Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hands to Work, Hearts to God

Hands to Work – Hearts to God
At Christmastime the Shaker motto “Hands to work, Hearts to God” rings like a tinkling bell to the Lady-of-the-House. She was contemplating this motto when she opened an art print book. “The Girlhood of the Virgin” by the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbruan (1598-1664) caught her eye. It was her first time seeing it. With the motto still fresh in her mind and with the painting in her gaze, she was drawn into quiet moments of meditation.

What She Was Thinking
“The Virgin Mary looks no older than nine or ten-years-old. Has she been stitching a fine piece of linen? Her needle is threaded, which leads one to believe that it is poised and ready for more work. It rests neatly in its cushion during a peaceful moment of prayer. For an innocent girl so young her face is serious, serene and sad. The artist has illuminated her humanity in natural light. Knowing the most precious aspects of her life from the Gospel of Luke – a certain supernatural light shines into to my mother’s heart. Mary’s hands to work and heart to God are an example to me, especially at Christmastime.”

Any Way You Look at It
Preparing well ahead for Christmas can help the homemaker feel less rushed. Little preparations might be homemade gifts assembled in her leisure. But any way you look at it Christmastime means more work for mother. She has it in her heart to create special memories for her family adding little touches to emphasis the joy of Immanuel. Gifts may be found at odd times in odd places during the year and stored out-of-sight in the Christmas closet. Still, cooking favorite dishes, hanging greenery, wrapping and mailing gifts, hand writing gift tags and cards require heightened attentiveness in the weeks leading up to Christmas. 

Gracious Acts
There is dignity in work when it is done unto God - no matter how lowly the work is. William Tyndale said that if we look externally “there is [a] difference betwixt washing of dishes and preaching the word of God; but as touching to please God, none at all.” * Even the simplest of actions: a mother feeding her baby, sweeping the floor, folding the clothes, running a bath, warmly greeting her husband hello, bottling jam, become “gracious acts.” They are acts of love and obedience that give glory to God.
*Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken, page  25

“Give me love and work – these two only.”  William Morris

The extra work at Christmastime can make a mother bone-tired at the end of the day. Perhaps you are reading this at the end of the day. If so, this statement will hit home. Your visit to this post might mean that you are winding down and finding calm.

There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays
Grandmothers, even with their prudence in avoiding holiday hub-bub and experience in preparation-by-degrees, will find Christmas secretly overwhelming and hard on the legs when “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house” they come. It is good to remember that a homemaker’s work, mundane one minute – sweetly satisfying the next, creates a widening circle of blessing – like a pebble dropped in a quiet pool.

The Lady-of-the-House was told by her mother who was told by her grandmother, “A little hard work never hurt anybody.” When coupled with: “Early to bed, Early to rise” she will avoid overwork and make available for herself moments of calm, moments of meditation and prayer, moments of mother culture. 

“The Christ-centered life – even in the midst of work – stays basically simple, nourished, and rested.” Anne Ortlund

Behind the Photographs
A lady tinsmith in town made the cookie cutter. The quilted potholder was sewn locally.

“Can we eat these cookies now that you’ve photographed them?” asks both The Man-of-the-House and his son.
“Yes,” says the Lady-of-the-House remembering just then to pick up a pen. The butter cookies are flavored inside and out with clove and nutmeg. She tells herself privately that it isn't a good time of year to run out of cinnamon and jots it down on her list.
“Mmmm, these are good,” says the Man-of-the-House. “Spicy,” he adds.
“I made them differently this time,” his wife smiles.

No Holly For Miss Quinn

The Lady-of-the-House has been saving a mention of Miss Read’s, No Holly for Miss Quinn for a post closer to Christmas. I hope she hasn’t waited too long for you to check your favorite source for out-of-print books or inter-library loan.

The last book you have read is the best book you’ve ever read. (Who said this?)

Even though the Lady-of-the-House is basking in the “best book” feel, this book boasts a history. She returns to it time and again. Entering her local library in the mid 1990s with her then young children, she spotted a book on the round table display. The cover intrigued her. It was her first Miss Read story and remains a favorite.

Written tenderly and honestly, the story carries the reader into the life a single woman who works orderly and efficiently in an office of a renowned financier who feels secure in placing responsibility on Miss Miriam Quinn’s capable shoulders. Miss Quinn enjoys coming home to a peaceful clutter-free apartment attached to a quaint old house in the countryside of Fairacre. She looks forward to a calming cup of tea and the beautiful view of the garden out her sitting room window. She plans a quiet Christmas. The planting of a thick hedge of holly was the wise forethought of the original owner of the house (decades prior) who knew how the icy winds would blow over the open meadows buffeting a country house on its north side in winter. The holly hedge separates the house from the road and seems to suggest to passers by that those who live behind it relish their privacy. Miss Quinn is happy for the hint.

On page fifty comes a turn of events. It is ushered in by a telephone call from Miss Quinn’s brother. He is the vicar of a parish a half day’s drive north. She tells him that of course she will come and help him with his three children over the holiday while his wife is in the hospital. As you can guess, a very different Christmas is in store for Miss Quinn than she had anticipated.

The theme of this story, and Miss Read’s other Christmas stories: Village Christmas and The Christmas Mouse, is love and work. Although No Holly . .  centers around the life of a single woman the value of motherhood is recognized. Experiencing, first hand, the varied duties that a mother must perform from dawn to dusk – especially at Christmastime – Miss Quinn realizes how self-centered she is in comparison to her sister-in-law. She thinks to herself, “If I’m a working woman what is she?”

The Lady-of-the-House is quite fond of her book friend, Miriam Quinn and thinks you will become fond of her, too.

Recently, over several evenings the Lady-of-the-House tallied the hours of her silent reading of No Holly. . . for you. It was under four hours. During one of the busiest Christmases she can remember, when her children were in their teens and involved hither and thither, she took advantage of some calmer evenings to read the story aloud to her coming-of-age daughter Yolanda. It was a special one-on-one time on the sofa, sandwiched between days of extra shopping, extra cooking, caroling at nursing homes, and lengthy music rehearsals and performances. “I can still hear us giggle,” the Lady-of-the-House says. 

God bless you in your love and work at Christmastime,

Karen Andreola  


  1. OOOh those heart in hands cookie cutter is beautiful!
    Thanks for heads up on the Miss Read book. I've just added it to my wish list on
    Have you read The Morville Hours? I think you might like it.

    Love Leanne NZ

  2. Such a beautiful painting. I wonder too.

    My husband and son are much the same as yours, "Can we eat them yet?" I bought three cookie cutters this fall: a scarecrow, a crow, and a pumpkin. Those cookies were quite a bit of work to cut out and decorate. I warned them all that these were cookies to be savored and eaten slowly. My mom and I laughed about how much I would have to charge per cookie if I planned to make a living that way.

    Interestingly, I saw a commercial the other day whose main theme was - DONE. People were depicted in the midst of various Christmasy activities, and the main thrust was being done. Cards, shopping, cooking, decorating...there was no joy, just an urgency to be done. It was good for me to see. I'm making extra efforts this season to find the joy in the doing.

    You've reminded me, I'm almost out of ginger.

    I always look forwrd to your posts, Karen.


  3. Your posts are always so quiet and inspiring - thank you! I requested No Holly for Miss Quinn through the library - one copy available in Los Angeles County - look forward to the quiet read. Just got The Vicar Of Wakefield, will have to squeeze it in, too. Love your image of being tucked into the couch with your daughter, reading, sandwiched with the busy days.

  4. I don't want any rush through this amazing Celebration! There has to be a sense of calmness and joy :)

    The picture is just lovely, and yes, there is no place like home for any day...

    Be blessed today,


  5. I love the piece of music by Enya entitled No Holly For Miss Quinn, and had no idea it was an actual book. So I have promptly ordered it from my library. Imagine my surprise to discover two copies were actually available! Although one of them is large print, I shall manage. It sounds like a delightful book to read this Christmas.

    I wonder if you could share with us how you encouraged your older children to still enjoy readalouds with you?

  6. What a lovely post. The cookie cutter is so touching. To me it shows the love from a mother in the gift "cookies" she is making for her family. I love the symbolism. Is there any way perhaps to order one of these cutters from the tinsmith? Enjoy your weekend :)

  7. I love reading all your posts. They are like visiting an old friend (and I guess you ARE an old friend if you consider it is all one way... my reading YOUR books). :)

  8. I just finished No Holly for Miss Quinn last night!
    Perfect reading for this time of year. Mine was in a collection of three Christmas stories Called Christmas at Fairacre. All three stories were wonderful, and the hardcover book was very inexpensive on Amazon.

  9. Your blog is always so a cup of warm tea and a handprint spice cookie (with a heart in the very palm of it ...of course.) God bless you!

  10. Karen,

    It was delightful to run into Dean and Nigel the other day! I do miss seeing you on a regular basis.

    I will have to see if I can find No Holly - I read Village School by Miss Read and enjoyed it very much.

    I am busy knitting a hat for my granddaughter and a shawl for Sarah...busy hands indeed, but I love it!

    Dreaming of tea and a chat!

  11. Oh Karen, how happy I am when a new post from you comes up! Your quiet and gentle voice always calms me and the content is always so interesting, thought-provoking and has something of beauty. Thank you for that.
    I just so happen to have the three Miss Read Christmas stories (contained in one volume) purchased and set aside waiting for Christmas. Now that the season is approaching, I can't wait to read them and I will start with the Miss Quinn story. How fun to share this with you!
    Now - if we could just get you to share that butter cookie recipe with us.... :-)

  12. What a wonderful post Karen, thank you so much. I am off to search for "No Holly For Miss Quinn".
    Smiles, DianeM

  13. My husband and I recently watched a documentary on The Shakers, therefore I recognized your Title.Love this posting Karen.Dear Husband has this book on hold for me at our library.Bless you for sharing snippets of your life with us ladies.I loved your one-on-one time with your daughter. Now that our 3 children have left our nest, I too can still hear the laughter of special times shared. Your pictures in this posting are just beautiful. Simple and peace filled. ,Blessings, Dawn E. did not get back to comment on your last posting, your grandbaby is such a handsome little man.Loved the yo-yo's. I make lots and lots of yo-yo-s. It is a good way to share time with hubby in the eve,while he reads.Life is just so full of special moments,we are much blessed by our Dear God.

  14. Dear Ladies,
    The gladness that comes from discovering that others have read what you've read or are very interested in doing so, is being felt by me today. Thank you for sending along your comments. It is pleasant to be in your company.

    The lady tinsmith, Karen Hurd, sells her Colonial style wares from her studio at 972 Valley Rd, Quarryville, PA 17566. I didn't find a website. Her cutters were featured in Early American Life magazine a few years back. Last December I visited her studio.

    The butter cookie recipe is a basic "roll" dough out of "Joy of Cooking" but I added a little spice.

    Until next time,
    Karen A.

  15. I LOVE LOVE this post!!! I put all three of Miss Read's books on hold! And I also adore that cookie cutter! :)

  16. Karen,
    RE: cookie cutter
    I did an internet search for the heart/hand-shaped cutter and found several available online. Maybe not as fun as from your local tinsmith but thought it might be of interest to your other readers.

    You already know that the Miss Read books are favorites of mine! She was a prolific writer!

  17. Just finished No Holly for Miss Quinn and have The Christmas Mouse & Village Christmas on my library stack! Thanks for the recommendations! So sweet and I love the homemake-yness of them! ;)

  18. Oh what a lovely post! You make me want to read Miss Read!