How an Icecream Won the War

What our five-year-old daughter wore to school each day had become a battle – so much so, that every morning we’d have another screaming match.

“You will, I won’t … I will, you won’t”.

Every morning at least one of us would end up in tears, and often one of us would end up with a spanked bottom.

One day an experienced grandma advised me to ”choose your battles.” Her wise words encouraged me to take a step back to see what was really happening.

A look from a different perspective enabled me to see that my daughter was trying to assert her independence as a part of growing up. But I was afraid that she was leaving me, so I tried to control her, in every aspect of her life.

Sure, I needed to have my daughter’s respect, but I also needed to show respect to my daughter and allow her to grow up and take on more responsibility and choices as she grew.



We soon solved the “clothes war”.

We went for our first ever “date” –which became a family custom and we continued with all of our children, individually.

Over an ice-cream, we made a mutual decision: My daughter could choose what to wear from Monday to Saturday.  But I had final say on Sunday mornings and special occasions, and I chose the clothes to weddings.


Grandma’s words helped me to realise that if I were to continue to fuss over every aspect of my daughter’s life, there would  come a time when I would really need to “make a point”. Then how would my daughter distinguish between what I believed was really important and what was “just a fuss”?

Ultimately, fussing over little things did not gain my daughter’s respect – just her resentment.

The difference between life and death

Little things like whether her shirt matched her shorts, or how she wore her hair did not really matter in a world where decisions about drugs, alcohol, sex and fast cars can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Saving my “fussing” for those issues that were important helped my daughter learn how to make wise choices.  And as she entered the pre-teens, equipped her to face the “grey issues”. As she grew older, the grey issues became still greyer, but she became more confident in her decision making, having had years of experience.


Twenty-plus years after the “clothes war” we still talk about the big and little issues with great respect and much love for each other.  We still have different tastes in clothes, and ice-cream is still our favourite date.


First published in The Lutheran

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.


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:





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.


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.


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


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






The Crystal Bowl

The crystal bowl
A wedding gift
too precious to be broken
too beautiful to be stuck at the back of a cupboard

So, placed on a bench
Where the sun shone through the window

Rainbows danced on the wall
As the sun rose and set and the clouds moved around the sky


The bowl sat

Proudly for a while

Dusted regularly

Occasionally washed
in hot, soapy water
atop a folded tea-towel at the bottom of the sink

It remained on the bench for years
Just out of reach of sticky, inquisitive fingers

But when the family grew
Taller and busier
The bowl collected paraphernalia

The reliable place to find the keys
and stray coins
and springs that pop out of pens
and washers that somehow manage to find themselves loose
and lolly-wrappers
and dead batteries

No more did the sun shine through it
It lay
Clouded in dust

Ugly dust-bowl in its emptiness


When dust and teens overwhelmed her

Mother cleared it out
Washed it
In hot, soapy water

Rainbows danced in the bubbles
As she lifted the bowl from the sink

A sliver of sunlight caught a facet of the crystal

A rainbow danced on the wall in front of her

Reminding her


Restored to its proper place
on the cleared, dusted, polished bench

The crystal bowl gleamed

No room for emptiness

No lack of purpose

Full of fresh, nourishing fruit

A new depth of colour and fulfillment


The crystal bowl

Beauty in its design

Life in its purpose.




Life is like a Patchwork Quilt: Life lessons from quilts

‘You need to learn to quilt!’ a friend of mine suggested.

Our family planned to move to the USA for several years, and I worried about being isolated, at home with my three very young children. So I asked my craft group how I could meet others when we arrived there.

Having no idea what a quilt was, I soon found myself enrolling in a class with other equally silly stitchers—and so began a brand new hobby.

Twenty-four years later, I’m still quilting. I’m reluctant to tell you, though, that I’ve only recently finished some of the projects I began way back then. Now that my children are adults and I am no longer the full-time family taxi-driver, I am getting much more time to quilt. So I finish quilts in weeks rather than decades.

As I quilt, I learn about life.2016-05-11 15.43.47

Patchwork quilts are put together like a sandwich—with a bottom or backing fabric, a filling called wadding or batting, and a quilt top which is made up of lots of patches stitched together to form a whole cloth.

Quilting is the process of stitching through all three layers to keep them together. A ‘quilter’ is a generic term for anyone who does patchwork and/or quilting.

Patchwork-quilt tops are made up of different patches of all sorts of colours, shapes, sizes and textures.

Some pieces are bright and colourful. But the colours would lose their appeal if there were no contrasts. It would be like going to a party where everybody screamed for attention and nobody was happy to take notice. If life were full of only bright colours, we would be exhausted.

So in most quilts, there are neutrals. In a fabric shop they often appear bland and uninteresting; hardly noticeable. But they are the aspects of a quilt that make it work. They are like the quiet, faithful friends who keep up with what’s going on and know exactly when an encouraging or informative phone call is needed. They are the ones who often work in the background, seeing to the important stuff, even though nobody notices that it’s done—until it no longer gets done!

Quilters intentionally add pieces which are dark. Though we might not choose them as our main focus colours, they bring striking contrast to enhance all the other colours. All of us have dark chapters of our lives. We can’t chop them out without leaving gaping holes. Sometimes we can cherish them and stitch them tenderly into the fabric of our lives. Or sometimes we might even need to add a different patch, just like we mend the worn-out knees of a favourite pair of jeans. But every stitch and every patch adds more texture, depth and character.

Once we’ve made our patchwork-quilt top, we select our backing. Our backing supports everything we’ve put together in the patchwork top. It’s not usually particularly glamorous, and we often take it for granted. But without the backing, the seams of the quilt top may fray or be pulled or torn apart. It’s like the support structures we build around our lives. It’s like our friends and family, our community, our church and especially our faith.

In between the patchwork top and the backing, we sandwich the wadding. Usually I use cotton, but I’ve seen wadding made from old blankets, clothes, rags and even newspaper—anything that will add warmth to the quilt. This is like the added extras that give an extra dimension to our lives—the aspects that perhaps nobody else will ever see: the books we read to broaden our experience and understanding of others, the courses we attend, or the advice from our parents, grandparents and elders in our community. The more we put into it, the warmer it can become.

The actual quilting process is the stitching together through the sandwich of the three layers: the top, the wadding and the backing. This can be quick or slow, decorative or plain, stitched, tied or even glued. But it’s the important process that holds the quilt together. I’ve seen some quilts that have been put together poorly: After the first wash the top, wadding and backing separate, and the quilt ends up resembling an old beanbag.

Life requires some effort to keep everything together too. Good communication and some systems of order are necessary for all of the layers of life to work together and to add stability … otherwise chaos rules.

Finally, there is the binding that goes all the way around the edge.This is my favourite part—possibly because I know then that the quilt is nearly finished. I always hem the binding by hand and make every stitch with love.  Sometimes the binding on quilts becomes a little rough around the edges from wear, so we need to make the choice of putting the quilt away for safekeeping, or reinforcing it and using it again.

The third quilt I ever made had a huge mistake in it—huge to me, anyway. So it sat, unfinished, in a cupboard for fifteen years. One day I realised that all quilts, perfect or not, can keep somebody warm. I finished the quilt and gave it to a dear aunt as she was recovering from a stroke. For the next few years, for the rest of her life, she kept it on her bed as her prized possession. And not even I could see the mistake!

I learnt that we can hold on to our mistakes and allow them to clutter our lives. Or we can forgive ourselves, get on with doing what needs to be done and in the process become a blessing to others.

In the words (almost) of Forrest Gump: ‘Life is like a patchwork quilt. You never know what you’re going to get.’ But if it’s stitched together with love, even the rough patches and mistakes can keep you warm.



Originally published in The Lutheran2013, March edition.

Priority Number One

I read in a leadership post the other day, that in order to get where you want to go, you have to prioritize and let nothing get in your way – especially other people.
Yesterday, I read about putting your ‘future self’ as a priority.
So, today, I made my list of priorities, in accordance with the unwavering directions of the leadership coaches.
I began working towards Priority Number One.

The phone rang. So in the next few minutes, my daughter will arrive here, crying.

Where is leadership then?

In this mother’s heart, mothering is the leadership path I will take; today, tomorrow and into the future.

In the words of John Lennon’s song ‘Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans’.
I’ll be truly living – not fighting against the plans I may have made, but believing that what I choose to do today is the best I can do to show love – and that must always be my priority.