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."