Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wednesday Wishes

If I had more hours in my day, and quite possibly a few extra days in the week, I would love to volunteer for the National Trust of Victoria. What better way to learn and share with others the fascinating way of life for our early pioneers and settlers than to guide others through historic homes and gardens?

Or maybe I would dress up in 1850s attire and work in an historical museum. Last year when I visited Sovereign Hill with my daughter and some of her friends, I watched a volunteer (yes, she was in period costume) demonstrate cheese making.

The tiny cottage kitchen where she set up her bowls and milk tins, hardly fit the small crowd which squeezed in. Her demonstration was very popular, drawing other volunteers away from their posts in the general store and apothecary's shop.

Using only the fire behind her to warm the milk, her fingers to test the temperature and the few utensils you see on the pine table before her, she processed milk and turned it into fresh cottage cheese.

My 1870s Australian Colonial Cookbook tells me this type of cheese was perfect for baked cheesecakes when a little sugar, butter, nutmeg, lemon peel and eggs were added. Yum.

I think I might have to experiment with cheese making now. At the very least, and in honor of our current school-holiday winter feasting,  I think I need to bake a cheesecake.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Anybody know where I can find a frock?

Main Entry: frock 
Pronunciation: \ˈfräk\
Function: noun
Date: 14th century
1 : an outer garment worn by monks and friars : habit
2 : an outer garment worn chiefly by men: a : a long loose mantle b : a workman's outer shirt; especially : smock frock c : a woolen jersey worn especially by sailors 3 : a woman's dress

When chatting with a dear friend from Tennessee last week I mentioned I needed a new frock for a dinner I'll be attending in a few months. She laughed because the word 'frock' is not in her vocabulary and she thought a frock must be a sort of smock or apron. 

I must admit I don't use the word frock much at all. I was playing with my words, and just like the use of the word 'scullery' which I love to employ for the sheer fun of it, I think I used frock in the same way. 

Friends in Australia would have understood I meant to say "I need a new dress." My friend from the US was mystified and wondered why I would think to wear an apron to a banquet dinner.

Words are funny. They unite us and create bonds which last a lifetime. Just think of the 'in jokes' you share with a friend or family member. All you need to say is one word and the mischief is stirred afresh. Words are well known for causing division too. One word can conjure the memory of heartache or insult years after it was flung in anger. Thankfully, words can heal when wounds need tending.

I play with words every day. I create mischief for my characters and use their words to move the story along. It's fun and I can delete and recreate my scenes if I don't like the words I choose. 

Not so in real life. Some words can never be unheard. Once spoken they are not ours to take back anymore. God warns us of the power our words can yield. We are encouraged to think before we speak and use them for good. 

I don't know anyone who doesn't have regrets about words spoken in haste. They slip out before we  have a real chance to censor our thoughts and we are faced with having to make amends.

Proverbs 12:18 Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

When I sit to write each day I pray over my words. My desire is for a great story which will touch the hearts of those who read it. When my characters' lives are pierced to the point of misery, I want God's words to bring healing. This is my desire for the pages of my story... and the pages of my life.

Have you ever struggled to make sense of a word not commonly used in your part of the world? I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Facebook Friday
Reports from those who play Facebook this week tell us we have soldiered on and survived the wintery week on apple crumble and coffee. How I rejoiced at the many status declarations of winter baking and feasting.

My other friends, who are playing in the summer sun, have limped through their scorcher of a week with grateful thanks to God for air-conditioning, frozen berries and frappe.

In the midst of temperature extremes, one Facebook status caught my attention. Minutes before my bedtime, as a new day brushed a far off corner of the world, a friend stopped to drink in the moment and share her morning with me. There, in my most celebrated winter, her four word status made me long for summer like a fickle minded sky.

"Early morning rain... peaceful"

Thank you Carla. You made me turn from my love of frosty mornings to yearn for warmer, lighter days. Rain filled and fresh, I could smell the air outside your window and wondered whether you sat with your Bible on a screened porch to listen and pray.

As the night hemmed us in, I was glad to know someone else had been touched by the miracle of a new day.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Victorian Underwear

Here's an invitation I would love to accept (click). It's a Reader's Getaway with one of my favorite historical writers Deeanne Gist. Her novels are a treat to read and I savor each chapter.

Anything with the label Victorian has an easy task of grabbing my attention and this event ticks all the boxes. There will be books and writers, a Victorian mansion tour, carriage rides, as well as dressing up in period costumes. That's right folks, I said dressing up. If there were ever a Dotti retreat, this is it.

What will make the getaway unforgettable for lovers of historical details, is the demonstration of what Victorian era women wore under their gowns. This video gives those like me, in another hemisphere, a sneak peak at what we'll be missing.

Never mind. I can dream. I'll wrap my writing shawl a little tighter and grapple with the mysteries of my heroine's wardrobe because even in this short clip, I have learned much.

Thanks Dee, for letting me share this video here and best wishes for a wonderful retreat.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Longest Night

Winter in Australia doesn't always bring snow flurries. Here in Melbourne we rarely see snow unless we drive to the snowfields or the alps further away. But many trees are leafless, the mornings are frosty and most people I know wouldn't want the temperatures to get any lower.

Today is the Southern Winter Solstice.  It occurs every year on June 21 when the southern hemisphere is most inclined away from the sun. The day will be the shortest of the year, and this evening we shall sleep through the longest night.

At the risk of being shunned by those who shiver through the winter, I confess I am a fan. This has a lot to do with reading in bed under heavy blankets, my love of candle light and the fun of wearing coats and boots. I have a suspicion it has a lot to do with my writing shawl too.

Many of my friends have had enough of winter already. They yearn for Spring and the promise of warmer days. Some cultures mark the winter solstice by gathering for a feast. In an attempt to shake off the winter blues, they host a celebration, and who could blame them? Good company can chase away the foulest of moods and I'm all for chocolate pudding with a good cup of coffee.

Tasmania, our most southern state, is the last stop before Antarctica. They really do celebrate the Winter Solstice there, with the Antarctic Mid Winter Festival. They even have a countdown to spring. How thoughtful to provide a party for all things winter, and hint at things to come as well.

If you long for Spring, take heart. From tomorrow, the days will only get longer. That's how God made it. Just ask my friends up in that other hemisphere. The ones enjoying the glorious sunshine and long balmy evenings.

And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years." Genesis 1:14 

Friday, June 18, 2010

Facebook Friday
Are you one of those people who goes to the letter box 100 times a day? If you have Facebook, you may well be. According to Facebook's own media release, over 500 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each month. 

Like me, you may dabble in web links, news, blog posts, photo albums and much more. Now that the digital letter box has entered our homes, we have embraced it and even elevated it to a place of great prominence. For many it sits in the heart of our family rooms, bedrooms and studies. For many more it sits in our lap and even the palm of our hand. 

So what do you do, when a quick Facebook check ends up robbing you of time you hoped to spend elsewhere? Where does the day go when a mini Facebook break turns into a marathon photo viewing session, and you jump from one friend to another... and quite possibly check out their friends as well? 

There's a lot to read on Facebook. It's all there. I find prayer requests, inspirational quotes, announcements and suggestions. Each day I read the disappointments and venting of those who have been hurt, as well as declarations of love. (Grandparents are the best love gushers.) 

People were created to communicate. It's inbuilt, by a God who is a master at sending messages. He talks to us everyday, if we care to listen.

Last week I decided to add even more value to my Facebook minutes. Each Friday I'll be awarding a prize (sorry it won't be a car - simple cyber applause will have to suffice) to the writer of the status which challenged my thinking the most that week. After all, if even one of those 500 billion minutes has my name on it, I want to walk away a better person for it. 

So, it's my pleasure to announce Ann C as the winner of
  Facebook Friday
Her status from a few weeks ago (I've been saving them so I can get a running start) grabbed my attention, and shaped a longing I hope you will share. Ann wrote;

  I want my Bible to look like my Aunty's who died this week- tattered, marked, used, loved.

What a beautiful observation of a beloved aunt. Here is someone who cherished the deepest form of communication. Through her love of God's word and His message to her, as well as Ann's tribute, I have been blessed. I hope you have too.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Weekly Op Shop Run

Once a week I love to visit my local thrift shops. In Australia they're called Op Shops or Opportunity Shops. You know the ones. Sometimes they're so overstuffed with second hand items you need to sift through small mountains of junk to find what you're looking for. Other days you just dash past the front window and there, on a trestle by the open door, you may find an unexpected treasure.

My writing shawl came from a thrift store. At the time I needed it for a costume, and now it fights me every time I think to fold it into the dress up box. I've unearthed fiction and reference books I never imagined existed. Pitchers, plates and even one very special painting have all followed me home.

For ages I've longed for and looked out for Carter's Price Guide to Antiques in Australasia. This glossy 5 kilo encyclopedia of all things yesteryear, is the best place for a writer to examine objects, clothing and furniture, dating back to the early 1700s. How else is a girl meant to know what a set of Victorian silver plated berry servers looks like, or an enameled mourning brooch from 1864? And what about that essential item for every lady in the 1870s, the rose-gold folding glove hook? Try saying that in a hurry.

Well, sometimes God indulges us in the most whimsical of fancies and I recently limped home with this very monster of a book. All 736 pages, as new and a third of the retail price from an op shop near my son's school. What a find!

So now I have pictures and details for a 19th century German ice-cream maker. I also have a very good feel for copper pint measures used in the 1840s, and I could give you an accurate description of a French tin bath with wooden frame dated 1890. Will I need to know how these items functioned and what they looked like for my novels?  Absolutely.
Ok, I hope so, because they're really fascinating and worthy of a mention.

Want to know who else is worthy? God is. He has allowed so many interesting resources to be in the thrift store on the same day as my visits. This story would be incomplete without His provision. For the coins in my purse and the goodies in my basket, I am thankful. As I am for all His his treasures and opportunities.

Have you found any treasures lately? I would love to hear about them?

Monday, June 14, 2010

From the Scullery

If you ring my doorbell and I answer draped in a woolen shawl, you will know I am writing. If you smell the smoke from a newly snuffed candle, or spy the butter in my pantry now residing in a new covered butter crock... you will know I am writing. And pretending.

These days I'm having lots of fun acting out tiny slices of daily life, lived by my characters in the late 1800s. These small touches help me smell and feel and taste a little of a world so removed from my own, yet so firm in its grip of my imagination. One day soon I want to bake damper. I want to light a fire outside and do some washing in the wind. A small load, mind you. Not all the bedding or anything. I want to milk a cow and churn some butter, and if I can do all that in my shawl with a candle burning nearby, all the better.

Today I am experiencing something my characters would also have enjoyed back in 1875. It's a public holiday here in Melbourne and most states around Australia. As we have since 1788,  on this day we observe the birthday of the current monarch.

For this generation it's Queen Elizabeth II, (wasn't she a cutie?)  but for my characters it was Queen Victoria.
In 1788, when the holiday was instituted to honor King George III, those who partied in Sydney Cove did so "with every demonstration of joy permitted." Each convict was issued three days leave and received half a pint of rum.

In 2010, we still get a three day weekend, although I'm not sure much thought is given to the birthday girl herself. These days, those who live in the north try for one last beach visit before winter sets in, and here in the south, this weekend marks the start of the ski season. Given the number of days I have snuggled under my beloved shawl, I would say winter has arrived with teeth bared.

So back to my writing. It's almost dusk. Another day is ending, but I'll light a candle and savor the glow. If you hear about the fire I nearly caused when the fringe of my shawl got singed, please remember, it's all fiction.