Monday, February 28, 2011

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, Mem Fox, ill. Helen Oxenbury

For a long time, Peepo! was my favourite book for babies. However, this book has now joined Peepo! in first place.

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes is a gorgeous books for babies. Written in rhyme Mem Fox has created lots of little babies, all with one thing in common:
There was one little baby who was born in the hills.
And another who suffered from sneezes and chills.
And both of these babies as everyone knows
had ten little and ten little toes.
Helen Oxenbury (illustrator of We're Going on a Bear Hunt) has designed lovely illustrations and some very realistic looking babies, with an impressive array of multicultural features - your baby will look like one of these!

The ending is a lovely way to turn the book into a special one for your own child:
But the next baby born was truly divine,
a sweet little child who was mine, all mine.
And this little baby, as everyone knows,
has ten little finger, ten little toes,
and three little kisses on the tip of its nose.
A very special book.

The Busy Christian... Chapter 3

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives

The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness
Chapter 3: Use your time efficently

Chester suggests 4 key steps to addressing busyness:
  1. Use your time efficiently
  2. Sort out your priorities
  3. Glorify God all the time
  4. Identify the desires of your heart that make you try to do more than God expects of you.

We are going to look at #1 today, #2 and #3 in the next two weeks and then we’ll take 7 posts to look at #4 – which mirror his chapters. This is what I think is the real strength of this book. Chester talks about some practical strategies that may help, but in the end what we need to address is our hearts, what we think is important and what God actually counts as important.

So read the practical stuff with me over the next few posts, then be ready to be challenged in following weeks about what it is you really value and how that has impacted your busyness.

This week: use your time efficiently

A lot of this chapter is obvious stuff, if you are already reasonably organised, it won’t be anything new. If you struggle with time management – you also will know all about it, just perhaps struggle to implement it.

Basic tips here include: planning your time, using your diary wisely, managing people well, deal with paperwork and emails once only and tips for organising around your home.

One thing I found helpful in this section was to only read journals, magazines and newsgroups that actually provide you with information you need. To this I would add blogs and Facebook groups. Towards the end of last year I realised quite how much online information I was reading that added no value to my day in any way. I unsubscribed to quite a lot of things and it’s been remarkably freeing! (I also remove anyone from my Facebook feed that I have no real relationship with, why read their stuff when I never see them or talk to them?)

He ends the chapter with three helpful warnings, which I think those of us in ministry should especially heed.

1. People not schedules – don’t let your schedule stop you valuing people. You can run an efficient, on-time meeting by elimination all the chat and small talk. But it’s the chat and small talk that keep relationships going. We can also avoid dealing with people by using busyness as our excuse. Many of us in pastoral ministry know only too well of days when a schedule has been thrown out the window due to a personal crisis, as well it should be.

2. Servant not master – we control our schedule, it does not control us.
We can use our schedules to control our lives instead of bring ruled by God. We can trust our time management instead of trusting God’s care. We can turn the good desire for order into an idol. (p46)
3. Eternity not time – the danger of time management is that it focused our attention on the immediate. But the immediate is rarely the most important.
The Bible tells us to number our days, not schedule our minutes. And numbering our days means to live in the light of eternity. (p47).

Chester ends by saying that good time management does have a contribution to make to sorting out busyness. However, it’s the least important step. The second step is that what you do matters more than how much you do. That step is: sort out your priorities, and we come to it in chapter 4 next week.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Curious Incident

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon

Narrated by 15 year-old Christopher, who has Asperger's Syndrome - this tells the story of how he finds a murdered dog and his subsequent investigation into what happened. What it becomes is a story of his family, the stresses on them in caring for him and an excellent insight into his own mind.

It's very good, extremely sad and very insightful. There are quirks throughout that appeal - the chapters are not linear numbers (1,2,3...), but prime numbers (2,3,5...). Christopher speaks in detail about logic, maths, hating yellow and brown, and at the same time weaves in details about his family life. It's a great skill that Haddon can write from the point of view of someone with detached emotions, yet it results in a book of great emotional force.

If you know or care for people with Asperger's (or autism) this could be really helpful for understanding how they think and their minds work. However, I suspect it would be very sad reading for people closely connected with caring for children with Asperger's.

If you are a carer of a child with Asperger's or with an autism spectrum disorder, I do wonder if it's the type of book worth recommending to family and friends to help them understand - both your child's mind and the challenges for their carers.

Well worth reading - both for the enjoyment of the book, and also the insights it gives.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Toy Story and real toys

In the holidays we saw Toy Story 3, it's lots of fun and was enjoyed by all.

Being a somewhat emotional movie watcher, I found myself in tears at various points. Those other mothers out there might have felt the same watching Andy's mother look at his empty bedroom as he prepares to leave for college. While I am easily 15+ years away from such an event, I can certainly conjure the emotion.

However, the other reason for the tears is a little more embarrassing. I was one of those children who truly believed my stuffed animals were real (a little like Blue Kangaroo, which I reviewed on Monday). I had to play with them fairly and evenly so that no-one felt left out. Different ones had to come on different holidays so they all had some time with just me on their own. Having said that though, we all have favourites. Here are most of mine:

I could bore you with stories about them all, when I was given them, their names, how one of them is actually #3 because #1 & #2 got lost twice in hotel laundry (all that white).

However, here is my dilemma - I still sort of feel this way... and now thanks to Toy Story 3, I am in a bind...
  • We used to have a whole lot of stuffed animals in a box. Then I felt guilty that they were in storage. So I got them all out.
  • I asked our daycare if they wanted the OK ones, they said no (too many already).
  • Thanks to the final garbage compactor scenario in the movie I cannot throw them out.
  • I don't really want to put them in the Salvos bin because as they are quite old they will probably end up in the real bin. (interestingly I am more than happy to purge the house of the kids' rejected stuffed toys!)
  • The main teddy bear which I still have in our bedroom on a shelf - now I feel like he is left out sitting on the shelf without the other toys.
  • In the end, they have been merged into the kids' toys, awaiting a decision at a later date.
Are you reading this thinking - wow, she is a fruitcake! I would be if I were you.

However, I have shared with you my sad dilemma - I am surrounded by my childhood toys and unable to remove them from my presence. I know it's probably the memories that bind me to them, but maybe, just maybe, they might miss me as much as I would miss them...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Blue Kangaroo

I Love You, Blue Kangaroo! Emma Chichester Clark
Blue Kangaroo belonged to Lily.
He was her very own kangaroo. Every night, Lily said "I love you, Blue Kangaroo!" And Blue Kangaroo fell fast asleep in Lily's arms.
So begins a lovely series of books by author & illustrator Emma Chichester Clark. She has created a wonderful relationship between the little girl Lily and her favourite soft toy, Blue Kangaroo. Blue Kangaroo can think, he has feelings, he can get around when no-one is looking and solve little problems when he needs to, but he doesn't actually talk to Lily. It's a lovely idea that our toys love us as much as we love them and the kids (especially my girls) have loved these books. There are quite a few of them now - we have also enjoyed Happy Birthday, Blue Kangaroo! and What Shall We Do, Blue Kangaroo?

Lovely gentle stories, perfect for little girls and those who like to think their stuffed animals love them as much as they are loved.

The Busy Christian... Chapter 2

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives

The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness
Chapter 2: Is busy bad?

In chapter 2, Chester asks the question ‘is busy bad?’ – which is very helpful because we can swing from one extreme to the other – that work is good and leisure is bad (a work-centred ethic) or that leisure is good and work is bad (a leisure-centred ethic).

We know that the bible commends hard work and rejects laziness.
…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1 Thess 4:11-12)

11 We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. (2 Thess 3:11-12)

And the bible also commends rest. In the bible there are two reasons for a Sabbath rest: because God rested (not because he was tired, but the job of creation was done, Exodus 20:8-11) and in order to remember that once they were slaves in Egypt, but now they have been redeemed (Deut 5:15). We are not still under the Mosaic law of Sabbath rest, but there is a good principle here.
We do not need to be legalistic about Sabbath observance, but why not do your work and chores in six days and spend one day resting? Why not set aside a day for rest and play, free from work, consumption and maybe even some forms of technology? Why not at least ensure your week includes all the rest you need? (p30)
Chester raises a very interesting point about holidays, or ‘binge resting’, noting that the time before and after holidays are often much more stressful than other times, and after a week back at work we often no longer feel rested.
We overwork for most of the year and then ‘binge rest’ for four weeks. But this was not the pattern for which we were made. We ‘need’ our holidays because our normal lives are so out of balance. The sustainable answer is not an annual holiday, but to get back to a biblical pattern of work and rest structured around a week. (p31)

We neither rest to work, nor do we work to rest. With God at the centre of our view on work and rest,
we work for the glory of God and we rest for the glory of God. The goal is not simply as balance between work and rest. The goal for both is the glory of God. This is liberating. It gives value to both work and rest. Neither is simply a means to the other. Both are to be relished, enjoyed and used for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). (p32-33)

Things to think about:
  • What is your view of work? What is your view of rest? Do you value one more highly than the other?
  • Do you have a day off? How do you manage it? Does work regularly encroach on your day off? Are you able to ‘disengage’ from work and church commitments on a day off, and actually rest?
  • How do you view your annual holidays – are they the salve that gets you through the year, or do you also manage your weeks to include adequate rest?

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Happiest Refugee

The Happiest Refugee, Anh Do

This was a good, easy read. It is a memoir of Anh Do, one of Australia's premier comedians, and his life to this point. In some ways, I am hesitant of people my own age (rather young if I do say so!) writing a memoir. However, I remove my hesitation over this one – it’s a good book – entertaining, interesting and a great insight into the life of Vietnamese migrants to Australia in the 70s and 80s.

In some ways it's a classic 'rags to riches' tales - a family leave war-torn Vietnam on a leaky boat to seek a better life, they nearly do not make it - facing starvation, dehydration and pirates. They end up in Sydney, always living near poverty, but still always thankful for their adopted homeland and the opportunities it gives them.

One wonders on reading it though – what the current immigration policy would do with such people today? Make them live at Christmas Island for months while processing their right to immigrate? Put them in detention for years to ensure they should actually be here? Makes you wonder what other people, who would be honest, hard-working, citizens, we are missing out on having here in Australia.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Do you like your city?

I love the city I live in.

I have lived in 4 other cities in my life and visited many more, and I love this city.

It seems the man who chose the location of this city agrees with me:

I choose praise for Colonel Light.

Realistically, what makes a place home is not the location, or the lifestyle, but the people. And we know and love lots of people here. (for Sydney readers - yes we do love and miss you all as well!)

However, another more trivial reason that I love this city is the things that can grow here in my garden. From our apricots we made jam, from ~30 kgs of a friend's plums I made lots of jam, preserves, plum BBQ sauce and we ate lots too.

Now, the pears are ripening inside and the apples are ripening on the tree!

And we still have a steady supply of eggs too.

I feel like my desire to have a productive garden is certainly met - all 15 mins from the city centre. Adelaide - a brilliant blend!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bible Storybooks

Towards the end of last year I started a series on good children's books for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. I plan to restart this again this year, generally on Mondays.

To kick off the year, I thought I 'd start with a few good bibles we have discovered. None are particularly new, just new to us.

1. First Bible Stories, adapted by Jillian Harker and Michael Phipps, ill. by John Dillow)

We gave this to Miss 5 on the day she started school, continuing a tradition we started with Mr 5. It is great, very appropriate for age 4 onwards. I was impressed with the way the stories were explained, grabbing the salient points with age appropriate language. Only one quibble (and if it's only one it's a good bible!). In the account where Jesus changes the water to wine - Mary tells him the wine has run out , then "Nervously, Jesus began to speak, 'It is not yet my time...' ". I doubt nerves were the issue.

2. The Rhyme Bible, L. J. Sattgast, ill. Toni Goffe

We love rhyme in our house, so The Rhyme Bible has been a winner. I am very impresed at how Stattgast has turned the bible accounts into rhyme, still keeping the accounts quite accurate. It's a fun change between reading other bibles. Good for 3-5 year olds.

3. The Rhyme Bible Storybook for Toddlers, also by L. J. Sattgast, ill. Toni Goffe

The same duo have also created a simplified version for toddlers. Great for 2-4 year olds. Our  Miss 3 loves this one.

To see other children's bibles I have reviewed, go here.

The Busy Christian... Chapter 1

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives

The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness
Chapter 1: Slow down, I want to get off!

Chester starts by pointing out all the ways we are busy, as if some of us needed convincing!

Today people are:
  • busy at work – working longer hours and unable to separate work from out time at home
  • busy at play – we don't just rest, we go to the gym, go hiking, go shopping – even leisure is something to do.
  • too busy to be healthy – stress, overwork, no time to stop and eat properly, no time to recuperate from illness
  • too busy to think – people cannot (or do not) take the time to think through issues, our minds are already too full. We confuse information with wisdom.
  • too busy for relationships – little time for our marriages, our children, for sports teams, clubs, etc.
  • too busy for Jesus – does your prayer life feel hurried? Does church involvement seem like an onerous task?
Chester points out that the clock has been a major influence in modern times. People are no longer governed by sunrise and sunset, but hours, minutes and seconds. Some professions charge clients by the minute. School children watch the clock for when the next lesson starts. We can watch 24 hour news cycles. You can view an email on your phone the second it arrives, making you feel you should check it immediately.

I have to agree with Chester’s final comment in chapter 1:
I used to think my busyness problem was temporary. I was busy just at that moment, but it wouldn’t last. Somewhere over the rainbow life would slow down… Things don’t change of their own accord… The fact is, if you want to tackle your busyness, you will need to make deliberate choices. (p20)

Things to think about:
  • Do you feel permanently busy? Do you find yourself telling people how busy you are? Do people say they don’t approach you because you seem so busy?
  • Do you let outside factors control your busyness – emails, SMSs, etc?
  • Do you feel too busy to spend time in God’s word and in prayer to him?
  • Are you willing to change?

Next week - Chapter 2

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

This book was the highlight of my summer holiday reading - it is an absolute delight, I didn’t want it to end. And when it did end, I just wanted to sit and think about it more (unfortunately impossible, seeing I had to pick the kids up from their 1 hour play time at Ikea!)

It is the story of Henry, who can time travel, and the love of his life – Clare. It’s loosely based in chronological time – how they meet for the first time in their 20s and fall in love. But interwoven throughout are the interconnecting stories of Henry’s time travel – how he appears throughout Clare’s childhood, and is able at times to visit the future. Surprisingly, considering the concept, it’s not too confusing although there were times where I had to check the dates to ensure I had the right sequence in my head (each segment shows the date and Henry and Clare’s ages).

It’s a fascinating read. What I love about a good book, is not only a good story line (where you like the people, are interested in their lives, etc) but also when it’s written with a really different idea or premise. This certainly fits that category. On reflection, I think that’s why I also liked The Book Thief so much. This one makes you think about the ‘what if’ of time travel. What if you could see the future? What if you could revisit people from your past? What if you could talk to yourself as an older or younger version of your present age?

It reaches out to a longing in us all – to be able to return to those precious times again, to see loved ones who have died, and to have an assurance about what the future holds.

A very, very good book, which I will definitely read again.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Operation World

Operation World

One way to persist in prayer and to ask that God’s will be done is to actually be informed about how God is working in the world, and the various challenges Christians and the church face worldwide.

I was delighted to discover at CMS Summer Encounter that the new edition of Operation World was released last year. This prayer guide covers every nation of the world, divided into sections of information on the country, religious information, praise points and prayer points. It is a wealth of information to help you pray for the people of the world intelligently and informatively. It will broaden your horizons and make you realise how big God is, how large his church, and how small you are in comparison.

For those that prefer email/online resource, I note their website also has daily prayer points, which summarise some of the main points from the book. I am now hoping they re-release the children’s version – You Can Change the World.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Persisting in prayer

Persisting in prayer

Along with burrowing into the bible, I am hoping this will also be a year of persisting in prayer.

As well as being legalistic about bible reading, it’s so easy to be casual about prayer. I have spent hours creating great prayer lists and tables to pray through, and whole pages of verses to pray about various things. However, that does not mean I am a persistent prayer.

I was challenged by this at the CMS Summer Encounter Conference, where David Williams spoke of the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8. His conclusions were 5 lessons about prayer:

  1. Persistent prayer is the fundamental expression of dependant faith.
  2. Persistent prayer is not about techniques or timing. Do not read books about prayer to learn how to pray, read books about God.
  3. Persistent prayer flows from a right view of God. God is nothing like the judge in this parable. Holding the right view of God is a battle of faith.
  4. Persistent prayer flows from a right view of ourselves. Just like the widow we are helpless and have no where to go. We have so many resources, we do not pray, because we do not feel that we need help. We must realise we have nothing without God.
  5. Persistent prayer seeks God’s justice achieved at the cross. Prayer asks for things to be the way God wants them to be, to be able to truly say ‘your will be done’.

So, this year I would like to become a persistent prayer.

I find it so easy to look at a list of prayer points, agree with them, but never pray the words themselves. To rely on the spirit interceding (Rom 8:28) when I can’t be bothered (which of course is not the point of that passage).

But actually stopping to pray, and pray for many and varied things – rather than my own little patch – is quite a challenge.

So, there are my challenges and goals for the year – to burrow into the bible and to persist in prayer. If you know me, feel free to ask how I’m going and I’ll do the same in return!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Burrowing into the Bible

Burrowing into the bible

Over the past few years, I have read the bible through each year. I have followed the M'Cheyne Bible reading plan and I have really enjoyed it. I got an overview of the bible and what the various books are about. I feel more confident in my way around the bible.

But like everything there are pros and cons. The downside for me is that I never read in much depth. It was 4 chapters a day, generally I would read them and my legalistic brain would go ‘tick, done my bible reading’, and that was all I thought about it.

This year I am trying to approach my bible reading a little differently – this is the year of ‘burrowing into the bible’. I am going to read small chunks, with a pen and notebook handy and sometimes a commentary nearby. While I will always tend towards the ‘tick, read it’ mentality – this is helping me to think more as I read. I have started in John’s gospel and already have more questions and thoughts than on any previous reading.

Such as:
  • in John 1 where Jesus calls Andrew and then he goes to get his brother Peter, he says “we have found the Messiah” – how does he know Jesus is the Messiah? Has Jesus told him, is it just patently obvious?
  • in John 2 (at the wedding in Cana) – why does Jesus say to his mother ‘My time has not yet come’, yet still go on to change the water into wine?

More of these questions keep coming up – and that’s good. We should want to think as we read the bible, even (or especially) about those sections we have read so many times we feel we know it already.

As I go along, I may share some thoughts along the way – we’ll see!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Book review series on Busyness

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives

The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness, Tim Chester

Welcome to our first book review series of the year. This term we are going to be looking at The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness, by Tim Chester.

I read this late last year, and I was struck by its relevance –for Christians (especially in the west), but particularly for those in Christian ministry. How many of us are chronically busy, but feel we are busy doing ‘good things’?

This books cuts at the core of our busyness, the reasons behind it and the false ideas that prop them up.


We’ll be posting this series on Mondays. Next week – Chapter 1.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

School holidays

My observation of mothers with children is that they fall into two categories: love the school holidays or hate the school holidays. Which are you?

For many years I was a hater of school holidays. Why?
  • None of our usual activities were on, there was just day after day to fill in ourselves.
  • When I didn't have children at school, I just wanted our normal routine to continue - we didn't need a break from it, in fact we needed the routine more.
  • The summer holidays in particular were so long - 6 to 7 weeks (I know that's not much compared to some other countries where they get 3 months, but it still drags).
  • The heat of Adelaide meant even in the summer some days were just too hot to go out, even to the pool.
To put it simply - I could not see the point of school holidays.

Now - ahh, how things have changed - finally I see the point! We have loved the last holidays. Admittedly they were broken up well - 2 weeks lead up to Christmas, 3 weeks family holidays, then 2 more weeks before school went back. This year, and this summer in particular, for the first time, I have loved the school holidays:
  • We really needed the break, we stayed home for two weeks when school finished, just playing at home, Mr 7 read lots of books and did Lego and the girls played games for hours, spending much more time together than they can in term time.
  • We started sleeping in (well, the grownups mainly!). The kids are old enough now to get up on their own in the mornings and entertain themselves, so often Husband & I could laze in bed till 7:30 or 8am - what a treat! Interestingly, Miss 5 also is showing a desire to stay in bed longer in the mornings, which I am encouraging (for the moment anyway!)
  • We could all do things together - no one missed out by being at school or being too young - we all went to the beach, we all went to the pool, we all went out to yum cha.
  • We didn't have to be anywhere at any time. I liked the routine when everyone was younger, now I have enjoyed not having one.
  • We didn't have to think about library books, school lunches, uniforms being ironed, etc.
Admittedly, by the end, all of us were ready for school to start again. But I have been very pleased about how much we enjoyed the holidays, and how much I was able to relax and enjoy them.

Now I think I love the school holidays!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Plans for 2011

I've had over a month free from online commitments, which has been wonderful, and also made me realise just how much time I put into this blog and the in tandem one. I enjoy doing it, but it's odd to feel such pressure from a voluntary, self-imposed commitment. It's not like I don't have other commitments in 'real life'.

However, I do benefit from the blogging myself, which is a main reason why I continue - it forces me to think about things, from the perspective of a Christian, a woman, a mother, a wife - or whatever. And when others comment, it means we all think a little more.

But, as usual, I have committed to lots of other things as well this year, so while I have plans for musings - we'll see how they go!

  • I would love to read the books on my 'to read' list. Some have been there for over 3 years now, which is as long as they have been sitting there on my shelf. Sometimes I feel like they sit there and mock me! Holidays are now over, so the long period of fiction reading is (or should be) over for another term, and I'll get down to more reading.
  • I would like to re-start the Calvin Club readings (even if no one else is). Never got any comments on any Calvin posts and I suspect no-one read them, but it was helpful for me so I'd like to pick it up again.
  • I'd like to think more about the bible as I read through it (more on that in a later post)
  • To cover a few more parenting things. As I mentioned previously - we have left the 'baby/toddler' phase and there are some things I will miss.
  • And whatever else strikes me at the time - both serious and trivial.