Saturday, May 31, 2008

I'm glad they did it!

It's new material for the kids and I'm going over excellent reading matter from my past while I share it with them. We've been reading together parts of two of my favourite old series. One is the "Little House" series by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the other is the "All Creatures Great and Small" series by James Herriot. And whenever I read either of these two authors I'm caught up in the magic they wove. Even though these two authors may seem poles apart, they actually have a lot in common.

Both of these series are autobiographical but written in very entertaining story styles. Both were written when their authors had grown quite old and were looking back over their own lives. They each decided to leave their own legacy in writing and I'm so grateful they did. What a lot of history, geography and even science are tied into these fun, human-interest books. Putting us readers into their own places with their descriptions has to got to be my favourite way to learn.

We've learned a lot about that pioneer time in America when Laura and her family were moving west that's helped us put our own lives in perspective. And we have a real feeling for the late 1930s in Yorkshire when James first became a vet, not to mention noticing the vast progress in technology that's happened in those 70 years. And we've cracked up laughing at some of his hilarious anecdotes. I can't help thinking that if neither of these authors had written, we'd be so much poorer without knowing it.

Of course that started me speculating about the number of people with fascinating stories who think they couldn't possibly record them and don't bother trying. Or the ones who do and then leave them in their cupboards. So I'm sure we are already poorer without knowing it in thousands of ways. Anyone with a knack or passion for writing and recording in an interesting way ought to regard it as a sort of duty to record them because we never know who we'll touch. Even if it's unlikely that we'll become as famous as Laura Ingalls Wilder or James Herriot, doing it just for the love of it and for those who may be touched is a worthwhile enough goal anyway.

I'm beginning to toy with the idea of writing my own grandfather's story this way. I never knew him. He died almost ten years before I was born but I've just recently got to know him through typing my own father's family history. My grandfather (his father) was born in 1892. He had lots of interesting things happen to him. He served in both wars and he was the boxing champion of South Australia for several years. There is lots of information about him, including several funny anecdotes that happened around the country-side and in the ring. Yes, I'm thinking I wouldn't mind writing his story in a sort of novel form when I finish the fictions I'm working on because he's a man I think many would find interesting.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Lists of things to be done

I never considered myself much of a list person. I never considered myself a person with a life that's too full, either. I try to take care not to cram it with too much because whenever I do I get easily overwhelmed. But sometimes I wake up with a feeling that there's a surprising lot to be done for a person who just wants to live a simple life homeschooling her family and doing a bit of writing. And it all seems to be urgent. So I started writing it all down on a list to keep track of it. And I discovered to my astonishment that these urgencies are most often quite little things.

Here are some examples.
Buy birthday cards for Andrew's sisters
Answer 3 emails
Remind Emma to write a thank-you note for a bracelet she was given
Tell Andrew we need to renew an account
Pick up Logan's new epipen from the chemist
Organise for carpets to be cleaned before rental inspection
Buy a few groceries
Clean through cupboards
Get car oil changed
Plan a couple of Sunday School classes

I know we all get the idea. I was stressed but I was surprised to notice that I was stressed chiefly with little things. Although they are all little things they quickly multiply if I just leave them whirling through my head. I could make it into a sum. Little thing + little thing + little thing + little thing etc = stress. I'd been inclined to wake up in the morning thinking, 'I've got so much to do.' But they can't all fit into one day. So I started jotting down everything on a master list that I've called WTDTW (What to do this week). Then I itemise each one into WTDT (What to do Today). I try to make sure to include a few boring nasties to spread them out evenly. And I have to say, it has been helping. I've been ticking them off as I go through them and feeling as if I've been getting everything done with not so much running around.

Here's a prime example. I had to visit the local High School to enrol Logan on their books as a homeschooler. It's something our state requires us to do, just to keep track of all school aged students. Logan and his sister have been enrolled on the Primary School roll book as homeschoolers, but the Primary School have notified us that they'll be removing him this year as he's now a highschooler. If they hadn't reminded me I probably wouldn't have given it a thought. So we had to chase up all the people at the High School and fill out a lot of red tape and rub shoulders with all the big, loud senior students in the corridors on our way to the office. That's a perfect example of something that takes time from your day, isn't a pleasant task but really needs to be done. Just a one-off sort of thing, but one-offs keep coming up. (I'll have to go and enrol Blake at the Primary School as a home-schooler next year.) And if I hadn't started my list system and had it there in black-&-white staring at me, I'm sure I wouldn't have got around to it yet. So something as simple as jotting things down is working for me.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Book stall at homeschool seminar

A few weeks ago I was invited to set up a stall to sell my "Quenarden" books at a homeschool seminar to be run on May 17th. I accepted the opportunity although I was secretly doubtful if I'd sell many. My books hardly ever seem to move at formal venues for reasons which I'll mention soon. Anyway, I'd already donated free copies of my first Quenarden novel, "The Prophecies" which were in the showbags provided for the seminar. So I printed up several copies of my discussion questions in booklet form. (Anyone who's interested could find these questions on my website anyway). But I thought that if I gave away a set of discussion questions with every copy of Book 2 or 3 I sold, homeschoolers might like that.

It was pouring with rain on Friday when Emma and I drove down to the city to set up our space. We're not used to wet weather at the moment and the Freeway was covered with thick fog at 3.30 in the afternoon. Motorists were made to crawl down from the hills into the city at 80kph, which suited me fine. When we managed to find the Adelaide Deaf Centre, which was the venue for the seminar, we had to dash across with heavy boxes full of books getting soaked. We set up the table with our pretty tablecloths and ornate boxes to give what I hoped would be a "Quenarden-ish" sort of effect and then drove home again.

Next morning was still very blustery. I made 2 stops on the way down. I dropped Logan off at my sister's place to spend the day with his cousins, and then Blake off with my parents who live close to the city. Now, to cut a long story short, although I chatted with several browsers and made my voice hoarse, by the end of the day I only made one sale of one book for $15.00! And as I had to pay $13.00 for the hire of the trestle, my profit for the day was only $2! Of course if I remove the cost of petrol making two trips down and back, not to mention a couple of books I bought from other stalls, the venture actually cost me money. Still, as Andrew says, this P.R. sort of thing really needs to be done and we might make more sales out of it in the future.

Although trestle tables groaning with goods and curriculum filled the auditorium, I don't know if any other sellers earned much money either. I'd been looking at those 2 books I finally bought for hours before I actually purchased them. Here's my theory on why I think it's harder to sell at formal venues. There are just too many other sellers doing the same thing. When a huge choice is involved, potential customers decide it's too hard to make decisions and opt to hold on to their money instead.

We read the story of a family of jam and preserve manufacturers who set up 30 samples of every single flavour they produce. At the end of the day, although they'd received many compliments they hardly sold one jar of jam. Next time they only put out two flavours for sample; apricot and strawberry. As a result, sales of all 30 varieties soared and they made record profits! Surely this can't be coincidence. I've made more sales of books at places like my launch, where the only person selling books is me. I guess it's nice to take every opportunity, although I'm now always cynical about how much I'll sell.

Anyway, the day wasn't a total write-off. I did win a raffle door-prize of 3 teenage novels tied up with pretty string along with the free showbag of goods (which included my own Quenarden novel! Just what I needed. Another one of those!) So although I was sort of exhausted and demoralised as far as my own efforts were concerned, life's still grand! Never quitting needs to be one of my mottoes.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sixteen good years

Last Friday night we celebrated our wedding anniversary. Yes, on May 9th, 1992, Andrew and I tied the knot. Sixteen years sounds like such a long, long time to everybody, until everybody remembers that Logan is now thirteen, which puts things into perspective. Time is a funny thing. One single day or week can feel like an eternity while a decade can feel like a flash. Although 1992 doesn't seem all that long ago, things have certainly changed since then.

Last Friday night the kids spent some time with my in-laws while Andrew and I enjoyed ourselves locally. We had dinner and then saw a movie at the Wallis Cinema complex. They are both part of the same place so we bought a "Meal Deal." The movie we chose was "Smother" which I really enjoyed. Although it's not normally Andrew's style, he doesn't mind the occasional romance/drama.

One of my biggest mistakes perhaps was setting my wedding date so close to Mother's Day. I clearly remember thinking, "It just has to be fairly early in May, otherwise winter will set in and then we won't be able to get married until September or October and that'll be terrible!" If some wise person had reminded me that I was going to be married to Andrew for ever after so a few months wouldn't have made all that much difference anyway, I would've been aghast. So I tend not to give young people in their teens and early twenties that sort of advice.

The reason why it might've been a mistake is because I already have my birthday and Christmas sandwiched together on December 24th and 25th, and I didn't have any control over that one. Now May 9th is always only a day or two away from Mother's Day and I'm the one who set that one up. So now I feel as if there are only two little blocks of time in the year for me to celebrate special occasions while many other women have 4 separate ones, and then I do feel a little bit jipped sometimes. But forgive my grumbling. When I think about it, this is not such a bad problem to have.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Chickened out

I needed to take my kids to the doctor last week and while we were sitting in the waiting room, a good looking young guy walked in to pick up a referral. He made me sit up and take notice because he looked just like my idea of one of the heroes in the book I've just finished revising and re-writing. It's very rare that I come across people who are dead-ringers for my characters. For anybody who has seen my "Quenarden" covers, my hubby and I actually went to one of the local schools to snap photos of any young teens who might be interested in being on a cover. Although the people we ended up asking looked close to the characters I had in mind, they weren't carbon copies like this fellow.

The young man I saw looked like a character named Piers from my new one, "The Risky Way Home." He was tall and slim with dark, shaggy curls and in his early twenties. As he breezed out with his referral I considered getting up and chasing him down the road to ask, "Excuse me, would you like to be on the cover of a book?" But I chickened out. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. And I could imagine the embarrassment my kids, especially my oldest son, would display if I did such a thing. Yet I couldn't help wondering if I'd let a serendipitous opportunity slip by.

My daughter asked later, "What do you think he would've said?" and I told her, "I honestly don't know. It's not the sort of situation people find themselves in often, if ever." He'd possibly would have been flattered but I couldn't do it. I'm the girl who came second to bottom on the extroversion-intraversion test we all had to do in Psychology at Uni (meaning I was way down on the introversion side). If my husband had been with us I might've asked him to do it. I clearly remember an occasion when I'd just met Andrew and we were having a country walk together. There was an artist set up with his easel along the side of the road. I'd have normally just smiled hello and walked on, but Andrew insisted that we go over to see what he was painting. Even though this was about 17 years ago, I remember how Andrew told the guy, "I always thought I'd like to be an artist," to which the man replied, "Oh, you like to starve, do you?" But I wished I had the courage to approach interesting strangers with such ease and lack of restraint.

In this particular incident, the only thing that makes me not too disappointed is that this time, our intention is to veer away from people in the pictures and do something different anyway, which I won't say much about because when we have something to show, I'll show it instead. But if this young guy had been asked and agreed, I might've considered changing my mind.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Top Self-Help Books

I accidentally logged onto a list compiled by a man named Tom Butler Bowden. After conducting lots of research and interviews, he wrote down what he believed to be the top 50 self-help books of the 20th century (although some of the books on it were from earlier time periods). Now, as I'm often on the look-out for a good self-help book as often as a good fiction, I skimmed down the list with interest. To my surprise, I found I'd already read almost half of them. And for some that I hadn't read, I'd read other books by the same author.

Here are some of the self-help books that I've actually read.

The Bible (which was listed surprisingly as number 6)
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
Don't Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson
How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
7 Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Real Magic by Wayne Dyer
Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Creative Visualisation by Shakti Gawain
Women Who Run with Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, by Dr John Gray
You can Heal your Life by Louise Hay
Feel the Fear & Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers
Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr Maxwell Maltz
The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr Norman Vincent Peale
The Road Less Travelled by M Scott Peck
The Game of Life and How to Play it by Florence Scovell Shinn

And this is not to mention several that could've been mentioned and would surely be in the top 100, such as "The Power of Now" by Eckart Tolle, "Think & Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill, and several Christian classics such as "The Practise of the Presence of God" by Brother Lawrence and "The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life" by Hannah Whitall Smith.

My first impulse was to feel very tired, thinking of all those words I've read in the quest to turn myself into a better person which started far back in my teens. Yet I still feel like the same person, who is basically earnest and insecure, looking out for the next book full of life-changing wisdom. You think I would've been some sort of guru by now!

Is this to say that I think I've wasted my time reading all these self-help books? Well, I'd have to say no. Some of those books are real gems. I can remember scribbling down what I regarded as life-changing quotes from many of them. I have taken a lot of the advice on board. And it definitely has changed my life. "The Power of Positive Thinking" is the book that prompted me to become a Christian back when I was 17 for example. So if they've done their job and changed my life, why do I keep reading more and more and more?

This might not sound very profound but I think it's because I don't want to feel as if I'm missing out on anything good. It's the same reason why I sometimes feel frustrated and flustered when I look at all the great homeschooling curriculum that's available and know that I can't buy the lot. "This is pretty good but what if this other one in the catalogue is absolutely mind-blowing?" Well, it seems there's only one way to find out. I can see why the quest can turn into a treadmill with this sort of attitude. And a treadmill isn't what I want to be on.

So I took another look at that list and noticed something else. Many of them express exactly the same principles, in each author's own unique style of course. There were even groupings of books that encourage you to follow your dream, books that speak about the human condition, books about changing the way you think and so on. So looking at this list has taught me that all of the wisdom I need to get by in life is already lined up in these volumes on my loungeroom shelf. The Bible alone has enabled thousands of fantastic men and women to live their best lives. So I can jump off that treadmill and read self-help books in a less fevered, more relaxed manner, not because I'm afraid I'm missing something important and new but simply because they are more wholesome food for my brain than more depressing literature.

It's actually made me feel pretty good.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Mosquito Ring Tones

My son told me about this one. He saw a story on the news. It seems a number of school students have downloaded ring tones on their mobiles that sound like annoying mosquito drones but the frequency is such that nobody under the age of 30 can hear them. That way they manage to text messages to each other in class without the teachers hearing, although all of the students can.

We had to look this phenomena up on internet to put it to the test. Visit and check it out for yourselves. They have a range of mosquito drones starting from one that everyone can hear all the way down to one that you can hear only if you are 18 years old or under.

Of course I could hear the one that everyone can hear. I could clearly hear the one that people under 50 can hear but by the time it got down to the one that only people under 39 can hear, it was so extremely faint as to be almost inaudible. And Logan expressed his amazement that I couldn't hear it because to him it was identical to the one that 50 year olds can hear. Of course by the time it got down to the ones that only people under 24 and teens could hear, I could hear absolutely nothing! Amazing.

Logan tells me a fellow on the news tested them out and when he couldn't hear them, he thought it was all a big hoax, but a young visitor in the next room called out, "Can you stop making that awful racket!" And it seems most school students choose the tones for under 30s for their classtime text-messaging.

Daydreaming and Prayer

This thought got started from a book I was reading by Bill Johnson, "The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind." He admitted that his habit of lapsing into daydreams in the middle of prayer times used to make him feel guilty that he'd wasted a prayer session. But it occurred to him one day that the daydreams themselves had been planted there in his mind by God, and then he began to regard them differently, as part of the prayer. I can relate to and understand that.

Maybe we are taught to approach prayer with too much of a stereotyped idea of what we should expect. Maybe the eyes closed, knees bowed, hands clasped position isn't necessarily the ideal pose for pray-ers at all times. Maybe reading down a list of what we've written beforehand, making sure we've carefully balanced our Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplications isn't the only valid way prayer will work. In fact maybe sticking to a formula can become more of a hindrance than a help as we become locked into a repetiveness that doesn't do much for us.

During prayer I sometimes feel the need to grab a prayer journal and jot something down from the top of my head (as this was). I sometimes get ideas for my books and rush off to jot them down. I sometimes start thinking about someone or some situation that is not on my list and mutter a little sentence on their behalf. I sometimes remember things I should've done. And I sometimes find myself grabbing a Bible to look up Scriptures in different translations. This often seemed like a very slapdash way of approaching prayer and I'd feel guilty like Bill Johnson, thinking of myself as very easily distracted. I like the way his book made me wonder if they are really distractions. If I regard them all as legitimate, sudden ideas planted by God, then maybe I can begin regarding them as part of my prayer just as much as the more formal parts.

Thanks for that thought, Bill Johnson. Instead of criticising ourselves for not praying enough - for there's already enough self-condemnation in our lives - we might do well to realise that we actually pray more than we think we do.