Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Little Worlds, and how you might make one.

I love miniature things. There is something delightful and enchanting about creating a tiny, self-contained world to gaze into. I suppose such things as dolls houses have been an enduring example of this throughout time; we relative giants set up a scene and play the narrator, the puppet master, the grand designer -- and suddenly an entire little world, a day-in-the-life-of,  is in our hands alone, for good or for ill! Creating such little worlds for children (or having them create their own) can be a wonderful springboard for play, or source of joy. A notable example of this is the tiny garden CS Lewis encountered as a child:
Once in those very early days my brother brought into the nursery the lid of a biscuit tin which he had covered with moss and garnished with twigs and flowers so as to make it a toy garden or a toy forest. That was the first beauty I ever knew. What the real garden had failed to do, the toy garden did. It made me aware of nature - not, indeed, as a storehouse of forms and colours but as something cool, dewy, fresh, exuberant. I do not think the impression was very important at the moment, but it soon became important in memory. As long as I live my imagination of Paradise will retain something of my brother's toy garden. CS Lewis, Surprised by Joy
Little worlds inside terrariums are quite the craze right now. They are very beautiful, though notoriously difficult to keep alive. It's funny how things go around - I remember doing a holiday class to make one out of a soft drink bottle when I was a little girl.

Image source here 

Also popular (and quite clever and adorable) are the tiny scenes created by such artists as slinkachu on blogs like these. How might tiny people interact with our world, were they to exist? Such a delightful thought! 

Image by artists Pierre Javelle &Akiko Ida

Then there are tiny, intricately-systemed and stunning worlds all around us to which we are mostly oblivious; many of which would terrify us if we happened to be even tinier! All the sci-fi in the world couldn't come close to some of the tiny beasts we live with every day.

Image source here

Are you feeling inspired yet? Why not create a tiny world of your own? It needs not be perfect. Choose a picture from a favourite story book, or a work of art, and use it as a springboard to create a scene of your own. Perhaps you could make a diorama, or try your hand at a terrarium, or create a small garden with stepping stones to help a small child count down to their birthday or another significant event. A little person or animal could move along a step for each day or week until the event. While your children are out you can set up a small scene, such as a farmyard, to inspire their play when they get home. Or perhaps you could serve them their sandwich at lunch with a cow munching at it from the side!

   Jack's beach scene, inspired by Ellioth Gruner's painting The Beach,1918 (Below)


Our (Blurry) lent garden, to count down the weeks until Easter, when the children will awake to find it decorated with flowers and blossoms and a stone that has been rolled away. 

When you think of the earth suspended in this vast universe, are we not ourselves part of a tiny world, full of tinier and tinier worlds, all of God's own making, and for his own joy?

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Advent!

How I love advent. It's a season all about longing - such a deeply felt human emotion, and one that is particularly poignant for Christians. It's a yearly reminder of the longing of our hearts, fulfilled in Christ and finally to be fulfilled in the new creation: 'Come, Lord Jesus!'

Our college friends Matt and Alison have started a blog, The Advent Project, to help Christians better appreciate and celebrate Advent. It's fantastic. Their first post is very helpful I thought, and there's so much good stuff to follow. Be sure to check it out!

And because I can't resist throwing in a Lutheran hymn, here's one of my favourite Advent hymns, based on Psalm 24: Macht hoch die Tuer, die Tor macht hoch. So beautiful.




Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates
by Georg Weissel, 1590-1635
Translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1829-1878

1. Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates!
Behold, the King of Glory waits;
The King of kings is drawing near,
The Savior of the world is here.
Life and salvation He doth bring,
Wherefore rejoice and gladly sing:
We praise Thee, Father, now,
Creator, wise art Thou!


2. A Helper just He comes to thee,
His chariot is humility,
His kingly crown is holiness,
His scepter, pity in distress,
The end of all our woe He brings;
Wherefore the earth is glad and sings:
We praise Thee, Savior, now,
Mighty in deed art Thou!

3. O blest the land, the city blest,
Where Christ the Ruler is confessed!
O happy hearts and happy homes
To whom this King in triumph comes!
The cloudless Sun of joy He is,
Who bringeth pure delight and bliss.
We praise Thee, Spirit, now,
Our Comforter art Thou!

4. Fling wide the portals of your heart;
Make it a temple set apart
From earthly use for Heaven's employ,
Adorned with prayer and love and joy.
So shall your Sovereign enter in
And new and nobler life begin.
To Thee, O God, be praise
For word and deed and grace!

5. Redeemer, come! I open wide
My heart to Thee; here, Lord, abide!
Let me Thy inner presence feel,
Thy grace and love in me reveal;
Thy Holy Spirit guide us on
Until our glorious goal is won.
Eternal praise and fame
We offer to Thy name.
The Lutheran Hymnal
Hymn #73

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Transitioning

Well it's been a bit quiet around here - Dave has two days of college to go and one hefty exam, and time has been taken up with editing projects and essays and preparing for the big move ahead. We've had a few farewell events and I've been sorting out cupboards, and there is all that whirlwind of activity that accompanies moving on again.

Leaving college is going to be a huge adjustment for our whole family in different ways. The children will grieve the loss of the playground right outside our house, where they have friends 'on tap' almost whenever they go out there. This is the only life Jack has in his post-babyhood memory, so I think he will find it the most different, poor little chap.

Some missionary friends gave us the idea of putting a chart on the wall on which everyone could write what they were sad to be leaving and what they were looking forward to about the move. This has been a great idea. On paper, the move back to Canberra is positive indeed! But it's hard to quantify that word 'playground' down in the left hand column. So many friends and a whole lifestyle to leave!

I'm not quite sure, even after so many transitions, quite how to transition 'well', especially with children. But I have learnt a few things. This time I am having all the packing done for us. And I will do the same with the cleaning. Having a less stressed wife and mother is good for everyone really. I also know from experience that God always provides light in the darkness, and often in unexpected places. And that he loves our kids more than we ever do or can, and will take care of them and teach them.

Do you have any good ideas for transitioning well with children? I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

That Old Metal Box from the Side of the Road

Well, it's all painted and finished! It's far from perfect, but I love it - mostly because I know where it would have gone had it not been rescued. So satisfying.


We have affectionately named it "Boxen", in honour of the young CS Lewis. At the moment, Boxen is the home of the Sylvanian Families, which to my mind is just perfect. What else would you find in Boxen but dressed animals, after all?




Thursday, 17 October 2013

Berry Sharing #2: Marriage

I love what this poem expresses about marriage. The sentiment of the last line particularly is one which I would want to share with those intending to be married, as our expectations of marriage can often be unrealistic. To know that a narrowing of our committment to one person is costly and hard, that it is never a place of complete wholeness, but only a place of potential healing, is important. I've also shared here a quote of Berry's which expresses some of the ideas of this poem in prose.

 Marriage
          to Tanya
How hard it is for me, who live
in the excitement of women
and have the desire for them
in my mouth like salt, Yet
you have taken me and quieted me.
You have been such a light to me
that other women have been 
your shadows. You come near me
with the nearness of sleep.
And yet I am not quiet.
It is to be broken. It is to be
torn open. It is not to be 
reached and come to rest in
ever. I turn against you, I turn to you.
We hurt, and are hurt,
and have each other for healing.
It is healing. It is never whole.
        from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry

'What marriage offers - and what fidelity is meant to protect - is the possibility of moments when what we have chosen and what we desire are the same. Such a convergence obviously cannot be continuous. No relationship can continue very long at its highest emotional pitch. But fidelity prepares us for the return of these moments, which give us the highest joy we can know; that of union, communion, atonement (in the root sense of at-one-ment)...
       To forsake all others does not mean - because it cannot mean - to ignore or neglect all others, to hide or be hidden from all others, or to desire or love no others. To live in marriage is a responsible way to live in sexuality, as to live in a household is a responsible way to live in the world. One cannot enact or fulfill one's love for womankind or mankind, or even for all the women or men to whom one is attracted. If one is to have the power and delight of one's sexuality, then the generality of instinct must be resolved in a responsible relationship to a particular person.
       Similarly, one cannot live in the world; that is, one cannot become, in the easy, generalizing sense with which the phrase is commonly used, a "world citizen." There can be no such thing as a "global village." No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it. Where we live and who we live there with define the terms of our relationship to the world and to humanity. We thus come again to the paradox that one can become whole only by the responsible acceptance of one's partiality.'
                From The Art of the Commonplace, "The Body and the Earth"

Monday, 14 October 2013

Why Death can be Important in Children's Books

A few nights ago we sat down to listen to another chapter of the Australian classic "Blinky Bill", which I bought as an audio set at the Post Office. I had never read this story as a child, so I was completely unprepared for this:
Suddenly a great fear seized him, he slowly turned and tried to hide round the tree, peering at the ground as he did so. Bang! again, and now his poor little body was stinging all over. He grunted loudly and slowly climbed up the tree, calling Mrs Koala and Blinky as he went. He managed to reach the topmost branch and now turned to see where his family were. Tears were pouring down his poor little face. He brushed them away with his front paws and cried just like a baby. Fortunately Mrs Koala and Blinky Bill were hiding in the leaves, quite motionless, and the shadows of the tree made them appear as part of it. The man with the gun stood and waited a long time, then walked away, whistling as he went—the only sound to be heard in the bush except the cries of a little bear far up in the tree.They sat patiently waiting for him to wake.
All that day and night the little family lay huddled together, not daring to move, or to think of the sweet gum-leaves that hung from the tree inviting them to supper. As the sun rose the birds woke with a great chattering, the earth stirred with the feet of small animals running backwards and forwards; but up in the gum-tree a mother bear and her baby sat staring in surprise at another bear who did not move. They grunted and cried, and even felt him with their soft paws, but he still did not move. All that day and the next night they sat patiently waiting for him to wake, then at last Mrs Bear seemed to understand that her husband was dead.
 ...The three started away. Mrs Bear turned and gave one sorrowful look at the tree that had been their home for so long. It had been a kind tree, sheltering them through all weathers and feeding them every day of the year, but not strong enough to protect them from tragedy.

Fear, pain, crying, stillness, death, finality, sorrow, tragedy. These are heavy words, and not ones we quite expected in a book about a naughty little Koala Bear! I found myself wishing I had read ahead, and sure enough my children were also shocked; little Maggie covered her ears and ran from the room screaming, and continued to be upset until well into the next day.

I've been thinking about Maggie's response, and remember feeling much the same after reading Charlotte's Web when I was 8. Death of a very real and loved story character, however fictional, can truly shocking and awful, just as death itself is truly is. 

And yet I think well-written stories are, like all good works of art, a medium through which children are able to healthily think about death. They allow children to experience all the big things: love, brokenness, victory, courage, mortality, fragility, heroism, friendship and failure second-hand (this is their power), but uncannily almost as if with their own senses. Stories can give voice to a child's own struggle to understand the deep brokenness at the core of the world, which they know of, instinctively and experientially, even in their small and sheltered lives. Gerard Manley Hopkins poem 'Spring and Fall: To a Young Child' expresses this beautifully:
Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
And a yet deeper magic is also at work. As Maggie said through her tears for Mr Koala, 'I'm glad there is always a resolution'. A resolution, an ultimate one - this is surely 'what heart heard of'! The true gift that the best stories give is that they scribble onto children's hearts, though perhaps in whispers and parables, the shape and flow of the Great Narrative, the 'True Myth', into which God's people through Christ are most wondrously woven, and which promises a resolution beyond any imagining:

'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, 
Nor has entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him" 1 Cor 2:9 (NKJV)

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Berry Sharing, #1: Marriage

Here is the first of a series of poems or quotes from one of my favourite authors Wendell Berry, as promised here.

Some of my favourite Wendell Berry poems are those few he has written about marriage. I think he captures some very precious and true things, and I particularly love this one.

The Wild Rose
Sometimes, hidden from me in daily custom and in ritual
I live by you unaware, as if by the beating of my heart.
Suddenly you flare again in my sight
A wild rose at the edge of the thicket where yesterday there was only
shade
And I am blessed and choose again,
That which I chose before.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Care of the Elderly (of a sort)

Recently on a morning walk I came across this old metal box, cast out for council clean up. I walked past it again and again, thinking how silly I was to want to take it but unable to leave it behind. Finally I worked up the courage to carry it home, though I must have looked silly. I was quite taken by the handles which look a little Art Nouveau, though someone may know better.  I wonder what stories it could tell? I wonder who took the time to make it? And what might have been kept inside?


I've found it to be a rather lovely parable of redemption. I got to work on it with wire brushes and an amazing product that turns rust back into functional metal. This was very exciting indeed. Then there was some metal primer, and the choosing of colours. Standing in front of those rows of colourful paint chips at the hardware store with a project in mind is a wonderful place to be.



Here is the box partially painted with metal primer:



And these some of the colours I considered. The older I get, the brighter I like things!


The first coat of colour is done, but I'll throw in some suspense and post a picture when I've completed the whole thing.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Have you met Mr Berry?

Wendell Berry is one author whose name I would like to yell from the rooftops 'take up and read!' I've picked up some of his books again and thought that over the next little while I would share some of his poems and writing.

My fear is that an introductory post like this will scare people off; reading about someone's philosophy before reading his actual writing is a bad way to go about things - like staring at the scaffolding rather than the glorious building behind. So if this sort of thing doesn't do it for you, don't read this post - just read one of his novels, such as Hannah Coulter, which sets out his philosophy without your even knowing it. It's beautiful.

Berry, once a university professor, returned to his native soil to farm - a decision based on his growing convictions of the importance of continuity, place, and local community. He is a social critic, and his writing centres around the themes of the effects of modernization (particularly in our unsustainable, casual relationship to the land), finitude, community, the past, health and wholeness. In short, he is concerned with what he sees as our three important relationships - to God, to our community, and to the land we live on, or place -- three areas in which our modern world is in crisis.

It's difficult to sum up briefly a multi-facted philosophy of life such as Berry's. I thought I'd start with a quote that helps describe his place within Christian thought and worldview. This is about him not by him, but helpful I think.
In Berry's work we distinguish the contours of the Reformational worldview, articulated in the goodness of creation, the disease of fallenness, and the promise of redemption... Berry has rarely cast his work in terms formally theological or philosophical, and so it is tenuous to hold him to systematized categories. Nevertheless, his vision promotes a dynamic understanding of created reality, where the promised future can be made present. To say that Berry has an eschatological hope...is not to place upon his vision an overlay of theological precision - we're not talking about the pre/a/post-millenial divides, nor purely the future Kingdom, but rather an organic understanding that what we do in and with the creation right now, through the constraints of fallenness, has continuity with the Kingdom's reality.
So if the end in mind for Berry is healing, how must we adjust our lives to the here and now? First is the recognition of finitude, a limitedness that is bound up in particularity of place and community, and interdependence in creation. This is a countercultural notion in every sense; there is no path toward healing in modern culture -- economical or political or religious -- that does not lead back to the difficult labour of recognising and honouring our finitude. The structure of the creation requires this. We cannot treat the ground beneath our feet, the bodies we dwell in, and the communities that shape us, as indifferent nodes.
Alongside these structural limits, there is a spiritual necessity of humility that can grow into hospitality. This is a stance of vulnerability -- not self-defence -- since we can easily be displaced and trespassed upon. Yet healing cannot occur in a posture of self protection, of impermeable boundaries. The challenge is world-shaping, radical, magnificently risky -- and ultimately resonates with the call of the gospel. Bonzo and Stephens, Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life, 2008.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Jelly Oranges

Here is a lovely party food that I first came across during a Christmas I spent in England. I guess that once, for English children, the novelty of an orange at Christmas would have been quite something.


These are super easy to make and go down a treat. You simply hollow out the flesh of orange halves and then fill these with orange jelly. I used a little bit of fresh orange juice to enhance the packet of orange jelly, but in future I think I will be a bit more pernickity and make real orange juice jelly from scratch. I thought these looked a little bit garish. The kids liked them of course!

Once the jelly is set, you only need carefully cut the halves into quarters or eighths and they are done.






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