the shortest and darkest new life will return.

I love spending time with family and friends. Of course that isn’t, and shouldn’t, be confined to Christmas. But life can get so busy that it’s great when Christmas forces us to pause and take time away from work and day to day responsibilities and worries. In fact, Christmas brings together almost everything that makes me happy which I’ve blogged about this Advent. Family, friends, husband, daughters, food, home, baking are all crucial to making my Christmas special.

Thank you for reading my blog this Advent. I’ve been so touched by all your comments and the positive feedback I’ve had. I’ll be back after Christmas, but in the meantime I and going to turn on the TV for Carols From Kings, and wish you and your families a very happy Christmas however you are celebrating.

Nineteenth Day of Advent: My home

Since I had Anna, one of the elements of the Christmas story which really resonates with me is Mary wandering around Bethlehem, knowing that she was about to give birth, but not knowing where, or having a place to keep her new baby safe afterwards. I can’t imagine many things worse. It wrings my heart to think of how many parents across the world are still in that situation today.

However, this blog is focussing on the positives, and the things I personally have to be grateful for.

My house, the warm, cosy, comfortable, secure home, where we can bring up our daughters safely is very high on the list.

our houseThis house has felt like home since the first moment I stepped over the threshold. We had been looking to move for a while, feeling that, with an almost three year old and the possibility that we might have another baby at some point, we were outgrowing our tiny two up, two down terrace. Anna and I came to view this house one cold, snowy February evening not long before her third birthday. She was grumpy because the only time I had been able to schedule the viewing clashed with her teatime. We both had cold wet feet from wading through the slush to get here. And yet, the second I walked in, these minor irritations vanished and I knew we had found our forever home.

As the estate agent showed me round I abandoned my little notebook with lists of all the things husband and I had considered ‘essential’ or ‘desirable’ in our new house and which I usually ticked off, as I looked round. Instead I was mentally decorating and arranging our furniture. At the end of the 20 minute viewing I made an offer of the full asking price, even though my husband had never seen it. Our marriage doesn’t normally operate like that; the opposite, we normally talk and discuss at length until we reach a consensus. This time though, rather like when I met husband himself, I just knew it was right.

This being the London property market there were quite a few ups and downs before we actually exchanged contracts (by which time husband had actually seen, and luckily loved, the house!). During the process we got to know the couple who were selling it quite well. They are artists, in their late fifties or early sixties, and were taking early retirement to go and live down on the Kent coast. At the moment our solicitor phoned to say we had completed, husband and I were standing in their (now our) dining room, drinking champagne with them. Having had that friendly relationship with them adds to the warm and positive vibes I always get from our house.garden1

I love my home in all its guises. When it is being trashed by Anna and her friends playing ‘landslides’ (all the sofa cushions, pillows, blankets etc in the house piled up in the middle of the living room so they can throw themselves off the denuded sofa onto it), or when, as now it is calm and quiet because husband has taken Anna to her swimming lesson with Sophia in tow so that I can have a blogging break. And make macaroni cheese with pancetta, spinach and sweetcorn for tea when they get home. I love it when it is full of friends or family eating and laughing and enjoying themselves, and I love it when it is just me and my husband sharing a quiet dinner together or Anna and I having a hot chocolate after school, or Sophia determinedly learning to climb upstairs and down again with me shadowing her protectively.  I love it in summer when the doors stand open and we can eat in the garden, and I love it at Christmas when it is full of fairy lights and holly from the tree in our front garden. I love that both my girls have their own room with their own soft warm bed and space for their own little treasures. But I also love that one of the rooms is big enough that, if they wanted to, they could share it when Sophia is older. fireplace

I love the feeling of peace and security which envelopes me here, even if things in other areas of my life are going wrong. I love that the house is a constantly evolving reflection of our changing lives. The spare bedroom became a nursery. Husband has had a lot of work to do at home lately, so a corner of our dining room has become a home office (aka totally disorganised pile of papers with a laptop teetering on top). Baskets of baby toys are now in the corner of most rooms, and are about to be joined by a bright yellow, plastic, ride-on duck. Ahem. Anna’s toys take up less room now, but her shelves of ‘chapter books’ are continually expanding. There is an ongoing tension between my need to at least attempt to keep things relatively clean and tidy, and my family’s need to leave as many of their possessions as possible scattered over the floor. Luckily, though, I am not a real neat freak (stop laughing, Mum), and so generally we have a slightly chaotic but cosy and comfortable home which makes us all happy.