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!