This Christmas I was supposed to go home. Home to the place I grew up. Home to where the lemons grow sweeter and the dusty green hills stretch like a backbone along the outskirts of town.
I haven't spent a Christmas there for six years. Like so many, divorce forced us to reconfigure the festive season. My ex and I have spent it with our children and a hotchpotch of friends who, likewise, were separated from family.
They've been fun Christmases, and a patchwork of new traditions have emerged, but this year I was taking my girls back to see their grandparents in New Zealand. They won't be here forever, we reasoned, and my tolerant former husband agreed.
Now, of course, we can't and I've never felt the distance more keenly. As our state borders reopen there's jubilation that families will be reunited this holiday season but for many, like mine, the deep ache of missing goes on.
Yet even though I haven't seen my parents for more than a year, I'm reminded of that Duran Duran lyric along the lines of "ours is just a little sorrow". For millions worldwide, the pandemic has not simply crushed their Christmas but changed their lives forevermore.
So many of us are going into this festive season a little beaten. Others are deeply broken. We don't have the usual bandwidth on our emotions or the capacity to absorb the hurts and tensions.
The coming weeks will require a degree of care and calm and, in that spirit, I've devised a new charter to get through a COVID Christmas:
Determine the main thing
Just as companies have mission statements, families can combat stress by identifying what's most important to them this year. It may simply be time together, or a sense of celebration.
For others, it'll be gifts or fancy food or the opportunity to rest. As in anything, setting your intentions offers clarity and a framework to fall back on if you suddenly feel tempted to play complicated and stressful parlour games as witnessed on The Crown.
I can feel myself wanting to fill the days with picnics, bushwalks and self-improving activities yet if I get to Australia Day having laughed with my girls, read a novel and swum daily I'll regard it as a massive achievement.
When I uprooted my family and forced them to live in six different homes over the last 18 months I promised the youngest we could have a blow-up reindeer on our front balcony.
She's wants The Grinch instead. Whatever, our little abode will be illuminated within an inch of its life come mid-December and every bauble in the box will be strung somewhere.
One of my favourite places in the world is the Pembrokeshire coastline in Wales so in the height of lockdown I stuck a photograph of the clifftop path above my desk. Remembering and daydreaming about a return was an exercise in hope. I've now added an image of the river near my parents' home.
Lower your expectations
Of all those I've interviewed, actress Rebecca Gibney remains a favourite because she's willing to be vulnerable and candid. A couple of years ago she told me that lowering her expectations of both herself and others had hugely increased her happiness. This Christmas I'm setting all bars at ankle height.
Nail a foolproof dessert
For years my fall back has been Eton Mess, that pillowy concoction of meringue, cream and fruit. This year I've spotted a lamington wreath made from sandwiching store-bought lamingtons with cream then swirling them with strawberry coulis and fresh berries.
Embrace the mishaps
No good story ever hinged on life unfolding to plan and so it is with families. Gifts will be forgotten, ham burnt and prawns inadvertently left in the car. How else do you compile a list of "remember when's".
Respond rather than react
This is a reminder to myself that I can't control what happens, only how I respond to it. If a friend is snappy on Christmas Day I can't change that but I can choose to not let it bother me.
Enjoy a staycation
With houses renting for the cost of a new car, choose a week at home to explore your environs, eat out, wander aimlessly and forego chores.
Make a playlist
I can't see my brother but I know he loves Dave Dobbyn's Loyal. The Beatles' Hey Jude reminds me of mum and Waterloo Sunset is every Christmas I spent in London. Nostalgia reigns right now.
See the positives
Every year since they were babies my kids have snuggled up and listened to their dad reading The Night Before Christmas on December 24. Had we crossed the Tasman it wouldn't have happened. Silver linings.