Little things in life make the biggest difference

It’s the little things in life that make the biggest difference.

‘What did you miss?’ I asked my husband Chris when I returned from several trips interstate to visit family–for the first time without him.

‘The silliest things,’ he said as he tilted his head, like he does when he’s thinking deeply. ‘It seemed so strange that I’d put things away in the morning before I went to work, and they’d still be there when I came back home at night.’

I grinned at him and he grinned back. Each of us knew better than to ask whether that was a good or a bad thing.

Little Things

He’s taught me more about the little things over the past 30 years than I thought possible; that a kind word diffuses anger; how doing the mundane small jobs that need to be done, but never complaining, grows fondness in the observer’s heart; that finding the good in everyone you meet helps laughter to ring out in your house every day; how pain is less burdensome if someone listens and cares; that children delight in laughter and lightheartedness…and terrible, repeated dad-jokes that never get funnier; how picking up things left all over the house by those of us who are easily distracted, can be done without getting annoyed; that brewing a coffee in the morning when it’s seven degrees in the kitchen shows love of the deepest kind; how love never gives up.

 

Attitude is almost everything

Chris has shown me that it’s not simply what he does, but his attitude towards the little things in life that helps him to love more deeply, more practically, more effectively. He believes that everything is better with a good attitude towards whatever happens and that’s how he lives his life.

In every little thing, he has the attitude that it is good. If the weather is cold, that means it is good for running on the beach. When the weather is sunny, then it’s a great day to swim at the beach. If the beach is nowhere in sight, then whatever the weather, it’s a great day to be dreaming about running and swimming at the beach.

When a person is annoying, he digs until he can find the positive. If something hurts, he compares it with a time when he felt much worse, and another story ensues. When money is tight, he finds a small thing in the garden and brings it to my notice. On the very rare occasions that he loses his patience, he goes for a run and dreams he is kicking the footy through goal posts. And his demeanour returns to normal; easy going, not hassled about too much, unflappable, cool, calm, collected.

Is he perfect? Not quite

His attitude is catchy. It’s taken 30 years, but he’s taught me to be more settled. Calmer.

Side note here:  Telling me to ‘calm down’ never worked, but his example did.

He brought up the kids calmly. His energy level seems to almost never run out. But when it does, he has strategies such as lying down on the ground and letting kids climb all over him. He’s never been a great reader, so instead of reading to the kids at night, he used to tell them stories about when he was a little boy. He often fell asleep next to them – and they thought that was wonderful.

I understand that he has a similar effect on his co-workers. His positive attitude helps him (usually) to rise above politics and personality issues, and to keep looking for the good in all. And he becomes confidante because he quietly listens and accepts, and then just gets on with his job.

Is he perfect? Not quite. But his attitude and action in the small things help make this marriage great.

Small things, often.

The Gottman Institute have studied hundreds of couples over the past 35 years. They’ve studied the difference between what they call ‘Masters and Disasters’ of Relationships. One of the most important secrets they’ve identified is doing small things often.

Small things often: Do small things, say kind things often, and make frequent choices to have a good attitude to the little things in life. And while you’re not looking, your life becomes truly blessed.

P.S. I’ve written this while he’s away. Perhaps it says, more than anything else, I miss him.

 

 

A Solo Adventure: Another Way To Leave Your Mother

Number four child left on his first ever solo adventure a couple of days ago. After 27 years of having at least one at home, that was bound to create some upheavals in his mother’s heart. But not quite in the way I expected.

He was supposed to make sure his room was ‘sparkling’ clean before he left.

He didn’t.

Instead, his sister visited and created somewhat of a loving distraction. We left early for the airport, and I didn’t check his room – or even that end of the house, where his room is adjacent to my office.

The next morning, as I went to my office I couldn’t help but notice through his wide-open bedroom door that his room looked like a train-wreck.

So, I did what mothers who are left with a suddenly empty house might do. I ignored my writing and went into his room to do a bit of a tidy–a rare event in this house.

I headed towards his bed to change the sheets to summer-weight sheets. But a grocery bag at the end of the bed stole my attention.  In it were two bottles of Coke.

I hate Coke.

Possibly a remnant of living in Memphis for long enough to discover that a typical Memphis breakfast was Coke and donuts, I have developed an aversion to Coke – much to the disdain of my sons. They know I hate it. They know I’ve banned it from bedrooms. And if they want to bring it here into my house, it’s on rations – like wine or beer or anything that to me should be a ‘sometimes’ thing.

So, grumpy me grabbed the bag, pulled the two two-litre bottles of Coke out of the bag and took them to the kitchen. One of them was full.

Unfortunately, it was the full bottle that I chose to up-end first into the drain of the sink. As the top of the bottle neared the lowest part of the sink, I loosened the cap.

What I probably should have realized was that the Coke was warm. And travelling from one end of the house to the other, it was slightly shaken up. And tipping it upside-down into the sink exacerbated the shaking up process.

But I didn’t think about that until…

Let’s just say that an exploding, previously unopened, warm and shaken up two-litre bottle of Coke sprays E V E R Y W H E R E !!!!!!

I had only just had my shower. But now Coke was in my hair and up my nose; in my eyes and trickling down the inside and outside of my glasses; my shirt was soaked through–my trousers were too.

I dripped all the way down to the bathroom where I had my second shower and shampoo in five minutes.

And then I returned to the kitchen.

WHAT A MESS!

Coke was on the bench and on the walls, all over the ceiling and the floor, over the windows and the door. I returned at least seven times to the kitchen only to find more splashes of Coke over cupboards and utensils up to three metres away.

The walls and everything else is splattered

and my will is shattered.

My desire to clean is diminished.

From now on I’ll make sure

That he closes the door

When he says that his cleaning is FINISHED.

 

Julie Hahn 25/10/2017

 

 

 

STOP, THINK, ACT: The ABCs of what to do next

I used to give a STOP, THINK, ACT handout to parents.  Initially it was so they could remind kids to STOP, THINK then ACT before rushing into things inevitably got them into trouble.

Later, I tweaked it a little to incorporate feelings. I learnt that before any child can think clearly,  they need to be able to acknowledge what they’re feeling.

Many of the dads came up to me several weeks after their handout  made it onto the fridge in their home.

‘You know that “STOP. FEEL & THINK. ACT” thing you gave us for the kids? It works for me too. It reminds me to stop before I yell or smack. Thanks!’

 

The more I deal with parents, the more I discover that parenting kids involves learning about ourselves in the process.

So, here’s the adultified version of the ABC’s of Stop, Think, Act.

The ABC’s of STOP, THINK, ACT.

How do we continue with life when so many things around us are too horrible to contemplate – but they don’t actually affect us?
When dozens are massacred in a place we know of; When shots are fired at a house on the next block; When lives have been shattered through motor vehicle accidents; When someone else is diagnosed with cancer; When arbitrary decisions made by people who should know better affect families who deserve better; When jobs and the economy are unstable.

We can climb into our shells and pretend the world doesn’t exist.

Or we can:

STOP.

FEEL, ACKNOWLEDGE, THINK.

ACT

STOP.

Before you do anything else, especially if it’s going to lead you or someone else into trouble, STOP – long enough to take a breath.

FEEL & ACKNOWLEDGE. THINK & PLAN

What are your feelings?

Are they coming from now?  Are they protecting you and telling you to run for your life or to seek shelter or care for others?

Then fight or flee, or tend and find others to be with. 

Or are they coming from the past? Are they protecting you – or are they paralysing you in panic, causing the child in you to fear something you have never been helped to deal with?  Then make an appointment with yourself to sort through them when you’re out of the current situation. But NOT right now.

But What to do now? Think and PLAN

Identify what is outside of your control. Be aware of it, but hand it over to someone bigger, stronger, wiser or kind for the moment. Pray. Dig down deep and dump it in a place where you can pick it up and be helped to deal with it later.

Worrying about something outside of your control cripples you from doing what you CAN do.

Concentrate on what is within YOUR control?

What CAN you do?

 

ABCs of what you CAN do:

  • A – Acknowledge – ‘All I can do is all I can do, and all I can do is enough’
  • B – Breathe
  • C – Create something beautiful or useful
  • D – Donate your time, talent or treasure
  • E – Encourage others with your words, your presence, your attitude, your actions
  • F – Find help to deal with those emotions from the past

You may not make a big difference in the whole scheme of things,

But you can make an enormous difference in the life of another.

ACT.

Put your plans into action. Take tiny steps forward into doing something positive. And you’ll take your thoughts under control in the process.

Ideas: 

Volunteer in a local op-shop; or Meals-on-Wheels; in a hospital or nursing home; mow a lawn or weed a garden; take immigrants/students for driving practice;  sell sausages for charities at your local hardware store; take a dog for a walk; hang up washing or sort clothes for an overwhelmed mum or dad; hold a baby; bake a cake with a teenager; cook a meal for a neighbour; listen to kids reading in school; sweep up in a Men’s Shed; grow fruit & vegetables for a Grow Free cart; work in a community garden; join a choir; teach a child to play an instrument; make costumes or props for a school concert; edit a newsletter; write to your politician or newspaper; join a quilting group …

Please add your ideas in the comments section below.

 

As adults we have the ability to determine what is within and outside of our control. Stop. Feel & Acknowledge, Think & Plan helps us to remember that we CAN take control of the next moment.

Inspired by: Ephesians 5:15-17

‘Live life then, with a due sense of responsibilitiy, not as people who do not know the meaning of life but as those who do. 

Make the best use of your time, despite the evils of these days. Don’t be vague, but firmly grasp what you know to be the will of the Lord.’  Phillips

 

 

 

 

 

Marriage… My response to someone’s post about whether to stick at it.

Twenty years ago my husband and I faced this (decision about whether we stick it out), except that we had both committed to each other for life. We are both really, really, stubborn.
We had a practice of holding hands while we argued–you can’t throw things when you hold hands.
Life was awful for both of us and our 3 kids.

One day, we held hands, and I told him that I couldn’t continue as we were…and I was stuck with him…we could not separate due to our circumstances and our commitment.

We realised that we could continue miserably, or make changes together.

We scrubbed out the ‘d’ word from our dictionary, thus removing exit strategies. And we intentionally laughed and restored positive things into our lives.

20 years later, the changes mean that we’re more in love than we thought was possible. Our 4 kids have grown up in a loving AND FUN home. And we are SO thankful that we were Stuck in a situation we couldn’t get out of, way back then.

Our experience tells us that life can improve. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.
But to change together gives more strength to change successfully.

My Bad Hair-Cut Day

My Bad Haircut Day

Ok. I admit it. I’m a bit precious about my hair – something I have in common with many people I think.

It seems that those of us like me, who have naturally straight hair, spend as much time and effort in trying to make it curl as those who have curly hair spend straightening it. Then there are those who, like my husband, would be proud to have any hair on their very shiny, bald heads.

To those of us who have dead-straight hair, with cowlicks and double-crowns for added interest, a hairdresser who can cope with our hair is like a rare jewel. We keep regular appointments, and will virtually camp outside of the salon in case there happens to be a vacancy, if for some reason we’ve forgotten to book our appointment six weeks in advance.  

I had one of those hairdressers recently. We formed a close enough bond that we exchanged mobile phone numbers when she moved salons.

But four haircuts ago, as she cut my hair she told me she was having a change in her career path. Outwardly I smiled and nodded – being very careful to nod in between snips so I didn’t accidentally lose an ear. But inwardly I was screaming,

‘NOOOOoooooooOOOOOH!’

Being the great actress I can be, I congratulated her and wished her all the best – while secretly and selfishly wishing that it would not work out!

Since then, I’ve been experimenting with hairdressers. I’ve really tried hard not to be too precious about it. My first haircut with a new hairdresser was not too bad. So I returned six weeks later, but unfortunately timed it at the end of a very busy Saturday. The haircut took a week to settle, but it was alright. So I went back to the same salon for the next haircut.

I smiled at the stranger behind the counter, and she took my name and number and made an appointment for me for the next day. The next day, she cut my hair.

Well, I’m still not really sure what the cut looks like or whether I like it. Usually hairdressers have a way of ‘selling’ my new cut to me. While I’m sitting in the chair looking in the mirror and waiting for them to wave their magic wand, they grab some styling gel – or in my case, some stuff literally called ‘muk’ which closely resembles putty. They fool around with my very short locks, sticking up bits that refuse to stick up if they’re un-mukked, and plastering down other bits. Somehow, they have me believing I’m gorgeous!

Not this day! The cut was finished. Precise and closely resembling a pom-pom, I wasn’t quite sure how the hairdresser would putty it. She didn’t. She moved over to the cash till and I gathered my glasses and my handbag and walked over to the cash till too. I waited for the shock of the cost. But I wasn’t ready for her next question.

‘Do you have a Seniors Card?’

My outer-actress face smiled and said ‘No’.

Inside, my heart was sinking. I thought, ‘You’ve just spent 20 minutes with me talking about yourself and your views and you’ve just commented that I don’t have many grey hairs yet. I’m only just 50. I was here to have a spiffy haircut and feel better about myself, and now you’re asking if I have a Seniors Card.’

I must say that my retelling of my story at bible-study later that night created much more humour at my expense than I anticipated.

Once I had calmed down a bit I thought back to this hairdresser who in reality had followed my instructions, but just failed in her sales pitch. I thought of the power of her few tiny words.

I know of only some of the pain I’ve caused others because of my thoughtless words. I have known no greater anguish than when I hurt others with hastily written words which were distributed unedited. Thank God, these days I have several editors who get back to me about these articles.

‘Are you sure that you want to say this?’

‘Are you aware it could be taken differently than you intend?’

‘Is that what you really meant to say?’

Wouldn’t it be great in real life to have an editor to take with me, to check my words before they leave my mouth?

Sometimes words themselves can be quite inert

As I was trying to write the rest of this article, I heard a loud yell from one of our kid’s rooms.

‘A hundred and thirty dollars?’

Sometimes words themselves can be quite inert. Nobody would raise an eyebrow at a hundred and thirty dollars if they had just checked through the contents of a supermarket trolley, or if they’d paid for a car service. But the way in which we say words often speaks more loudly than the words themselves could ever say.

I love a part of the movie ‘Three men and a baby’ where one of the three ‘dads’ read to the baby from a magazine about wrestling. His intonation was gentle and soothing, so it was not long before the baby was asleep.

When our kids were little, we used to sing a song

‘Keep your tongue from evil, keep your tongue’ (click, click, click – went our tongues!) 

For a verse we would grab hold of our tongues with our fingers – literally.It was a fun song.

But today as I write I think that I should take that song more seriously. If I can’t physically take hold of my tongue, I can practise to be quieter – to listen to others rather than offer them my words of wisdom. I can respond to emails or Facebook, but write a draft somewhere else to give me time to process what I’m really trying to say. Perhaps sleep on it before I post. I can avoid ever becoming a tweeter because hastily written or said words have always got me into trouble.

And I can always check and recheck that my words are like honey, for tomorrow, I may have to eat them.  

 

First published in The Lutheran magazine, November 2013 as ‘My Bad Hair-Cut Day’.

Parenting: It’s About YOUR Family Values

Parenting: It’s About YOUR Family Values.

Our baby group began in the hospital.

Four of us delivered beautiful babies within a couple days of each other, and met as we waddled down the corridors, pushing our babies in their clear bassinettes. We discovered that we lived close to each other, and decided to meet up. We each brought a friend to our first meeting, and continued to gather regularly to support, laugh and cry together.

We shared our problems with breastfeeding: some had no milk and some had too much. Some had sleep, others had little. We excitedly phoned each other when our babies cut their first teeth, and rolled over for the first time – Well everybody else phoned when their baby rolled over. Our baby rolled over off the side of the bed, landing on her head – with both of us watching. So our excited phone-call was to the doctor!

Then, the babies began to walk. From then on, they proceeded to ‘explore’ or ‘get into mischief’ – depending on which school of thought we came from. Out came the virtual daggers that ripped each other’s views of parenting into shreds. Some were in favour of smacking while others were opposed to it. Some had schedules for sleeping times, while others had baby-led regimes.

Out of our regard for each other, we celebrated a combined first birthday, and officially ended our group. We recognised that our views differed enough to become a barrier to our friendship if we continued to meet up under the same circumstances.

Our ‘babies’ are now well into their twenties. All of them are beautiful, healthy, loving young adults – despite their parents’ different approaches to parenting. Occasionally we bump into the other parents and we share what our young adults are up to. We are still friends – probably because we chose to focus on things other than the behaviour of each other’s children.

We all wanted to do our very best for our families. But unfortunately, that was often framed in a very black and white viewpoint – certainly one that was clouded by lack of sleep, childhood illnesses, current hypotheses on child-rearing and the different backgrounds and beliefs of each of our families.

That initial experience of parenting groups was enough to make me seek friendships and mentoring outside of a focus on children. Perhaps I subconsciously recognised that other parents of children the same age as mine were caught up in the same boat as me. So I maintained friendships with older, more experienced parents through craft groups and bible studies. Through informal discussions, I found their objective views were much more helpful. Perhaps the most encouraging message they gave me was that they had survived.

At one stage, a group of older members of our congregation organised a parenting course presented by Ross Campbell, author of ‘How to really love your child’ and Gary Chapman, author of ‘The Five Love Languages’. The course was great and the kids had a good time too. They were fed pizza and cared for while we learnt to enjoy our kids…and really love them in a way they could understand. These days, we try to encourage and mentor parents as we were encouraged and mentored.

We recognise that there is a whole world full of different parenting philosophies and practices today. Each family is different from every other family.  So we encourage families to note and treasure those differences.

Some families have found it useful to make their own Family Values Ladder. Parents each make a list of what is important to them such as: education, trust, sharing, honesty, God-loving. Then they share their ideas and together prioritise them according to what they believe to be most important to their family. It’s useful to involve the kids in this process.  Just a word of caution: Taking your teens to the local KFC to do this activity while their friends are working a shift behind the counter is not a good idea…Don’t ask me how I know that!

Family Values Ladders 

Together with your partner, work out which values you hold to most strongly, and write them on a ladder such as this.

‘Family Values Ladders’ help keep family ‘challenges’ in perspective. For example, if ‘kindness’ is high on the family value ladder, while ‘keeping up with fashion’ is further down the ladder, mum and dad might choose to focus on encouraging kindness in their family, rather than arguing with their children about which t-shirt they should wear.

These days I encourage all parents to attend courses, read books, watch dvds or television programmes that teach about child development and relationships. There are some words of caution I usually give:

  • Parenting courses, parenting groups and parenting advice that is useful should leave you with a feeling of ‘I can do that’, no matter how well (or not) you have been doing.
  • Good parenting courses should back-up other good parenting courses
  • If some advice you hear is contrary to what others are saying, check it out! Find out the evidence and the original source of the information and compare it.
  • If your heart is telling you that something is not right, ask yourself, “Is this showing love, and does it practice respect for all concerned?’
  • Ask questions! Don’t take any advice as ‘gospel’ without questioning it – and especially, check out the context of biblical references if they are quoted.

Perhaps the wisest words of advice we’ve ever received are from Ian Grant, author of ‘Growing Great Families!’ *

‘If you’re having fun being a parent you’re probably doing it about right!’

*http://www.theparentingplace.com

The Nest Is But An Empty Shell.

The nest is but an empty shell. It sits on the lowest branch of our neighbour’s palm tree. I can see it from my window as I write.

To look at it now, in mid-winter Adelaide, it looks cold, hard and lifeless.

A pair of Murray Magpies built it from mud last Spring. Then they took it in turns to bring materials to line it with warmth and love–and a Murray-Magpie-mud-nest-full of our roof insulation. We had enough to share.

Over the next few weeks the birds kept the nest warm and each other company much of the time. Of course, they may well have been guarding the nest from neighbourhood cats and possums. Beware anything that gets between a Murray-Magpie-mum and her eggs!

The day arrived that we saw tiny beaks poke up to be shoved full of whatever mum and dad bird collected.

But, as happens, the chicks grew–too big for the nest. The chicks flew away.

Too soon the nest was empty.

Summer passed. Autumn too.

And now, Winter sits. Its long, dark clouds hang like a lifeless shroud.

The nest is but an empty shell. It sits and sways on a dying palm branch, waiting silently for the warmth of Spring that promises new life and love.

And this empty shell, from which I watch, fills with the warmth of hope.

 

Julie Hahn 12th August 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where is the Green Yaris?

My plans to fly interstate to see my newest relative changed suddenly.  Instead of spending hours trying to find suitable flights and coordinating train trips, Chris and I found ourselves on the road, in our green Yaris, four days after my sister requested some company.

We tend to have the approach that a holiday isn’t just about the destination – but in the way of travelling. So we take our time to get to wherever we go, and make the most of the scenery and the people along the way. And we hate being in a rush.

There were several slight hiccups before we left

including a sudden shower of water over my feet as I sat in the passenger seat of the Yaris the night before we left.

Adelaide received yet another hail-storm that night. The hail missed our place, but we had a downpour big enough to confuse me. Was the splashing on my feet and the slushy sound in the front of the car due to the rain or had something gone wrong in the engine?

A search on you-tube helped me identify the source of the problem. Armed with very pointy tweezers I removed several leaves that clogged the outlet to the hose that should drain the condensation from the air-conditioner. Fixed!

Instead of leaving before the birds, we left after lunch – and headed to stay with a cousin in Mildura.

The reception by the cousin’s two small children was a little cool initially – until I produced a book from my bag –

‘The Book with No Pictures’.

‘I LOVE THAT BOOK!’

yelled the smaller of the two children, who grabbed my hand, took me over to the couch and climbed up next to me. Then he called to his bigger sister,

‘You’ve gotta hear this. It’s SO funny!’

The three of us sat and giggled, and their mum and dad and Chris came up close enough to discover what was going on, but far enough away so they didn’t look too interested.

Next morning, we left before the birds woke up and headed to Balranald – or so we thought. Let’s just say that Siri got lost. Siri is not intimately acquainted with Irymple – so before long, we discovered that we’d gone a full circle.

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The next time around we followed the street signs instead of the i-phone, and before we knew it, we were in soggy Balranald.

We spoke to the attendant at the servo about the water we’d seen the whole way from Mildura. She pointed out the water behind the caravan park rising up from the Murrumbidgee River. ‘Hopefully it won’t get much higher,’ she said.

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As we entered Hay, a sign said that the West Wyalong road was open. The driver who shall remain nameless rarely takes notice of signs. The navigator at that stage didn’t take much notice of that sign either. We stopped at a  pub for a coffee and a muffin.

A few years ago, we passed through Hay in the middle of a drought when there were puddles where the river should have been. This time, the river filled its banks and the rest of the place was green and sodden.

It wasn’t until we recognized that there were many, many road teams attending the road between West Wyalong and Forbes, and lots and lots of holes where the road used to be, that we remembered the sign that informed us and everyone else that the road was open. It had been flooded for weeks apparently. And  re-opened only the day before we drove upon it.

At Forbes we filled up our petrol tank, and a little further on stopped at McFeeters Motor Museum for a coffee. A cafe inside the museum hosted a bee-hive in a transparent perspex box to promote its ‘Buzz In’ honey shop and educate coffee-sippers like us.

The bees fascinated us.

The bees formed honey bee-chains–I wanted to write human-chains as an illustration–to bridge the gap between  the base of the box and the tray specifically provided for them to build their hive. The bees looked as though they were training for Cirque-de-Soleil and creating their own ‘Wheel of Death’.

On to our new friend’s home on a farm just out of Orange. We were treated to good ol’ fashioned hospitality, yummy food, lots of play and stories with their three-year-old and cuddles with their brand-new-baby.

The evening was full of story-telling, dancing and laughing. It included an impromptu duet performance by me on the piano, and our new friend Dave on pedal organ. We played whichever songs we both knew – which weren’t abundant. But we achieved playing several well enough that the others could recognize them and sing along – well, almost.

I surprised myself that, with a push, I could actually play by ear, and add accompaniment. Thanks for the push, Dave!

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The next morning, I got in the way in the kitchen while Chris ‘helped’ Dave outside doing ‘farm-work’ – but that’s another story.

 

Chris’s Morning on the Farm: Dog and Sheep Stories

Our morning at our new friends’ farm began much later than we expected. We rarely sleep in, but slept through baby’s squawks, Dave having breakfast, and a three year old who wanted to play.

We had the best breakfast! Milk straight from the cow. Eggs straight from the chooks. Bacon – from the friends of the pigs.

Then Chris went with Dave and the sheep dogs to help sort the sheep. ‘Help’ is a rather generous word, by all accounts.

They had to separate the girl sheep from the boy sheep. Chris, being from a farm himself, does know the difference and how to tell. But, try as he might, he could not identify which was which quickly enough to help Dave. By the time he thought he’d identified one sheep, Dave had sorted about four and had swung the gate one way or the other, to separate them into boy and girl pens.

In the end, Chris asked Dave how he could identify them so quickly.

‘Easy!’ Dave laughed. ‘Every sheep has an ear-tag. The boys on their left ear, the girls on their right. I just swing the gate according to which ear their tag is on.’

I think Chris was a little embarrassed, but he told me the story anyway.

Three Sheep Dogs

But his favourite story was about the farm’s three sheep dogs.

Dot, the smallest dog, is a sheep-dog-in-training. To our untrained eyes he looks like a Kelpie. He was efficient and obedient. Despite being the size of a medium-sized puppy, Dot knew where to be and how to convince the sheep where they should be.

Lucy, the biggest dog, was hopeless…well, as far as usefulness on a farm. A Maremma, a guardian of the sheep, Lucy flunked out of ‘guardian of the sheep’ school. Chris described Lucy’s ability to tend and guard the sheep as ‘She just thinks she is a sheep’.

Then there was Lambie. Apparently, Lambie was quite effective at rounding up the sheep and getting them to go wherever Dave wanted them to go.

The only trouble was that nobody has ever told Lambie that she is not a dog. She is a hand-reared sheep. She grew up around the house with Dot and Lucy and does everything with her two doggy-companions.

Even when Dave tried to intermingle Lambie back into the flock, that only lasted until Dave and the dogs headed back home. Then she’d split from the flock and rejoin her ‘family’ at the back door of the house.

So Dave was blessed with a puppy training to be a sheep-dog, a dog that thought she was a sheep, and a sheep that thought she was a dog.

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…◊…

Messy Christmas!

Christmas Pageant day was pudding day. As the family had done for years, on the first Saturday in November, they went together to the Christmas pageant on the Saturday morning and then returned home to make the pudding.

Round, huge and destined to be delicious, the pudding hung from the rafters for the next six weeks in preparation for Christmas dinner. The pudding was a constant reminder of the tastes, smells and rituals that the family celebrated each year. 2008-04-22-18-46-23

At last the time came for Christmas dinner.

The main course was eaten and enjoyed.

It was time for the pudding.

However, when it came to the ritual of the pudding flambé, the brandy was missing — presumably drunk.

Not to worry! The hostess, being quite resourceful, scoured through her pantry for an equally flammable spirit.

‘Oh that will do!’ she exclaimed as she found a little bottle of spirit at the back of the pantry. She quickly loosened the cap, briefly smelt it and announced, ‘Essence of Lemon’. Thankful that the flambé ritual was saved, she poured the entire contents of the bottle over the pudding in the middle of the dinner table.

By this time someone else had found the matches and then proceeded to ignite the pudding.

‘Whoosh!’

Enormous flames engulfed the pudding and very nearly reached the ceiling.

The first casualty was the holly on top of the pudding, which shrivelled into a remnant of its former glory.

The next casualty was the decorative plastic table runner. It melted into a blackened heap and sent off sparks onto the tablecloth, which acquired several random holes and scorch marks.

But the pudding was saved, and, after the fire was out, eventually devoured.

It was only later, during the after-Christmas cleanup, that the source of the extraordinarily energetic flambé was discovered. Somebody else picked up the ‘Essence of Lemon’ bottle, and, using  considerably better eye-sight than that of the hostess, read the label.

‘Citronella’.

Fortunately, no ill effects resulted from the accidental ingestion of Citronella-flambéd pudding—apart from an acute case of embarrassment by the hostess.

But all the family agreed that the mosquitoes didn’t seem to bother them as much that summer!

…◊…

Some of our Christmas memories are like this funny and true story, aren’t they? They are a mixture of tradition and variations on the theme.

Christmas is one of those annual events that bring back many memories — good or bad, depending on our own life experiences.

I know many, many people who hate thinking about Christmas because of the fuss and bother that goes along with it. For some it is the time their family has the biggest arguments.

I know others who love getting together with family and who believe it really is the happiest time of the year. And still others who religiously disappear to the beach to avoid any possible reminder of Christmas.

For many of us, Christmas is one of the saddest times of the year as, for whatever reason, we are separated from our loved ones.

Whether we love or hate Christmas, we tend to develop our own rituals around it — to celebrate it or to avoid it.

…◊…

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I had a sad moment when I spoke about the Christmas pageant with my youngest.

‘Are you going to the pageant this year?’ I asked  him, remembering the panic he’d thrown the rest of us into when he decided he was going to the pageant, with or without us. He dressed and headed for the bus while the rest of us were still in bed. He’d never caught the bus by himself before, and he had no idea of where the pageant was. Fortunately, one of his older siblings was able to catch up with him and they went together to the pageant.

But this year, he’s grown up and he gave me the answer every mother dreads, ‘No, I’m too old for the pageant!’

…◊…

Christmas traditions have their moments. Some we grow out of. Some we never want to lose. Some should perhaps have never been there in the first place. But not all of them help us to focus on Christmas.

What we focus on grows. Focus on the Christmas dinner that isn’t cooked in the way we would do it, and bitterness and jealousy grow.  Focus on the relationships that aren’t easy – and Christmas cheer grows into hatred.  Focus on Jesus in the manger, and see a king who humbled himself – and our view of Christmas changes.

…◊…

I went to see my daughter perform in several school plays about the cynical views of Christmas. In one play, Santa’s elves went on strike because of lack of pay and appreciation from a particularly consumerist Santa. But, in the spirit of Christmas, the elves returned to work to perpetuate joy and peace, and demonstrated love that gives and gives, despite the rubbish that bad-Santa dealt out.

In every play, peace and goodwill (eventually) overcame the evil and cynicism, and left the audience with several challenges on which to ponder.

It reminded me that my attitude towards Christmas could be like that of the grumpy, greedy Santa, or that of the elves who chose to love anyway.

…◊…

Christmas is about true love—not the wishy-washy, sterile variety we see on the movies that leaves us with a fuzzy hope for a ‘happily ever after’.

It’s about Mary putting herself in a precarious place for the rest of humanity.

It’s about Joseph saying ‘Yes’ to a dream that told him to marry the girl who was in trouble in the eyes of her people.

It’s about Jesus — the one who was there in the beginning of creation, humbling himself to become one of us, in the lowliest form possible — a baby in an animal’s feed trough.

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It’s about the love that is messy; the love that hurts; the love that overcomes the pain; the love that hurts most when somebody else is hurting; the love that makes you want to go through the pain yourself so your loved one doesn’t have to.

It’s about us putting God’s love ahead of our embarrassment and risking life itself to give God’s love to others.

It’s about Jesus giving up his crown to live like us, with us, for us — for always.

As we draw closer to Christmas, may you be truly blessed with a new way of seeing Christmas, and a new understanding of the love that never ends.

Special thanks to the teller of the story – who shall remain anonymous to protect the identity of the not-so-innocent.

Previously published in The LutheranDecember 2010 edition.