Friday, December 4, 2009

Have yourself a mini little Christmas

A bit of fun from Wednesday's Indo. Freelance tip #234 - sometimes the number of calls you have to make to research an article is larger than the number of words in the finished piece.

The 12 Tips of Christmas

The Late Late Toy Show has come and gone, 'Fairytale of New York' is on the radio. Christmas is coming and it's easy to be overwhelmed by the seasonal build-up.

We have assembled a team of experts to advise on how to make your Christmas smell, taste and look great (and on how to avoid fisticuffs at the office party). As a famous Cork footballer once said: Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

1. FOOD: Have yourself a mini little Christmas

Thousands of Irish people have to work on Christmas Day, a fact that doesn't lend itself to spending five hours in the kitchen. Donal Skehan, author of Good Mood Food (just published by Mercier), has a simple idea for a festive dinner.

"You can buy turkey breasts on their own," says Donal, "Take one per person, slice in half but not all the way through and fill with ready-made stuffing. Wrap the turkey in slices of pancetta and pop in a hot oven to cook for 15 minutes, until the meat is cooked through.

"You can put chunks of parsnips, carrots and potatoes on a tray, drizzle with olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar. Roast and in just under an hour, you're done!"

2. GIFTS: Yesterday's news is today's gift wrap

Nichola Doyle of Daintree Paper on Camden Street, Dublin, suggests layering different colours of tissue paper to make your gifts look sumptuous.

"We've been using other materials too," says Nichola, "wrapping strips of brightly-coloured magazine pages around red wrapping paper. Personalise the wrapping -- one of the girls here used the Sudoku page from the paper to wrap a band around a present for her father who likes puzzles. Then she pasted Sudoku squares on the top."

3. PETS: Be(a)ware of the dog

Dog trainer Samantha Rawson ( says now is the time to get your pet ready for the chaos.

"Take pre-emptive action," says Samantha. "At Christmas the family schedule is out the window so prepare now by varying the time you feed pets or when you walk them so they won't be too upset when the routine is disrupted."

Samantha insists that people should never feed pets dried fruit such as sultanas and raisins, or chocolate, all of which are highly toxic to dogs. As for cats, never leave them alone where there is a Christmas tree. "They think; 'Wow, look at the toy they've put in the sitting room just for me!'"

4. CHILDREN: Sites for bored eyes

There is an assumption that kids and the internet are a problematic mix, but these kid-specific website are safe, non-commercial and cool.

* -- A magical site with activities related to Santa's kingdom.
* -- Games that don't need battery power.
* coloring -- Use the mouse to paint in a Christmas scene.
* -- Slightly older children can download their picture to the site and star in their own Christmas elf e-card.
* -- A great resource for stories.

5. OFFICE PARTY: Express yourself (safely)

Relationship psychologist David Kavanagh ( says that some inappropriate behaviour at the Christmas party is forgivable to a point.

"But there is a line that needs to be gauged," says David. "If you feel like you might tell that middle manager what you really think of them once you have a few drinks in, you need to tackle that days before the party.

"Send yourself an email (on your personal email, not your work one) or, better still, write down on paper what it is exactly that bugs you about that person. Use every swear word, every detail; then burn the letter in a grate and walk away.

"Writing like this is a tool to take what is in our subconscious and make us conscious of it so it doesn't blow up in our face."

6. HOUSE: Smells like Christmas spirit

Gisele Scanlon, author of the best-selling Goddess Guide and The Goddess Experience (HarperCollins), makes a wonderful festive potpourri. "You could make extra and give it as a gift to a few people nicely bagged and ribboned," says Gisele.

Take one orange, one lemon, one satsuma peel, one sliced apple, some pine cones, a few pine twigs with needles nipped from the Christmas tree, some rosemary, half a handful of cloves, two cinnamon sticks, and eucalyptus.

Bake it in the oven on a very low heat for a couple of hours until it dries out and then place around the room in little bowls.

7. BUDGET: Write down everything you spend

The Money Advice and Budgeting Service is a solid source of advice to people worried about debt. For this Christmas, expected to be difficult financially for many families, they say children should be encouraged to pick what they would like Santa to bring before TV ads decide it for them.

MABS has created a simple to use Christmas budget planner at

8. EXERCISE: How to sneak in a bit of the burn

The new series of RTE's Operation Transformation hits our screens in January. Its exercise guru Karl Henry ( suggests ways to keep moving over Christmas.

"If you take two weeks out of gym it's going to be a nightmare in January," says Karl, "but at least make exercise feasible by walking to friends' houses where possible when visiting. It's a great time to try something new -- maybe go hillwalking. By all means, get the kids an X-Box game but also include a football or rugby ball in their stocking. I'm a big fan of the Wii Fit and EA's Sports Active. The whole family can get involved."

9. CASH FOR OLD ROPE: (Well, old gold actually)

The idea of earning cash around Christmas is always attractive. Richard Walsh's Galway-based (091 877340) facilitates home 'gold parties', popular with groups who get together for a drink, a catch-up and possibly to make some money from unwanted or broken bits of jewellery (or unwanted presents!)

"Our agent comes to the house and uses two testing procedures to check the value of the pieces. They then make an offer depending on the weight and purity of the gold or silver," says Richard. "People don't have to accept the offer."

10. HOUSE PARTY: Get the whole picture

Darren Rowse of has a smart idea for recording the party fun.

"A few years ago, I set up a little place where I asked everyone who came to sit for me so that I could take a nice shot of them," says Rowse.

"I photographed everyone as they came in and then left the camera set up on a tripod and set to a short self timer time so people could photograph themselves.

"I left a few Santa hats and tinsel for people to decorate themselves with. It was the hit of the party."

11. STYLE: All that glitters

There's no getting away from it. Sparkle = Christmas style, says Wendy Duggan of alwear.

"The way to play it is to make it understated," says Wendy. "There are sequins on everything -- jackets, dresses, tops. They key is to not be full-on, to wear one sparkly piece with tights.

"Key accessories to update your Christmas look this year would be the crossover Chanel-style bag, and the leather jacket is very big this season."

12. RESOLVE ... to take it easy

Life coach psychologist Elaine Ryan ( says that Christmas can be overshadowed by thoughts of having to buckle down on January 1.

"New Year's Day is not the time to be implementing resolutions," says Elaine. "It should only be the time to start laying the plans for change." She recommends a SMART plan for formulating resolutions: the goals should be Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Time-Phased.

"Around Christmas, it's fine to start thinking of the how, why, what, when of your new resolutions, and in the early New Year to set out a plan. If your goal is to stop smoking, you can decide to reduce by one a day and record it."

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