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.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Eight Random Things

I've been tagged by joyismystrength to contribute 8 random things about myself, but before I begin, I've been asked to share the following. So here goes.
1) All right, here are the rules.
2)We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
3) Players start with 8 random facts/habits about themselves.
4) People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their own 8 things and post these rules.
5) At the end of your blog, you need to choose 8 people to get tagged and list their names. Don't forget to leave them a comment telling they're tagged and to read your blog.


1) I'm a tea drinker. There's a certain old-world charm about drinking tea. Earl Grey and different varieties of Chai are my favourites. The Vanilla Chai Tea they serve at McDonalds McCafe is scrumptious.

2) I seem to have my own unique accent. I am Australian born & bred, yet whenever I meet anyone new, they ask me which part of Britain I'm from. Even my DH did this when I met him. On rare occasions, people guess New Zealand or South Africa. One school teacher I met said I sound, "lovely", so he's the one I'll choose to believe. It was nice to visit the UK several years ago, where people accurately picked my accent as Aussie for the first and only time.

3) I have a larger than average sized head, which I've passed on to all three of my children. Consequently, one of my school nicknames used to be "Bombhead" which I absolutely hated.

4) Looking at old photos from bygone eras gives me a thrill. I always loved stories of time-travel. I kept believing that it might become possible, until I listened to a scientist on talk back radio one day. He said that time travel is one thing we can deduce for certain will never happen, simply because nobody has ever been recorded in history as popping up and announcing that they are from the future.

5) I love pretty things but accessories don't suit me. My son recently said, "Stick to simple shirts and pants or skirts, Mum. Whenever you try scarves or headbands or ponchos or fancy glasses, they never seem to work." I have to take his word for it because photographs reinforce his opinion.

6) Small talk makes me tired. I've never mastered the knack of "chit chat" or social mingling. I enjoy groups with a discussion theme for meeting, but hate having get-togethers just for the sake of it because I'm always floundering. Much as I'd love to be bubbly, I'm more like a true introvert.

7) I enjoy studying the Bible. Once I stopped half through a quiz on "Which Simpsons character are you most like?" because they asked if I enjoy Bible Study. I clicked "Yes" and immediately knew, "They'll cast me as Ned Flanders." It was too predictable for me. (By the way, I'm not a big fan of the Simpsons, anyway).

8) I love reading and love the smell of the pages of new books. I keep a journal on hand to jot down good quotations I come across.

As for the last part of this tag, as I've passed on several tags in the past few months, I think I'd like to leave it open for anybody who wants to respond this time.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Some things get harder!

On Friday I took Logan down to the city for an annual appointment with his allergy specialist. Dr H, is one of South Australia's leading paediatric allergists. We've sometimes seen him talking about the subject on the news at night. I first started taking Logan to see him in 1997, when L was two years old. Dr H gives each patient a very thorough examination. Forty-five minutes would be a short appointment with him. Back in '97, Logan was covered in bright red eczema which I found very upsetting. Dr H. confirmed the peanut allergy we already knew about, administered a medic-alert bracelet and epi-pen, and made the first of many appointments for us to return to see him.

At the time, Logan was very docile and well-behaved. I remember thinking, "We'll have no future problems with this. Logan was so good and it'll only get easier as he gets older." That was a mistake. I was still a reasonably new parent back then and he was still our only child. Little did I know that, paradoxically, some of the things we think will get easier actually get harder. I'll prove my point.

1997 - We found out that Dr H asks his patients to strip off down to their undies before he begins his exam. Two-year-old Logan didn't mind in the least. He'd go along and do anything his Mum told him to do. In fact, running naked around a strange man's office seemed to be more of a novelty than an ordeal.
2007 - 12 yo Logan sits in the car beside me (we'd left E & B home with their Dad), folds his arms and complains. "I hate the way he gets me to take my clothes off. Then he pounds my chest until I just about keel over. And looking up my nose is just gross. Why does he have to be so thorough? It's an invasion of privacy. That's what it is."

1997 - Logan had one of his first skin prick tests. He lay face down on the bed, as good as gold, while the nurses scratched dozens and dozens of marks on his back. They wanted to test him for every possible allergen back then and he was so small, it had to be on his back for them all to fit. At the end, he even said, "Thank you." It sounded more like, "Sack You," because that was the way he used to talk. They all thought he was so cute. And my mother, who came along with us, kept saying what a little angel he was.
2006 - (He didn't need another scratch test last Friday, to his relief, but last year he did.) He sat for the entire time, staring at the welts growing on his arms, muttering to me, "When are they gonna come? This itches me like crazy! I hate this! If they don't come soon, I'm gonna have to scratch. I can't stand the itching. It's sending me around the twist." He had to have a blood test that day too, and needless to say, he wasn't very impressed with that either. And I can tell you, "Thank You" is the last thing he felt like he wanted to say to them.

1997 - When I used to say, "We're driving down to visit Dr H," Logan would smile and be pleased. For him, that meant a visit to the nearby shopping mall afterwards and lunch in the food court, often with Nanny and Poppa.
2007 - He dreads the visit to Dr H for weeks beforehand, anticipating the stripping down, poking and prodding. The promise of lunch in the food court afterwards is not enough to placate him. He tells me nothing less than a Play Station 3 will be enough to make up for the ordeal. At least he still has his sense of humour.

What happened this time?
Logan said that it was the easiest visit he'd had yet. He wasn't asked to strip down. Last visit, Dr H had seen that L had grown out of his eczema and just took our word for it that Logan's skin was still clear. On the basis of the prior blood test, he said that Logan might be elligible for a "challenge test" but told us that if the result was good, he'd suggest that Logan eats peanut twice a week, as a sort of medicine, to keep up his resistance.
"Would you be prepared to eat peanut twice a week?" he asked Logan.
Logan immediately shook his head, "Nope," as I expected. He can't stand the peanut smell and runs a mile whenever it's anywhere near him. And he's a bit edgy about the idea of eating something he's been taught all his life to avoid at all costs.
So then Dr H said, "I understand how you feel, but there's no point in having the challenge tests unless you'd be prepared to eat it if the result was good, so we'll leave it for now. I see no reason to see you for another couple of years. Perhaps by the time you're fourteen, you'll have changed your mind."
Logan was totally happy with that decision, but tells me he'd never change his mind. He'd rather keep avoiding peanuts his whole life long than be forced to eat them. So we'll see what happens. To be honest, I'm also pretty pleased that we don't need another specialist appointment until 2009.

(BTW, one thing I haven't figured out yet is how to turn this blog to Australian Eastern Standard Time. As you've probably guessed, I certainly don't sit up working on the computer at ridiculous hours such as 3 or 4am. It's fun to see what time it is for my blogging friends.)

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The "Oasis" style of fiction

A few days ago, I took my son for a wander around our town library, just to find something new to read. I love all sorts of books, but I'd been pretty much through the non-fiction shelves on education and personal development and travel. I just felt like a bit of fiction. I spent quite awhile perusing the shelves but it was one of those days, for both Logan and me, when nothing seemed to "pop out". We went home with not much to show for the time we spent there, but I did notice an interesting fact about the books on the shelves.

This is it. There seemed to be mostly two main "types" (for lack of a better word) of fiction book there at the library that day.
1) The "Intellectual" or "Arthouse" offerings. This includes those we've come to know as "Classics" as well as the prize-winning contributions. You know, winner of the 1994 Booker Prize, or Runner-Up of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize, or Highly Recommended on Australian Book Council for 2006, or something like that. I've read, enjoyed and studied many of these sort of books over the years and still count some English, American and Aussie classics among my favourite books. But there come times when we don't necessarily feel like being educated by what we read as much as entertained. When books have been reviewed, essayed, raved about, picked apart for symbolic content, and examined closely for political/socio/religious overtones, I don't always feel like taking them to put my feet up with a cup of tea for a good rest. And that is just what I felt like doing that day. Sometimes the tired brain of a homeschooling housewife needs to be calmed, not stimulated.

2) The "Formula" or "dime a dozen" offerings. There were oodles and these and they seem to be at the other end of the spectrum. You know the type I mean. The heroines are high-spirited rebels with careless beauty! The heroes are all dark, swarthy, stern, often rich and stand-offish and many have deep, dark secrets in their pasts but hearts of gold. And then there are the wimpy ex-fiances, who often turn out to have shady characters. These stories are countless. There are historical ones, romantic ones, Gothic ones, more contemporary ones, but they're pretty much the same. Plots predictably involve battles for inheritance, and many of them give far more detail about their characters personal lives than we need, or even want, to know. And I think, "Come on, puh-leeze! Sure, my brain needs to be relaxed but not put to sleep."

So I started thinking that there's a sort of chasm between these two styles of fiction that needs to be filled. Books which make us feel that we are richer and happier for having read them, but we don't need college diplomas to get the full benefit of what they're all about. They ought to have fresh, surprising plots and characters who we genuinely love and admire because they are more like us and the friends and family we rub shoulders with each day. Books that normal people like myself can love and enjoy. I hadn't given it a thought until last Monday, but that's the sort criteria I'd like to try to set myself whenever I work on one of my own novels for Apple Leaf Books. I've come across several others that have captured my imagination. But I want to think of something to call them. They are like half-way points in the desert between the intellectual and the formula options that are so prolific. So for lack of anything better to call them, I think they something like an oasis for searchers like me, who don't consider myself either particularly smart or particularly dumb.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Harnessing the Imagination

This is actually Part 4 of a series I started on my old blog. I'll probably get around to transporting Parts 1-3 to this blog soon. It's all about getting imaginative ideas flowing and then down on paper.

Make friends with loneliness
In our western culture, where we're bombarded with subtle cues to behave like the rest of the world, it can be difficult to see a big, ambitious writing or art project through to the finish. I think there is a certain amount of pressure we battle with to give up because of what we perceive as loneliness and lack of support. This is inherent in the occupation. Sometimes we find it hard to avoid these feelings when we think, "It's just me and my scrapbook," or "It's just me and my computer," every day.

I mentioned this at the Christian writer's conference because I think people who live in the Christian culture can find this particularly hard. We always hear about great, upfront things people are doing to actively change their worlds. They're going on mission trips, street-witnessing, caring for the sick, smuggling Bibles into China, preaching and teaching. In other words, they're "out there" and we honour them for it. But sometimes those of us who are pursuing occupations such as writing feel as if people don't care whether we ever finish writing our books or not. In fact, I've sometimes got the impression (often from very extroverted, up-front Christians) that there is a fine line between not caring and disapproval. "People are starving out there, yet you're sitting around writing fantasy novels!"

The first antidote to this is to remind ourselves every day that writing and the arts are equally as important, in their way, as the more up-front, hands-on occupations. God is the author of one just as much as the other. Stories and Art can add beauty to the world and change peoples' entire world outlooks. That's why they used to say, "The pen is mightier than the sword" I found another excellent eighteenth century quote, "If a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation!" That's how powerful such things as writing, art and music can be on the thinking of people.

I took the advice of author Natalie Goldberg, who wrote on the subject of the writer's loneliness, "Just break through these feelings. A bit of loneliness is just loneliness. It's nothing to fear or shy away from. If you're not afraid to face it, it loses its scariness. If you stop cringing from it, it loses its power." I found it great when I began to think in this manner, enjoyed my characters as friends, and accepted myself as a person who enjoys doing something that requires no company for 80% of the time. It's just how writers are wired.

Last year, I read something in a book about Mother Teresa that I took on board and used to change the way I think. She was being interviewed by an author who said something along the lines of, "When I look at all the good you and you sisters are doing, I feel convicted that I'm taking the soft and easy option." Mother Teresa immediately rebuked him, "Don't ever say that! What you're doing is just as important as what we're doing and don't ever forget it. God has given you an amazing gift of writing and you have the potential to do so much good in the world through it. Don't ever make the mistake of down-playing the importance of what God's given you to do." That made an impression on me and I think it's a good place to stop today.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


I can see it's been a week since I've had anything to say. We haven't been away. We've all been busy, but not with anything fun. A trip to the dentist with the kids was probably the big highlight. We suspected that poor Logan might need some extractions, and he does. Over the last four or five months, some of his adult teeth have been growing down from high in his gums and the old baby teeth beneath them haven't been getting any looser. So he's had double teeth, in several spots. The dentist explained how the adult teeth were growing so high, the baby teeth haven't been getting any nudges or wearing away of the roots. She extracted two on the day, and he has to go back twice to have four more taken out too. But that'll be the last of his baby teeth gone.

I mentioned something that's been happening with little Blake. At night, he grinds his teeth in his sleep, sometimes so loud that we can all hear them from our own bedrooms. And if he's fallen asleep on one of us and does it, we can feel the reverberations right through his head. In the past, he'd sometimes fall asleep while breast-feeding and then I'd know all about it! So I told the dentist, and she said that they can't make mouthguards for people so young, there's nothing for it but to see if he'll grow out of the grinding at this stage. My dh sometimes grinds his teeth in his sleep too, and the old dentist told him that it's a sign of stress. This business with Blake shows us that stress can't be the only reason for nocturnal teeth grinding. I cannot think of a person with less stress than Blake. The 3yo baby of a homeschooling family who gets to wake up at his leisure, plenty of play time and always family around to cater to his every need.

Speaking of dentists, I remember an appointment I had about three years ago. Blake was a new born, we were frantically clearing all of our belongings out of our old house before the new owners moved in, and my mother-in-law was helping, constantly asking me where things were supposed to go. I remember it was the only time in my life I was ever glad when my dental appointment came around so I had an excuse to get away for a little while. Since then, I've read a saying, "You know you're under too much stress when you look forward to a trip to the dentist as a chance to put your feet up and relax for awhile." I had to laugh because I wouldn't have believed it if it hadn't actually happened to me.

The dental nurse was very nice that day. During our chit-chat, I told them all that Blake was a few weeks old, we were getting ready to leave our house, I was homeschooling my older two, finishing writing a book and about to embark on a caravan holiday. She commented, "I think you need a cape!" I'd hadn't been feeling anything like a super-hero. Just very frazzled and close to tears. But I did feel as if I had a fresh burst of energy for awhile when I returned home. Sometimes it's great to get a bit of encouraging feedback.

By the way: Thanks everyone who commented on my last post. Yes, the postage was far more expensive than the books themselves. When we thought they'd be coming from within Australia, we assumed that they must've been very thick. That wasn't the case, but you live and learn. We've ordered other books from o/s intentionally in the past, when we can't get them any other way, which is great to be able to do.