Monday, December 31, 2012

Monday Motivation - Babies Don't Fail

I hope you all had a Happy Christmas!!

We discussed in Family Home Evening a Conference talk on 'Patience' by President Dieter Uchtdof.  Particularly how it applies not only to the every-day, waiting-at-the-check-out kind of patience, but rather how we can apply it to ourselves as we work our way toward perfection.   It seems that a lot of people have  feelings of inadequacy and a lack of belief in themselves that make it especially hard to keep going in the face of  repeated failures to accomplish perfection now.  All sorts of worthy, wonderful people seem to feel that way about themselves a lot of the time.
So I wanted to pass on a thought that our family talked about:
Babies, children, toddlers are wonderful.  They try and try and fall or fail and try again until they 'get it' - eventually, they will walk, talk, toilet themselves, say 'Mummy, I love you', even learn to ride a bike, swim across the pool,  and read by themselves.  Eventually, their toes will touch the floor while they are sitting on the pew in church; their fingers will eventually reach the doorknob, the top of the doorway, (and sometimes, in the case of teenage boys straining to be picked for the basketball team), the ceiling.  These things will, in the normal course of life, always be achieved, as surely as a 10 kilo snack of chocolate is going to show on the scales.   Babies don't ever ponder the possibility of failure.  It just never seems to occur to them.  So they keep trying, until they do advance; achieve; succeed.  And we take their eventual success just as much for granted; we also believe that their destiny is to be successful.  (Except for the universal proviso of young mums who sometimes wonder if their child will ever sleep through, or ever be toilet-trained, or stop wetting the bed.  They will  :)

To look at a baby or a small child, it could seem incredible that they will be able to accomplish so many intricate, fabulous things one day.  Except that we know what is possible, and probable, because we have already managed it ourselves.  How sad it would be to ever see a baby just give up on trying - to walk, or talk, or feed themselves - knowing as we do the progress that would have occurred if they had continued their efforts.

I wonder if that is the way that Heavenly Father looks at us.  He sees us fall over, again and again, and I think that His response probably mirrors our response to our own children: a warm and vitally interested desire to encourage and support, and a feeling of overwhelming love for the child, walking or not; successful or, not just yet.  Perhaps He loves us in the same way that we love our babies,  even when they can't do anything much yet.  Perhaps He smiles understandingly, as we occasionally do, when the baby who is learning to sit up, puddles over onto their side, or sometimes falls flat on their face, or even when one throws a tantrum.  Maybe it really doesn't bother Him that much that it takes us a while to learn what we need to - since He knows that eventually, with His help, we will, inevitably, succeed - if we will likewise disreguard all notions of failure.

I remember with a lot of loving humour the picture of our oldest daughter, Tammy, learning to play her first piano piece for a beginner's exam.   She sat at our piano each day, plonking out the few notes, trying over and over again to play the tune, before crying into her hands, with real anguish, "I can't do it, I just can't do it!  I'll NEVER be able to learn this - it's too hard!."   Fast forward to her seventeenth year, to the exceptionally difficult and lovely music pieces she practised each day then, in preparation for her Diploma of Music exam.   How wonderful it was to hear her filling our home with such beautiful melodies.

How wonderful to know that our stumbling, faltering, and sometimes emotionally hysterical attempts now to sound a tune, will one day, most certainly, if we 'continue in patience', become performances of great beauty too.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Five More Gifts of Service at Christmas

When I was about seven years old I lived with my mother and two young sisters in a rented housing trust house in Adelaide. My parents had divorced when I was five, and since that time my mother had struggled to support us on her own with no regular income.  The year our family joined the Mormon church I remember that we were left a box of groceries at Christmas. I remember the awe and excitement when I saw that we had been given a whole chicken, some potato chips, and other goodies.  I felt very rich and very grateful.

People frequently would like to help out around Christmas time but we are not always sure of the best way to do it. Yesterday's post offered a great way to give.  Or perhaps some of the following ideas will appeal to you...

Operation Christmas Child allows you to pack a shoe-box of gifts that is then sent overseas to wherever such gifts are needed. The website explains what to pack and where to take your box or boxes.  It's a wonderful feeling to know that what you have put together will bring enormous delight to the child in a third world country who receives your box.  If you cannot afford to fill a box, volunteers are always welcome and needed to help out in the warehouse from October to December.

The K-Mart Wishing Tree Appeal teams with the Salvation Army each year to use the K-Mart stores as collection points for gifts donated by the public.  Many families have a tradition of helping their children to purchase and place a gift under the tree each year.  The appeal aims to distribute over 500,000 gifts this year.

Kmart Wishing Tree Appeal

Nursing Homes Patients and the Elderly are often forgotten at Christmas.  Groups and individuals tend to favour caroling or visiting children's hospitals in preference, but the truth is that children in hospital are usually well catered for, (speaking as one who used to nurse in a children's hospital and who has had a child in hospital at Christmas).  It's the elderly who need our care most.  Are you worried that you might feel uncomfortable and not know what to say?  Everyone thinks that will be a problem until they actually go to visit.  The elderly are usually so happy for the visit that you will give great pleasure if all you do is ask a few questions about their life, or hold their hand for a while.  Perhaps take some nail polish and ask if anyone would like their nails done..  If you can take a child, or if the Nursing home allows you to take in a small pet, you will be a huge hit!  It's not a glamorous activity but it can be very heart-warming - and it does bring comfort and joy, if that is your goal.  If you don't have a full Christmas day, you might find this a worthy activity.

Christmas Packages and Gifts.  It's lovely to receive them, but lonely if you are the only one who does not receive a present when you are part of a group.  In Brisbane we have about 180 volunteer missionaries who serve our church for two years away from their families.  Most of those missionaries receive a parcel from home at Christmas time.  But each year about 20 - 40 do not, so a useful service idea is to provide Christmas packages for those who would otherwise go without.  The same would be true of those who are in prison.  If the warden if willing to indicate how many of prisoners are unlikely to receive any gifts, it would be a great kindness to those men and women for them to know that they are thought of.  Nursing Homes, Women's shelters, Homes for the Disabled, and Men's hostels are other possible organizations which might be able to be helped in this way. 

It's the Little Things..  that can mean a lot.  We can all do them, and they cost little or nothing:  
  • See if you can say, 'have a good day!' before your sales person has time to.  They are probably tired and rushed from the day too :)
  • Smile at people as you go about before Christmas.  A lot of people look harried and even grumpy. Help them to remember that this is a good time of year. 
  • Give out some Christmas cards.  They don't need to be fancy.  It's a nice way to let people know they are thought of.
  • Check with your neighbours, friends and acquaintances that they are ok for Christmas Day - which can be the loneliest day of the year if you don't have anyone.  It's easy to make another seat at the table, and can make all the difference to someone who would be otherwise completely alone.

Happy Christmas Everyone!!

(The Blog is taking a break over Christmas week and will be back on Monday 31st.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Spirit of Christmas Shop

Tammy sent us all an email the other day, telling us about a little shop that 'suddenly' opened in Norman Park this week.  It is a 'Spirit of Christmas' shop, started by a man named Dennis Stevenson...

From the website:

Every Christmas, Dennis Stevenson, with community help and at no cost, borrows an empty shop and gives away thousands of free presents.

The first year (2009), he opened one at Burleigh.  2010 was Nundah, last year was Clayfield and this year it is in Norman Park.  Tammy said she's already seen people drop off things from teddy bears to kayaks and bikes!! The only requirement is that they have to look new!!  People are encouraged to bring donations every day up until Christmas Eve, from 8:30 - 6pm.  It is a wonderful community initiative to help those who are struggling, to provide gifts for those they love.

You can look here: for more information, and here is a recent Courier Mail article about the 2012 shop :)

LOVE this idea, and I think most of us have things around our homes that are new and have never/will never be used!!  So if you have anything that fits the description, take it on down to Norman Park in the next few days and share the Spirit of Christmas!! :)  What a wonderful activity to do as a family or a group of friends! :)

And here's wishing you all, a very
Merry Christmas!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Diary of a Carol Singer

Feel pleased as punch with myself for remembering to put Christmas Earrings and Santa hat into my hand bag as I head out the door for work.

12 noon               
Frantically search the Internet for a copy of the sheet music for ‘Ring Christmas Bells’ in 4 part harmony, that the family learned and sang when carol singing 3 years ago.

Finally admit that the Internet has changed over the past 3 years, and go for a slightly different arrangement of ‘Ring Christmas bells’ since it's all I can find!

Download piano keyboard app on iPhone

Arrive at Jonny and Jessima’s house to meet everyone, song sheet in hand.
Put on Christmas earrings and Santa hat.  Am now feeling suitably festive.
Find 2 year old Jordan wearing bright green shirt and Santa’s hat looking every bit the Christmas elf.  Dance to the Michael Buble Christmas CD with 1 year old Jacey and 4 year old Jenna in their Christmas dresses.  Enjoy the smell of Jessima’s freshly baked Chocolate Chip biscuits ready for the ‘goodies plates’ we’ll take to Carollers.

James, Abby, 3 year old Maggie and 1 year old Ana arrive – dressed very festively.
Noise level rises.

Mum and Dad arrive, with more goodies in tow.
Noise level rises again.
Begin to teach James the Tenor part to ‘Ring Christmas Bells’ using the iPhone keyboard App.

Bethany, Robbie and Baby Hallie (in her Santa dress – adorable) arrive.
Noise level rises again.  Can no longer hear Michael Buble.  Has the CD been turned off?
Mum pulls out the Christmas plates, cellophane and ribbon and begins to put together the goodies plates using the biscuits and chocolates the girls of the family have made/contributed.
Pull Abby and Bethany over to teach them the Alto part and have them sing it with James the Tenor.  Turns out they remember the Alto part and we don’t even need to go over it.  Awesome!

Assign James to teach Robbie the tenor part. 
Double check Jessima remembers the Soprano part (she does. She’s awesome too).
Pull Dad into the other room to teach him the bass part in a place where we can hear the notes coming off my iPhone at full volume.
Dad’s ability to read music is actually kind of impressive.  He gets it down.
Jonny arrives home (our other base – yay!) and joins dad.  Pretty wicked bass section if you ask me.

Pull everyone together for a practise of the song all together. 
Realize we can’t hear ourselves singing over the noise of the children.
Sing louder.
Realize the tenors haven’t quite got their part down.
Realize I taught it to James in the wrong octave, who taught it to Robbie in the wrong octave. 
Realize they’re on their own because it’s time to leave.

Load into cars.  I’m travelling with Mum and Dad, but agree to run over to Jonny and Jessima’s car every time we arrive to help them with the third child.
Arrive at first house – Bryn & Joan
Plan - Sing Rudolph while they come to the door.
Actuality – They’re waiting at the front door because we made so much noise getting out of the cars.
Sing Rudolph anyway.  Gran gives Jordan the plate of goodies to give to Joan.  Jordan gives her the plate, steps through her front door and wanders on into the house. (Good thing Joan is not an ax murderer)
We sing an appallingly bad rendition of Ring Christmas Bells.
Conversation all round.  Joan and Brynn bring out a chocolate for everyone.

Jordon comes back to the door for chocolates.
A light bulb goes on in the minds of each grandchild as they realize that the chocolates are obviously the point of all this singing.
Sing We Wish You A Merry Christmas as we traipse back to the cars.

Arrive at Neville & Hazel’s house.
Make just as much noise getting out of the cars, except this time the noise is more of the ‘shhhhhhhh’ variety.
Family again waiting at the door by the time we get there.  Heavy sigh.
Neville, Hazel and son Ben appear to really enjoy our songs.  Despite the fact that we yet again do a spectacularly bad version of Ring Christmas Bells.
It has become apparent that the Tenors really don’t know what they’re doing. Luckily they can blame me for this, since I taught it to them in the wrong octave etc. etc.
Hazel gives flowers to some of the children.  They’re clearly delighted.

Back into the cars. Bethany and Robbie need petrol, and Dad sends me back to Bethy with a message to stop at the Servo on Springwood Road, and that we’ll all wait for them further up the road.
Dad also sends me to tell Jonny and Jessima that we’ll be waiting on the side of the road for Bethany and Robbie.  I misunderstand, and tell them they need to follow Bethany and Robbie. Which they do. To the petrol station.

Bethany drives too far along the one way street we’re all waiting for them on, driving past the street we’re supposed to turn onto.  This causes Dad to have a mini heart attack worrying about how they’ll get back.
Mum and I are laughing.
The rest of us turn into the street and again wait on the side of the road while Bethany evidently does a series of U-Turns and eventually joins us. 

Arrive to the next family on the list, but they’re on a very short strip of road crowded with construction materials and caravans. 
3 of our 4 cars get caught in the dead end street and a series of multi-point turns ensues.  Jonny is particularly interesting to watch as he has the biggest car.
We’re getting better at being quiet as we get out of the cars.
Bethany announces that Robbie will be driving from now on.
Ring Christmas Bells is getting just a little better, but we all struggle not to laugh during the last line which the tenors sing on their own… In theory.
Back in the cars.  I’ve transferred to Jonny and Jessima’s car and have fun talking with the kids in the back seats.

We get out of the car at Ally’s house.
We sing, the door opens. All occupants in pyjamas. Sorry it’s getting late! At least we brought goodies! :)
Tenors give up singing half way through and begin an intense discussion with overhead snippets such as ‘no, it’s this bar here that’s getting us.  We need to go down here’ and ‘Next time we’ll listen to them sing this note and then they’ll sing that note’ etc. 

Everyone follows Jonny and Jessima to the next house on the list.
Getting lost with 3 cars following in a series of U-turns and left and right turns. Confusion and slightly heated discussion between parents in front seat about who is most confused about the directions.
Jenna from the back seat:  Daddy! You should have listened to Mummy!

Arrive at Smibert’s house
Sing our thing.  Almost have it down. 
They are impressed with our singing abilities, which would have something to do with the fact that they most certainly hadn’t heard our earlier renditions.

Back in the cars
4 year old Jenna asks if we can go home because she’s sleepy and is relieved to hear there’s only house to go.
2 year old Jordan begins singing the Alto and Tenor parts ‘Ring, ring, ring’ from the backseat.  Am beyond impressed with how completely on pitch he is and ask him to please sing with the tenors because they need the help.
Jordan: *pause* okay.
1 year old Jacey is asleep
Front seat discussion still centers around who's better with directions...

Final house: Lee, Sarah and kids.
They hear us coming (obviously still not mastering that quiet thing) and are waiting.
We sing. Perfectly.  The tenors finally have it down, and the Basses  complete the song with a perfectly sung and very low ‘riiiinnnnnnggggg’
We almost burst into spontaneous applause at our own brilliance.
Lee swears he has never heard a more impressive group of singers.  We are, of course, modest about our brilliance.  The best singers always are...

We all gather back on the street to say our goodbyes to each other. 
Mum & Dad heading home where Mum will no doubt spend another several hours working on Christmas Presents.
Abby & James off with the little girls who are no doubt ready for bed.
Bethany & Robbie with little Hallie have an hour drive home, but Robbie declares
that the carol singing thing is actually a great tradition  (he’s still high on the tenor’s final success).
Jonny, Jessima, the kids and I pile back into their car.  The kids are ready to go home but have a second wind now.  We Christmas light spot the rest of the way home “look at that one!” “wow! Look at that house!”

Back in my car, heading home.
Wonderful evening.  Feeling very Christmassy.
Joy to the world!

Wide awake, lying in bed. Brain won’t turn off.
Am now cursing those Chirstmas bells...

Ring Christmas Bells, Ring Christmas Bells, Ring Christmas Bells, Ring Christmas Bells, Ring Christmas Bells, Ring Christmas Bells, Ring Christmas Bells...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Family Tradition - Christmas Nativity Play

We have a picture stored away in a box somewhere of the first year we acted out the Nativity.  Tammy, our oldest daughter, was just turned two years old at the time and Michael was a year behind.  They acted out the Mary and Joseph parts, while I filled the roles of  narrator and the angel.  A wrapped doll took the part of the baby Jesus.  We did it as a little surprise for Neil on Christmas Eve.

The following year, Jonny acted as the baby he was, while the rest of us kept our same parts.  I remember one year Michael acted as the donkey, the inn-keeper, the shepherds and the wise men.  I think Abby was a sheep that year :)  As the years progressed, Tammy eventually took over as the narrator, reading from the book of James, and as the angel and the producer.  Abby took over as Mary, and I joined Neil in the audience, with the performance a surprise for me each year too.  

Somewhere we have (all packed away), a nativity play that Abby wrote out, with parts for all her brothers and sisters.  It may have even been this year..  

The performance would stop in the appropriate places in the story, for us to sing, 'Silent Night', and 'Away In The Manger', with Tammy on piano.

Eventually the children all grew up and we switched to Neil reading the Christmas story aloud from Luke each Christmas morning before we open our presents.  But perhaps now with beautiful grand-children it might be time to start the tradition over again...  :)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday Story - The Miracle

It's the Christmas season, so maybe we can get away with a story like this one.

Painting by Norman Rockwell

The Miracle  

The violent grinding of brakes suddenly applied, and the harsh creaking of skid­ding wheels gradually died away as the big car came to a stop. Eddie quickly picked himself up from the dusty pavement where he had been thrown and looked around wildly.
Agnes! Where was his little sister he had been holding by the hand when they had started to cross the street? The next moment he saw her under the big car that had run them down, her eyes closed, a dark stain slowly spreading on her little white face.
With one bound the boy was under the car trying to lift the child.
"You'd better not try, son," said a man gently, "Someone has gone to tele­phone an ambulance." "She’s not … dead, is she, Mister?" Eddie begged in a husky voice.
The man stopped and felt the limp little pulse. "No, my boy," he said slowly.
A policeman came up, dispersed the collecting crowd, and carried the uncon­scious girl into a nearby drugstore. Eddie's folded coat made a pillow for her head until the ambulance arrived. He was permitted to ride in the conveyance with her to the hospital. Something about the sturdy, shabbily dressed boy, who could not be more than ten years old, and his devotion to his little sister, strangely touched the hearts of the hardened hospital apprentices.
"We must operate at once," said the surgeon after a brief preliminary examination. "She has been injured internally, and has lost a great deal of blood." He turned to Eddie who, inarticulate with grief, stood dumbly by. "Where do you live?"
Eddie told him that their father was dead, and that his mother did day-work—he did not know where.
"We can’t wait to find her," said the surgeon, "because by that time it might be too late."
Eddie waited in the sitting-room while the surgeons worked over Agnes. After what seemed an eternity, a nurse sought him out.
"Eddie," she said kindly, "Your sister is very bad, and the doctor wants to make a transfusion. Do you know what this is?" Eddie shook his head. "She has lost so much blood she cannot live unless someone gives her his. Will you do it for her?"
Eddie's wan face grew paler, and he gripped the knobs of the chair so hard that his knuckles became white. For' a moment he hesitated; then gulping back his tears, he nodded his head and stood up. "That's a good lad," said the nurse.
She patted his head, and led the way to the elevator which whisked them to the operating room—a very clean but evil smelling room, with pale green walls and innumerable shiny instruments in glass cases. No one spoke to Eddie, except the nurse who directed him in a low voice how to prepare for the ordeal. The boy bit his quivering lip and silently obeyed.
"Are you ready?" asked a man swathed in white from head to foot, turning from the table over which he had been standing. For the first time Eddie noticed who it was lying there so still. Little Agnes! And he was going to make her well.
He stepped forward quickly.
Two hours later the surgeon looked up with a smile into the faces of the young interns and nurses who were engrossed in watching the great man work.
"Fine," he said. "I think she'll pull through."
After the transfusion, Eddie had been told to lie quietly on a cot in the corner of the room. In the excitement of the delicate operation he had been entirely forgotten.
"It was wonderful, Doctor!" exclaimed one of the interns. "A miracle!" Nothing, he felt in his enthusiastic recognition of the marvels of surgery, could be greater than the miracles of science.
"I am well satisfied," said the surgeon with conscious pride.
There was a tug at his sleeve, but he did not notice. In a little while there was another tug—this time more peremptory—and the great surgeon glanced down to see a ragged, pale-faced boy looking steadily up into his face.
"Say, Doc," said a husky voice, "When do I croak?"
The interns laughed and the great surgeon smiled. "Why, what do you mean, my boy?" he asked kindly.
"I thought… when they took a guy's blood… he croaked," muttered Eddie.
The smiles faded from the lips of the doctors and nurses, and the young intern who had thought there was nothing greater than the miracles of science, caught his breath suddenly. This ragged lad had climbed to the very height of compassion and sacrifice, and showed them a glimpse of the greatest miracle at all—a selfless love!
But Eddie must never know this. The lesson was too poignantly beautiful to be wasted. The great surgeon motioned the others for silence.
"I think after all you will get well, Eddie," he said gruffly. "You and little Agnes."

 by Arthur Styron 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Desserts and Recipes

We are pretty serious about our Christmas desserts around here...

I may have mentioned that I am pretty terrible at ever remembering to take photos?   So unfortunately we have very few photos of all the food we have prepared for Christmas over the years, except for these few snaps that give you some idea of our traditional family Christmas dessert recipes.  

Although the list of desserts we prepare varies slightly with the number of people we are expecting to feed, a regular list, (actually, funny story..  You would laugh, kind of.., to see the way we usually make up the list of what to cook each year. Picture our whole family gathered together, me with a pen and paper, asking everyone what they can't live without this year? Of course, the list would get longer and longer and more and more ridiculous, and then we'd have to decide to have a party so that we would have enough people to help us eat it all - and, if you can believe it! - still make doubles of lots of the recipes to keep in the fridge for ourselves for Boxing Day Breakfast too.  Anyway, back to the list, which...), would usually consist of all or some of the following: 

Home-made Chocolate Almond Ice-cream with sugared almonds; Chocolate Mousse; Chocolate-Mint Cheesecake; Choux Pastry Puffs filled with chocolate cream; Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake...   (are you sensing a chocolate theme here?)  ... 

...  home-made Strawberry Ice-Cream ring; Mango, Berry and Kiwi Fruit Salad; Pavlova; Brandy Snaps served with cream and strawberries; Gourmet Baked Cheesecake; Apricot, Chocolate and Coconut Cake; Pecan Pie; Pumpkin Pie ...

Chocolate Cherry-ripe Biscuits; Date and Rice Bubble Finger biscuits; Apple Turnovers; Chocolate and Caramel with Ginger-base Biscuits...

 ...  Coconut Charmers (those little, round biscuits); the Chocolate Hazelnut Tree; Chocolate Cheesecake Biscuits; 

Creme Caramel; Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake; Chocolate Crunch Coconut Biscuits ... 

..  Chocolate Yule Log (only slightly eaten here :)   (To make this, I bake two chocolate sponges in lamington tins, fill each of them with chocolate cream and roll them.  I use them to make a log with branches, then cover it all in Sour Cream Chocolate Icing, decorate with a skewer, add shaved chocolate 'bark', and chocolate leaves, and finish with a dusting of icing sugar.  It looks beautiful, if we had a better photo :)  Our son Jonny sometimes decorates this for us now  :)

One year our family cooked a four-course, sit-down Christmas dinner for 120 missionaries from our church.  As usual: almost no photos, but you can see the Sticky Date Pudding with Butterscotch sauce here.  Very yum!  I know that Sticky Date Pudding might not sound so very fabulous, but this is really, really good!

I thought I would leave you with one of our recipes.   If there are any other recipes from these pictures that you would like, please just leave me a note and I will email them to you.  I am always happy to share recipes :)

Chocolate Hazelnut Christmas Tree

(I've included this one because it is very easy, is no-bake, and is totally yummy - if you like chocolate and hazelnuts together?)

500g dark chocolate (I always use Cadbury's dark chocolate.  They have a good dark cooking chocolate.)
250g roasted hazelnuts  (If still raw, put the hazelnuts in a moderate oven for 10 minutes, then rub the skins off.)
1 brazil nut
60g dark chocolate, extra
Few spoons of icing sugar

Break up the chocolate and  place it in a covered dish in the microwave for a minute, or until it is melted when you stir it OR place chocolate in top half of double saucepan, over gently simmering water, making sure that water does not touch the base of the saucepan. (I use the microwave, but take note that the chocolate will not look melted until you stir it!  Don't overcook, or the chocolate will burn. You'll know it's burnt by the smell, and the fact that even dedicated chocoholics will want to dispose of it in the bin.)  When the chocolate is melted and smooth, stir in the roughly chopped hazelnuts and mix well. (Don't use your food processor for this - it will chop them too finely.  I put the nuts into a plastic bag, then hold the bag shut while I beat it up a bit with a rolling pin or meat tenderizer.  Do leave the nuts not whole, but still in big chunks.  If you look at the picture you will see what I mean.)   

While the chocolate is melting, prepare the trays for marking out the branches of the tree. Cover scone or biscuit-baking trays with  aluminium foil. (Any flat tray, upturned cake tin, base of baking dish, or pieces of heavy cardboard can be used.  What you want is a surface that is level and rigid enough so the branches do not bend while they are setting. Bread boards or pieces of wood covered with foil can be used but the chocolate will take longer to set.)

Mark out nine crosses on the foil, leave about 2.5cm between each cross. The measurements for the crosses are: 7cm; 9cm; 11cm; 13cm; 14cm; 15cm; 16cm 17cm; 18cm.  (I use a ruler and pen, and mark the measurements on the foil beside each cross as I go, so I don't get confused later :)

Prepare a base for the tree; you will need a piece of heavy cardboard or pressed hardboard 20cm in diameter, it must be rigid and strong enough to support all the branches of the tree. Cover with decorative silver paper or foil. (I have a round, flat mother-of-pearl plate that I always use.)  Make a cross 18cm on this base board. 

Using a teaspoon, drop teaspoonfuls of the chocolate mixture along the marked crosses. Do the cross on the base board first, refrigerate, then do the remaining crosses in order of size, starting from the largest size and working to the smallest. Refrigerate crosses as soon as they are complete for several hours or, if desired, overnight. Do not freeze.

NOTE: if the kitchen is very cool, chocolate can be left to set at room temperature; this will mean the tree will take longer to make, but chocolate will have more sheen than if it is refrigerated.

Melt extra chocolate over simmering water. To assemble your tree, join the largest cross to the cross on the base board by dropping about a teaspoon of the melted chocolate into the centre of the cross on the base board; position the cross on top. It may be necessary to move the top cross around until the best position is found; if branches look a little uneven, support underneath with a match box.

Drop about half a teaspoon of the melted chocolate on top of the second cross; this forms a good base when adding the next pair of crosses.

Assemble the remaining eight crosses in pairs, starting from the largest remaining cross to the smallest cross, refrigerate until chocolate is set; about 15 minutes.

When each pair of crosses is set, place the largest pair on top of the crosses on the base board, joining with melted chocolate as before. It is important each section be completely set before topping with another pair of crosses.

When the tree is assembled, cut an end off the brazil nut, so it will sit neatly on top of the tree, place in position with melted chocolate, cover nut with chocolate and then refrigerate until set. Dust the tree lightly with sifted icing sugar when it's ready to serve.  (People break off the branches to eat them.)

(I've been known to occasionally melt down some dark chocolate and mix it with chopped, roasted hazelnuts to make nut drops, just because they taste so good!  Something else you could do is to add sultanas and chopped apricots to the mix, for a chocolate fruit and nut tree.  I don't think I would get away with it though..  messing with a family classic!)


Thursday, December 13, 2012

D.I.Y Advent Calendar

Good Morning Everybody!!! :)  Today we are all blessed to have one of the nicest, sweetest people on the planet guest blogging here! :)  Her name is Bethany and she's my little sister ;)  She made us all these GORGEOUS early Christmas presents and has kindly agreed to share... Thanks Bethany!!! :) xo

In our family, we always make our own Christmas presents. We’ve had some truly wonderful presents from each other over the years and most people wouldn’t believe what cool stuff you can really make yourself! Having said that, the whole ‘making things’ thing is not something I’ve always been too crash hot at. And I have the hardest time coming up with present ideas. I used to always get my ideas off Mum, followed by a lot of help to actually make the idea, but since being married I kind of feel obligated to start thinking for myself …*sigh*

Anyway, this year I was walking through the shops and racking my brains about what on earth I could come up with. I was walking through the Christmas section in Myer (see how late I left my Christmas thinking? The shops were already filled with tinsel…) when I saw a really cute wooden advent calendar. It looked like a heap of wooden cubes with tiny doors, all piled on top of each other, painted and with a Christmas bear on top. I don’t think I’m making it sound that great, but I thought it was, and would make a good present if I could make one myself! So I spent the next week running through what I would need and how I might feasibly be able to do it. In the end I just had to admit that in order to make at least 5 of them I would need some serious skills and a truckload of money….neither of which I had.

Instead I decided to google ‘DIY advent calendars’ and the first site I looked at was this blog. I really loved it. It had pictures of several different kinds of advent calendars all made out of matchboxes. I didn’t even notice that they were matchboxes until I looked really closely. They looked like something even I would be able to do without help!
I chose the design I liked best (the blue cubed one – it’s a lot prettier than mine!) and then went about figuring out how to make it.
Though you could probably also just use the picture as a guide if you ever decide to make something like this, I’ll give you a little run down of what I did.

Materials I used:

Match boxes
Christmas scrapbooking paper
Glue gun/glue
Knife pen/scissors

Method I used:

11. I bought some matches. The Coles brand matches come in a pack of 10 for $1 so it’s pretty cheap. Because I needed 24 matchboxes for each calendar, that was only about $2.50 per present.

  2. I emptied out all of the matches from the boxes. ….there were a lot of matches…

  3. Using my glue gun I glued the match boxes together in sets of three. You can use other glue of course, I just found that the glue gun was super efficient and I didn’t have to worry about holding them in place or anything. …be careful not to burn yourself though because that kind of hurts... :S

  4. Next came the paper. I went to several stores looking for Christmas-y paper that I liked. The only place I found anything was Spotlight (LOVE Spotlight). From there I bought a book of 6 ½” by 6 ½” paper, as well as several sheets of individual 12” by 12” papers. The paper is the thing that probably cost the most. I was trying to make several calendars and I wanted paper I liked, colours that would complement each other, and enough of the good patterns.

  5.  Using the matchboxes, I ruled up the size of the paper I would need and then cut it out using my ruler and knife pen. I found that the 6 ½” by 6 ½” paper was the perfect length to wrap around the matchboxes. Very convenient.

  6. Next I used the glue gun to wrap the paper around the matchboxes.

7.    This is the trickiest part – gluing the boxes together. It’s tricky because you don’t want to accidently glue any of the ‘drawers’ inside or to each other. I found this out the hard way and ended up having to re-do several boxes :P
     Anyway, to glue the boxes to each other I removed all the ‘drawers’ and arranged the boxes in the way I wanted so that I knew which ones I was gluing to each other and so forth. For the cube shape, the boxes are arranged so that one end of a stack is stuck to the side of another. Because I didn’t want to have any glue getting in the way of the drawers opening and closing, I had to mainly glue along the top and bottom of the join, and then along the side that wouldn’t be facing outward. It took me a few tries to get the hang of it and figure out the right way to do it so  it would be strong and neat. You can also just figure out the best way for you.

  8. After that was done I needed to make the ‘lid’ and ‘base’ for the advent calendar. As my cube was 9cm across and I had decided I wanted an overhang of about 7mm, the width of my base would be 10.5 cm. I measured and cut a piece of paper that was 13.5cm square, which allowed me to fold over 1.5cm on each side in order to make a neat edge. I glued these edges down and then glued each onto the top and bottom of my advent calendar.

<9.   Next I used a skewer from my kitchen drawer to put a hole in the middle of each of the drawers. I wrote the numbers 1-24 on the drawers and then I put a brad (those two-pronged split-pin things. I got a pack of 200 from Spotlight on sale for $5. They also sell smaller sized packs) through each one for a handle/knob.

Putting the drawers back in the box, I didn’t want any particular order to the numbers and that was good because not all of the drawers slide easily in every slot. Some really stick and are difficult in one slot, but slide easily in other. I just had to fiddle around and see which drawers would slide and fit okay in which slot.

10.  Lastly, I filled the drawers with lollies and chocolates (it was hard finding chocolates that would fit. I could only find the Dove chocolates and some other lollies that would do the job). There was also a scripture of the Saviour’s birth in each drawer. The scriptures were my husband, Robbie’s, idea and personally I think it made the gift. It really brought the spirit of Christmas and is a little reminder each day about the true meaning :)


So, that’s that. Hope it wasn’t too long winded and confusing. As you can see from the pictures I did several different styled advent calendars depending on the what I thought the people I was making them for would like best and the papers I had. You can decorate them however you want. You could paint the drawers so they're all different colours or do all kinds of different things. 
I had a really fun time doing these advent calendars! I’m really not one who has ever been very imaginative or particularly good at this sort of stuff but it was extremely satisfying to see a finished product that worked and didn’t look toooo bad. And everyone seemed to really like them so that was also a massive plus! 
I’m sure any of you would be able to make a much better version if you tried!

(Hi, Sandra here.  Bethy left out one of the best things about this - the huge laugh we all got when we opened our second, accompanying  present...  Tammy opened hers first and almost collapsed with laughter.  I couldn't see what she got and couldn't imagine what it could be that would be so funny!  I opened mine and also had a great laugh.  What was it?  A good-sized plastic bag full of left-over matches! :)  If you'd like to see a photo of Bethy you can go back a few posts to Friday last week :)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Advent

I wish work wasn't so busy at the moment so that I could spend more time thinking about Christmas (instead of about work) *long, sad sigh*.  But in my spare moments, along with present and music preparations etc., I've been thinking about Advent Calendars.

When we were kids, mum and dad would do a hanging presents advent calendar. It was like a waterfall of presents and curled Christmas ribbon that hung from a hook in the corner, and ever day we would open one of the presents and share it out. Such a wonderful tradition!

This year, my friend Adele ( has been making and  selling these advent calendars online (they're pretty fabulous) -

And a couple of weeks ago my very talent sister Bethany gave us all Advent Calendars she'd made out of craft paper and matchboxes that are completely awesome (I'd tell you about them and show you pictures now, but Bethany's going to guest post next Tuesday, so she'll tell you all about them then).

It turns out there are about 5 billion different ways to make an advent calendar! I mean, if you look under google images, you'll come up a countless number of pages that each look something like this:

So what's with advent calendars?  I mean, they're cute, and so much fun, and I love (love) counting down to something I'm really excited about.  But where do they come from? What's the history?

I turned to my good friend Mr Wikipedia (and hey, you English teaching school teachers out there need to stop knocking my friend - he once helped me get an A+ on a university exam), and here's some of what he had to say:

The origins of the Advent calendar come from German Lutherans who, at least as early as the beginning of the 19th century, would count down the first 24 days of December physically. Often this meant simply drawing a chalk line on the door each day, beginning on December 1. Some families had more elaborate means of marking the days, such as lighting a new candle or hanging a little religious picture on the wall each day.
The 24 candles might also be placed on a structure, which was known as an "Advent clock". In December 1839, the first verifiable public Advent wreath was hung in the prayer hall of the Rauhes Haus (relief house) in Hamburg, although it had been a family practice in parts of German-speaking Europe since the 17th century.

The first known Advent calendar was handmade in 1851. According to the Lower Austrian  Landesmuseum, the first printed Advent calendar was produced in Hamburg in 1902 or 1903. Other authorities state that a Swabian parishioner, Gerhard Lang, was responsible for the first printed calendar, in 1908.  Lang was certainly the progenitor of today's calendar. He was a printer in the firm Reichhold & Lang of Munich who, in 1908, made 24 little colored pictures that could be affixed to a piece of cardboard. Several years later, he introduced a calendar with 24 little doors. He created and marketed at least 30 designs before his firm went out of business in the 1930s. In this same time period, Sankt Johannis Printing Company started producing religious Advent calendars, with Bible verses instead of pictures behind the doors.

The practice disappeared during World War II, apparently to save paper. After the war, Richard Sellmer of Stuttgart resurrected the commercial Advent calendar and is responsible for its widespread popularity. His company, Richard Sellmer Verlag, today maintains a stock of over 1,000,000 calendars worldwide. Other companies such as Cadbury's who specialise in the making of calendars have similar stocks, if not higher.

So it turns out that yet again we have the Germans to thank for our favourite Christmas traditions :)

But I think my favourite (recently learnt) thing about Advent Calendars, would have to be the fact that the word 'Advent' is actually an anglicized version of the Latin word 'Adventus' which means 'Coming'. 

How glorious!  The idea that what we're really doing is counting down the days until our Saviour's Coming: Wonderful. Counsellor. The Mighty God. The Everlasting Father. The Prince of Peace.

Only 13 more days to go....

xo Tammy

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Guest Post - Lauren's Gingerbread Recipe

Today's guest post is from Lauren, one of the nicest people you could ever meet!  As well as being an especially lovely person, Lauren is a talented cook.  (You might remember that she made the owl cup-cakes and Halloween cookies at Tammy's Halloween birthday party?)  You can find more from Lauren on her own Blog here.)

Hello lovely readers of Patches of Heaven! I blog over at Living Loved!  This recipe is one of my favourite things to bake and is always a hit at Christmas, so when I was asked to write a post I knew that this is what I wanted to share!

Gingerbread: 125g butter 1/2 cup treacle (golden syrup will do if you don't have treacle) 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar 1 egg yolk 1 tablespoon ground ginger 2 teaspoons mixed spice 1 teaspoon bi-carb soda 2 1/2 cups self  raising flour, sifted Icing 11/3 icing sugar 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 egg white 1. Preheat oven to 180/160 degrees fan forced.. 2. Combine butter, treacle and brown sugar in a small pan and melt. Remove to a bowl and cool. 3. Stir in egg yolk and remaining dry ingredients to form a soft dough. 4. Turn onto plastic wrap and press into a flat disc. Rest in fridge for an hour. 5. Roll dough to 7-8mm thick on a lightly floured surface and cut gingerbread with cookie cutter of your choice. 6. Place on baking paper-lined tray and bake for 7-10mins until firm. 7. Stand on tray for 5 mins then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. 8. Decorate as desired!   Quick tip for you: Gingerbread is all about it's time in the oven, so while I've outlined a time, play around with it when making your first batch and you can decide what works best for you!

Quick tip for you: Gingerbread is all about it's time in the oven, so while I've outlined a time, play around with it when making your first batch and you can decide what works best for you!