AN EXPAT AUSSIE CHRISTMAS

‘Twas the night before Christmas, it was 28 degrees and the sky was light and blue.

I have experienced a total of 6 Christmases in Australia. Two from my travelling days (2001 and 2006), and four since we made the move here in 2011. No matter how hard I try, I still find it strange Christmas shopping in the sunshine and donning a bikini and Santa hat on Christmas day.

This year we deviated from a bbq and opted for turkey with all the trimmings (even sourcing bread sauce from the UK). Our children are now two and three so are beginning to get into the Christmas spirit (well they liked the fact they got a chocolate for 24 days and that some man was bringing them presents). I, like many parents, have exploited the fact that Father Christmas was coming using it daily as a form of bribery on the lead up. Sadly, as with last year, they totally freaked when I took them to meet the big fella in person at the David Jones Santa’s grotto – #nofilter #nophoto.

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They were a little happier waving to him from afar as he flew by our house in a helicopter two days before – something I have yet to witness in the 30 UK Christmases I’ve experienced.

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THE ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS FOR A FABULOUS CHILDREN’S BIRTHDAY PARTY

I have been to, and seen pictures of, kids birthday parties where tables are laid out with everything colour co-ordinated …even the food! I have seen amazing cakes in the shape of Peppa Pig, Thomas the Tank Engine or a fairy-tale princess. Whilst I totally appreciate the effort someone has gone to in order to achieve this, it’s not something I’m too obsessed with myself. To be honest there are too many other things for my little head to worry about:

  • What should we do?
  • Where should we have it?
  • Who should we invite?
  • What food should we provide?
  • How much food should we provide?
  • How healthy should the food be?
  • How much sweet stuff should we have on offer? Will the parents leave hating us for sending the kids loopy on too much sugar?
  • Should we have alcohol?
  • Should we provide entertainment?
  • Should we provide party bags?
  • What should we include in the party bags?
  • What cake should I do?
  • What if the cake looks awful? Worse – what if the cake tastes awful?
  • What if we’ve ordered too much food?  Worse -What if we don’t have enough food?
  • What decorations should we have?
  • Should we have a theme?
  • Do we have a backup plan in case it rains?
  • The biggest fear by far – WHAT IF NO-ONE COMES?

When my first child turned one we invited every single person we knew, bought way too much food and booze, heaps of party decorations and cups, plates and napkins all in the same colour. We held the party in our back yard which is sea facing and on that day it was gale force conditions. After spending the best part of an hour fighting with banners and balloons and pink pompoms whilst simultaneously trying to stop the matching pink plastic table cloth blowing away – I admitted defeat. Most of the banners ripped within 30 seconds and all except one balloon popped before anyone arrived.

For her second party I still hadn’t learnt my lesson and did exactly the same – same location, same issues.

My second child’s first birthday party was cancelled as we were all sick.

When my eldest turned three we opted for a joint (5 months late) 1st and 3rd birthday party for both. On this occasion I wasn’t taking any chances with wind so the location was a nearby park. Entertainment was sorted thanks to the playground and cycle track. I still battled with balloons and banners. It wasn’t so windy but several balloons popped as they blew against the tree branches. At this party I was late arriving (my husband had gone ahead of me). A friend and my mother-in-law kindly helped set up however they had to contend with mine and her children demolishing everything and trying to ‘help’. I didn’t care. As long as the food was enjoyed, I was grateful for the help.

My three-year-old had requested a dinosaur cake. I messaged my friend who makes amazing cakes. She suggested I make a chocolate mud cake with green buttercream icing and then knock together some fondant dinosaurs. Easy! She even sent me a picture of fondant dinosaurs to copy. It was the peak of summer and a particularly hot few days leading up to the party. I bought green, pink and blue fondant and enthusiastically set out to make these cute dinosaurs. Did I mention it was nearly 40 degrees? My friend did inform me afterwards that even she doesn’t attempt to make fondant decorations in the summer months. The first one wasn’t too bad. It bore absolutely zero resemblance to the picture however it did look semi-dinosaur like. I then made a couple more but my creative flare must have been a fluke as quite frankly my children could have done a better job than my other attempts. After several hours spent sweating in the kitchen I showed them to my daughter. IMG_5604She smiled and agreed when I told her they were dinosaurs. We said good night to them, popped them into a Tupperware container and I poured myself a huge glass of wine. The next day when I opened the Tupperware my little dinosaur trio were all sick. They were cracked, one had fallen apart entirely and one had lost all of his spikes. As there was no Dr for fondant dinosaurs nearby, I took a trip to Kmart and grabbed a heap of plastic dinosaurs. In the end the cake was a mixture of my sad looking fondant dinosaurs and their better looking plastic counterparts. The good thing was the cake tasted good (apparently) so all was not lost.

I’m writing this now the day after my youngest child’s 2nd birthday party. This was technically her first proper birthday party. I found myself in a new predicament – who do I invite? Should I invite all of my 3-year-olds’ friends too? My 2-year-old doesn’t really have any friends. She is still at the age where she plays independently of most other children except her sister. After a great deal of procrastinating I decided to open it up to most of the people who know the youngest too.

This was the first party I had done that wasn’t in the peak of the summer. As it is now spring I was hopeful the weather would be perfect. Not too hot that we need shade, if we have it down at the beach, not too windy and fingers crossed no rain. The day before was the worst rain we have had in weeks. I was a little concerned given I didn’t have a plan B. At least I’d ordered an online shop to be delivered with all the party food. On this particular day our delivery driver decided to go AWOL. The store couldn’t track down the driver so after waiting nearly 2 hours for the delivery to turn up, lots of swearing and tears by me and my 2 girls who were climbing the walls to go out,  I took the girls to our friends house for the play date we had planned. Not long after arriving there I received a phone call to say that the driver was at our house.  I drove home to see what state the shopping was in after being left outside in the rain. Luckily it survived.

On the day of the party the weather cleared. It was so hot we moved the location to a different part of the beach in search of shade. I spent 30 minutes fighting the wind with banners and balloons and after nearly decking it off the wheelie bin – to which my 3 year old had already said “mummy you really shouldn’t be climbing on there” I gave up. She then fell off the bench she was perched on. Meanwhile her younger sister who had climbed on top of the picnic table, was pulling all of the plastic cups out and laughing hysterically as she watched them blow away.

This party was different. The serviettes, plates, cups balloons and banners were more of an eclectic collection of the remnants of previous parties so there was no specific theme or colour scheme as such. The cake was baked by my friend’s mum. All I had to do was decorate it (easier said than done for someone who is severely lacking in the artistic department). I opted for pink buttercream and sprinkles in the shape of a number two. The wind prevented a candle blow out but all in all it was a good party and my husband and I only had one row the morning of the party.Roseanna's 2nd birthday

Whilst the parties I have done may not look exactly look good enough to share on Pinterest or Instagram, they have always turned out ok in the end. I have come to the conclusion that as long as there is a cake of some description and that a few children turn up….it’s a success!

For The Love Of Shortbread

As a shortbread lover I couldn’t help but notice the Bonniebix van arrive in our street a few months ago. One day I started chatting to owner and warmed to her immediately. Cara is bubbly, friendly and honest. She explained how the market stall she was meant to be attending had fallen through and she had rather a lot of cookies that needed shifting.  She offered to give me some to review on my blog and distribute as I wished. I was attending Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea with a few mummy bloggers and some friends a few days later so we arranged for me to take some along for them to sample. Some people donated money in exchange for the cookies which meant a little more money in the charity pot thanks to the cookies.

I suddenly felt concerned. What if they look good but taste grim (as is so often the case with novelty confectionary and cakes)? Many times I’ve attended functions or birthday parties and been impressed with the look of the cake for example only to be disappointed that the contents are dry and tasteless. I’m probably in the middle when it comes to how healthy my children are, I certainly don’t encourage them to eat too many sugary cakes and cookies however for  parties and occasional treats I’m ok with it.

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From Butterflies To Batman, Frozen To Flowers – Anna Banana Is Not Phased

Recently I’ve been thinking about the avenues my blog could potentially go down and one area that interests me is reviews. I’m a stickler when it comes to good customer service. It astounds me daily how many businesses out there operate appallingly, without a care in the world for the customer/consumer experience. I believe when you pay for anything you deserve to, at the very least- get what you paid for. If it’s done well you walk away happy, sometimes delighted. It sounds so obvious to say ‘and if you are happy you will return and refer’ – yet so many businesses just don’t get this.

This week I happened to see a request for a local blogger to do a review on one of the Mums Facebook pages I’m a member of. I immediately held my hand up.

The business is called Face Painting With Anna Banana and is run by a lady (not surprisingly) called Anna Brown.

Anna asked me to write a review for her, offering to paint my children’s and a few of their friends faces in return.

With two girls myself (19 months and 3 years old), I’m aware that the usual picnic at the playground with a bunch of my mates, ‘aint gonna’ cut it for their birthday parties much longer. As they grow, so too will their expectations. I will need to arrange activities and entertainment. Therefore, I was personally interested in the service Anna provided and if it would be something I’d consider for my girls in the future.

I’ve been to a couple of parties where face painting has been available. Unfortunately my 3 year old has always been too shy to let them anywhere near her. I explained this to Anna, challenging her to succeed where others have failed – she didn’t seem phased.

We chatted on the Tuesday and had arranged the gathering for that Friday morning.

Our correspondence was via email and I found her quick to respond, friendly and efficient. It was easy.

When she arrived, laden with a table and various cases, it started to rain. She took this in her stride, happy to set up her table and paints outside, prepared to move them if the rain persisted. Eventually the rain stopped.

Whilst Anna is chatty and friendly and fitted in very well with my friends, she didn’t get distracted from what she was doing. She understood the importance of ensuring that every child that wanted their face painted had it done. She understands how to interact with children. Her relaxed and calm approach seemed to work as all the children took their turn to get their face painted into their chosen picture. I couldn’t believe it when my daughter requested to go second.

As someone who can’t draw for toffee, I’m always in awe of artists. Watching how easily and beautifully she fulfilled each child’s individual request was incredible.

A unicorn, a rainbow, batman, a butterfly, a flower, Frozen….it didn’t matter what they threw at her she delivered.

My youngest daughter (19 months old) demanded to have her face done too. Unfortunately she kept rubbing it off with her hand whilst Anna was doing it. Anna laughed, grabbed a wipe and started again…..not phased!

At the end we rounded the kids up to try to get a group photo. You can imagine how tricky this was with a group of 8 children under the age of 3.

Anna casually started to sing and act some songs out which got the children’s attention and even some of them joining in. She did this naturally and wasn’t in their faces or over the top. With Anna’s help we managed to get them sitting down for a few minutes to take the picture.

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To Sum Anna Up I would Say

‘Anna is talented, professional, friendly, relaxed and DOESN’T GET PHASED! (I wonder what it would take to get her stressed?) The fact that she has many years’ experience working with children, as well as being a mum herself, shines through by the way she interacts with them in an approachable and non-patronising manner.  I would have no hesitation recommending her and her services to anyone’

A Bit About Anna

AnnaAnna Banana originally hails from Wales but is now a fully-fledged Aussie having lived here in Sydney for 14 years. Her experience ranges from being a dancer on television and stage, a dance teacher for children and adults and a children’s entertainer. She has over 20 years’ experience working with children, which includes children who have learning, behavioural and physical disabilities.

During her time teaching young children dance for Bubstep (her dance company), she picked up her brushes and began face painting to help promote the dance classes. The obsession began. Anna has now found a new passion that combines her love of working with children and expressing her artistic creativity.

She also offers pregnant belly painting and has hopes of becoming an FX make-up artist one day.

All products she uses are non-toxic professional paints.

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Rates:

1 hour $100

1.5 hours $150

2 hours $200

2.5 hours $250

3 hours $300

(On average Anna paints 10-12 faces an hour, dependent on the design requests. 20 children requires a minimum of 2.5 hours to ensure everyone gets their design choice)

To Contact Anna:

Facebook

Mobile: 0405585290

*I am not connected to Anna in any way and until this day had never met her.

 

 

Aussie Version of Let it Snow!

Oh, the weather outside’s delightful

Staying inside would really be frightful

And since we’re all feeling fine

The sun shines. Let it shine! Let it shine!

 

Everyone’s heading off down to the ocean

Don’t forget to apply lots of sun lotion

Don’t worry I have got plenty of wine

The sun shines. let it shine let it shine

 

When we finally get to the beach

Barbies lit, time to swim in the sea

Times are certainly good, lifes a peach

Sunnies on, so so happy are we

 

As Christmas day draws to an ending

Such a happy time we have had spending

The whole day with this family of mine.

The sun shines, let it shine let it shine!

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Santa Claus is coming to Sydney

Occasionally there are days when I have a moment of madness, throwing caution to the wind, ditching the girls’ sleep routines and attempt to ‘go with the flow’.

Today, was one of these days.

After 5 days of food poisoning and feeling a bit flat, it suddenly hit me that it was December already and I didn’t feel the least bit Christmassy. To be honest, I very rarely do living in Australia.

The pre-Christmas build-up doesn’t seem to be as full on as in the UK. Living in the Eastern suburbs, the decorations are few and far between and the bright blue sky and often 30+ degree temperature make it hard to associate with the cold and dark Christmases I have grown up with.

In a desperate bid to get myself and the girls into the festive spirit I decided it was time to take a trip into the city again, this time to meet Father Christmas. This was my first attempt at handling our two toddlers in the city on my own, what could possibly go wrong?

I began building the suspense and anticipation as best I could,

“Guess who we are going to meet this morning?”

“Do you think he will have a present for you?”

“What do you think his grotto will be like?”

All suitably excited (my 15 month old daughter not really understanding but eagerly joining in with our enthusiasm), we got ready in record time and jumped into the car with my husband, who gave us a lift on his way into work.

I’d hoped our walk through the city would kick start the festive feeling. Usually there are lots of trees, lights and Christmas songs blaring out of the shops. Unfortunately, this year it all seemed a little sparse and half-hearted. Maybe I’m too early, I wondered? I pointed out the odd Christmas tree or star in the shop windows and sang jingle bells in an effort to ignite the Christmas spark in all of us. Feeling a little disappointed, I tried to remain positive. We were en-route to see Father Christmas, what could be more Christmassy than that?

For a few weeks I’ve been employing the Father Christmas model of child behaviour management, “you do realise he is ALWAYS watching you don’t you?”, my particular favourite. She sort of gets it – sometimes. Today she was definitely eager to meet this person who is apparently going to be bringing her a fluffy bunny rabbit (teddy) and her very own pillow (her only 2 requests so far). I was quick to add the word ‘teddy’ to the end of fluffy bunny rabbit.

We arrived at the Sydney Tower Eye at 9.30am, no queues in sight. Perfect. I had a little niggle, this morning was going far too well. “We are here to see Father Christmas” I beamed at the girl on reception. She reciprocated my Cheshire grin with one of her own and enthusiastically responded with, “how lovely, he’s not here until 4pm but you can use the same ticket later so don’t worry, you don’t have to queue again”.

As lovely as this girl was, she clearly did not have kids. How the hell am I going to amuse two under three year olds in the city until then? That’s five and a half hours. I only had the single pram and both toddlers turn into demons if they miss their day sleeps. My excitement evaporated and the smile drained from my face. I glanced down at my eldest daughter. She was looking up at me, her head cocked to one side, a knowing look on her face that all was not as it should be.

Ok, time to explain to my nearly three year old that Father Christmas (who I’d just spent the last 2.5 hours saying was waiting to see her), was otherwise engaged.

“Apparently Father Christmas is having a rest today sweetheart, but that’s ok we can make the big trip back into the city again another day soon – I promise”. To be fair she took it much better than I did, happy to carry on into the tower to see what else was in store for her there.

We waited in the queue for the 3D cinema screening. I called my husband to let him know that Father Christmas is a lazy sod and couldn’t be bothered to get here on time today (this basically translates to, “are you sure you looked properly at the website to check when he was here and you didn’t miss the part that says he isn’t here at the time we are actually intending to be?”).

Whilst on the phone, my youngest wanted to get out of the pram and join her sister who was running around in delight, pushing and prodding everything within her reach. When my eldest began pushing her baby sister and sitting on her head, I lost my cool for a second. Hanging up on my husband and grabbing the eldest to instruct her to stop. It was at this moment, it would appear, that I misplaced my phone.

We went into the cinema and watched the show, which my eldest loved. Unfortunately her younger sister didn’t share her affection for it. Freaked out by the noise and not keen to partake in wearing 3D glasses, she screamed her head off! Cutting it short, I pulled my devastated eldest towards the exit, promising her there was heaps more fun to be had outside. It was here I performed the usual check that I had everything with me (a ritual I perform circa 500 times a day):

  • 2 children- tick
  • One pram – tick
  • On carrier – tick
  • Change bag – tick
  • Look under pram to check nothing fallen out – tick
  • Mobile phone and wallet still in situ………S**t! No mobile phone.

I always put it in the outside change bag pocket. Not there. Ok, sometimes I might put it in the end pocket. Not there either. Ok, I have been known – when in a hurry, to stick it on the top of the pram. Not there. Frantically, I began to empty the entire contents of the change bag onto the floor. Nappies, children’s knickers, packed lunch strewn across the floor as I rummaged through the bag. Meanwhile my children were having a fabulous time, running around squealing, pulling at me and the pram and hanging from various railings. I Proceeded to empty entire contents of the pram. Not there. Dejectedly, I put everything back. Various passers-by offered their assistance and the attendant lent me his mobile phone. I tried to ring my phone. Straight to voicemail.

My head was bursting with every swear word you can imagine, I was forced to accept the inevitable – I’d lost it forever!

“It’s been handed in at reception” the attendant suddenly informs me.

The Cheshire grin reappeared on my face, I could have kissed him! I rushed to the reception desk, the girls there already aware I was not having the best of days due to Father Christmas’s absence, passed me the phone with a pitying smile.

Right. Start again. Back waiting for the cinema, this time when the doors opened, we skipped the screening much to my eldest disappointment but certainly better for her baby sister’s and everyone else’s ears.

My eldest loved the eye tower. Not too bothered about the view more the fact you can walk the entire perimeter on a nice narrow ledge. At least she was getting some exercise in a contained space so I could relax for a while – I had 2.5 hours to kill until meeting Daddy for lunch and then heading home.

To add insult to injury, Santa’s grotto was there on full display for us to see with a sign saying he would be there later. My daughter’s eyes lit up when she saw his little home. I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands and do some breaking and entering – in the name of Christmas of course. Determined we would at least get a photo on his chair if we weren’t going to get one with him in it, we bent down and crawled under the barrier. Her happiness at rummaging around in his house was short-lived and she was keen to resume her position of ledge walking.

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Breaking into Santa’s Grotto

We left the tower and headed for David Jones to see their usually amazing window display, guaranteed to make us feel Christmassy. My daughter was finally old enough to appreciate it, or so I thought. For some reason this year David Jones just aren’t hitting the mark. I don’t get it. It’s a bit bland and boring. Or Maybe I’m just not creative enough to understand the artistic expression?

My daughter certainly wasn’t impressed, yanking at my arm in a bid to get into the store where she could see the glittering baubles, sparkling lights and pretty trees on display. I remembered that Father Christmas was meant to visit here too. Off we went, to the sixth floor.

As the elevator doors parted my daughters eyes lit up in awe as we entered the children’s toy floor. Toy cars, baby dolls, games, everything a kid could dream of, paved her way. Grabbing her little hand, I hurried her through the aisles to the grotto.

  • No queue – tick
  • You have to book – s**t!
  • It’s ok, we can fit you in – tick
  • If you want to see Father Christmas you have to pay for a photography package – s**t! (Happy to pay for an awesome photo however from friend’s experiences my understanding is most young kids are petrified when they meet Father Christmas for the first time. Plus it’s now 11.30am and both girls are looking very tired- this doesn’t bode well for a perfect $50 picture)
  • It’s ok – if you don’t like the photo you don’t have to pay – RESULT!

We were in. The grotto was great.

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Having fun in Santa’s Grotto at David Jones

 

 

A few minutes later our name was called. My daughter legged it, just as a huge queue of people had built up behind me.

“Please can I have your confirmation?”

“Confirmation?” I replied- frantically trying to get eyes on my daughter who was at the back of the room trying to untie her balloon from the pram, equally determined not to lose our place in the queue.

“Yes the piece of paper you were given when you entered?”

“Oh, that piece of paper?” I rummaged around in my bag. “No idea where it is, sorry”. Maybe we weren’t going to meet Father Christmas after all.

She must have taken pity on me as she gave in and said, “Its ok- I’ll  just pop out and get you another one”.

I smiled at her gratefully.“Thank you!”

So, in we went. It was 11.30am now, after a fun morning running around, taking in the new surroundings my daughters both looked shattered.

We walked into Santa’s room, both girls clinging to me for dear life.

They clearly had absolutely no idea what to make of this strange looking man with giant white gloved hands and a huge white beard, staring at them. It’s fair to say that I was the most excited person in the room.

“Hellooooooo, Father Christmas! It’s so wonderful to meet you, we’ve been soooooooooo excited to see you” I gushed.

I planted my bum down next to him on the big red chair and attempted to get the girls to smile for the photo. The photographer took a few, mostly of the back of the girls’ heads. Each time Father Christmas tried to go near them with his eerily large white gloved hand the girls freaked, cowering closer behind me.

We left. With no photographic evidence but having met Father Christmas and the proud owners of two balloons.

I set off to meet my husband at Darling Harbour with two suitably exhausted toddlers. One in the pram, one finally asleep in the carrier. The balloons tied to the pram, blowing in the wind around my neck, bashing me (and the odd passer-by) over the head at regular intervals.

Mission accomplished!

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