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I skipped making resolutions and goals for 2016. When the year started, I was overwhelmed by our move to Australia and setting up a house yet again. I didn’t have brain space to know what I wanted to do for the year, but I knew what I wanted for January. I wanted my family and I to stop reflexively grabbing McDonalds while we were out, and I wanted to wake up before the boys.

Maybe you’re in the same place, frustrated by the list of big goals but wanting to seize your life and change? Small goals are for the rest of us, the ones whose dreams mock us from the sidelines, the ones who yearn for change but know they can’t just shove everything to one side. We do it bit by bit, piece by piece, and we believe that each piece is making a difference.

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Here are three small changes that have made a bit difference in the past weeks.

1 Simple meal planning. I cook the same food now week after week after week. What this means is that I have essentially the same grocery list, and I use up all of my ingredients because what doesn’t get finished can be re-used on the same recipe the next week (hi there, anchovies). So I save time when it comes to planning meals for the week and writing shopping lists, and I’ve also started memorising the recipes, so I can cook them fast and make adjustments as I wish. I try to cook double so that dinners become our lunches, and I keep it very simple like Mexican for Monday, stir fry for Tuesday, soup for Wednesday, salad for Thursday, curry for Friday.

These are a few of the recipes that have been making our rotations:

Italian Wedding Soup from Edie Wadsworth

Simple 5-Ingredient Falafel and Winter Bliss Bowl (because it’s winter in Australia!!) from Pinch of Yum

Warm Spiced Cauliflower Salad with Chickpeas and Pomegranates from Nigella Lawson

2 Maintaining my bedroom. I’m happy to report that two months after redoing our master bedroom, it is still a clean, neat and beautiful space. And I still make the bed every morning. Knowing that no matter what happens to the rest of our house, I have one space that is visually peaceful, makes a huge difference to me during the day. Everyone is different, and I’ve noticed that a mess is a stress trigger for me, but I have kids. And I want our kids to have the freedom to create in messy spaces. I won’t be a mother who is forever nagging or requiring completely neat living rooms and dining tables. It has been great to reclaim our bedroom for ourselves and for order.

3 Phone boundaries. I’m still struggling through this one, but the little changes do make a difference. I’ve made these rules for myself:

I can use the phone before 7am (when the boys wake up), but after that it goes away.

I can use it for fun for 30 minutes in the middle of the day.

The phone goes away from 5pm until the boys’ bedtime (6:30-7pm).

At 8pm, the phone is turned off and put away.

I turn the phone off from Saturday evening to Sunday evening as we celebrate Sabbath.

I bought an alarm clock, so the phone is also not with me is in a drawer in the living room and not next to my bed. I use the phone for calls and texting during the day of course, but I get no notifications on my phone for social media, and this is what I wanted to curb. I love Instagram, but I don’t want to be “on” it at random points in the day, only when I want to be there, and only for a purpose. No more mindless scrolling. Or less mindless scrolling anyway.

There you have it. Now tell me, what small changes are making a big impact in your life? 

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Pentecost was last weekend, and it rolls in my mind ever since. The upper room where disciples huddled waiting. For what? I suppose they had no idea. Men, women, likely some children. Days before they ate with Jesus, and he tells them, Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised… They could not have known that the windows would shake, the flames would come, and the life of solitary religion would be gone in an instant as they are dunked, drenched and soaked in the fullness of divinity.

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My parents left a few days ago, and as a parting gift, my dad gave us 70 bulbs of tulips, daffodils, freesias and ranunculus. I have no gardening abilities, but it sounded easy enough. It hinges on one thing, though. The bulbs have to be planted by the end of May. This is the season. 

We bought it at the Tesselaar garden store, home of the famous Tulip Festival. The bins were almost all empty when we arrived, and the only bulbs remaining were in a few paper bags and burlap sacks in the warehouse. The time to plant bulbs is coming to an end, wait for much longer, the flowers will not grow.

Grandpa and his grandsons dug up pockets of earth in the ground Friday afternoon, and we buried bulbs, one at a time. Patches of future daffodils and tulips, all a mess of brown dirt.

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It is the cold ground of winter that the bulbs need to produce life. This must be one of those divine fingerprints on earth, God puts a piece of himself into the DNA of a flower.

Some things must die before they can truly live. Death gives way to life. In the losing of life, we find it. 

A perfect God man hangs on the cross and takes his last breath, descends into hell carrying the sins of the world on his back, is laid in a tomb. And then. He lives.

A bulb that looks like a forgotten, sick onion goes into the ground when it is cold and grey. The earth becomes its tomb. Or its womb? And somehow as it gets colder, life will grow. The roots will travel into the soil. Nourishment will flow in. The shoot, which is in the bulb before it ever goes into the ground, presses through the bulb and then the soil. With time, sunshine and water, brilliant flowers bloom.

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Burying the bulbs in the ground felt like the holy work of faith, I think of the prayers I’ve buried for years in winter’s ground, the ones that remain unanswered, the ones that were a solid, No, and everything in between. I think of the Peter and James and Mary and John and every person waiting in that upper room wondering.

What are we waiting for? Will it be like Him? Will it be enough? He came back to life, but what about us? What about the life we must life now in Jerusalem, Judea, and the ends of the earth? How are we going to live it without You? 

But they waited on because they knew their need. The aching, pressing, all consuming need for the one who had pulled them out of the pit. The one who had hung on a cross. The one they had seen live again. 

If there is any marker for a life with God, this is the only one I know: Need. The confession of our lips is simple, We cannot do it without you, we cannot survive it without you, we are nothing without you

There is a wait yet for all of us. Maybe you are waiting with people around you, maybe you are waiting alone. But how you wait isn’t as important as whom you wait for.

He’s the flame in the bush, pillars of smoke and fire surrounding his people. He comes in the terrible and glorious golden ark. He draws near as a tiny baby, an ugly carpenter, a broken Saviour, a coming King, and He is coming for you. 

The wind will blow again through the walls of your life, and it will shake the unnecessary away. You will speak anew in a holy tongue. Your heart will burn for his desires. The roots will grow into the soil, the shoot will push through. Your flower will bloom again.

So we pray, O God, for rain, we ask you now for our food, and we wait for fire. 

 

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It was yet another beautiful autumn afternoon, Husband and my oldest son were playing chess on the deck, our youngest was napping, and I was watching our yard. It’s our first year here, and we are still getting a feel for our land and what to do with it. There is a shed to one side of the garden, and in front of it a rectangular piece of earth that used to be a sandpit. The family who lived here before us planted a mini tree of sorts in this spot; it is a lean little thing coming out of the ground, with woody branches and maybe 20 wide, purple leaves.

Last weekend I realised the tree is now yellow and orange, the leaves are the shape of hearts and the sun was shining on one, setting it on fire. They were glowing.

I pulled out my camera, crouched low, and worked with the settings. Soon enough I saw cracks and holes in several leaves, and then this happened.

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You know that thing in your life – the thing that person did and it left a mark on you? The betrayal you experienced that was profound, personal and intimate? The disappointment you feel in the shadow of rejections and letdowns? The dreams you dreamed for decades that were never realised? The time you spent in a wilderness of confusion, darkness and depression?

These are the holes in our hearts. We run away from them. We find medications for it. We want to patch it up and move on as fast as we can because we think it will make the pain go away. 

But look at the hole in the heart.

The light is coming through. The light unveils the broken leaf’s beauty.  The light is taking over. 

There is more for us than our experiences. We are not the victims of the choices of other people. Our identity is not found in what has been said about us or what has been done to us. I don’t know what you are facing today when you read this, but I want you to know that whatever the hole is in your heart, there is light that will shine through it.

The light will shine on others. The light will take over your heart, and it is the light that will be seen. 

I’m linking up with Jennifer and the #TellHisStory crew. 

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The sweaters came out of the boxes a few weeks ago, and I had to buy a new pair of fuzzy house shoes. Husband and my annual argument about heating is in full swing because cooler temperatures are here (I want the house to be around 23 degrees, and he’s fine with 18). Autumn in Australia has been my learning template for April, but I still feel upside down here in the southern hemisphere. We have some green shoots in our garden, and I wondered yesterday if it may be daffodils, forgetting completely that it is not spring. Here’s what I’ve been learning.

Not everything dies in an Australian autumn, it’s what I keep expecting, but instead there are new flowers on bushes and fresh growth in the hedges even as leaves fall from trees. In the past years in Europe, autumn has been a season of preparing for death, a celebration of endings as everything slowly died around me. Instead this autumn reminds me that God brings life, he gives life alway and sustains life.

April is Australia’s October. The warm light. The cool mornings and evenings and the warm days (ok, maybe the warm days aren’t an October in the northern hemisphere). It has been all kinds of glorious.

Autumn is not boot weather in Melbourne. I’ve tried wearing boots a few days now, and it is way too warm, which is a fantastic problem. I think I will have to wait for the dead of winter to pull out the boots again.

Listening to good music unlocks my emotions and helps me create. I’ve taken to listening to music on Spotify during creation times, when the boys and I are painting or when I’m writing, and the right kind of music unlocks something in my soul. It has been so good. Sara Groves’ album Floodplain is on repeat right now.

On the blog this month, I wrote about the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and his comments about identity, and I finally published a recipe again. It’s something to do with two-minute noodles. No it’s not a make-your-own-two-minute noodles. Why mess with something that’s essentially perfect, am I right? But it is a way of eating ramen that brings my heart and my tastebuds so much joy.

Thanks as always to those of you who subscribe (scroll down to do that), read, comment and share. I appreciate it so much. Now tell me, what did you learn in April?

I’m linking up with Emily P. Freeman today and lots of others who are sharing what they learned in April. It’s a wonderful way to chronicle the small and big ways we grow, change and learn, and I love it. Right now, I’m trying to capture moments of beauty and change over on Instagram, so head over there and follow me if you want to see more.

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Somewhere in between Stockholm and Germany and Melbourne, I stopped cooking. Mostly it was because I was in other people’s homes, and also because I was happy to have someone else take up the kitchen work. But last February, I started cooking regularly again, and every time I chopped an onion or peeled a strip of carrot skin while also chastising a smaller member of my family for harassing another small member of my family, it comes to me: I feel more human with these instruments in my hand. And I am creating something every time I cook.

I’ve slid trays of frozen (from Aldi) chicken nuggets into the oven, browned skin-on chicken thighs, blitzed sauces in a blender and spooned batter into muffin tins. It has all felt so good and simple. I’m convinced that cooking is one of life’s ways of keeping me human, normal and grounded here on earth. I can spend an afternoon daydreaming about the months to come, I can read an article and have an opinion about American politics, I can get lost in the world of Kimmy Schmidt, but at some point my hands find the garlic, and as I slice, I come back down to earth. Here in my kitchen where I pull things together and make a meal that feeds us all. It’s not changing the world, but it’s changing the afternoon, and this is good.

There’s a meal I’ve come back to since moving to Melbourne. Maybe because I’m around my family again. When I was a child in a country town in the Philippines, Sunday evenings were for Maggi noodles. My mother usually added veggies into the pot of soup or browned meat of some kind or an egg. It was one of the few meals I cooked for years later in university because two-minute noodles. It is a food group, yes?

Aldi has these two minute noodles that proudly boast “No MSG” on the front, which is probably why it doesn’t taste right. The lack of a certain, what shall we say, enhancement to the flavour notwithstanding, Husband and I slurp this soup straight out of the bowl. I make it for a quick solo lunch, even the boys will eat it if there’s no liquid. They haven’t quite figured out how to eat soup yet.

This is as easy as it gets when it comes to a recipe. There are no real rules. Look in your fridge for the veggies or proteins you have. Cook it separately, add it into the noodles, and you’re done.

My favourite is fried onions and garlic in a pan, add in the mushrooms and keep sauteeing, then add asparagus or bok choy or kale or spinach and some soy sauce and oyster sauce, just a little bit to keep the flavour sharp. Cook the two minute noodles and serve into bowls, ladle a bit of the veggie mix into each bowl on top, slice a red chili and toss in a few sprigs of coriander. And if you want to take it to the next level? Top it off with a fried egg. I promise, it is basically comfort food in five minutes.

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Two-minute noodles, for breakfast, lunch and dinner

There’s no need to overthink this. Make a topping, put it over two-minute noodles and eat. Or cook it into the noodles. Done and done-rThe recipe below is for a topping. This is the most basic version of a topping I like to make. 

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

mushrooms, as many as you want

butter or olive oil

spring onion, sliced, separate white and green parts

chili flakes, sesame seeds and salt and pepper for garnish

1. Warm the fat in a medium-sized frying pan, and fry the garlic. Keep an eye on it, you want it to fry slowly so the flavours release gently without burning (garlic burns easily).

2. Add the white parts of the spring onion and seep sautéing.

3. Add the mushrooms to the pan and keep going until the it’s cooked to your liking.

4. Put your two-minute noodles in a bowl, top with the mushroom mixture, the green part of the spring onions, sesame seeds, chill flakes and an egg (or two).