Friday, January 29, 2010

Christmas Cheer

You might be wondering why I am talking about Christmas when it is only the end of January. No, I am not a closest obsessed-with-Christmas-elf. In fact, I don't particularly like Christmas. To be completely frank, I find the holiday season all a bit much. I think it is mostly the noise, and the busyness that overtakes our lives.

In my family, we do things a little differently at Christmas. We don't give gifts. Shock, horror. Pull yourself off the floor now. It is really okay not to give gifts at Christmas. I know it goes against everything our society tells us about the festive sesason. After all, Christmas is all about wrapping paper, packed shopping centres, getting and giving, isn't it?

Well, I personally believe that Christmas is a reminder of a very priceless gift from God; relationship with Him. But whatever our varied beliefs around Christmas are, I find it is all too easy to slip into the get-get-get, along with the rush-rush-rush, ten thousand things to do and only 1 week to do it in, grumpy relatives and stressed out workmates at social functions while we all eat way more than we should and spend way more than we probably want to.

So I'm quite happy that my family doesn't give presents anymore. My parents stopped doing that when I was in my early teens, choosing to give the money to a charity instead. I'm really honoured that they have shown me, by example, that there is indeed another way to 'do' Christmas (we get great birthday presents by the way so I don't feel in any way deprived!). Now for me, Christmas can be much more about spending time with people, remembering the blessings in my life, and reaching out to those who are perhaps not in the same favoured position as I am. There's less stuff that I don't need in my house, and a heap less stress in my person each year!

I came across this really cool video clip recently (it was played at my church) which talks about other things we could do at Christmas instead of monotonously buying gifts. Check it out if you like!
The only thing with all this is that I am a gift-giver by nature. I love giving! I love choosing them, wrapping them, putting a custom-made card with them, and presenting them to the recipient. So not giving presents at Christmas does leave me feeling a little giving-deprived.

So, with the gift giving removed from Christmas, I tend to find that I get a bit bored. The lead up is fantastic, don't get me wrong. I can just cruise through December with a smile in my heart, organise a bit of food and a few Christmas stocking items (usually fancy snack food to keep everyone going until our Christmas brunch). But the day itself seems to drag on forever!

2008's Operation Christmas Child boxes, all ready to go - I had friends come around for a Christmas Child afternoon tea!

Then this year I came up with a fabulous idea! We'd wrap shoe boxes every Christmas Day. For the past few years I've been doing Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes. I buy a few items each month with our groceries, then put them all together into shoe boxes for collection. These are SO much fun to do. You get to buy a whole lot of small items - something to love, something to wear, something for school, something for hygene, something to play with and something special. Run by Samaritan's Purse, Operation Christmas Child delivers these shoe boxes of love to children around the world who have nothing. For many, it will be the ONLY gift they ever receive. Can you imagine? NEVER having been given a present...not once, not ever, in your whole life? For so many of these families, life is about barely surviving, so a present is kind of non-important. So Operation Christmas Child gives a little bit of love to these kids and their families by the simple offering of a shoe box of gifts. If you're interested in filling a shoe box (or so) yourself, they have some really clear instructions here:

There you go. Our new family tradition is that each Christmas Day, we will take time to wrap shoe boxes to fill over the coming year. Each person can put a small gift in to get us started then the shoe boxes will be gradually filled, ready for their early October collection day. This way we get the joy of celebrating Christmas, and get the boxes in on time! We do get to give gifts at Christmas, but without it becoming all about more for us. We will be reminded that Christmas is about love, and giving, and friendship. That it's about time, not belongings. This year, Boyo and I started the tradition off by wrapping a shoe box. I only had one, so we'll have to find a few more during the year!

Here's the start of my Operation Christmas Child 2010 stash - something for school - bought at Warehouse Stationary at their back to school sale, $3.05 per box (I am doing 12 - one for each month of the year). How cool is that!?! Stationary is the most important thing that can go in these boxes - kids always need something for school and often have no way of getting it.

I hope you are encouraged and inspired to perhaps think of Christmas giving in a different light? I realise that Christmas is different for all our families, with different pressures, expectations, and decisions. This is just what has worked for me. Whatever you choose to do, my prayer is that Christmas will be one of love, peace, and joy for your family...and that the year between now and then will be filled with the same! Amy


We started harvesting tomatoes this week from "The Garden."

Rhubbarb, zucchini, beans, tomatoes and a few tiny random potatoes (left from last year's harvest!)

"The Garden" is my parents garden. I have become chief gardener over the past few months while we've been living with my folks. This will probably continue when we move into a unit (hopefully in a month or two's time)...I will just come around and garden a few times each week. It is quite a beneficial arrangement really. They provide ample garden space and tools and I provide labour. Then we all get to enjoy the produce!

The tomatoes above are a mixture. I bought a Brandywine Mix and Principe Borghese from Kings Seeds. So far we are disappointed in both. With the Brandywines (rear of photo) it is just that they are splitting so badly that we aren't getting to eat much - our climate here can get humid over summer so probably 'my bad' as far as that choice went. I thought Principe (small oval ones in the picture) was one I'd grown in North QLD last year, only now that they are growing they look pretty different to what I had...they are producing just fine, but we are finding the fruit isn't particularly tasty or juicy. Apparently they are good for drying; as I have a food dryer I might have a go and see how they turn out like that. The other tomatoes all self seeded from the compost, probably from the heirloom mix Dad had in last year - there's a really nice cheery tomato and some larger ones. We also have some others on the way. They are called Uncle R's Super Tomatoes, given by a relative years ago. The seed was so old I just threw on a corner of the garden in case it was still viable - as it germinated splendidly we are now expecting a late tomato crop from which we'll save some more seed!

The more I garden, the more I realise just how much I do NOT know about gardening, especially when it comes to gardening to produce food to eat. Especially when you want a continuous supply of food to eat! "What is this bug, why is that plant not doing well, do we need more water, have I planted them too close, why oh why do the blackbirds insist on digging absolutely everything in sight up???" These are frequent questions. Sometimes I discover answers. Sometimes my mum, dad or MIL vouch a possibility. And sometimes the questions remain. Like the blackbirds. The last time I plant celery I got smart and put bricks and planks of wood around the small seedlings to deter the blackbirds from their wholehearted, abandoned pursuit of juicy garden worms! It seems to have worked. To date I still have 9 celery seedlings alive at any rate.

This is my protection method for the carrot seed sown last week.

I am trying very hard to get my head around succession planting. I'll let you know next year how well I've done! Plans at this stage involve planting carrot and onion seed every 3 weeks. We should end up with 2 packets of seed spread over 4 or more 'plants' which will hopefully mean carrots over the whole of winter. This is a bit of an experiment. My MIL has helped me try and choose the best times to plant, but as she gardens in a colder climate than here, we've had to use a bit of timing guesswork.

In conjunction with the carrot seed, I'm planting up a range of other winter crops in punnets on our windowsill. The idea is to do a few each time I do a carrot plant...things like silverbeet, spinach, pak choy, broccoli, cabbage and lettuces which will be then be transplanted into the garden.

Thanks for coming by. I hope you have enjoyed this ramble through the garden planning!


Friday, January 22, 2010

Test Your Language Skills and Feed the World!

I just came across this fun site (for those of us who like English vocab and seeing how much we know!).

It is called "FreeRice." You test yourself to see how many words you know the meaning to - for every right answer they donate 10 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Programme.
While 10 grains might not sound like much, it's the snowball effect of thousands of people playing that makes a difference. Yesterday over 68million grains of rice were donated through this site!!

Here's a BBC article talking about the site if you'd like more background information.

Right, I'm heading off to test my skills for 10 minutes and see how much rice I can donate. Grin.

Updated around 10mins later:
510 grains of rice. This is fun!!! Amazing how many words I do actually know, and what other really weird words are out there!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Looking After the Baby Bump

Munchkin was a surprise to us (due early June 2010). We wanted to have kids, but Boyo and I thought that it would most likely be in at least a couple more years time. So we kind of had our heads on one timeline, but God was working on another!
In the early days of Munchkin’s pregnancy I spent a LOT of time worrying. I worried so, so much about how work/study/baby would all fit together. I worried about where we would live. We were living in my parent’s basement – a really nice 2 room area which does have enough room for a baby but the sleep requirements for both us and my parents would be rather difficult due to living under a very creaky, un-fixable kitchen floor and the nightly traipsing up and down the stairs to the bathroom. I was worried about how we would afford to live. Would Munchkin be clothed and fed and be okay? Since moving back to New Zealand in May 2009, Boyo had been unable to find work in his industry. He works part time in the evenings at a local supermarket, and we rely quite heavily on the Student Allowance. I worried then about whether I would manage full time study (no allowance otherwise), and how that might affect my baby and other relationships. And I worried about whether I will be an okay parent.

You get the general idea. I was worrying way too much. Which I must admit is a state I fall into far too often. Liking to have everything planned out by nature, it is one area of my personality that always seems to sneak in and bite me when I’m not looking.

I’m not so worried now. That’s not to say that I don’t worry – I have my moments for sure. These I have noticed are generally at night, and most often when I am really, really, really tired. I usually have a bit of a meltdown, moan and complain that it is all too much, and generally feel rather sorry for myself. I have a good cry, talk lots and lots to God about how I feel (I’m glad He’s so accepting!) and more often than not feel perfectly fine again in the morning. But these are much more isolated incidents than the nagging, almost constant worry I felt in the first trimester.

So what changed all of this? Well, other than simply having had more time to get used to the idea that there’s a baby on the way, I realised something. I realised that I did not really need to worry much about my baby.
I was reading (in a World Vision magazine I think) about what mother’s in other, less prosperous countries go through…the heartbreaking decisions they face, and the day to day realities of a life of barely surviving.
And I realised, my baby will always have something to eat. It will always have something to wear. As a New Zealander, we have access to government benefits if we can’t get work, and a pension when we are 65. While it is very easy to look on these as paltry and not nearly enough, most people in the world would only dream of such a luxury. On top of that, we have access to free primary healthcare. If we are sick and turn up at a hospital, we will be served. Munchkin will also have access to free education, from 3 years old right up to 18 and access to heavily subsidized University Education too (most Kiwis don’t seem to realise it costs more like $20,000 a year for a University Education than the $5,000 we actually pay ourselves). Our baby will have clean drinking water (unsafe drinking water is the number 1 killer in the world) and free immunizations against major diseases. If anything were to happen to Boyo or I, we have parents and siblings who would care for Munchkin and even if they couldn’t, New Zealand has foster care and adoption programmes – so our baby will never have to sleep on the streets, beg for food, or be sold into slavery.
So really, I ended up concluding that I was worrying about nothing!

We might still want to find somewhere better to live, higher income and better work hours. But at the end of the day, we are doing just fine. And I’m sure these other things will work out if I just give them enough time. :o)

I Love Buttons!

Last year, I rediscovered an old love.
I love buttons. Here's something I wrote soon after this rediscovery...

I’m not quite sure what it is about buttons, that makes me love them so. Perhaps it is the shape, the sound as they clink together or the feel as they trickle through outstretched fingers. Maybe it’s the multitude of possible colours and designs. I mean, who could not love something that can be shaped like a cat for a child’s jumper, or as little blue hearts all the way up the back of my wedding dress (thank you to my friend for finding them for me!).
I don’t think my love of buttons really has much to do with their proclaimed use – that of buttoning up things. That would be far too practical and boring.

I remember playing with my mother’s buttons as a child. I can see the jar in my mind. It was bright yellow plastic, tall and round. The lid was soft and flexible and you could almost see through it – but not quite. I can almost remember the smell. There’s something very nostalgic about that smell. Perhaps it came from the buttons themselves, or maybe the container, or maybe even the remnants of fabric still clinging to the occasional button. Either way, I like this memory.

On a wet, dreary afternoon, I would get out that button jar. The contents were tipped upon the table or the floor and hours were spent pouring over them as my imagination took flight. Some days, they became precious gems, bought for exorbitant sums of imaginary money. Other times they were fruit. Sometimes just a bunch of plain old buttons. Those buttons got sorted, counted, lined up, put in matching colour piles, gazed at, rubbed, clenched in small hands and eventually poured back in their jar to sit on the shelf for another day.

I recall buttons that shone and glittered. Then there were the many brown ones, and the matching pairs of animals. Some were new, left over from one of my mother’s sewing projects. Others must have been really old (at least in my child’s mind). All had a story, whether make believe or real.

I had all but forgotten about my childhood love of buttons. I mean, not being a sewer (as yet), I haven’t exactly had much use for buttons of late. And the ones of my clothing, well, they are just part of the clothing I guess.
I had forgotten…until recently.

I was looking for card making inspiration. It was somewhat lacking. I was bored with the usual designs I’d been working with over the past few years. I needed something new, something fresh. In my search, I came across some scrap book edges that had been made with a combination of paper shapes (circles, stars, hearts) set on a background of different coloured strips of card (squiggles and straight lines). And they had buttons and ribbon on them. They looked really cool – the combination of flat card with the texture of ribbon and the raised surface of buttons…just what I was looking for! This is proving to be a very poor description of what I saw. Suffice to say that I was inspired! And I must admit to quietly pulling my cellphone out of my bag in the middle of the store aisle and taking a couple of quick pics! This would have to be about the only useful purpose I have found thus far for the little camera inbuilt into my phone and I am to this day still a little shocked at my audacity.

Using that idea as a starting line, away I raced in a bent of creativity. One evening and 19 cards later, here are a few of my creations. I like to find something that works, then use a variation on that theme a few times to see what I can come up with. A number were a birthday gift for my sister-in-law, who wanted a pack of “thinking of you” cards. I bought a packet of new blue buttons, some red, green and blue ribbon and a jar of second hand buttons for the project, with the rest of the ‘ingredients’ already in my craft stash.

Boyo cooked cheese on toast for dinner at around 8pm and I only finished then because I had to clear the dining table and get ready for work the next day. I think that tells you just how happy and busily occupied I was!!!

I’m grateful really that I have found this new use for buttons. Now I can have a lovely stash of buttons and again delight in their look and feel, but also know that I’m not keeping something for the sake of just keeping it, but that it has a use – a beautiful use in fact.

Ribbons – trails of delight in a dreary world

I used to have a box filled with ribbons. Some were from gifts given to me, others I claimed from the discard pile at a 21st or wedding.

I am a hoarder by nature, I admit it. If I didn’t my mum would just tell you anyway! I take after Dad in that respect. I just find it really hard to throw anything away that might still have a use. Particularly if it happens to be pretty as well! I also don’t like spending lots of money on something that is just going to be ripped up and discarded, like the wrapping on a gift. So I’ve learnt that reusing is a great idea. My friends probably thought I was a little barmy (and they may yet be right!), but they graciously allowed my wrapping paper and ribbon saving on several occasions – after all, none of them wanted it anyway.
So while everyone else was digging into the party food, there I’d be, tucked away in a corner of someone’s living room, carefully folding wrapping paper and rolling ribbon, removing cellotape as I went.

The only issue is I hated giving any of my ribbons away! They were mine, my personal stash of delight.

I had my favourites, you know. There’d be the ribbons I would use for any old gift…colours I didn’t much like, plain and abundant curling ribbon, that sort of thing. Then there were the ones I saved for a special gift, for special people in my life. Thick organza ribbons in bright, shimmering blue or fuchsia pink. Silver bows inbuilt with reinforced wire so they sit exactly how you want them. Thin slivers of satin. Ribbons that glittered. Ribbons that looked like fabric rainbows. Parting with these was…hard. I didn’t want to give them to just anyone. It had to be someone who would appreciate their beauty, someone who would pass on the gift, as a bow on another box next year. Or someone who would just give the ribbon straight back to me after they’d opened their gift!

I’ve always thought if someone wanted to give me an inexpensive gift, all they’d need to do is go into their local craft store, pick half a dozen rolls of organza ribbon, and get a metre of each. I’d be happy, very happy.

I am a practical person. I like things to have a use, a purpose. In recent years, I’ve decluttered a lot of the non-essentials in my home and life in order to focus on that which is more purposeful. But ribbons, ribbons touch a part of my soul that practicality does not visit. I see this thing of beauty and my heart sings. My eyes light up, a smile touches my mouth and I want to do a happy wriggle – all the way down to my toes.

The good thing is that ribbons are not solely decorative; they are the meeting place of all that is frivolous, frilly and fancy with just a touch (only the smallest mind you) of practical use. I mean, it is not like most gifts NEED a ribbon. If you don’t use cellotape, I suppose maybe you could conclude they do, but otherwise they are pretty much a decorative feature. But have you ever beheld the difference that little piece of fru-fru can make to an otherwise ordinary box?

Presentation is important you know. When I choose gifts, I think very long and very hard about the receiver and what they would like. I think about their favourite colours and what sort of card to make for them. How will I wrap their gift – should it go in a bag, or a box, in plain paper or patterned? The colours must match. The wrapping paper edges must be neat. Heaven help any paper or cellotape that does not behave with decorum! And the bow. Well, the bow must be beautiful. It is the icing on the cake, the piece de resistance, the final glory that ties it all together and says, “This gift was chosen for you. This gift is more than just the contents of the package. This gift is thought, and caring, and love. This gift contains a little piece of me.” Including my love of ribbons!