A Weekend in Yass

This weekend I did something I have never done before, and drove 298km south alone to the beautiful town of Yass for the Turning Wave Festival. I’ve been to this festival twice before, but never on my own. 

I’ve had a busy and sometimes stressful six months, with family commitments and casual teaching, and it turned out that this weekend was just what I needed – a change of scene; noone to please but myself for three days; hours of incredible live Irish & Australian music to listen to and be part of; good food; and plenty of sunshine and country town ambience. I also performed in an orchestra and was part of a harp class, both of which improved my harp skills immensely. 

Now I’m home again and feeling revitalised. Two weeks of school holidays don’t go astray, either. 

When did you last take a break?

When things don’t go to plan

When things don't go to plan

This week I’ve been helping my mother-in-law. On Tuesday when I took her to a specialist, she received a cancer diagnosis, her second one in 10 months. This new cancer is in the same organ of the body as the last one, but it’s a separate and different cancer to the one removed in October. But the treatment is the same – major surgery, and a few months of recovery. Hopefully that will be all that is required.  It’s a blow, to be sure.

On Wednesday I took her to the surgeon, and yesterday for two different types of scans and a GP appointment. It’s been a big few days for this gentle 85-year old and I. On Sunday she heads to hospital for surgery on Monday.

When she had her surgery last October, there were other complications in her life. A husband needing much assistance, a need to look at other options for accommodation for the two of them, a houseful of belongings to sort. Since then, my father-in-law has moved to a nursing home, their home has been decluttered and sold, and my mother-in-law has moved into a studio apartment in a retirement village. This time when she goes home after surgery and rehab, she won’t have to worry about cooking dinners or caring for her husband. She can just focus on getting well.

As for me, I’m very much feeling the pinch of being the sandwich generation. Caring for my mother-in-law (albeit sporadically, depending on the availablility of other family members), running around across Sydney fulfilling HSC requirements (Visual Arts and Music in particular), spending random chunks of my life standing waiting outside fitting rooms in teenage fashion stores, or looking for formal dresses.

And when I’ve arrived home after each of these outings, there’s not been much to eat, and yet plenty of requests for food from my girls who are old enough to cook for themselves but mostly choose not to. With four different diets in the family, eating is not straightforward. Snacks are problematic, but always in high demand. I seem to do a lot of shopping each week, but we still suffer snack shortage.

This is not the school holiday break I signed up for.

And I have a cold, so I’m just exhausted.

What was supposed to happen these holidays was a lovely weekend with extended family two weekends ago (tick! That happened, anyway!) followed by two weeks of sleeping-in, working on home projects, hours reading on a sunlit sofa, and a few pleasurable outings with my girls. That way I could recover from a few busy weeks of casual teaching at the end of last term, and be recharged to get back into it next week. Because, you know, it’s all about me.*

But we don’t always get what we want, do we?

So what do I do?

I’m trying to be grateful for each little mercy – for everything that goes right. For the moments I do get to relax, and the moments noone is demanding something of me, or arguing with me. For good health overall, and a break from the normal routine, even if it’s not entirely relaxing. For the opportunity to serve my mother-in-law and my husband’s family in this way.

And I’m clinging on to what I know is true. God loves me. God is in control. God listens to me and understands what’s going on. (Short sentences are just about all I can manage right now in this department).

But even in the last few crazy weeks, there have been times of great richness where I have learnt and understood new things about God and myself. Just yesterday I heard John Ortberg say “Your life is not your project. Your life is God’s project”. Or words to that effect. Which puts a whole new spin on things. No, I would not have chosen this last week for myself. But God did. He, who knows me intimately, and loves me more than I can understand, put me smack-bang into this week, because I am a project He is working on. I am God’s handiwork, not my own. It’s not all about me, after all.

And the fact is, things didn’t go to my plan this week, but they went exactly to God’s plan.

So I just need to learn to obey, whether that’s hard or easy, and appreciate God’s grace continually at work in me, refining me and making something beautiful out of something so flawed.

. . .

*Yes, my mother-in-law’s cancer diagnosis is a big thing and I’m not trying to be flippant about it, just hopeful that she’s going to be ok like last time, and so I’m staying positive and fairly objective about all that, and focussing on what needs to be done for her.

Slow family holiday

slow extended family holiday

The weekend before last we had a family holiday. Sixteen of us (my parents, me and my siblings, and our families), piled into a big old house at Nowra for 3 days together, something we do every two years or so, in different locations.

We played tennis, read books, ate, played music and games, watched videos, walked by the river, and ate some more. Mum provided a lot of the food, and each family cooked a dinner each. It was a lazy time for those of us who wanted to be lazy, interspersed with bursts of conversation and exercise.

And it was all good.

Good to see my nieces and nephews growing up and interacting. Good to share food, and walks, and games. Good to be together for more than a few hours at a time.

family tennis

We were fortunate that my parents could find and afford to rent an amazing house large enough for the 16 of us. Not every family could do that. But I recommend that you do try to get away somewhere, all together, whether it’s camping together, or even going on an extra long daytime picnic together. You could meet for breakfast and leave at sundown!

It doesn’t have to be a highly organised time. We just did our own things, but together, if that makes sense. But a few tips for beginners: make sure there’s plenty of food, and, most of all, make sure there’s loads of toilet paper 😉

When women gather


We stand around the kitchen island bench, mugs in hand, with kids underfoot clammering for the yummy gluten-free morning tea (that they can’t see, but know is on the bench!). We chat about everyday things, and big things too, as other women arrive.

“How was your doctor appointment?”,

“How has your week been?”

“I’ve been up since 4.30am!!”

“My daughter is driving me crazy!”

Most of us have been together in the group for years now, so friendships run deep, but the new women fit in easily, also, joined by a common love for Christ and a sense that this is a safe environment to share.

Soon the kids go into the living room for creche, and we head to another room for what we’ve gathered for – studying the bible, and praying for each other. For the next 90 minutes we read a passage of the bible, we discuss it, we ask and answer questions, and we challenge each other. The Word of God does its work quickly here, changing hearts as we come to see truths and our shortfalls, words flying fast.

A couple of babies join us, too young for the creche. Soon there will be three babies in the group. Others of us have teenagers. All of us trying to do our best in the roles we’re in – wives, mums, single mums, employees, friends, daughters.  We learn from God’s word, and each other, iron sharpening iron, as God intended.

All too soon, the morning is over and, having first prayed for each other, we head out, strengthened, but at the same time humbled, by the love we have for each other … and looking forward to next week’s bible study meeting.

Why I stopped making my own laundry liquid

making own laundry liquid

A few years back, I started making my own laundry liquid. Inspired by writers such as Rhonda Hetzel who showed me a new and more self-sufficient way of living, I learnt that the expensive commercial washing powders and liquids I had been using might be causing some of our mild skin problems and affecting the environment. And I was tired of feeling my hands stinging slightly each time I came in contact with the liquid or powders.

After some months of experimenting with homemade laundry powder with good results in our top loader, I decided to try the liquid. I followed the instructions on this post, which are also available in Rhonda’s inspiring and informative book. Soon I had several months worth of laundry liquid, made for just a few dollars! I felt proud of my efforts and the results. I had joined the ranks of frugal ‘simple living mamas’ at last! Life could only get better from here on in.

making laundry liquid

For a few years I kept making the laundry liquid, producing those bottles of frothy liquid, and feeling that sense of satisfaction each time I loaded the machine. But over time, I began to notice some things that didn’t make me so happy:

  • My washing wasn’t so white as it used to be. Rhonda had prepared me for this, and at first it didn’t bother me, but over time the whites in my summer wardrobe became greyer and dingy. I could have used some oxygen bleach along with the liquid, but that was an extra step I wasn’t prepared to do each time I washed.
  • The equipment needed to make the liquid (large bucket, large funnel, saucepan, stirrers and 8 x 2l milk bottles) took up so much room in my tiny laundry, and I really felt it in recent times, while trying to declutter the house.
  • The hassle of making it every few months (trips back and forth from laundry to kitchen to backyard, measuring powders in the kitchen, needing a second person to funnel the liquid into the bottles etc) made me procrastinate – sometimes I would revert to buying a commercial product because it was too wet/hot or I was too lazy/busy to make a fresh batch.

I realised that what was supposed to be simple was feeling anything but that.

And finally, the last couple of batches of liquid I made just didn’t work properly. In fact, I had to throw a whole batch out when the liquid solidified to the point of not pouring out of the bottle! With my collection of recycled milk bottles sitting full of white gunk in the bin, I made the decision that enough was enough, no more making laundry liquid for me at this time. (However I do believe that if I had persisted and been a little more careful I could have gone back to making great liquid as I did early on. At the time it wasn’t an option to start a fresh, we needed another 6 empty milk bottles first).

These days I select an environmentally friendly but not too expensive liquid at the supermarket. I’ve created more space in the laundry by removing the equipment I’d been storing and the multitude of full or empty bottles, and I’m convinced it was a good decision for us at this time in our life.

Have you ever found something supposed to be simple actually made life more complicated?

Over the valley

This last weekend our church held their annual houseparty, just over the valley from our home. As usual, it was a great time of learning and fun, friendship and love. But learning from the book of Daniel was hard going.

I was challenged by our speaker to think about idols. In bible times, idols were statues made of metal, clay or wood. They distracted people from the true God but filled their need to worship something. I’ve never bowed down to a statue, but all too often I’m metaphorically bowing down to something I’ve put between me and God. A person I love, an activity I enjoy, a possession I must have to make my life complete. In the book of Daniel, we see the famous story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzer’s massive gold image. They drew a line, and would not cross it. Never mind that the threat of doing so was to be burned alive in a furnace. They didn’t cross the line, and were thrown into the furnace, where, incidentally, God miraculously rescued them. But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego didn’t know how that would end when they drew the line.

All of which makes us wonder what lines I’m prepared to draw, and stick to? What am I prepared to give up, because it is taking God’s place in my life? I’ve given up a lot of possessions already, but most of those didn’t hurt to give up. I talked about it a bit here.

And as I think more about society, God-worship, and the ever-growing threat of persecution, I wonder how strongly I can stick to the line I draw? Can I face being ostracised and discriminated against, or even prison, torture, or death for the sake of knowing Jesus? I certainly hope so, because I don’t plan to turn away from Him at any time in my future.

Let the hospitality begin!

family lunch table

I’ve been plugging away at the decluttering.

1300 items have been ticked off and removed from the house, via the bin, the op shop, and the post office.

And now, at last, there is space.

On the weekend we hosted 15 family members for a big birthday lunch. For the first time, there was not too much stuff to move out of the living room or kitchen. For the first time, we could actually seat 19 people in the room, using what tables and chairs we had (or could borrow). And for the first time, there was not too much to put back in the living room after they left (even less after I did a bit more decluttering and organising the following day!).

Our eldest daughter has finally started to study upstairs in her room, rather than at the dining table, at least now while she has major exams, so that has helped enormously to keep our surfaces clear, also, in this busy room.

Since then, I’ve been enjoying our open and decluttered space so much. It was the perfect space to recover from a cold in these last few days, and to enjoy the winter sunshine streaming in.

As I sat nursing my cold, I started to read and dream again about offering hospitality. It all seems so much easier with clear space. Space to sit, to cook, to think, to plan, and free time to do it all in. I’d love to offer hospitality to anyone, even if it’s just a cup of tea. Neighbours, friends of friends, kids, strangers, anyone.  That’s my dream. That’s what’s been motivating me to declutter more this time than ever before, and goodness knows I’ve tried before.

Because people are more important than things.

I just wish it hadn’t taken me so long to understand that.

Letting Go

There are lessons in letting go and major benefits along the way – Courtney Carver of Be More With Less

Ah, the letting go. Where the rubber really hits the road.

Once you’re motivated, it’s easy enough to ditch the junk, the broken, the redundant and unattractive bits and pieces that have stayed in your home too long.

But what if you’ve done that and your home is still cluttered? That’s where I am at, I think. I’ve been decluttering for years, but I still look around and see too many items in each space. A lot of these are things I like, but there’s just too many of them. My eyes dance from one thing to the next, my mind jumping chaotically from one unrealised intention to another …

“I should …”

“I never … ”

“But …”

… leaving me with no rest and sucking  my energy from me.

But Courtney’s post reminds me of the possibility that giving up possessions may seem sacrificial at the time, but could have repercussions I haven’t even imagined. That magic might happen when I take that extra step of giving up things that are ‘perfectly good’ but taking up space.

After all, it works for trees, doesn’t it? By letting go of their autumn leaves, they leave room for the magic of new growth and beauty to emerge each spring.