A Window into Life in the Suburbs


"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Singing of a Wet Christmas

I'm singing of a wet Christmas
Not like the ones I used to know
See the torrents falling
And mud pools forming
Or hear drainpipes overflow

I'm singing of a wet Christmas
With every Christmas tag I write
May your days be merry despite
All the news that say there's no respite.

- Posted using BlogPress from my mobile device

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Not Just an Author of Children's Books 2

I'm not sure what it is about Sarah Palin and America's chattering class.
Seldom does a week go by when one doesn't hear some kind of negative spin on something she apparently said.
I'm not smart enough or politically savvy enough to know what her chances of becoming the first female President of the United States are like but when I look at her or listen to her, my simple-minded brain tells me that she's not that different from the many independent minded women that I know. who are raising families while being actively involved with the community.
Hence, I was heartened to hear recently that Palin cited CS Lewis as a source of spiritual inspiration. Because he has been one to me as well since I read Mere Christianity over 20 years ago. So yeah, she could do a lot worse. A lot worse.

That, however, was quickly picked up by a media personality insinuating that Mrs Palin is somehow bordering on illiterate because CS Lewis is merely the writer of children's fantasy fiction and no intelligent grown up could be (God forbid) spiritually inspired by child-like tales. Palin also clarified later that she was referring to Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters.



As I mentioned in a previous post, Lewis was no intellectual lightweight. However, he also loved fairy tales and fantasy. His Narnia tales contain biblical metaphors and allusions to spiritual truths for those who have eyes to see them. The Lion is the Christ figure... the Emperor, a designation for God. The episode at the Stone Table speaks Christ's sacrifice and victory over death and the principalities.

The Screwtape Letters, which was referred to, is based on a series of letters written by a senior devil instructing his apprentice on the finer ways of temptation. In so doing, he makes many salient points regarding human nature. The conversational style and the biting humour draws the reader in and makes the message more accessible.

Metaphors, allegories and similes are very helpful and can often help convey deep truths in a simple but effective fashion.
I don't think we should scorn children's fiction for its effectiveness in dealing with age old issues like good vs evil. Fiction, generally and fantasy, specifically gets right into the imagination and impresses  the mind with the ideas underlying the narrative... for good or for ill.
Jesus told parables using everyday objects and situations to teach his listeners heavenly truths. He used sheep, seeds, flora, money to tell stories about the kingdom of God and the character of God.

All to say, really is that word pictures aren't just for kids. Adults, I would venture to add, need 'em too.
Anyway, didn't Jesus also say :
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3 ESV)

Quite often it is the simple things of life that bring us closer to understanding heaven.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holidaze

A week and a half in (who's counting, right?) and I am so over the school holidays.
School holidays are, as the name suggests, for the schools. The people who work for the institutions... and the minions who are indoctrinated educated in them.
The school term, on the other hand, are the real holidays... for the jaded mums and the dads who, according to conventional wisdom, require about 40 plus weeks a year minus weekends to recover from the arduous task of breaking up fights and separating squabbling siblings in their spare time. Which of course occurs... daily...

In need of respite, I dropped the 3 year old at kindy and took the 9 year old to see Megamind yesterday, the animated film featuring a blue, hairless alien bad guy who becomes the good guy and ends up saving the day. The plot is not mind numbingly complex but is helped by decent dialogue, good voice acting and clever animated gadgetry.
Watching it reminded me of another animated feature I saw on the plane trip to Singapore... Despicable Me, another baddy-turns-into-a-good-guy flick.
Both surprised me with their projection of affability.
Neither glorifies the bad guy but the moral of the story is that individuals are responsible for the choices they make and heroes do come in all kinds of packages. The important ingredient that makes it all happen is lurrrrve... romantic, paternal or neurotic.
While there are definite thematic similarities between them, both owe a debt to different sources.
Megamind takes it cues from the superhero genre... particularly Superman but Despicable Me is a space age Annie-inspired tale.





Sensing that I was in dire need of some kid-free R&R, the husband, bless him, took the day off so that I could have some time out. Like a overworked maid on steroids, I've been dishing out a different kind of time out with a vengeance and surely it was time I had some of my own.

As soon as I felt remotely awake, I jumped into the car and headed straight to Borders and bought myself a cup of hot chocolate at Gloria Jean's. After gulping it down, I moved into the cookery section and did some shameless time wasting in the Cookery section and poured over Jamie Oliver's new book on 30 minute meals. Droolworthy as always and those glorious shortcuts... I, of course, covet the volume for my collection.
A complete omnibus of Pamela Travers' Mary Poppins caught my eye. I read a couple of chapters quickly and it occurred to me that I've never read the books and probably should. Hmmm... Inevitably, "A Spoonful of Sugar" pops into my head.

I left Borders empty-handed (apart from the stuff I brought in). Everything is annoyingly expensive. Then I headed off to the library to book some internet time. After which, I take a little walk to procure some groceries and some lunch. Sushi looked especially good when the hunger pangs asserted themselves.

After lunch I spend the rest of time in the library reading The King's Speech -- a tale of two men...  from different sides of the globe... two contrasting lives that intersect from sheer necessity. One, a shy, stammering second son who becomes king of Britain and the other an Aussie-born actor turned speech therapist on Harley Street. It's been made into a film and will be showing in the cinemas around Oz on Boxing Day.
No doubt, Colin Firth groupies will be out in full force when the occasion arises. But it looks pretty good on its own artistic merits.




When I got home I glanced around. Aside from evidence of McDonald's lying on the dining table, everything looked more or less how it was when I left. Well, at least it didn't look any worse.

Do They Know It's Christ They Sing Of

I love the o'l Christmas songs and I've been raiding You Tube the past week for some great renditions of various Christmas standards. Many of the world's greatest singers have made the obligatory Christmas album at some stage in their career and for some reason, we keep buyin' them. There's something about Christmas that sparks the musical part in the human soul. Whether it's northern hemisphere hits like "White Christmas", "The Christmas Song", "I'll be Home for Christmas" or traditional hymns like "Silent Night", "O Little Town of Bethlehem", Christmas festivities is as much about music as it is about gifts, food and tinsel.

I was thinking just the other day at the shopping centre that at this time of the year we hear plenty of good stuff. But as I wander from shop to shop humming the o'l favourites, I wonder... as the beautiful voices flood the airwaves of Big W... when the general populace hears something like this:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus our Immanuel.

Do they get it? Do they grasp the idea of the incarnate deity?
These are truths that we hold dear... truths that are meaningful to those who are followers of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. But more importantly, these are truths that form the foundation of our faith. Because if the Son of God had not taken the form of man, we would have no Saviour and no Christmas to sing about or celebrate.

No doubt the Christian message of hope must be believed with faith. But the message itself is grounded in space, time history.
God, the infinite Creator, invaded human history and took his place among finite beings to bring this message as a fulfilment of prophecy. But the message wasn't just cheering words to get over bad days but the Word, a member of the Godhead who set aside his glory to take his place among us. He came to save us from our greatest problem... sin...

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.    John 1:14  ESV

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cosmic Parenting

Lately I feel as if I'm going through an existential crisis.
Last night, I toddled off to bed early, exhausted by squabbling siblings, defiant gestures and fell apart emotionally. I was an emotional basket case.
No doubt, tiredness had a lot to do with it. But it suddenly occurred to me that my life was turning into a meaningless cycle of repetitious mummy sayings like "do this, stop that, come here, take turns..."
Scintillating stuff.
Pity the pay sucks majorly.

It also occurred to me how bad I am at this parenting thing... Really awful.
And that I'm losing the battle of wills.

I was depressed. I say, "was" because today I feel a tad better about my place in the universe.

Sometimes... no, not just sometimes. Quite often, I wonder why the Almightly, in his infinite wisdom, has seen fit to entrust me not with one but two children.
It's quite the mystery... not in the Agatha Christie kind of way but in the Job kind of way.
Of course, I'm not comparing myself to this long-suffering Old Testament saint. Goodness knows, I would have leapt off the nearest cliff somewhere in Chapter 3.
But it's about the cosmic question of the ages... "Why me?" A common question in such instances.
But then the "Why not me..." echoes in reply.

Having offspring is the most normal thing in the world to do. And yet, surely it is one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult.
It requires so much of you... all of you... mind, body and soul... even when you're running on empty. How does one do it?

There's a hint of it in John 15. Jesus said, "Without me, you can do nothing."

Yeah, I knew that. Read it many times. Even prayed it out loud at prayer meetings.
But I've been going around like a parenting atheist. As if it's about me. As if it all depends on me.

The old Motown hit by Dionne Warwick, "Stop! In the name of Love." pops into the brain.
It's good to stop... necessary even... especially when all I do is "go, go, go."
Could explain why I'm going insane.

It really is grace... all of it...

Friday, December 17, 2010

They'll be Comin' Round

So I'm sitting in Funkee Monkees... an indoor cafe/play centre. Food has arrived -- a plate of mini-spring rolls and a couple of small pies. It smells good but I sense it isn't going to satisfy growing bodies.

I'm always amazed and amused by the boundless energy that children spend in such places. Up and down, up and down. Such regularity, such monotony. The sameness doesn't however bother the little ones.

A couple of little kiddies and their mummies are playing bumper cars with the cafe chairs. A novel idea... and I narrowly escape collision.

After 20 minutes the 3 year old catches a whiff of something wafting past the kitchen door. Now for her, the place has become really interesting.

Everything's ridiculously expensive these days and due to XYZ regulation, we're not allowed to bring our own food. The girls think that everything on display is gratis.

They spend the next 90 minutes pestering me for food at regular intervals.

When it's time to leave, I feel a little poorer for the experience.

"Do we have to pay?" the 9 year old asks naively.
"Yeah, this is not a charity." I retort a tad peevishly.

- Posted using BlogPress from my mobile device

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Shop Prop

I do declare I have...finally...finished up my Christmas shopping for 2010.
Yes, indeed.

Little o'l me.

I've been telling lies (inadvertently) to various people the past 2 weeks about being mega organized and finishing my shopping. An empty boast it turned out to be.
In my defence, I had forgotten the Secret Santa thing that we do with our in-laws annually, but they hadn't gotten around to organizing the whole shebang, so I kinda... forgot.

Then earlier today as I walked past shelves of chocolatey goodness, I shamefacedly remembered that I hadn't given our wonderful kindy teachers anything.

Christmas shopping began in July with the Target Toy Sale and I picked up my last item at Angus and Robertson today.
However if I'm required to be strictly technical about it, I could point to the post-Christmas sales of the previous year as the start of my Christmas shopping.
My timeline is cyclical rather than linear.

I'm also one of those people who casually pick up presents all year round and by the time I'm ready to think about Christmas, I forget that I have a stash of goodies lying idly in a plastic bag accumulating dust in the study.

I blame the weather of course, but getting those gifts wrapped felt like a chore this year and by the time I got to gift no.3, I was ready to go for the bag option.
Except that I have 2 substantial rolls of paper left from last year that could easily last me another three Christmases. And quite obviously, I had to buy another one from Crazy Clark's for reasons of variety. Wrapping all of our gifts from the same roll would be so oh-so tacky.

Local Traffic

Note to self... Don't do pizza pick up after 4:30pm...
What should have been a 10 minute there and back trip took us half an hour yesterday afternoon. Cars that sit in the middle of intersections clogging up traffic flow, is fast becoming my number 1 road pet peeve.
No squabbling between the kiddies, thankfully, but the cheesy aroma emanating from the gaps of the pizza box was too much for the 9 year old who with her usual gusto, declared at 5 minute intervals that she was starving. Starving? Do children in our part of the world who devour far too many candy canes during the Christmas season know anything about starvation? I moralize... but to no avail. Alas moralizing about food doesn't seem to have any immediate effect

Christmas is a week and a half away and the roadworks around our area are still chugging along. Barriers add to the confusion when they're moved around from one week to the next. Traffic posts have gone up and golly, I know I'm going to miss the roundabout when the time comes.The end of an era... going the way of all major intersections. Projected time is "late 2010". "Late" could mean "dead" or the "31st December 2010". Let's hope it's the latter. If not, preferably before the beginning of another school term when traffic starts building up again.

In our part of the world, we take for granted these little things. Roads, traffic... A little out of sync and it makes all the difference between chaos and order. We expect people to behave themselves and do the right thing by everyone. We are afterall civilized human beings, aren't we? How we act on the roads say a lot about who we are individually and as a people.
When I was casually observing the traffic in Central Java, I was struck by the organized chaos that characterized the streets and major aterials. People seemed unencumbered by regulations and took responsibility for their own safety.

Am I envious? Maybe a tad. A teeny, tiny, tad.







I love living where I do... cleanliness, convenience to amenities/infrastructure, a higher degree of efficiency and yet sometimes I can't help wondering year after year if we haven't exchanged our most basic liberties for safety. So much so that bit by bit we have forgotten that we ever had them. From compulsory child seats to bicycle helmets... it's as if the State is the new Nanny. Those of us who have 'em can't be expected to be responsible parents without the all-seeing eye of the State breathing down our necks.

I don't have the answers... I want to live in relative safety and for my children to live in relative safety. For that to happen I know I must cede some of my personal liberty. But can we be safe from everything? And should our governments protect us from everything? Is that even possible?
I'm not sure I want any government to anyway. It's probably a hop, step and a jump to totalitarianism.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Zombieland

Been seeing life through a fog of late. It's to the credit of the Creator that human beings can still function when their vision is impaired and when the uppermost part of the human torso is functioning at minimum. I feel as if I've emerged from Zombieland... the home of the Undead... a place of no rest... perpetual sleeplessness... or the plain of the sleep deprived. Now and again the head feels as if it has gone two rounds with Rocky Balboa and then into a blender. Call it stress... or an overactive imagination  but I seem to be a victim of overstimulation or brain overload.


I was under the simplistic  impression that when one's children learn to sleep on their own, life returns to some semblance of normality. Of course when offsprings are part of the equation, life doesn't return to what it was Before Children.
Sleep becomes all-important when its a scarce commodity. And it can't even be bought.  Suddenly that 6 or 7 hours of continous slumber is the one thing that stands between sanity and despair. Even the littlest annoyances become insurmountable Goliaths... at least to a insomnia induced fog-beseiged brain.

No wonder sleep deprivation has been used as an enhanced interrogation technique if The Scarlet Pimpernel is to be believed. It is pure torture not to be able to sleep when the body is clamouring for it and when you have a child throwing a fit because you're not moving fast enough to please her.

Hence, it must be, I imagine, helpful to have a theology of sleep... to borrow terminology I recently heard a well-known Bible teacher use.
When one goes to bed with a mind full of cares, it is in overdrive "worrying about tomorrow"... worrying about things that may hypothetically occur... things that may not occur and things that are largely out of our control.
Why do we take our worries with us to bed? Gluttons for punishment certainly. Irrational attachment to the bad stuff.  Mainly it is because we do not believe or trust. We do not believe God when he says that he will take care of our needs. I can say this with the confidence of the expert...  and the specialist because I specialize in worrying about things I can't control.
In such moments, I find it helpful to recite the 23rd Psalm or Proverbs 3:5,6 from memory... it helps me to focus on reality from God's perspective.
My perspective is deeply flawed... coloured by my own inadequacies and my frustrations over my inadequacies. My perspective is limited... constrained my humanness and sinfulness.
But God sees all... He is outside of time and not limited by it. The beginning to the end.He is Lord over all.
Even sleep...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

CS Lewis: Not Just an Author of Children's Books

I've kind of change my mind about the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I still don't think it's as good an adaptation as the first film or even second film but it's primary importance in popular culture will lie in its flow on effect.
I suspect that it will encourage another generation of Narnia readers, but more importantly, another generation of  CS Lewis readers. CS Lewis, the popular Christian apologist and sometime social commentator. Hence, I want lots of people to see the movie and preferably pay for it as well so that we can get The Silver Chair and The Last Battle adapted for the screen also.



The Powerline blog had a great post Lewis' a couple of days ago. The post contains a great reading list and literature review which I'd like to encourage people who still read this blog to use as a resource.
One of my MOPS friends, Amanda asked me to recommend a couple of good reference materials to share with skeptical non-Christian friends. I immediately suggested Lewis' Mere Christianity, which has helped many people get their heads around the intellectual objections to the Christian faith.
Some of you might be thinking... I don't have time or energy to read... and I get that. I'd like you, however, to consider audio books. A CD or a downloaded MP3 can help take the monotony off your housework. Audible has a number of Lewis' books on audio and it's cheaper than getting the CDs.
I note also that our local libraries have stock of many audio books and for a minimum fee, one can put a hold on choice items.
Focus on the Family has dramatized the Narnia chronicles and The Screwtape Letters on audio and from all accounts they're pretty good. I believe David Suchet (Hercule Poirot) does the voice of Aslan in this production and Andy Serkis from LOTR fame plays Screwtape, the senior devil.
The Focus on the Family radio plays are available at your local Christian bookstore, The Book Depository, Amazon and Audible.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

I'm frustrated with Hollywood. Yeah, nothing new here... And I'm tempted to give the third and latest adaptation of CS Lewis' Narnia tale a thumbs down. Well, almost.


Not because of Liam Neeson's comments, mind you. Call it bad timing, call it weasley diplomacy or mere unadulterated ignorance. I grant that the man's no theologian nor Christian apologist and he's one of the more likeable actors coming out of Tinseltown. Like most well-meaning public figures, he has bought into the postmodern relativist nonsense that Jesus Christ and Mohammed can be talked of in the same vein. It's becoming patently obvious why there's a growing number of commentators who are calling for actors to stick to their craft and refrain from offering opinions outside their limited area of expertise.

No it isn't about Neeson but I think his comments do reflect a certain attitude that Hollywood has about faith-based films.
It used to be that Hollywood was keen to make films that made money but I don't think that adage applies any longer. I lament the passing of an era of biblical epics such as Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments and The Robe. Still, the success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, or The Blind Side or even minor successes like Fireproof  should have penetrated the psyche of those who run the film making enterprises that there is a market for inspiring, Christian themed films.

It begs the question (at least for me) as to why Hollywood even bothered with the Narnia stories in the first place. Sure, they're great stories with fantastical elements... about age old themes of good vs evil... but I submit that these stories are good because they are driven by a strong Christian narrative. If the Christian bits, which is pretty much almost all of it, give the secular types in Hollywood the queasies, they should leave well alone.

I did say I was tempted to pan the film soundly but I won't because despite my misgivings about The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, it has one important redeeming quality. It doesn't skirt the issue of evil and sin... although it uses other words like "darkness", "temptation" and has to invent some ridiculous Doctor Who-like gassy villain to symbolize evil all throughout the film.

I came to this conclusion while I was listening to Christian apologist Os Guinness talk about evil on a podcast and it occurred to me that somebody making the film at least understands that much about the Christian view of evil. That evil is borne inside of us and it is something we have to do battle with and we can't overcome it without the help of our Saviour.

On the bright side, the film can be used as a resource to talk to our children about evil. Not the very young children obviously. Some parts of the film are meant to terrify, according to the adult lady friends that I was with. I, on the other hand, am probably not a great person to judge how scary a film is on the Scare-O-Meter considering that I thought that the monsters were the best thing on Clash of the Titans.


But whatever the film lacks in dialogue, cohesion and acting, it makes up for it in computer wizardry and action sequences. For those who know the book well, that will probably not be enough but considering that it's a film made within the secular auspices of Hollywood, it could have been a lot worse.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Indonesian Adventure


Adventure is another one of those words... like passion and postmodern... that are overused and not understood. At least not in the same way by everyone.
It used to be that "adventure" had a an extra-ordinary sense to it. Not something you would do normally like you know... get on the tardis with the Doctor... or climb mountains or even a bit of travel in a neighbouring village/town/country.
Now everyone has adventures, in their own backyard or at the shopping mall... so the word has lost its potency... and has become synonymous with the word "fun". Like many of its predecessors, it is probably doomed to become a cliche if it hasn't already.

So I hesitate to invoke it in my situation. Except that my life is generally quite mundane... and I generally prefer it that way.
Going overseas with two children... one of whom generates hyperkinetic energy merely by licking a biscuit... would be a giant step for me... taking me out of my comfort zone. Short car rides to the local Domino's Pizza with the girls can turn into something maddening and explosive. Especially when we're talking about two small people who squabble when one of them looks at the other the wrong way.

So why did we go? Because a close family member was getting married in Indonesia... and was providing us the necessary financial incentive to get there. So why not? A once in a lifetme opportunity to do something a bit different. To visit another country, become the foreigner and be reminded about how the situation at Babel has become our legacy.

In the end, most of the really annoying stuff happened at the airports and at the back of the van. Yeah, the kids squabbled... over food, over space, over stuff... I suppose the Almighty had to remind us that the plane trip doesn't change the inner child all that much.
A pity.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Currency

The 9 year old asked for $4 today...  Not that that's unusual. At her age, she's regularly asking for money in the hope that she catches Mummy and Daddy in an expansive mood. Afterall, money appear to grow on trees or magically reproduce in parental wallets.  Anyway, the $4 is her contribution to a school break-up party which includes sausages, drinks etc etc. Well, I don't mind... saves me frying up a whole bunch of wontons this year and trying to tee in with the class teacher to come in at the right time bearing freshly cooked, piping hot dumplings. Cruncheee dumplings. Wontons are no good cold... awful... like chewing on rubber gloves.

The 9 year old, a throwback to her under-the-mattress-stashing ancestors, doesn't believe in wallets, purses or pockets. At least she doesn't think that money's safe unless it's in her hot little hand. Pleased as punch with her acquisition, she was rattling the gold coins in her hand in jolly fashion and my mummy senses could see trouble ahead. I cautioned her before the drop off to "put them in your pocket before you lose them". "Okay, okay... I will." She assures me knowingly, no doubt thinking that mum is sucha nag.
Sure enough... she managed to lose $2... (Oh for $2 every time a mummy prediction comes true) and now she wants me to bail her out.

Yeah... she tries... Yes, she does. She is persistent. Gotta give her that. (Wish she would apply the same kind of energy to school work though) But I gently remind her that she gets regular pocket money and that she can dip into her current stash (which is currently quite considerable) to make up for the loss. Surprisingly this little lady didn't protest too much. Tomorrow, however, is another day.

Before our Indonesian trip, we were advised that it would be prudent to have some US currency handy to pay for travel visas. So we procured some at Changi Airport (in Singapore) but not enough... as it turned out. The 9 year old was excited and curious... "I've never seen American money before... can I have a look?"
I thought a bit and thought... well, why not... it would be educational. So I pull out the different denominations that I had a fifty, a couple of twenties and some two dollar notes.
"Wow... fifty American dollars!" Her eyes lit up and she waved the bill around like a steroid ingesting cheerleader.
"Shshsh... keep it down... you don't have to announce it to the entire airport."

She's an artless child... and loud... Very loud. Not yet attuned to the dangers of real life.  But money is money... and even if she doesn't appreciate the value of money, she knows that money carries with it a certain power. Like the power to buy things. Things that inhabit her universe like lollies, junk, books and cute little toys.

During our brief sojourn to Central Java, plebs like us indulged in the fantasy that we were minor league tycoons. It is a testament to the strength of the Aussie dollar that $1 AUD could buy us eight and a half thousand rupiah. Relying on a couple of locals to steer me through a labyrinthic, dilapidated and stifling hot wet market, I stumbled on a couple of very nice T-shirts (Tassie Devil and Snoopy) for myself at a dilapidated (and stifling hot) wet market for 30 000 rupiah which works out to be about 3.50 AUD. And no bargaining (in this instance) was required either.
Cheap as chips.
But we are foreigners... travellers... passers-by. We come, redistribute what little wealth we have and go... In some areas, modernity hasn't completely taken a hold on things. In others, it's like waltzing into a parallel universe Westfield shopping centre department where the sales people stalk you and speak almost no English.
Money, however, talks big... cash, or Visa... the locals know that language. It matters little where you're from as long as you can pay.
Money is the great interpreter between strangers... and seldom lost in translation...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Baggage


A week and a half later, I've finally mustered enough energy and courage to tackle the suitcases. A vestige from the recent overseas jaunt. It was fun filling them with junk but not so much having to unpack them. Didn't have the energy or inclination before... and nobody else volunteered to do it. Typical really... the dreary stuff... automatically designated "Mummy's Job". I hasten to add  however, that I did all the necessary washing the day we arrived home but the clean clothes, the books we took with us, the shopping, gifts, vitamins, antihistamine, and miscellaneous gadgetry like chargers were left to sit undisturbed. A few necessary items to take along on our trip. So saith the gadget addict, who would languish away in despair if she didn't have one or two at hand. Fortunately, as it turned out, I had the sense not to take the laptop with me. After this trip... I've developed an aversion to X-ray machines... a case of security overdose.


Yeah it's a cliche but curiously, suitcases are baggage both in the literal and metaphorical sense. No doubt they say a lot about the owner... even (or especially) when they're lying in the lounge area undisturbed by the hum and rhythm of life. We brought along 3 of varying sizes with us... and they contained items some of which mean little to others but mean the world to us. Because we had children to mind, I didn't want to lumber us with unnecessary weight... 3 flights there and back. From international airports to domestic terminals and vice versa. Carting suitcases, hand luggage to and fro only makes one so much more aware of our dependence on STUFF. From that point of view, we did do the unusually wise thing.

From time to time on this blog, I bray and lament about aging, lack of sleep and how that affects one's parenting. Whatever problems one might have in the ordinary course of life is exacerbated several times over when travelling. Clearly, it's an obvious thing to say but when you have children to think about, apart from yourself, the stress levels increase and that has ramifications for one's physical and mental health.

When the kids turn ratty on you in a public place, you feel the heat of two hundred judgemental eyes in the airport lounge boring in your direction. But there's no where to go or hide.

When you're driving in a car miles away from the basic amenities and you hear a little voice say, "I need to go to the toilet, mummy." You know that nature is your best bet.

The Squabbling Sisters are in conflict at the back of the vehicle you're in with four other people. The dispute is over who should sit where or who's turn it is on the iPod Touch. Glaring doesn't work and your parenting creds are on the line.

You're in the check-in queue and the 3 year old wants to do a runner. Oh yeah... it's all fun and games... but luckily you've got the Bright Bots harness strap to keep her in line.

Your flight's been delayed again... You scramble to find a place to sit... but settle on the cold hard floor in the airport lounge. You pull out the sticker books to keep the kiddies occupied and thank God that you made the necessary preparations for such situations.

The baggage that we carry in ourselves is not so easy to jettison... habits, sleep issues and parenting styles. But at the end of the day, adaptability is the name of the game.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Surviving Diarrhoea

It's been a tricky few days. Diarrhoea is not much fun at the best of times but trying to keep a strong-willed 3 year old on an electrolyte diet is an uphill battle guaranteed to fray nerves. She's a determined creature, that one. If she wants food, she's pretty determined to get food... by hook or by crook... unfortunately.

We have a gate fortifying the kitchen, put there almost two years ago for her benefit. However, it's pretty useless. She's worked out that if she applies sufficient brute force with her bare hands (bashing action), sooner or later brute force triumphs over technological ingenuity.

So she gets in, her primeval instincts take over and proceeds to raid the fridge, the cupboard and the benchtop.
It's mortifying and you can't reason with hunger it seems.
You can try but about 2% gets through. And then all the worst of human nature emerges.

Yesterday, I tried giving small amounts of bland stuff and the result was too much like toilet training for my liking. I ended up doing lots of cleaning.
Took her to the doctor's to get her checked out and was told that she had to go back on the electrolytes and flat lemonade for another 12-24 hours.
It's a bitter cure but it worked. She hated the Pedialyte but didn't mind the ice block version (another brand), Absurdly expensive... but it did appease the hunger pangs now and again.
Not before a lot of whining, spitting, screaming and tears.

At around one I offered her the first SAO biscuit. Held my breath waiting for the ablutionary follow-up but happily none occurred. So I inhaled. At the next hour I offered another and another in each subsequent hour until dinner time.

So this tale has a happy ending like Beauty and the Beast, which I've sat and watched 3 times in the last two days. Sigh, they don't make 'em like they used to.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Home

What a week this has been! Back home from our overseas jaunt... weary and glad to be back on home soil among the comforts of home. I've been telling people that if there was a way to take my pillows everywhere with me, travelling would be much more of a pleasure.
I'd like to blog more about that in the next week but things have been just a little busy around here plus one seems to need a bit of rest and relaxation post travel.
I was going through all the photos from our trip a couple of days ago and came to the conclusion that though between the husband and I, we took over 800 pics, it was at the end of the day, oddly insufficient. Pictures don't and can't convey the breadth and depth of the trip adequately. But it isn't just that... it's impossible to capture every significant moment with so much happening all around you... with children to mind.
,
7 days... a very short time, no doubt but we definitely kept ourselves busy. Or at least we were kept busy. I even found myself in the outpatient unit of a hospital in Central Java, running a temperature of 39.2 degrees celsius.

Travelling overseas with children is never dull or boring... It pays to be prepared for all kinds of situations with food bribes and activity books but more on that later.

The husband and the 3 year old seem to have brought home an incubating stomach bug. It's like toilet training all over again.

Now I remember why we haven't been overseas together as a family since the birth of the 9 year old.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Airport

It's 4 am Singapore time. I can't sleep. So what else is not new.
Normally I toss and turn in the bed. At the forefront of my thoughts are the day's events racing madly through my mind. The heart rate picks up. After tossing and turning some more, I pick up the iPod touch and start reading.

That's no good, however, when you're sharing a room with 3 others. Fearful that the backlight will wak the children, you get up and decide that a walk around the block might do it.
Here at Changi International Airport, a walk round the block means book shops, duty free, confectionery and the smell of coffee eminating from the Starbucks downstairs.
And free internet.
There is something hyperreal about the artificial construct of an airport. It's stop off, a shopping centre and a refuge for weary travellers.
Time is everything at an airport... an observer, an enemy and the arbiter of control. Life is present everywhere... coming and going but transcience is the name of the game.

I browse at the bookstores... the odd title catches my eye...
But a sleepy feeling overwhelms me... pehaps it is time to return to bed.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hairy Situations

Cutting the children's hair is a combination of playing the boardgame "Operation" and trying to stop an electric fan with a broken knob from rotating. Scissors skills aside, what mums really need in DIY salon is patience... tons and tons of patience. Oceans of it.
The 9 year old is jumpy, whingy and ultra sensitive. And then there's that "Have you finished yet, Mum?" at two minute intervals.
The 3 year old is twitchy, curious and in a hurry. And then there's that whiny "I wanna get down!" at 10 second intervals.
So I when I take my time to stand back and appraise the situation, they think it's all over.
If only there was a way to strap 'em down until it's all over.


A blog post I read today called, "In America, Are We Free to Be Lousy Parents?" provoked a few thoughts.

Years ago when I was working at my first real job (not freelance tutoring), a couple of my colleagues was whining about McDonald's and how it was an evil metastasizing influence on children.
That it was all the fault of McDonald's that children were becoming obese because the Big M had the resources to seduce children and weak-minded parents to patronize their restaurants with toys and playgrounds etc etc.

I didn't have children in those days but it struck me as odd even then that segments of the public were blaming McDonald's for the lack of nutrition in their children.


I'm not a fan of McDonald's and I'm not trying to defend them here. But really, is McDonald's ultimately responsible for the lack of nutrition in our children's diets?
Don't parents have a choice? Aren't we responsible any more for the choices we make?



When I was working with adult TESOL students, I used to whip out a video of a debate on obesity. The participants came from a wide cross section of interests. In this chinwag, there were the big wigs from the food industry, a couple of chefs, a well-known nutritionist, members of the general public, a sports health notary, and representatives of the advertising industry. It was a good debate and one that was necessary for reasons beyond obesity.
Quite early on in the show, one working mother put forward the case that contemporary life is pretty hectic and often parents would resort to eating out because they were so exhausted after work. In response to these comments and others, one of the chefs suggested that it didn't take long for anyone to throw together a simple but decent pasta dish and salad.

I have a great deal of sympathy with that mum having been a working mother off and on for 8 years. During that time we would eat out once a week. But it was my choice... to work and to eat out... I had the money to do it. No one put a gun to my head to dine out and my preferred places to frequent was Asian.
In the end, it was my choice to leave the workforce temporarily so that I can spend more time supervising the 9 year old. However, that meant that we had less money but guess what, I've become a better cook. For a while there, I even planned my weekly menu (which I hope to do again when I return from my overseas trip) and put together a shopping list.

But life has its costs and benefits. There is no perfect life, perfect parent or perfect child. It worries me that we're ceding more and more of our parental rights to government every year because there are some parents that don't do the right thing some of the time.

It seems to me too, that we're far too judgemental for our own good.
I was one of those people. However when you have kids you learn very quickly that they're not all cut from the same mould. The 3 year old can be very endearing but when she's bored, she transforms into the child from the Underworld.
Clearly we don't always know why someone is having difficulties with their parenting either. Could be the child has a condition or disability. Could be a health issue... could be the mum is having a bad patch. 
Who knows.
Now, I'm not saying the parents should be free to abuse... but free to make mistakes and learn from them.
But getting governments to regulate what we eat, where we go and how we live our lives will gradually result in the imposition of a one-size-fits-all scenario.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Jesus' All Consuming Passion

Throughout the centuries, Christians have lived and died for the Word of God. In the largely secularized society that some of us live in, it probably sounds quaint or archaic. But because we profess to be believers of Truth, the Word of God are words to live and die by.

If I were to ask the question, why did the Son of God take on human flesh and invade human history 2000 years ago? What would you say?

Would you say that the Son of God came to die for human beings? But why did he do it?
It's this "why" question that I've been mulling over. It's important to get it right, methinks because it helps us shape our perspective on God and the scriptures.

Yesterday I heard something at church about the "why" question that bothered me. It triggered this particular train of thought. It was said on that occasion (something to the effect) that Jesus' all-consuming passion was people... that he loved being with people, demonstrated by the amount of time he spent with the sick, the despised and his followers.

I don't have any doubt that Jesus loved people and came to die for them so that he could bring as many of them as possible into heaven. But all that, it seems to me, is secondary.
Jesus came primarily because he wanted to be obedient to the Father... to carry out the Father's will.

"My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work." (John 4:34, ESV)

To carry out of the Father's will and to glorify him.

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, [2] since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. [3] And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. [4] I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. [5] And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.  (John 17:1-5 ESV)

That it seemed to me was Jesus' all consuming passion. And he proved by going to the cross and dying on it.
"Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done". (Luke 22:42, ESV)

So, I ask myself... if I claim to be a Christ follower, do I truly follow... Am I driven by the same passion for the Father's will as he was?

On every level, it is impossible... but the Christ life is the impossible life. That is where grace comes in and takes a hold of us because we know that without him we can do nothing.

To God be the Glory.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hair

A few months ago, I found some decent hair scissors at my local Priceline and since then I reached new heights in haircutting. You know the saying about a bad workman blaming his tools... well, that doesn't always apply.
I don't deny that I'm a mediocre hairdresser but having the right tools in this instance can make a difference. At least you know the hair gets cut.
Years ago, I bought a haircutting kit. That was during my B.C. days, when I was full of good intentions and not much else. I supposed to cut the husband's hair and save us oodles of moolah but after one semi-disastrous attempt I was bitten and became really shy. It came with a video (last century technology)... which has gone AWOL for over a decade now so I have to rely on memory which is dangerous.   The scissors that came with it was pretty dull... and lame. The only thing it was probably good for was cutting paper or one strand of hair at a time. It was joyless to use and was practically impossible to do anything with. Trimming the fringe with blunt blades was fiddly and frustrating.

I've always been a bit hesitant about cutting the children's hair especially the 9 year old's because she goes to school with mini-people who have a habit of saying what they think and well, with my history it could end up a dog's breakfast. Still, I've been watching our regular hairdresser carefully and last term when we had the plague of the headlice, I decided to take matters into my own hands.
Someone from the King of Knives shop directed me to Priceline... not sure why I didn't think of them sooner. As soon as I procured a pair of sharp scissors, I dove right into domestic hairdressing with a vengence. I followed the shape of the 3 year old's head and cut her hair as short as I could without crossing over to the Sinead O'Connor look. I didn't worry about her being mistaken for a boy because she's mostly in skirts, dresses and pink things. What's more... I even did the whole layering thing WITHOUT using a bowl or clips.

Who knew that haircutting could be a pleasure?!

I cut the 9 year old's fringe and took a couple of centimetres off the back for good measure. Then I sent her to the hairdresser to get it tidied up. School kids can be very insensitive and cruel so I tread carefully here.

Anyway, I cut the 3 year old's hair yesterday and it was like trying to hold down a piece of paper on a windy day. Still it turned out alright. It looked like the previous haircut and the 3 year old offered to sweep up the mess and dump what was into the bin. The newly shingled preschooled seemed highly tickled by the bits of hair sitting in the bin.

Haven't touched the 9 year old's hair yet...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Blink

I did one of those rare things I don't usually get to do in the afternoons... I napped. It was also one of those rare weekends where I didn't have to be somewhere else. I was at home... all day. I did homey stuff... Two loads of washing, watched/listened to political lectures on You Tube, read to the 3 year old and played solitaire mahjong on my iPod.
Almost four hours later, I'm still trying to wake up.






(Picture: Edward Burne-Jones )

Napping is a luxury when your child doesn't nap more than once or twice a week. It hasn't been a great week for us, sleepwise. Coughs, colds, sick child. Still not sure what happened on Thurs night. I tossed and turned, tossed and turned. Opened my eyes at 2 am and then tried some deep breathing relaxation stuff. That didn't work, so I started reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes for a bit instead. I got to the bit about the blue carbuncle, felt sleepy and then finally fell asleep, only to be woken up at 6:30 by the sound of children banging around on the other side of the bedroom door.
Still, I managed to drag myself out of bed to do some cooking in the morning, take the 9 year old to school, come home, tidy up and then take ourselves to playgroup. A couple of friends and their children came over for lunch and then soon it was time to pick 9 year old up from school. All I wanted to do all afternoon was sink into bed and grab 40 winks.
This morning I got up before 5... I forgot to put on the eye mask which I found in one my travel bags before I went to Sydney. It looked kinda bright for 4-whatever-it-was o'clock.
After lunch, I sent the 3 year old off to bed and on this rare occasion, she did sleep. And so, I thought, should I. And I did.
Sleep is a lot like freedom... when you don't have it... you really feel its effects.

After such a terrible bout of respiratory infections this year, I've decided I should go back on the Rhinocort. I was brought up to despise drugs of all stripes/labels by my mother but bless her, she didn't have hayfever and I've had to live with it most of my life. And the Rhinocort has been immensely helpful in keeping a lot of bad stuff at bay in the past. My doctor started prescribing the heavy duty version last year (or was it the year before? I'm hazy on the details.) which really helped with night coughing issues. I didn't think I needed them this year but well... look how that turned out.

My playgroup friend, Glara, reckons we're both getting old and what we really need is exercise. I didn't disagree... She suggested we do a run around our suburb and I gagged. I said I would be amenable to walking first and then build up to jogging at a later stage. I'm so disgracefully unfit that I wouldn't last very long jogging for more than 10 minutes.
Baby steps.... baby steps.
To think I used to be a middle distance runner at school.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Meditating on The Topic of Cancer

Those of you who have followed this blog since its early days know that I lost my mother to heaven through cancer two and half years ago. Although mum's final leg to heaven was relatively painless and peaceful, I would never trivialize the emotional ordeal that sufferers and their families go through.
(One of our lovely MOPS mums has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma and if you're so led, do keep her in your thoughts and prayers, especially as she has a couple of little ones. This family knows Jesus and have firmly put their trust in him.)

But the main reason why I've brought the subject up is because I came across a great post linked to and reprinted by the Jollyblogger. It's about good intentions...  the well-meaning well-wishers of cancer sufferers and the myriad of miracle cancer cures out there. I should say on the outset that both the Jollyblogger and the author of the original post are battling cancer.

When my mother was re-diagnosed with cancer in the brain two years after surgery, the person most at peace with the entire situation was my mother. I think she knew what the outcome would be and was ready see it through. However, because she was a woman much beloved by friends and family, everyone wanted to help. To do something. Anything. Everyone looking on feels utterly helpless in such situations. It's cancer after all. Those unfamiliar with such situations don't really know what to say or do. Some personalities are more of the doing kind so they cope with all facets of life by doing. Others are more the talking kind... they feel the need to fill the awkward silent gaps. Mum was generous and sensitive enough to let them.
I remember the steady stream of cancer cures that I heard about during the six months I witness mum's body gradually deterioriate. And there were many. Eastern, western and the usual faith healing diatribe. Because I did some of the cooking for mum and dad at the time, I became interested in appropriate diets for a person in mum's situation. With the internet at my finger tips, information was only a few clicks and clacks away. And by all there's good in the universe, there's a lot of information out there. So much so that your brain is likely to explode trying to take it all in.

Through this experience and listening to other stories, I'm convinced that there isn't a one-size-fits-all miracle cure. By the very fact that they are "miracle cures" should suggest to us the rarity and uniqueness of such occurrences. I'm the last person  to discourage anyone from eating well because we do want to maintain a decent quality of life but there's still so much about cancer we don't really know. While someone may have found the answer for their situation and written a book about it, it may not be the answer for someone else.

Christianity is at its core a "religion" of grace. As a Christian I believe in the absolute sovereignty of God and that we live and breathe at the approbation of our creator. We are wretched creatures... utterly wretched and so much a slave to our sinfulness. But the beauty of grace is that God seeks sinners and pulls them out of their wretchedness and calls them his own. There's nothing inside of us that merits it or anything that we do that can earn a place in God's kingdom... it's all God's grace. Likewise, there's no guarantee that any of us will escape suffering, pain of any kind but God's grace is sufficient to take us through whatever afflictions will come our way.
I don't know about you, but I find it terrifying... and comforting at the same time. The spectre of cancer lurks in my family's history and it could come to me down the track. But my prayer is that I will be prepared for whatever challenges lie ahead.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

We're Going on a Junk Hunt

I informed the husband today that we are sorely in need of security cameras around the house so that I can monitor the 3 year old's every move while being stationery in one location. She has this dizzying ability to move items around the house more quickly than your local fence so that there's no way of tracking where Barbie's left boot is going to end up.
The most terrifying place at our house is under the 3 year old's bed and if there's a way of hooking up a camera or some kind of alarm in there, it would be a life saver. Something very very loud that is triggered off by touch. I want the duvalackey to blare down her ears every time she dumps tissues, food wrappings or some newly destroyed toy down her makeshift chute. Occasionally, she's been known to squirrel food down there which is quite unnecessary really as she's not backward in pinching food from the kitchen when hit by the hunger pangs.

So I sent her down into the Underworld... to do a clean out. A junk hunt. As expected, she protested (some of that was probably motivated by fear) but realised that mummy did really mean business when I pointed to the rubbish bag I had brought in. And I made the usual threats about vacumming everything in sight. So she commenced work around the edges moving clothes, papers, toys and pencils out of the way before venturing a little further to grapple with tissues, food wrappers and plastic cups.
Funny she thought I needed a running commentary, describing to me every single item she pulled out (and who it belonged to) from the dark place. It must have been her way of breaking the monotony.

I suppose it doesn't take a climate scientist to see that when I tell the children to put their stuff away or tidy their rooms, their little brains compute that as "push it under the bed". I suppose I'm no less culpable... I need to spend more time going on "Junk Hunts" with my girls. Who knows, I might end up writing a bestseller.

And I need more of those long flat roller boxes that go under the bed.

I'm sure there's a Pixar film to be found in there somewhere.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mind Tricks

Ordinarily the 31st of October is just another day in the year for us. Unlike Americans, that date holds little or no significance for most of us living down under. But yesterday we encountered a few trick-or-treaters at our door. Our 9 year old who has been properly trained, told our visitors that "we don't celebrate Hello-Wind" at our place. To be honest I'm more than a little uneasy with the adoption of Hello-Weird in my neck of the woods... not because it's American or Celtic or unAustralian etc etc... Or even because it's a dental nightmare. But because it's a symptom, in my opinion, of two separate social threads intertwining. First of all, it highlights society's superficial but unhealthy flirtation with the occult and secondly, it's part of that 21st century entertainment drive... that pervasive need to entertain and be entertained... We are compelled by forces inside and outside of our homes to find new ways to entertain our children as a matter of course. I'm inclined to see the gradual embrace of Hello-Weird outside of North America as a parenting issue as much as it is the consequence of successful brainwashing marketing worldwide.

In the civilized world, everyone is free to choose how they spend their free time and definitely how they parent their children. However, from time to time I am beset by fears that we are now suffering from so much media saturation that few of us spend time really thinking through these issues, allowing ourselves to be "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine".
Be afraid... very afraid...

(Credit: Top News)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Long Division

Sometimes I have to say, life with children plays out like a comedy. One moment they hate your guts for telling them (for the nth time) to clean up after themselves and the next moment they think you're Hercules because you squished a spider with your house slippers. From "boo hiss Mummy",  it turns into "hooray Mummy, you're our hero.

The 3 year old is... well... to put it nicely... a born contrarian but I've documented this fact from time to time on this blog. But there are moments when she's quite delightful. The other day she had one of her really endearing moments. She was studying an old, dusty wedding photo when the husband and I were 8 kgs lighter or more (in his case). She correctly identified all the major players -- Daddy, Mummy, Nana, Grandad, Grandpa except the one she didn't really know (my mother). And then she declared that she loved us all because we are "her family". For a moment there, it almost sounded like we were all part of an exclusive club.
I am convinced that these sporadic displays of cuteness are well-timed as balm to parental angst and frustration about whether anything we do sinks in.
Actually the girls are surprisingly good natured when you consider that their mother is such a grumpy o'l soul.

It's been a while since I've done any long division. Long division, times tables, algebra... fragments of my childhood that I was happy to leave behind. I was relieved to see the last of mathematics when I finished high school and started my liberal arts education. But when I watch the 9 year old plod through maths at school, all the old nightmares have come back to haunt me.

I was surprised that despite the passage of years, I could still do the whole long division thing. The husband, who did Maths at uni was impressed because, as he says, he can only "do it in my head". I suppose I should take it as a backhanded compliment that I can actually work it out on paper but can't do it mentally.

Long division assumes that one is familiar with the multiplication tables and assumes that you can add, subtract, multiply. In other words, one must know the fundamentals. Otherwise the complicated stuff doesn't make sense.
Parenting is also about getting the fundamentals right, I think. Things like loving your spouse, loving your kids, providing boundaries, teaching the kiddies to take responsibility for one's own actions and accepting the consequences of their own actions. None of us do it perfectly but I think they are the things we keep going back to over and over again.
Life in the modern age can get complicated with a myriad of choices on offer out there. But isn't it interesting that it's the simple things like make good choices and having healthy boundaries that help us steer through the moral relativism that so pervades the big bad world out there.
Just like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Buying Stuff

Most days I am only too aware that I'm losing the battle against materialism. I feel swamped in the concrete jungle of stuff... everyone wants a slice of your money and you feel obliged to give it to them once they tell you why you have to have it. Worst still, my children think that they need to have stuff too... and it's usually the sticky, sweet, bad-for-your-teeth kind of stuff. I lost count of the number of times I said "no" yesterday to the kiddies when we went to the local Asian supermarket in spite of me telling them before we left the car that they were not to ask me to buy treats or snacks or lollies. All in the space of 7 minutes.

I have a bad habit of accumulating stuff that I don't really need and then it just sits around the house collecting dust or grime or gets tossed around by the kiddies. I go through phases... one minute its kitchen stuff, the next its padding the craft collection and the next it's books.

Temptations abound. Having "stuff" readily available at one's finger tips on the internet sure doesn't help much. At least in the old days, you had to physically leave your house to get something but these days, you only need to have a phone line, a router and a computer. Shopping in the comfort of your own home.

I was driving the 9 year old to school today and she mentioned very deliberately that a classmate had been given a Smiggle bag and so I had to buy her (my daughter, that is) one too.
That leap of logic somehow escaped me. Not to mention the demanding tone of voice.
So I pointed to a car on the other side of the roundabout and said, "So does it mean that just because that person has that car over there that I have to have it too?"
The 9 year old fell silent immediately. I'm not sure if she was awestruck by my feeble, off-the-cuff reasoning powers or just spent the rest of the car trip trying to work out what I had just said.
I'm not sure that my attempt to create an equivalance between the Smiggle bag and the car was an appropriate argumentative response, it, nonetheless, had the desired effect.

Miss 9 year old is going off to camp and the checklist is nail-biting stuff. We're heading overseas in a couple of weeks and I'm already dreading the amount of money we'll be spending once we reach our destination.

Sigh... Such a pity money doesn't grow on trees.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I Love MOPS and other Random After Conference Thoughts

 I'm BBBAAAAAAAAACK !!! from the MOPS 2010 Australasian Conference. (A bit of a mouthful when you say it a bit too quickly) It was fantastically well-organized and the building was bursting at the seams with talent. However, (strange person that I am) I enjoy the conference more for how it helps me think about my place in the kingdom of God than how equipped I feel at the end of it all. It isn't that I don't learn anything from such things because I do... always... but when you're swimming in such big crowd teeming with giftedness, you feel your insignificance all the more acutely.

And that is a good thing.
Because I understand all too clearly that the sovereign Lord of the universe in his infinite wisdom has chosen me... a face in a sea of faces, to further his plans in some small corner of his creation. It's humbling... and humbling is good because I am far too conceited for my own good.

I joined my local MOPS group 5 years ago because I thought it was a good idea... MOPS... that is. MOPS is a great idea... a wonderful way to serve women in our community and see some come into a relationship with Christ. I wanted to help... do something for God and my local church but five years on, it seemed like God had other ideas. He wanted to help me grow and enjoy being a mother first before I could engage in the "doing" part of the equation.
Being part of MOPS has taught me to enjoy motherhood... because when you start at rock bottom, even a movement of five centimetres upwards per year is progress. When I arrived home yesterday, the 9 year old gave me a great big squeezy hug and I hugged her back in kind.
"I missed you Mum."
"I missed you too... believe it or not..."

Our culture demans motherhood... The air that we breathe tells women that if you throw yourself into your family, your life is only half full. Sacrifice and other-centredness have become quaint notions. I myself have come to think that happiness is overrated. It's so transient... fleeting... here one day and gone the next. Happiness is relief on a hard road but it isn't the governing principle by which life decisions should be made.

MOPS is a well-spring in this wilderness... but like every good thing, it is only as good as the people in it.

John Piper, a pastor-theologian that I love to listen to and read, has a governing principle that recurrs in all his books and messages. He has been gifted with amazing theological insights and is one of the most passionate Christians I have ever heard preaching the word of God. His favourite thing to say is... "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him."
God wants us to enjoy him because when we do, he is glorified.

To my shame I don't know God as well as Piper... at least not enough to enjoy him on that level. God... not Piper, that is.  The reality is I didn't enjoy motherhood at first because I didn't enjoy God... I meant well and wanted to do the right thing but there was no enjoyment on a spiritual level to draw on to help me with the drudgery of day to day mothering.

The chief end of any endeavour, overtly Christian or not, should be to glorify God because if we don't, it a) becomes a chore... another thing on our to-do list or b) it degenerates into self-importance.

Christians like to bandy around the word "passion" today... and I'm generally okay with its usage as long as we don't mistake enthusiasm for passion and allow the word itself to slip into banality. Passion surely must be an affection that runs deep and so deep that it compels us to move out of our comfort zone or even to die for whatever cause we have placed our hope in. 

One thing's for sure... I ain't there yet.

Piper on Evangelism, Theology and Passion

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Printer Blues

I have two printers. Had. Have. Kinda. Sort of. One's in the morgue... I suspect the husband's given up trying to resuscitate the thing. One's in the hospital awaiting surgery and replacement parts. My lovely colour printer only over a year old... that I use for all kinds of cool church and children's stuff was tortured to death by the 3 year old. She fed the belly of the beast with chalk thinking she was doing something really stupendous. Probably thought it was a slot machine expecting something to tumble out on the other end as a reward. She hasn't seen Star Wars so she doesn't know anything about Jabba the Hutt or that dune beastie that he fed prisoners to.

I feel paralyzed by my printer-less state. Things happen kinda slowly around here... but I needed to get the school book pack back with the receipt of the bank transfer... that needed to be printed out. Yeesh... in the end I rang the husband and got him to do it. The printer people at my local shopping center are going to get a new drum for the Lexmark which apparently has been the source of my woes. Here am I thinking that it was just the toner.

I'm suffering from a kind of post-winter cold weather ennui... Two weeks down with a cough and I've been stricken by a kind of lethargy. The thing about children is that you can't mess around when they're around. They have a way of keeping you accountable and face up to life even when you'd rather stay in bed some days.

I woke up at 4:30 last night thinking I had missed my flight to Sydney... It was like the bad old days when I was a schoolgirl in Singapore having bad dreams about missing the school bus (which did happen from time to time during morning school). I've been a nervous wreck the past week trying to get all kinds of things done before taking off for the weekend. I gotta say that I'm impressed with Virgin... they sent me a reminder and asked me to check in online. Probably not a bad thing since I have to leave home at the crack of dawn.

I went to the Terry White's to get ear plugs and also stumbled onto these things called "Ear Planes", which are supposed to relieve inflight ear discomfort. The last time I was on a plane in descent, I thought my ears were going to implode and bleed...

Anyhow... I've got to get myself to bed... early start tomorrow.

9 Passport Tips from A Frustrated Mummy

I had no idea that making passports could be such a laborious process... but it doesn't have to be for you...

Disclaimer: This tip sheet was written from the point of view of a beleaguered mum and does not claim to be an exhaustive list of what maybe required of individuals. For more information seek advice from your local passport issuing Australia Post or the Passport Office.

Tip 1: The Passport People are very, very nitpicky...  Understandably so... perhaps but still irritating. Don't shoot the messengers ie. don't get stroppy with Australia Post... they're just the workhorses. But we live in a post 9/11 era, paranoia is at its peak, everything's oh so hi-tech and all information given has to be just so.

Tip 2: If the good people at Australia Post offer you a form, ask for another. Better still get 3. Just in case you make mistakes.You can also download them from the interweb.

Tip 3: Don't get your photos done at K-Mart or Ted's Cameras. There's a good chance they'll get knock back. Apparently the quality of the prints don't cut it. Good news is that Australia Post provides a photo service at around $15 for 8 photos.

Tip 4: Get your guarantor to fill in both forms and sign them. Keep all your writing within the little boxes. Neatness is the key. Don't get creative. And use a black pen.

Tip 5: Get those passports applications in at least 2 months before you travel. My local Australia Post tells me that they do 30 applications a day. Quite often there are problems and applications get sent back.

Tip 6: Make an appointment with your local Australia Post before going in. You'll have to ring a 13 number and the CSO will organize something for you ASAP. I'm not sure if it's as bad as booking in an ultrasound but it's pretty close.

Tip 7: Bring in all the documents listed and a couple of extras to the interview I thought my passport would suffice but apparently I had to have some documentation that I was a citizen before No:2 was born. Fortunately I had my citizenship certificate with me.

Tip 8: Photocopy completed form

Tip 9: If you're not sure about anything, ask ring the 13 number on the form. It's better than doing a continuous back and forth with your Australia Post CSO.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Eye Free Day

We survived yet another Pupil Free Day. It wasn't too bad and the weather was back to being fantastic. The husband did his usual spiel of bad puns and irritating male witticisms regarding students, eyes and blindness... well, after four years, it wouldn't be the same if he didn't.

My 7 year old niece has discovered Skype with the zeal of the newbie. Just so I can retain full ownership rights of the laptop, I've made me unavailable on Skype for the rest of the day. I got kicked off a couple of times today because she and the 9 year old were yabbering about chickens, knock knock jokes and other earthshattering discoveries. I don't think the microphone on this laptop works that well. It seems like everyone has to get up close and personal and holler.
Went to the library first thing in the morning. As usual we browsed the DVD racks and found some goodies... For me, a couple of Saint DVDs and one of the most recent Miss Marple. The kids found a couple of animated features... Ariel the Mermaid and the 101 Dalmatians. The 9 year old is on an Asterix fix at the moment. It's Asterix at the council library and Asterix at the school library. Asterix and Tin Tin... and the Wimpy Kid series.

Tried a new gingerbread man recipe this afternoon and boy, did these babies grow. Too much bicarb most likely. Fortunately, it didn't grow big enough to jump out of the oven and take off at full speed waxing repetitive taunts. That, however, would be the least of my problems. After reading Jasper Fforde's The Fourth Bear, I've become a little paranoid about serial killing Gingerbread Men.
The 3 year old desperately wanted to help... did she ever... Her little hands were in the flour, the bicarb, on the oven knobs, kitchen scale... trays. And when I put the brown sugar away, she threw a fit worthy of Katherine the Shrew. Finally I let her play with the cookie cutters and the dough... with much wariness. That girl is like a government assassin... anything can turn into a weapon in her hands.
The odd thing was she actually had a nap despite earlier protests that she wasn't tired. These days I just send her to her room and hope for the best.

Did 3 loads of washing today. The weather was too good to pass up the opportunity. Just in case we have rain the rest of the week. Tomorrow looks to be good so I may do another 2 loads. I can't see much washing done while I'm away.

I'm going to the Australasia MOPS conference this weekend. I am looking forward to have some childfree time but I'm a bit worried about the children. Will they survive their father's cooking?
OK... I'm being a tad facetious... they'll be fine and the husband isn't too bad if he knows what he's doing.

Anyway, I'm tired and I need a shower. More of the usual tomorrow, I expect.

Justin Who? The Lost Art of Singing Hymns

It's probably a sign of impending old age setting in that I don't care much for contemporary pop music. Much of it I find dull, bland and soulless. And after a while your eyes start to bleed from all the latest perky young things doing their best to be more risque than their rivals. I realise that it's fashionable to make fun of the eighties but at least many of those who dominated the music scene at the time were actually talented. Even the 80s icon Michael Jackson had talent although I think he is rather overrated by his worshippers. So you can probably imagine how much I wanted to roll my eyes when the 9 year old told me a couple of weeks ago that she was officially into Justin Bieber and starts regurgitating... "Baby, baby..." in low tones.

Instead I remarked sagely that I hoped that she would learn to love other kinds of music.

I'd never even heard of Justin Bieber until about six months ago. And while I don't object to Justin Bieber's so-called squeaky clean image, I object to the commercialism driving his popularity that masquerades as musical talent. The girls think he's something of a heartthrob and I kind of get that. I went through a similar phase in my adolescence with a whole host of vocalists and bands. But one of the benefits of having piano lessons as a child is that you learn to appreciate all kinds of music, especially western classical music.


Throughout the years I've come to embrace the great truth that there is music and there is Music. In my twenties I took the egalitarian view of music. That somehow Michael Jackson, the musician, exists on the same plain as Beethoven. I was indoctrinted with the crazy tired post-modern mantra that there's no "better" just "different".
Is it possible to say with a straight face that Mozart is not better but just different from Justin Bieber? I am seriously doubtful that anyone in their right mind can make that argument without torturing the English language or any language for that better.

I don't doubt that there's a place for the Justin Biebers of this world and I suppose it may help some teenage girls get through the inevitable growing angst. Maybe it's just a phase that they go through and outgrow at some point in their lives. But it doesn't mean we have to be satisfied with mediocrity.

I've been reading a rather provocative book called Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns. Personally I can't see why it's provocative as the author makes a number of valid points. More than anything, it's helped me understand why kids today have trouble singing hymns. In just two generations, hymn singing has been relegated to the province of the geriatric, which is odd considering that I grew up singing hymns as a child and a mini-adult. I am not an Anglican like T. David Gordon so we're not of one mind as to what constitutes appropriate church music or how services should be conducted. But I have to agree that children today are so attached to their iPods, CD players, MP3 players that they don't really listen to or have to listen to anything outside of what they have on their iPod playlists.


When you and I were growing up we were exposed to a whole range of musical genres. In my case, I had piano lessons up to Grade 3 and was exposed to classical music by default. There were at least four people in the household I grew up in who played classical piano. My aunt, who lived with us loved Air Supply, Simon and Garfunkel and Johnny English. In the school bus I was exposed to the Bee Gees, Abba, and later Michael Jackson, Madonna, Aha, Wham, Duran Duran, Bananarama and other misc Stock, Aiken and Waterman pop hits. During our school music sessions, we sang folk songs from around the world and songs from musicals like The Sound of Music. School chapel sessions saw us singing "To God Be the Glory" and "What a Friend We Have in Jesus". My father liked his classical records, his Mantovani stuff, and his gospel music. I grew up watching Hollywood musicals which I love to this day. As I got older, I discovered Nat King Cole, Sinatra, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter. On Sundays, I learnt to sing "Jesus Love Me", "Amazing Grace" and "He Lives".
With my particular upbringing, I learn to listen to a wide range of musical genres and so for me to switch from 18th century music to 80s pop music was fairly seamless as I was doing it as a matter of course. Although I will confess that I don't think of heavy metal as music.

The problem with the church is that we have allowed ourselves to buy into the notion that hymns are boring or outdated. We exacerbate the problem by having different types of services catering to different age groups and different "tastes". The good hymns are never outdated but what has changed is our general music literacy. Our children suffer from a lack of exposure to a wide variety of musical genres from a young age. If all that our children listen to are the Justin Biebers, Lady Gagas and what's number 1 on the billboard charts, that is all that they are going to know.

So why should we care about hymns?
I am not one of those who think that just because some thing is over a hundred years old that it is necessarily better. However, there are compelling reasons why certain hymns have stood the test of time. Those that have are better. Hymns are part of our Christian tradition... written by men and women who understood the great truths of the Christian faith and have written songs to celebrate them.
I think we lose something when we ignore some of these great songs of faith. Hymns aren't just about the music but words also. When we sing in church we are not singing to ourselves or even to each other, we are singing to God. Shouldn't we be singing the best words, the most accurate truths to the God of all creation?
I don't have a wholesale dislike of contemporary worship songs in fact, there are a number I'm particularly fond of. Nonetheless I don't want to sing them exclusively to the detriment of other good stuff.

If children can be trained to memorize Bible verses, they can definitely to be trained to sing hymns.
Starting in the home.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

It's So Elementary... dear Mummy


A couple of weeks ago, I found a whole heap of Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes at our local library. I was tempted to take them all out but my better side kicked in, so I settled for 2. Now, if you've ever seen the series, you'll know that Jeremy Brett is a superb Sherlock Holmes. (It's an amazing performance and Brett pays incredible attention to Holmes' eccentricities -- hard to believe that he's the cheesy Freddy Eynsford-Hill from My Fair Lady) Many people smarter than myself think he's the best incarnation. I don't disagree but I'm exceedingly fond of Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes too even if those films were products of the Hollywood machine. Anyway, I let the 9 year old watch a couple of episodes (the one where Holmes and Moriarty battle it out at Reichenbach Falls and another where he nabs Col Moran) with me that time and today she informed me that she's become "very interested" in Sherlock Holmes and if it alright for her to watch some more.

I'm now racking my brains as to whether I should let her watch any more. Victorian/Edwardian England was pretty bleak and there's a bit of violence. But egad...  a quick search of the web and I note from the VideoEzy website that these shows are rated MA 15+ so it's probably a no brainer.

I don't have trouble saying "no"... I've become quite proficient at doing it... But I feel a tad guilty for leading her astray this time.
I am somewhat surprised at the high rating... but some stories in the Doyle canon do have strong adult themes and violence. Frankly, I've seen far more objectionable things in music videos and PG13 films than in these Sherlock Holmes stories.

Methinks it's time to get out the old Enid Blyton adventure series.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Cool Change

Just when you think it's safe to put away the flannel pyjamas... and the jeans... and the winter woollens... Brrrrrrr...
What a windy day... makes me think of that old Bob Dylan song. Went to a birthday party at Rocks Riverside park this morning and got there fairly early. After watching the plastic tablecloths flap around for half an hour, I offered my masking tape services. The 3 year old was in a helpful mood because she got to use a pair of scissors and currently she's in her cutting fetish period. All in all, it was a pretty blustery sort of day.
Rocks is a great place... but it does take me about 30 odd minutes to get to from where I am. Unfortunately that doesn't tempt me to venture out there too frequently. It was a great morning out... I ate exceedingly well, the 3 year played well and enjoyed Brisbane city council funded face painting. I got home, felt sleepy and tucked myself into bed immediately. Had a nice little siesta...

The husband noted a couple of days ago that we haven't seen this much rain since... whenever...  Myself... I think it's almost like living in NZ, which is a beautiful, lush, green place but by golly it doesn't stop raining... for long.
It's terrific that our dams are filling up and overflowing but after four or five days of dark clouds and continuous precipitation, I feel afflicted by cabin fever... a weather-inflicted claustrophobia.

You've probably wondered where I've been. Nowhere... really. Unfortunately. It would've been nice to say that we've been on a cruise to Fiji or even snorkelling at the Whitsundays. But no... just doing the mundane stuff like cleaning. I'm dabbling with fiction again which I used to do a couple of years ago but struggled to find time to do it. I'm also a very obsessive and isolationist writer. Neither of which are good qualities for parenting. A couple of years ago, I also went through an insomniac phase while I was at the peak of my prowess and became exceedingly hard to live with. I was bursting with ideas and would be up till all hours thinking through plot threads and dialogue and all kinds of impractical scenarios.
I'd like to do what Bryce Courtney does and just disappear from civilization for 10 months and do nothing but write during that time... That would be such great fun for my husband... (poor man) and the kids. Probably more so for the kids than for the husband, who might take the opportunity to misbehave with abandon.

Last night we started to sort the children's clothes... partially because we're having a recycle boutique at MOPS next month and partially because the shared wardrobe is busting at the seams with plastic bags. The drawer system we have is really not working because all the 9 year old does is stuff her clothes into the drawer through a permanent one inch gap. To be fair, the drawers in the tallboy are heavy and she's a skinny thing.
My friend Sandy, who has 8 kids, mentioned at MOPS the other day that she uses boxes for her children's clothes so I thought I might try the same thing for the 9 year old. I bought the biggest plastic box I could find in Crazy Clark's and we've transferred all her wearable stuff into it. From the tallboy, I pulled out all her old clothes, worn clothes and still useable clothes and bits of paper wedged in between all of the above. I found several single partnerless socks which are still in relatively good condition.


Some days I think I live with feral cats and dogs who wallow in perpetual messiness. I'll let you into a secret... just wishing that it goes away doesn't make it so. I wished so hard but alas nothing has happened. Annoying, ain't it? This is why I 'm sure Bewitched (tv show not the film) became a mega hit. It's every housewife's fantasy. Just wriggle your nose and everything straightens itself. Who wouldn't want such an ability? Frankly speaking, I'd rather be writing, on the internet, making cards, watching tv and reading a book than cleaning and tidying. I haven't yet dared pray for the stuff to disappear... Even I haven't descended to that level of arrogance yet. There's a reason why Paul admonishes Titus to admonish the older women in the chuch to encourage the young mums to be busy at home.
I don't mind being busy at home... but cleaning up after the kids can get wearisome after a while especially if you feel like you're doing every couple of hours.

I've been kicked off my 'puter... a cousin has just Skyped in so the kids think they can just take over mummy's computer. Sheesh...