Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sixty Years of Wedded Gardening Bliss

During the month of May, my dearest Uncle John and Auntie Joan celebrate their Diamond Wedding Anniversary. In a day and age when many couples don't even make it to six years, they are celebrating sixty years together ...wow! Don't you think they ought to be congratulated!
They live in a lovely, homely bungalow (a detached home on one level to non- Brits) in an English town and for many years they have maintained their pristine garden; it's a real show-stopper with tiered lawns edged with colourful flowerbeds. There are hedges, ponds, a patio, a conservatory and a greenhouse.

As a child, I would visit their home and I loved exploring the garden and stopping on the little bridge that crossed the pond to admire the fish. My childhood home was a typical Edwardian terraced house with a strip of concrete for a backyard, so it was a real treat to visit Uncle John and Auntie Joan's garden.
They are the most hospitable people one could ever hope to meet and a warm welcome always awaited my family whenever we visited. A gracious hostess, Auntie Joan would serve cups of tea in china cups and plates of dainty sandwiches. Uncle John would take us on guided tours of the garden and entertain us with amusing stories, anecdotes and of course jokes!

Auntie Joan is a talented homemaker, a keen sewer, crafter and exceptionally talented cake decorator. She made my 21st birthday cake pictured below and my wedding cake which was similar to my 21st with three tiers topped with a lattice weave basket with a plaited handle, filled with delicate flowers - all made from icing even the basket! I was so enamoured with my wedding cake I carried the top tier in a box onto the plane to be transported to my new home in New Zealand. It travelled via Bangkok and Hong Kong where we were stopping over and on its safe arrival in New Zealand, it received a number of gasps of admiration from the airline and customs staff.
Auntie Joan encouraged me to express my creativity; she was always showing me the wonderful items she had made for her home, such as the gorgeous padded headboard she created for the master bedroom.

The atmosphere she created in her home - the warmth of the welcome, the joy, the kind words and the spirit of creativity evident in every room, in every nook and cranny was something that just captivated me, I loved to spend time there and I told myself as a teenager, that when I had a home of my own I would re-create that same type of atmosphere.

Uncle John and Auntie Joan have battled ill-health over the years and had more than their fair share of hospital stays and operations, yet this has not deterred them.They remain cheerful and optimistic and they never complain. They send me a card at Christmas and a cheery letter filled with their news and compliments for my family- such sweet words of encouragement! They have always been like this, their positive outlook on life is something that has been cultivated along with their garden! I'm convinced gardening has kept them young!

Next month, they will celebrate their anniversary with family including my own mother who is John's younger sister, at a special meal at a hotel. I wish I could be there to congratulate them and to say thank you for the inspiration they have been to me. This is when I realize that Australia is really a land 'down under', just too far way for trips home for family celebrations.
I had to find a special gift for them and came up with the idea of having a garden trowel engraved. After several trips to hardware stores I had almost given up on the idea, as I couldn't find a stainless steel trowel with a wooden handle, they were all plastic or rubber handled. Then I found one at Target. It came in a kit, enclosed in a canvas bag for a very reasonable price. I will keep the rest of the tools in the kit as they would be too costly to send and Uncle John already has plenty of garden tools! It was really the idea of something truly personalized - a pen or a pewter tankard just didn't seem quite right! I also found these gorgeous garden gloves for Auntie Joan at one of my favourite stores 'The Complete Garden' - any excuse to go inside this shop! If you want to use this idea for a gift for a green-fingered relative or friend please do! I love sharing inspiration for gifts.

I have also written a poem for Uncle John and Auntie Joan. I will share some of the verses here; if you have a way with words, a poem is a great gift idea for special occasions. I have written poems for my parent's Ruby Wedding Anniversary, for a christening of friend's baby, for weddings and a very funny 60th birthday poem for my father-in-law which was read aloud at the restaurant to hoots of laughter and applause.
I would appreciate your prayers for my Uncle and Auntie, even though you do not know them - you would love them too if you met them, especially for good health and more years of wedded gardening bliss!

A Diamond Day

60 years of marriage you celebrate today
Family and friends have gathered to say
Congratulations to you both
God bless you Joan and John
And you are still wondering
Where has the time gone?
Lots of special memories, many make you smile
But it only seems like yesterday
You walked on down the aisle

You've come through all the trials that have been sent your way
And I do believe you're smiling
On this your special day
I thank you Uncle John, I know it's been a while
Since I heard you tell a joke
You always made me smile!

I thank you Auntie Joan for all the cups of tea
You really are so gifted in hospitality
A warm and gracious lady
With John you shared your life
I know that he is thrilled to have you as his wife!

It comes as no surprise
That you've reached the 'diamond' year
Congratulations are in order
It is becoming rare!
In sickness and in health
You've honoured more than most
So on this special day
I'd like to raise a toast

Enjoy your time with family
As a special meal you share
If Australia were closer
You know that we'd be there
And so, I've penned this poem
For a husband and a wife
Celebrating 60 years of blissful married life

With love and joy,

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Family Favourites to Read Aloud

This post is a follow-on from my previous one ' The Joys of Reading Aloud to Children.' The books I have listed are the ones we have read aloud which have earned my children' s seal of approval for adventure, excitement, intrigue and sometimes just pure storytelling genius. The list is not exhaustive, not all the books we have read, made it to the list. There are some classics which we struggled through, for example, 'The Silver Skates' by Mary Mapes Dodge was one such book. Good story lines are important and this book showed promise - a children 's race along the frozen canals of Holland but somehow the abundance of detail and too many descriptions of Dutch architecture crowded out the story and we 'lost the plot' so to speak. My children started to yawn and comment 'This is getting boring'. Your child's reaction is a very good indicator of an author's ability; the very best writers set the scene, introduce love able characters and sometimes rogues, they keep the story moving along and interject humour or suspense, always achieving the right balance. You know you are onto a winner when the children are listening intently and beg for more exclaiming 'Please mum just one more chapter - don't stop reading now!'

How you read the story is also important - you need clarity and expression in your voice. Have you ever listened to a lecturer or a preacher who spoke in monotones? How hard it is to pay attention, people sometimes doze off - no matter how worthy the lecture or message was, if it is not relayed joyfully or with vigour, you can lose interest. This is also true for storytelling. The best way to develop this skill is simply to start reading aloud to your children. If you are familiar with the book you will know the characters and this helps. At times you will speak slowly and softly and learn to raise your voice as the action intensifies. You can use a deep voice for male characters, a softer tone for females and if you dare - accents! I'm familiar with many of the accents of the British Isles but keeping an accent consistent is hard - unless the story is set in Liverpool and then I have no problem!
As you keep on reading you will discover that your skills in oral narration improve and don't forget to give your children the opportunity to narrate. I encourage my older children to read to their younger siblings, this is a wonderful way to promote family harmony!

And so here is our list of family favourites to read aloud together with a short summary/review of each book or series. If you are a veteran homeschooler or a parent who places a high value on reading good books you may already be familiar with many of these books. Hopefully, there are one or two gems you have yet to discover. The list is in no particular order but my particular favourites feature in the photograph at the start of this post. ' If I had to choose one book that I remember enthralled my children the most, it was 'Children on the Oregon Trail'. It is well worth reading.

1. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery - the first long classic book we ever read, the children fell in love with Anne, years later they still remember some of the incidents that befell Anne!

2.Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome - one of the best children's books ever! One of the names of the children may be hilariously old fashioned but it brings to life imagination in a story of pirates and camp- outs. You will learn a lot about sailing if you read any of Mr Ransome's books.

3. Children on the Oregon Trail by A. Rutgers Van Der Loeff based upon the true, remarkable story of the survival of the seven Sager children in 1844 in the far west of America. The bravery, courage and determination of these children will astound you.

4. Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian set in Britain during the Second World War, the touching story of an evacuee sent to live with a gruff old man. Note - Younger or sensitive children may be disturbed by some of the heart- rending scenes, so exercise caution.

5. Charlotte's Web by E.B White deserving of its classic status, every child should read this book.

6. Heidi by Johananna Spyri, Heidi grows up and Heidi's children don't forget to read the follow ups to Heidi by Charles Tritten. He was the translator for Heidi. Make sure you read the unabridged edition. Modern versions leave out the best parts of the story.

7. The Railway Children by E. Nesbit Another classic portraying the resilience of children and their ability to cope in hard times.

8. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S Lewis True classics, we have read them all but our favourite will always be 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'.

9. The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli Set in medieval times, a tale of courage and bravery. We read this during our unit study on Medieval life - ' Mad about Medieval'.

10. Treasures of the Snow, The Tanglewood's Secret. Where the River Begins and other stories by Patricia St John a Christian author. The central characters are always children. All her stories feature themes of love and forgiveness.

11. Pocahontas True Princess and Two Mighty Rivers Son of Pocahontas by Mari Hanes Forget the Disney version, did you know that Pocahontas was only 12 when she saved the life of Captain John Smith? These books will help you discover the true story behind the legend.

12. The Elsie Dinsmore, Millie Keith and Violet Travilla books by Martha Finley I usually advocate reading the original books but I am truly grateful to Mission City Press for publishing these books for a new generation of readers, or I do not think we would have discovered them. There are 8 books in each series. The Elsie books detail the life of a young child growing up on a plantation in the South in the 1800's and take you on a journey through her life from childhood, to a young wife and mother, to a grandmother. Adventure, hardship, good times, humour, sadness, these books have it all. You will learn a great deal about the American Civil War and the price that families in favour of emancipation paid. The Millie Books feature frontier life but the same shining example of a character who lives a life of faith and commitment is ever present.
These books are treasure in my home, the influence they have had on my girls in particular, is enormous. My 11 year old daughter has just finished reading the Elsie series for herself. I intend to pass on these books to my children and they to their children. I refuse to loan them out for fear of them not being returned, they truly are family heirlooms.

13. The Children of Cherry Tree Farm, The Children of Willow Tree Farm and More Adventures on Willow Farm by Enid Blyton Simple stories for young children, they will learn about farming, nature and creatures of the English countryside.

14.The Voyage of the Artic Tern by Hugh Montgomery A modern book published in 2000 with all the hallmarks of a classic. Narrated in verse, a definite candidate for reading aloud. A story of treason and treachery on the high seas, however, good men triumph and the bad are exposed for who they truly are. My children loved this book and begged for more after each reading!

15. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne A captivating geography lesson for all ages. Tremendous characters, a great story and lots of humour, all the ingredients for a classic book.

16. Five Children and It by E. Nesbit Brings to life the maxim ' Be careful what you wish for'

17. Christy by Catharine Marshall A true life heroine, Christy was based on the life of Catharine Marshal's mother who obeyed God's call on her life to go to the impoverished Appalchian mountain regions to teach school. Marshall's beautiful writing vividly portrays the harsh realities of life for the people and Christy's influence. If you have young or very sensitive children this book may not be suitable, I had to skip over some of the details of shocking incidents in the story. However this is truly a story about faith, courage and hope, it drew us into a deeper relationship with God our Father whose heart is for all people.

18. Little Women, Good Wives and Little Men by Louisa May Alcott My favourite author, I could not leave these classics off the list. Little Men was our favourite. Full of wisdom for parents too - I write out her wonderful exhortations to inspire me as I raise and educate my children. I'm just about to read the follow on from Little Men, ' Jo's Boys.'

19. The Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder I haven't read all of these to the children but my 11 year old daughter insisted that they go on the list. She has read them all. Little House on the Prairie was my favourite television series as a child and I was thrilled when they were released onto DVD, we have seasons 1-5 and await the release of the subsequent seasons in Australia. My children loved the episodes and my daughter announced that she had to read the books and started ordering them in from the library. Her favourite was 'The Little House in the Big Woods.'

20. The Perfect Princess and the Bog Monster Tall and Twisted Fairytales from Aussie Kids Finally we could not leave this book off our list, an ABC publication, it features 18 fantastical short stories by Australian children. I have to admit I'm completely biased for the author of the second tale 'The Brightest Butterfly' is my eldest daughter. She entered a competition on ABC television to win the prize of meeting the Crown Princess Mary of Denmark when she was ten years old (She is now 14) during the celebrations for 200 years since the birth of Hans Christian Anderson. She didn't win but we did not realize that the ABC were going to publish the shortlisted stories in a book. Over four thousand entries were received so you can imagine the excitement in this house when the ABC called to tell us that her story had been selected for publication. It was a very special achievement and one of my daughter's proudest moments!

I just love what the Crown Princess Mary of Denmark wrote in her foreward and I agree wholeheartedly with her sentiments. I hope you do too!

'This book is a worthy demonstration of the importance for children to learn how to read and write. These children are the real 'ambassadors' for the fight against illiteracy. They show us all what literacy can bring to life - stories full of joy, wit and love.

With love and joy,


One of the twins smiling at the illustration which accompanies her big sister 's story

Posted by Picasa
Posted by Picasa

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Joys of Reading Aloud to Children

My daughter taking on the role of narrator, reading to her twin sisters

One of my favourite times of the day is when I sit down and read to my children. I have always read to my children from storybooks at bed-time but it wasn't until we set out on the journey of home education over ten years ago, that I began to read to them from longer, classic children's books.
I had a wriggly six year old son, would he be able to sit still long enough to listen to a chapter from 'Anne of Green Gables'? I decided to 'work with the wiggle'; he may have shuffled in his seat and tapped his fingers but he assured me he was listening and comprehending. His initial protests about the book being about a girl soon subsided and it didn't take long for him to become enthralled and immersed in the story, he loved hearing about the scrapes that Anne was forever getting into. Later, when he saw the movie on television he commented 'It wasn't at all like I imagined' - This is when I realized that reading to children takes them beyond the confines of passive watching, there were no pictures, just a few simple line drawings in the full unabridged edition I had chosen to read from. Therefore, my son had no choice but to imagine.

Modern adaptations not only dumb down the original writing, many times, they leave out important parts of the story, watering down its true message. 'Heidi' and 'Pocahontas' are two books that come to mind, that have suffered this injustice.
This is why I usually opt for the full unabridged editions and why I avoid the 'Disneyfied' ones. I want my children to be exposed to beautiful poetic writing and descriptive language that many 19th century writers used, such as this extract from ' Little Men' by Louisa May Alcott.

' Grandpa March cultivated the little mind with wisdom - not tasking it with long hard lessons, parrot-learned, but helping it to unfold as naturally and beautifully as sun and dew help roses bloom.'

Hearing passages such as this, has given my children an appreciation of good writing and correct grammar; it is influencing their own writing, furthermore, it stimulates their minds and provides sparks to set their imaginations alight!

Three of my children re- enacting the 'Swiss Family Robinson'!
OK I know they didn't have a cordless drill in the book!

They love to hear stories about real people (if they are fictional characters they become real characters in their minds) set in real periods of time; classic literature takes you to that time and place, it conveys to the reader and the listener, what it was truly like to be there, it brings history alive. We have learned about life during the American Civil War, discovered the harsh realities for pioneers on the Oregon Trail and experienced the Second World War through the eyes of a child and so much more ..... it is so much more exciting to hear a story than to read a dull textbook!

Good characters are vital to a story, the best ones become like friends, they can also be role models. 'Elsie Dinsmore' and 'Millie Keith' two of the characters created by Martha Finley in the 19th century have influenced my children most, they desire to have the same life of faith that these characters portrayed.

Today the libraries (both public and school) are stacked with modern children's literature, for example, 'Goosebumps' and ' The Babysitters Club'. We deliberately avoid such 'twaddle'. It is sad to see the minuscule classics section in bookshops tucked away at the back of the store. A few years ago, I was in a bookshop heading down towards the children's section. I couldn't reach it as two women were removing lots of books from the shelves and placing them into piles; at first I thought it was staff restocking the shelves but they were teachers choosing books to purchase for their school library. I heard one exclaim' Oh let's get the whole series, I know the kids will love them' What series of books do you suppose they were prepared to use their funding for? Which authors would educate and enrich the minds of the children at that school? C.S Lewis perhaps? Robert Louis Stevenson? I'm sorry, I wish I could even say it was a good modern day writer of children's books, no I'm sad to report that they had chosen the 'Mary Kate and Ashley' books - seriously!
I know some will say ' but at least they're reading something' - this is a bit like saying 'At least they are eating' when the diet consists mainly of junk food. What we are feed our children's minds is just as important. To develop an appetite for good healthy food you need to be introduced to it early in life; the same is true for books and incidentally what we read as adults also influences them - if they see us reading at all! - if they see us reading trashy novels, it is likely that they too, will be inclined to turn to this type of reading material when they are older.

By reading to your children and introducing them to good books you are developing an appreciation for good literature. Children who are read to become good readers and regular library patrons. Build up your own home library, you don't need to buy new editions, go to garage sales, search second-hand bookshops and visit Amazon.

Another 'sad but true' fact, is that today many family homes have DVD collections that far outnumber their book collections and more television screens than bookshelves. This is not to say it's wrong to watch the occasional cartoon (we are huge fans of the ABC Television's 'Shaun the Sheep - it's funny and creative with no need for dialogue! You will laugh your socks off!) Or go to see a movie that has been adapted from a book - we were thrilled when 'The Chronicles of Narnia' came to the big screen, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was outstanding and I loved 'Little Women' starring Winona Ryder, these movies are in our family DVD collection. We hired out 'Five Children and It' from the DVD store.... we'd read the book by E. Nesbit, author of 'The Railway Children' but have to say we were in agreement.... it wasn't as good as the book!

Reading aloud time is so special to me because I believe it creates memories that will last a lifetime. My children will always remember the times we snuggled on the couch to read books.
They haven't forgotten the time I cried when I read 'Charlotte's Web' to them, or the emotion that overflowed when I came to the scene in 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' where Aslan is bound to the stone table.
Another time, I could not stop laughing- I was laughing so much I could not read on! We were enjoying a tale from a 'Winnie the Pooh' storybook ' Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree'.
Pooh gorges himself on honey at rabbit's house and becomes wedged in the doorway. Rabbit eventually becomes tired of seeing Pooh's bottom and legs, so he puts a picture frame around Pooh and places a lace mat on Pooh's bottom and proclaims 'And now for a little dash of colour' and sets out a flowerpot, next he adds two branches that resemble antlers and draws a face onto Pooh's bottom and as a 'finishing touch' puts a board across Pooh's legs to make a shelf. My children had already started to giggle but it was the addition of the shelf that did it for me - I laughed so much I cried. My children were begging me to read on and finish the story but I would read another sentence and the image of Pooh being used as a shelf would pop into my mind and would set me off laughing again! I'm pleased to report that I did get to the end of the story. It's times like these that I treasure. If I had set them down in front of a 'Winnie the Pooh' video and left them to attend to housework, I would never have enjoyed this moment, it would not be entrenched in my memory as one of those wonderful 'crazy' memories of motherhood.

I still have this volume of 'Winnie the Pooh', it is a bit the worse for wear but today I was able to relive the memory when I read it to my three year old twins, the nine year old also listened in and found 'Gopher's' suggestion to use dynamite to solve the problem of Pooh's ' great tightness' according to 'Owl' just hilarious! 'Dynamite? Pooh said in a very small voice.' The girls loved the tale and insisted that I read another two of the stories in the book.

If you have young children start reading to them from classics such as 'Winnie the Pooh' and Beatrix Potter's ' Peter Rabbit books. When they are older you can move on to longer classics. If your children bring home from school, books that you do not consider to be the best literary 'fodder', supplement their diet! Read to them from good books in the evening. You may have to turn off the television but you will not live to regret this!

In my next post I will publish our 'Family Favourites for Reading Aloud'. There are so many good books out there but sometimes to find the gems you have to go on a treasure hunt! I hope that by sharing from our bounty you may make some new discoveries. What I do hope for, is that you too, will delight in reading to your children and that they will discover the joy of good books. They truly are treasures which every home should be in possession of.

Until then,
With love and joy,

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Koala Rescue

I never imagined that one day, one of my children would have the privilege of holding a koala in their arms here at Eight Acres of Eden but in December last year, that is exactly what happened and it is an experience I am sure, my 9 year old animal loving son will never forget!

My husband had just left for work when he called to say that a branch had come down across part of the road and he was not sure but he thought he saw a grey bundle in the foliage and wondered if it could be a koala. Our road is a narrow winding rural road and it is not safe to stop a car along this section; I said we would go down and investigate.

My older children were still at work, milking the cows on the next door dairy farm so I called upon my 9 year old boy ... 'Dad thinks there may be a koala on the road, do you want to come down with me and see?' ..... I have never seen him move so fast!
We trekked on down to the road and around the first bend, a branch that had broken clean off a gum tree on our property was lying across the tar seal and there still sitting on the branch was one very stunned, young koala! You would be stunned too, if you were asleep in your tree house and it came crashing to the ground! He didn't appear to be injured but didn't move when we approached him, he just blinked and looked at us, as if to say 'About time someone showed up to rescue me!'
It was imperative that we move him off the road and it was a blessing that no traffic had come around the bend on that side of the road yet, as he would have surely been bowled by the next car or worse the school bus which was due to come by. My quick thinking son took off his jacket and wrapped it around his hands; he knows koalas have very sharp claws. He carefully picked up the koala from behind which startled the koala for a moment as he started to squeal. We then tried to persuade him to go up the bank, this probably looked quite hilarious but there were no onlookers to see. Every time we shoved him up the bank the poor little guy came sliding back down! The bank was wet and slippery and his claws, so well designed to scale the trunk of a gum tree, didn't have a 4 wheel drive attachment for muddy banks!

We decided to bring him back up to the house and find a suitable tree on the same side of the property to send him up. I also thought to ring 'Wires' the wildlife rescue service, just to check that we were doing the right thing, he didn't appear injured but was possibly in shock. The lady asked if he had any external injuries and if his eyes were clear (they were) and told me it would be fine to find him a nice gum tree, place him at the bottom and watch to see that he did go up. There was time to grab the camera and take a photograph of my son who was relishing the experience of cuddling the koala. In fact, the koala was relishing his rescue, he was so relaxed that he was starting to doze off in my son's arms! I thought he looked decidedly content, even happy! You can see the look of contentment on his face in the photograph.

It was now time to release him back into the wild. We only needed to go a short distance from the house, up the back track. My son placed him down on the ground and he soon emerged from the jacket, turned his head, saw the gum tree and thought 'That will do nicely!'

He was soon climbing up the tree, we watched him scale the trunk, displaying his awesome agility and eventually he disappeared into the branches at the top, to find himself a nice bough in which to sleep and forget his rude awakening.

My son remained on cloud nine for the rest of the day, or should I say the rest of the week and couldn't wait to tell his older brother and sister on their return from work, of how he had carried out his first successful koala rescue. I think he is secretly wishing for more koalas to fall out of trees but for now he will have to be content with nursing back to health, the birds that sometimes fly into our windows. I've just cleaned the windows, so it's just a matter of time before I will need to call on my resident wildlife rescue officer.

With love and joy,
Posted by Picasa

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Family Historian

Just imagine if you were able to employ someone to research your family history, a person who was prepared to spend hours reading online documents and databases, discovering existing family history websites that contained branches of your own family tree and unearthing interesting facts about your ancestors. I am blessed to have my own family historian and she charges no fees! She is my 14 year old daughter and just over two years ago, she discovered a passion for family history.

She started with my husband's side of the family in New Zealand. As my husband's heritage is Maori (Ngati Tuwharetoa), a descendant of a famous Maori chief, there was already a wealth of information in the family's possession. It was really quite exciting for her to visit the website of 'Te Papa' in Wellington and find pictures of her great, great, great, (lots of greats!) grandfathers regaled in their feathered cloaks.

We did not have as much information about her grandfather's father's side of the family and this is where the internet truly did prove to be an invaluable resource. On the world wide web she found out the names of the villages in Oxfordshire, England (such as Milton-under-Wychwood) where her grandfather's ancestors lived and worked as farm labourers before they joined the throngs of Englishmen and their families lured to New Zealand. I think her grandfather was disappointed when we informed him that his English ancestors were farm labourers, fond of drinking and brawls and regarded by English society as 'ruffians', rather than Oxford scholars with royal pedigrees!

"Don't you believe me - I'm descended from royalty not ruffians!"
"Mmm... let me think about that one grandad!"

I purchased an inexpensive family history software program and my daughter began setting out her family tree, adding in names of brothers and sisters and inserting photographs. It looks quite impressive and so far she has over 700 people on her family tree. She has laid out two family trees for both paternal grandparents. As she researched her grandmother's ancestry, she unearthed some very interesting information. Her grandmother's family had arrived in New Zealand via Australia and we suspected a convict history! For those from overseas who may not realize - New Zealand was never a penal colony. She couldn't find any convicts on her grandfather's side but on her grandmother's there were plenty and one crime seemed to run in the family - horse theft. We joked that we now knew where her grandmother's love of horses came from! Her Australian ancestors had settled in Kyneton, Victoria and it will be interesting to visit this town one day. One set of grandparents (great +++) were both convicts, married by Samuel Marsden the famous missionary who travelled to Australia and later sailed to New Zealand - as the 'first apostle', he conducted the first church service in New Zealand.

The study of family history is really a living history lesson, it is far more interesting than opening up a textbook and attempting to memorise dates and names for an exam which you later, prom
ptly forget. (This is how I was taught history at school.) This is why I have allowed my daughter the time to pursue her study of the family - it is so relevant, so fascinating and it takes her back through time to different centuries, she has traced back her family to Somerset, England in the 1600s. It also transports her to different places, her family can trace its roots to England, Scotland, Ireland and Denmark. There is still more to be discovered, we believe there is a governor of Tasmania somewhere in the tree - we just need to find the connection.

Another reminder in our home of our family heritage

At the moment, my daughter is asking for a subscription to 'Ancestry.com'; it's not an unreasonable request considering her depth of interest in family history, after all, many young people her age waste their time on social networking sites or playing addictive and sometimes dangerous online role play games. My daughter is far more interested in adding ancestors to her family tree than adding friends to a facebook page! She has friends of course, but she uses email and actually writes letters (the old fashioned way!) to stay in touch with them.
The fees to subscribe to the family an
cestry sites are fairly steep but the information my daughter is pursuing is there - birth, death and marriage certificates. If any family historians are reading this and can tell me the most cost effective way of accessing public records (particularly for the UK) my daughter would be very appreciative!

My parents on their favourite mode of transport in the early 1960s

I would encourage home educators who are wondering how to teach history, to allow their children to study their family tree. If there is a grandparent who fought in the war, you may have already have the information about their contribution to that war. As new information is found, encourage them to document it, to make a permanent record. If you know stories that have been told to you by your parents, write them down. For example, I know that my mother was a child during the second world war and the city she lived in was heavily bombed. They had a family bomb shelter at the bottom of the garden and many homes in her neigbourhood were razed to the ground. I've told this story to my children but it may be forgotten so I'm recording it here, not just for the purpose of expanding their knowledge of World War II but to remind them of how blessed they are; they have never had to live through this kind of trauma or witness the type of devastation that my mother witnessed in the days of her childhood.

My daughter has assembled family files containing copies of the documents and information she has found. In January this year she travelled to New Zealand to visit her grandparents and presented them both with folders and paper copies of their family trees. (This took a long time to tape together!) We also made photo collages using Google's Picasa program, with each grandparent in the centre surrounded by their ancestors. We framed the collages in matching frames and they were delighted with this very personal gift - this is a great gift idea for grandparents!

I have created a family gallery in my sitting room along the wall above the piano. I love to gaze at the pictures on display and imagine what life was like for the Edwardian lady (my grandmother) and her sister. A photograph of a beautiful woman graces the top of the piano, she is my husband's great grandmother - part Danish, part Maori. I want to know,
how did her mother, a Maori princess, meet and marry a Dane?

I love to display my old family photographs in antique style frames, I try to group similar frames together. Alongside a collection of family photos you can also set out treasures - grandmother's tea cup, an oil lamp, an antique cloth. If no family heirlooms are in your possession go to garage sales and search thrift stores for antique or reproduction items that match your frames and coordinate with your decor.

I am saddened by the recent trend in modern decorating which has reduced the family photo gallery to the occasional canvas print and a digital frame in the office. There is something special about family photographs on display, they turn a house into a home and add warmth, creating an atmosphere that says 'We care about family, we treasure family more than any limited edition artwork.'

Of course, you do not need to clutter every surface or cover every wall - be selective, choose your absolute favourite photographs and find areas in your home suitable for a family gallery. Try to avoid the top of the tv unit, it doesn't do justice to a collection of family photographs and can make a room appear cluttered. In addition to the wall above and on the top of the piano, I also display more recent photographs on a long hall table. It's made of timber so I have photos in wooden frames set out here. I haven't put photos on this wall as I'm hoping to find an ornate mirror to go above the tabl

I love to light the candles on special occasions, the lovely glow and flickering of the flames highlights the frames and reminds me of the lights of my life -
my beautiful children and the family that are my story, my husband's story - woven together to create a heritage for our children that crosses continents, cultures and even languages. I am hoping that they learn all the words to three National Anthems - 'God save the Queen', 'Advance Australia Fair' and my favourite for its beautiful lyrics penned in 1876 by a Godly man named Thomas Bracken, 'God defend New Zealand', which they will need to learn in both English and Maori!

My daughter will hopefully soon move on to researching my family tree - this will be a more challenging task for her. I have very little information to pass on to her, my parents did not reveal much about their parents lives. I have some old family photographs but no documentation - I wish I knew more. This is why in part, I have created a blog and added a 'nostalgia' label, this is for the benefit of my children; it is their family history journal.
I do hope blogs survive for a long time, they will be fascinating for future generations to read, this is why I'm also including favourite family photographs and writing about family activities.

Those who are yet to born into my family, will one day know that this mother cared deeply, was passionate about her family, committed herself to God, was devoted to her husband and the upbringing of her children, her most precious gifts from the Lord. That she prayed for them fervently, loved them unreservedly, and held in her heart, a multi-generational vision. I do hope that they will want to display my photo on the wall, that they will know my name and be able to tell stories of my life and the Godly legacy that was passed on down to them.

With love and joy,

Praise the Lord!
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
Who delights greatly in His commandments.
His descendants will be mighty on earth;
The generation of the upright will be blessed.

A promise for families from Psalm 112

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Hospitable Family

My home in its forest setting at Eight Acres of Eden is my haven, it's a place of incredible natural beauty where I find joy, peace, rest and contentment but I'm very much aware that God did not intend it to be our private paradise; He wanted us to share it with others, to welcome people into our home and offer hospitality.
I have always believed that homes, family and hospitality are intertwined. As parents we do not send the children to bed and then relax and prepare to 'entertain' our guests. It is usually the case that our visitors will be greeted by six smiling children and a friendly dog! We will share a meal and talk and the children will join in the conversation and after the main course, they will clear the table and bring out the dessert. If it is an evening meal and younger children are tired they will say goodnight and go to bed but the older ones will stay around to do the dishes and clean up the kitchen and refuse offers of help from the visitors. (Sometimes they are persuaded to accept and we teach them that if someone really wants to help that's fine) Learning to serve others is what hospitality is all about but it's not just about knowing how to set the table, I don't want hospitality to be a checklist or a process, I want them to know that people are more important than the preparations and this is what we do as a family... look after people.

From the very start of our marriage we welcomed people into our home, young people, retired folk, couples, small families and big families. Relatives, friends and strangers. When you are new to town or attending a new church or joining an organization, the best way to make friends is to be a friend to others; we never waited for an invitation, we simply began inviting people home. We also extended that welcome to neighbours, work colleagues and people visiting from overseas. Sometimes we cooked lavish meals, other times we shared a simple plate of sandwiches and a cup of tea or coffee. There were times when we offered up our home as a place of refuge, a place to stay for as long as was needed and we were able to offer practical help, sometimes counsel and always refreshment.

For me, hospitality that cares does involve preparing the home, it usually involves food and taking care of the details but not allowing the details to become a distraction (remember Martha!) This is why I have taught myself to organize and plan ahead and always to be prepared for the unexpected - I have so many stories of unexpected guests and spontaneous hospitality but I will share those in a future post.

Hospitality is part of our Family Vision

This is where I must add, that there are seasons in the life of a family. In our early years of marriage we had spare bedrooms and people could come and stay with us for longer periods. That doesn't happen so often these days and because we live in the country, people are less likely to drop in but we are always ready to welcome guests and I have children who remind me that we haven't had someone to dinner for a while. We really are in the summer of our lives, life is busy and productive and we have lots of helpers to offer 'planned hospitality', especially for birthday celebrations. On special occasions such as 40th birthdays we go all out and invite everyone we know. It is a lot of hard work but so much fun and sweet fellowship.
My children love their birthday parties and I encourage them to plan their own celebration, this includes the menu, games and activities and the special 'favours' or take home gifts. No plastic lolly bags at this house! This is more than a party it is a hospitality training camp.

I am so encouraged as a mother to see my children's heart for hospitality, they are more than prepared to give up their bedrooms and camp in the backyard should the need arise. A few years ago our hospitality action plan went into full operation. We had family visit from Scotland and the day after they departed, an aunt and uncle from New Zealand arrived. As a family we shared in the preparations, cooking, cleaning and transforming the girls' bedroom into a guest suite with all the appropriate finishing touches. Our guests enjoyed their stay tremendously and the children loved all the extra trips to a local swimming hole for family picnics.
I think though, my heart was most touched by a spontaneous act of hospitality that my children bestowed upon a cyclist who was passing by, pushing his bike as he had a flat tyre. The dog alerted one of the children who went to see who or what the dog was barking at. The cyclist asked if we had a bike pump he could borrow. My eldest son invited him to come up to the house and went to look for a pump. He couldn't find a pump so he hauled out his dad's compressor and pumped up his tyre in an instant. I talked to the man and found out he lived further up the road, we were both in agreement that we lived in one of the most beautiful parts of Australia. My daughter disappeared inside and came back out with a glass of cool water. 'Is that for me?' I think he was quite amazed that a group of children would treat someone, a total stranger, with such care and consideration. It really was the most simplest of gestures, a helping hand and a glass of water but it is something I will never forget. The Bible says that 'He who refreshes others, he himself will be refreshed' and as a family we can testify that this is true. Our lives have been enriched by the people God has brought through our doorway.

Faith the hospitable dog wondering whether offering hospitality extends to cats.
This abandoned kitten turned up on our doorstep, we called her Charity.

Over the years, especially at the beginning of our married life when we had a constant stream of guests, some people would say to me 'Oh we'd love to invite people back to our place but......'
'At the moment our finances don't really allow us to' or
'Our dining table can only sit 4 people so we can't invite families'
'I'm not a very good cook' and 'This rented house is too cramped'

In response to these excuses I decided to write a poem to remind Christians that to 'offer hospitality' wasn't a suggestion, an optional extra or a mandate for the gifted cooks in the church! And even if you do not attend church or profess to be a Christian I hope that you will discover the joy of sharing your home and your life with others. I first penned this poem in 1998 and I have shared it with different churches and home groups. I used the names of real people in some of the verses, so I've changed those to Smith and Jones. It has always been well received. If you would like to share it with your church please get in touch. This is it.....

A Plea for Hospitality

Invite someone home for lunch
She heard the Pastor say

She whispered in her husband's ear
'Oh surely not today!'

We can't invite the Smiths,
What would they really think

When they see our breakfast dishes
Stacked up in the sink

For we stayed in bed till 9 0clock
And I had so much to do

I've left the beds to come to church
And I didn't clean the loo!

Beside's the fridge is empty
And the cupboard's looking bare

After church on Sunday
There's no time to prepare

Our house is not that suitable
It's simply far too small

We couldn't have the Jones
Where would I seat them all?

When we have a nicer house
And a bigger dining suite

Perhaps we'd be in a better position
Those kinds of needs to meet

And it's not my gifting
I'm simply not a host

If people came to lunch today
They'd be having cheese on toast!

Hospitality is not an option
It's a job you can't resign

For we're all commanded to be involved
In 1 Peter 4 verse nine

It may be inconvenient
But you're not supposed to moan

We should be absolutely delighted
To open up our home

Open up the Bible
See what it has to say

Hospitality should be a way of life
It was in Jesus' day

There were no motels or motorcamps
McDonalds or KFC

Open homes played a vital role
In Jesus' ministry

He often went to Mary's house
She had an open door

Read on in the gospels
If you want to know some more

I'm sure Zaccheus had no idea
When he climbed into the tree

That Jesus would invite himself
To his house for tea

For Jesus had no dwelling place
Nowhere to lie his head

He couldn't invite people to his home
But look what He did instead

He fed more than five thousand people
The greatest picnic of all time

And at a wedding feast in Cana
He turned water into wine

Do you remember Elijah
And the widow of Zaraphath?

With just a little flour and oil
A man of God she fed

And God released his blessing
In her time of strife

Elijah prayed and she saw
Her son come back to life

God wants to release his blessing
On your family too

Have you thought of asking
What He might have you do?

But if your motivation's wrong
And you're hoping to impress

Don't invite those with children
For they might make a mess

You don't need fancy china
Or the latest trendy wine

Just simply give your best
When God's people come to dine

You may make awesome muffins
So make a batch, or three

And take them to your neighbours
For their morning tea

Will you make your favourite meal
For those whom Jesus sends?

They may be total strangers
And not your type of friends

So who are the people
Whom God would have us reach?

On hospitality
What did Jesus teach?

'Go out on the streets' he said
'And all the needy seek'

Don't invite the ones you know
Will have you back next week

It's easy to invite your friends
Or those you've met before

Those strangers might be angels
Like the ones at Abraham's door

Your life will be enriched
By the people that you meet

Perhaps the strangers that you know
Live just across the street

And what about the people
The visitors you see

No one has spoken to them yet
As they sip their cup of tea

Go and introduce yourself
Now here comes the crunch

Invite them back today
Yes to your home for lunch!

Oh friends we need a passion for hospitality
It's absolutely vital to our church's ministry
Will you give your home to God
For Him to use today?

Will you warmly welcome those
He's going to send your way?

And show the love of God that others need to see
From your heart, within your home
True hospitality!

With love and joy,

Posted by Picasa


Blog Widget by LinkWithin