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!