I knew that C.S. Lewis and I had more in common than our Christianity when he said, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." Welcome to a celebration of faith, tea, and the written word. I'm always engaged in a book, and whether it's one I'm reading or one of the inspirational historical romances I write, there's always a cup of tea close by. Join me in a cup as we chat about faith, our favorite books and the exciting places our reading and writing adventures take us.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Victorian-Era Servants


For those of us who do all our own housekeeping, trying to figure out the staff in historic-set TV shows like Downton Abbey or in our favorite books can be confusing. Here's a basic primer that might help.
http://www.ahalondon.org.uk/ncsa.winter.htm
Running a large home in the 19th century was no easy task, so if you could afford it (or wanted to look like you could), you’d hire a servant. Or more. It wasn’t unheard of to hire more staff than you could afford, since then as now, employing people to care for your every need was a sign of wealth.

If you could only afford one servant, she would probably be a maid-of-all-work, a woman who cleaned, laundered, cooked, shopped, mended, and watched the children. Her life was probably difficult and full of drudgery, but depending on the household, she could be comfortable. However, according to Mrs. Beeton (who penned a must-have book on housekeeping),

 "The general servant or maid of all work is perhaps the only one of her class deserving of commiseration. Her life is a solitary one and in some places her work is never done."

Wealthier households would hire more servants: a cook and housemaid at least, and a nurse for the children. The extremely-wealthy hired many more servants, which followed a strict code of hierarchy.

Indoors, a butler was the top banana. Below him was the underbutler, and then the master's valet. Next came footmen and any other men, including lampboys. The butler supervised the male staff; he announced visitors, sometimes took responsibility for the table setting, and was in charge of the wine.


Male Servants at Petworth in the 1870s. (copyright National Trust)
Male Servants at Petworth in the 1870s. (Copyright National Trust)
Meanwhile, the housekeeper was in charge of the female staff. Under her was the mistress' lady's maid. Next in her oversight came the cook, maids of various degree, and kitchen, dairy, and scullery maids,  and "tweenys" whose sole job was taking out the slop; she also kept accounts, ordered foodstuff, oversaw the linens, and kept the tea and coffee stores.
Maids cleaning ashes, perhaps?

Footmen served food, carried packages, and accompanied their owners out and about. Maids, meanwhile, scrubbed, mended, and swept. Ladies’ maids were higher up in the hierarchy than housemaids, which had more status than chambermaids.

victorian kitchens & cooking
This kitchen looks warm and spacious
 
Governesses often floated in that no-man’s-land between the staff and the family. Educated and referenced, they were ladies of good breeding, so they were “better” than the staff, but not “good enough” to dine with the family. If there was a head nurse, the governess was under her, but over nursemaids.

Outdoor servants included gardeners, gamekeepers, a coachman, and grooms.

Hours were long and the wages low, but servants sometimes received “vails” or tips from houseguests, which boosted their incomes. Some saw being in service as a career, while others viewed it as a way to stay warm and fed, as they were housed and served meals as part of their compensation.

Another interesting note? Sometimes, servants' names were changed for the employer's convenience. If one maid was named Mary, it might just be easier to call each consecutive maid thereafter Mary, too. This went for butlers, lady's maids, and cooks, too, depending on the whim of the employer.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Death by the Book: A Cozy Mystery Review!


WHEN THE VILLAGE OF FARTHERING ST. JOHN IS STUNNED BY A SERIES OF MURDERS, DREW FARTHERING IS DRAWN AGAIN INTO THE SLEUTHING GAME.

Drew Farthering wanted nothing more than to end the summer of 1932 with the announcement of his engagement. Instead, he finds himself caught up in another mysterious case when the family solicitor is found murdered, an antique hatpin with a cryptic message, Advice to Jack, piercing his chest.

Evidence of secret meetings and a young girl's tearful confession point to the victim's double life, but what does the solicitor's murder have to do with the murder of a physician on the local golf course? Nothing, it would seem--except for another puzzling note, affixed with a similar-looking bloodied hatpin.

Soon the police make an arrest in connection with the murders, but Drew isn't at all certain they have the right suspect in custody. And why does his investigation seem to be drawing him closer and closer to home?
***
 
Julianna Deering has done it again: the second book in her Drew Farthering Mystery series is a fast-paced, fun read that had me guessing until the end.
 
In the style of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Deering's series features a charming young amateur sleuth with plenty of money and time on his hands. Drew is smart, sophisticated, and witty--but he can't seem to stay out of trouble.
 
One doesn't need to have read Book 1, The Rules of Murder, to enjoy this mystery, but those who have will be delighted to recognize old friends. Back in this book are Drew's sidekick, the adorable Nick, and Drew's lady love, Madeleine, who still can't decide if she should marry Drew. Meanwhile, she resides in the guest cottage after the devastating murders in Book. Joining her this round is her Aunt Ruth, a fabulous character a bit like Downton Abbey's Dowager Countess. She's a tough cookie, but her quips are hilarious, and Drew is smart enough to work hard to win her to his side while he struggles to solve the vexing murders plaguing his village.
 
Drew has a solid Christian faith that he shares in a genuine, kind way with those suffering around him--nothing preachy here. He tries to be a light in a fallen world, and Deering pulls no punches when it comes to the effects of sin and brokenness in the book's themes. Still, the book is clean, and while Drew and Madeleine share passionate kisses, nothing's described in detail.
 
I adored the story, which was full of twists and red herrings. I recommend to any fan of cozy mysteries. Can't wait for book 3, Murder at the Mikado!
 
 
Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Birds of a Feather

I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a housetop. Psalm 102:7

For the first time since we planted it three years ago, we are enjoying baskets upon baskets of fresh-picked nectarines from our backyard tree. It’s taken long enough, eh? The problem isn’t that the tree didn’t produce, but there were always issues. Did you know snails love nectarines? I didn’t. They slimed their way up the trunk and took out the small crop the first year.

Birds love fruit—yeah, that I did know. So we netted the tree. Netting isn’t precise, though. Since the tree has changed shape since it began bearing fruit—the branches are heavier—there are gaps in the net. Lately, I get up in the morning, and before I even make a cup of tea, I shoo a flock of thrushes away from the tree before I readjust the net. If I’m lucky, I can get to a ripe nectarine before they had a chance to nibble the best parts.

Little wonder there are so many parables about bearing fruit. And robbers.
Swainson's Thrush, a possible culprit! From wikipedia.com

But when it comes to spiritual matters, emotional matters, these little birds have captured my attention. They do everything together. They zip around the tree together. Flee together. Watch me with their beady little eyes together. They’re buddies. A team.

But not all birds of a feather stick together. People sure don’t. If you’ve ever parented a pre-teenager, or been one yourself, you’ll remember how difficult it can be to find a team, a buddy, a gang, a group. And it doesn’t always get easier when we grow up. We start new jobs, take classes, move to new areas, and visit churches. All places that are full of people. And surrounded by folks, we can feel utterly alone.

The author of Psalm 102 could relate, to say the least. Dejection and agony run through the verses, in addition to feeling like a lonely bird. He writes:

For my days vanish like smoke; my bones burn like glowing embers. My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food. In my distress I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones. (3-5)

We all have ways of coping with loneliness. We stay in, to nurse the pain or to avoid going out by ourselves. We go out, hoping to make new friends, and sometimes it works.

We are blessed to have a Lord who Himself felt rejected, misunderstood and despised. When we feel alone, we can come to Him and share our feelings. He doesn’t want us to be lonely.

But while God cares a lot about our feelings, I think He would also have us do more about the lonely birds He’s placed around us.

How so? Well, when we have good friends, we don’t feel the need to make new ones. We enjoy our bubble of fellowship … and there’s nothing wrong with comfortable friendships. Thank God for true friends who know us and love us anyway!

But does that mean we should stop seeking new friendships or stop being available to others?

One woman I spoke to recently is new in her community and church. She has become acquainted with several women whose children are of similar ages to hers. Last week, she shared with the women how she’d like to be more involved and deepen relationships, and she invited them to an activity. The group told her if she wanted to make new friends, she should visit a networking website. What this woman really wanted, however, was to to get to know them! Instead, she felt  as if she was unworthy of her Christian sisters’ time.

I would argue that being closed to friendships is unhelpful in making others feel welcome—and it might even be anti-evangelical or self-centered.

The Bible is full of verses regarding fellowship. God created us to need fellowship. He wants us to share our lives with Him and one another.

"...I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me." John 17:23

"That their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love..." Colossians 2:2

"Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith."  Galatians 6:2,10
When we lack the fellowship, pain ensues.The Psalmist’s symptoms of loneliness described in Psalm 102 are physical as well as emotional: insomnia, tears, loss of appetite. True suffering.

Watch for someone who might be suffering from the loneliness that you sometimes feel. You never know. At worst, you’ll be doing something grand in easing someone’s burden –with a smile or a lunch out or a quick note.

And who knows? Maybe you’ll become two birds of a feather.

(originally appeared on Inkwell Inspirations)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

You Must be Doing Everything Wrong!

"Your life is such a mess, you must be doing everything wrong. After all, if you’d been following God’s will, everything would be hunky dory, right?"

Ever heard somebody say that?

Have you ever experienced  a season where things just seem hard, or everything goes wrong? I'm in a bit of a season like that, myself. In other words, I'm not on a path. I'm stumbling along a rocky hike. Mulling through my head are prayers, reminders to trust in God, but also the niggling thought that maybe God is disciplining me. Maybe if I were "better" my path would be smoother.
Well, God is a God of discipline. But is it always true that, Blessing=God likes you? Trials=God is mad at you?

Thankfully, the Bible says that isn't necessarily true.

Take Joseph. As you might remember, Joseph was his father Israel’s favorite son. He's the one who got the colorful coat of an overseer, but he was also a good kid, and the Bible tells us he went the extra mile to obey his father’s orders.
File:Jacob blesses Joseph and gives him the coat.JPG
Joseph's Coat of many colors. Owen Jones, public domain.
The Lord also gave Joseph dreams, revealing the promise that Joseph would be elevated above his family. In a horrible scene of sibling rivalry, his brothers threw him down a pit, where the seventeen-year-old begged for his life. They wanted to kill him; however, they ended up selling him (cheaply) as a slave to passing Ishmaelites.
File:Joseph cast into the pit.JPG
Joseph cast into the Pit, Owen Jones. Public domain.
Joseph’s troubles didn’t end there. As a slave, he was falsely accused of sexual sin and then was imprisoned. He didn’t deserve any of his punishments. For years, Joseph was humbled, and anyone looking from the outside in would have judged him as lowly, guilty, and scorned by God.

When Joseph correctly interpreted the dream of Pharaoh’s cupbearer, in which the cupbearer would be reinstated to the Pharaoh’s favor, Joseph saw an opportunity to get out of prison.

Pharaoh's chief cup-bearer, however, forgot all about Joseph, never giving him another thought. Genesis 40:23 NLT

Joseph must have wondered all those years if those dreams God gave him so long ago had been imagined. Or if God forgot about him. Or if he'd done something wrong to deserve this cruddy life. While the Bible doesn't say he complained, he might have been tempted to have a pity party or question his God the two whole years it took for the cupbearer to remember him…and this was the moment when God pulled Joseph out of prison to exalt him to be the vizier of all Egypt, to use him for His purposes to save and protect His people Israel, and to glorify Himself.
File:Joseph made ruler in egypt.jpg
Joseph in Egypt (living a good life!). Public Domain.
Sometimes we sit in a prison of circumstances that aren’t of our making, and it can make us wonder if we’re on God’s path. Especially when other voices suggest we're way off base (friends, the enemy, etc).

I've certainly been there. When my pastor husband was called to our parish, we sold our house in our old town and bought one in our new community. The day before escrow closed, however, the buyers of our home backed out. In turn, we had to back out of the house we'd bought and put our old house back on the market—and you all know how great the real estate market’s been the past few years.

Our house sold again quickly, but would you believe this scenario repeated itself not once but twice. During this difficult season, I questioned whether we’d done the right thing, whether we’d heard God correctly, whether we’d done something wrong.

Surely, others told us, if God wanted you to do this, the transition would have been easier.

That certainly wasn’t true for Joseph. I don’t know why God took our family through that difficult period (although we were refined through it), but I can tell you He miraculously sold our home three times in a bad real estate market. He was there, whether or not we felt Him or saw His hand making the path straight. And then He lifted us out of it, to His glory.

When we are in difficulties and question whether or not God cares, or is even punishing us, submit the event to the Lord. We may well be on the wrong path, but we may also be walking through a valley by His leading.

Let Him do with it what He wills and choose to grow through it. He may have a big picture we cannot see.

“I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” Genesis 45:4-5

(originally appeared on Inkwell Inspirations)