Saturday, December 29, 2012

Jesus Storybook Bible Curriculum

Got home from holidays to find the JSB Curriculum for next year's Sunday School lessons has arrived.  Opened it tonight.  First impressions: really good.  Here's the highlights so far.

In introducing the material they point out that, amongst other things, they have assumed the following:
  • you have no permanent classroom (so none of the activities require permanent fixtures);
  • there is no place to leave or store materials (so we have kept materials and technologyto a minimum); 
  • your teachers are volunteers (so we have given as much guidance as possible on how to teach the lessons, kept preparation time to a minimum, but included a section of notes on the Bible text specifically for teachers); 
  • your teachers are scheduled on a rotation basis so that the children may not have the same teacher every lesson (so the lessons are self-contained);  
  • you have access to songs that tie into various Bible stories or themes and can teach them (we have suggested one or two points where a song will be useful, but the more songs you can include the better)
This is all good news for me. The curriculum itself comes in PDF form on a DVD so you print off the lessons and can make multiple copies for all your teaching staff.  We'll print and ring-bind.  You can print the hand-outs yourself or buy them as a set - one for Old Testament and one for New Testament.  Each set has about 22 handouts and cost about $5.75 per student, which for full colour printing is a much better option for me than going to the hassle of arranging printing and copying myself.  Cost then is about $87 for the curriculum plus about $12 per student for the full year.  Which is pretty good value.

And, a final highlight for today, is that they have included a master list of all the additional resources needed according to each lesson.  So I can go out at the start of each term and buy/find/borrow the craft materials and objects lessons that I need without having to go through each lesson individually to make my own list.  I really appreciate that and I've not seen it in any other material I've used.

A small gripe so far is that the included advertising (poster, postcard, bulletin insert) is useless.  Just looks like an ad for Zondervan.  But that's a small thing.

So looking good so far.  I'll check back in with details when I've actually taught some of the lessons and seen it in action.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Drum roll please.....

Here is our latest musical contribution from The Concert Pianist.  Hope you've enjoyed her selections over the last 12 13 days.  Thanks, C.P., for all your great work.

Day 12: Sandi Patty: O Holy Night

Merry Christmas everyone – may you know the awe of falling on your knees before the One who made you.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Thank God it's Christmas Eve

Hey, good news.  My mother-in-law has been released from hospital. She's not home yet because she needs to stay in an apartment close by the hospital for regular monitoring and treatment every second day.  BUT she's allowed home for Christmas day.  With the family.  All 18 of us together!  Yay.  Merry Christmas to you and your family.  Hope it's a good one.

Guest blogger: The Concert Pianist

Day 11: Anonymous: Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah

Almost got number one spot.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Jingle bells.... nope, it's The Concert Pianist instead

Day 10: Trans-Siberian Orchestra: Carol of the Bells

With thanks to Dwight from Scranton.  Yes I know it’s Carol of the Bells AGAIN but you must admit this could not be left off the list.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas music guest post

Day 9: Kings College Cambridge: Once in Royal David’s City

When I was a child, this was my favourite carol, both due to the boy soprano who always sang first, but also because the lyrics are about Jesus as a child.

Friday, December 21, 2012


You might think you are looking at a photo of a cake.  You are wrong.

Usually, I deal with stress in less-than-helpful ways.  I sigh a lot.  And moan.  And am difficult to live with.  Yesterday, instead, I baked something.  It's a picaken.

In short, I bought a pie and baked it into the middle of a cake.  Yes.  Yes, I did.

And the music just keeps coming

With love to you all from The Concert Pianist....

Day 8: The Piano Guys: Carol of the Bells

Highly recommended that you watch all the Youtube clips by The Piano Guys – worth every minute.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Concert Pianist again

Day 7: North Point iBand: Carol of the Bells medley


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Look what the postman just brought to my door

Dad's new book!

This makes me cross

The federal government has decided to shift up to $375 million dollars out of its foreign aid budget and put it towards the cost of supporting asylum seekers being processed in Australia.
The opposition pointed out that Australia had made itself the third largest recipient of its own aid - after Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
 How clever.  We'll give the aid back to ourselves.  Read the whole report here.

Do you know what the government is aiming to work towards as a foreign aid giving target?  0.5% of gross national income by 2016-17.  Less than one percent.  As a target.  In the future.  Maybe.

I can feel a letter to my local member coming on.

Hark - it's the Concert Pianist again

Day 6: Kings College Cambridge: Hark the Herald Angels

I will always think of my Dad when I hear this.  He loves to play varied harmonies for the last verse.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas stress

Despite my plans to work on being generous in spirit this Christmas, I'm still finding Christmas stress jumping down on me from time to time.  Rachel Jankovic has written a great article on 6 ways to handle stress this Christmas.

And the music goes on

More from the Concert Pianist...

Day 5: Michael W Smith: Sing Noel, Sing Hallelujah

Only just restrained myself from creating my own video to go with this song.  This is the sound of the Christmas of my childhood, but with a new, beautiful, majestic Christmas song.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Concert Pianist's 12 days of Christmas music

Day 4: Sandi Patty: Carol of the Bells

If ever there was a song that needed a handbell choir, this is it. Thanks to Jess for introducing me to Sandi Patty’s Christmas album.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

More music from the Concert Pianist

Day 3: Michael Bolton: Joy to the World

Please trust me, yes it is Michael Bolton, but there is also Placido Domingo and a children’s choir.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas crackers

Opened this joke from a cracker at last night's church ladies' dinner.

I couldn't decide if the error in the gender assignment of the animal was intentional and therefore supposed to be add an element of ironic satire, or whether it was simply an error on the part of the creator and therefore funny for a different reason.   Troubling.

The Concert Pianist again

Day 2: Il Divo: Adeste Fideles

In the “Sing Choirs of Angels” part, there were always a few ladies in our church who would sing what is affectionately known as “the high bit” (obbligato) and just send chills down my spine.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Thank God it's Friday

I know that “Thank God it’s Friday’ is usually said in absence of any kind of thankfulness towards the Almighty, but I’d like to do my bit to remedy that.

Today I’m thankful for the beginning of the summer holidays.  Rest is a gift.

You got anything you’re thankful for today? Join in! Let’s count our blessings for a bit.

The Concert Pianist guest blogs

Day 1: Some girl on the internet: Mary's child

Starts at 0:27, and you can stop watching at 4:26.  My sisters had an acapella five-girl singing group and they sang this.  Not with a loop station as it was 1976, I might add.  Then about 13 years ago I overheard my little nieces singing it in three parts, including the 3 year old, as I stood outside their bedroom at Grandma’s house.  I summoned the household and we loitered in the corridor all teary-eyed hearing the beautiful words coming out of their mouths.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Twelve or so days of Christmas music

Hey, it's the Concert Pianist here.  Deb found this one so I thought it was an appropriate way to kick off the 12 Days of Christmas. Sorry, 13 days of Christmas. One of the songs I found at the last minute then I couldn’t drop any of them. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

House hunting

And I think we've got a winner! Glad to give up my passion.

Deck the halls

I've got great news for you all!  The Concert Pianist has come to my aid with some musical Christmas offerings.  She knows that I am a bit lacking when it comes to the Christmas spirit.  So she's used her expert musical palate to select for us her top 12 Christmas songs from youtube.  She'll be posting one each day from now until the big day on the 25th.  All her clips are classy and beautiful.  But I thought I'd add in this extra one myself.  With love from me to you.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas is like knitting

You know you are about to get drowned in Christmas-related videos all over the blogosphere don't you?  Sorry.  But this one's good.  You have to click here and watch Milton Jones explain why Christmas is like knitting.

HT Timothy Titus

Saturday, December 8, 2012

No joy

Lots of nice houses but too small, too poorly laid-out or too far away. Tired.  But we have three more properties to see in the coming week and who knows what else might pop up on before Christmas.  It's not easy to rent a manse.  Build a manse and you can get it set up right.  Give the man a manse allowance and he can make his own decisions.  But renting is tricky.  You still have to adhere to all the manse guidelines and hope someone out there has built the perfect manse.  All in favour of a manse allowance, say aye!

Rental safari

Today is my rental safari day as we search for a house for our new minister and his family.  During the week we got to two homes.  This morning, I've managed six and I've got five more to go this afternoon.  Refuelling on reheated Korean BBQ leftovers from last night and then out again into the 37 degree heat to valiantly follow my sat nav wherever it will take me.  So far some really beautiful homes but the layouts were wrong for a minister's family.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Christmas Scale

HT Timothy Titus

Thank God it's Friday

I know that “Thank God it’s Friday’ is usually said in absence of any kind of thankfulness towards the Almighty, but I’d like to do my bit to remedy that.

Today I’m thankful for a workplace I love to be at, family I love dearly and friends to play games with tonight.

You got anything you’re thankful for today? Join in! Let’s count our blessings for a bit.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Falling by the wayside

Me busy.  You too?  New minister coming in January and I'm on the subcommittee ("We like subcommittees. We're Presbyterian." could be our new tagline) to find a suitable house to rent.  I'm spending some serious time online looking at dodgy photos and trying to work out why no one builds houses with internal doors anymore.  We went to inspect one property this morning which the person with me summed up by saying, "That would be the house you would rent if you really hated the new minister and wanted him to be miserable."  I think that said it all really.

Add to the real estate hunting all the usual end-of-year craziness and some things have fallen by the wayside.  I found my Listasaurus on Saturday.  It was covered with a layer of dust.  Sigh.   And I'm not even pretending to try to keep my walk-in-wardrobe in order now.  I just have a huge pile on one side that I'm randomly adding to as I fly by.  Who knows what will be discovered therein when I finally attack it in January.  And dusting?  I think not.  Cleaning the oven?  Not going to happen.  I'm going to bed at night and lying there in a state of mild panic trying to get my mind around the next few weeks.

So I'm down to doing essentials.  Everyone has their own essentials list I imagine but this is mine ranked in order (obviously updating my blog to express how terribly busy I am comes first but I thought that went without saying - snort):

1.  Washing.  Clean clothes come first.  You can buy dinner or lunch.  You can wash dishes in a hurry or eat with your fingers.  You invite people out to a park if your house is a mess but you still have to wear something.  And in the case of kids, it's usually a specific uniform item.  If nothing else is getting done, I'm still loading and unloading the washing machine.  We may not be ironed, but we will smell fresh and have the right coloured school socks.

2. Supermarket shopping.  Forget the mess, if you can't scrounge up enough bits and pieces to make a school lunch, you're in trouble.  If you have milk, fruit or bread left in the house, you can usually throw something like a meal in front of your offspring.

3. Kitchen bench and dining table.  My stress level is linked in some strange way to how much stuff there is on the flat surfaces of my kitchen.  If I can see the bench, I believe life will go on.

4. Toilet.  Cannot be left for too long before the environmental disaster becomes too much to bear.  Say no more.

5. Cooking food.  Always good if you can manage it.

6. Floors.  Not as often as I like, but if the broom and/or the vacuum gets swirled around now and then, things seem more pleasant all round.

Those are my top 6 for survival living - Bear Grylls eat your heart out (or a lizard if prefer).  What about you?  What's your top priority when normal household routines are flying out the window?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tis the season to be generous

Some people love present-giving.  On the other hand, I find the pressure of Christmas really disconcerting.  I want to be generous towards my kids.  But I flick between the joy of buying something that will give them a lot of pleasure and guilt because my kids already have more than enough while others lack even the basics.  Like a lot of parents, I worry about sending messages of materialism and greed and wonder if they will be surrounded by so much stuff that they won't value any of it.  But I also want them to experience the joy of being given good gifts that intimate some of our love for them.

So all of this has led to me thinking about generosity.  The thing about generosity is that it's not about gifts per se, but also about the spirit in which they're given.  We can give expensive, beautifully wrapped gifts with a miserly spirit.  What kind of a gift is it really if we resent the feelings of "obligation" that drove us to purchase it in the first place? 

I'm not great at generosity so I'm trying to do better with it this year.  Less grouch and more giving.  And it occurred to me that I ought to be applying generosity to much more than just the buying of gifts.  I struggle with Christmas because it's not really something I would bother with if I had the choice.  I find all of the social expectations a bit overwhelming.  But I acknowledge that for others it is a really special time of the year.  So, with that in mind, here's a list of some of the ways I came up with that I could be more giving and generous this Christmas (and hopefully going forward to the new year too):

1. Giving the gifts that I am giving this year with a happy heart, even the extra ones that come up like work or school 'obligations'.

2. Being generous in listening to my kids and playing with them when I'd rather be enjoying my own space.

3. Doing some of the things my husband and family enjoy during the summer even if I find them boring (cricket) or I'd rather set the agenda for the day.  And not grumbling about it (even to myself).

4. Taking time to speak with people at school, church, family functions, etc. that I don't necessarily gravitate towards.

5. Dismissing mistakes, forgiving small errors, waiting a bit longer, not demanding my way, hearing someone out or going out of my way to help someone else.

6. Not wanting my own way in all aspects of the family festivities and changing plans graciously when the situation requires it.

7. Not holding past mistakes against people but being generous and lavish with forgiveness.

8. Using up "valuable" time to shop and think of ways to make other people's Christmas special even if it's not my cup of tea.

9. Turning up to things, making arrangements and helping out with end-of-year stuff with a cheerful and generous spirit.

10. Letting the kids help decorate the tree this year.  I might even be able to restrain myself from fixing it after they go to bed!

Feel free to add to the list if you've got a generous idea of your own.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Washing machine rant

Yesterday, I was grateful we could replace the dead washing machine.  I still am.  But I'm also suffering from appliance adjustment disorder.  I totally made that disorder up.  But that doesn't make it any less real.  The buttons are different.  It has stuff I don't understand and it makes weird noises.  My mother doesn't like new appliances and neither do I.  I want my old machine back.  It had a nice metal lid and it was familiar and comfortable.

The new machine looked fine in the store but they don't tell you much in-store.  For a reasonably expensive purchase, I think you should be able to actually see the machine running.  It seems unreasonable to have to lay down hundreds of dollars for a machine you can't take for a test drive.  Here are the things you need to know that you can't find out:

1. How long a cycle takes.  Seriously the washing now takes twice as long.  This is because of it's wonderful water efficiency I believe.  Grrrrrrr.  I have at least three loads to get through today and I just want it done.  This is something they should mention along with the amount of water it uses.

2. The noises it makes.  This one is loud.  So was my last one at various points in the cycle.  But this is a weird kind of loud.  Not the familiar "tub, tub, tub" of my old agitator but strange random squishy sounds I don't know or like.  I'm not good with new noises.

3. Whether it will fit in your laundry.  Sigh.  This machine is slightly taller by about 5 cm.  That 5 cm would be the clearance space on the cupboards above.  Now my washing machine lid hits the cupboards above and has to be held open.  Grrrrrr.  In January, we will have to move our cupboards higher on the wall to accommodate the machine.

Washing machines now are also stupidly over-optioned.  The more stuff it has going on, the more stuff there is to malfunction and go wrong.  No one is going to use 7 different wash options.  They are going to use the same type of wash option 95% of the time and possibly one or two others the rest of the time.  Nobody wants to wake up at 7 am to put on a load of washing before the kids head to school and be met with five different decisions to make: cycle type, water level, water temp, rinse type, soak time.  The last machine I had, I turned a dial and pulled it out and it all just happened.  One of the machines we looked at had a glass lid so you could see the washing going around.  Why?  Why?  Why?  Give me a good sturdy metal lid that I can slam a big basket of dry washing on as I return from the backyard.  And what is with all the digital displays and flashing lights?  Some of the machines we surveyed looked like protypes for a Dr Who episode. Not needed and likely to break within five years.  Dials and punch buttons, people.  That's what I want.  And stuff made of metal.

My last machine went for 12+ years.  Sob.  It's hard to move on.  And worse, I think this grumpiness might all be a sign of my approaching middle-age.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Thank God it's Friday

I know that “Thank God it’s Friday’ is usually said in absence of any kind of thankfulness towards the Almighty, but I’d like to do my bit to remedy that.  

Today I’m thankful that although I just came home from work to find the washing machine has completely died, we have the funds to replace it straight away.  This is a luxury so many people don't enjoy and I'm grateful.

You got anything you’re thankful for today? Join in! Let’s count our blessings for a bit.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New book on worship

My dad, who is pretty awesome, has written a book on worship called To Honour God and Strengthen His People.  The foreword is written by Dr Allan Harman (total Presbyterian name-dropping there by me).  It arrives back from the printers this week. Great work, Dad.  Always knew you had at least one book in you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Feel free to insult me

On the weekend I watched this very interesting statement by Rowan Atkinson on free speech.  A little background is in order.  A campaign has been launched in the UK to reform Section 5 of the Public Order Act to remove the word "insulting".  In section 5, a person can be arrested for the use of words, behaviour or signs that are "threatening, abusive or insulting" near a person likely to be offended by them.  Those supporting the change believe the legislation unduly limits free speech and expression. 

In Australia, we have legislation being suggested by the Gillard government that would include even political opinion as grounds for offending someone else. It's not a straight-forward issue (I'm not against all forms of censorship) but I do agree with Atkinson's view that what we need for a healthy society is more speech, debate and dialogue, not less.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Finger sucking update

So a while ago, I posted about our trial of a finger/thumb sucking device.  Here's an update on how we are going.

After about two and a half weeks of wearing the socks and not sucking, we were ready to trial not wearing the sock-gloves.  She did really well for about three weeks and then we started to go in to tuck her and find she'd fallen asleep with their fingers in her mouth again.

Around this same time, we had a dentist appointment. I'd put the visit off for quite a while because I didn't want him to be cross that we'd not done anything about her sucking. I was dreading what he might say about the big gap in her bite.  But I needn't have worried so much.  He said that they used to get very worked up about stopping thumb and finger sucking but that these days they tend to less concerned about the issue.  As long as the finger/thumb sucking stops before the all the adult teeth movement has finished, things should be okay.  He said it was rare for sucking to go beyond 12 years old (when it would really be an issue) and that anytime between now and then things should naturally resolve.  He didn't feel the current gap in her bite was a big deal and in his experience thumb/finger sucking devices don't achieve much in the way of long-term results.  When the kid is ready, it will drop away.  This was all good, good news!

But in the last week, our finger sucker asked repeatedly for the gloves to be put back on because she doesn't want to suck but can't help herself.  So the last few nights, we've put the special socks back on, attaching them with ribbon because we've run out of the medical bracelets.  She's happy.  She's not sucking.  All good.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

On being offended

If I wanted to, I could bore you with a whole raft of tales involving mean things once said to me. Sadly, I've kept a number of them as particularly special grudges that I've ruminated on at length, turning them over and over and examining them at fresh angles to extract all the hurt I can from them.  A wicked waste of time on my part. Of course, I hardly give the same attention to the times I've hurt others.  And wouldn't I be ashamed of sharing those stories with you!

I was reminded of all this a while back when Nicole posted this C. S. Lewis quote:
I think what one has to remember when people “hurt” one is that in 99 cases out of a 100 they intended to hurt very much less, or not at all, and are often quite unconscious of the whole thing. I’ve learned this from the cases in which I was the “hurter.” When I have been really wicked and angry and meant to be nasty, the other party never cared or even didn’t notice. On the other hand, when I have found out afterwards that I had deeply hurt someone, it has nearly always been quite unconscious on my part.
(C. S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady, Grand Rapids, 1967, 57)
As I was thinking through these issues of resentment and forgiveness, it occurred to me that one of the surest ways to offend a person is to make a negative comment about their children or their parenting.  I'm at a loss to explain why we are so particularly sensitive about our kids and our parenting except to say that most parents are giving so much blood, sweat and tears to the project of raising kids that it feels like setting a snake to strike at their vital organs.
Now I could tell you all the dreadful things that have been said to me relating to parenting, but I'm sure you'd agree that I'd be much better off forgiving those remarks than revisiting them.  There are some occasions when you ought to discuss your feelings with the person who's hurt you and seek to restore your relationship through forgiveness.  There are other times - and I would think this would be most of the time - when you ought to overlook the mistake and move on.  But that can be hard to do.

So how do you gain a bit of perspective when someone remarks negatively on your child's behaviour, makes an unhelpful suggestion about your family routines or generally rains on your parenting parade?  I've come up with 6 ideas that help me to calm down and put the brakes on my pity party.  If you are not currently raising small people, substitute whatever other cause is dear enough to your heart to make you see red when it's criticized.
1. Consider their current level of experience with children.  If the last time there were multiple small children running through their house was 30 years ago, you might want to give them a bit of grace when they are shocked by the noise and activity level.  If they don't have any children at all, and they give you their very best advice on dealing with sleep routines - as I once did to a sleep deprived colleague at work - you could probably assume that, although they might be terribly annoying, they meant well.  When I think back on it, my wonderful story of friends who had "used this really excellent book" and had all their babies sleeping through the night from week two was probably one of the most stupidly uninformed bit of waffling I have ever done.  But I really did just want to help!  Thankfully, this colleague still talks to me which I'm putting down to him being so sleep-deprived at the time that he can't actually remember the conversation.  Or he might just be habitually kind to idiots.

2. Consider their previous experience with the issue.  If they've never been through a traumatic pregnancy, cared for an autistic child, dealt with an ongoing disability, struggled with infertility etc., their comments might be made out of simple ignorance rather than a desire to hurt you.  Yes, some things said in ignorance or without thought or without empathy can be tremendously painful and unhelpful.  But before you lose a lot of sleep over what they've said, weigh up whether they were just putting their foot in it without malice.  I can remember a couple of things said to me when my premature daughter was in hospital that floored me. Worse still, they were said by people I loved at a time when I was desperate for comfort and encouragement.  But as I look back on it, I can see they just didn't know what life was like for us at that time.  How could they? And everything else they did to help us showed that they really did care even if they had got the wrong idea about a few things.  If the person speaking has no life experience in the area, either ignore the remark or seek to educate them.  But if you've tried to explain to Uncle Bob the importance of taking your son's peanut allergy seriously because it's more than "just a modern fad" and he's still bringing peanut butter toffees to Christmas lunch each year, it might be wise to limit your exposure to the guy.  Not just because he's a potential health hazard but also to reduce the chance of ending up on charges for assault with a large ham bone.  Spare yourself the aggravation and love him from a distance.

3. Consider that there might be a good reason for what they are saying.  Our kids aren't perfect and we aren't perfect either. I can remember getting miffed a couple of times when someone pointed out to me the fact that my kids were behaving pretty badly that day.  I had already worked that out and yet I was taking offence at anyone else having the audacity to notice it!  They might be wrong about the cause or the solution but quite possibly there is some kind of problem that needs attention and they just happen to be there to notice.  Don't shoot the messenger.

3. It's sometimes about them, not you. Often, it's about them not you.  Whatever you've chosen to do or not do as a parent, can make others question their own decisions and people sometimes react defensively to that.  Extend grace.  In addition, we sometimes don't realize how our own situation might be making others feel.  I remember being quite cross about something someone said to me early in my first pregnancy.  It was real "rain on my parade" kind of stuff.  It wasn't until 5 or 6 years later that I realized I might have been the one at fault in that conversation.  I was glowing with the joy of new life to someone whose own pregnancies had been difficult and dangerous.  Of course I didn't have the life experience then to know that not everyone experiences pregnancy as a wonderfully enriching natural journey.  About three weeks later I would find out for myself.

4. It's sometimes about you, not them.  We can have sore points - much like an ingrown toe-nail - that when stepped on in a conversation flare up strong emotions within us.  Consider whether you are reacting in proportion to the actual comment or whether there are "bigger issues" at play for you.

5. And grace for all the odd-ball, foot in mouth, stupid moments.  I've done it plenty of times: put my mouth in gear before my brain.  Don't hang someone for the occasional moment of stupidity.  There ought to be enough water in my bucket to put out the small spot fires that arise from strange personalities, bad moods and lack of sleep on the part of the speaker.  After all, I've needed that kind of grace plenty of times myself.

When in doubt, let it go.  Forgive and forget.  Most of the time when I've worked myself up into a lather about being offended, I've been the one who's been the real goose in the situation.

*A disclaimer: this post is entirely based on stuff I've been randomly thinking about lately and does not correspond directly with any conversations we might have had in the recent past.  If you are racking your brains trying to think what you've said to offend me: stop.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Old Saint Nick and the Big Guy in the sky

HT The Vicar's Wife

Thank God it's Friday

I know that “Thank God it’s Friday’ is usually said in absence of any kind of thankfulness towards the Almighty, but I’d like to do my bit to remedy that.

Today I’m thankful for my new job next year. Yesterday, I went to meet my new class who have already started next year's study as part of our school's "early start" program.  I was pretty nervous beforehand.  They were a great bunch.  I'm moving up to high school y'all!

You got anything you’re thankful for today? Join in! Let’s count our blessings for a bit.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A new mum

Next door reported this morning that Sparkles is the proud first-time mum of four kittens.  And I remember when she was just a kitten herself...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Varying levels of silliness were going on towards the end of dinner the other night when I mentioned that one day I might like to have chickens.

"I would like a chicken," my dear brown-eyed four-year old piped up earnestly.  "A big black one and I would find the eggs," he added.

Seeking to relish the moment a bit longer I asked, "And what would you call your hen?"

His sister suggested a few things and he tried them out before finally settling on a name.  "Miss Margaret," he said warmly.

A little boy hunting for eggs from a fat black hen with satiny feathers called Miss Margaret?  Swoon! It was such a delicious picture that it was only the fact that it was 6 o'clock on a Sunday night that stopped me from rushing out to find him a hen and a hutch right away.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Dear Blog,

I feel I've been neglecting you a bit of late.  You know how it is this time of year - busy, busy, busy!  It's the kids' birthday parties that are really killing me.  I mean, don't get me wrong: I love that they have friends and all, but it's just gotten a little crazy in the last month.  All the indoor play centres and luridly coloured cakes are beginning to blur into one.  Last Saturday we had more than one party on the same day - it was like a conveyor belt of presents and sugar.  I was so exhausted after the first one (driving in an unfamiliar suburb, making small talk with other parents, making sure my child remembered his manners) that I collapsed for a nap upon returning home.  My husband woke me with a cup of tea about an hour later and reminded me I had to get the kids into their costumes and off to the next party pronto.  Madness.

And then there's been the Christmas preparations.  I've lost more than an hour today just looking at Lego!  And all the time there's the creeping guilt of knowing my kids don't actually need any more toys.  Feels outrageous to be buying even more stuff.  Plus I'm knee-deep in the Christmas lunch plans that need to be coordinated with my three sister-in-laws.  You can't just rock up to these things and hope someone remembers the ham, you know.

Thankfully, no one's noticed that I haven't prepared a nativity play for the Sunday School yet.  Let's just keep that our little secret, eh?

But if truth be told, dear blog, it was the reunion that messed me around the most.  I came home so full of memories and stories and people.  It kind of knocked the stuffing out of me.  I tried to process it all by writing that post: the one I wrote and posted and took down two minutes later.  I pressed publish and then realised in horror my mistake.  Somehow I forgot that my own story is mine to share but other people's lives - however obscurely referenced - were not mine to mess with.  And in the panic and regret afterwards, I felt too guilty to post much on you for a few days.

And then, if we want to get really serious, there's been the other stuff going on.  You know, with my mother-in-law being sick and my friend's sadness and the new job stuff.  And the anxiety about how next year will all pan out.  None of that within my control of course.  But it's been hard to concentrate.  I've just wanted to run away each evening and watch TV and forget the real world for a while.

Anyway, I'm sorry, dear blog.  I'll try to pull it together. You know I still care, don't you?  And I'm sure things will settle down again soon....

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thank God it's Friday

I know that “Thank God it’s Friday’ is usually said in absence of any kind of thankfulness towards the Almighty, but I’d like to do my bit to remedy that.

Today I'm thankful for my mother-in-law still hanging in there despite multiple infections and a fair bit of misery.  We are still waiting for her white-cell count to go up so please keep praying.  I'm also thankful for my brother-in-law and family visiting at the start of this week.  We had a really fun time catching up and, as they are soon to move to Broken Hill, we won't get to do that too often in the next few years.

You got anything you’re thankful for today? Join in! Let’s count our blessings for a bit.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Parenting advice and why you should take it all with a grain of salt

I've read my fair share of parenting books since acquiring our little tribe.  One of the things that has sunk in ever-so-slowly over the years is that they can give you contradictory advice.  This was a shock to someone who maintains the legitimate belief that there is only one right way to stack a dishwasher.  I think this might have something to do with the Platonic forms but I digress.

The thing about contradictory advice in parenting is that while you might think one view will be backed up with wise and well-researched reasoning while the other will obviously have been penned by some crazed lunatic whose children eat crack for breakfast, this is not the case at all.  The really confusing thing about contradictory advice is that, not only can two books tell you should do the complete opposite, they can both give you excellent reasons for it.  Sometimes, just to mess with your sleep-deprived brain, they will even give you the same reason for doing the complete opposite.  You must imagine I'm telling you this in an awed and shocked tone of voice, while leaning towards you with my eyes very wide open.  It is simply mind-boggling!

So over the years, I've finally concluded that parenting advice - be it in books, blogs or over the back fence from your 80-year old neighbour - needs to be evaluated carefully because even the dumbest of ideas can be delivered with such home-spun wisdom that you find yourself milking a goat every day at 5 am in the hope that your children won't go off the rails at 16.

And all of this was illustrated afresh to me on Monday as I was cleaning my son's room.  A while back, I'd read a couple of books that suggested that mothers who always clean their children's rooms will end up with children who can never take responsibility for anything...ever.  A life of irresponsibility, failure and misery would be their lot.  Much encouragement was given to make their rooms their own responsibility.  Yes, yes!  It sounds so true.  And who wants a child whose life is ruined because I cleaned their room for them?  So for a while now, our kids have had to clean and vacuum their rooms on Saturday mornings (when their inconsistent parents don't completely forget).  At first, I was pretty hyper-vigilant about this but I've been getting slack lately.  I sort of poke my head and in and see if the carpet is visible before handing over the vacuum cleaner.  In the back of my head, I did say to myself a few times in the last month or so that I'd better give the rooms an extra going-over at some point, but I hadn't got around to it yet.

On Monday night, we had guests staying in my son's room.  Vaguely remembering beforehand that one of the guests has a dust-allergy, I thought I'd better give it an extra clean.  I knew it would be a bit dusty.  After all, he's six.  You can't expect too much.

I had a growing sense of unease as I began to tackle his room.  Drawers full of interesting junk.  Lolly wrappers under the bed.  Bizarre neo-impressionist paintings sent home from art lessons covering up piles of dismembered robot parts.  And dust.  A lot of dust.  And little piles of sand from where he'd taken off his sneakers.  But then - oh hold me! - then I found a bone.

I think it was animal.  I hope so, because I threw it out and I would hate to think I'd disposed of important DNA evidence from a crime scene.  It was an odd shape - perhaps part of a spine or a joint of some kind.  Given the fact that it was fairly white, I figured whatever it had been part of had died a long time ago.  I'm guessing he dug it up and thought it was prehistoric.  Or just cool.  And I have no idea how long it had been on his bedroom floor.

So to sum up, from now on, when I read parenting advice, no matter how wise and well thought-out its methodology might sound, I will remember that each family is different and each circumstance unique.  And I will weigh the merits of their advice against my own beliefs and values and take into account the unique character of my own children including their propensity to store dead animal parts in their bedroom.  And I will clean their rooms.  Sometimes.

Please tell me I'm not the only one finding odd things in my kids' rooms.  What's the strangest thing you've found?  Or the strangest thing you kept as a kid?

Monday, November 12, 2012


The four-year old and I were walking along.  He was holding my hand and taking great big jumps every few steps.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"I'm a jump-box!" he said.

I had no idea even after I'd rattled the words around in my head for a bit.  "Do you mean a jack-in-the-box?"

"No," he said, "One of those animals with antlers who can jump very high!"

"Ohhhhh," I said finally comprehending, "You're a springbok!"

"YES!"  Boing, boing, boing.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The reunion special

Got home about midnight last night from my high school reunion.  It was so AWESOME (I can say that because we partied like it was 1989).  But it was also a lot to take in.  I couldn't sleep for ages processing all the stories I heard and all the emotions I felt.  So I'll fill you in next week when I've had a chance to chew it over.  But, man, it was good!

Random hints by Deb

Yet another birthday party invite for one of my clan.  Wrapping the present today reminded me of a random handy household hint.

When you have trouble taking off a sticker (like a price label etc) try blasting it with a hairdryer for a bit.  The heat from the dryer melts the glue a little and makes it much easier to remove without tearing.

There you go.  Don't tell me I never share anything life-changing with you.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Thank God it's Friday

I know that “Thank God it’s Friday’ is usually said in absence of any kind of thankfulness towards the Almighty, but I’d like to do my bit to remedy that. 

Today I’m thanking God that my mother-in-law is hanging in there after her bone marrow transplant a week ago.  I'm thankful to for the many people praying for her - thank you to you if you're one of them.  I'm thanking God that my kids have had a good year at school this year.  Sometimes I forget what a blessing it is that they can go to school and that they are able to learn without too much trouble.  That doesn't happen for every kid and it's something to be deeply thankful for.  And finally, and this is a bit light compared to the other two points, I'm thankful that my husband is going to be able to fix our oven that stopped working yesterday morning.  He did some kind of poking with a multi-meter thingo I don't understand and declared it to be just a part that needs replacing.  The part is under $50.  Without him, I would have just bought a new oven - seriously.  Thank you, Lord, for giving him those talents.

You got anything you’re thankful for today? Join in! Let’s count our blessings for a bit.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

End to the Bananas?

Ben announced today that he's working on his last Bananas storyboard.  Ever.  We've enjoyed the new Bananas in Pyjamas.  Yes, it was an adjustment to switch to animation, but once we got over that, we had a ball.  We'll miss you, Cuddlestown.  Sniff, sniff.

I don't have any inside information on how the series will come to an end.  But I've watched a few series ends in my time - Country Practice, Friends, Frasier, Seinfeld, Simpsons - oh, no, wait...that's still going...will that never end already?!

Most recently, of course, I sobbed my way through the end of West Wing.

Pause.  Little moment. I'm okay now.

You know what has to happen in a series end:  You need to resolve all the 'stuff" particularly the romantic tension.  Josh has to finally realise that he loves Donna and always has.  Oh, wait, we're back on West Wing again.  But wasn't that a terrific love story?  And CJ and Danny - the way he loved her despite all the times she'd tried to push him away.   *Sigh*    Anyway, back to the Bananas.

So here's what I'm thinking: maybe they are looking for some help in writing the all-important series-ending episode.  It's got to be classy.  I mean, this is no The Bold And The Beautiful.  This is our own dear Bananas we are talking about.  No characters from Season 1 coming back from the dead and then marrying their father-in-law's long lost brother.  And no one should be suddenly pulling off their own face and reveal their true identity. None of that nonsense.  Nope, it's got to be Emmy-awarding winning stuff.

I've mulled it over and this is how I think it will pan out.  Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments.  I'm sure the writers will appreciate it.

Episode 153:  The Wedding Episode

The episode begins with B2 receiving an unexpected job offer in Paris.  Although B2 is initially excited that his career is finally taking off, he brought down to earth with a thud when B1 refuses to go with him.  The two bananas have a fight and B2 storms off vowing never to speak to B1 again.

Meanwhile, Morgan is finally realising that Amy is more than just a good friend to him.  He tries to talk with her about it but she misunderstands him and instead reveals that she has a crush on Charlie.  Morgan decides not to say anymore and leaves without telling Amy how he really feels.

Concerns about Bernard's health come to a head when he collapses while driving Lulu to a dance lesson.  Lulu is seriously injured and both characters are rushed to the hospital.  Amy is shopping in Rat's store when Rat gets a call from the hospital to say that one of the teddies has been seriously injured in a car crash and is asking for Amy.  Amy, not knowing if the victim is Morgan or Lulu, rushes to the hospital.  On the way, she realises her true feelings are not for Charlie but for Morgan.  Will she make it in time to tell him how she really feels?

Morgan also hears about the crash and rushes to the hospital.  Both teddies, desperate to see if the other will survive, find each other outside the door to Lulu's room.  Suddenly realizing they both feel the same way, Morgan proposes and Amy accepts.  Lulu is overjoyed to see both her friends and, upon hearing the wonderful news of their engagement, makes an immediate miraculous recovery so that she can start planning the wedding.

Both B1 and B2 are invited to the wedding but concern is mounting about the seating arrangement given that the two bananas are no longer on speaking terms.  Pedro tries to intervene and sort it out but both bananas are adamant that the other banana has no idea how they are thinking.  B2's plane leaves for Paris the day after the wedding.  Will there be a chance for them to make up before B2 leaves forever?

The day of the wedding is fraught with hilarious mix-ups.  Morgan gets lost and then stuck in a tree.  Charlie invents a bear-retrieval machine that can save Morgan but it needs two people to operate it.  No one is brave enough to man the experimental machine until.....  the bananas both realize that they've been thinking the same thing.  It's Groom-bear rescuing time!

Working together to rescue Morgan reminds the Bananas of all the good times they've had together solving problems.  B2 asks B1 to forgive him for applying for the job without talking it over with him first.  B1 admits that he was jealous of B2's success and that this had clouded his judgment.  He encourages B2 to take the job and pursue his dreams.  The Bananas are friends again...just in time for everyone to go to the wedding!

Morgan and Amy's wedding is beautiful and all of Cuddlestown is there to see it.  Afterwards, at the reception, B1 and B2 give a hilarious speech recounting all of the great moments of Cuddlestown history.  At the end, B1 announces that he's decided he's going to Paris too!  B2 can't do without him.

The next day, all of Cuddlestown turns out to wave the Bananas goodbye.  Although they are leaving for good, they know Cuddlestown is more than just a location - it's a destination in your heart.  Awwwwwh.  As the plane takes off, the camera pans back to the crowd waving goodbye.  What's that?  At the back?  Could that be Charlie with his arm around Lulu?!  Well, who knew!

Either they are feeding Sparkles an awful lot these days...

...or there's a litter on the way.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Things I learnt from shopping today

1. Target has turned on their Christmas music.  It's on a very short loop.  That would seem to me to be an OH&S issue for their staff.

2. "I'll be your baby tonight" by UB40 is a Christmas tract.  Or at least it's sandwiched in there.

3. You know you are getting old when you can almost put your back out trying on clothes.

4.  If your back starts to get sore while trying on clothes, do not - and I cannot say this strongly enough - do not attempt to try on anything that involves the word 'skinny'.  Getting back out of that 'skinny' thing will cause you at least five minutes of excruciating pain.  And it will not look good.   'Skinny' should be reserved for teenagers who have forgotten to make time to eat because they are too busy texting each other.

5. No one makes white t-shirts anymore that aren't see-through.  Why is that?  These days, if you want to wear a t-shirt, you must wear a singlet underneath.  If it's not see-through, it will have a gaping neckline or some combination of mesh/lace/rivets/cut-aways/ridiculously wide armholes.  This is apparently so you can "layer" things.  I just want to wear a t-shirt.  Because it's hot.  Not two t-shirts. Because it's hot.

6. When you are getting old, buying sensible underwear always seems like a good thing to do even when you don't strictly need any more.  I bought a lot of singlets.

Never mind about what to wear to the Melbourne Cup

I have a 20-year school reunion this Friday.

Letter ideas

Been a while since I've written a Compassion post. Do you sponsor a child? Have you written lately? Maybe you're stuck for an idea? Here's a big long list of letter writing prompts I use when I'm stuck. These prompts go both ways: respond to them to give yourself something to write about or use them as questions to find out more about your sponsored child. Of course, try to remember to write with sensitivity to the possible cultural differences and life challenges your sponsored child may be facing.

I can't take any credit for this list. I've compiled it over time by cutting and pasting ideas as I found them on various websites and OurCompassion posts. And I'm sorry to say that I didn't keep track of the authors of these great ideas so I'm unable to give them due praise for their creativity. But thanks to all those dedicated letter writers who been willing to share their good ideas with others!

Compassion Letters Prompt ideas

Does your name have a meaning?

Who is your best friend and why?

If you could invent one thing what would it be?

If you could change one thing about the world what would it be?

If you could be an animal what would you be?

What would you like to see that you haven't seen before?

If you could visit one place in the world, where would it be?

What do you want to be most when you grow up?

Do you enjoy sport?

Is there anything that worries you about school?

If you could fly in an aeroplane tomorrow, where would you go?

Who is your hero?

If you were president of your country, what would be the first thing you would do?

What is your favourite time of day?
Who do you most love to spend time with?

What do your brothers’ and sisters’ names mean?

What common sayings are there in your country? What do they mean?

What do you do when you lose a tooth in your country?

What language do you speak at school and at home? How many different languages can you speak?

Have your family always lived where you are now?

Tell an interesting story about something unusual that happened to you. Has something like this ever happened to you?

What is the most amazing thing that you have seen?

Share details about your church: How many people attend? Do you help with any ministries such as Sunday School? What touched you about the most recent sermon? What praise songs do you love and why? Does your church have a music team and what instruments do they play? 

What have your own children learned in Sunday School recently? Do you go to Bible Study or church activities during the week? Does anyone else in your church sponsor through Compassion?? 

Share details about your personal walk in the faith: When and how did you come to the Lord? Do you follow daily devotionals and what things recently touched you? What do you pray about regarding your sponsored child? What prayer requests would you like to share with your child? What problems have you had recently and how has God helped you? Where are you in your personal Bible reading and what verses have meant a lot to you recently? Has God answered a prayer for you recently? 

Share details about your family: Do you have any siblings? Who are the members if your family? What are some favorite family memories? Do you live near any relatives? Have you gone to any family gatherings recently? How does your family celebrate upcoming holidays?

What are the biggest and smallest animals you ever seen?

How did you find out you had a sponsor?

Do the kids always like their sponsor's letters, or do they sometimes think their sponsors write too much?

What are you thankful for today?

What are the best/worst parts of the school holidays?

What is the most unusual thing they have ever eaten?

What days do you attend the project? How far away is the project from your home? How do you get there?

What do you do to get ready for school in the mornings? How far away is school from your home? How do you get there? Do you travel on your own or does someone come with you?

Who is your favourite teacher at school? Why?

What is your school like? How many students attend? How many students in your class? What do you like to do in the playground?

What is your typical day schedule?

What are your goals for the year?

What is the most important thing learned from your parents?

What do you see when you look out of your home?

What is your favourite book or story?

How do you receive my letters?

What motivated you to become a sponsor? Who influenced you in this decision?

What is your favourite Bible story and why?

**Update: seems Compassion was so impressed with my post (cough, cough) that they decided to do one of their own.  Check out the 20 Letter-Writing Prompts from their blog.**

Monday, November 5, 2012

Mummies taking over the world

I enjoyed this piece in the paper today about the ruin and destruction caused by herds of mummies with prams.  While I do think some mothers are very inconsiderate of others when it comes to the impact they and their offspring have on the world around them, I do think the author makes a number of very fair points.  "Non- working" (ahem) mothers out and about are often painted as either being "lazy" if our children are well-behaved or "rude" if our children are unhappy.

What I am using now

This year in Sunday School, we've mostly been using the "On The Way" curriculum put out by Christian Focus.  The age range is 3 - 9 years.  We have run it from aged 3 to Year 6.  It wasn't ideal for the Year 5 & 6s but we've only ever had one person in that age range so we made do.  You do the teaching part all together as one big group, and then split off to small groups to do the crafts.  This made it much easier to manage having three groups within a small church - we only needed one "teacher" and then when the three groups split up we just needed a couple of extra "craft helpers".

Good points:
*  One book contains everything - all the crafts are photocopiable.  So at about $16 a term it's very cheap.
*  The theology is very good and it covers details in the Bible other curriculums might skip over.  See this review by the Vicar's Wife.
*  There are three crafts offered per lesson - preschoolers, lower primary and middle primary.  You photocopy off the appropriate number and you can have something age-appropriate for everyone!

Not-so-good points:
*  There's no script to follow for telling the Bible story.  They give you instructions for an introduction and conclusion, but leave you to work out how to tell the story itself based on the notes for the passage they give in the teacher's introduction.  I didn't mind this on the whole, but sometimes the story covered a couple of chapters of the Bible and it took a fair bit of effort to study the passage and then chop it down into manageable content to memorize and deliver.  The real problem was that this really scared off other people from having a go.  Lots of people were happy to be craft helpers, but no one wanted the up front stuff, especially those who didn't feel confident without a pre-written story to follow.
*  The visual aids are a bit average and a bother to photocopy.
*  The crafts are mainly paper crafts and some of them require an enormous amount of preparation beforehand in terms of cutting out pieces ready to glue etc.  Depends on the size of your groups but on the odd occasion, it took me more than an hour to cut everything out on the Saturday night.

Would I use it again?

Yes, I probably will.  The content is really good and for the size of our Sunday School it was an excellent solution.  I think if I end up using the Jesus Storybook Material, I may use the On The Way for 9 - 12 year olds with the older group.

Thank you, Cardsasgifts, for asking about the Sunday School material I was involved in writing.  Regrettably, I can't use that because it's for high school students.  Otherwise I would because it's well written, excellent quality and gives students a thorough grounding in the faith (shameless plug).  But you've given me a nice chance to mention it again.

So, what are you guys using with a large age-range and a small church?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Still thinking about the curriculum

So I'm still trying to work out whether to use the Jesus Storybook Bible curriculum.

1.  Thanks to Petrina, I've had a look at some of the sample lessons now.  They look like they'd work best with lower-middle primary.  Will it work with our big spread of ages (3 years to 12 years)?  If I have to get a separate curriculum for the littlies or the biggest kids, it will not be as cost effective and it will require extra adults to teach separate groups.

2. I really like the aim of the curriculum: showing how the whole Bible fits together as one story about Jesus.  I really like how the "rules" are dealt with and how it points to the fact that we don't save ourselves by doing "good stuff" but by trusting in Jesus.

3. It has DVD and optional audio components.  The story is read from the Jesus Storybook Bible.  This means I can hand the teaching over to someone who might not have teaching experience and feel confident that they will enjoy teaching it.

4. The colour handouts can either be printed out by us or we can buy them as bundles.  They work out very cheaply as bundles (about 25 cents a page).  I wouldn't have to prepare them - I could just buy them all at the start of the year.

5.  The text of the Jesus Storybook Bible ad libs a bit.  Not changing the essentials, but maybe adding in feelings or thoughts on behalf of the people in the passage that aren't there in the original Scriptures.  I have issues with this.  I get uncomfortable with that, especially when it's the Sunday School curriculum.  It also has a lot of pictures of Jesus in it.  I get uncomfortable with that too.  Should I ditch it for that reason or acknowledge that while it's not ideal, the good points out-weigh bad?

6.  It makes the Bible so clear and so easy to understand and is very gospel-centred.

Still undecided.  Any thoughts?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Thank God it's Friday

I know that “Thank God it’s Friday’ is usually said in absence of any kind of thankfulness towards the Almighty, but I’d like to do my bit to remedy that.  

Today I’m thankful for a week of relatively good health for my mother-in-law.  Her bone marrow transplant will hopefully take place today but there are complications looming so we'll wait and see. 

Sometimes, it's hard to pick out one thing to be thankful for.  I'm thankful for a lot of things this week.  Some of them seem really trivial - like good weather - and some are those deep hard to put into words things like God's enduring goodness when you feel lost.  But I guess giving thanks at either end of the scale is a good thing.

All that said, have you got anything you’re thankful for today? Join in! Let’s count our blessings for a bit.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sunday School advice

Hey, have you ever used the "Jesus Storybook Bible" Curriculum kit?  I have the book but there's a Sunday School curriculum based on it.  Runs for a whole year so the value for money isn't bad and it includes DVDs and handouts.

Have you used it or seen it used?  Was it any good?  Would you use it?

Bah humbug

The Christmas decorations are up in our local shopping centre.  Same decorations as last year and the year before.  Classy.  Won't be long before the Christmas music starts as well.

Most people who know me well, are aware that I'm not a big fan of Christmas.  I'd really rather skip the whole thing.  Last year, I tried extra hard for the kids' sake.  I purchased my first-ever Christmas album.  Sadly, it didn't arrive in the post until mid-January.  I also bought a tree and put it up for the first time.  I'd been working multiple excuses to avoid a tree for many years: the cat will destroy it, we won't be home for Christmas anyway, the lights are too dangerous for the kids, our youngest will eat the baubles.

To be fair, one year he did actually take a bite out of one of my sister-in-law's tree ornaments so I wasn't making the safety issues up.

But I did finally agree that as much as I can't be bothered with Christmas, it wasn't really fair on the kids once they were old enough to realize that some people had trees in their own homes.  It was a good run for a while when they thought trees were only at the shops or Nana's house.  This year, I might even take it a step further and let the kids help decorate the tree.  Baby steps.

I know you are shocked.  I'm glad that Jesus was born.  I'm just not a big fan of all the paraphernalia and the fuss.  When we moved countries, we left behind the old Christmas traditions and I'm still trying to make the new Christmas traditions feel like they belong to me.  Plus in a minister's family, Christmas is always a really, really hectic time.  Everyone is exhausted and ready to collapse at the end of another year.  It's not all that peaceful.   And to be honest, Christmas traditions weren't big in our family growing up. I remember at least a couple of times we had sweet and sour pork and lemon cheesecake for Christmas lunch. It was our favourite meal so why mess about with anything else?

This is the second Christmas that I've been Sunday School coordinator.  I think I got away with not doing the Christmas pageant last year because there was a lot going on in the church.  But I'm beginning to wonder if they'll be on to me this year.  "No nativity play two years in a row?  Something's not right."

I don't have anything against nativity plays.  I just don't want to be the donkey who has to organize it.  And I don't want to give up four weeks of Sunday School teaching time to teach lines.  And we all know the archangel Gabriel will get sick on the day and not show.  Then you've got the last minute stress of cramming Gabriel's lines into the head of second shepherd and hoping he'll agree to wear a white dress and wings!

Look, I'm warming to Christmas.  It's the pressure of doing Christmas "a certain way" that gets me huffy.  My head starts to spin with all the "have-to"s and then I want to lie down and hope no one remembers me till January.  One year, I'm going to make sweet and sour pork and lemon cheesecake and enjoy myself immensely.

How's Christmas looking for you?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Save me

Can I just say, I really, really, really don't like the Magic School readers?  Painful.  Worse when read aloud.  I can't be the only one.  I have a quiet fantasy about some kind of mini-torando attacking the reader boxes and doing away with only the Magic School bus books.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Find my family

One day, I asked my dad what his grandfather's name was.  Dad had no idea and I kind of felt heartbroken about that.  So I said, "I'm going to see if I can find out."  It didn't take long to find my great-grandfather's name and in the process I was totally hooked on family history.

If you think family history is just a list of names and dates, or that the aim of the game is to find out if you're somehow connected with royalty, you've missed your mark.  There's so much more to find than just names.  Even people from a long time ago have often left traces that open up a world of history within your own family.

I found an ancestor on my mother's side who owned a pub and was murdered by the convict labourer he employed.  Through following up on coroner's reports, I read of the sad death of one of my husband's great-great grandmothers who died in childbirth after a terribly long and agonizing labour in the diggings of the Victorian goldfields.  Several family members spent long periods in mental institutions in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Another ancestor on my husband's side is responsible for some of the beautiful stone work still visible today in the older buildings around Sydney.

And it's not all that distant.  As you sift through it all, you realize that those events have influenced your own in many ways.

So if I've whetted your appetite and you've never tried researching family history, here's some links and ideas to get started...

1.  Get a notebook.  Put everything you find in there.  Don't lose it.

2. The first thing you want to do is collect all the dates you can.  Be bold, grab the phone and ring up your oldest relative. Tell them you're looking into the family tree and they'll usually be more than willing to spill the beans.  Make sure you have as much of the following as you can get:  grandparents names (the fuller the better - ask about maiden names too), birth dates (even if they can't tell you the year of someone's birth, note down the month or day if they remember it), number of marriages, number of children they might have had and any death dates.  If anyone can remember further back to great-grandparents, you're doing well.

Write everything down.  You might not think it's important now but you might need to go back to it.  When you search family records, a number of people with the same name as your family member can come up.  To work out which person actually belongs to your family, something like "they were born in March, the same as my brother" can become crucial.

2. Now you can start searching records.  Check your local library's website and find out what resources they have.  Our library has a room dedicated to family research and has a large collection of records on CD ROM from all around Australia as well as some overseas records.  Members of our library can even use the library's account for free.  They had some unusual resources that I didn't know even existed.  For example, to celebrate the 1988 bicentenary, the good people of WA compiled a huge biographical index of all their early WA ancestors.  My mother's family appeared several times and it included short histories and memories from other branches of the family tree that our side had never heard about.  Invaluable!

3.   Here's a set of links from the National Library of Australia to get you started.You can begin your searches using the Births, Deaths and Marriage records of each Australian state.  Some states, like mean old Victoria, will charge you to view their records.  That's why it's really worth asking your local library as they have probably already purchased the whole lot.  But there are other records in that list that are free to search.

4. You can pay the big bucks, and join something like  They have a free trial so it might be worth beginning there and seeing if you want to go on.

5. Once you have names and vague locations for your ancestors, you can research side-ways into their lives.  Run your list of names through the coroner's records for example.  Or through the Australian War Memorial's indexes.  Trove, which is part of the National Library of Australia, will let you search online through all of it's books, images, historic newspapers, maps, music, archives and more.  Putting family names through Trove, may bring up interesting newspaper articles (turns out one of my husband's family was arrested for assault after a fiery union rally and I found another fascinating article about a plane crash on my grandfather's farm that I knew nothing about) and photographs (you might be able to find photographs of houses or work places connected with your family).

6.  If you have family members living in and around a certain town or region, make sure you search library catalogues for books about that area.  Check whether that town has a local historical society online. Often local historical societies have received funding to write the history of a local area and your ancestors may well be featured.

A final thought: when I started researching to find my great-grandfather's name, I had no bigger goals than that, but I was surprised to find how much I came to appreciate having "roots" and a history to who I am.  In trying to get all the information I needed, I had to have several long chats with elderly relatives on my husband's side of the family.  For a newcomer to the family, that became a way in to a much deeper relationship with my husband's grandparents.  By the time I was married, my husband's paternal grandmother was quite unwell.  When I went to ask her about her family's history, she was already losing her short-term memory.  She had no idea who I was even after I was introduced to her.  But we had brought along her childhood family photo albums.  And although I think she would have struggle to tell me what day it was, she knew every detail of those photos.  I even asked her the name of one of the dogs in picture of the family farm and she knew instantly.  So that afternoon, I had a lovely chance to glimpse her real self, unclouded by age and muddled thoughts, as we chatted about things from long ago which seemed as fresh to her as yesterday.  I am so thankful to have had that special privilege.

And see that lady up on the verandah in the picture?  That's Abigail.  She's on my side of the family.  That's the hotel they owned.  Not the one with the convict - that's a different one.  Come to think of it, there were an awful lot of publicans in the family line.

Have you ever looked into the family tree?  Any convicts you are prepared to own up to?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Bryson on science and religion

Bill Bryson's book A Short History of Nearly Everything is a tour of scientific discovery.  Bryson is in Australia this week for a lecture at the Florey Institute.  Here's a really interesting quote from him about science and religion:

''It did make me realise that if I were a spiritual person, then everything in science would reinforce that, rather than contradict it,'' says Bryson. ''People who are fundamentalist Christians, they seem to think that science is somehow opposed to their beliefs, that it's a threat to their belief. And it is in the sense that you can't take the Bible literally, and all those sorts of things.
''But actually, when you look at science and the science of the universe and the fact that we are - so far as we know - the only living things in it, it's even more kind of miraculous and wonderful.''
And that would feed straight into spiritual beliefs. ''If you go right back to the very beginning, and you're looking for an explanation, God is as good as anything.
''So what caused the Big Bang? The answer is, we don't really know scientifically, or I believe it was God. Or what caused life to start on earth when it did? Well, it's either we can't say for sure scientifically, or you could say, well, God did it.
''This isn't at all inconsistent with profound religious beliefs.''  From here

Friday, October 26, 2012

Thank God it's Friday

I know that “Thank God it’s Friday’ is usually said in absence of any kind of thankfulness towards the Almighty, but I’d like to do my bit to remedy that. 

Today I’m thankful for my friend's successful surgery yesterday.  Complications with twins meant some tricky in-utero surgery.  How amazing is it that they can do that?  Thankful for two little heartbeats this morning.  Thankful too that the first day of pre-treatment for my mother-in-law went okay.  Thankful too that my grandmother-in-law, who had a small stroke yesterday, is probably going home from hospital this afternoon.  Yep, it's been a big week.

You got anything you’re thankful for today? Join in! Let’s count our blessings for a bit.

Random thoughts on my current stage of child-rearing

1.   When they were very young, I remember feeling a lack of personal space. My own body was not my own. Little people were either inside, feeding from, climbing on, tugging or sleeping on my body. That was tiring but my body is by-in-large my own again now.

A new invasion has begun however – inside my head. Someone is always talking, asking, challenging, requesting, debating or singing. I can’t hear myself think! It’s the mental, not the physical space, that I feel a lack of now. Sometimes I fear my head might actually explode from the continual mental multi-tasking. Yesterday, I was driving in peak-hour traffic when someone in the back asked me if there were any numbers that when spelt produced a palindrome. I nearly sobbed.

2.    When they were little, they were intense and tiring and in a lot of cases this was beyond their control. They needed feeding in the middle of the night – not their fault. They were too little to put things away properly and clean up without making more mess. They delayed me in all sorts of ways that they didn’t realize were irritating and difficult. They lost shoes and left jumpers in odd places. But they were little and what was required on my part was patience.

Now they are older, they know better. They can keep track of their stuff, be on time, help out, put things back and be considerate. And they choose not to. I think I had a secret idea that they would get with my program as soon as they were old enough to understand it. Surprise! That’s not how children work.

As this has dawned on me, I have felt a great well of resentment rising up. I resent that I have to tell them that again. I resent that they are still doing that. At times, I’ve dearly wanted to let loose and tell my offspring exactly what I think of them. So what I need now, perhaps more than patience, is self-control. What I don’t need is to be constantly talking to myself about how awful and hard-done by I am. The marathon goes on and it doesn’t help to sit down and moan in the gutter or stand in the middle of the road and have a fit. Instead, I need to exercise self-control (and gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, patience) in continuing to correct, remind, discipline and encourage without blowing my top about their failure to comply. Even if it is their fault. And I feel terribly guilty writing this because we had a shocker of an afternoon/evening yesterday and my level of resentment was sky high.

3.   I think it’s time to resign. Not from mothering in general but from that idea of motherhood I had before I actually became a parent. Wasn’t I going to be a lovely mum? Full of gentle wisdom, cuddles, book-reading and baking. Able to calmly explain and correct while sympathetically wiping away little tears. Turns out that I’m just as selfish as I was before I had kids. And even if I thought I was the perfect mother, worshiping my own achievements wouldn’t make me happy.

The reality is, I’m going to continue to be bad-tempered, easily distracted, grumpy, self-centred old me. That real me has been loved, rescued and bought by Jesus. He was able to do perfectly everything that I am unable to measure up to so that I could be set free.  Free to care for my family with lots of stumbles, mistakes, tenderness and occasionally even deep-felt love.

But, oh, this is an intense phase we seem to be in at present! And my ever-faithful husband is going to be busy away from home for most of this weekend. Send chocolate.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Big day

Intensive chemotherapy begins today for a member of our extended family in preparation for a bone marrow transplant scheduled for next week.  My current bedside reading:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Good advice

I need to hire this girl to do the talking in my house.  Would save me hours.