Sunday, December 30, 2007

2008 will roll in with a scorch

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"This is Long"

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My stance on criticism

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 14, 2007

O, Christmas Tree, O, Christmas Tree!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 10, 2007

Time and the future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Being "Average"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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