Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Holiday shut down

Musings is now on holiday for a few months. 

We are going to enjoy the delights and benefits of long service leave and part of that includes going 'offline' for an extended period of time. 

Thanks for reading this year.  I will be back next year to fill you in on what we did and what I read in the meantime!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

When People are Big and God is Small

When People are Big and God is Small, Ed Welch
  • Do you care more about what people think of you than how God views your sin?
  • Are your actions motivated by what others will think?
  • Does fear of shame or embarrassment guide what you say and do?
  • Do you desire the good opinion of others?
  • Do you avoid telling people the gospel because of what they will think of you?
Well perhaps you (like me!) tend to fear man more than you fear God. In this excellent book, Ed Welch shows that our self-esteem issues, competition, peer-pressure and dependence on others are all the same thing – a fear of man, where other people are the driving force behind our thoughts and actions.

Welch explores three themes in this book:
  1. We must determine how and why we fear others – it is a fear of shame or rejection or because we feel threatened. All of these are real drivers which explain our fear of man, but until we realise which factors guide us, we cannot respond to them properly.
  2. We must realise that God is bigger than people. The person who truly fears God will fear nothing else. We must grow in our knowledge and love of God.
  3. We must love people more, but need people less. Therefore people’s opinions and reactions to me will no longer guide me, for I live in the fear of the Lord. Yet in truly loving God I am free to and serve people more.
Through this process, Welch interacts with current counselling methods and critiques them. He particularly focuses on the risk of talking to people about their felt needs, such as their need to be loved and their need for healthy self-esteem. In the end it is all driven by a fear of man – to be loved, to be liked, to feel my needs met. Instead he says:
“The most basic question of human existence becomes “How can I bring glory to God?” – not “How will God meet my psychological longings?” These create very different tugs on our hearts: one constantly pulls us outward toward God, the others pulls us inward toward ourselves.” (p158)
When I reviewed Compared to Her earlier this year, I noted how helpful it was in identifying the issues of comparison among people (mainly women), yet in the comments I did agree that I wanted more detail on how to live in a more godly way with the temptations that comparison brings. I feel this book has given me more tools to do that, it is longer and more comprehensive.

I personally found this book quite challenging. I read it with certain issues of my own fear of man in mind and so when I purposely did some of the exercises at the end of the chapters, I found them helpful in making me work through things in detail where I fail in this area and how I could move forward.

As I can’t imagine anyone out there not struggling with these issues in some way, it is recommended reading for everyone!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Nearing Home

Nearing Home, Billy Graham

Many years ago, I greatly enjoyed reading Billy Graham’s autobiography, Just As I Am. Written in 1997, he makes the statement “I know that my life will soon be over. I thank God for it, and for all he has given me in this life” (p729).

So, it has come as somewhat of a surprise to Graham, who was convinced he would die sooner worn out from service of God, that he still lives. Aged 93 (when published in 2011), he says:
I never thought I would live to be this old.

All my life I was taught how to die as a Christian, but no one ever taught me how to live in the years before I die. I wish they had because I am an old man now, and believe me, it’s not easy. (vii)
Thankfully for the rest of us, he has not sat around pondering such thoughts on his own, but gathered them all together in this excellent book dealing with growing older and how to tackle our ‘senior years’.

Solidly based in the gospel, Graham takes every opportunity throughout this book to clearly explain what Christ has done and how we trust in his grace through faith.

As he walks us through thinking about retirement, planning for the future practically (wills, etc), how to proactively be involved with grandchildren, how to make sure our foundation is Christ is secure and how we look forward to heaven, he gives practical advice and biblical encouragement along the way.

Here are some of his thoughts along the way:
Just because we are retired does not mean our work is done. Retirement provides us the opportunity to spend more time doing God’s work, serving others in the name of the Lord. (p41)

See your retirement as a gift from God. Retirement isn’t something that just happens if you live long enough, and it isn’t even a reward for your years of hard work; it is a gift from God. Once you understand this, you will approach your retirement differently.’ (p44)

The things we value during the prime of life will follow us into the twilight years. If we wisely value faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, it will strengthen us as we age. (p53)

God’s will is for you to become spiritually mature, growing stronger in your relationship to Christ and your service for Him. But this takes both time and effort. Conversion is the work of an instant; spiritual maturity is the work of a lifetime. (p149)

The final chapter reminds us what we look forward to as we near home: heaven. Heaven is glorious, perfect, joyous, active and certain: “you have reason to look forward to the glories of Heaven, for you will be perfected, you will be joyful, you will once again be active, and right now you can be certain that you are nearing home. (p180)

A great book for those approaching retirement or facing old age, and for any of us who want to understand it better.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Raising Girls

Raising Girls, Steve Biddulph

Having read Raising Boys many years ago as well as other Biddulph books (The Secret of Happy Children, etc), I was pleased to see he has a book for girls out now.

For those of us trying to navigate raising girls, it’s a good resource. He identifies that girls today have lost 4 years of childhood peace and development that we once had, so our 18 is their 14 and our 14 is their 10.  Which means that for parents, we need to be addressing issues with our growing girls much earlier than we ourselves ever needed such information.  I know many parents find this a challenge. Of course, it is the same for boys; I am constantly surprised at the conversations I already having with my 10 year old son!

Biddulph divided this book into 3 sections. Part 1 is the stages of girlhood. I was pleased to discover we have already passed 2 of those stages so I only skim-read them, and concentrated on the 5-10 years and 10-14 years chapters.

There was one main thing I came away with from each:
  1. 5-10 year old girls need to be taught how to be a friend and what makes a good friend. It’s a very helpful thing to be pro-active about and something they need to learn to help them for the rest of their lives.
  2. 10-14 year olds – help them find what excites them, their ‘spark’. I found this a helpful idea to be aware of and earlier than I probably would have thought of it.
Part 2 deals with the five main risk areas for girls, which you could probably guess:
  • Our sexualised culture
  • Mean girls
  • Body image, weight and food
  • Alcohol and other drugs
  • The online world
None of these issues are new to any of us, they just present different parenting challenges for each age group. This whole section was helpful at identifying the issues.

The final part looks at girls and their parents, which has a chapter for both mums and dads. Both of these are helpful reminders of things we can do that are helpful and things to try avoid.

Overall, it’s a helpful book, it gives to some good ideas and walks parents through the challenges we and our girls face.

However, it has reminded me again of why secular parenting books are so limited. There is no overarching philosophy, no mind-set that drives it. It is just a collation of good, sensible ideas. It is not until we look to the gospel and find that we and our daughters must find our identity in Christ alone and that our value comes from how God sees us that we can be free from the messages of the world. That we are called to live in a way that honours him and so we raise our children to do the same. Without this perspective we have no grace, no hope and no true identity.

So by all means read this book and get some good tips and ideas. But remember the bigger picture of the truths you are raising your daughter to know. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Surprised by Oxford

Surprised By Oxford, Carolyn Weber

I loved this open, honest and sometimes raw autobiographical account of one woman’s gradual coming to faith over her first year of doctoral studies at Oxford.

Written by a literature scholar, it is full of poetry and abounds with literary references, so will delight those who love the written word. Yet, because the subject matter is so important and life-changing, it raises the writing to a whole new level.

Structured around the calendar year of study, Weber openly walks us through her questions, doubts, uncertainties and challenges as she considered who God is, what he has done and how faith and reason can co-exist and complement one another.

I found there was something here for new converts, searchers, old converts, and those who grew up in the faith. It is of particular help for both those who are highly educated and yet wonder if there is more to this life; and also for those who walk alongside them to understand that faith can come gradually, with the asking of many questions and voicing of many doubts.

It is clear that God placed her in Oxford to learn of Him that year. She had intelligent, educated friends and lecturers who were Christians. A fellow student clearly presented the gospel to her and helped her think more deeply about her ingrained beliefs and challenged those that did not stand up under scrutiny.

Here are some of her words along the journey:
“The morning after I heard the gospel, however, I woke up with what felt like a hangover. Little would I know it was of the spiritual kind that accompanies the inevitable dawn that life is not, perhaps, what we previously thought it was. And we cannot go back to pretending. What a headache to be caught in that liminal space! Literally.” (p100)

[About the bible] I devoured it, just as a best–selling book (which, coincidentally, it has always been). Even the long monotonous lists. Even the really weird stuff, most of so unbelievable as to only be true. I have to say I found it the most compelling piece of creative non-fiction I had ever read. If I sat around for thousands of years, I could never come up with what it proposes, let along how it intricately Genesis unfolds towards Revelation… No wonder this stuff causes war, I though as I read, between nations and within each of us.” (p103)

“Life is messy. Life is beautiful and terrible and messy. So why would we expect a faith in this life that is easy to understand? Why expect a gift wrapped up neatly within the tissues of our brains and tied with a nice bow of material clarity?“ (p178)

“To be one person one moment: lost. Then to be another person the next moment: found. It is the difference, as the saying really does go, between night and day. Outwardly I seemed the same, but inwardly everything had changed. I went to the window and watched the birth of the dawn. Everything, every thing appeared in this better light, this brighter light. (p270-1)

This book was a very special read, I highly recommend it.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Status Report: November

Very thankful for God’s amazing creation:  In the last 2 weeks I have soaked up the beach at Stanwell Park in Sydney and seen a koala on my bushwalk in Adelaide! 

Have decided: to deactivate my Facebook account for 3 months, starting today.  I think it will be a helpful exercise for me and ensure I am not even tempted to check it over the summer holidays.

Thrilled: the outdoor lap pool nearby is open again for the summer.  I love swimming laps.  So good for stretching out my dodgy shoulders!

Bible reading:  Still going with the Explore app and have moved on to the James notes.  Still continuing with the Psalms, started at the beginning again this week.

Also reading: lots of kids books!  I seem to be enjoying the mental lightness of children’s fiction, so I have read with joy the new instalment of the Ranger’s Apprentice (#12) and very much enjoyed a Christian kids fiction about the ark by Jenny L. Cote (will tell you more about them when I have read the rest).  I rediscovered a whole lot of my childhood books on my sister’s bookshelf and snaffled them up for my kids, I loved reading Chilly Billy to the girls, about the man who lives in the fridge.  

Also started:  When People are Big and God is Small, by Ed Welch, which I suspect is going to be very helpful and challenging!

Operation "eat the food": is under way in our home.  We are trying to eat as much of our supplies in the pantry and freezer up.  I am working my way through all my various teas, and we have been eating lots of meals that use up things.  I'm wondering just how well we can time it before holidays... 

Looking forward: to a yummy dinner out with my husband tonight.  A dear friend offered to babysit, so we accepted with glee.  We will go where we almost always go, a place which serves great steaks. 

On a more serious note, I have been challenged by: my recent television viewing.  I finally got around to watching the second season of Go back to where you came from.  I watched the first season two years ago and it really affected me.  Again, it makes those of us in comfort and safety in Australia realise what life is really like for refugees. This season took the participants to two places which produce many of the world's refugees:  Kabul, Afghanistan and Mogadishu, Somalia.  They see refugee camps, UN Aid stations and health centres.  This season they were known people, so there is a heart-wrenching moment when Peter Reith (our previous defence minister) meets one of the men who was on the Tampa in the 'children overboard' disaster, who was then sent back to Afghanistan.  Both series are still available to watch online in full, I highly recommend it.

While I find it horrible and overwhelming to see how many displaced people in the world live, and I also know that there are no easy solutions for refugees, immigration and overseas aid; what has struck me most is that none of these problems will ever be solved without Jesus.  It is only the transforming power of God's grace and the message of Jesus' salvation that will change the hearts of people, to then overflow to organisations, governments and policies.  Some times more than others, you want to cry out "Come Lord Jesus, Come".

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A book warning: Grace

Rarely on this blog do I include books I don’t like or have not enjoyed. I make exceptions however when I think they are dangerous. Grace by Morris Gleitzman could fall into this category.

As my children get older and read extensively, it is becoming harder to keep up with what they are reading. So while I peruse the back covers of most books, there are some that just slip in and out of here via various libraries and friends.  This one came to my attention because my son read it and it raised questions for him and he asked me to read it too.  

Grace is the story of Grace, a girl whose family is in a cult. It is told from her point of view as she watches her father be removed from her family by the elders for questioning the authority of the church. She tries all she can to find him and get him back, but her grandfather and uncle (key leaders in the church) prevent her from doing so. It is tense and anxious and I suspect could be quite fear-inducing for a child, as it raises the question: who do you trust in your family when some are telling lies and controlling you?

If this was a book for adults, I would have no problem with it. I have read many books over the years which explore the darker sides of a perverted religious message. However such a book, which is intended to be satire as well as serious, is quite risky with children.

My concern is that it uses the terms we are familiar with: sin, prayer, church, elders and turns them into an aberration. Of course that is the reality for a person in a cult. Truth is perverted. Grace is removed. Sin abounds. Children are victims.

So if your child reads this book, make sure you talk about it with them: explain the errors, how their church got it wrong and that sadly some people fall into these traps. I wouldn’t forbid them from reading it (although I wouldn’t recommend it for under 10s), just make sure you read it too and then talk about it.

My son and I did so this morning. It was a great conversation, we talked about the history of Christianity over time and how, sadly, people have gotten the message of salvation wrong time and time again.

In the end, I asserted with him numerous times, that:
We are saved by grace alone
Through faith alone
In Jesus alone
By the scriptures alone
It was a good conversation to have on this Reformation Day!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Continue On

Sometimes you come across something that touches your heart.  This was one for me.  My husband gave me this after I found myself asking similar questions.  Perhaps you might like it too...
A woman once fretted over the willfulness of her life. She feared she was wasting her potential, being a devoted wife and mother. She wondered if the time and energy she invested in her husband and children would make a difference. At times she got discouraged because so much of what she did seemed to go unnoticed and unappreciated. “Is it worth it?” she often wondered. “Is there something better I could do with my time?”

It was during one of those moments of questioning that she heard the still small voice of her heavenly Father speak to her heart.

“You are a wife and mother because this is what I have called you to be. Much of what you do is hidden from the public eye – but I notice. Most of what you give is done without praise – but I am your reward.”

“Your husband cannot be the man I have called him to be without your support. Your influence upon him is greater than you think and more powerful than you will ever know. I bless him through your service and honor him through your love.”

"Your children are precious to Me, even more precious than they are to you. I have entrusted them to your care to raise for Me. What you invest in them is an offering to Me. You may never be in the public spotlight, but your obedience shines as a bright light before Me. Continue on. Remember, you are My servant. Do all to please Me.”

(by Roy Lessin)

Monday, October 28, 2013

AFES Wives

Last weekend was a time which I greatly enjoy and look forward to all year - the AFES Wives Conference.

Wives of Christian university student workers around the country (& workers who are wives) gather together to hear from God’s word, pray and be challenged & taught in various seminars & talks.

Over the years I have found it to be a wonderfully encouraging time, yet at the same time it is also emotionally exhausting.  It seemed especially so this year for various griefs have struck our ‘family’.  It was good to come together.

The talks on Philippians were very good and the seminars highly instructive.  I was especially challenged to think about where my heart is when I use technology, both in what I write and how I respond to what others write, which I certainly need to heed.   As with other years, a highlight was my prayer group.  Most of us have been together for 4 years now, and the opportunity to share our lives at depth and call on God in prayer was a joy and a privilege. 

The AFES community brings together a great conglomeration of women.  In all the things that don’t matter we have tremendous variety – our gifts, skills, appearance, other employment and church denomination.

Yet in the things that do matter: the gospel, and the commitment to the preaching of that gospel to university students, we are united.  I count it an ongoing privilege to be involved with these women.   

Strangely for me, I am now one of the ‘senior’ women, both in age and in time with AFES.  We have been with AFES now for 10 years, which is longer than average in student ministry.   It is a delight from year to year to see those who continue to minister with AFES and those who are new.   Sadly this year we farewelled a few too, although since they are moving on to missionary work, that’s OK – we’ll let them go!

AFES is an organisation we are proud to be a part of and we are thrilled that so many others do the same work around the country.   We are very thankful to God.
 

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Word Spy

Thanks to Nicole’s post last year, we have discovered Ursula Dubosarky’s The Word Spy and it’s follow up: The Return of the Word Spy.

These excellent books for children explain the English language. In The Word Spy, you discover words and language, punctuation, the history of letters and then all types of fun plays on words – anagrams, euphemisms, oxymorons, etc. The Return of the Word Spy brings you more details on language and how it evolved, how we learn to speak, an introduction to basic grammar and finally how writing has evolved with keyboards and texting. 

Now, I know, you are thinking – how boring! How could I possibly get my kids to read that! Well, because it is fun. There are jokes, funny stories and her tone of writing is perfectly aimed at middle-upper primary children. Throughout there are puzzles and riddles to solve and one overarching word puzzle throughout the whole book. It is for competent readers who already enjoy language and word tricks; our 10 year old loved it, and our 8 year old is currently enjoying it.

Highly recommended for those who love words & reading. I would have found it helpful for Year 8 Latin grammar myself and perhaps even some of those New Testament Greek grammar lessons!

Monday, October 7, 2013

NIPS XI

NIPS XI, Ruth Starke

Monday’s posts are now becoming reviews of good children’s books, not just ones to read aloud.

My son read this as part of his school class reading and loved it so much he wanted me to read it, which resulted in a very enjoyable few hours. It is no surprise this book has made it into libraries and schools – it’s about an Adelaide Primary School, North Inala, which like many schools we all know, has a multicultural day. However, Lan and many of the ‘ethnic’ kids are sick of it – for who wants to dress up in national dress, bring in the food they eat every day at home and look different in the process?

Lan decides they should play cricket instead, for what better way, he decides, is there to be an Australian? He gathers a team of kids from Asia, the sub-continent, the Middle-East and South America, and terms his team the ‘NIPS’.

With almost no cricketing knowledge or experience, they decide to challenge the nearby private boys’ school to a match. As the plans unfold, the helpful local librarian Grace lines them up with a local cricket coach Spinner (who just happens to have been a test-cricketer) and they prepare for the match.

It is a lovely book. Its observations of Australian culture, how immigrants work to fit in and how local primary schools operate are laugh-out loud funny. There are lessons on friendship & good sportsmanship throughout. A kid who likes cricket will love it, but even those who do not follow the game will be drawn in. 

I suspect kids with English as a second language would struggle, it is full of idioms and ‘Australianisms’, but these can be overcome with explanations.

For those who loved it (as my son, husband and I did), there is also a follow up novel – NIPS Go National, where the team are invited to Melbourne to play other teams with diverse backgrounds from around the country.

Highly recommended reading for upper primary age kids, especially cricket fans.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Status Report: October

Woke up this morning: and realised I had completely forgotten to do this status report on the 1st!

In the midst: of school holidays. Perhaps that is why!

My son: is off today to play chess with a group in town. He will ride in with his dad, enabling some father-son time on the way.

So the girls and I: are sorting through all the craft presents they have recently been given and we will have a sewing and painting day

The 6 year old: was very excited yesterday to join the ranks of ‘older kids’ with the loss of her first tooth!

Bible reading: have decided to try the Explore app. My reading through the bible was getting stale, something about doing the same thing every year… So have revamped with the Good Book Company’s Explore notes on the iPad. Not sure I am at all convinced about reading the bible on an e-reader, but it is convenient and more importantly, the notes are making me think more. So, good for now.

Reading: some Jeffrey Archer – how have I not discovered him before? Thanks dear husband. Also some kids’ books and some Christian ones, reviews coming soon.

Have enjoyed watching: my husband and son play music together, hopefully the first of many ‘jam ‘ sessions, although mum will always be only the observer (or perhaps backing vocals?!).

Looking forward: to the cousins coming to visit over the weekend. The kids will have a ball. And 10 in the house is always fun (in small doses!)

Very much looking forward to: the annual AFES wives conference this month.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Rainbow Magic Fairies

Rainbow Magic Fairies, Daisy Meadows

Today I suggest a series suitable to read aloud with your kids that some will disagree with, I know some parents hate these books. I have to admit I don’t love them. But I have come to realise they serve a good purpose.

The Rainbow Magic Fairies (books 1-7) are the fairies who give colour to Fairyland and the world. Evil Jack Frost has flung the fairies into the real world, thus depriving fairyland of any colour. Newly found friends, Kristy and Rachel are entrusted to find and rescue the fairies. The books follow a formulaic solution where each fairy is found and returned to Fairyland while the girls avoid or out-trick the goblins who are sent to stop them. After this initial series, many more follow including the Weather Fairies, the Pet-Keeper Fairies, the Party Fairies, etc. etc.

The reasons why many parents dislike these books are the same reasons many children (often girls, but also some boys) love them:
  • They are incredibly predictable and use a small range of vocabulary. Perfect for new and hesitant early readers.
  • There are hundreds of them. Seriously. We have (graciously given to us when no longer wanted by another family) 56, all of sets of 7. There are at least 200 out now. For children that want to keep reading them again and again, there is no shortage. We always have some out of the library.
  • Each only contains 6-7 chapters so even with a young one who is tired at night, a short chapter each night still finishes the book within a week.
My approach with these books has been to read the first two series – 14 books. Then after than if you want to keep reading them you have to do it yourself. This worked with our 8 year old a few years ago – we got her started and then she was off, devouring all of them. Now at 8, she is bored with them. She will read them when our 6 year old gets them from the library, but she has realised they all follow the same plot and they don’t really hold her attention any more.

However, our 6 year old is still in the grip of the world of Rainbow Fairies. Her reading has not progressed quite to her doing it solo (and we are up to book 13), so I may relent and read another series.

The advantage of this series is that if it hooks them, they have ample reading material for at least a year, until they are willing to try other things. Then I will switch to reading aloud other books to her and she can read the Magic Fairies on her own, to her heart’s content!

Friday, September 27, 2013

The End of Your Life Book Club

The End of Your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe

You know how sometimes you make a mistake at the library, but it turn out to be a very good one?

I picked this up having seen it around a bit and had assumed it was fiction. In the mood for such reading, I grabbed it.

Upon realising it was actually a biography and a story of a man and his mother and their love of books I quickly needed to ‘shift gear’ but did so with joy. This is a lovely book. Will Schwalbe’s mother, Mary Anne, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As they prepared for a journey of ill-health, treatment and dying, he and his mother decided to form a book club. They were the only two members and although had spent their lives reading, they actively read the same books and talked about them together, often during her hospital treatments.

It is a powerful testimony about how rich a life full of books can be, and how books can impact us throughout all stages of our life. At the same time it is a moving story about the close relationship between a mother and son and from his point of view, how he faced her sickness and death. It shows an obvious love for his mother, but also his respect for her as a woman who cared for others, being intimately involved with refugees, fighting for their rights and as the founding director of the Women’s Refugee Commission, as well as being behind the funding and founding of libraries in Afghanistan.

She was a believer yet it is written from the perspective of her atheist son, and it is lovely to see his respect for her faith throughout, even though he did not share it:
[about church] Mom adored warmly greeting her fellow men and women and wishing them peace. She loved the Scripture and the sermons and the music. But more than any of that, she believed. She believed that Jesus Christ was her savior. She believed in the resurrection and life everlasting. These weren’t just words to her. Her religion gave her profound pleasure and comfort.” (p95)
She steered the book club towards some books where Christian faith played an important role, which included Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. It was only later, when pointed out by Will’s brother that he realised “Mom had finally succeeded in getting me to talk about faith and religion and even Bible stories, something she’d been trying to do for years”. (p189)

The devotional Daily Strength for Daily Needs became her bedside companion and he believes it is from it that she read her last ever words “thy kingdom come”.

By no means is faith and religion a major part of the book. It is about books, cancer and families. In some ways, faith only has a passing mention in what was her extraordinary life. Yet I loved those parts.

This is a lovely book, highly recommended. And, as an added bonus, you finish it with a list of even more books you want to read! 

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Hobbit

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

Returning to some books to read aloud with your kids, this week we come to The Hobbit.

I remember reading this myself at age 10, so it seemed the time was right to read this to our son. He loved it. Tolkien creates a wonderful imaginary world of hobbits, goblins, orcs, elves and dragons, with a quest to reach an dwarf treasure. Like many books that were written over 50 years ago, some explanation is sometimes required and some sections are rather verbose. Yet, it is a world that invites your imagination to join in the fun. It is also a great primer before attempting Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I will not be offering to read Lord of the Rings aloud, it would take all year! But The Hobbit is a great way to whet the appetite and hopefully develop future Tolkien readers.

We loved the riddles between Bilbo and Gollum, the forest of spiders was suitably scary and the encounters with the dragon left you wondering whether they would get the treasure at all.

It is also fun to talk about how C.S. Lewis and Tolkien were friends and shared their writing with each other. It can help make an author from the past more real to today’s readers.

Another great classic to introduce to your children by reading it aloud.

Friday, September 20, 2013

School reunion

I headed to Sydney over the weekend to attend my 20 year school reunion. It was fantastic.  One Facebook comment summarised it this way (very accurately!)
“Great reunion. Old girls at their best and looking amazing. No shortage of glamour & style. Expecting mothers, personal trainers, artists, vets, horticultural designers, Anglican church leaders, hospitality, creative design, lawyers & accountants drinking it up at The Lord Nelson.”
I greatly enjoyed the night. I came away with some personal reflections and some social commentary reflections:

Personal reflections:
  • It was a delight to see old friends again. Even with my closest school friends, I had not seen most for well over 10 years. It was a joy to see how they are going, what they are doing and to hear about their families.
  • It was an extra special delight to see those who are still continuing on in the faith. In our year we have a minister’s wife, a college lecturer’s wife, a rector’s wife and a trainer of children’s ministry workers. And that’s only the ‘paid workers’, there are also a number of committed Christians still serving as faithful laypeople.
  • I wonder whether my brain space for aligning names and faces is completely full? I was embarrassed how few people’s names I could remember. I knew their faces, yet the names were elusive. Once someone quietly reminded me I was fine, but I was rather humbled by the experience. Admittedly, they were all the people I had not seen for 20 years.
  • It was interesting to see how easy it is to revert to old groups and friendships. The girls that were cool at school still look cool. I still feel shy and intimidated by some (of course, that’s my issue and nothing to do with them!)
  • It is embarrassing to admit how much I thought about what I should wear. (especially in light of my reflections last year in response to a weight loss ad targeting our reunion). Once there I hardly noticed what anyone was wearing or how they looked, I just wanted to talk to them. But quite a few of us did quietly admit that we spend a while considering what to wear and that we had worn heels, which we never normally do. Ah, the pride we all try to pretend we don’t have!

As for the social commentary:
  • To put it in perspective, it was a reunion for a private girls school in an affluent part of Sydney.
  • There were almost no ‘full-time’ mums like me. Almost everyone I spoke to was juggling work and motherhood. I wonder if there are two reasons for this:
    • Everyone is paying Sydney-size mortgages. It takes two incomes to pay mortgages in Sydney (at least in areas where many of these women were living). As far as I could tell, the stay-at-home mums were not living in Sydney or had been out of Sydney for some time.
    • Many of these women are highly qualified professionals who have spent years on their careers. That is hard to give up when kids come along.
    • Please hear me correctly here – I am not judging anyone for their decisions. Many women work with kids. Many women have great jobs they love. I just found it interesting. When we were at school very few of their mothers worked, so it really has changed.
    • Also, let’s be serious: I work too. I do many things that are not included in ‘household duties’, I just don’t get paid for it!
  • I was one of the oldest mothers. That is, my kids were older than most. A school reunion is one of the few places where everyone is exactly the same age, so in a room full of 37/38 year old women, the vast majority with children had pre-schoolers and babies. My 10 year old seemed quite old! Which means by the time the next reunion rolls around, I will have 2 adult children and they will still have pre-teens! In the Christian circles in which we generally move and also in our socio-economic setting at school, I am not a particularly young mum. However, in comparison with this group, I was a young first time mum.

All in all, it was a great night. I did not get home till midnight and we talked non-stop for 6 hours. Thanks be to God for old friends.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Just a Little Run Around the World

Just a Little Run Around the World, Rosie Swale Pope

I spotted this one at the library and being in the mood for a biography as well as some running encouragement, I picked it up.

It is an incredible story. At 52, Rosie Swale Pope set out to run around the world after losing her beloved husband to cancer in the hope to raise cancer support and early screening awareness as well as raising money for a Russian orphanage. What followed was a 33,000 kms trek taking 5 years over some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth including Siberia, Alaska and Iceland. She did it solo, with no official support crew, but much loving care from various running companies, shoe manufacturers and extreme adventure equipment suppliers. She met bears, wolves and the occasional snake, battled frostbite and rib fractures, and faced the real risk to survival that persistent sub-zero temperatures (up to -60°C) brings.

It’s a fascinating read. She has a real love for the world, enjoying everything she sees and the people she meets along the way. Of all the hundreds of people she meets along the way and the majority of time she spent camped in the wild, she had only a handful of unpleasant experiences with people. Overwhelmingly, people gave her incredible support and protection despite sometimes their own need and poverty (eg. in Siberia).

This is not a woman who does things by half! She has also circumnavigated the world by boat with her first husband and young children, sailed the Atlantic solo, trekked through Chile on horseback and run numerous ultramarathons and long distances.

There is a hint throughout that she may have some faith, at least a theistic faith, recognising that “There are no atheists on an adventure or in battle, I reckon it’s time to say thank you to God”.

All in all, it’s a great read about people, the beauty of the earth and one woman’s determination to keep going.

And it makes it much harder to complain when I struggle to run 5km!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Operation Christmas Child

It's that time of the year again.  Time to consider packing Christmas presents for children who will not get one, time to help your kids be generous to others and time to send an Operation Christmas Child box to a developing nation.

Here are some tips I have gathered over the years:
  • See if you can get boxes with the lids still attached, so much easier to keep all together.  Keep an eye out for shoe boxes that enter your house throughout the year.
  • Wrap the boxes in Christmas paper and then contact them.  The contact makes it look great, the box is sturdier and paper does not rip.  You can even contact the label on top, making sure it is very secure.   
  • Pay your donation for the box shipping cost online ($9 per box), before contacting your box (if possible) - then you print out individual bar-coded labels for each box to stick on the lid.  In a few months, you'll find out where your box went.
  • Take a list with you when you go shopping.  This list was prepared by a member of our church who works in the box processing centre, so she really knows what works and what doesn't.
  • Remove all packaging from every item.  Including a pencil case makes this much easier - put all the pens, pencils, erasers, etc in the pencil case.  There is no rubbish collection in rural villages - imagine how much plastic rubbish you would add if you kept all the packaging on.
  • Include a folded up bag (like an envirobag from the supermarket) or a string bag so that all the treasures in the box can still be kept together when the box disintegrates.
  • Put in a photo of yourself or your family, so the child has an idea of who gave them the gift - this makes it personal.
  • Put an elastic band around the whole box to keep it secure.
  • Drop it off to a collection centre by the end of October. 

All the things ready to go in the boxes.

All packed up and ready to go.

Three cheerful givers

We started doing these boxes regularly 4 years ago (look how much everyone has grown!).  It's a good activity for Term 3.  You might consider getting involved for these reasons:
  • It teaches generosity to your children (and to you!)
  • It's fun shopping for kids who you know have very little (much more fun than shopping for kids with everything)
  • If you like Christmas, it makes it feel that little bit closer
  • If you don't like Christmas, you at least help a child like it!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Heading Home

Heading Home, Naomi Reed

Naomi Reed was a missionary in Nepal and has written a number of books about that experience. Many readers I know, including myself, especially enjoyed her first book: My Seventh Monsoon, which is written about their life in Nepal and delves into how we should views the season of life that God brings. It was a very open and challenging read, as I discussed previously. Her second book, No Ordinary View, took you to their final years in Nepal and the things she learnt about God during that time.

Now, we come to the third in the series: Heading Home: My Search for Purpose in a Temporary World. Just like her other books it is a great story about their life, but more than that it is again a reflection on what God taught her in that time. It covers the years after they returned to Sydney from Nepal and faced the challenges of re-entry many missionaries face. The cultural changes and uncertainty, the materialism in the west, the commercialisation of Christmas, the feeling their neither Sydney nor Nepal was truly home and neither were they completely comfortable in either. It also charts how her books came to be written and published and how it affected her life and perspective.

I found this was a book you could read on two levels.

1. You could just read it as the next instalment into her life story. The challenges they faced, decisions to be made and what it was like to re-enter life in Australia. Just like her two previous books, it is highly personal and very open and so is a very helpful insight, especially for those of us who want to understand what life is like for returning overseas workers. It is also an insight into what it is like to have a book published.

2. However, it can also be read on a much more ‘devotional’ level. Each chapter addresses some sort of issue, such as trusting in God, where we find our value, where our home is, wanting to be liked, etc. At the end of each chapter is a prayer she has written that was her response to the situation. Each prayer is reasonably specific, but at the same time could be easily adapted to suit your own personal situation. As you know, I am a fan of written prayers, yet it wasn’t until I was a few chapters in that I realise what a gift these prayers are. They help us to stop, think about the point of the chapter in our own situation and then turn to God in responsive prayer, whether it be confession, thanksgiving, praise or request. For this reason I think I read this book too fast. I should go back and read it again, thinking about it responsively, not just learning more about her story.

There are very helpful reflections throughout this book, certain ones which I personally found very helpful. However, I’ll leave that for now and encourage you to read it yourself, for your own edification and encouragement. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Status report: September

Commitments: for the year are drying up. It’s quite lovely. I have a rather free diary and time to do things I have been putting off for ages.

Planned: Long service leave. Accommodation booked in. 3 cheers!

Enjoying: dates with my children. I take each one out of school 1-2 times a term for 2 hours. We have lunch and talk. It’s great. This week it is middle child’s turn.

Seen a few movies: Now you see me - a heist movie with a magic theme. Very clever, well-filmed and lots of twists along the way. Highly recommended. Also saw RED 2. We enjoyed RED a few years ago (old ex CIA agents – Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren) being attacked by new CIA agents because they are RED – Retired, Extremely Dangerous. Fun, silly shoot-‘em-up, not as good as RED, but still fun. The best line of the whole movie where one of them, trying to get into the Iranian Embassy gets in by saying “I want to defect to Iran”. It was funny at the time.

Been watching: The DVD series Chuck, we are up to Season 3.  Funny, clever and pokes fun at spy shows along the way. Saw an apt description which was: 24 meets Get Smart. Fun viewing for both husband and I.  Have also started The Newsroom, which requires a bit more thought, but is also good. We are watching a fair bit of TV at nights at the moment, having realised we both enjoy the downtime of a bit of TV together after the busyness of each day and before we talk about any big things.

Reading: the bible. Lots of other things too, some biographies, parenting books, etc. Will tell you about the good ones in due course.

Listening: to lots of sermons. Enjoying our church’s sermon series on Numbers – what a great book. Also catching up on husband’s MYC talks on Jesus, and his church preaching on Revelation – it’s taking some serious listening time! Enjoying it all.

Thrilled: it is spring. The weather is definitely warming up (at least this week, 30 is forecast!). After a very cold wet winter, it is lovely to feel the warmth.

Looking forward: to Show day on Friday. We have not been to the Adelaide show for about 4 years, but are planning to venture out on Friday. Yes, that’s right people – Adelaide school children get a day off school to go to the Show! The children have been introduced to the idea of showbags for the very first time, as well as the idea of having to pay for them themselves. Some detailed searching of the website has taken place and careful saving of pocket money. Bring on the baby animals and woodchopping!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Emily Rodda

Today’s author to read aloud is Emily Rodda.  Rodda has written numerous books and series for children and all are fun to read aloud.

The series my son and I started with was Deltora Quest. When he was 7-8 I read the first series to him (which contains 9 books). We both loved them. They were a great adventure story about a boy Leif who has to search the land of Deltora to fill a belt with special jewels in order to find the rightful heir to the throne and overthrow the Shadow Lord. It has great characters (the grumpy minder Barda and a feisty girl Jasmine) and it is full of puzzles and plays on words which are printed in the book and you can look at together to see if you can figure them out. There are fight scenes, evil characters and real problems.

We both loved this series and were both genuinely excited to discover who the true heir to Deltora was at the end. He then went on to read the subsequent two Deltora series himself.

He has then gone on to read the Rowan of Rin series and loved them too. There are also the Three Doors series and the Rondo series (also aimed at 8-12s). Then there is the Fairy Realm books for girls and for very young ones (new readers), the Squeak Street series is quite cute, about a street of mice who each have an individual book.

Don’t you love an author who writes numerous series for numerous age groups!

In researching Rodda, I have realised that this name is actually a pseudonym; she is actually Jennifer Rowe, author and journalist from Sydney.  That is probably why we like her writing so much, there is something about reading Australian authors that feel familiar and natural when you read them. She also has written adult fiction – anyone read any of them?

Friday, August 23, 2013

He'll be OK

He'll be OK: Growing Gorgeous Boys into Good Men, Celia Lashie

I got this recommendation from Jenny’s blog a few years ago and stored it away for me to read at a later date.  I’m so glad I did.  Our son has just turned 10 and while this book focuses on boys in the high school years of 7-12, it gave me some great ideas and things to think about as we approach that stage.

Celia Lashie is a social commentator who has worked for years in the New Zealand prison system. She then undertook this project (the Good Man Project) in single-sex boys’ schools across New Zealand. Her desire was to define what a good man is and then how we help boys to grow into them, both in educational settings and in the home.

It’s a very easy read, detailing the way she went about the project and what she found, including lots of examples of conversations she had with boys, fathers, mothers, male teachers and principals along the way.

Some of the ideas I found helpful were:
  • Boys are crossing a bridge of adolescence in the high-school years. What they need most of all is for a man (primarily their father) to walk with them over that bridge, to show them how to get there and to be alongside them. Concurrently, she claims mothers need to get off that bridge. They need to be present, of course, but they are not the ones to primarily walk that road alongside their sons (of course, she addresses what this will look for single-mothers and those mothers who will refuse to get off the bridge anyway).
  • Her advice to mothers for this stage was: chill out. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Decide what really matters and deal with those things. Don’t expect your sons to include you in their lives at this stage in the way your daughters might. Your sons know you are there no matter what and they know they can come to you, so give them space to do so.
    • I cannot imagine these are easy words for some mothers to hear and not even being at that stage yet, I imagine parts of it I would find hard. But a lot of what she said made sense.
  • Her advice to fathers was to stay involved and to be the active ones in the relationship at this point. Keep interested in what interests your sons and keep being a model of a good man. Of course, other men can fill this role too if needed.
  • She went through the different stages of Yr 7-12 and how we can keep involved with our sons, providing the boundaries they need at points and the increased freedoms they need at others, while being committed to get them through adolescence safely and into manhood.
  • Her experience in the prison system taught her that most young men end up in prison because of stupidity rather than intentionally evil or bad behaviour. (eg. “I wonder what happens if I try run the red light?” “Can I outrun the cops?” etc). Therefore providing strong boundaries and clear messages regarding good decisions can help with this.
What I found most interesting were her comments regarding mothers in regards to both their husbands and their sons. She found overwhelmingly that most women are unwilling to allow their husbands to have an active parenting role, instead correcting and challenging his decisions. Their husbands intuitively knew this and so rarely spoke up.  At the same time, many treated their sons as exceptions for whom school rules need not apply and so did not back up teachers and principals, when they were trying to enforce standards for student behaviour.

It did lead me to ponder that in the Christian families I know, where men take an active role in parenting, this seems to be less the case. Perhaps when we respect God’s model of male leadership in families, we run into less trouble in these areas?

A good book that is worth a read if you have sons approaching or currently in the high school years.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web, E. B. White

Taking a break from series in the ‘books to read aloud’ series, today I bring you a single volume book: Charlotte’s Web. Many of you will have read this yourselves as children, as may have your parents: it was originally published in 1952.

It is the story of Wilbur, a runt pig saved from an early death by a young girl Fern and raised on a barn. Even amongst the other animals on the farm, Wilbur is lonely and becomes friends with Charlotte, a large grey spider. When Wilbur discovers than most pigs end up on the dinner table, he is traumatised, until Charlotte promises to save his life by writing messages about him in her web. What ensues is a lovely story of friendship, animals that talk (which Fern can understand), farm life and fun. When Charlotte dies towards the end, our children have been quite moved and yet love to hear of her babies hatching in the final chapter.

We have found about age 8 is perfect for this book, it captures their imagination (animals talking!) and the story keeps moving with interest. There are serious things at stake (Wilbur could still be made into dinner), and I think for many children who often are fearful of spiders, it’s a lovely way of learning about arachnids that opens up their minds to their positive traits.
When finished it provides a great entree into a family movie night with the 2006 movie by Paramount pictures with Dakota Fanning as Fern and the voice of Julia Roberts as Charlotte. It’s a lovely film version, suitable for the whole family.