Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A several thousand kilometre mistake

Today a parcel of books arrived, that we ordered online. It took about four weeks to arrive, but we'd expected it by the end of that week. What happened was, my dh discovered a book selling site whose postcode was WA. Assuming they were based in our state of Western Australia, he sent our order. Then a couple of days later, he remarked, "Those books from Perth are taking awhile to get here." You see, Perth's their capital, and it should take only two days for parcels to arrive here. After another week, I asked him to go online and check the status of our order. Only then, after re-visiting the book sellers, did we realise that the WA they are based in is actually Washington! Although we felt a bit silly, it certainly explained the time delay and we could rest easy. So the books are finally here. It included "Heidi's Children" and a box set of some of the "Ramona" series by Beverly Cleary.

I think the job of postal worker who delivers the large parcels to people's houses is probably up there among the top ten "Feel Good" jobs. You'd be pretty sure that a visit from you would be certain to bring smiles to people's faces.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The day we met Thomas the Tank Engine

Here's Thomas! We had a ride on him.

As a school holiday outing last week, we visited Port Adelaide Railway Museum where there were many activities planned with a Thomas the Tank Engine theme. We thought Blake would thoroughly enjoy himself. Although I think he did enjoy himself, like all 3-year-olds, he lost the plot a few times. For example, we took a ride on Thomas, pictured above. We were several carriages behind the engine, and Blake sat for the duration of the ride with a serene expression on his face. Later, when we mentioned how we rode on Thomas, he piped up, "No, we didn't!" And he wouldn't hear any different. "Our train wasn't Thomas. Our train was yellow!" I realised that as the carriage we were sitting in was yellow, and Thomas himself was way ahead of us, Blake didn't notice that it was actually Thomas pulling our train. It's pretty funny really. You take a little boy way across to city to ride on Thomas the Tank Engine, and he doesn't even realise he did so.

There were also activities in an auditorium. The children were given all sorts of polish rags and asked to polish the trains. At the end, the presenters said they'd call up "the best" boy and girl polishers to receive prizes. It reminded me of school situations. There were many, many little toddlers all polishing with all their might, and I felt a bit sad to see that the majority of them were not called up for the honor. Of course they can't choose everyone, but I've never been a big fan of children being singled out for "prizes". I remember how disappointed I used to feel when I was young and missed out after trying hard. The younger the child, the more they don't understand that this sort of situation is fairly random, anyway. I remember complaining to my parents, "I was going just as good/fast/hard as the person who won!"
Anyway, quite accidentally, we concerned "The Fat Controller" and got this photo of Blake with him. Emma bought a huge stick of pink fairy floss. And we explored the rest of the museum, including some carriages set up from all the decades of South Australia's past, which was more suitable for Logan's age, although he was very patient when we did the Thomas activities with Blake. I always think a drive down to historical Port Adelaide is well worth the trip. It was a fun day.

However, although Blake did have an interesting time, I'm pleased to say, he normally has just as good a time around our own district. Here he is in a street a little way from ours which has all these wild jonquils growing. He loves flowers. Perhaps one day he'll be a gardener or horticulturalist.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Wild about Harry!

Like many, certain members of our family are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the seventh and final Harry Potter novel. But I haven't always been this open about my enjoyment of Harry Potter. I've known several very fundamentalist Christian people who would never dream of having one in their house. They'd put their point of view forward in what sounded like a very logical manner. "The Bible forbids witchcraft! And Harry Potter glorifies and promotes witchcraft. Therefore, Harry Potter must be forbidden in our household."

Although I'd always had many answers to this in my own head, there were none that seemed short enough or convincing enough to say what I wanted to say. Until now. Last May at the Christian writing convention, a speaker named Andrew Lansdown gave the clearest answer I'd ever heard on why, in his opinion, Harry Potter is OK. Here goes.

1) The confusion is that what the Bible means by the term "witchcraft" is an entirely different thing to what fantasy authors such as J. K. Rowling mean by "witchcraft". The witchcraft and magic condemned in the Bible always involves evil spirits. And it is the evil spirit, not the witch/wizard, who performs the magic. In the Bible, involvement with the spirit world manifested in people evoking and revering pagan deities to gain knowledge and acquire power. It always involved dealings with demons. Humans who practised witchcraft and magic wanted to foresee the future and consult familiar spirits to determine the courses they should follow. They were ordinary men and women who craved the extraordinary and tried to fulfil that craving with the aid of evil spirits. Just the same way some ordinary men and women still practise the same things today.

He went on to say that the so-called "witchcraft" and "magic" in Harry Potter is a completely different thing. The Bible is not talking about self-stirring cauldrons, enchanted castles, magical phoenixes, living chessmen and strange, fantasy animals. This is the stuff of story-books and literary imagination. They are physical impossibilities and not to be mistaken for what the Bible means as "witchcraft". Their author is not to be denounced as Satanic. There is no alliance between humans and evil spirits within the pages of Harry Potter.

Furthermore, in the Harry Potter novels, there are two types of people. The witches and wizards are magical, the "muggles" are not. Harry never seeks to be a wizard. He simply is one. He's brought up as a muggle and discovers that he's magical by nature, quite accidentally. He never invokes any spirits to make him "magic". And, of course, there is no such thing as innately magic humans. The Bible doesn't condemn the type of witches and wizards found in Harry Potter, because this type of witch and wizard does not exist in real life. Christians who associate Ms. Rowling's novels with the occult are way off track. I was very grateful to Andrew Lansdown for pointing out that it's time for Christians to appreciate this.

2) He mentioned that Lord Voldemort, of course, is the closest thing to an evil spirit in the Harry Potter stories. I think anyone'd agree with that. He's completely despicable. But J.K. Rowling condemns him utterly as murderous, treacherous and ugly. She encourages readers to view him in this manner too and makes it clear that as long as he's at large, the whole structure of society is in danger. This is no different to "Narnia" or "Lord of the Rings" or any other fantasy literature that Christians have chosen to regard as more "acceptable."

Andrew Lansdown finished off by saying that his advice for Christians is to either read and enjoy Harry Potter or completely forget about him. And having enjoyed the first six, we're anxious to make up our library.

(Just an aside, I was watching some interviews with the cast from Harry Potter. Daniel Radcliffe said he rather hopes Harry will die in the last book, so that he'll get to play a death scene! Whereas Emma Watson said she'd be terribly upset if Hermione was killed. This is a major difference between boys and girls, I suppose. I just warned my 12yo that there were a few main deaths in the novel he's just begun reading, to which he responded, "Cool")

Monday, July 16, 2007

What we've been watching

I've watched some pretty interesting things on TV over the past few weeks, and kept thinking about them. I thought I'd mention a few.

1) Concert for Diana

I guess many of us probably watched the huge concert organised by Princes William and Harry to mark the tenth anniversary of their mother's fatal accident. I enjoyed all the interesting artists and acts they'd drawn together, but I also watched a young journalist interview the two princes the evening before. What has stayed in my mind is one short statement they made.
"We know she really loved us."
And the film footages they showed of Princess Diana with her young sons just reinforced that. It's evident how much she did love them, in the way she looked at them, the way she made time for them in her busy schedule and the way she spoke about them on the media. Because of the seeds she sowed into their lives in their earliest years, William and Harry could sit there, in their twenties, and confidently claim, "We know we were her priority." And in my opinion, that made Diana a smashing success and example. I couldn't help thinking of several children of celebrities who have been heard to say the exact opposite about their parents. And her example is one that any of us could follow. If my kids ever declare, "I know she really loved us," years down the track, then I'll feel that I've been a success too. No matter what the media have dragged up about Diana's personal life, she's made a bigger impact on me than many, for this simple reason.

2) The Worst Jobs of the Georgian Era

Journalist Tony Robinson hosted a program about the seamier side of this elegant time period, when we think of genteel tea parties, the pomp and pride of the British empire, and Jane Austen sitting in her parsonage writing her masterpieces of literature. I'll tell you what, after watching what he brought up last night, I'm quite content to be living in the 21st century, thanks very much! Some of the occupations mentioned were incredible. I'll just mention a few.

There was the bath attendant in Bath. They had to help the infirm, elderly and sick visitors dip into the public baths, which meant that they had to subject themselves to some of the worst noxious skin diseases all day and every day, and then clean scum off the tops of the baths. Not my idea of fun.
Then there were the famous Italian Castrato singers who were said to have the voices of angels. But, of course, they were called castratos for obvious reasons, and even then, some of them were judged to be second-rate failures. Eight & nine year old boys who'd already been set apart as having especially sweet and clear voices were chosen for the "honour". It makes my skin crawl.
By far the weirdest occupation I've ever heard of is professional hermit. These guys were hired by the gentry & aristocracy when landscape artists such as Capability Brown made wonderful gardens for them. The well-to-do families hired hermits to live in little caves on their property designed especially for them. Part of the contract meant that hermits had to walk out and display themselves when the family were showing visitors through. It was all for show, to appeal to the "wild, romantic, poetic" side of human nature. But the poor hermits were not supposed to communicate with anybody at all. Staff brought their food to them each night and they were only paid every seven years. They said that one poor fellow was fired after three weeks, when he was discovered having a drink in the local pub.

3) Stranger Than Fiction.

This is a fun movie we hired that would have to appeal to the creative in anybody. Will Farrell is the hero, who notices a stranges woman's voice narrating his life wherever he goes. After hours of therapy, he discovers that he is a fictional character who has been invented by a lady author (Emma Thompson) whose trademark is killing off her main characters in unusual ways. So he goes on a wild and desperate chase to try to convince her to leave him alive. An unusual and very entertaining plot.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Photos and thoughts on perspective in life

This is from Brisbane, early in May. It's a good view of the Brisbane River, the city centre in the background and the landmark "Story Bridge". I took this snapshot close to the place where I was staying.

This is the famous "Blue Lake" at Mt. Gambier. I took it when we were there last year just before Christmas. It used to be an ancient volcano crater and for half the year, it turns this brilliant azure blue colour, as you can see. However, during the autumn and winter months, it's as grey as the other surrounding lakes. That lake is both beautiful and functional. As well as supplying Mt. Gambier with much of its water supply, it has many stories of folklore and mystery surrounding it.
This was taken on the lower coast of Victoria around Port Campbell on the Great South Ocean Road. We walked down a cliff to this cosy and wonderful inlet. There's my husband and kids in the picture. Getting down there was the easy part.
As you might've guessed, the ease and freedom of using photos at last is still playing with my head! Now that I've done them, I'll get onto the main subject of this blog.

I took my son to his archery lesson last Saturday morning because my dh, who usually does it, was busy. It was a lovely clear winter's day and I did a bit of window shopping and had a quiet walk by the river. But it was most interesting when I actually watched a bit of archery lesson in progress. Logan, my 12yo son, is one of the youngest and smallest competitors. At 152cm tall, he stands about level with my nose. I'm used to thinking of him as my "big" boy, compared to his 3yo brother! It was really weird to watch Logan alongside the other competitors. Many of them are really tall beanpoles in their late teens. It surprised me to see just how small he looked.

So what is he? Big or little? It seems he's both, in different contexts. I think he's probably getting approaching the threshold of a huge growth spurt. Logan's 14yo cousin, and other 14yo boys we know, are all about a head taller than him, with pimples, voices that have broken and the whole works. I can't imagine having to look up to a boy who is taller than me to scold him or tell him what to do! I'll make the most of the time left while he is still shorter than me and looks "little" in some situations.

It started me thinking of times when I myself, have discovered that I'm not quite as I think I am, either. Way back in 1987, I used to think I was very bright at High School English lessons because my teachers built me up with high marks and lots of verbal approval. And I was one of the students who got the highest possible marks from the year 12 English state exam that year (What were they thinking??) I began my English degree at Uni in 1988 still thinking I was bright, but it turned out not to be the case. It was the typical scenario of a big fish in a small pond being transferred to a large pond, and finding herself a very average-sized fish. I was absolutely crushed at the time. I was only 18yo and felt as if my identity of "top English student" was being smashed. Yet now, as I look back at some of writing from my teens and twenties, I can see why the Uni English teachers didn't give me the grades I wanted!

Does that mean I think I'm smarter now? I've definitely improved but I've honestly stopped thinking about it. Perhaps in my sixties or seventies, I'll look back on what I wrote in my thirties and think, "How far I've come!" In a way, I hope that will be the case. We're all works in progress. We all want to be developing and improving. Staying static means there is no growth. It's quite true that whatever you do, there will always be greater and lesser people than yourself, as the old proverb says. I've been in the "comparing" trap too many times, and finally wanted out. It either makes you proud or miserable. "I could do as well as that!" or "I'll never be up to scratch!" Both attitudes make me depressed.

Some advice from Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, is worth repeating. She says:-

"When we are working well, it is always tempting to take credit for the work. 'I am so brilliant!' we want to say. But if we do, we then put ourselves in a position of judgment rather than neutrality. One day we will not seem brilliant. One day, striving to be brilliant, work will be difficult. One day, exhausted from striving, work will be impossible. When we allow work to work through us without the ego's constant judgment, we often produce work of a steady caliber. We are less bedeviled by the ego's ups and downs. We are less affected by mood. If it is our job to take care of the quantity and God's job to take care of the quality, then we can produce our work more readily, the way an apprentice chef serves a master chef, preparing the vegetables without knowing the full recipe"

I've often thought the proverbs, "I'm not special but I am unique" and "I am unique just like everybody else" are perfect for helping us keep a decent respect for ourselves while at the same time keeping our feet on the ground.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A blessing in disguise.

This is my son, Logan.
And this is my daughter Emma.

Some of Emma's local friends have been homeschooled since birth, as she has. (Emma actually spent three weeks at school when she turned 5, but we prefer not to count that.)

Some of those girls have succumbed to the "I wish I could go to school" bug. I think it's easy for this to happen because the media is full of how wonderful school is. From the very start, the good, popular children's programmes such as "Sesame Street" begin to show the little clips we've all seen many times. You know, the nervous but excited 5-year-old, clutching his/her mummy's hand tightly, turns up for his first day of school to be met by the teacher, and has a fabulous day. Then there are the variety of school series books for children about 8 years old and over. Authors such as Enid Blyton have made them increasingly popular. I used to enjoy them myself. Teachers are always kind, bullies are eventually dealt with, lessons are interesting, social life is fantastic, and sports' victories against opposing schools are absolutely sensational! And there is always such a friendly community spirit in these fictional schools.

Some of the young daughters of other homeschoolers around the district have bought into all this and asking their parents if they can please go to school. The parents, with strong convictions of what's it's really like, don't want to send them. Well, we don't have the same problem with Emma. The reason is that her older brother who attended school for 3 years and a half, has told her a number of true "horror" stories about many of his negative experiences. (That's him up there doing one of his favourite occupations, playing Play Station).
I thought we'd made a huge mistake when we left Logan in school for so long, and it's taken this long to see that there have been silver linings to that cloud. They both have an understanding of what a privilege they have, to be able to be homeschooled. This sometimes works to my advantage of course, because at times when I say, "You could always go to school," they plead, "No way," and begin co-operating with whatever I've asked them to do.
Logan thinks that this benefit has been at his expense. Sometimes he says, "It's not fair that Emma only had to go to school for three weeks and Blake will never have to go at all." He reminds me of an episode of one of my favourite sit coms, "Everybody Loves Raymond" when Robert, Ray's older brother, accused their parents of using him as a "practise kid!" That's the sort of thing Logan would say. And I do feel sorry for him. But whenever I'm tempted to be too sorry, I just remind us all that his Dad and I were stuck spending 12 plus years in that institution!

Introducing myself

My name is Paula and I'm a homeschooling Mum who lives in Australia with my three children, Logan, aged 12, Emma, aged 8, and Blake, aged 3. I am also a Christian author, with my own small publishing house, Apple Leaf Books. I've written two contemporary novels which are currently out of print and also a Christian fantasy trilogy for young adults aged from 12 on. I've kept a blog with homeschoolblogger for some time, but I've decided to start this one too because I believe it may be easier for me to post my photos and other visual material here, on a Google based blog. So here is my first attempt.

This is Blake, my youngest. He's usually a pretty happy fellow. This is a victory for me to be able to download photos for my blog in such a simple way.