Monday, November 29, 2010

Family and Formals

It has been a busy month at Eight Acres of Eden. There are nine people in this family and six celebrate their birthdays in the last two months of the year. Parties to plan, cakes to bake, presents to find. Added onto the list of events is the annual church formal dinner for the young people and on Wednesday my sixteen year old daughter leaves for her first missions trip to Thailand - there were lots of preparations for this - cooking for fund raising church lunches and trips to town to buy the travel essentials. And did I mention this is all happening just before Christmas? I love this time of year - it is the time when I indulge - not in food but in creative pursuits - making bon bons and silk flower garlands and decorating my home. However this year, I have had to reassign my priorities and devote my precious time to precious people rather than preparations.

Both my daughters attending the church formal had been reminding me that they needed to find a dress. This was not high on my list of priorities until I realized how excited they were to have an opportunity to dress up and express their femininity. Finding the perfect dresses for them was no easy task. We visited lots of dress shops. Most of the dresses we saw were simply too immodest - too short, too low cut or too casual which tends to be the case when you live in a coastal region where surf culture predominates. However, with a little perseverance and lots of pavement pounding, we found dresses for both girls. My younger daughter found hers first - at a vintage clothing store. A genuine vintage dress in a lilac hue with a high neckline with a lace frill on the back of the calf length hem to match the three little roses. It was the perfect fit and the style was not too mature for a younger teen. She wore it with black flat ballet pumps and it suited her so much - she looked lovely. So there is my first tip for finding lovely modest dresses - check out vintage clothing stores. The styles of yesteryear can still be worn today. How refreshing it was to see on the news that at the Melbourne Cup this year the 'fashions on the field' had many girls opting for vintage suits and dresses. The girl they interviewed looked so lovely in her 1940's inspired outfit and stated that she felt so 'elegant'.

The aqua gown worn by my older daughter is her dream formal dress. She had told me she wanted to wear a long, flowing dress in a satin fabric. We found her gown at a bridal and formal wear shop which was having a fifty per cent off sale on selected styles. Thankfully, the dress was on the sale rack and it was in a small size. This mother was unsure at first - I knew that most other girls would not be wearing long dresses in such a formal style. She didn't mind - she wanted to make a statement that you don't have to opt for the fashion look of that season and that you can dress beautifully and retain modesty. It was her suggestion that we should alter the neckline slightly to bring it up higher. A few stitches and a hook and eye were all that was needed. Tip number two - don't be afraid to alter a dress you believe is 'not quite right' - you can add lace to lengthen a pretty but too short dress, add straps to a strapless dress or wear a bolero jacket. Alter a neckline if you need to, as we did. We have always said to our daughters when talking to them about how they should dress - don't be afraid to be different, don't let 'Supre' (a teen fashion store) or peers dictate to you how you should dress, dare to wear dresses, express your femininity, honour your parents, respect your father and be aware of the message your dress and demeanour could send to young men, be especially considerate of your brothers in the Lord. Smile and speak kindly, be gentle, courteous and conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of your Lord. You are a daughter of the King. How satisfying it was for me to see my daughters taking this all on board as they prepared for the formal this year. They looked beautiful, they felt so elegant and their radiance was so apparent it could hardly be contained!

My son surprised me too, stating that he needed a suit! In previous years he assured us that a suit would be 'too formal' for this occasion. Did I hear that right - my son who usually wears jeans or board shorts and t- shirts and thinks shirts are for politicians and businessmen went shopping by himself for a suit but rang me for advice.... I assure you I'm still recovering, picking myself off the floor and pinching myself - did I dream that my son asked his mother for fashion advice?! 'Which suit mum?' Not to be outdone by his sisters he listened to my advice and opted for the slightly more expensive, higher quality suit which he told me was much nicer, (designed in Italy!) better cut etc. I assured him it would be a good investment - that he would wear it again to weddings and future formal events. He even bought a white shirt but when I suggested the bow tie he went pale. 'Be happy mum I actually bought a suit and a shirt' was his response! He looked good in it too. Both my son and daughter paid for their own formal outfits which was such a blessing to our family at this time of the year.

All these happenings in our household have left me little time to write blog posts.... not ones that need lots of photos to be taken and uploaded so please accept my sincere apologies. I wanted to show you my newly completed formal living room but I'll have to save that for next year .... here's a peek at the work in progress, painting the newly raised ceiling and beams. As with most projects in this home it was a family affair!

On the first day of the next month my beautiful twin girls will be five years old. They will spend their birthday morning at the airport farewelling their sister as she gets ready with the rest of her missions team to board the plane that will take her to Sydney to catch her flight to Bangkok later in the day. We will have a simple but special celebration at home and as the cake decorating daughter is not going to be here I get to actually decorate the birthday cake this time - I'm cheating using ready-made iced decorations which was a wise move as as I will have so little time to prepare but the cake will be home made of course! I'm certain they will want to help to make their own cake and decorate it too!

Rarely does a day go by without something on the stove or in the oven. We have recently discovered the truth that sometimes the best food comes from a few basic ingredients..... eggs from our chickens, a little sugar and farm fresh milk are all that is needed to make what I am now convinced is the most delectable dessert ever .... a baked egg custard, one food I have fond childhood memories of, as the local bakery used to make pretty good custard tarts. I used the Gourmet Farmer Matthew Evan's recipe from his book 'The Real Food Companion'. I have to take it back to the library soon - it was worth reading for this one recipe! A sprinkling of nutmeg is the only extra ingredient. With the eggs mounting up in the basket on the bench I suspect that this dessert will be a regular item on the family menu this summer. Simple to make, simple to eat! Oh and we enjoyed this batch of custard with strawberries and cinnamon biscuit hearts!

And speaking of desserts have any of my readers ever used these books? I found them in my daughter's idea's file. Would love to surprise her at Christmas with a book related to her interest that she has obviously looked at purchasing. I'm trying to find most of our family's gifts online this year as I have no desire to traipse around stores or stand in queues at checkouts.

It is time to sign off and go and do what I had intended to do today which was make some more bon bons - I have another Christmas decorating seminar to prepare for too! My tree is not up yet and it is almost December.

Are you ready for Christmas? Don't forget in the midst of all your preparations the people they are for are far more important than the preparations themselves. Don't stress to impress - if you don't have it all photographed for your pre-Christmas blog posts don't worry - we will still enjoying seeing Christmas pictures next year. Just a little reminder that your family needs you now in the midst of the busyness.

Until next time,

With Love and Joy,

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Beautiful Christmas Books and Stories for the Family Library

A family tradition I established some years ago was to each Christmas buy one Christmas story to add to our family library. As the Christmas season draws near I would love to share with you the books that I have read to my children over the past few years. I love beautifully illustrated books that reflect the true spirit of Christmas and I hope that these recommendations inspire you to find books for your children that remind them that Christmas is not all about receiving presents - though I must say books make great gifts! Perhaps there is one here you have not yet discovered that you may wish to give as a gift this year and you may even adopt our tradition of the 'Family Christmas book gift'.

My absolute favourite Christmas story book is Annika's Secret Wish by Beverley Lewis. This book takes you back in time to the early 1900's and into the home of a Swedish family. The most anticipated event for a child on Christmas Eve is finding the almond hidden in the rice pudding - this is what Annika longs for, finding the almond means she will be able to make a wish. She dreams of owning a black pony to ride with the wind - her secret wish. Is her dream going to be fulfilled?

The outcome is one that is truly touching and so beautiful I cried when I read this for the first time! Acts 20:35 says 'It is more blessed to give than receive' and this is the essence of this story. Not only does it have a lovely moral lesson, it introduces the reader to the traditions of a Scandinavian Christmas - rice pudding and gingerbread houses, gilded apples and walnuts, straw angels on the tree and candles in the windows to light the way for Jesus, the Christ child.

The illustrations by Pamela Querin are exquisite and capture the delightful details of a Swedish country home, the painted furniture, the stitching on the white household linen and blue and white crockery set out on the table. After reading the story you will return to just stare at the pictures and reflect on the beauty and simplicity of the Swedish home, the dress of that time and its family traditions.

I would go as far as saying that this is probably my favourite illustrated book for children of all time. I was so inspired by this book I named one of my daughters after the main character! This book has become part of my family's Christmas heritage and I am relishing the opportunity to read it to my children once again this Christmas season.

Another beautifully illustrated story book for children is 'The Candle in the Window' by Grace Johnson. It begins 'Once upon a time in a little German village.....' and introduces us to the main character Gunther, a cobbler, a lonely man who has lost all hope and joy and believes he has no reason to celebrate Christmas anymore, until he meets a very special family who bring him a candle to set out in the window of his little shop.

Another story which portrays the truth of God's Word and shows us that when we minister to 'the least of these' we are indeed doing it 'unto the Lord'. The story closes with an ancient candle prayer which is so beautiful I am going to use it when we light the candles in our home this Christmas.

" Lord Jesus, thou whose birth we celebrate, we have lit our candle in the presence of each other and the holy angels. Kindle in our hearts thy flame of love, that day shall break and shadows flee away. Amen."

Another well-known seasonal story first published in 1995 is 'The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey' by Susan Wojciechowski. The central character of this story, a woodcarver, is called 'Mr Gloomy' by the village children. In similar circumstances to Gunther in the 'Candle in the Window' he also has every reason to be miserable at Christmas. Once again, the Lord sends him a mother who has a special request - would Jonathan carve a set of nativity figures for her and her son? This is the beginning of Jonathan Toomey's Christmas miracle.

If like me, you love books that are beautifully illustrated you have probably seen or own at least one of Donna Green's books. Her illustrations for the keepsake holiday book 'Christmas at Our House' capture the magic of Christmas and the loveliness of festive family traditions. Designed as a book to record Christmas memories, it also includes sayings, carols and recipes but I bought it mostly for the pictures! Even if you choose not to write in it, you can set it out on a table and browse as you nibble on a mince pie or a Christmas cookie!

Another practical book that daughters who love the idea of a traditional Christmas might enjoy is 'Elsie's Christmas Party How to Plan, Prepare and Host An Old-fashioned Christmas Party'. We own the complete collection of Elsie, Millie and Violet books published by Mission City Press in their Life of Faith series. They were favourite read alouds and I treasure these books because the characters did inspire my girls especially, to live a life of faith. Elsie's Christmas Party helps you to celebrate Christmas as a girl during Elsie's era may have done. It introduces charming Victorian traditions and gives lots of ideas for everything from invitations, to table decorations, food and even 'parlour games'. There are recipes, crafts, gift wrapping suggestions - all very feminine and if you were thinking of having a Victorian theme for your Christmas decor and celebrations at home this year, this would be the perfect book! Take a peek inside at the section on table decorations. Fruit and flowers, china, linen and lace and not a plastic plate in sight - yay!

The most recent addition to our Christmas library was a gift given to me last Christmas by my daughters. It is a collection of short Christmas stories by my favourite author Louisa May Alcott.
I had no idea that she had written so many stories about this wonderful time of the year, so what a joy it was to discover this compendium. In true Louisa May Alcott style, there are compelling characters, evocative writing and the glorious expression which she is famous for, of sentiments of hope, faith, joy, redemption and goodness. It's starting to sound a lot like Christmas! I have read a few of these stories to my children but have been saving the rest for this Christmas season.

Reading aloud to my children is one of my most favourite things to do, reading aloud at Christmas in the surrounds of a home decorated for the season with lights twinkling on the tree in the background and the smell of spice biscuits baking in the oven is for me 'mother joy overload'. Oh just the thought is urging me to finish this post and get started on my Christmas decorating. I have been so busy with birthdays and renovating our formal living room I'm a little behind this year. If you are in need of some inspiration do pop over to my Christmas blog. I hope to get some new posts up as I complete each task I need to do but I'm planning on a simple but beautiful Christmas this year.

Hope you enjoyed seeing our Christmas book collection. What are your favourite Christmas books? Do you also have this as a family tradition? I have not had time to check whether all these books are still in print but I'm sure you might find them on Amazon.

With Love and Joy,


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