Tag Archives: Christmas

Christmas 1921 with Ethel Turner and the Sunbeamers

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

After providing a brief sketch of the state of play during Christmas 1921 in my previous post, we’re now going to spend Christmas 1921 with famous English-Australian author, Ethel Turner, whose first novel: Seven Little Australians placed her up on the international literary stage. However, she also wrote 39 other novels, and of more relevance to us, she edited a string of children’s pages in various publications, and it’s here where we’ll be touching down.

Born on the 24th January, 1870, Ethel Turner was 51 years old in 1921, and a year younger than I am now. She was married to Judge Herbert Curlewis and they were living at their home in Avenel, Mosman, Sydney although they spent Christmas 1921 at Palm Beach. Daughter, Jean,  was twenty-three, and son Adrian was twenty and studying Law at Sydney University. By Christmas 1921, Ethel Turner had had 22 of her handwritten  novels published, and King Anne was her offering for the year. She was famous.

However, for Ethel Turner it wasn’t the empty fame of celebrity. Rather, there was a strong sense of purpose and a desire to make a difference, and do good. While I can be dangerous to interpret Three Little Maids as being purely biographical, there is also much truth and Dolly (who is said to be Ethel) made this statement about becoming an author: “One night…I felt I must do something. I felt I couldn’t just go on doing little things always,-staying at home and helping, and going to dances, and playing tennis. I used to think I should like to go as a missionary, – not to China, of course, only somewhere here where people were very poor and miserable. But that night I didn’t seem to want anything but to write books that people would love to read, and that might do them some good.[1]

This aspect of Ethel Turner is often lost….the visionary, the world-changer, the woman who had experienced financial hardship as a child and relocated across the world for a better life, worked hard and overcome. She’s simply viewed through the lens of Seven Little Australians as though she were a one book wonder. However, it appears that the massive difference she made to the lives of children through the series of children’s pages she edited has been forgotten, along with how she nurtured the artistic and literary abilities of younger generations through these pages. She was such an inspiration!

The trouble is that it’s very hard to condense an inspiration into a few lines or words to satisfy those who don’t want to immerse themselves more fully into the longer story. However, in this instance, can I caution you to sit down. Make yourself a cup of tea, and in the words of the great Molly Meldrum: “Do yourselves a favour!”

We’re going to pick up with Ethel Turner on the 20th November 1921.  Sunbeams had only been launched on the 9th October, 1921, and just over a month old, and still in the nest. Yet, that didn’t stop Ethel Turner from launching an ambitious plan to make a difference that Christmas:

“FROM A CHAIR IN THE SUN

ABOUT SUN FAIRIES

Dear Young People, — One of the many tastes we have in common, you and I, Is our love for conjuring tricks. Here is one I particularly want you to try. Take a child with the corners of its mouth right down and its eyes running over with tears (there are any amount of them in the hospitals and crowded back streets, alas). Go up close to it, and with a quick sleight-of-hand slip into its fingers a tiny doll as pretty as a fairy. In less than half a minute the eyes will dry and the mouth corners go up. This trick has never been known to fail. So now then, let us do it together. Your part is to buy a tiny celluloid doll or kewpie, dross it in something very fairylike — gay and pretty, or comical as an elf — put it in a, tiny box, and post or hand it in to “Sunbeams.” My part will be to find the children in the hospitals and back streets about Christmas time. I shall also examine the dolls carefully — we will call them Sun Fairies— and give three prizes of half-a-crown each to the three most attractive ones, and six “Sun” honor cards. You need send no coupon with this competition, as the doll will cost you anything from twopence to sixpence. Send December 1st.

Yours ever,

Ethel Turner[2]

Ethel Turner received an enthusiastic and touching response to her call for contributions. On the 11th December, 1921, she wrote:

“THE SUN FAIRIES

ROOMFUL OF WONDERFUL DOLLS DAME MARGARET DAVIDSON’S WINNERS

The response to the “Sun” fairies competition was splendid and many little “Sunbeams” will be cheered by the really wonderful little dolls sent in… It was a lovely spirit which prompted the competitors to send in the dolls — they were not concerned with winning prizes, but with doing something with their own hands which would give pleasure to children, to whom dainty dolls are a rare and precious luxury. Many of the children marked their entries: “Not sent in for a prize,” and pinned to almost every doll was a pretty little greeting to the recipient. They sat about all over the floor and the chairs and tables rather impatient in their boxes, just as trapped butterflies might be; they were eager to be gone upon their task of carrying sunshine. They were dressed in silk and spangles, in little frilly skirts of lace, in bridal gowns; in elf costumes; there were little mother fairies with tiny children around them, father fairies, fussy and important, fairies with opera cloaks on, and carrying bags; baby fairies, red riding hood fairies; one or two arrived with their beds and bedding, a few with suit-cases for the week-end and complete wardrobes. Wendy came, together with John and Michael, and Peter Pan. And wands! There were enough wands to have enchanted all Sydney and turned it to happy ways had they been held up. And no one, not any one, had forgotten the pretty little card with “From one Sunbeam to another” and other affectionate greetings. Dorothy Makin’s box of dolls, which won first prize, lacked only the bride groom to make the wedding party complete. But then it is so difficult to make a fairy-like creature of a man who should be dressed strictly in black. It was a rainbow wedding, and the bride chose ivory satin for her gown. She also had an overskirt of lace, and trimmed her whole frock with pearls. She wore the usual wreath and veil, and carried a bouquet of white blossoms and a fan. Her maids were frocked in rose, mauve, coral and eau-de-nil silk net, and wore quaint filets round their heads. Just by way of being different, they all carried fans instead of bouquets. Five little fairies, in five little boxes with five little Christmas cards, were sent by Betty Blake, who was second prize-winner. Betty dressed her fairies in white lace, showing beribboned petticoats. Glinting beads of gold and silver shone like spangles on the little dolls which will gladden the hearts of sick children on Christmas Day. Betty Grimm’s Sunbeamer was dressed in her party frock of rose-colored silk net, and she carried a lovely curling white feather fan. (But even fairies cannot live in party frocks all the time, so Betty sent along a box full of neatly made clothes for everyday wear, and did not forgot even a tiny tin of powder to powder her nose.[3]

Of course, this touching story of generosity and human kindness is not complete without hearing about the sun fairies final destinations:

THE SUN FAIRIES: How The Kiddies Loved Them”

I know that all of you who made a “Sun” Fairy will be delighted to hear how much joy they gave to the children who received them. Here are two letters which tell you all about them:–A.I.F. Wives and Children’s Holiday Association.

Furlough House, Narrabeen. Dear Sunbeams, — The dear little sun fairies arrived quite safely, and as fresh as when’ they left the designers’ hands. I am sure if the little donors could have seen the pleasure they afforded when received on Christmas Day they would be delighted to know they were indeed sun fairies in so much as they made radiance shine from each receiver’s face. With all good wishes to the Sunbeams from all the soldiers’ children at “Furlough House,” Yours sincerely, Ruby Fowle, Matron The second letter comes from Mrs Lyster Ormsby, who in the crowded streets of the city has for years sought to bring joy and sunlight into the lives of the little children there. Soup Kitchen for Little Children, 40 Burton-street, Darlinghurst. Dear Little Sunbeams,— I want to thank you for the dainty little ladies, fairies and babies the came to the Soup Kitchen during Christmas week. They came all neatly tucked away in a box, and was told they were to be given to some of the poor little’ girlies that I know as presents from “one Sunbeam to another. Well it happened that some of my little pals were hanging round when I unpacked your box and if you could have heard the “O-o-ohs” and “A-a-ahs” of admiration that came from them as I drew each dolly out of the box, you would have felt that you had sent a real sunbeam along. I gave your dollies away in many different quarters, and I feel sure you will be glad to know that each and every one received a warm and loving welcome from the new mistress. Among my little Soup Kitchen Girlies was one who has just left school and so felt too big for a doll. She always has a real live baby in mind-but still I could tell by the look in her face that she was just envying all the smaller girls; so I picked out a tiny kewpie doll that had been so prettily dressed in baby frills and I said: “I know you’re fourteen, Alice, and too big for dolls — (she thinks she is, you know) – but this is a Kewpie for luck and it goes on the rail of your bedstead. Would you like it?” She just loved it, and rushed off home to put it on her bed right away, “Good-bye, little Sunbeams, and a happy new year to you all from Inys Ormsby.[4]

And now we’ll back peddle just a little, and read Ethel Turner’s Christmas Day letter to her Sunbeamers:

A VERY MERRY XMAS FROM A CHAIR IN THE SUN

Christmas Day

Dear Young People,—

Do you know Anna? What Anna? Merry Christmas anna happy New Year. Yes, I know this is the seventh time you have been asked this same joke, but that is the best about Christmas Day, isn’t it, there is such a rosy, kindly light everywhere, that you are ready to smile seven times at anything and everything. I hope that you are, every one of you, as happy as larks to-day: the boy with the sixpenny humming top, as well as the one with the expensive aeroplane. Happiness, real lark-like happiness, isn’t a thing to be bought with money; it is a thing right inside you. There is really an amazing amount of it lying about free in a sunshiny land like this; believe me it is not shut up in those expensive toyshops, pleasant though those places are. Happiness is just a little light, bubbling thing that you make for yourself, just as the lark makes its song. Good-bye till next week. Do you know Anna?

The Sunbeamer[5]

I hope you have been each to absorb each of these letters word by word, and truly absorb an Ethel Turner who might appear idealistic, utopian and off with the very fairies she was passing on. However, aim low has never had much of a ring to it, has it?!! I personally found her sentiments so heart-warming and encouraging, and way too good to be lost for eternity in a bunch of newsprint.

So, I hope you and yours are managing to find some of that lark-like happiness this Christmas and carry it into the New Year as well.

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin


[1] Ethel Turner, `Three Little Maids, pp 302-303.

[2] Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 20 November 1921, page 2

[3] Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 11 December 1921, page 2

[4] Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 15 January 1922, page 2

[5] (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 25 December 1921, page 22

Christmas 1921

As many of you will be aware, I’ve been researching WWI rather intensively for the last two years in what has emerged as a series of research projects. Those of you who also research in a more intuitive fashion and allow yourselves the luxury of pursuing all those twists and turns others might dismiss as “distractions”, “rabbit warrens”, will be familiar with the joy of discovering new worlds and perspectives you never knew existed, rather than simply proving your own point. It was this seemingly random fossicking, which led me to Australian author, Ethel Turner from an entirely different angle finding a message of hope, human kindness and generosity we sorely need today.

To do this story justice, I’m going to straddle the story of Christmas 1921 across both my blogs here at Beyond the Flow, and over at Tea With Ethel Turner. Here I’ll provide more of the social and political background and context to Christmas 1921 and why it was special while over at Tea With Ethel Turner, I’ll share how she made a difference to Christmas 1921 with her band of Sunbeamers.

While the 1920s is often portrayed as a time of unrestrained celebration after the horrors of WWI, the reality was much more complex and certainly Christmas 1921 was a time of very mixed fortunes. Sure, the war was over. The Spanish Flu was also officially over as well. On the 6th December, 1921 the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed seeing independence for Southern Ireland and ending the Anglo-Irish War. The Washington Conference was also promising peace in the Pacific. Yet, following his speech on the 20th December, 1921 Mr Stanley Bruce (the 8th Prime Minister from 1923 to 1929) who was representing Australia at the League of Nations, was described as “a supreme pessimist: sees nothing but trouble” after these dire warnings :

Mr Stanley Bruce

“SYDNEY, Tuesday.—Mr. S. M. Bruce, speaking at a National Club luncheon, remarked: “When one comes, back to Australia one is a little horrified to see what is going on. The whole of Europe to-day is struggling in a morass and it is doubtful whether it will ever get out. It is recognised if nothing is done to restore the economic stability of the world a wave of Bolshevism may spread all over the earth. We in Australia have a land where everything is good. Our country is the soundest of any in the world, but it is going to be faced, with the same troubles as the rest. We do not seem to have recognised this. We are only squabbling amongst ourselves.1.”

Gee, does this sound strangely familiar?

Anyway, here’s “Christmas 1921” which was published in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph on Christmas Eve, 1921:

CHRISTMAS, 1921

For many thousands of people throughout the world this must be a “black” Christmas. Almost every country is suffering from the effects of those five years of war, during which production was stopped and the savings of decades were scattered. Thousands of families to-day will be clouded with anxiety because there is no longer a market for the goods the production of which has furnished them with a means of living and their breadwinners with employment. To other families Christmas brings back memories which, though they are colored with pride, arc memories of sadness. It seems impossible that in the lifetime of this generation Christmas shall ever be a season of unmixed rejoicing, except for the children, whose festival it is. Yet throughout the world it will be recognised that the Christmas of 1921 is more in accord with those universal ideals which it connotes than any that we have known for many years past. To-morrow men can take part in a festival of peace and hope without any reflection on the vanity of human effort or the insincerity of all professions of faith. The year has been one in which a genuine and fruitful attempt has been made to banish the dangers of war. For the first time for a hundred years the statesmen of the world have given a practical demonstration of their faith that peace should be the goal of their policy and is the greatest .of human blessings. The delegates to Washington have set aside personal ambition and national avarice in their work for the good of mankind. The delegates from Great Britain and Ireland have agreed that each nation may have failed to appreciate the point of view of the other, and that each must make sacrifices of its own beliefs for the sake of peace. And when these public achievements are noticed men will be driven back to remember the many private acts of beneficence that have been carried out during the past three years. “There is a budding to-morrow in midnight.” It may pass unnoticed while men are oppressed by the surrounding darkness, but it should be acknowledged when we have at last arrived at the dawning of an era of peace and goodwill. In almost every epoch there are lamentations at the incurable selfishness of mankind or at the degeneration of the human species, and invariably they are answered by convincing examples. Before the war we were told that the age of self sacrifice had passed, that men had degenerated physically and morally, that the virtue of patriotism would be practised only by barbarians. The last months of 1914 answered, that reproach. Never was there a clearer response to the appeal of idealism, never did men come forward more spontaneously to avenge and to rescue the oppressed. Every day of the blackest period of human history was illuminated by some act of devotion, when men sacrificed themselves for one another or for their cause, when the motive of self interest, conspicuous though it was, was less frequently exemplified than any other. Since attention has been concentrated on the struggle for the spoils of victory the nobility of hundreds of thousands of obscure lives has been forgotten, but to-day it can be remembered and can be acknowledged as of the same quality as the self-sacrifice which has been placed at the service of the famine-stricken peoples of Europe. To-day we may rejoice in the efforts made by statesmen to establish peace among nations. But while these same states men were manoeuvring other work more urgently and immediately needed was being carried on with even less regard for international boundaries. In Austria and Ger many citizens of the victorious countries have given their money and their services for the sake Of their former enemies. The war, though it has founded much hatred and bitterness, has produced the clearest practical recognition of the brotherhood of man. The period In which lamentations at the folly and avarice of men have be on most frequent, and apparently most abundantly justified, has again seen them answered by the most indisputable examples. “Man, what is this? And why are thou despairing? God shall forgive thee all but thy despair?” The same question might have been asked, and the same comment made at any time during the period which is now coming to an end. At no time has there been so much self-sacrifice; at no time have individual citizens been so ready to spend their lives in the service of their fellowmen, and, if necessary, to ignore the boundaries ‘between one nation and another. Was there ever a more heroic instance of such devotion than that given by Sir Arthur Pearson, who “turned his necessity to glorious gain,” and set himself to brighten-the lives of others stricken with the same infirmity as himself? In this last period the work of the individual has been -in contrast with that of the statesmen; but we cannot afford to forget it now that the statesmen are giving themselves to the furtherance of peace and concord. Rather the inference should be that the impulse towards peace and brotherhood is never dead, but moves forward continually until statesmen are compelled to reduce into the form of a. public document’ the desire of hundreds of thousands of their constituents. We cannot say to-day that these efforts towards pacification have been completely successful. Both at Washington – and In Ireland there are elements so blinded by tradition that they cannot obey the force of reason. But all the ‘omens for peace are good. Not since the reign of – Caesar Augustus have there been so many signs of unity among the nations that make up the civilised world, and not since the Great War ended has there been so good a prospect that the men who fought there will reap the fruit of their sacrifices In the elimination of one of the chief causes of future wars.”2.

I can’t help looking back at these precious people of Christmas 1921 with their varying degrees of pessimism and hope, but still probably largely believing something could be done. That the Wall Street Crash, The Depression along and WWII weren’t just around the corner, although the writing was already on the wall.

Those babies born at Christmas 1921 would be 19 years old in 1939. It is unthinkable that so many of them went on to fight on the very same battlefields as their fathers, and that Australia’s sons would also find themselves fighting the Japanese and defending home soil. Our women weren’t immune either.

Yikes, sometimes time travel isn’t much fun after all, is it?!!

Meanwhile, while I’m tapping away here about Christmas 1921, we’re watching the movie: Don’t Look Up. A comet is threatening to collide with the Earth and the response of Americans is let’s just say “a concern”. I know that while we’re focusing on covid, climate change is our big threat and most of us don’t see it coming either. I hope this movie isn’t too prophetic!

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this. Hauled up at home on a wet and overcast day with covid spreading like wildfire all around us, I feel like I’m talking to myself. However, I know you’re out there and I’d love to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin

References

  1. Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), Wednesday 21 December 1921, page 13
  2. Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), Saturday 24 December 1921, page 10

A Different but Happy, Blessed Christmas 2021.

Last year, our Christmas shrank from thirty to six, and this year it was down to four humans, and the three dogs were very much appreciated, even if they were plotting a grand ham heist as I carved it up on the bench.

It wasn’t sad, or disappointing. It was just the sensible thing to do. Moreover, our teenagers have been out and about a lot lately so it was good to spend time with them and have a family meal. There could well be a time round the corner where it could just be down to Geoff and myself home alone for Christmas once the kids move out. Yet, I couldn’t see that happening. I’d be opening up our home.

Our Church cancelled all services this year. They were only having Christmas Eve services anyway, and with covid going through the roof around here, they cancelled Christmas Eve as well and didn’t have a plan B. The call was made afternoon. However, we had dinner with some friends from Church and communion. I ended up doing a bit of a Church hop on Christmas Eve st5arting out at St Mary’s Cathedral (Catholic) to St Andrew’s (Anglican) both in Sydney and then hopping over to Westminster Abbey. None of these services were “me” but they were meaningful and quite beautiful. Indeed, those voices of the young boys sound quite ethereal and potentially rather reminiscent of our heavenly hosts. I don’t know. Perhaps, they could be more of a baritone.

Meanwhile, I headed out with our daughter after dinner driving round to check out the local Christmas lights. You have to love people who make over the top look lacklustre in whatever it is they undertake. We found this house that looked like a one stop carnival. It wasn’t a big house, but there were so many little nooks and crannies packed with dazzling Christmas scenes, a model train layout and even a snow machine. I felt like a born again five year old standing there taking it all it and it really energized my spirits on what was shaping up as a lacklustre Christmas (especially at this point our kitchen table was piled sky-high in Christmas cards, wrapping paper and everyone’s laziness.)

What most of you would probably notice about our Christmas, however, was the scorching heat. It was 30 degrees celsius by lunchtime and I’m sure you could’ve fried an egg out there. A few friends are looking a bit red and fried in photos today. We didn’t get to the beach, even though it’s just down the road. I was too busy with cleaning up the house, cooking and cleaning up and just wanted to fall into a chair and relax. Ditto for today. My dad’s always been one to lock the doors and bar the windows on Boxing Day.

Have you ever considered how much time, effort and money goes into Christmas? As parents, it can feel rather overwhelmed not to mention crippling especially when the kids are younger and you’re having to provide two sets of presents. Have you even wondered why? After all, Jesus was born in a very humble manger in Bethlehem and anything but Westminster Abbey. Scrooge gets a bit of bad press about being all bah humbug about Christmas, but have we one too much the other way spending buckets of money, especially when so many don’t even believe in the reason for the season?

Miss and the Grinch- photo updated for another year.

However, quite aside from honouring Christ’s birth, Christmas Day provides that day once a year for families to draw together and reconnect- especially those big extended families of aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and multiple generations. That’s our usual Christmas and I love it. Would never trade it in, but at the same time, I am grateful that we’ve had a few Christmases at home with the kids. It would never have happened without covid. It also made me much more appreciative of all the work my aunt and family do each year as hosts.

What did you get up to for Christmas? I’d love to hear from you.

Love and blessings,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 13th December, 2021

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

How are you? Hope was your week? I hope it went well.

My week has rushed by in a blur, and it feels like I’ve done nothing, achieved nothing and have simply been hovering in suspended animation. That’s not depression talking, butt more a state of conscious forgetfulness. Where was I last week? What happened’/ sometimes, it’s also a case of : “Who am I?” and it’s just as well my name is written down somewhere close by to remind me.

The reality is that I was actually rather busy. We are a family of four humans and three dogs. My husband works in IT for a university in Sydney with a hospital attached and has been the only network engineer available to go on site because his colleague is unvaccinated. Two people is pretty understaffed anyway, but with the overseas students being axed for the last two years, the universities have been a severe casualty in so many ways and the axe has been falling everywhere. We also have two teenagers – our son is now 17 and has always been known as “Mister” on here but he turns 18 in March, and has rather outgrown it. Miss is now 15 and working part-time at McDonalds and still dancing up a storm. So, we’ve been busy with end of year dance concerts, Geoff has end of year Christmas parties this week and I actually managed to post 17 Christmas cards.

Are you sending actual physical Christmas cards this year? Do you write a Christmas newsletter? These have always been big traditions for me. However, I don’t believe I sent more than a couple of Christmas cards over the last two years and I might have forgotten to email out my Christmas newsletter last year.

I’ve pulled my socks up this year, because I’ve realised that these Christmas cards are doing so much more than simply adding to Hallmark’s coffers every year. They help us to stay connected to a host of people who still mean the world to us, but we don’t see very often. They’re particularly important with people who aren’t online or Facebook. I don’t tend to ring people just for a chat anymore like I used to either. Here in Sydney we’ve had that massive four month lockdown. We live a bit North of Sydney in what in termed Greater Sydney. Now, Geoff is usually commuting to Sydney five days a week for work and I’d be down there at least once a month. However, we’ve only been down there once since the end of June and that was to see my parents and brother. We didn’t go anywhere else. We’ve also been laying low at home, and haven’t been back to physical Church so that’s a whole different swag of people we’re not seeing. So, the Christmas cards and the newsletter feel particularly important this year. We need to connect!

Despite beating myself over the knuckles for not doing anything, I did write a piece for Friday Fictioneers. These are 100 word responses to a photo prompt, and a great way to keep up your fiction writing without having to develop a long piece. I actually find it a very good medium for me, and encourage you to give it a go. Anyway, I had a bit of fun with this one. Here’s the link and I hope you enjoy it: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2021/12/08/the-valentines-day-baby-1962-friday-fictioneers-8th-december-2021/

The Beach

The weather has been pretty lousy lately but it’s a bright sunny day outside, and here I am indoors tapping away. The beach is only a few blocks away too. However, I have a support worker here today, and will have to wait til she leaves at 5.00pm. Meanwhile, there’s a pavlova cooling in the oven for our son to take to his Venturer meeting tonight, and then I’m onto preparing the fruit for the Christmas cake. I know it’s a bit late by most people’s calculations. However, Mum often rushed it through the night before Christmas so I’m way ahead.

Before I head off, I’ll leave you with a photo of the formal dress I picked up for our daughter for $20.00 at the opportunity shop last week. She doesn’t have a formal this year, but got all dolled up for photos with some friends who had their graduation formal. Here’s a pick:

Miss on the left with her friend.

Hope you’re going well and I look forward to hearing from you!

Meanwhile, you might like to join us over at the Weekend Coffee Share, which is hosted by Natalie the Explorer https://natalietheexplorer.home.blog/

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 6th December, 2021

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

This weekend, I’m afraid I can only offer you some hypothetical pavlova. I was meant to make a pavlova for my son to take to Venturers tomorrow night and I forgot. Well, I thinking I’d probably make it tomorrow anyway, but I had actually forgotten about it. Or, perhaps that was just wishful thinking. Last week was so incredibly stressful, that I’ve gone splat over the weekend and not done much at all except recover.

Last Friday night was the first of three dance concerts our daughter will be performing in over ten days. I know that sounds a bit insane. However, due to the never-ending four month Sydney lockdown, production kept getting deferred until the first performance last Friday night and a second performance coming up on Wednesday night. The annual dance concert will be held on Sunday night. Then, we will have this event called Christmas, which is actually very important to me both spiritually and in terms of catching up with my huge extended family. However, every year it just seems to get more exhausting with me wondering are we actually going to get there? Or, are be going to break down somewhere in between?

At least, we’re not hosting this year and aren’t madly shifting furniture, ripping up carpet, laying down floorboards and painting the room. Yes, we did get the order wrong and had to be mighty careful with the painting. However, we learned for next time, which is why the next room hasn’t been touched.

A selfie taken beside the lifesaver’s flag. i am dreadfully short-sighted and always park myself at flag I go swimming so I can find my way back.

Last week, I think I mentioned that the weather’s been really lousy and we’ve had a lot of rain over the last couple of weeks. Well, we actually had a couple of days of brilliant sunshine and yours truly actually made it done to the beach and went for a swim. I also just sat on the beach and soaked up the sunshine and almost felt a wave of electricity flow through me. It was bliss! We only live about a ten minute walk from the beach, but I don’t get there as often as I should.

While sharing photos of my daughter and I, I thought I’d post this one taken of us in our new pyjamas at Peter Alexander. They were having a Black Friday saleich extended to Monday. I also bought a magical pair of red sequin Dorothy slippers, although instead of tapping them together and going home, I want to travel overseas. I’d love to be a free spirit like that at least in theory. However, having lived in the same house for twenty years now, that would seem to suggest I like bedrock stability instead.

Well, I think that’s all I’m going to share for now. It’s really late.

So, how has your week been? I’d love to hear from you in comments!

Meanwhile, you might like to join us over at the Weekend Coffee Share, which is hosted by Natalie the Explorer https://natalietheexplorer.home.blog/

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 29th November, 2021.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

I am in denial. Surely, there has to be more than 26 days left before Christmas? Unfortunately, these aren’t even full days and only the crumbs left usually after someone else has chewed up all your time denying that time honoured tradition of making your own Christmas cake, making decorations and squeezing as many parties in as you can back-to-back and even double-triple booked if you can pull it off somehow. Of course, having kids and having to double as Santa has modified things more than a little, but they add so much to the Christmas spirit you could hardly leave them out. Indeed, in so many ways children are Christmas, and as a Christian, the baby Jesus is ideally at the centre of everything, although I have to admit I struggle. How could the day that’s meant to focus on him be so incredibly distracting? Anyway, last year there wasn’t much of all of that Christmas hoopla to complain about anyway, and I don’t want to whinge to much or we may end up locked down or seriously restricted for Christmas 2021. No. Please delete all my whingeing. Yes, indeed! I’m really looking forward to Christmas and catching up with my large extended family. With covid restrictions, we couldn’t see them last year, this Christmas is going to be really special!

An Australian Christmas, Pearl Beach, New South Wales.

Do you have any plans for Christmas? Any special traditions? Perhaps, it’s a bit too early to talk about plans, but December seems to go so quickly that plan needs to shift gears into action very soon.

The tragic Christmas tree at Geoff’s work a few years ago.

However, all of that hasn’t stopped me from remaining neck deep in my research. Actually, I’ve managed to submit a 1000 word story to go into the Friends of Ethel Turner (Australian author) newsletter. I was really pleased to get that done, because I could feel myself chickening out. I’m sure many of you know that feeling all too well. You come up with an idea, which seems like a piece of cake, but as you delve into it becomes harder or more challenging than you thought. You want to run. Hide. Give up. Not such a good idea after all, but in the end you persevere, and you get it done. Indeed, you might even get a red tick and VG (very good) in the margin like I did writing my stories back in primary school.

Now, I’m chasing Ethel Turner through Europe. She went on a six month holiday through England and Europe in 1910 with her husband, Herbert Curlewis and children Jean and Adrian. She had a series of photographic essays published when she returned, and I’m currently reading through them and saving them onto my computer. I am particularly interested in her impressions of Paris. I spent a month there in 1992, which was special at the time, but has come to be an indulgence as time’s gone by and I haven’t returned. I also enjoyed reading about her struggles converting currency as they swept from country to country, and I remember what that was like and I loved the wide variety of coins, especially as a young child. I haven’t been back since the Euro simplified things, but lost something special in the process I feel. The coins family brought back and coins I brought back myself, are still very special to me- my treasure!

Unfortunately, reading about Ethel Turner’s travels are the closest I’ve got to travel for awhile. Indeed, with Zac the dog parked on my lap so much, it’s hard for me to even get out of the chair.

It is his fault, I’m sure!

The other rather demotivating influence on my exercise levels has been the weather. As you may be aware, I live in Greater Sydney and it’s been raining solidly for what seems like an eternity. As it turns out, we’re experiencing a  La Niña event, which increase the chance of above average rainfall across much of northern and eastern Australia during summer. Just when I was thinking of heading out in my bikini…NOT!!! Anyway, it’s looking like I’ll be needing to invest in a yellow raincoat this Summer.

This coming Friday is the beginning of dance concert season. I love watching my daughter dance. However, this is not a privilege which comes without a cost and that’s not just in terms of dollars and cents. Last night, I was sewing the ribbons and elastics onto her pointe shoes. I don’t know why these blessed things don’t come with all of this paraphernalia already attached. It’s not as though the ribbons have to be tailored to my daughter’s foot and petite ankle and it would be much easier for a heavy-duty machine to penetrate the leather at the back than my delicate fingers. Of course, the ballerina could sew on her her accoutrements. However, in between juggling school, dance and working at McDonalds, she doesn’t have much spare time. I, on the other hand, have eternity. Didn’t you know?

By the way, I was reading about Jesus washing the disciples feet just before I was asked to sew up the pointe shoes. However, I’m not so sure that being my daughter’s servant is what Jesus had in mind. These thoughts were echoed on the bedroom front.

However, it’s been a tough year for her with her health and lockdown. Sometimes, it’s nice to have someone take the edge off the pressure, and we could all use a fairy now and then. An extra set of hands. At the same time, I could use a bit of help from her too…and her brother.

Meanwhile, the Productivity Manager is ensuring it’s difficult to get out of my chair. By that, I’m referring to our dog Zac, who seems to pour himself into my lap and stay put until his sister, Rosie appears with a ball, and then he’s off standing a metre or two behind her ready to pounce.

The other productivity issue around here involves dog hair. It’s Spring and with three dogs, the fur is floating in black clouds all over the house. Lady’s fur (cavalier x Border collie) comes out in tufts, while the pups fur mainly snows although Rosie loses a bit of felt. I’ve read comments about corgies shedding so much you can make another dog out of the discarded fur, and I’ve thought the same with dear Lady and co.

Well, on that note, I’m going to head off. I’d love to hear from you!

Meanwhile, you might like to join us over at the Weekend Coffee Share, which is hosted by Natalie the Explorer https://natalietheexplorer.home.blog/

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – Christmas 2020.

Welcome to the Christmas Edition of the Weekend Coffee Share!

Well, to be precise, it’s actually post-Christmas and we’re currently drifting along in the lull between Christmas and New Year where we recover from Christmas indulgence, over-consumption and back-breaking stress and veg out. Well, that’s as long as we haven’t done something stupid like inviting people over on New Year’s Eve. I wouldn’t know anybody who is crazy enough to do that, especially after hosting family on Christmas Day. However, there is this strange logic that once you’ve tidied the house up, get all of your entertaining done immediately before the place does a Cinderella on you and turns back into a pumpkin.

Our local bookshop

Anyway, before I ask you how your Christmas or Holiday celebrations went, I’d better offer you a cup of tea, coffee or perhaps you fancy a cold drink. We’ve had quite a few hot days, so you might prefer something cold. I’ve been doing a bit of baking and we have Christmas cake, shortbread, Honey Biscuits, Mars Bar Slice and Caramel Macadamia Nut Tart. Yum!

Christmas baking.

So how have you been spending Christmas or the Holidays?

We went to the 11.00pm service on Christmas Eve. The earlier services were cancelled and went via zoom instead, as there’s been an outbreak of Covid in Sydney along with a couple of local cases. There weren’t too many booked in for the late service and so it could still go ahead now we’re back to the 4 square metre rule.

The, on Christmas Day, my parents drove up from Sydney for lunch. I did all the cooking, which went surprisingly well. We had a roast chicken, veggies and gravy with the Caramel Macadamia Tart for dessert. We were too full to even consider eating the pudding, but we had a wonderful day which seemed to race past like a bullet train.

The rocking horse has been feeling fairly nervous. It’s seen the piano and the carpet go, and it’s very concerned it’s going to be next!

The prelude to Christmas was crazy busy. After guttering the loungeroom to replace the carpet with a floating floor and finding the room also needed a paint job, we then had a mad scramble to get everything back in situ for the big day. We managed to get there but quite a few things got shoved anywhere they could fit and goodness knows if we’ll ever see them again. However, it was all worth it, and the house was nice and comfy and we could actually spread out.

Miss after her hair extravaganza

Another big development in the lead up to Christmas, was that Miss decided to get her haircut. Indeed, to be precise, she decided to get her hair lopped off and she also wanted to donate the ponytail to make a wig for someone who is experiencing long term hair loss. This seemed like a great idea and something her friends have done before, although I was concerned she was going to regret cutting it off and I also loved her hair being so long and it had become a fundamental part of her. However, it was also very heavy, especially when she went swimming and it also covered her face in the water and might even have been a bit dangerous. By the way, in addition to getting the chop, she also got some foils. She talked me into this, but it was a fun adventure and I emphasised it was a once off. However, it was a lot of fun and seeing her incredible smile at the end, was truly worth it. You see quite a few storm clouds brewing in the teenagers eyes, so it makes it all the better when you see those radiant, sunny smiles and all is good.

Her hair before the chop. She had 17 inches cut off.

Since Christmas, we’ve tried to relax and do as little as possible. That said, we had the big clean up after Christmas lunch and today we headed off to Specsavers to replace our glasses before the annual health fund allocation ran out. I can tell you it was quite an experience getting our eyes tested and trying on glasses with face masks on and glasses fogging up. I hope they turn out okay. However, I thought you’d enjoy this photo of three out of the four of us trying glasses on.

Well, I’d better head off now. Time’s always getting away from me.

Not long now until we reach the end of 2020, but it’s pretty clear to me that there aren’t going to be any instant miracles once we turn the page into 2021. That said, vaccination has started and maybe that will start having an impact soon.

Meanwhile, we hope you and yours are safe and that you have a geat year ahead in 2021. Any resolutions yet? I’m still working on mine. My word for the last couple of years has been ACTION, and I might go with that again. Although when it comes to my WWI research project, the word is now WRITE, and when it comes to going away in January, it’s WAIT. Need to see what covid is up to by then.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Cooking the Books.

We’ve all seen some weird things in 2020. However, things have really gone mad around here now. Indeed, even madder than usual, if that were possible. As you can see, I’ve starting cooking the books, and we’ll be eating words for Christmas.

Well, we will be unless our renovations and reorganizations get a wriggle on.

Indeed, being typical renovators, we’ve taken two steps forward, three steps back, on the hope that we’ll have a place for everything and everything in it’s place by Christmas Day. This hope is now starting to look like a fantastic dream, and I should be a lot more worried than I am. However, I’ve had good training. You can always hide a few things in the oven, the clothes dryer or under the bed at the last minute if you have to. Failing that, there’s the car.

The car bed finally leaving the house.

Of course, the road to renovation didn’t start 5 days before Christmas. Rather, the wheels were set in motion a few months ago when our son’s car bed finally left the house for an extended holiday at a friend’s place.

There’s a bear in there, and a piano frame as well…

Yet, there was still the problem of the old piano no one wanted in the loungeroom. However, it turned out that deconstructing the piano solved that problem and a friend of ours was quite happy to take it away in pieces, although we have kept the pedals and the keys. Then, it was full steam ahead, which also included an incidental painting of the room.

Geoff finally cutting through the carpet.

While Geoff was busy there, I started getting quite ruthless with the books and realized we probably needed to halve the number of books in our place. Well, that’s if we were ever going to be able to have people over once again. In other words, be able to open the place back up again, and not be afraid of somebody coming over.

Indeed, it’s been all too easy to forget we used to have people over, including holding the kids’ birthday parties. Whatever happened to us?

It’s called dermatomyositis an auto-immune disease where you’re muscles attack themselves and it’s been compounded by Interstitial Lung Disease, which has left me with 50% lung capacity. We’ve been in survival mode for so long, but with Geoff working from home this year due to Covid, we’ve finally been able to get ahead. Indeed, we’ve even saved money. So, 2020 hasn’t been all bad.

Well, it’s actually because of Covid that the renovations had to get a wriggle on. Usually, we go to my aunt’s place every year for a big Christmas with the extended family. My dad is one of seven, so what with all my cousins and now their kids, it’s become quite a tribe. However, they’re not getting together this year, and so my parents are coming to our place, and there’ll only be the six of us. Indeed, with such a small group, I feel we need to include the three dogs in on the head count. Nine sounds a lot better!

Lady’s keen to join us at the dinner table for Christmas lunch.

This means, of course, that I’m needing to cook, and not just cook the books. However, that can wait at the moment. We have a ham in the fridge, and I’ve made a Christmas cake and there’s also a pudding. So, I’ve made a good start.

All these books ended up in the kitchen while we were moving furniture around. Our dump and run room is now in the process of being cleaned out, and we’ve swapped the lounge and the dining table over so we’ll have two tables for Christmas Day, while creating a potential place for our teenaged kids to hang out. Or, perhaps it will be for us parents when, and if, their friends ever come over. I’m really looking forward to this new chapter, and it feels quite liberating.

Yet, at the same time, we still need to find a place for everything and have everything stashed away in its place by Christmas Day.

What have we done????

How are your Christmas preparations going? I hope yours are a lot less chaotic, and your plans are going well. Yet, at the same time, there’s also Covid to consider and its intent on ruining quite a few Christmases this year. Nearby Sydney has a cluster on the Northern Beaches and they’ve gone into lock down, and I’ve hearing of a few cancelled plans. However, cancelled lunches is nothing compared to the incredible loss of life the virus has claimed on a global scale, and there will be a lot of empty chairs this Christmas Day, and a lot of heart-ache. We are thinking of you and sending our love!

Anyway, I’d better get back to it.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Honey Biscuits – My Grandmother’s Recipe.

Today, the forces of chaos which govern my scrambled egg existence, conspired together to prompt me to sort out my Grandmother’s recipe for Honey Biscuits. I am an Australian of German descent on my mother’s side, and my grandmother’s Honey Biscuits were as much a part of Christmas as my mother’s traditional English-style Christmas cake and my Christmas pudding. The biscuits were round with half a blanched almond stuck in the middle like the star perched on top of the Christmas tree. They lived inside big glass jars from another time zone, which always seemed strangely magical (even when they were empty).

These Honey Biscuits were very special, but they were also my grandmother’s thing. I’ve never seen my mother make them, although she’s always been an accomplished cook and was famous for her Sponge cakes, which were typically served with lashings of passionfruit icing and a thick layer of whipped cream.

Not having the recipe until after my grandmother passed away, I found an alternative in a German cookbook my grandparents had given me. These were very nice, definitely German, and were reminiscent of the Honey Biscuits, but were definitely NOT THE SAME!!

I don’t know if that really matters. Or, whether it’s just the spirit of the thing that counts. Moreover, I guess you’ve got to ask at some point whether you really want to keep on eating food from 200 years ago every Christmas just to satisfy tradition. Or, do you try something new? Indeed, do you make Christmas food that you and your current day family actually likes, and is more in keeping with your usual fare?

Being a lover of history, ceremonies and traditions, I’m all in favour of going retro one day a year and having the same old same old. Without the carving of the Christmas ham and the lighting of the Christmas pudding along with my aunt’s Mango and Avocado Salad with cashew nuts, it just wouldn’t be the same. Actually, you can add scorched almonds and shortbread to the list. However, what I really love about Christmas lunch is catching up with the extended family after another year and seeing how everyone’s changed. Or, indeed, how some have stayed the same. I come from a large family too, so that makes for added excitement, a swag of personalities and stories. Moreover, there’s always one of two who enjoy too much Christmas cheer.

However, this year our Christmas will be rather different, as we will be hosting Christmas Day at our place with only my Mum, Dad and possibly brother coming over. This has sent us into quite a tailspin and we’re currently in the throws of carving up an old piano and trying to vacate the loungeroom to get the new floating floor down in time. It’s a nightmare, but at least I now have a pile of cookbooks ready to exit the house.

It was sorting through these cookbooks, which took me back to my grandmother’s Honey Biscuit recipe. You see I found a recipe book from Hahndorf, the German-Australian village in South Australia which my grandfather and three generations before him called home…”Recipes From My Grossmutter”. I also found “The Barossa Cookbook”, which was published at the end of WWII. The Barossa Valley is best known as a wine-producing region, and it’s not far from Hahndorf. So, when it came to sorting out this recipe, I thought this cookbook was almost a sure fire bet. After all, it’s one of those community cookbooks where people contribute their favourite recipes, and their names are printed down below.

Fortunately, although I’ve never made my grandmother’s Honey Biscuits, I do have her recipe and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen her make them. However, while this sounds like I’ve got it sorted, the handwritten recipe didn’t inspire me with confidence. Had she left something out? It was also written in pounds and ounces, which always does my head in, and is almost a sure fire recipe for catastrophe.

My Grandmother’s Recipe for Honey Biscuits

1/2 lb Honey

1 lb Sugar

4 eggs

4 teas bicarb soda

a little acid

a few drops of lemon essence

Flour – flour enough to roll out.

After she lists the ingredients, she seemingly inserts herself into the process, and it soon becomes clear that my grandmother is leaving the main road and making her own way cross-country. There’s what the recipe says, and then there’s HER WAY which she introduces as “I use”. She then proceeds to halve the recipe, which seems fair enough, as I reckon the full amount would keep the entire Von Trapp family in biscuits from one Christmas to the next.

However, it’s the next bit which really captures my attention: “I beat the egg whites till stiff, add sugar and beat for awhile then add the yolks and beat again.”

Why does she separate the eggs and beat up the egg whites by themselves? This is what you do for making sponge cakes. However, as I glanced through the other recipes for Honey Biscuits in the Barossa Cookbook, nobody else mentions that. So, why did she do it? Was this her special secret for producing feather-light Honey Biscuits? Or, was she just making more work for herself?

I don’t know, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to post her recipe on the blog. I need help. Do any of you know why this is so? If so, please explain.

The other thing I’d like to address is what constitutes your authentic German-Australian Honey Biscuit, and how does it compare to the German original? Or, is there a German equivalent?

I thought the Honey Biscuits were a form of Lebkuchen. However, Lebkuchen is more of a spiced biscuit based on ground nuts, where the Honey Biscuits are only lightly spiced, use flour and are as the name suggests, honey flavoured. Apparently, the Honey Biscuit is an adaptation to the Australian context, where German immigrants couldn’t access spices easily back in the day, and in a sense developed their own baking dialect in the same way they came to speak: “Barossa Deutch” (Barossa German). That said, there are variations of Honey Biscuit which are a lot more spicy, and more in keeping with their authentic, German roots.

So, there is this sense of recipes migrating from the mother country and being translated and adapted to the new one, with Australian-Germans putting their own stamp on this old tradition. On top of this, you have people like my grandmother who did their own thing, experimented and adapted. For me, this is very much in keeping with the same pioneering spirit, which saw my ancestors embark on ships for an unknown country on the other side of the world and take a chance.

So, which version of the Honey Biscuit is the real McCoy? Which should I bake and carry forward to my own children?

I wasn’t sure. However, an inspiring solution hit me in the face this morning, after I’d had time to sleep on it. That just like Refrigerator Biscuits where you can make variations from the one basic dough, you can also make a batch of Honey Biscuits where some taste more like honey, and others are more richly spiced. After all, nothing is set in stone – even traditions. They can always be taken forward and adapted with themes and variations.

Have you ever tried making Honey Biscuits and how does your recipe compare to my grandmother’s recipe? Meanwhile, in addition to baking the Honey Biscuits, I’m going to have a go at making authentic German Lebkuchen from a recipe over at Daring Gourmet. She even making her own candied peel and spice mix, so it could be a bit much on top of getting the house ready for Christmas, but isn’t Advent the season of insanity where we always do, spend and eat too much? It’s too late for me to challenge that this year, but January is only round the corner along with an end to 2020. I know for many, that will be the be st Christmas present of all!!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Here’s the link to the “Authentic German Lebkuchen Recipe” if you’re feeling daring.. This recipe is based around ground nuts, has no flour, and seems heavily spiced: https://www.daringgourmet.com/traditional-nuernberger-elisenlebkuchen-german-lebkuchen/

Santa’s Australian Post-Christmas Escape.

You couldn’t blame Santa for needing a bit of a break after supervising all his elves and dashing round the planet on his sleigh. After all, he must have the most stressful job on Earth.

So, here he is hiding out at Lennox Head, South of Byron Bay on Australia’s East Coast catching some waves.

Of course, I had to join him. While I’m not much chop as a surfer, today must have been my lucky day because I not only managed to stand up, I also stayed dry. That’s quite an achievement.

By the way, I should mention that I’ve enjoyed feeling 21 again on this holiday. I’m not looking forward to returning to responsibility when the kids go back to school at the end of January. It’s been absolute bliss drifting along for a bit and not needing to be anywhere at a particular time. No lines etched in the sand. They’ve all been washed away.

Have you ever been surfing and do you have any stories to share?

Best wishes,

Rowena