Christmas stress? Try it with six kids under 11
THINK your Christmas Day is going to be challenging? Actor and author Madeleine West has the daunting task of wrangling a "gang of wild munchkins" when December 25 dawns this year.
She has six children (with her partner chef Shannon Bennett), aged 11, 9, 7, 5 and 3-year-old twins.
With such a brood she has developed a finely honed set of rules when it comes to Christmas gifts for the kids.
"I've convinced them that Nutri-grain wrapped in tin foil is a wonderful gift from Santa," she deadpans.
"Basically I don't buy them any presents and little trinkets throughout the year. So when it comes to a birthday or Christmas it's something to really look forward to and it's exciting.
"I have a rule that I buy them one large gift that is something they really need, then two small peripheral gifts that fall in the sport or craft category. The last thing they need are little bits of rubbish that clutter up the house.
"And they definitely don't get anything that needs batteries. I don't need to be making a trip to the service station at 8pm to buy batteries."
She says it's also important to set a budget and abide by that budget or it's easy to get carried away.
"If there are too many gifts they can get into the mode of just ripping paper. But if it's a few considered gifts, they pay attention to what they are given and examine them closely.
"I also make specific requests to family and friends as to what to buy for the kids so that they get things they actually need, and it makes life easier for the person buying the gift, instead of them just wandering around a toy store and buying the latest Nerf gun."
She also suggests that family members write an IOU to children, saying that they will take them out for a special day "and they can have whatever they want for lunch ... that's often so much more meaningful."
This is what her Christmas looks like ...
WHO WILL YOU BE SPENDING CHRISTMAS DAY WITH?
A gang of wild munchkins like refugees from some twisted fairytale, an exhausted chef who will be asleep on the couch before the table is set, an ever-patient and faithful dog likely to be wearing foam reindeer antlers and force-fed carrots, and with any luck, a gang of orphaned friends from around the globe who will gladly raise a glass in tribute to the year that was, and all the wonderful things to come #bestdayeva
WHERE WILL YOU BE?
Wherever we are, so long as we are together, then it will be nirvana. But in a perfect world, we will be in proximity to the ocean, surfboards, a barbecue, a fridge with plenty of room, and a variety of sustainably sources proteins, organic seasonal vegetables and quality chocolate. If Santa wouldn't mind dropping by, that would be appreciated too.
TELL US HOW YOU DAY USUALLY PLAYS OUT
The morning (shall we call it pre-dawn in the interests of clarity) is dedicated to the gathering of the mischievous munchkins mentioned earlier under the tree, followed by what will basically equate to a massive recycling effort as I collect torn shreds of paper from the floor, the kitchen sink, the neighbour's yard, perhaps even as far as the outer-eastern suburbs so proficient are my progeny at tearing and chucking wrapping paper.
Breakfast is a hit-and-miss affair. I fling foodstuffs in the general direction of my kids and if I manage to get at least a crumb of something nutritious in their mouths it is a win.
Next comes hours and hours of lunchtime preparation, eased only by the odd soothing sip of strong coffee and a fortifying tipple once the clock strikes 12.
We are generally the Christmas lunch conveners so at around 1pm round two of paper shredding as guests arrive bearing gifts.
Grandma's famous plum pudding rounds out the feasting at around 4pm, before we begin the observation of my family's most sacred Christmas traditions: backyard cricket, a dip in the pool and a snooze on the sun lounge.
Evening heralds the beginning of my favourite week of the year: the lazy week between Christmas and New Year's when there is nothing to do, nowhere to go, and all-you-can-eat leftovers.
Sadly, with a family of six children and a large dog, the leftovers are finished by breakfast on Boxing Day.
WHAT IS YOUR DRINK OF CHOICE ON CHRISTMAS DAY?
Anything in my hand.
Not true! A pisco sour to start, followed by an icy-cold luscious Gewürztraminer.
WHAT'S ON THE MENU THIS YEAR?
Goose, chicken, prawns, salad.
WHO DOES THE COOKING? IT'S KIND OF THE DREAM TO BE MARRIED TO A CHEF AS ACCOMPLISHED AS SHANNON BENNETT ...
Day to day, I tend to do the cooking at home, but Shannon really is the ultimate special event cook. On the rare Christmas Days when he has not been working, Shannon creates a meal to be reckoned with.
I am happily relegated to the role of commis chef (which translate as veggie chopper and dish washer).
We enjoy cooking together over a glass of wine and on Christmas Day it invariably becomes quite the family affair. Too many cooks do ruin the broth, but you can never have too many Bennetts in the kitchen.
Yes, the meal may take twice as long as necessary to prepare but there will always be an anecdote or two to share over the meal once dinner is served.
Like the year Shannon's dad literally blew up the turkey. He and he alone still ate it so you cannot really complain.
WHAT'S YOUR BEST TIP FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE HOSTING CHRISTMAS THIS YEAR?
I abide by the KISS principle - keep it stupidly simple. Minimise what you need to do, plan ahead, make sure all the shopping is done one to two weeks out and have lists all over the house to remind you what you need to do.
When people offer help, take it graciously. We do a bit of a Secret Santa-style thing with the meal planning, put all the elements in the hat (entree, main, dessert etc) and each person draws out one element of the meal that they can focus on.
If you try and do everything you find you only get the chance to sit down, relax and enjoy yourself when everyone is asleep on the couch at 10pm.
ARE THERE ANY PARTICULAR CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS THAT YOU ABSOLUTELY LOVE OR LOATHE?
I really love the advent calendar. A few years ago we invested in three beautiful painted advent calendars - the kids come out together in the morning and open the door and they find something little in there - often something healthy like dried fruit - and it brings the spirit of Christmas alive.
They think Santa is watching every day - if they have been bad the Christmas elf doesn't leave them anything.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST MEMORABLE CHRISTMAS?
The first Christmas as a mother - I truly did not understand true compassion and empathy and the depth of love until I had my daughter. She was born just before Christmas and she was the first grandchild on both sides of the family.
Yes it was a time of sore boobs and chafed nipples, but it was also a time of pure unadulterated joy. It was just such a positive time, it wasn't about gift shopping for people who didn't need anything - that all fell by the wayside.
We had three generations together and we felt such gratitude and love for each other. You look into the eyes of babies and they have all the knowledge in the universe. We were just so wrapped up in her simple honest beauty.
WHAT ARE YOU HOPING TO RECEIVE THIS YEAR, GIFT WISE?
From the kids? A voucher with offers to do all the dishes for a month, clean their rooms for a month … a voucher for a kiss and hug at the school gate every morning, and tell me they love me for the rest of their lives.
And a new hair straightener - that would be great.