Some years, the weeks leading up to Christmas fill with more than what we pencil into our diaries. With two children graduating and one celebrating her 18th birthday, we thought the windup to the school year would keep us on our toes, but God allowed us to cram ahospital stay into the busyness of December.
Tom, our sports mad son, found himself nursing a torn ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) and earlier this month underwent a knee reconstruction. Thankfully, it's mending well although a complete recovery is many months away. Tom will plough through hours of physiotherapy and when he finally returns to his beloved basketball, will need to re-fashion his game to compensate for his injury.
For a 16 year old, the summer of recovery stretches before him, echoing with lost opportunities and unfulfilled potential. Yet, in among what masquerades as wasted days, there is a plan God ordained long before our son's bones and ligaments were properly formed. Even while he grew and took shape in the womb, God saw him and knew him. He knit the ligament together in the first place and we trust He will now repair it.
We also trust in God's plan for Tom. While no one's thrilled the boy's limping around, we are keen to see how God will use this time of rest to shape Tom further, and equip him for the days ahead. To return to the level of sport Tom has been playing will require as much self-discipline as the sport itself. He will need to stick to the therapy schedule and exercises drawn up for him. He will make friends with the exercise bike and pool, as he retrains the muscles around his knee to work and rebuild strength.
Our prayer is for this time to yield spiritual fruit as well - life lessons, which Tom will remember as he enters senior high school with all its challenges. Thankfully, we have God's Word to encourage us with all of life's steps, whether they require our ligaments and joints, or the faithful steps of our heart.
Be well Tom, my love. Look to God for your strength, and follow Him where He leads you.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet.
When my daughter finished her first year of kindergarten, I made a batch of almond bread biscotti as parting gifts for her teachers. Since our Australian school year finishes just before Christmas, I added green and red sugared cherries to the mix and tied them in cellophane bags with raffia. It was a labor of love, following a 'new to me' recipe, as I worked apron clad late into the evening before her last day of school. Close to midnight I admired my baking. Something was missing.
I had the perfect Christmas gift tags to go with our presents, but I knew the finishing touch should be my daughter's name in her own handwriting. I tiptoed into her room and after a few gentle taps managed to get her sleepy fingers to grip a pen.
"Wake up Honey-Girl... you need to write your name here. Sophie? Can you do that for Mummy?"
I guided her hand to the card and she looked at me with the stare of a sleepwalker - eyes open, still dreaming. After a few groggy attempts I gave up, switched the lights off and planned for another try in the morning. This time, her name embellished the cards with childlike flourish, and we delivered our parcels with Christmas wishes and heartfelt thanks.
As the years flew by, scribbling her name at the bottom of a card developed into a short paragraph, then two and in no time Sophie was writing entire thank-you letters to her teachers by herself. By high school, Christmas goodies emerged from the oven with her unique touch, as I hung around the kitchen with a coffee and watchful eye.
This week I watched Sophie write farewell letters to her teachers for the last time. In a few days she will begin her final year 12 exams and many of her beloved teachers and mentors will fade from her world. Words of appreciation and pretty cupcakes barely begin to express the bittersweet emotions and gratitude she is feeling. Like the closing credits in a movie, I watch again as the little girl who needed me to guide her hand over the page, pens her own words and puts finishing touches on gifts.
We do. We show. We guide... and then we watch, as our children step into the role of young adults. One by one our tasks diminish and our prayers increase as they make their own decisions and plans. We can even tuck ourselves into bed and drift off to sleep against the clatter of our little ones cleaning the kitchen after a baking session. They know to hang up the apron and switch the lights off when they're done... and if they need anything else, they can always wake us up.
Remember when Dorothy went to see the Great Wizard of Oz, and discovered he was only a man behind a curtain? Somehow he managed to find 'a brain', 'a heart' and 'courage' for her dear friends, but Dorothy was not so hopeful for herself.
She shook her head at the Wizard and cried, "Oh, I don't think there's anything in that black bag for me." And there wasn't.
That's how I imagined my editor and agent appointments might go at the ACFW conference. In my mind I figured there couldn't possibly be anything in their bag for an Aussie writer.
The good news is, I was wrong. There was a sweet reward for my writing efforts and like the lion, the tin man and scarecrow, this Dorothy received exactly what I needed for the onward writing journey.
From her bag of tricks, the editor produced two phrases regarding my writing, powerful enough to equip me with the courage and heart to continue on. Even though I didn't pitch my story to her, she took a quick look at it and pronounced it to be 'strong writing' with 'great cadence'. You may as well have pinned a badge of courage and brand new ticker on me that morning. I felt prouder than the lion with his fresh perm and scarlet ribbon. And just as brave.
My next appointment was with a literary agent who also read my first few pages. I'm not sure when I went from handing over my story, to hearing her say, "I want you to send me the first 3 chapters and a synopsis," but in that moment I became lost in those delicious words I'd travelled miles to hear. Someone wanted to see more of what I write, and possibly represent me as an agent. My feet did a little jig under the table, as I prayed an inner squeal of thanks.
There were more words, equally amazing and just as precious as gifts from the Wizard's black bag, and all worth the journey beyond the rainbow.
Just like Dorothy from Kansas, I was reminded the secret to making my dreams come true rests in my own ability to focus and work hard. There is no magic gift which will take me from unpublished to published writer, but there might be a few Glindas along the way to cheer when I click those ruby slippers, and point me toward 'home'.
So what happens when Dorothy gets to fly beyond the rainbow? One Dorothy met a band of new friends, squeezed into a pair of sparkly shoes and followed a yellow brick road to adventure. For this Dorothy the story is similar. (Ok, indulge me here a little.)
I must admit, a pair of ruby slippers would have been a fabulous welcome to the 2010 ACFW conference in Indianapolis, but I won't complain, as a lanyard with my name and details, set the mood with equal flair. Tucked inside the zippered pouch, I slipped my meal tickets and the fluro pink note with my editor and agent appointment times. Yes folks, I was on my way to meet some very special people.
Writing giants roamed the halls and foyer, mingling with old friends and generously embracing new ones. Squeals of recognition and rapturous delight announced the arrival of delegates, some like me, who had come to met their writing buddies for the first time.
The pleasure of spying and then being introduced to some of the voices of Christian fiction never got old. Names like Kim Vogel Sawyer, Cindy Woodsmall, Tracie and Jim Peterson, and Kaye Dacus, came alive, as Facebook friends reached out to become kindred spirits.
During the 3 day conference, I discovered firsthand the generosity of established, multipublished writers, who remember what it's like to step into the world of writing with a heart full of dreams. Their encouragement to persevere and work diligently built upon the teaching of mentors, craftsmen and craftswomen, who taught workshops and presented seminars. By the halfway mark of the weekend, I found myself like the much talked about teacup, struggling to cope with a deluge of information delivered by fire hose.
Thankfully, my roomie, the gorgeous Jalana Franklin from Tennessee, listened while I tried to unpack all the wisdom about to topple me over, and together we sifted through each day's golden nuggets.
We worked late into the night, tweaking the stories of our hearts until plots fell into place and characters matched themselves with just the right name and motivation.
Exhausted but happy, I couldn't believe we never managed lights out before 1:30 am and with the alarm set for 5:30 we slept soundly, like we'd been tucked into a field of poppies in the shadow of the great Emerald city. For that is where I was headed in the morning - to meet with the wonderful world of editors and agents ... in a land that I'd heard of... once in a lullaby.
Many thanks to those who prayed and thought of me during my recent travels to the US for the ACFW annual conference. I sensed your prayers each day as God heard and answered them... and boy, did I have myself an adventure!
You will be pleased to know I made it there and back safely, with or without the help of Sir Richard Branson who journeyed on the same flights with me from Sydney to LA and then onward to Indianapolis.
It's not everyday the world's 212th richest billionaire and boss of an airline announces he is onboard for the 15 hour flight. Fellow V-Australia travelers were thrilled he took the time to wander the aisles and greet his passengers. I wondered how much safer the trip would be for the rest of us, with the owner sleeping in the pointy end of the plane. Would the flight crew treat us with greater care knowing the boss might be watching? Would the pilots double and triple check all their gadgetry before take off and landing?
While the thrill of meeting famous celebrities (yes, there were TWO famous Aussies on board as well as Sir Richard) lasted a brief moment, it was the assurance my friends and family held me up in prayer that counted when the lights were dimmed. As we cut a path through the night sky over the Pacific ocean and people drifted into a restless sleep, I held onto the promise tucked firmly in my heart.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither
sleep nor slumber,
The Lord watches over you -
The Lord is your shade at your right hand - Psalm 121:4-5
Armed with the knowledge the great creator of Everyman, rich or poor, was listening to your prayers, I closed my eyes to dream of what the new day held in a land far away... far beyond the rainbow.
Some days we dream about far away places and the secrets they hold. Other days, when God unlocks a door, we slip away for a while and venture into the world beyond our doorstep. On very special days, we even get to fly away.
This time next week, I'll be somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. My bags will be packed and with dreams in a vice-like clutch, I'll make my way to Indianapolis and the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference.
What do you pack for a dream trip like this? Here is my list of essentials.
1. A teachable heart. My strongest desire is to learn more about the writing craft. I plan on bringing back a collection of nuts and bolts for masterful storytelling, and exploring the elements which make a story sing.
2. An open mind. There are days I think I know what I can and cannot achieve as a writer. I'm hoping to be surprised with possibilities I never imagined. After all, why hope for the things I know I will find? Why not look for a rare jewel?
3. A strong voice. When your accent rings a little off key, it pays to have an ounce of courage. I have questions to ask and people to find who I hope, will share their answers with me. I may even swap words of encouragement with a kindred spirit or two.
4. A friendly smile. When things are scary, there's nothing more disarming than a smile. It unlocks doors and chases away fears which don't belong, but may creep in.
5. Tear soaked prayers. Why tears? Because that's me. Tears come easily, and often. From those shed at farewells to twinkling tears of delight, they're as much a part of who I am as my brown eyes. It would be wrong to deny the real me and pretend to be someone I'm not. So the tears get to come, but I'll be tucking them in with my prayers. Without prayer, I wouldn't dream of taking my smile, voice, mind or heart all the way to the ACFW conference.
After all, my lifelong prayers and God's remarkable answer, have opened the door for me to fly away in the first place.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
On a church camp earlier this year a dear friend sat beside me and asked how my writing was going. I was surprised she even knew I was working on a novel. Tucked under her arm she had a book on photography, and tucked in her heart a dream to pursue the art beyond mere dabbling. We got to talking about our respective desires and have cheered each other on ever since.
When I needed a photographer to take a few head shots for my newly printed business card, I knew You Meng Hooi and I would have a fun day together. But where do you go in the dead of winter in Melbourne, when your client requests an historic location? You Meng knew just the place.
Built in 1863 on 14 acres, Abbotsford Convent and Bakery has 11 historic outbuildings including laundries and an industrial school. Once a rural refuge for 'fallen women' and orphans, it now sits in the middle of a busy suburb. Almost entirely self sufficient, the original occupants grew all their food and made their own clothes, including shoes and stockings. With stained glass porticoes, tessellated floors and columned walkways, today it's favored by bridal parties and locals alike. The gardens and fresh bread aromas beckon all manner of visitors. Even aspiring historical romance writers.
Somehow we managed to catch the last glimmer of sun before it set, duck the wintery wind, and even grab a loaf before closing time. What a blessing to travel the road together for a while. It's my pleasure to give a cheer for You Meng. I know she is going to capture amazing images of God's world and his people in the days to come. You might like to view the gallery of her work at youmengxphotography.
Today we brought in 6 eggs from our chickens. No mean feat, when only 5 hens occupy the coop. How did this happen? I'm guessing one hen laid a little later yesterday, adding her egg to the nest to be gathered with this morning's fresh ones.
My chickens must have an inkling Spring is here, although you would be forgiven for thinking no one told Dreary Winter, with today's constant drizzle and grey skies. Yes, Spring is here officially but methinks the seasons are playing tricks on us all.
All except the chickens. Through the winter months, their egg contribution has been as rare as their teeth and I wondered when they'd get sorted and pay for room and board. After all, I don't run the Poulet Chalet.
So imagine my delight at the half dozen I received today, on the first day of Spring. I was reminded of my first blog post exactly one year ago today, when I announced with great pride the first celebrated egg from this batch of hens. Just in time to usher in the new season and tying in oh so nicely with my first blog offering.
Fast forward by one year, and in many ways my chickens still remind me of... me. Compelled by God's prodding I offer something of myself. Somedays it's a struggle and other days it's pure joy. Today, it's a celebration. One full year of sharing my thoughts and dreams with an amazing family of blogging friends who have become like family.
If you are someone who has read my blog, left a comment or emailed me during the last year, you need to know this: You have blessed my writing journey more than I can say. With each exchange you've drawn me closer to my dreams and cheered me on my way. Thank you for encouraging me, making me laugh and letting me share a small slice of Australia with you. Most of all, thank you for the wonderful fellowship we have savored together. Your words in response to mine, have carried and inspired me.
Along with my 6 brown eggs, it's the best birthday present ever!
We mark the calendar with our plans, decide what meat we need to defrost for tomorrow's dinner and lock the doors. We kiss our kids goodnight, and set the alarm before we tuck ourselves into bed, and who could blame us when the sun rises next morning, for believing we're in control of our little worlds?
We smile when our kids wash a jam jar and label it Savings. We know setting goals and working towards them develops character so we cheer to see them experiment with plans of their own.
In many ways we do enjoy a large measure of control over our lives, but only so far as God allows it. To have faith in God means to recognize His rulership over all His creation. To be in a relationship with Him is to submit to His plans for our lives and desire them over anything else.
This week's Facebook Friday winner is a little cutie whose mum shared one of those golden moments in childhood when 'control' become an issue. Three year old Evie has one older sister and one younger sister. In the world of siblings, I guess she needed to raise her voice one day... and her mama responded as all good mama's do. Here's how the day unfolded for them;
Coral - Just put Evie in her room because she hit Jassie with a piece of Thomas train track. I walked past and she was laying on her bed quietly saying to herself, "Somebody help me...I'm not the boss anymore!"
Too cute isn't it? What an important life lesson Evie learned that day. For a minute, she thought she was in control, until Mum set her straight. I loved Evie's ability to admit she is not the boss. Even more priceless was her cry, 'Somebody help me."
What a clever tot to ask for help when faced with her own helplessness. And what blessings await her when she yields her desire to be boss, and follows the real "somebody".
Psalm 54:4 Surely God is my help, the Lord is the one who sustains me.
Psalm 73:23 Yet I am always with you: you hold me by my right hand.
If you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, can you judge a painting by its title? I almost overlooked a key detail in this painting by Michael Frederick Halliday until I read the title;
The Blind Basket Maker and his First Child.
It reminded me of the four devoted parents who presented their babies at church for a dedication ceremony last Sunday. In their limited capacity, which we all share as mums and dads, they promised to raise their children to know God, and to demonstrate their love for Him in ways their children could follow. They gave thanks to God for the blessing of their babies and acknowledged God's true ownership of families.
One phrase caught my attention during the service. "We will hold you with an open hand..."
How does a parent hold with an 'open hand'? My instinct is to hold with one closed fist, and my other hand clamped over the first one. As a mum of two teenagers and one 'almost' teenager, I've thought about this some more since Sunday.
Holding with an open hand is the promise to cradle until the time comes to let go. It means to provide a soft place to land but not smother. It's only when we hold our hand open that we're able to receive from God and to offer our children back to Him. I confess, this is not always easy to do when the darkness of this world hovers like a blinding fog.
How would the basket maker feel about his new role as father? Would he feel equipped to provide a home worthy of his baby? He has the means to support his family, little though his income would be. We know he's not afraid to show affection and interest in his child and I suspect a love of music will be shared before too long. Most of all, the parents in this home love one another... with all their imperfections.
No one will ever be the perfect parent. We all come to the job with our weaknesses. Thankfully we can hold our children out to God, as we wait on Him to finish the good work He began in them... and in us.
Philipians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Do you 'hold your child with an open hand?' Is it something you find easy to do?
I must confess when it comes to the newspaper, I'm a skimmer. I flip through those pages in record time as I scan for important words, get the gist of each article and then move on. If a chunk is too long I move onto the next paragraph. All I want is the details and if the story grabs me, I might re-read it properly to make sure I didn't miss anything.
You might be like me too. Information comes to us in little bites all day long and we've become used to receiving it in all sorts of media. FB is is a great example. If a status is too long, I'm tempted to skip it and read the next one down. I can't help it when there are so many delicious things to discover about the people in my world.
I would even go so far as to guess you have already peeked at the winner of the FB status before finishing this very paragraph. Admit it, you did - didn't you? No? Ok, keep reading then.
When I recently saw a status with one word and one punctuation mark, it grabbed my full attention. Not a difficult challenge you might say, given I skim read. True, but there was something about this freshly added status which made me shiver with excitement. It was only 20 minutes old and already people had commented with happy faces.
The writer was my cousin's husband in Greece. Niko and his beautiful Niki have been married for 15 years and their desire for most of this time has been to start a family. When I read Niko's status I knew some serious praying had not gone unheard.
Niko - 2!
Thats right. A number and exclamation mark. It stuck out like a mistake at first, among the lengthier updates of my FB friends. A quick telephone call confirmed the joyous news that not one but two babies are on the way for this excited couple and following Greek customs, this will make me an aunty again, twice over!
A few days later Niko, shared another glimpse of their amazing discovery after a visit to the hospital
Niko - Two tiny hearts...
For these two wonderful FB status posts, Niko is my Facebook Friday winner of the week.
What a blessing to be able to share life changing news so instantly. I can't wait to log onto Facebook in the months to come and see pink/blue or pink/pink, or blue/blue. What a wonderful way to discover the answer to my prayers, or should I say the answers. Yes folks, this little FB status took my breath away.
There are some things I just don't like. I'm tempted to say I hate them, but that would be too strong a word for small irritations. Like the feeling of wet wool when I'm hand washing a knitted cardigan. That squeaky sound always gives me the shivers. Then there's the feeling of cornflour between my fingers. Is it just me or is that another squeaky kind of shiver?
The worst 'do not touch' is chalk. Whether it's me, writing on a blackboard or the sound of someone else scraping chalk as they scribble (or horror of horrors - their fingernails) it's one of my least favorite things.
Not so for Arthur Stace. Born in the Balmain slums of Sydney in the 1880s he could have been the face of any neglected child of that era, brought up by alcoholic parents. His sisters ran brothels and his brothers followed in their alcohol fueled lifestyle. Little wonder Arthur wound up stealing bread and milk from Sydney doorsteps. By 15 he was in jail and by the time he's reached his twenties, he worked as a scout for his sisters' establishments.
When word got around the slums of a free cup of tea and a bite to eat at a local church, Arthur joined the line of 300 dirty, rum soaked men, who ached for a kind word and hot drink. Their food arrived after a half hour sermon, during which Arthur experienced a dramatic conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ. He emerged transformed from an alcoholic fog to the clarity which comes from complete surrender to God.
Months later, in a fiery sermon he heard the preacher say, "I wish I could shout 'eternity' through the streets of Sydney." It was this heartfelt cry which pushed Arthur Stace to became the famous street writer of Sydney's cobblestoned pavements.
From his pocket, he produced a piece of yellow chalk and in perfect copperplate swirls wrote Eternity on the pavement. It was the day he "felt a powerful call from the Lord to write."
Not a novel or sermon. Not an article or a blog post. One simple word, Eternity. In his lifetime he wrote this word on the pebbles across Sydney streets half a million times. He did this for 37 years and pointed the hearts and minds of passersby to a day which fast approached them.
Eternity became an enigma for the people of Sydney. It's writer didn't like publicity and remained anonymous for many years amid speculation of his identity. In his later years Arthur Stace revealed himself as the mysterious writer and explained his desire for everyone to consider where they would spend eternity. This week marks the 43rd anniversary of when Arthur Stace stepped into an eternal Christ filled future. He was 83.
His legacy continues today and Sydney has embraced the Eternity sign as its own. On New Year's Eve 1999, it lit the sky as the centerpiece to the Harbour Bridge fireworks display. Adopted as the Sydney Olympic Games emblem, it reappeared later that year on a worldwide stage.
But what difference did it make to the millions who tripped over his words as they hurried through the slums? We will only know when we reach eternity ourselves. On this side of life's journey, we know Arthur Stace was called to write... and he obeyed.
A few years ago our electric kettle died. In the days between our loss and me getting to the shops to buy a new one, we boiled water like they did in The Little House on the Prairie. Ok, I deliberately stalled for a week or two because I wanted to play like Laura. I didn't have a creek to fill my bucket and we didn't chop wood or light an indoor fire, but we did fill an enamel kettle with tap water and sit it on a gas flame.
The best part of boiling water this way was the song our little kettle sang each time it reached boiling point. Unlike the express boil of the electric jug, this humble pot hummed as it got going. Minutes later it would hiss as steam collected in the spout and by the time the pressure was right, a high pitched song would ring out.
Boiling water the old fashioned way brings a little musical theatre to the kitchen. Strike the match, light the flame, simmer the water, catch the steam and then the final number, the bird song whistle.
If your morning is a lazy one and a hearty breakfast is on the menu, waiting for water to boil can be romantic. If you're busy or life's burdens have pressed you further than you want to be pushed, you may be like the kettle in my Facebook Friday status of the week.
Even tho a tea kettle is up to its neck in hot water, it continues to sing. Press on !!!!
Thanks to Joe, a friend from Memphis, I took a minute to consider the song composed under pressure. What a beautiful anthem we sing when we allow God to work in us even when the urgency of life seems to press too hard. Without the fire, the song remains hidden. While I resist like mad those situations which bring testing, I know when I'm up to my neck in hot water, God is there. He encourages me to live victoriously and delights in the victor's song. Let's press on!!
I wonder whether the authors of The Habits of Good Society compiled for Victorian ladies and gentlemen, ever imagined their words of wisdom would do a complete flip flop in the 21st century. That their well thought out rules of etiquette would not only be ignored, but reversed.
In the Victorian era, lovers of tea and coffee were advised to hold their delicate cups by the handle, just so. Not a desperate grip, no looping of fingers through the handle and under no circumstances, were they to "grasp the vessel with the side of their hand".
So what would they make of two wonderful cups Australians have embraced for their hot drinks?
I think they would love the hug mug. What a wonderful way to enjoy the warmth of a hot chocolate than to wrap fingers around the bean shaped cup. Even before attempting the steaming frothy bits and the goodness that comes thereafter, this mug has a pre-drink gift. The hug mug warms the drinker even before the drink does. Now that's what I call embracing your brew.
The second cup is a charmer. What better way to savor a coffee than with a hint of melting chocolate, delivered by the aptly named kangaroo cup. Slivers of chocolate sit in the pouch along the rim of this cup, melt, and dribble into your favorite blend. Very clever and dare I say, so very Australian.
Both cups are available at Max Brenner Chocolate Shop, where my daughter and I had a delicious morning tea with dear friends last week. Fortunately some things in life have stayed the same. Even with the passing of time and new fashions, good friendships remain true. They celebrate the sweetness of life, and stir the bitterness away with a generous sprinkling of fragrant laughter. This is how God designed us. To encourage one another and build each other up.
Victorian wisdom may have been forgotten in the endeavor to elevate our coffee experience, but God's word has never lost its impact. His truth is eternal and every generation can apply His precepts, no matter how they choose to cradle their coffee.
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; Love her, and she will watch over you. Psalm 4:6
I am one of those mums who cries at every assembly and presentation at my kids' school. I cry when I watch the Qantas commercial where the Australian Children's Choir sings 'I Still Call Australia Home.' And I cry every Sunday during the worship time at church. Many times I cry because my heart is sad. Other times, I assure my family everything is ok, and my tears are just the overflow of joy.
This weekend I found myself wiping away a few more 'happy tears.' They spilled over when I received a heartwarming message from a sweet friend who's been reading my blog. Last week, after sharing my 'afternoon tea' post with her ministry team she sent me the following letter.
So you know I manage a house where children who have been removed from their families live...? This week at my staff meeting with the people who are on the floor everyday fetching and carrying for these kiddies, I took along your blog about afternoon tea and brought up an idea that we too could possibly facilitate this experience. We've all decided that this touch of home (that most of us were never lucky enough to experience) could be a beautiful time for our children. So now on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the time allocated to mopping has been allocated to a staff member to bake! Today, one of our children had their first scone with jam and cream. The smells and sounds coming into the office from the house was like laying on the grass on a summer day - bliss. Thank you for making my job even more of a joy - my staff are thrilled and the kids will truly benefit. Many blessings.
What an honor God allowed, for me to play a tiny part in the memories these children will tuck into their hearts. I never imagined when I wrote my simple post on the pleasures of afternoon tea, that in one household the mops would be set aside in favour of mixing bowls. I'm thrilled to know a new afternoon tea tradition is born for these wonderful carers and their happy kids. They will never be sorry the floors were not washed on a Monday afternoon, but they will love it that a few scone crumbs dotted the table top.
For those who have asked, here is a scone recipe you may like to play with. You never know, God may have plans for you to share it with someone too.
Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Matthew 19:14
Anyone else get that satisfied feeling when you fill your car with petrol and know you won't have to do that chore for another few days? Or the sweet knowledge that there's an unopened 3 litre milk bottle in the fridge for the hungry hordes with the cold cereal addiction? Sometimes I think about the daily grind of growing, harvesting and preserving food, faced by early Australian pioneers like the characters in my stories. The lives of these brave souls who arrived in remote areas to build their homes and gardens out of nothing, have always drawn and inspired me. I think that's why I love to grow my own herbs, fruit and veggies. I love to bake bread, make yoghurt and bottle up jam from my own apricots. I'm a fan of homemade pasta, and I'm thoroughly mesmerised by my father-in-law's bee hives. Staples, I leave to the experts. I'm glad I don't have to produce flour from my own wheat crop, or grow sugar beets. And I'm very glad I didn't spend last summer filling a hay loft with feed and bedding for my animals. Ok, all I have is 5 chickens and I'm thankful it's not my job to grow, dry and bale up the straw for their hen house. This week's Facebook Friday award goes to Kathie from Washington. Her status earlier this week transported me to the 19th century and the lives of my pioneering characters. Like them, Kathie is someone who's tasted the benefits of hard work and is now enjoying
...such a good feeling to have next winter's hay put away!
While I suspect the hay is for her animals, the same rings true in her house and barn as it does in my pantry and refrigerator. Hard work and forward planning equal that 'good feeling' we all know when we are well stocked. The reverse is as strong. When we run low on anything vital, the smooth operation of our homes is compromised. Just ask my milk guzzling sons.
Kathie's status reminded me of Psalm chapter 6: 6-8, where hard work is praised.
"Go to the ant, you sluggard;
Consider its ways and be wise
It has no commander, no overseer or ruler
yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest."
While I have no plans to plant acres of anything anytime soon, I'm eager to put in my veggie garden as soon as our winter has passed and even more excited about my trip to Costco this weekend.
Thanks Kathie for sharing your world. Your hard work encouraged me to squirrel a little bit away for my own family.
Like most of my writing friends I shut myself away and spend many hours at the computer working on my story. Some say writing is a lonely occupation and there are days when I feel it. Thanks to the blogging world, the most unexpected bursts of 'love' came my way recently, and once again I'm awash in the glow of cyber-warmth.
In this last fortnight I have been the recipient of four awards by some wonderful blogging friends.
have all awarded me A Blog With Substance award. This made my day, and I am thrilled these kind souls have seen past the pretty pictures (which I love to add) and connected with the heart of what I write.
Kimberly @ The Stinker Pinker also sent through a surprise package and honored me with The Versatile Blogger award. Thanks so much guys, you are true encouragers!
Psalm 68:6 reminds me of the promise that "God sets the lonely in families..."
How abundantly God has provided for me. Each day I am showered by the love of my many families. My real life family with all its beautiful branches, my church, friends and neighbours, and the reason for this post... my amazing writing 'sisters' ( as well as some very cool writing brothers.)
There's one question my children ask me everyday in the car on the way home from school.
"Mum, what's for afternoon tea?"
At the end of a long day at school, food is a much anticipated comfort. When I mentioned to my sweet Tennessee writing buddy that I had to organize something for afternoon tea one day, she wondered whether I meant our evening meal.
In this house, we fancify our after school snack by calling it 'Afternoon Tea'. A little posh maybe, but if the mood strikes me, I like to lay a tea table with a hint of refinement. Fresh baking always looks best when it's presented on a pedestal and a dusting of icing sugar is a must. Even a shop bought lamington and glass of milk can be gussied up to look like a feast.
Afternoon Teas have been satisfying hunger pangs since Queen Victoria's reign. Celebrated as its inventor, Anna, Duchess of Bedford, wondered what to do with that 'sinking feeling' she experienced each afternoon. Her servants were instructed to deliver tea and petite cakes to her private rooms. In no time the ritual of taking tea emerged, as sophisticated society clamoured for it in the finest hotel tea rooms. Perhaps they followed tea time etiquette which required all drinkers to "never grasp the vessel... with the palm of your hand."
While we shy away from serving dainty cucumber sandwiches, like many Australian families we do love our scones with jam and cream as well as pikelets and crumpets. Lace edged tablecloths may have been pushed aside by the odd school book or lap top computer, but for me the sentiment remains the same. No matter how many cups of tea I've enjoyed alone that day, I'm always drawn to share a treat with loved ones before we go our separate ways again.
As the unknown sage observed:
Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time
the comforts of solitude
and the pleasures of company.
There is much benefit in snacking or feasting with others. Days are shared, problems may be solved and plans can be made for the future. Most of all God is honored, when we give Him thanks for all His blessings. It needn't be as fancy as a custard filled pastry. Even an afternoon tea of brown bread and honey is a gift from the Father who always delights in His place at the table.
I promise after today I'll stop gushing about winter. It seems many of my blog posts these last few weeks have focused on the glories of this season. How could I not, when we have enjoyed/endured (take your pick) one of Australia's longest cold snaps in years?
This month, many Aussies who yearn for a Northern Style Christmas, will gather to celebrate Christmas in July. Together with all the usual Christmas fare, bonbons and eggnog, we get to shiver our way out of coats and toast ourselves by the fire while we wait for the cook to call us to the table.
This tradition is thought to have begun when a group of Irish tourists took a holiday in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney in July of 1980. Overjoyed at the sight of snow during their own Irish summer, they convinced a local hotel owner to hold a 'Yulefest' party. The concept fired up the imaginations of others who instantly fell in love with the idea of a White Christmas in Australia. The proprietor knew he was on a winner and jumped at the chance to make this an annual event.
Fast forward 30 years, and Christmas in July has become a well known Aussie celebration. Restaurants, clubs and churches cater to those who yearn for a full Christmas dinner in winter. Perhaps these Yuletide diners like to revisit their childhood days in 'the mother country'. Maybe, they sweltered through Christmas last December with BBQ'd shrimp, cold salads and sorbet, and hunger for roast turkey and plum pudding.
They may even be like my little friend Emily, who I suspect has a few favorite Christmas movies. Her mum Lillian, posted the following Facebook status this week, and is the Ink Dots Facebook Friday winner for the week.
Lilian (at the snow) - "Ohh look Emily it's snow!
Emily - "ohhh.... is it Christmas time already?"
That is pretty cute, but.... no Emily, it's not Christmas. Winter is a celebration all it's own but sometimes we can pretend. While some may say Christmas in July is a mockery of our Lord Jesus' birth, the precise date is unknown and worthy of celebration anytime we choose. So go ahead, catch a snowflake on your tongue. Join in with the carolers and smell the gingerbread. It's never too early or too late to falalalala, la la la la.
Ask my other friend Paula from the US. She wrote the runner up status of the week, and I think she secretly wishes she were in Australia this winter too.
Paula - curled up in my fuzzy blanket. had two cups of tea. thinking about baking. loving feeling like December in July.