Sunday, December 30, 2007

2008 will roll in with a scorch

Phew, it's hot!
We've had two days of 38 degrees and just heard on the News that tomorrow will be 41 degrees celsius. I've got a new diary with conversion charts that help me convert this temperature to fahrenheit so I'm going to give it a go. Tomorrow will be 106 degrees F. Does that sound hot?

Two days before Christmas we had some blessedly wet weather. The heavens opened in a mighty way and kept pouring all day. Andrew & I were getting some last minute Christmas shopping done and the whole Mall was full of smiling faces with not one complaint about the rain. I'd almost forgotten the sound of sheets of water beating down on a tin roof and that great smell of dry earth which is finally getting a good soaking. In the evening between showers, I took a walk to a creek around the corner which had recently turned completely dry. I was amazed to see that after just one decent day of drenching rain, it was roaring in torrents. There must be some sort of spiritual application to be made there. No matter how dry and hard our lives have turned, God can reverse the situation in a flash. And on the News, they were saying how wonderful the rainfall was for the Murray River, which is responsible for much of the South Aussie drinking water, and New South Wales and Victoria draw heavily upon it for irrigation. We were out dancing in the back yard. Even Logan and Blake, who usually hate getting wet, were having a great time being drenched to the skin.

But that's over for who knows how long. In my childhood I used to claim that summer was my favourite month. Not any more. What could I have been thinking? Perhaps the things I associated summer with have changed in my mind. It meant a birthday (December 24th), Christmas and the long school holidays, all of which I found exciting. Although those things haven't changed, my attitude has. Being another year older doesn't have the same excitement now I've just turned 38 as it did when I just turned 8. And I actually enjoy doing work with the kids and learning bits and pieces, so the prospect of several weeks without that routine doesn't thrill me either. Bring on autumn!

As that won't happen any time soon, I'd better focus on the good things about summer. There must be a few if I can think of them.
* cold salads for tea with lots of cucumber.
* leisurely walks in the cool of the evening.
* cold drinks straight from the fridge.
* excuses to buy take-away teas from Subway because it's too hot to cook.

It's early evening now. We're going to have a late tea of chicken hamburgers and then I'm going to hang a load of washing. Early darkness is the perfect time to do it in this weather. Then I'll go for a walk, either alone or with the others.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"This is Long"

My son Blake has a saying when he's finding things a little boring and tedious. It came out last week at our local "Carols By Candlelight" and then again at the Family church service when all the kids stayed in from Sunday School to sit with their parents. After some time sitting, he'd begin to squirm, then look up at me and say, "This is long."

Now, of course his older brother & sister would phrase it differently. They'd say, "This is boring!" or "I'm bored." I find Blake's little remark about something being "long" is far easier to put up with. "Boring" (or "Bore" or "Bored" or any other derivatives) is one of those words that instantly convey frustration to the heart of a parent. I think it should be banned as an expression in any household that wants to stay reasonably sane or calm. Our choice of words certainly can make a huge difference in someone else's reaction. This just reinforces my opinion that words are containers of their own certain type of power and can make or break a mood. So we could make life easier by being very careful about the ones we choose.

Would you rather get feedback that something you said or wrote was "a bit on the long, rambly side" or it was "boring?" The first comment would give the impression that you could actually do something to change or improve it, while that B word would seem to indicate that nothing can be done and it's a personal comment.

Now I hope nobody will tell me that this thought is either "boring" or "long and rambly."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My stance on criticism

A couple of Saturdays ago I watched a wonderful TV movie called, "Beyond the Prairie." It was so lucky I found it because normally we don't check the TV guide during the day time on week-ends. My husband noticed it was on just as it was starting. So instead of doing the housework I'd intended, I put up my feet and watched it instead.

"Beyond the Prairie" was a sort of unofficial biography about Laura Ingalls Wilder after she married her husband, Almanzo and their daughter, Rose was born. In the movie, the three of them travelled further west than they'd ever been before to begin a new life at Mansfield, Missouri. Now I'd been feeling a bit grouchy about lack of money to handle Christmas expenses. This movie boosted my attitude like some sort of sling. Watching the hardships these people suffered in their covered wagons, followed by the tribulations they endured once they reached their destination showed me that I am really living a life of immense blessings.

If these 19th century pioneers didn't give every drop of blood, sweat and tears they could, they'd starve. And it was most uncommon for all the children of a family to live to adulthood. (Of course I already knew all this, but it's good to be reminded). Yet the enormous faith in God and the industry shown by the Wilder family was truly inspiring, with many of Laura's own quotes in the narration. On the whole, I thought it so well done that I told my husband, "I know why God doesn't always answer my prayers for prosperity the way I'd like Him to. Through this movie, He was telling me, 'See, you have nothing to complain about.'" And it was enough to make me happy again!

Now while I was doing a bit of an internet search, I discovered a website about this film with some ratings from the public on it. And not all of them were positive. Some were scathing. One lady wrote that in her opinion it did not do justice to the hardships the family actually had to face! I typed that in bold letters because I could not believe what I read. We'd watched the same movie yet her opinion and mine were poles apart.

After my amazement had subsided, I was glad I read the comment. It's help me to re-adjust my own attitude to the sort of criticism I sometimes get related to matters of writing, homeschooling, house-keeping and child-raising (but especially writing!) One negative comment has sometimes had the effect of making my heart plunge so deep into despair that I never want to make an effort again. But even when criticism comes from the most authoritative sources, it is all relative! Of course I already knew this also, but what a releasing thought. It empowers me to get all I can from negative remarks, then shrug them off and get on with my life without thinking, "It must be true! This is rubbish!" Two people can read or watch the same story in a book or on TV and come away with totally different feelings. It can make life confusing, but it's just a side-effect of the world full of interesting people God has made.

Friday, December 14, 2007

O, Christmas Tree, O, Christmas Tree!

At the end of last year, we discarded our shabby old Christmas Tree. I now clearly remember saying, "If we don't get rid of it, we'll just be tempted to use it again and this way, we'll have to go out and get a new one." The only thing is, I'd forgotten I said that until I went to bring the Christmas gear in from the shed and found it was missing. So we went out to look for one.

Before I go any further, I must add that purchasing a living Christmas Tree each year is not an option for us. Back in 1997 my dh cut down a little self-sown pine in our front yard that had grown too close to our foundation and we decided to use that one. We thought it brilliant & wonderful at the time, but in the summer heat, the pine needle smell grew stronger & stronger until I had a terrific case of hay-fever! Worse than that, Logan, our only child at the time, kept developing weird rashes and puffy purple eyes like nothing I'd ever seen. I don't know if the Tree was responsible for that but it was the only new variable in our house so I wasted no time in getting it out the door ASAP. Since then we've stuck to artificial trees.

What you see above is the tree we bought a few weeks ago. The lady in the shop promised that it'd be the most simple, straightforward, no-nonsense tree we could ever imagine. It sounded good to me. We got it home to discover that it's basically one long spiral of wire covered with green tinsel. It even came with its own stars for decorations. And we did assemble it in about five seconds flat. All the boys and I were quite taken with the simple elegance of it, but there was one major hassle. Emma was not happy. You see, it was the perfect "lazy man's" tree, so simple that she couldn't hang decorations on the spiral! And Emma loves all that extra work that goes with the Season. So she did her block and declared, "This has absolutely ruined my Christmas!"

And whenever she got into a sour mood about anything whatsoever, the poor tree bore the brunt of it and became her scapegoat. I told her we couldn't afford to buy another tree, but she insisted that we keep looking around, just the same.

In the end, we had a stroke of good fortune. We borrowed my in-law's old tree. They've purchased a new, flashy fibre optic one, so their old one made its way over here. Emma had the pleasure of decorating it, (as you see below), our new spiral one has been relegated to the other living area, and we're all happy. But I see that trying to keep things simple has resulted in more complication, as sometimes happens. Instead of one tree we now have two, one in each living area!

But that's OK. Christmas Trees always bring back good memories of the Christmas when Emma had just turned one, and it was among her first words. She'd see them everywhere we went, point them out and pronounce it, "Mimmuf Tree!" So our 2 Christmas Trees this year certainly brighten up the house.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Time and the future

Over the weekend I was having a chat with my sister and her friend, a lady who is going to edit my recently completed M/S for me. She said that she likes to open up and have a browse from anywhere in a novel before she begins to read it. And I agreed that I often do this too. I also like to skim read the last page or two to get an idea of what will happen in the story before I begin. This has several benefits to me. You get to think about the author's work with structure and plot as you read. If an "appealing" sounding character is going to be written out, you don't have to persevere until you reach the end and then get disappointed. Above all, this is my screening process to make sure that my novels are going to be optimistic and upbeat, and not bleak and hopeless.

My sister said, "You two are naughty, then. You're supposed to read straight through from the start, or you spoil the surprise." Now, as far as Agatha Christie style who-dunits are concerned, I agree with her. But I don't ever think I'll change my habit of random browsing before I begin.

Then this morning, my 9yo daughter, Emma, said to me, "I wish we could go forward in time! Then I could already be enjoying Christmas." I told her, "You'd go forward two weeks, but if I had the chance, I reckon I wouldn't mind going forward about forty or fifty years, just for a peep." If somebody could put me in their time machine and offer to show me only good aspects of the future, I'd love to see who my children are going to marry, what professions they'll choose, how many grandchildren I'll have, and where Andrew and I will be living (and if we ever manage to make a fortune somehow). Yes, it'd be very interesting to see if I'll end up being the 60 or 70 year old woman I hope to be. Then, if I like the picture, I'd happily return to Christmas 2007, to fill in the time. This is the sort of thing I do when I read a book. How frustrating that I can't do it with our real lives. We have no choice but to live them page by page, just as story characters supposedly do.

But I found a quote by Thomas Carlyle which says, "Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance but to do what lies clearly at hand." I think perhaps that must be God's opinion and that must also be why He gives us our lives in little chunks of 24 hours. We're designed to live in day-long segments for a reason.

If we're interested in our futures, perhaps we just need to latch onto Scripture promises such as this one from Isaiah. "I have upheld you since you were conceived and have carried you since your birth. Even to your old age and grey hairs I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and will carry you. I will sustain you and I will rescue you." If we really take such promises to heart, what more do we need?

When I was in my late teens and was a fairly new Christian, I'd made an appointment with a Gypsy fortune teller and after getting the jitters, decided to cancel it. This was before I'd really learned to avoid everything to do with mediums, the occult and such. Yet even now, prophetic words from people with that sort of gift and the concept of time travel in stories have always been fascinating. In 1985, I was there at the movies to watch "Back to the Future" on its first week, partly because I liked Michael J Fox and partly because the time aspect interested me. Doctor Who, Madeleine L'Engle's "Wrinkle in Time", The Amazing Mr Blunden, Playing Beatie Bow (this is actually an Aussie time travel novel about a girl who returned to Old Sydney Town in the 1800s. Has anyone else read it?), return to Camelot, it's all interesting.

I was always open to the possibility of time travel happening some day, until I heard a radio programme which flatly declared that it will always be impossible. Their reason: Nobody has ever turned up and announced that they're from the future. It made sound sense to me. But my dh and ds#1 both say that perhaps we just don't believe anyone who makes this claim, and perhaps such people as Isaac Asimov and Jules Verne had some sort of secret link to the future!

Anyway, I wonder what I would've thought of my current life (nudging 38), if I'd been given a glimpse of it in my teens. If I'd known I'd have 3 kids called Logan, Emma and Blake, if I'd known I'd move to the Adelaide Hills and marry a boy who already lived there it might've been nice. When I was 17, my sister and her new husband had just returned to Australia from England. Being city people, we caught an old classic steam train for a journey to the Hills, but it broke down at Mt. Barker and left all its passengers stranded for hours. During our walk around what seemed such a quiet, dead country town, stopping to buy fish and chips, I wouldn't have dreamed I'd ever live there! And I also would've been surprised to see the growth which has taken place in 20 years. That's the sort of thing that makes me expect that the future, whatever it holds, will be bound to contain some surprises.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Being "Average"

Wow, I can see from the date what a long time it's been since I logged on and blogged. I didn't realise quite how long until I came on today. The last few weeks have been very busy with the activities I blogged about last time, plus some more nerve-wracking extras. In this last week, we've had both a visit from the homeschool inspector and a rental inspection of the house. So I've been writing the obligatory homeschool report for Logan and Emma, and making the house as sparkly clean as I could. Whew, I'm glad both visits are now over.

I felt as if it's all been taking a toll on my brain, too. I went to a final Wednesday night Bible study group I've been attending and found the discussion hard to enter into after the busy week. While other people seem to think of intellectual and well-thought-out comments about theological subjects on the spot, I found my mind was empty. And I've never been comfortable with that empty feeling.

For as long as I can remember, I've been in the habit of setting high standards for myself, raising the bar at all times. I've always wanted to set myself something fresh, unique, impressive or helpful to write or say. And from books I've studied and people I've listened to, I was under the impression that this is how people are supposed to live. So when I reach deep within and find nothing, I feel lousy about myself. Like Yogi Bear, I imagined we're all supposed to strive to be, "Smarter than the average bear."

But over these last few days I've been thinking along different lines. I've pondered the question, "What's wrong with being average, anyway?" The word "average" gets its name for a reason. It's because the greatest percentage of the population fits into this category. So what's wrong with being no brighter than most people? I'm all in favour of making the most of the gifts we have, but feel I've totally wasted time over the years by digging deep for what hasn't ever been planted!

In fact, I've come up with an advantage to being average. I like to write books that as many people as possible will read and enjoy. Where do the majority people fit? Into the "average" population. So being "average" myself might make the stories more enjoyable on a certain level. A prize-winning genius might not necessarily be in touch with "normal" people as much as people like me, who are "average" ourselves.

Our world encourages us to aim for the stars and be all we can possibly be. Both Christian and secular circles do this. This way of thinking has its benefits but maybe people like me make the mistake of being down on ourselves for not being more than we can be. It's a mistake to think that the "average" things we can do aren't as important as the high and lofty things that others do. A fellow might submit a painstaking essay on existentialism, then go home to kick the football with his son. Who is to say that the football kicking isn't as great a deed as writing the essay?

It's high time somebody wrote a book entitled something like, "Enjoy Being Average." It has come to be a critical word. When my husband isn't impressed with something, he often says, "That was a bit average." Does this sort of casual comment reflect that we've turned into a nation of super-achievers, or would-be-super-achievers? I'll be happy to let down the measuring stick, at least for awhile.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Lead up to Christmas

I'd love to experience a beautiful, cosy winter Christmas one year. It's totally different for us but just as lovely in its own way I suppose. A bit weird at times. For example, I was getting into the Christmas spirit with my Amy Grant Christmas album. Singing about chestnuts roasting on an open fire and building snow men in the meadow while there's a blistering heat wave outside. All the shops buy into this madness. Fake snow spray is sprayed over windows everywhere. Sometimes I wish it'd make us feel cooler while we're shopping. We have our share of Christmas cards with the traditional winter snow scenes, although there are more Aussie ones available too.

Here are some of the annual highlights of our Christmas.
1) Pageants. The Adelaide Christmas Pageant is said to be the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. I'm not sure if that's still the case, but it's magnificent, with hundreds of floats that all have their own themes. There is always a pageant queen, with a retinue of fairies. Two little girls get to ride the horses, Nipper and Nimble. Whenever we don't go into the city to see it, as it's often hard to find a park and then easy to get lost in the crowd, we watch it on TV with the bonus of the commentary. At the end of the procession, Santa Claus always arrives, dressed in his full regalia. Once, a couple of years ago during a very hot pageant, the poor guy had a fainting spell.

When I was little, there was only the Adelaide Pageant, but over the last decade there have been increasingly more and more local pageants happening in the suburbs. Emma is going to be involved in our church float, dressed as an angel, along with other children. That'll be this Friday night. Then there'll be another one, in our own town, on Saturday morning. It's a great chance for local businesses to let their hair down, get dressed up and give themselves a bit of free advertising.

2) Attending beaches and swimming pools after finishing a year of study are always popular pastimes.

3) It's always great to go at least once to the movies, where it's cool and dark to get out of the heat.

4) We enjoy driving around to see people's electric light displays at night. One local town, Lobethal, has such huge displays on most of their homes that tour buses drive up from the city just to see it. Blake still remembers and chats about last years light displays, when he was still only 2, so it must've made a lovely impression. One street around the corner from us is always very well decorated and lit, so I'm grateful to them for the display. I might even post thank-you letters in a few of their letter boxes this year.

5) "Carols By Candlelight" are popular in all the suburbs. Ours is held in the local part one night in December, with guest artists and vending stalls. Once again, the Adelaide one in Elder Park by the River Torrens is the biggest. These nights are always very pretty when the sun sets and then thousands of little flames of light appear all over the park.

6) This year, there's going to be a German festival in our nearby town of Hahndorf, which was settled by the Germans. Saint Nicholas will be arriving, and there'll be displays of dollshouses and trees and gingerbread houses. Emma & I are looking forward to that one.

7) Traditional Christmas roast turkey and plum pudding is still a favourite on Christmas Day. But cold Christmas ham and salads are just as popular, especially in the evening.

8) Every year, the Adelaide Brewery sets up such a wonderful display of Christmas attractions on their back lawn that people set up food and drink stalls and sideshows just to get in with the crowds. Shows how much money the Brewery makes each year. Last year, some years trespassed over the fence very late at night and stole baby Jesus from the Nativity feature! Although they were caught on film doing it, he was never recovered and they had to produce a new one.

9) Christmas Day itself is always very tiring for us. After church we whiz off to either my family or Andrew's family party, then go to the other side's party in the evening, and we try to alternate lunch and dinner each year. This gets exhausting, kids get tired and grouchy, and I'd like to think of a different system, but it's hard to change a tradition that's been set like concrete since before we were even married.

I'd love to post some Christmas card O/S this year, so if you'd like to receive one from me and I haven't got your postal address, please give me an email! I guess late November is late enough to think of details like this.

God Bless,

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A new page in the History book

Today we all went to vote in the big Federal Election. After 11 years as our Prime Minister, John Howard and his Liberal Government have been beaten. The leader of the Opposition, Kevin Rudd, is now our new PM. In fact it was quite a landslide victory. As I'm typing this, there are parties happening all over the country, being broadcasted on every TV channel. It's exciting because it's so obvious that Mr Rudd will be completely different to Mr Howard. I hope it'll be to our benefit.

My 12yo son, Logan, has been quite interested in following the political debate this year, and it's been good to try to keep up with it for his sake. We know that the new Labor Government claim to have wonderful ideas for families. They plan to give each young family $200 for dental care are talking about every student from Year 9 to Year 12 having their own personal computer and making the education system more attractive. Apparently Mr Rudd has a great heart for youth and education.

Well, as the economy is on an upturn and the unemployment rate is as low as it's been for very many years, I'd have to give my condolences to Mr Howard and say he's done a great job.
And Mr Rudd, if only I had a chance to say a word to you, I'd ask that in your zeal for education, please don't forget homeschoolers!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Birthday Week

Emma is now 9 years old. Instead of cramming everything she wanted to do into one day, which wouldn't have been possible anyway, we ended up having a birthday week. Here are some of her highlights.
* We gave her a Nintendo DS, which she really wanted, and a couple of games to start her off.
* Other relatives gave her money, which she has only just finished spending. She bought a few more DS games, a new beanie kid bear, a book and a paint your own mug kit, so it stretched a long way.
* We dropped the boys off with my parents and took Emma and her friend Hannah to a waterslide complex in the city.
* We took Emma, Logan and Blake to Fasta Pasta for dinner to celebrate her birthday.
Those 9 years have passed very fast.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I thought this was a bit ironic!

The book I'm reading is "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron. In each chapter there are quotes from notable historical heroes and people of note on the margins of each page. In the section I was reading today was a quote from Buddha. It said, "To keep the body in good health is a duty. Otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear." Now, my immediate thought was, "This may be true, but why is it coming from a man who is always portrayed by artists and stonemasons as morbidly obese?" Now perhaps the real Buddha was trim, taut and terrific. I've heard this theory, but if this is the case, why do his statues make him appear as if he's a candidate for the cardiac ward and ought to go on a diet and get to the gym?

I'd like to add that I've known a few practising Buddhists and they've been lovely, caring people. I had to study Buddhism, along with the other major world religions, at High School in a subject called, "History of Ideas." I've even read some texts by authors who have tried to integrate both Buddhism and Christianity into their own personal lives. However, I know that any understanding I have is fairly shallow. Coming from a Christian background, I don't know a great deal about Buddhism, but here are a few observations.

Julia Cameron herself, in "The Artist's Way" says, "Creativity requires action and part of that action must be physical. It is one of the pitfalls of westerners adopting eastern meditation techniques to bliss out and render ourselves high but dysfunctional. We lose our grounding and with it, our capacity to act in the world." Interesting thought!

My pastor and a team of others, including one of my sisters-in-law, have just returned from a missions trip to Sri Lanka. They showed us all some beautiful slides and told us interesting stories. The pastor mentioned the prevalence of Buddhism among the people of Sri Lanka and told us that it's amazing to visit the country with an Australian perspective. Over here, most people we come across who practise Buddhism (and there are relatively few) emphasize the peaceful, introspective aspect, and karma, nirvana, respecting all living creatures, and searching for happiness within. That was what they expected to find from the Buddhists in Sri Lanka but instead, they are far, far more militant, throwing their weight around and persecuting minority groups. Also interesting.

It's fairly late at night and I wasn't really sure where I was going with this when I started it. I guess I'm just glad to be born into a Christian culture with a chance to practise my Christian beliefs without persecution. Because when you think about it, in spite of the reputation we sometimes have of being "pushy" and "intolerant" of others, Christianity is by far the least "pushy" and aggressive of all major world religions. We don't arrest, molest or torture anybody who differs from us, unlike the others, especially in their home countries. And that's just part of what Jesus meant when he spoke of his followers being the light and salt of the world. Praise God for that!

Monday, November 12, 2007

I knew I'd find one eventually!

A sleepy koala up a gum tree!
This cuddly fellow was in a tree right above the church carpark on Sunday morning. It was very patriotic of him because we'd just finished our Remembrance Day service. World War I ended on 11.11. 1918 and every year on that date we observe a minute of silence at 11 o'clock as a tribute to the "diggers", those Anzac soldiers who had died in action on either the Turkish coast at Gallipoli Cove or later, in France. This year, as Remembrance Day happened to fall on a Sunday, we had a very touching service. The children all stayed in the main auditorium instead of going out to Sunday School and as it approached 11.00, we were all given sprigs of rosemary to place on the altar out the front in honour of those WWI soldiers. Rosemary is traditionally used for remembrance and apparently it grows in profusion around Gallipoli.
It was especially meaningful to me this year because one of my ongoing projects has been typing out my father's hand-written genealogy for him. My grandfather was part of the 10th Battalion of Australian soldiers. He'd enlisted shortly after the horrendous Gallipoli campaign had been aborted. Then he was stationed in Egypt and later France. As I typed the details of that terrible War, the conditions these soldiers had to bear for month after month were brought home to me. The gruelling marches, living in trenches, being ordered out to that piece of ground between the trenches known as "No Man's Land," where so many young men were machine gunned down. I think that 1914-18 War must be one of the most barbarous of World History. And I look at my two boys and think, "If they'd been born just about a century earlier, this might have been them." The sight of all the unmarked graves in the poppy fields is always sobering.
My grandfather had been fast and fit and he'd been a "runner"; one of those soldiers whose job was to sprint and deliver messages from one officer to another. He'd had to wear a gas mask, and found it difficult to sprint full pelt without being able to draw a decent breath. The rubber of the masks had given him chronic sinusitis and rhinitus. Of course, I can't help thinking that if my grandfather had been killed in action, neither me nor my children would be alive today! How interesting to acknowledge God's hand of protection on our own lives before we were even born.
We finished up with singing "Advance Australia Fair." To me, national anthems are always tear-jerkers whenever I hear them, no matter whose they are. So seeing this gorgeous koala was fantastic! Immediately I cried, "I've got to have him for my blog!" and we happened to have the camera with us, because it was also Emma's birthday. (More about that later)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A grey elephant in Denmark

My nephews visited last night and told us this really cool little mental puzzle that's well worth trying out on your family and friends. So choose your victim and tell them you're going to prove that you can read their mind. Here's how it goes.

1) Think of a number between 1 and 10.

2) Multiply it by 9.

3) Add those two digits together so that you end up with a 1-digit number. (And whichever number they chose, the sum will add up to 9. That's because the sum total of anything that's multiplied by 9 will add up to 9. Think about it, 9, 18, 27, 36, 45 etc. all the way to 90.)

4) Now subtract 5 from this number. (Of course they will end up with the number 4)

5) Work out the corresponding letter that matches this digit. For example, 1 would be A, 2 would be B and so on. (So naturally your victim will end up with D)

6) Now think of a country that begins with this letter. (Denmark is usually the first country that springs to mind because countries beginning with D are pretty sparse.)

7) Now think of an animal whose name begins with the second letter of this country. (The second letter in Denmark is E, so normally, "elephant" will automatically be chosen.)

8) Think of the colour of this animal. (Normally, people will decide that elephants are grey.)


This worked like a charm in our household. But I've got to warn you, it's not totally foolproof. My nephews told us how they'd tried it on my Dad (their grandfather). It seems that instead of choosing Denmark for his country beginning with D, he chose Dalmatia. Then, when Travis and Jarrad made their big announcement, "You're thinking of a grey elephant in Denmark," he said, "No, I'm not. I'm thinking of a brown ass in Dalmatia!" We all thought that was pretty funny. They said, "Only Papa would have to think of some tiny, obscure little country that probably only has a population of a couple of hundred people." But they say it's worked over 90% of the time with everyone else.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

From Andrew's Workshop

Here's a sample of some of the projects my hubby has done. I'll start with something cute and easy. This fire engine was made for Blake, and as you can see, Blake loves it.
Andrew was asked to build a system of library boxes for the Primary School that my sis-in-law works at.

This has to be one of my very favourites. The chaise lounge! It was one of his first year TAFE projects and now sits in our bedroom. I use it for my reading, writing, Bible study etc.

Here's a cubby with a deck, slippery dip and sandpit and rope that he just finished recently. The owners have a 3yo boy and a baby girl. Lucky kids.

This is a fort he built as an experiment and we haven't sold it yet, so it sits in our backyard and our kids use it. There's Emma on it now. The idea is that Andrew builds something to sell on Ebay from time to time, so the equipment in our backyard is in constant change. So I guess our kids are lucky kids too.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

I'm a bit of a pushover (sometimes)

I took the kids for a browse in a new Harvey Norman store that's just been built in our town. It has furniture, white-goods, electrical goods, and they wanted to look at computer and Play Station games. Blake, my 3 year old, caught sight of "Buzz Junior, Robots." We already have "Buzz Junior, Monkeys," which he loves, and he clutched "Robots" to his chest asking, "Mummy, can we have this one?"

"I don't think so," I told him.

"But I really, really, really want to borrow it."

When he used the word 'borrow', I realised that he thought it was just another place like the library or video rental shop. I think he's used to seeing us borrow things more often than buying them. So I explained to him, "You can't borrow things from here. If we took that one home, we'd have to buy it and keep it."

Then he eyes lit up. "To keep it? Oh Mummy, thank you!" And he threw his arms around my leg and gave me a big hug. We all thought his mistake was pretty funny, but he kept holding that Play Station game against his chest as we continued browsing and I could see that he seriously thought I'd been telling him the game was ours.

Logan said, "You'll have to get it now, Mum, or he'll be really sad."

So I bought it! It was one of the times I had enough money on hand, and I looked at his face and really didn't want to let him down. Does this sort of thing happen always? No! But would it happen for people who are older and not so cute? Probably less likely. I'd like to put it to the test with my husband. He'd say, "That dress would cost you $?" And I'd say, "A new dress! Oh thank you!"

Anyway, the game is pretty good and the whole family enjoys it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Check out Celestia

A few nights ago, Logan and his dad were watching NCIS on TV. One of the characters referred to a computer programme named "Celestia" that enables people to view the features of outer space as if we're close up. It piqued Logan's interest because it sounded fantastic. He looked up Celestia on Wikipedia and found that it does indeed exist. So he was quick to download the programme and we found he was right. It is fantastic.

First it gives a close view of Earth in real time, so we can see who has daylight and who is in darkness at any given moment. To me, this on its own is fascinating. But then we looked at the moon, each of the planets in our own Solar System and other stars and planets in the galaxy. As far as we can see, every celestial body that has ever been charted is available to look at.

We saw the Hubble Telescope whizzing close to the earth's surface. It was somewhere between Madagascar and the west African coast when we followed it yesterday. And there was a great space station way out in the cosmos somewhere that made me think how amazing it is that we, as a race on Earth, have developed the power and technology to be able to send exploring probes out there. Makes me think of the Tower of Babel and shudder. Mankind is really exploring zones that not so long ago, we thought were visible only to God.

It's brought up interesting conversations around here about whether Earth is really the only inhabited planet in the galaxy. At first, I took the presence of our space probes on this programme as fairly substantial proof. "If aliens from other planets were doing the same, surely we'd bump into some of theirs and say, 'We didn't send this one out!'" But as the boys reminded me, the Universe is a huge place. It'd be like two different people each dropping a coloured grain of sand somewhere on the beach and challenging each other to find them. Made us laugh to wonder whether at this moment, aliens are telling their little offspring, "Googaloop is definitely the only planet that can sustain life." But all jokes aside, this programme is awesome!

From the dusty rings of Saturn to the big storm spot on Jupiter, the red landscape of Mars and the shimmering blue beauty of our own Earth, it's a programme that makes me draw my breath in awe at the majesty of God. This is well worth downloading and having a browse of. Logan says he downloaded Celestia from PCWorld. While Google Earth is wonderful for looking at features close up on our beautiful planet, Celestia is awesome for anyone wanting to explore further afield.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Sibling Rivalry

As I've mentioned before, the relationships between my children, particularly Logan and Emma, are not always smooth. And as parents, we rack our brains to figure out what can do to make them kinder to each other. We try bribes, punishments, guilt-trips, and wonder whether we are at fault ourselves for the way they snipe at each other. I decided the best thing to do is to look at sibling rivalry in a Biblical way, and when I started thinking of the Bible, some quite interesting thoughts occurred to me.

Basically, sibling rivalry is rife all through the Bible. Come with me for a bit of a look.

Cain and Abel. When the very first pair of brothers in recorded history didn't see eye to eye on the way to do things, whatever makes us think the rest of us will be any different?

Isaac and Ishmael. The friction between this pair of half brothers is still causing repercussions in the world some 3000 years later!

Esau and Jacob. Hopefully none of my children will ever be compelled to flee for their life from one of the others.

Leah and Rachel. Quite a sad bit of sisterly rivalry. How about that line in Genesis 30: 15 where Rachel tells Leah, "He can sleep with you tonight, in return for your son's mandrakes." It takes share and share alike to a level we wouldn't want to contemplate.

Joseph and his brothers. I still think it was a bit unwise for him to tell them about his dreams.

David's sons Absalom and Amnon. This was a very nasty bit of sibling rivalry, festering for years before it finally erupted in violence.

David's relationship with his own brothers when he was young. I love reading the interplay between David and his oldest brother Eliab in 1Samuel 17: 28-29. We get similar sorts of comments in our household. In effect, Eliab says, "What are you doing here? I know how conceited you are. You can't keep your nose out of anything. What about your sheep?" And David responds, "Now what have I done? I can't even open my mouth around here!"

Even seemingly smooth sibling relationships like that between Moses, Aaron and Miriam had their rocky patches.

So the first thing all of this shows me is that God certainly isn't taken by surprise when my little brood get involved in fights and arguments. He knows what siblings are like. Maybe He gives them to us as a double-sided "blessing." They certainly teach us attributes such as patience and long-suffering. Is it unrealistic to expect our homes to be full of young Davids and Jonathans (who, interestingly enough, were not real brothers by blood, anyway.)

In fact, I think you can tell when you're in a Christian bookstore. Other parents, leaning over the indoor playground barriers, call, "Obadiah, stop bashing Ezekiel over the head!"

Jesus had younger brothers and sisters Himself and still never sinned! That is enough to blow my mind, even though there were occasions when his siblings grumbled and murmured about Him.

I searched the scriptures to work out what should be my response when Logan, Emma and Blake are arguing. I'm actually drawn to the response Jesus gave to the man in Luke 12: 13 who said, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." Jesus replied, "Who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" In other words, "This has nothing to do with me. Sort it out between yourselves." I love it.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Here's a couple of pictures of Blake and Emma at the garden of my sister's place. We were on a wild koala hunt.

My sister and her two teenaged boys are renting part of a rambling old country mansion in the town where we go to church, so it's fun to visit them on Sunday afternoons. Last Sunday, they told us that a family of koalas had been on the move on Friday and Saturday. I immediately thought I'd love to take some photos for my blog and as it happened, my camera was in my handbag. So we set off on a long walk to look for them. There are great gardens and walks as part of the property.

After a long search, we found some high in a tree. I took some shots of them but alas, they were up so high, they was no way of telling what their furry grey rumps were supposed to be. My sister said, "You should have been here yesterday. They were walking along the top of that fence." So we missed out but I might return soon and see what I can do.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A smashing experience

One day last week, when I'd just gone into my bedroom to look up some Bible study notes for the kids' lessons, I heard an incredible shattering din! Then bedlam broke loose. There was all sorts of shouting and carrying on. I dashed out with my heart in my throat and the first thing I noticed was that their three heads all seemed to be safe and sound. I breathed easier straight away before I even knew what had happened, because when it's all said and done, that's the important thing.

It seems Logan had just got up from the computer and as he was walking away, his foot got caught around the leg of his chair. The chair went tumbling over and the back of it crashed into the window pane behind the table, smashing the glass. It did a thorough job. There was an incredibly jagged, gaping hole.

Logan was so upset and remorseful about this. He rushed off to his bedroom to grab his money tin, offering to pay for the damage. "I'm so stupid, I'm such a dork, I can't do anything right." Then he thumped a kitchen cupboard and a little plaque that says, "Come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest" fell off, almost hitting him on the head. That was the finish of his self-control. "I'd better just sit down and not move. I'm a walking disaster zone!"

I think I handled the situation fairly calmly, telling him that that accident was just one of those things that happens to everyone at certain times in their lives, and it'd be a simple matter for Dad to repair the window. And in a couple days, he did. For two nights we put a bit of plywood over the hole, which didn't manage to keep all the breeze out so it's good that we're having some hot, early summer style days. Now the new pane makes all the others look as if they need a good clean, and washing windows isn't one of my favourite activities!

The thing that struck me over the whole episode was that kids choose such odd things to feel guilty and terrible about. Whenever Logan teases his sister to the point of tears (which isn't hard to do), he hardly ever shows a shred of remorse for that! And that's a far more intentional, culpable action than accidentally breaking a window in my opinion. I think I even told him that, and he gave a sort of smirk, so I wonder if it sunk in.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Working on my old books

Some exciting things are afoot around here! I hope to report great progress within the next couple of months. I aim to re-print the first two novels I ever wrote. The first is called "Afraid To Love." I wrote it when my oldest child, Logan, was 2 years old, and I was 27. Andrew (my hubby) and I decided to publish a very small number because we'd never done anything like that before. So we printed 200 copies and managed to sell them all ourselves.

The next one was called "Picking Up the Pieces" and it's always been a sentimental favourite of mine because it's the first one we really felt we ventured out with in a "big" and "scary" way. We published and sold 2000 of them back in 2000. I used to work on it in 1999 as my hobby when Logan was at kindy and my baby, Emma, was asleep in the back of the car. I'd park my car in the carpark of a local park and just work on it flat out.

Both of these books are unlike my fantasy "Quenarden" series. They are contemporary, down-to-earth fictions with more simple settings. In fact, they're both set in the Adelaide Hills, where I live. At the time, I took Jane Austen's advice seriously to stick to what you know when you right. And I enjoyed them just as much as I enjoyed the fantasies. Now that I'm back working on straightening out "Afraid To Love" (because I never had it edited and now I think the original is appalling), I have to say they're even more fun than the fantasies in a way.

I've made a pledge to work on them for at least an hour each day and preferably 2 hours. Just a few weeks ago, it hit me that, without me really knowing it, I'd let a bit of slackness slip into my writing. I still imagined I was working on the books pretty steadily, but I'd let other things push it out of my schedule, such as homeschooling social commitments, more housework than necessary or just sitting around, reading books. So sometimes I'd only been working on the books a couple of times a week. And I realised that maybe the reason was that I'd got a bit disillusioned because of uncomfortable work trying to sell books for what seemed like little return. Sometimes I'd think things like, "So many incredible, fantastic novels have been written, when it's all said and done, who cares if I finish mine or not?" I've made up my mind not to think that way anymore.

To start with, when my sister-in-law from Melbourne was here a few weeks ago, she told me that she'd lent a young friend of hers a copy of my old "Picking Up the Pieces" and her friend loved it and found that it made her feel better and differently about problems she'd been having in her own life! And then I received a great email from a 16 y.o. girl who thought so highly of "Quenarden #1" that she wrote me an excellent summary of her thoughts. And I realised that I love writing these stories and it really is my calling. If I can help people feel better or even boost the world through the stories I write, then that's my contribution to brightening up the world and being a blessing in my own way.

What's more, I realised that with writing, a person will never know the extent of the people they've affected. How many people might've got something out of my books but never given me any feedback? After all, I've never written to all the authors of books I've been blessed by. Using feedback from other people as a gauge of how well I'm doing is a trap I don't want to fall into again.

So I'm hoping to re-release both my contemporary novels some time soon and even have some new ideas for a subsequent book involving characters from both. And of course there's also the "Quenarden #4" I've been working on too. So this'll keep me occupied and happy for some time, I hope.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Our Week

First of all, most of my family have just recovered from a fairly heavy cold. It was at its peak for me on Saturday. I felt really spaced out and whenever I walked I felt as if I was going to keel over, so my inner ears were probably clogged up. And we're all coughing. It started when my husband's sister and kids came visiting from Melbourne. Emma had been so looking to catching up with her favourite girl cousin and we were all looking forward to having Blake see the little boys. Yet they had the colds when they arrived. We knew that they did but because we only see them once in a blue moon, we went and spent time with them anyway. Sometimes it's worth risking getting sick, but I will say that it's a bit of a shame when we catch a cold from Victoria without even having the benefit of visiting Victoria!

Still, even though we've been low with colds, things have been happening. While I could do nothing but lie down, I read an excellent adolescent book that I bought from our library bargain table. Adolescent books are often my very favourites. This one was excellent, and when I looked it up on internet to find any reviews about it, I discovered that there are two sequels. Initially I was over-joyed but I soon changed my mind when I found out that the third one is out of print and impossible to get! I tried finding it on all the on-line out-of-print book sellers I could think of; Amazon, Alibris, you name it, I searched it. "This title is unavailable and we don't know if we'll ever have copies again," was the general response. If I'd known I wouldn't be able to find the last sequel, I would never have read the first book. (In case you haven't guessed, this scenario has got to be one of the things that really annoys me.)

So at the end of the week, Andrew was out and I was trying to get everyone to go to bed. Blake was crying at the top of his lungs because of something that happened in a game we'd just been playing. His mouth was open wide and I was trying to clean his teeth through his screams. Meanwhile, Emma was singing one of her made-up songs full pelt. She really puts everything into it with weird words and fancy vibratoes and after awhile, they are apt to get on one's nerves. Logan was pleading, "Please Emma, stop singing! Please, please, please Emma! Emma, I beg you to stop. Emma I can't take anymore. I'm going to go stir crazy if you keep going." And he was almost in tears with frustration. With all this noise pouring out of all three kids, I suddenly realised how tired this cold had made me. I just sat down on the floor and burst out laughing. Anyone who walked in might've wondered what bedlam they'd just walked into.

When Emma paused to take a breath and look at Logan, she got a little smile on her face and said, "My work here is almost done!" And that was the finish of me. But the laughter response turned out to be better than "Everyone be quiet and get ready for bed," which seemed like the obvious thing to do from the start. They even started to laugh themselves and I didn't get totally frazzled. It might be worth trying again, but not all the time.

Andrew is out again, at college, and tonight they're all calling me to come and watch, "Charlie & the Chocolate Factory" with them. It's the newer one with Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka and I haven't seen it before. So although I was going to visit a few other blogs and leave comments tonight, I've decided I'd better postpone it until tomorrow.

So long! That's been my week.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Acts of Kindness

I bought a book that was published by the "Random Acts of Kindness" Foundation, or "RAOK." The book was comprised of stories taken from mountains letters the general public had sent as a result of previous books. The editors commented that the bulk of these were about acts of kindness done by other people to the writers of the letters. Rarely did they receive a letter about a personal act of kindness performed by the writer. And they began to wonder why this should be so.

At first they assumed the same as me. People are brought up not to blow their own horns. From our earliest years, we're taught that it's nice to be humble and not show off. But as they continued interviews concerned with random acts of kindness, something else dawned on them. Truly kind people don't even tend to realise it! Whenever they congratulated anybody on a generous deed, it would be immediately brushed off, with, "It was no big deal. Anyone would have done the same." Finally it dawned on the RAOK Foundation that people don't consider themselves to be "kind" precisely because the chance to do a good deed never seems special or extraordinary to the individual. They often seem too simple and obviously necessary for any acknowledgement whatsover.

Yet the "ROAK" guys urged us to remember how wonderful we think it is when somebody else does a simple kind deed or speaks an encouraging word to us. They went on to say that in the same way, others appreciate it just as much whenever we do or say something kind to them. They've found (to the benefit of their Foundation) that the public seems to be thirsty for stories of such simple actions that "anyone" could do.

Bottom Line:- Never opt out of doing a simple act of kindness when you have the opportunity, just because, "It doesn't really matter much and when it's all said and done, nobody cares." This couldn't be further from the truth. So do what seems simple and obvious to you. "It's OK if it's obvious. This is just the clear, bright path of kindness."

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Spare a thought for the elephant

Here's something very interesting.

A man was standing around observing the staff of a circus taking the animals back to their enclosures at the end of a long day of performing. It intrigued him to see that the elephant trainers were leading their charges away with nothing more than thin cords tied around their front legs.
He approached one of the trainers to remark, "I would have thought such huge and powerful creatures would be able to break through those little cords and get away from you."
The trainer explained, "Of course they could, but we start training them when they are only babies. They can't snap the cords then and only ever try once or twice. Then they assume for the rest of their performing careers that they'll be unable to break free."

There you have it. It would seem that the proverbial long memories of elephants are not an advantage to them in every way! We have long memories too. It made me start to wonder if humans are all that much brighter than elephants. Perhaps I've limited myself in exactly the same way by the exact same thought patterns.

"I've tried hiring a PR guy for my books, and although he talked big, he didn't really deliver the goods so I'm not going to try again."
"I've tried speaking up in ladie's groups, but nobody was really interested in my opinion, so I'm going to keep it to myself from now on."
"I've been to parties thrown by So-&-So before and had a bad time, so I'm never going to go to the next one."
"What's-his-name called me an idiot so I won't be mentioning any more of my ideas to him."

Instead of being "wise" and "careful" what if some of this thinking is just making us choke off our true potential? Maybe when we get nervous about trying new things that we truly want to try, it'd be worth taking a moment to consider whether it's just "elephant mentality."

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Well, what about school?

Last Saturday, my dh was busy working so I got the job of driving my son to his archery lesson again. We had a full car because, as well as taking Emma & Blake too, we always stop to pick up another young lad who lives close to us. This fellow is almost 15 years old and talks like a wind-up toy, except that his batteries never go flat! He's very likeable but quite amazing. I think he's one of the few people I've met who can keep up a running monologue and call it a conversation. He only needs a few prompts, such as mmm, yeah, wow, and little laughs to keep him going for the whole 25 minute car drive. In fact, we've never tried the drive in total silence, so it's very possible that he doesn't even need that!

Here's a list of some of the topics he was talking about on Saturday.

1) Funny little clips he'd found on "You Tube"

2) Humorous pictures and signs he'd read.

3) What he did during his last family holiday into the country.

4) Run-downs of all the movies he's seen at the cinema recently.

5) Some of the vandalism which has taken place in the toilets and Science lab at his school.

It was only after I'd dropped him home that the question, "What about school?" occurred to me. He's a fairly bright boy who loves to talk about anything and everything that he finds interesting, so it struck me that nothing he learns in his classroom appeals to him enough to even mention. All of the bits of trivia he picks up seem to be learned outside of school. And he only ever mentions school when he talks about what the rebels are doing to annoy teachers and make their lives difficult. His school is quite an expensive private school that Andrew and I decided we could never afford way back in the days when we were still considering "normal" school for our kids. I thought it very revealing that someone as interested in the world and talkative would dismiss school lessons in his own mind as not worth talking about.

Makes me think John Taylor Gatto has quite a valid point when he calls schools, "Institutions where we farm out our kids and keep them from taking a useful part in society because we've been so brainwashed that we don't know what else to do with them," or words to that effect, (I wrote that from memory.) It reinforces my relief that we've chosen not to be part of it for now.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Little Birds of Paradise

On Saturday night, we went to a "masquerade ball" with Emma, Blake and one of Emma's friends. Logan went to spend some time with his boy cousins because he's not at all interested in dressing up and ballroom dancing, but Emma had a triple dose of excitement to make up for him. She and Hannah, her friend, were on the phone several times just to tell each other, "Only a few hours to go now. I'm so excited!" They're still at the age where it's not 'uncool' to appear too enthusiastic, so I'd better enjoy these next few years. That teenaged stage is just around the corner. It's fun to enjoy a little girl' effervescence and all the skipping and dancing and singing that goes with it. And it's nice to be able to take the girls out for a treat. Emma sometimes feels as if she's a prisoner in a world of boys, to use her own words. So all the slathering on of make-up, trying on of different dresses and practising of dance moves just suits her! Although she's used to trying to fit in with whatever her brothers and cousins are doing, she likes to be a 'girly' girl at heart.

Here they are in the car on the way. Emma has this great black dress with sparkly spangles that we found at a second hand shop once. It's good when opportunities come for her to wear it before she outgrows it.
They're just getting in a bit of practise dancing at the hall while people are still just filtering in.

Naomi, Emma and Hannah at the ball.

Andrew and I had quite a good time too, doing all those old waltzes, military two steps and cha-chas. There were several progressive circles dances that were quite fun, but I find I really have to concentrate. Overall, a good night out. Then I had to go and pick up Logan from my sister's place about a 25minute drive away, and Emma wanted to tell her all about the dance while the boys were putting on the masks and goofing about, so in the end, it was quite a late night too.

Friday, September 21, 2007

This is what happened on Monday

Not knowing what to expect, I turned up at the cardiologist's office early in the morning. The first thing that happened is that I virtually had to strip down for a "resting ECG." This sort of thing makes me really nervous and I kid you not, I felt my heart rate speed up as I lay there waiting for the nurse to finish putting all the little tabs on me. Anticipation alone is enough to do it so I really don't know how accurate a resting cardiogram it really was. The lady didn't comment.

Next, I was sent to wait in a little booth until I was called for the "Stress Test". I could clearly hear the gentleman before me having his go. I don't know what he looked like, only that the staff with him were very complimentary. "This result is far better than we expected, Mr Whatever-his-name-was! I can't believe you're as old as you say you are, either. You look about 28 years old, tops! We're just going to turn up the machine for another 20 seconds. Wow! You're marvellous. With a machine like that, you have nothing to worry about."

I sat there and made up my mind to blitz that thing when it was my turn. I like to kid myself that with my active lifestyle, I'm fairly fit. It was only a treadmill, after all. Surely I could put on a good show. Well, when they called me in, I was introduced to a cocky looking little doctor who would've been younger than I am. I hate it when doctors appear younger than me and it's been happening more and more often lately. I told him that I do an aerobics work-out three times a week. (I've got a bit lax over recent months but I was doing it once or twice not that long ago so I thought I could get away with stretching the truth.) He said, "You have nothing to worry about then. You're obviously young and fit!" So far so good.

As soon as they made sure all my little tags were in the right spots and turned on the treadmill, they began commenting, "We must've given you quite a scare. Your heart rate is up already pretty fast." The funny thing was I didn't feel as if I was panting or working very hard. But the young guy started asking, "How many aerobic workouts do you do? I'm surprised that someone as fit as you claim to be is already working so hard at this level! It's not dangerous but, my word, quite astonishing. So do you go to a gym?"

I had to admit that I do it in my own house in front of my TV, and then he said, "Oh, I see, you meant the housewife's, Jane Fonda style, Clayton's aerobics, did you?" in that same polite voice. If I wasn't on that treadmill I would've felt like punching him one. I did begin to get a bit breathless when he and the nurse started asking me about my occupation. Then, when I mentioned homeschooling, they asked all the standard questions such as, "Where do you find your curriculum?" and "How about socialisation?" and "Why would you even want to do that?" Under the circumstances, I felt as if I was a bit too distracted to give justice to my replies. I can tell you, doing a exercise work-out and trying to think on my feet at the same time is a combination that did make me start puffing and panting.

The young guy said, "Incredible" and "How curious" and "Remarkable" a few more times before they let me go. I don't know whether he was going on about my homeschooling comments or what he perceived to be my general lack of fitness. I groaned to myself as I went out, wondering how many more surprises were in store for me.

As it turned out, the cardiologist appeared to be younger than me too! It didn't bode well, I thought. But he told me, "Your exercise test was quite good, actually."
Then, I said, "That amazes me. Your friend in there made it sound as if I was a bit out of shape."
He just gave a bit of a laugh and said, "Even though your heart rate was fast, your blood pressure was doing what it was supposed to be doing." Then he said all the things doctors are obliged to say. "You did quite right and your GP did quite right to refer you to us, but on the whole, we don't need to see you again at this stage so just go home and get on with your life and stop taking the aspirin they prescribed." So I walked out of the place far lighter in both wallet and heart. At least we'll get some of that money back from Medicare within a few weeks and I've decided to treat the whole thing as a bit of a wake-up call to get fitter again.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Old Report Cards & other funny things

A few nights ago I was sorting through several bundles of old memorabilia, looking for some heirloom photos and an old autograph album that belonged to my grandmother. My Dad, who is still busy researching his genealogy, wanted them. When I dug them up I came across several other gems not quite so old, but far more hilarious. Some of the report cards in particular, gave me some interesting insights.

I found Summary end-of-year reports for both Logan and Emma when they finished kindy. Logan's seemed to have some fairly tough comments for a four-year-old student. Here are a few examples.

"Logan's gross motor skills are under-developed and he lacks confidence. Consequently, he chooses not to use the climbing apparatus or accept the challenge that the outdoor area offers" I remember being quite disturbed to read that because all the time I'd been thinking he was simply a boy who preferred construction and quiet activities. And I remembered once he'd told me at home, "I don't like the climbing ropes because yesterday I fell off and hurt myself here," and he tapped his thigh. Those teachers weren't to know that one day he'd simply made a decision and stuck to it.

"He runs awkwardly and has poor catching and throwing skills." Eight years later, it's obvious to us all that his physical skills, particularly with a ball, are quite good. I think this is a definite result of being left alone to develop in his own time frame. For those few years when we had him at kindy and school, those skills continued to be "awkward and un-developed" for as long as they tried to teach him. It only made him nervous. Following sport in his passionate way and asking his dad to kick the "footy" with him is what made the difference.

"Logan can communicate well when he needs to but tends to use short sentences and a very soft voice." It was obvious to us that this was merely his "kindy-mask". He spoke in very long sentences around people he was comfortable with. I remember having him at a hairdresser before he turned three, and one of the girls was amusing him by reading a "Cat in the Hat" style book. "This is a cat! This is a ball. Here comes the dog." Logan was his usual quiet and shy self until he got used to her, then surprised everyone by pointing at a picture and remarking, "That apartment building has a fire-extinguisher next to it." So I knew that he wasn't showing the kindy teachers his true self and ignored that comment.

"Similarly, Logan's fine motor skills are immature. He is predominantly left-handed and holds his pencil or paint-brush in a fist-like grip. When encouraged to hold it correctly, Logan is unable to put any tension into his hand and he holds his pencil very loosely. His use of scissors is also poor. He is unable to hold the scissors correctly and tends to 'snip' rather than cut." Once again, these problems seemed to be ironed out at home with surprisingly less attention than I thought he'd need, after all that build-up.

Now, Emma's kindy report four years later, written by the same lady, was glowing compared to Logan's. "Emma is articulate and speaks in clear sentences... she uses a mature RH tripod grip and is able to use scissors competently... She is a confident climber and is able to balance and swing herself. She is able to throw and catch a ball... Emma participates in turn taking games and in discussions in large and small groups."

I still can't help shaking my head over the difference in these reports. The fact is, Logan has several strengths that Emma never had but these weren't mentioned. At that age, his vocabularly was far larger than hers. He still has the more attentive memory and quickest recall. His head knowledge has always been very extensive, but none of this was mentioned or even noticed on the report. And even back then, he had a great sense of humour but this remained concealed too. Without wanting to sound too severe on educational institutions, it makes me think that young students are basically judged on superficial things such as personality, especially when they are like Logan and hide their feelings and thoughts. It's not the fault of the institution, yet it definitely shows up the limitations of this sort of education. Far better to learn at home where your parents are well aware of your quirkiest characteristics and you're not too bashful to be your natural self.

I couldn't help laughing over more old report cards of Andrew's and mine, from way back in the '70s and '80s. There were comments such as "Andrew is coming out of his shell," or "Paula is gaining more confidence" every single year! Makes me think that it must've been a very hard shell if he was still cracking out of it after ten years at school! You know what I mean? With thirty or students to write about, and far more in High School, I think some teachers were probably searching for comments to write.

Now for the funniest thing of all. This little excerpt is a sample of my writing when I was twenty, although I hate to admit it. I already had dreams of being an author and thought I was pretty good. Here it is. "The moon was as heavy as a swollen, silver raindrop about to burst. It made the outlines of my furniture soft and grey." The most embarrassing thing was that it wasn't even part of an essay but just a letter to a family member. Now I hope I've improved since then. But it makes me cringe to think that was the result of somebody who'd been the star English pupil at her High School. I understand why I never got higher grades at Uni than I'd hoped for.

Perhaps I'll finish off with a comment on my report card from Mrs Roberts, my Modern Eupopean History teacher in Year 12. "Paula will have to take care not to apply her own idiosyncratic interpretations too much in the final Exam." Now, how's that for a nice little insight about crushing individuality and producing a range of students who churn out the same facts.

(By the way, I've had that cardiologist appointment and been told everything is fine, not without a few funny things happening, which I'll write about in my next blog, maybe. Thanks for your thoughts and prayers, my friends.)

Friday, September 14, 2007

The bead necklace of life

Here I am, back again. I'd taken some time out but I'm not sure I can come up with a term to describe why. It wasn't a nervous breakdown or anything. I was still feeling pretty happy. It was more like some sort of re-assessment of the way life has been going lately. I realised that I was feeling tired a lot of the time for no apparent reason. As far as I could tell, I'd been "living the dream", doing things that felt good and proper. Still, there was an impression that I was carrying a lot on my shoulders. So I decided to quit all of my usual occupations for a little rest. My blogging, most obviously stopped for a few weeks. Also my record keeping system. The weekly-wrap-ups I'd been keeping for the kids along with my diary went too. What I realised was that I've been trying to keep up with what I've heard called, "The Thousand Things."

I realised that even the life of a person who is trying to live a relaxed, laid-back homeschool lifestyle is filled with appointments and deadlines. My diary is generally spaced with arrangements for a few weeks ahead. I look at the blankness beyond and think, "I'll take a well-earned rest when I get to these bare white pages. But the bare white pages never come. As I get closer to them, more deadlines, appointments and arrangements get jotted down into the space. There is always two, three or four weeks of things filling the pages of my diary. Many of them appear to be one-off things, but they keep happening.

For the last few weeks, some of those things have included Logan's allergist appointment, Father's Day for which I'd agreed to do some cooking, contributions of goodies for a special basket we were putting together for someone, taking the kids to the Royal Adelaide Show for the day, and taking Logan to his cousin's house, to participate in a movie which Jarrad had scripted for five or six boys to have starring roles in.

Now that these "one off" things are off the list, here are some of the things that we're taking on during the next couple of weeks. Tomorrow, my family are performing a little act as part of an afternoon of entertainment for the residents of a local nursing home. The following Saturday, we're going to a "masked ball" of ballroom dancing for which I want to buy Emma a new dress. A possible kid's camp is coming up for Emma and a "Dad's & Lads" camp for Andrew and Logan. I have a medical appointment next Monday down in the city early in the morning with a cardiologist who wants to make me exercise on a treadmill. This is because I'd woken up with a bit of a sore chest last week, and saw a doctor who took a couple of ECGs. Apparently the first one was a bit funny in one area, although the second one was normal, and they want to give me a stress test. (I feel pretty fit so I hope that'll turn out to be nothing much, although it's another day out and in the back of my mind). And all the time, we're in the middle of Andrew's new cubby-house business getting off the ground. As I love a quiet life, it's these extras that help get me over-awed at times.

Thinking and praying it through, I think that it's always going to be this way because that's what life is all about. Life is like a necklace filled with beads of "one-offs" that get strung on, one after the last. It seems to apply especially to the mother of a young family, anyway. Making sure I spend time grounded in God's Word seems the best way to live my life, and to remember that these "one-offs" are valuable things of themselves, anyway. Yesterday, I bought a little glass angel with a quote by Mother Teresa underneath it. She said, "We can't do great things, but we can do small things with great love." That's what these extra-curricular things that fill a person's life are all about. They sometimes make me feel scattered and confused but they're all making a difference. To use another metaphor, they are the coloured threads in the rich tapestry of life. Of course, holding these together are always the "normal" coloured threads too, such as washing, ironing, cooking, clearing clutter, taking kids to archery or ballroom dancing, making time for my writing and reading. And there are always tasks that should seem easy but take a bit of effort, such as making Blake put on a jumper in a cool breeze instead of running around in a singlet top. All of this, put together and shaken up, create a recipe that is called "LIFE." Getting back to my blog is one of those things that improves the quality of life, because with blogging, as well as giving, we're receiving from others too.

Just now, I'm off to look for a fake beard for Andrew to wear tomorrow when he performs as "The Man from Ironbark" and Emma is nudging my elbow with an educational catalogue full of items she's put rings around for a future visit to a special store down near the city. As we have business cards to collect from the same street, it might have to be a visit that's soon to take place. Life goes on!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Some time out

Just a quick note to let people know that I'm still around. A lot has been happening around here lately but nothing that's seemed very blog-worthy yet. I'll probably be writing some of it down soon. Meanwhile, I've been spending some contemplative time, as we all do sometimes. You know, assessing where we're heading with the things we do, and whether we even need or want to do all of the things that we do. But I'll be posting again and checking my friends' blogs soon.
Bless you all,

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Lunar Eclipse

On Wednesday night, we had a fantasic view of a lunar eclipse from our backyard. Recently, we'd been reading about Maria Mitchell, one of the earliest female astronomers, who was into everything celestial. She had a comet named after her and travelled great distances to watch eclipses. In the book, it described the difference between solar and lunar eclipses. So it was interesting to see an eclipse such a short time later. This, I believe, was a solar eclipse; the earth between the moon and the sun. It was quite stunning to watch the reddish looking shadow cover the face of the full moon. The News made quite a big deal of it, and rightly so. Was it equally visible in the northern hemisphere, can anyone tell me?

Logan said, "I wish we were watching it through Jarrad's telescope." His cousin, Jarrad, owns a terrific, high powered telescope that allows you to see the craters of the moon in amazing detail. It's so powerful that if you accidentally try looking at the moon in the night sky without putting a special filter over the lense, it hurts your eyes as if you are looking straight into the sun. (We all found that out through experience). But the unfortunate thing was that we knew Jarrad wouldn't be home looking at it himself. He was helping out at an "Open to the Public" night at his school, showing visitors around. Jarrad's school is a very specialised "Maths & Science" school. We couldn't help smiling him as we thought of him telling people, "This is the astronomy lab, where we study phenomena in the night sky," yet the students weren't home to study the night sky themselves because they were too busy doing school stuff!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Femme Philosopher's Club

There's been a recent addition to my tool bar. I was given this honour by my friend Cristina, who was the brainchild behind this great award. In a nutshell, as Femme Philosophers, we can use our blogs as soapboxes for exploring our passions for absolutely anything. Education, politics, philosophy, religion, all the d&ms that we can think of, the sky is the limit! I love this idea. In my opinion, being able to use our gifts for words to make a positive influence in people's lives is exactly what blogging is all about. And we're lucky enough to live in a day and age when we have the whole www. at our fingertips to impact.

Here are the rules. Choose a button from JugglingPaynes. If you are awarded the Femme Philosopher, you are able to stick a Femme Philosopher button on your blog. Copy these rules on your post so others will know what it's about.
Now you are free to give the award to others. Along with blogs that you agree with, please look for blogs that are not necessarily your views, but rather ideas that stir thought and allow for respectful discussion in their comments. (It's not necessary for the Femme Philosophers to be femme. It was named for the femmes who started it.) So use it as often as you like or not at all.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Don't block your blessings!

I read an interesting little story in a library book. Although I've returned the book, I'll try to re-tell the story as best I can, along with the point it made. Here goes.

There was once a mother who had two young sons. One of the boys considered himself to be an extremely lucky person. He won several competitions, was always on the spot if anything good was being distributed and managed to avoid punishment and accidents, sometimes by a hair's breadth. However, his brother thought of himself as an unlucky victim. He wasted money and time participating in games and competitions that he never won. If anything good ever happened at school, it was sure to be when he was sick at home. He'd broken the same arm twice and sprained his ankles five times. And he was always stepping in dog droppings or getting rained on.

The mother became concerned about this son's pessimistic attitude and low self-esteem. She decided to help him to the best of her ability. One day, she placed a shiny $2 coin near the top of the stairs just before he went up, but he strode past without noticing. Before she could draw it to his attention, his "lucky" brother pounced on it and said, "Look what I found!"

Then the "unlucky" boy mumbled, "That'd be right. It's always you. I never have any luck."

Next day, the mother arranged for her "lucky" son to be spending time at a friend's house before she repeated the trick. This time, she placed a coin just inside the front door. As the "unlukcy" boy crossed the threshold, she cried out, "Look down by your feet."

But when he saw it, he refused to pick it up. "I know you put it there on purpose to make me feel better. That doesn't count." And he trudged to his bedroom, dejected as ever, leaving his mother to put the coin back into her purse.

That was it. I admit that at first I wondered what the point must be. I could even understand the boy's attitude. Then the book explained that by not picking up the $2.00 coin, the boy was choosing not to acknowledge one good blessing that was already in his life. He had a mother who loved and cared about him enough to want to do him a good turn. He wasn't totally unlucky. If he'd been thinking with a "blessing" mentality, he would've taken that money even though he knew where it'd come from. He blocked a blessing from reaching him. And when we block one blessing, we tend to block more. That might be a crucial difference between "lucky" and "unlucky" people. I went on to think that most certainly his brother would've picked up the money, in the same position. People with blessing mentalities aren't choosy about the source. God can use a variety of agents and some of them seem pretty ordinary and close to home, but a blessing is still a blessing. A simple story but it actually impacted me and I found I've been more appreciative of simple blessings all week.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My fiction ranking from around the world

The blog I wrote a few weeks ago about "Oasis" style fiction got me thinking about so-called famous classics I've read over the years, both as part of school or Uni English or just for my own amusement. I've read quite a variety from different speaking English countries, and while some has been great, some has been the opposite. Just for fun, I decided to choose a couple of books from each country that fit into MOST UPLIFTING or MOST DEPRESSING.

Before I start, I want to say that my judging criteria was how they made me feel. Some boosted my spirits, tickled my funny bone, made me rejoice that God really is actively caring for His people, or all three. Others, on the other hand, made me miserable, even teary, longing to put them out of my mind but unable to do so fast enough. By MOST DEPRESSING, I don't mean that I found anything wrong with the writing style. On the contrary, some of it has been the most excellently written and emotional, which perhaps helped it to earn the rating I bestowed on it.
OK, here goes.


Most Uplifting
"Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte. (Even though I've come across some people who'd disagree with this, this book has stayed top of my list since I read it, aged 15. Just the neatness of her plot and functions of each of her characters intrigues me. And I really think that every character ended up as happily as he or she wanted to be.)
"The Moonstone" by Wilkie Collins. (This is a great Victorian mystery narrated from the viewpoints of many characters.)
Most Depressing
"Jude the Obscure" by Thomas Hardy. (His "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" nearly made it here too, but because of the appalling things that happened to poor old Jude, I had to give him top spot. It was unimaginable.)


Most Uplifting
"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. (Same goes as for "Wuthering Heights" Even though not everything that happened was good, Atticus Finch and his children were safe at the end and I got the feeling that the whole town had learned a lesson and things were going to get better.)
Most Depressing
"The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck. (I had to read this one for Year 12 at High School. All I can say is that after all Steinbeck put the poor Joad family through, surely he could have let at least one of them live happily ever after.)


Most Uplifting
"Anne of Green Gables" and all of its sequels, by L.M. Montgomery. (A pleasure to read and that lady probably helped put her little province of Prince Edward Island on the world map!)
Most Depressing
OK, I have to admit that I can't remember ever reading something thoroughly depressing from Canada. Are there any? Do Canadians have such a happy country that nothing sad or gloomy has ever made it onto the canon of English literature? Any Canadians reading this can answer me that.


Most Uplifting
"Poor Man's Orange" by Ruth Park. ("The Harp in the South", its prequel, was also pretty good but the herione, Dolour, in "Poor Man's Orange" reminded me very much of myself at her age, and everything ended beautifully for her. It was a book that was meant to reflect "real life" but she got the man of her dreams. Sometimes that's all I want to know when I'm reading.)
Most Depressing
"For the Term of his Natural Life" by Marcus Clarke. (This I can say without a doubt. Condemned as a convict for a crime he didn't even commit, treated cruelly, having the only person who could confirm his goodness stricken with sudden amnesia, and finally drowning on his big escape voyage with the girl of his dreams, Rufus Dawes' adventures were every bit as heart-wrenching as Jude the Obscure's. Perhaps Marcus Clarke just wanted to show that anything the English can write, we can write sadder. It's the sort of book you have to distance yourself from and start laughing, or you'll go around the twist. This was on my Uni "Australian Literature" syllabus. I never persevere with anything this sad unless I have to. Thankfully, those days are over.)

So after all that, does this exercise of mine prove anything? Perhaps it shows that people and their books are the same the world over. Or that many authors are exceedingly melancholic in temperament. Or perhaps it just shows that if Prozac had been around in earlier centuries and decades, Thomas Hardy, John Steinbeck and Marcus Clarke might have been prescribed it.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Country Photos

Last Monday, we took Blake to have a professional photo with a photographer friend of ours. He'd taken photos of Logan and Emma at the same age and this was Blake's turn. We were keeping up the family tradition. My husband took us to his workshed, which is about a twenty minute drive from our place. There are lots of possible pretty rustic spots for photos and we tried many, both inside and outside of the shed. Here is Blake inside his Dad's workshed, trying to be set up for a good photo. Needless to say, this isn't one of the professional shots. I snapped it with my little digital camera.

We thought this wall might make a nice, rugged background. But this isn't Blake. It's Logan.

This is the side of Andrew's workshed you see from the road. It's a wonderful old property owned by a second cousin of his (his mother's cousin) who is willing to let Andrew share working space with him. Andrew has been really blessed by this arrangement. Brian, his cousin, has been studying and not around much anyway, so Andrew has this all to himself most of the time.

Here it is from another angle. That's the usual working entrance they use.

The other side of the road from the workshed. I took a few nice early spring shots. Although it's still winter, the weather has been more like early spring.

Here's Emma in front of an old sheep shearing enclosure. We took a bit of a walk down the road while the boys were still in the shed.

Here's the whole gang, just in case we decide to go for an extra photo with all of them in it. I accidentally got a bit of our photographer friend's silver deflector thing in this one.

This old tractor has been there for so long, a gum tree has grown right through the metal. It's right at the back of the property, with a gurgling creek right behind it. Although our drought still hasn't completely broken, this winter has been wetter than last and it's good to have some water.
We'll probably get to see the official photos in a few weeks. Now that we're even more familiar with the workshed than we were before, because we covered a lot of ground on our quest for photos, I can see that Andrew couldn't have hoped for a more peaceful and pleasant work environment. He says that sometimes the old shed gets pretty cold in winter, and he has yet to experience a sizzling hot summer day, but I'd imagine the shed would stay fairly cool for awhile.