Where to spend Christmas? I am dreaming of a GREEN Christmas!

*playing Mariah Carey’s Christmas album in the background*

Hello beautiful people, long time, no read. I know it’s been a while, so many things have happened since I last wrote – President-elect Trump, WIMBIZ annual conference, Ondo elections, Wedding Party premiere (reviews, anyone?), and so much more.  I am super excited about the new month of December and all the season represents – giving, sharing, loving, dining, exploring and even more giving.

I know so many people are wondering where and how to spend the Christmas holidays this year. I am as well. The ways in which I celebrate Christmas have evolved over the years. From hosting Christmas parties at home, to taking family trips both abroad and within Lagos (Mama Kemi is the queen of staycations), to more recently (when the ajala travel bug bit me), taking solo trips and returning just before December 30th to ensure I ‘cross-over’ and spend New Year with family.

Since 2013, on my flight back home from wherever I had spent Christmas, I type up a thanksgiving letter to God, highlighting everything that I am thankful for in the year. Everything from my family to my career; from safe passage in all my work and personal travels (doing Lagos-Abuja safely every week for 6 months deserves special thanks to God, no?) to friends and family who got engaged or married and loved ones who had babies (adding to my ever-increasing list of god-children and my bridal train); from new friends made and old friends I am still in touch and in love with, to my health, well-being, weight, and BMI (lol);  from my ‘toasters’ and the fun times, the break-ups and the lessons learned, to improvements in my spiritual life and attitude. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G! The first thanksgiving letter I wrote was 8 pages long, font size 12, regular spacing – you get the point. I wasn’t generalizing, I was mentioning actual names of people, places, exact events, organizations, etc. I don’t think I realized I knew how blessed I was until I wrote this letter. It is easy to say ‘count your blessings’ but how can you really count those blessings if you don’t ‘name them one by one’? Sorry for the digression (not really sorry sha, lol)

Give THANKS!
Give THANKS!

My first Christmas away from family was in 2011 which I spent in Calabar. I spent some time in Tinapa with a close friend and his family, and then moved to Calabar town itself on Christmas Eve as they geared up for the main carnival. My dear friend Andie was a fabulous hostess, and I enjoyed spending Christmas morning at her family house, listening to Mariah’s Christmas album on replay while getting ready to go to church for the Christmas service. Afterwards, we went party/get-together hopping across town and I met up with some old friends who also came in from Lagos for the carnival. I also had a blast spending time with some new friends I made at the airport during the severe 10-hour delay on our Lagos-Calabar flight. The carnival on 27th December felt truly like Africa’s biggest street party. I know I have not been to any other African street parties yet, but the sheer number of people was overwhelming!  And you know we have numbers in Nigeria, so I would not really doubt that claim, lol. It was amazing to see how the quiet little town of Calabar comes ALIVE in December!

Calabar, 2011
Calabar, 2011

To be honest, I actually really missed not being with my immediate family on Christmas day but being with long-time friends helped. Whatever the case, make sure you are spending time with your loved ones. After crossing the first non-family Christmas hurdle, it became easier to go away again. Christmas 2013 was spent in Dubai, mainly resting and reflecting. Big highlight of that trip was seeing the world famous Cirque du Soleil on their Michael Jackson Immortal tour. It was mesmerizing! I remember having to close my mouth more than a few times, lol. When you travel, not every time shopping, sometimes memorable experiences!

Enough reminiscing. Kemi, what are ‘we’ doing for Christmas this year? Being the planner that I am, I would have figured out the answer to this question since October (usually after the birthday celebrations) but for some reason, I have not been able to finalize Christmas plans. I had some grand plans to visit Zambia with my Aunt (my uncle is married to a Zambian) but somehow that didn’t quite pan out. ‘Somehow’ here really means forex, lol. So I have eaten some humble pie and decided to look inwards (within Nigeria) to figure out how to have a very ‘green’ but memorable Christmas. In fact, I don’t like white (snowy) Christmases – you know my relationship with cold and winter is not exactly warm. 🙂

Here are a few ideas I have toyed with but still have not had the time or mental space to conclude on – I need help!

  1.    Calabar (again!) – I hear that every year the carnival gets better and bigger, and I think it would be fun to see how things have evolved 5 years later. Social Prefect is planning a trip to Calabar this Christmas. I think I will hola at her ASAP to see if there are still spaces on that trip – they get pretty sold out quickly. Nigerians love a good party!

    Social Prefect Calabar Tour
    Social Prefect Calabar Tour (PC: Social Prefect)
  2.    Obudu Mountain Resort – Still staying in the Cross-River region, I think Obudu might be a great idea. Does the fact that it shares a border with Cameroon make it almost abroad? Lol. I have considered Obudu many times but because I am not a big fan of long trips, I have not been able to convince myself that the extra 3-4 or 5-6 hour road trip after landing in Enugu or Calabar respectively, will be worth it. I hear the cable cars are no longer functioning – can somebody please fix them?
    Obudu Resort (PC: Hotels.ng)
    Obudu Resort (PC: Hotels.ng)

    I hear these babies don't work anymore :-(
    I hear these babies don’t work anymore 🙁
  3.    Inagbe Grand Resorts – Still keeping it ‘resorty’, Inagbe also seems quite appealing. 15mins boat ride from Ikoyi and you are in Lagos paradise. I looked at the video tour on their website and it seems like a decent place with a good mix of fun activities and relaxation options. This might actually be worth exploring. What would make it even better would be to go with a group of loved ones!
    Inagbe so pretty!
    Inagbe so pretty! (PC:Inagbe Resorts website)

    Inagbe again
    Inagbe again (PC: Inagbe Resorts website)
  4. Staycation in Lagos – There is also the option of just booking a hotel somewhere in this Lagos and spending a few days there. It is always nice to have someone else wait on you. With all the concerts and events in Lagos this December, wouldn’t it be great to be able to enjoy the event to the end without worrying about annoying your neighbours when you get home late because your gateman will not hear you honking incessantly?  Around this time, most hotels have Christmas packages so I might be able to find a sweet deal. Now, all I need is the time to go hunting for this sweet deal. Sigh. Friends, please if you know any decent hotel with a good Christmas package, please share with a sister.
  5. Road trip across West Africa – Going by road to some of the neighboring West African countries also seems like a great idea. You get to see a lot of beautiful sights, enjoy the scenery and discover new terrains on a budget! My favorite countries for road trips are Ghana and Benin Republic. I am not sure I would want to drive to Cape Verde sha, lol. If you don’t want to have to explain to policemen at different borders that your car is actually yours (although it carries your father’s name) or that your international driver’s license is legit, I suggest you go with a tour company. They take away all the logistical hassle. All you need to do is show up, doze during the road trip, but please don’t drool! Pictures are unforgiving, lol. For Benin Republic this December, Naija Nomads has a tour between 27th and 30th December. Check them out!

    Naija Nomads goes to Cotonou
    Naija Nomads goes to Cotonou (PC: Naija Nomads)
  6.  La Campagne Tropicana Beach Resort – does this still count as Lagos? If yes, refer to (4) above. If no, refer to (3) above. Lol. The prices though, you will just want to do half-day there! If you know La Campagne prices, then you will understand my next suggestion.
  7.  Village runs – Reconnect with your roots. My last surviving grandparent passed on in June, so this is not really an option for me right now. But wait, even if you don’t have living grandparents, who says you can’t visit grand-aunts and uncles? This is definitely a nice, cost-effective *coughs* way to spend the holiday. Turn it into a culture trip – explore parts of your village/town you never knew existed, ask your older relatives for the history of your family/village and don’t forget to ask them to spook you out with folk tales and legendary stories.

    Horse rider display at Ijebu Ojude-Oba Festival (PC:BISCON)
    Horse rider display at Ijebu Ojude-Oba Festival (PC:BISCON)

Regardless of what we get up to, we must remember 2 things. First, the main premise of this season is GIVING. Gift exchanges are nice, I mean, who does not love Secret Santa? But this is beyond just exchanging gifts. Giving to people who cannot give you anything back in return is extremely powerful and fulfilling. Give it a try. The temptation to the tight-fisted in this ‘not-so-buoyant’ economy is very strong, but don’t let that stop you. It is the liberal soul that will be made fat. Make sure you include a budget line for ‘giving’ as you think about how to spend your 13th month or bonus. Give your domestic staff 13th month bonuses too. Take gifts to the orphanages or old peoples home. If you don’t have the time, give money to people who have the time and have set up programs to meet these needs. If you don’t have time and money right now, surely you have some old baffs/clothes, shoes, household stuff that you don’t really need anymore. No excuses guys!

Second, we must take the time to reflect on the year – the highs, the lows, the lessons learned, the changes that need to be made, the dreams that need to be revived, the risks that need to be taken, etc. I hear there is a new hashtag for this:  #turndowntoturnup. Don’t just use the hashtag, actually write down the things that you need to turn down, and the things that you need to turn up, turn it into a vision board, share with 1-2 people you can truly be accountable to and then run with it. Who hashtag alone ‘epp’?

Okay guys, we need more ideas. What are WE doing for Christmas this year?

Hugs,

Kemi

Finding my inner Picasso at 29 :-)

Hello good people! Now that it’s November (in typical Nigerian fashion, Happy New Month), I can safely declare that birthday season is over. That said, we are open for gifts all day, every day, lol.  This is also a good place to say Thank You again for all the good wishes, cakes, prayers, more cakes, gifts, calls, even more cakes and outpouring of love.

Its raining cakes - halleluyah!
Its raining cakes – halleluyah!

Thinking through how to celebrate my birthday this year was a bit of a task. This is what happens when you’ve done almost everything doable for birthdays. I have thrown house parties, non-house parties (my 21st birthday party was actually held at an event center – a bit OTT, I know *covers face* ha ha), hosted dinners, hosted dessert parties, and all sorts. When I turned 24, I found myself outside the country on a work project and I discovered how ‘peaceful and cost-effective’ birthdays could be when you are out of town.

24th birthday in Dubai
24th birthday – Dubai
25th birthday - Venice
25th birthday – Venice

Quick Tip: It is always a good idea to take the day off on your birthday. It’s really tough to be productive when you are busy answering calls, responding to messages and trying to feed your colleagues. Besides, your tasks/deliverables don’t know it’s your birthday and hey, work needs to get done, so it’s better to be officially away than to be distracted at the office.  The downside is that the cake/gift delivery guys might find it hard to locate your house, lol.

1st birthday party
1st birthday – game face on 🙂

 

5th birthday - game face still on!
5th birthday – game face still on!

Even as a little girl, I always insisted on celebrating my birthdays. I was one of those children who without fail, on their birthday every year, showed up at school with a cake and a crate of soft drinks (or minerals as we called it back then), and showed up at church later in the week on Sunday with another cake and another crate of ‘minerals’ 🙂

4th birthday - with Primary school Headmistress and Proprietress
4th birthday – at school with Headmistress and Proprietress

When I got to secondary school, I celebrated EVERY birthday in a big way (whatever big means in a Federal Government College situated deep in a village, away from any civilization) and birthdays at university were not any different.

18th birthday - mandatory cake pose :-)
18th birthday – mandatory cake pose 🙂
28th birthday - surprise celebration while studying for an exam
28th birthday – surprise celebration while studying for an exam

Now that I think about it, I was happy to spend other people’s money (OPM) on celebrating birthdays in a big way, lol (thank you Mum and Dad) but once I started working and earning, I became more aware of budgets and other constraints. Can I get a witness? Hahaha. Now it makes sense that the last big party I had was my 21st birthday which was just before I started working full-time.

23rd birthday ice-cream party
23rd birthday – Ice cream party (on a budget)

Anyway, fast forward to 2016, I had just gone back to work in September after a year away where I invested all of my savings and did not earn any money, and so, I definitely could not afford to travel on my birthday. So that ruled out any exotic foreign birthday plans  – I know my village is exotic in its own way but naa, lol. At the beginning of the month, I was so sure I was not going to celebrate, and I would just have a nice day at work. But about 10 days to the time, I started feeling that birthday itch and with the countless ‘what are we doing for your birthday’ questions that I was being asked, my brain started spinning.

I wanted to celebrate in a different way. I wanted to do something that would be memorable for me and my guests. I know some of my very good friends who attended my 21st birthday party still have some of the souvenirs we gave out (yes, we gave out souvenirs like it was a wedding, lol – don’t judge me, I was young, lol) but I won’t call them memorable. Besides, souvenirs can’t last forever. Having ruled out dinner, ice-cream, beach party (who has time to even coordinate?), destination birthday party (if I did this for my 29th, what will be left to do for my 30th, lol) and all the regular suspects, I was left with only one option – an art/painting party!

Paint The Night Africa is a company that organizes pop-up sip and dip events – where guests become ‘Picasso’ for a few hours by following the directions of a professional art instructor. The best part is that you get to take your own painting home!!! How’s that for a memorable souvenir?

29th birthday - Hello Picassa
29th birthday – Hello Picassa

I found PTNA on Instagram a while back while I was researching ways to celebrate my bestie’s 30th birthday but she wasn’t keen. I just contacted them, told them what i wanted and voila, we were in business. As I am an ‘ajala traveller’ and I still wanted to trick my mind that we were abroad for this birthday, I chose to have a travel-themed painting. It was a fabulous idea until it was time to paint.

It was all fun and games before we started painting
It was all fun and games before we started painting

I am one of those people who cannot draw a straight line or a circle without erasing at least once. So drawing and painting are not my forte. I would rather sing than paint – and people who know me well know that I’m not quite the singer, lol. What seemed so easy for most of my guests was so difficult for me. I was wayyy out of my comfort zone. I remember feeling so frustrated midway because my painting was not coming out as planned. My own mix of yellow and red did not produce the desired orange and my clouds did not form the right pattern. Yup, as birthday girl, I got to blame the colors and the brush for not cooperating with me, lol.

Halfway through - not looking good :-|
Halfway through – not looking great 😐

I was really getting worked up and then I remembered that we were all there to have FUN! It was not so serious after all – I was not in an evaluative situation and it was okay to have a different shade of orange or my own customized cloud patterns. I got the hosts to play some upbeat music, sat up in my chair, started making jest of other people’s paintings and decided to have a great time. And I did! The night ended on a high note – folks got to sign their paintings and take them home, we took tons of pictures and had a good time laughing at each other’s paintings.

Art Squad
Art Squad
More of the Art Squad
More of the Art Squad

This is what typically happens when you are trying out something new or operating outside your comfort zone. You get frustrated and uncomfortable with not being on your A-game. In those situations, the best A-game to be on is your Attitude game – your positive attitude game. As we learn, grow and progress in our lives, careers and businesses, we will always find ourselves in situations that stretch us and make us uncomfortable. You start a new job and you are no longer the expert in the room. You move to a new apartment and you are the newbie (or JJC as we call it) in the building. You start a new business and you are now the learner on the block.

The best way to navigate these uncomfortable situations is to have the right attitude. Have an open heart, open up your mind to learn, accept that your journey might be slightly different from others’, find reasons to laugh and have fun! In the end, it will be alright 🙂

My materpiece - not perfect but mine anyway :-)
My masterpiece – not perfect, but mine all the same 🙂

Here’s to new adventures and being on our positive A-game at all times!

Kemi