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)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

God Talk: While We Were Yet Enemies

I was listening to a compelling interview with Mosab Hassan Yousef when a particular train of thought struck me. Yousef, the son of a Hamas leader,  converted to Christianity and then embarked on a dangerous course to became a double agent for Israel's equivalent of the FBI.  During that time he was determined to see many lives saved.  When Yousef read the New Testament for the first time, the words "Love your enemies..." left a powerful and live-changing impression on him.

How can we love our enemies... how can we pray for those who hate us? How can we like someone who is determined to make our life miserable?
How can we override our natural impulse to retaliate?

The truth is... we can't...
The standards of God are high and holy
Not without an outside influence... not without interference from the Son of God and the internal workings of his Spirit.

He has set the example... "Forgive them father, for they know not what they do..."
"While we were yet sinners... Christ died for us..."
"For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life."

But unless we understand that we were God's enemies, we will never see why grace is so amazing.
And unless we grasp that he has forgiven us of a debt so great that it took his sinless Son to pay... we can never love our enemies.

He has done it all...
So that we can live life to the full... A life which includes loving those who hate us... and for us to love the loveless... one at a time.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Footprints Magazine Blog Tour

Although I'm relatively new to the whole mummy blogging scene, I've become aquainted with a number of wonderful people through this blog via connect2mums. One of whom is Janet Camilleri, who is the editor of Footprints, an Australian magazine devoted to issues of interest to Christian women. Footprints recently celebrated it's 50th issue, which I believe is the inspiration for this blog tour.

If Footprints is something that interests you, you can request a free trial issue by sending your name and address to editor@footprintsaustralia.com. 

For my leg of the blog tour, I gave Janet the third degree (sort of), and asked her how Footprints has become a means for her to influence the Christianity community and beyond.

So who is Janet Camilleri? Distill her down to her essence...

I am a child of God; wife to Lawrence for over 20 years; mum to a 16 year
old boy, and a 13 year old girl; writer; Footprints editor; office worker;
sister; friend; church member ... I wear a lot of hats! I am a work in
progress :-)

So what do you do for fun?
Work on Footprints of course! LOL. Seriously though – I love spending
quality time with my husband, chatting over a cup of tea; or relaxing with
a good movie or decorating show on TV. I like to get outside and shoot a
few hoops with the kids; play with my pet cockatiel, and cuddle my cat
(but not at the same time, of course)! In my “spare” time I enjoy putting
together 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles and losing myself in a good book. Oh,
and I love catching up with friends for coffee.

What do you think is the single most important issue for the Australian Christian woman? How does Footprints address that?

It’s hard to narrow it down to one single most important issue. I know
that loneliness, depression, infertility and busy-ness are commonplace;
but probably the biggest issue for Aussie Christian women today is
BALANCE. We all have heaps of balls to juggle – work, family, marriage,
ministry, church, fun, housework, maybe studies or community involvement.
What we seek to do is help Aussie women find creative ways to manage their
lives, to look at things in a different light, to open their eyes to the
bigger picture, to help them with their struggles, and remind them they
are NOT alone. But most of all, we aim to help them find and enjoy a
personal relationship with our Father God because ultimately, He is the
only one who can bring true balance to our lives!

How did your journey with Footprints begin? Where do you see it going?

Would you believe I started my first “magazine” when I was 13 years old?
So I guess you could say it was in my blood! “Footprints” was first
conceived at a women’s camp in September 1997. My friend Jo and I were
lamenting the lack of any Australian women’s publications that were
positive, uplifting, and relevant to our lives as women of faith (there
were some around, I just didn’t know about them at the time). I’ve always
loved magazines and I had reached a point in my spiritual journey where I
was just so over the materialism, celebrities, new age, and casual
attitude to sex found in most of the glossies. The idea took firm hold and
barely three months later, the first issue of “Footprints” was born!

It was nothing flash, but we had to start somewhere! As to the future –
I’d love to see it become a glossy, full colour publication, available in
newsagents and bookshops across Australia. Maybe I could even give up my
day job and work on “Footprints” full time!

What factors do you credit for Footprints's success?

Footprints” hasn’t been an overnight success – we’ve been publishing
quarterly for over 12 years now. The longer we have been around, the more
credibility we have achieved in the eyes of others. In our early days many
people and churches did not take us seriously – we were just a “bunch of
housewives” with some hare-brained scheme to publish a Christian magazine.
We just keep doing our best – our God deserves nothing less! – and truly,
it is up to God what He then does with it.

You keep mentioning the royal “we” – who are you referring to?

When I first shared my vision for a Christian women’s magazine, I was
blessed to find several friends who immediately pledged their support –
and so we became the “Footprints Team”. Over the years, the Lord has
brought new people into the Team with various giftings and backgrounds –
today we are blessed to have writers, a psychologist, a counsellor, an
accountant, a web editor and others in our midst. And each one has caught
the vision of “Footprints” and does what she can to support the vision,
whether that be promoting the magazine, writing articles, speaking at
church ladies’ groups, uplifting our ministry in prayer, taking minutes,
or hosting the group for meetings. I couldn’t have done it without them
and I love the way God has brought us together – today we are not just a
“Team”, we have made some awesome friendships as well!

Can Footprints be a force for good outside the Christian community?
Definitely! We've heard from several non-believers over the year who just
enjoy having something inspirational and "home-grown" to read. Others have
even revealed that it has brought them closer to God, like this lady:

"I am not a religious person but if I keep reading Footprints, you might
convert me!”

Many of the articles in Footprints offer practical advice and ideas that
can be taken on board by anybody, not just Christians.

Do you feel that the new media has been helpful in promoting Footprints or hindering its development?

Some say that print magazines are on the way out and everything will be
digital before long - I think print mags will be here for a while yet. And
when and if digital is the way to go, I am sure we will adapt. For now
though, new media has been absolutely FANTASTIC for spreading the word
about Footprints - we have a blog, Facebook page, website, and free
monthly ezine. The great thing is these are all (mostly) free, available
24/7, and a way of getting our name and magazine in front of people on a
regular basis.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Book Review: Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child

If you have limited funds and you can only afford to buy one or two parentings book this year, this is the one to get.
While I loved The Difficult Child and found it very helpful in identifying the underlying issues for me, Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child is a fantastic follow on in that it provides a wide range of examples, scenarios and solutions. The strategies are given in a clear, concise manner. It's the most practical book I have read on the topic and to its great credit, the book has the feel of a workshop rather than a pop psychology textbook.
The book is broken into 11 chapters:

1. Understanding Your Strong-Willed Child
2. How Strong-Willed Children Learn Your Rules
3. How Parents Teach Their Rules
4. Are You Firm or Soft?
5. The Family Dance
6. How to Be Clear with Your Words
7. Stopping Power Struggles Before They Begin
8. How to Be Clear with Your Actions
9. Motivating Your Strong-Willed Child
10. Teaching Skills: Showing Them Works Best
11. Change: Can It Happen Fast Enough?

There are several things about the book I really liked. Apart from its overall readability, the author gets to the point almost immediately and lays it out simply. He identifies problematic parenting styles (autocratic, permissiveness or mixed) which I think most of us can instinctively relate to. We know we've been there and done that. Also, he insists that parents give their children clear instructions that are age appropriate. How many times have we given ambiguous instructions only to throw a fit at the kids for not following through. I also appreciate his observation that strong-willed children are compulsive researchers... that all their infringement and pushing of boundaries is their way of doing research on where the boundaries are and what they can get away with. These kinds of children, who have to learn the hard way, need to be certain that what mum and dad say is what they really believe.
My favourite chapter is the one on "The Family Dance" which is a humorous metaphor for the vicious cycle of drama that takes place routinely when parents are trying to get their uncooperative children to do habitual things (eg. getting ready for school in the mornings). When parents are not equipped with the right strategies they lapse into old habits of dealing with old problems and the usual battles ensue. MacKenzie encourages his families to sit down and map out these "dances" in detail and analyze specific behaviours of children as they correlate to the actions of their parents.

For all good things to work and effect change, parents are encouraged to persist at it... not just for a week or a month but maybe for weeks and months. But they are worth doing because not only would life be easier for the entire family but parents will be teaching their children some worthwhile skills of self-discipline and problem-solving.

I'm not sure if you can find this at your local library but it's probably the kind of book you should have a copy on hand at various times for handy reference.

Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child appears to be 1 of a series of 3 books along similar lines. It is available from The Book Depository for $16.17 AUD.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mealtime Musings: Friday Homegroup Dinner

I am an avid consumer of food... not as insatiable as I once was but still adventurous enough to try everything once. Well, I don't mind admitting I'm a little greedy where food is concerned although with age, I don't have the same capacity to be greedy as I did when I was 28.
Hey, I like food... Can you blame me? I was born in Singapore.

But more importantly, I adore my church and I love being with other Christians. And if there's one thing we do really well at our church is that we love to potluck. Or potbless...

One of the benefits of being part of an international church is partaking in the sumptious cuisine that our members cook up when we get together. It certainly gives a different dimension to "sweet fellowship". People have been known to attend churches for all kinds of extra-biblical reasons... why not food? Actually we have had many students come and go in our congregation and food is huge drawcard for many of them to stick around... We don't mind because over time some of them may even come to love Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

Christians coming together and sharing in food is a very biblical idea. The early Christians, we are told, often got together after listening to the Apostles' teaching and prayer for food. There's something wonderfully spiritual about believers serving one another with food.

It is no accident, therefore that food is often used as a metaphor for God's Word.

I can't claim credit for all these dishes... would be nice... but even uninterrupted, it would most likely take me two days (at least) of preparation. A feast fit for a king.

The only thing I can take credit for... a pseudo Thai curry.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Special Announcement

I am very excited to announce that this blog has been picked to be part of a blog tour with Footprints magazine editor, Janet Camilleri.
I will be publishing the interview next Tuesday, 29 June. It's an immense honour for me to be featured.

If Footprints hasn't been under your radar previously, this is a good opportunity for you to aquaint yourself with the publication and the team's desire to encourage Christian women in Australia. In my interview, Janet talks about herself and her vision for Footprints. Don't forget to log in.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mealtime Musings: Thai Puffs

This is a goodie... really... Granted the picture isn't the greatest with or without flash, it doesn't follow that it is similarly mediocre in flavour. The beauty about living in our day and age is that puff pastry is so readily available that even a school-aged child can make put this together.
A more-ish snack for any season, it can also be as spicy as you want it to be.

Preparation time: 15 mins
Total cooking time: 20 minutes
Makes 36

2 tablespoons oil
4 spring oinions, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
250g pork or chicken mince
1 tablespoon Thai flavour base (see Note)
1 cup mashed potato
4 sheets ready-rolled frozen puff pastry, thawed
oil for frying

1. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the spring onions, onion and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the onion is tender. Add the mince and brown well for 4-5 minutes, breaking up with spoon as it cooks. Stir in the flavour base and mased potato and stir for 1 minute. Remove from heat and cool.
2. Cut each sheet of pastry into 9 even squares. Place teaspoonful of the mixture in the centre of each piece of pastry. Fold the pastry over to form a triangle. Seal well by pressing the edges with a fork.
3. Heat 2-3 cm oil in a large frying pan; add the pastries, in batches and fry for 2 minutes each side until golden and puffy. Drain well on paper towels. good with sweet chilli sauce.

Note: If Thai flavour base is unavailable, add chopped lemon grass, coriander, chilli and a dash of fish sauce to the filling instead.

Celebrities Behaving Badly

The older I get the more I despair that pop celebrities rely less on their singing ability and more on their ability to show off skin. Apparently it's called "embracing your sexuality" and a rite of passage in the entertainment business. Singing ability which used to be a requirement in achieving success in the music industry is now secondary to flaunting one's physical assets. No doubt I could be accused of being a tad envious... I've had 2 babies and the cellulite around the thighs aren't anything to sing about... But sing I will... in the shower or at church or in the car... of love and many other splendoured things. At least while I can still tell the difference between music and the other stuff.

Tell me something... is this something that people tend to say when they see 40 in the horizon? Or is it just me?

It's no accident that when communities believed in the transcendent... in a Creator God, we were gifted with music that touched the soul... we were given Bach, Handel, Mozart and even Beethoven, who was more of a pantheist. Even when others believed less in God and more in love, we still had some semblance of music in the 20th century. In our post-Christian, post-modern age, when everything is relative, what we get is Lady Gaga, a 21st century gadfly.

I can't see that Lady Gaga cares that much about music at least not as much as the power it brings. Her public stunts, her sacrilegious music videos and garrish costumes say it's all about Lady Gaga or what it is that persona represents.

Last week, Lady Gaga went to watch a baseball game and brazenly flouted all conventional dress sense and her natural assets. The last time I saw a woman show her underwear in a public place was for breastfeeding purposes. But Lady Gaga knows the fame game and plays it up for whatever it's worth.

Have you figured out that I'm not a fan?

In a sense, this isn't really about Lady Gaga. She's a symptom of a bigger problem. The impulse to shock, to disparage Judeo-Christian values is nothing new but what is "new" is the extent to the media pushes the boundaries on their behest. Celebs and movie stars behaving badly is obviously nothing new but giving such widespread coverage to the outrageous antics is in my opinion giving tacit approval to such behaviour. The media may claim to be amoral, non-judgemental or neutral but by giving overt attention to those who trade on notoriety is to elevate their position in society. Scandals used to be something scandalous... explosive secrets to be hidden. These days scandals are paraded and some thrive on their coat tails.

I am a minor conspiracy theorist in that I believe that there are various conflation of interests in the wider culture. There's a kind of mutual back scratching... celebs crave publicity, the media provide the means and if it means selling more magazines or newspapers the lap up the bad behaviour. Large portions of the public are avid consumers of gossip, relying on the celebs and the media to provide an escape from their humdrum lives.

Why do I bother with such things? Well, I am a mother of girls so it is guaranteed that I will be paranoid about what the world teaches them about their bodies. I want them to be like the man who built his house on the rock... to have strong, not just traditional values but biblical values that they can stand on in tough times.
Someone once said to me that if girls have enough self-esteem, they will be less likely to fall prey to the consumerist impulse around us. I'm not convinced of that. I don't believe that bolstering self-esteem is the answer. Look at Lady Gaga, for example, she has plenty of self-esteem... and look at what she gets up to.

What our girls need is to look at who they are in Christ... they need to know that the Son of God came to earth to die for them and they can experience forgiveness through the work of the cross. They need to know that the love of Jesus is so powerful that it transforms lives and has the potential to influence society. What they need is heavenly wisdom... not wordly-wise thinking.

What they need is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Defrosting the Freezer

A couple of years ago, I had the bright idea of getting a bar freezer for storing bulk buys and leftovers. The fridge we bought though adequate was pathetically small but we didn't have much choice because the people who built this house  didn't leave a lot of room for a real family sized fridge. So we thought that if we got ourselves a freezer of some description, we could take advantage of hard-to-ignore good deals and have a place to stash them. I didn't want a chest freezer... my parents had one of those in the old house and it was horrible to defrost and clean. And with our limited budget we thought a cute little bar freezer with drawers would be adequate for our needs.

After doing a bit of looking around we finally got ourselves one. It was mostly fine and dandy for a while (not enough space) until it hit us one day that the thing wasn't exactly frost free. With children digging in and out of it for ice blocks, it started to frost up pretty quick. The sensible housewifely thing to do would have been to  nip it in the bud. Human nature being what it is, it's just so much easier to watch the thing frost up one icicle at a time than to defrost the plates and the coils and all the difficult-to-get-to corners. Besides, the freezer almost always seemed inconveniently full of stuff. And well, I'm lazy too. Such a tedious thing to have to do. Out of sight, out of mind. There are times when it pays to be blind. (I suppose I could have offered to pay the 9 year old $1 to do it before it had turned 3 inches thick) But as it is the case with guests that overstay their welcome all things that need to be cleaned out, they don't go away happily on their own. But as it got harder and harder to yank those drawers in and out, I was finally imbued with a rare burst of diligence and started to chip away at all the protruding bits of ice in protest.

My own little piece of Antarctica... Why pay money to go there when you can experience it in your own home?

The crazy 3 year old that lives in my house thought it was the most exciting example of cause and effect she had ever seen and hooted with delight each time a piece of ice came tumbling down. Applying her keen powers of observation, she transformed into an ice-drinking back seat driver. "Hey, mum... there's one there. Over there, mum. There's more, mum." Her motives were all too clear. Stretching her little hand out for melting ice and then slurping it down for good measure.
At least I knew where she was while I had my back turned.

My own ice cave scene right out of Vertical Limit

A good backup plan, by the way, just in case we run out of water

Not as thick as some

"I'm free at last... Thank God Almighty I'm free at last!"

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mealtime Musings: Lemon Slice

Before digging around for this slice recipe for MOPS, I had never made any kind of sweet slice before mainly because I don't have a sweet tooth and I don't like having sweet things around the house. Despite my deep and abiding affection for many things edible, I haven't been much of baker until last year when I donned the whole stay-at-home cap and then decided to experiment with a few things. It's horrifying to me how expensive this stuff is to buy even in the supermarket. I'm putting this up because a few friends have asked me for it.

I can't take any credit for inventing this recipe but I have been told by a number of people that it's good. It's entirely possible they were merely prevaricating to bolster my already fragile ego but over the years I have learned to listen for the ring of sincerity . And when people move to Stage 2 and ask for the recipe, it does remove all doubt instantly. For whatever it's worth, the husband and the 9 year old likes it a lot. While this recipe calls for a certain amount of lemon juice, it does contain quite a bit sugar.
(Credit: Taste.com.au)

250g  unsalted butter, softened
85g    icing sugar
2 1/2 cups (375g) plain flour, sifted
4  lemons
4  eggs
400g  caster sugar
1 tsp  baking powder

 1. Grease and line base of 4cm-deep, 30cm x 20 cm slice pan
 2. Place the butter and icing sugar in a food processor and process until well combined. Add 2 cups (300g) of the flour and process until the mixture comes together in a ball.  Press into the base of the prepared pan and chill for 15 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees celsius.
4. Place pan in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, then set aside to cool while you prepare the topping. Finely grate rind from 2 of the lemons, then juice all 4 (you will need about 90ml of juice)
5. Whisk together eggs and caster sugar in a large bowl until well-combined. Add remaining flour, and the baking powder, rind and juice. Whisk gently to combine. Pour mixture over cooled base and return to overn for a further 30 minutes or until topping is set and tinged golden. Cool in the pan, then cut into slices.
6. Dust with extra icing sugar to serve.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Everything I Know About Cleopatra I Learned From...

Everything I first found out about Cleopatra, I learned from reading Asterix and Cleopatra.
Well, I had to start somewhere...
It's the only Asterix story that I remember with any great affection. Off-hand, I can't say why. Perhaps it's the mystique of Cleo. Afterall, a powerful female figure of history is a rare thing. But it was very funny too especially the running gag about her nose.
But even as a naive schoolgirl with a voracious appeitite for reading, I maintained a healthy degree of skepticism about the content that I was being regaled with. Recently I was told by some extremely reliable architect friends that the illustrators behind the Asterix series have done impeccable research and produced some fairly accurate depictions of historical landmarks. As trustworthy as my friends are, I couldn't help feeling a general twinge of skepticism about any piece of fiction being a completely reliable source of information. When twaddle like The Da Vinci Code can become bestsellers, it doesn't really inspire confidence to a nitpicker like myself that writers of fiction will feel obligated to do proper research. No matter what people say about books of fiction being only fiction, there's a part of them that is hardwired to believe that anything in print must have some kind of foundation, no matter how feeble.

Remember that monster of a movie, Cleopatra, (that almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox) starring Liz Taylor and sometimes husband, Richard Burton? I have a hazy memory of it. I tried watching it once but perhaps due to my youthful wilfulness, I thought it was rather dull and gave up after twenty minutes.
Well apparently Hollywood is feeling rather brave (why I'm not sure because it's certainly not reaping great results at the box office) and wants to have another shot at it. Oh yeah... and the rumour is that Angelina Jolie is the frontrunner to play the famous queen of Egypt.

It's a no brainer why... Jolie is a big name, well-known for playing tough icy women and apparently men find all of her nice to look at. A good business decision, whatever else one might think of Jolie as a person or an actor.

But there are detractors... as there usually are with these things... because, according to these special interest groups, Angelina is not quite darkly complected enough to play Cleo. Because... Cleopatra was a queen of Egypt and Egypt is in Africa and according to this logic, all Africans are of dark complexion.

Now, I was quite aware that the standard of journalism in free societies has deteriorated over the years to an all-time low of late but it amused me that the CNN article that I referenced earlier garnered 1 693 responses and most of them (I haven't read all of them. I think I stopped at five hundred and something.) had better knowledge of history than the sites that CNN linked to. According to the Wikipedia,

Cleopatra VII Philopator (in Greek, Κλεοπάτρα Φιλοπάτωρ; (Late 69 BC[1] – August 12, 30 BC) was the last person to rule Egypt as an Egyptian pharaoh – after she died, Egypt became a Roman province.
She was a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Ancient Egypt. Cleopatra originally ruled jointly with her father Ptolemy XII Auletes and later with her brothers, Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV, whom she also married, but eventually she became sole ruler. As pharaoh, she consummated a liaison with Gaius Julius Caesar that solidified her grip on the throne. She later elevated her son with Caesar, Caesarion, to co-ruler in name. [...]
Though Cleopatra bore the ancient Egyptian title of pharaoh, the Ptolemaic dynasty was Hellenistic, having been founded 300 years before by Ptolemy I Soter, a Macedonian Greek general of Alexander the Great.[3][4][5][6] As such, Cleopatra's language was the Greek spoken by the Hellenic aristocracy, though she was reputed to be the first ruler of the dynasty to learn Egyptian. She also adopted common Egyptian beliefs and deities. Her patron goddess was Isis, and thus, during her reign, it was believed that she was the re-incarnation and embodiment of the goddess of wisdom. Her death marked the end of the Ptolemaic Kingdom and Hellenistic period and the beginning of the Roman era in the eastern Mediterranean.

This is why I find affirmative action quite ludicrous... it's a form of racism under a veneer of so-called equal opportunity.

Also, I'm not sure why Hollywood is perceived as a purveyor of High Art. This kind of misguided elitism only leads to the industry becoming politicized and taking itself too seriously. And when that happens, their films became dull, lifeless commodities. Which they have.
In the old days, Hollywood knew what it did best... a production line for escapist fare.
And yet even so, the old studio system gave us all of the best Biblical epics. Wonder why that is?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

School Fete 2010

School fetes are calculated to break the family budget. At least that's the conclusion that I've come to after spending a heap of money on food and rides and pre-loved stuff. Thank God I had the sense to buy an all day pass ride for the 9 year old at the early bird rate. What wasn't so smart, was me NOT buying one for the frisky 3 year old who was ready to jump on everything that moved. Daredevil that she is, she was ready to do a Roy Rogers on a couple of nervous-looking alpacas who were brought in to show off their woollen exteriors. To her 3 year old mind, they looked like horses. I thought they were llamas.

Well, I was exhausted after all that. Nothing seems quite as exhausting as people standing around, nibbling on junk food, watching their children going round and round, up and down...

Could just be me...

The most excitement I had was looking through the pre-loved book tables. But then few things excite me more than looking at books. What was really exciting was finding a copy of one of Enid Blyton's Famous Five books and paying only 50 cents for it. It was pretty tatty but I am of the opinion that the 9 year old needs to read some old school writing. Mostly I bought a stack for our Tuesday Homework Club for the children to pick up and read in their spare time.
You know what I think is really sad about children's books today... so much of it is shameless merchandising: Disney Princesses, Wiggles (I love 'em too but...), Hi 5, Sesame Street etc etc. 'Tis a bit sad if those tables were anything to go by. Surely it can't be that difficult to get kids to read books that aren't based on some tv show or cartoon?

After a few wrestling bouts with the 3 year old after she attepted illegal entry into rides, I decided it was time we took ourselves home. She, of course, had other ideas and was pretty loud about it so we had a look at a few farm animals conveniently located at the entrance/exit. She seemed to enjoy petting them.

But in the end, the spoilsport that I am, I did the parental thing, took charge *ahem* and made her sit in the stroller and wheeled her out of the school gate as quickly as I could. In protest, she whined with great clarity, "Daddy" repeatedly to my great annoyance. Annoyance soon turned into nervousness and embarrassment. As soon as I realised the implications, I was desperately hoping no one was thinking that I was kidnapping my own child.

Tired of the whining, I pulled out the Aussie flag that she was playing with earlier and gave it to her. She grabbed it gleefully, twirling and waving it all around. That plugged the gob for good until we finally arrived home.

The Spectre of Spectator Sport

Another Qld-NSW State of Origin game has come and gone... and I missed it. Actually I was out with a friend watching a movie and she happened to mention that she thought that the second game was on that night. Which explained why the cinema was eerily quiet and our session was so poorly attended.

Spectator sport, to put it gently, doesn't rock my boat. Frankly speaking, I'd rather watch grass grow or the 9 year old nibble on her cereal. Even though I've lived in a sports mad country for years, the bug has managed to elude me. If anything, my interest in anything sporting competitions has waned over the years. Even the Olympics, which I used to enjoy for it's diversity of events has become for me just another date on the calendar. These days, I just can't muster much enthusiasm for this unhealthy brew of scandal and political wheeling and dealing at every level. But the truth is nothing is more dull, in my opinion, than watching someone else throw, kick or hit a ball around and then do a bit of running around on a field. Don't even get me started on car racing which seems to be an exercise in repetitive futility. It's not my intention to denigrate the skill of the participants because there is skill involved but I don't feel particularly obliged to sit and watch for hours on end or stay up for live telecasts. It's yawnsville...

Oddly though, I am immensely fond of sports-oriented flicks like Field of Dreams, For the Love of the Game, Bobby Jones: A Stroke of Genius, The Blind Side, and Sea Biscuit. But it's the story I like... the sport is almost irrelevant.

Once upon a time I did feel vaguely interested in the World Cup and the English Premiere League. That, however, was a very long time ago when I was an impressionable, unthinking schoolgirl and was easily caught up in the fever of the fervent. Peer pressure and all that. Although looking back with greater sagacity, it was most likely the good-looking men in shorts that captured the imagination of my schoolmates. Good-looking men sweating and occasionally shirtless can render even the most sensible of schoolgirls senseless. For good or for ill, soccer is huge internationally and in the island city state I spent the first sixteen years of my life sweltering in, it's a national past time. To this day, I still have vivid memories of  family members huddling in front of the tv and watch Singapore and Malaysia fight to the death, in a symbolic sense. Once in a while, the chorus line will make all the usual noises either in condemnation or adulation. Actually (this being Singapore) one could hear the entire neighbourhood booing, hissing, cheering on cue depending on which side of the causeway one happen to hail from.

These days I'm a mum of two girls and the only sport I'm interested in is walking to school. But on these cold winter mornings, even that can be a hard ask.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Just Another Day on Planet Mum : In Bed and Out of Sync

Yesterday... hmmn... was a complete blur.
Well, let's see... what did I do yesterday? I zonked out and slept... for five hours straight during daylight hours... playing catch up. Something I don't even do when I'm jetlagged. Something I haven't done since I was a child.

Remember the inexplicable stomach problem I mentioned earlier on in the week? Well, apparently it wasn't quite as inexplicable as I had thought... Without going into it explicitly, suffice to say, it was just a matter of time before the matter resolved itself. and I was deprived of much sleep in the process.

Now, I've put my self on a special diet of crackers, toast and water which isn't as bad as it sounds.

I could even lose some weight.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Just Another Day on Planet Mum : Sick Day

I spent most of yesterday lying in bed suffering the agonies of an inexplicable stomach condition. It had none of the usual symptoms, just waves of pain that would come and go, at will. I had made the mistake of  drinking a cup of white tea after I got up, which seem to exacerbate the inner rumblings. The discomfort also turned into queasiness. Although it was preferable to be reclining in a horizontal position, bed wasn't much of a refuge. So there wasn't much else I could do but watch videos to take my mind off the pain. Equally telling was my lack of interest in food, which is completely out of character for me.

I spent most of the morning wondering about whether I'd make it to the Homework Club that I've volunteered for. I didn't feel it was right for my friend, Pat, to have to handle 8 or more children, with specific needs, on her own. So I remembered that my grandmother with her mountains of ointments and lotions used to rub strong-smelling stuff on any offending parts of our body for relief.

I'm no doctor nor advocate of eastern medicine... but at least 3 generations of women in our family have used Tiger Balm for an assortment of pain relief and generally it seems to work. I've also found it helpful for taking the edge off mozzie bites which are the bane of my summer existence.

While I'm generally agnostic about eastern remedies... I don't think it's completely bunkum... 5 plus thousand years of experimentation can't be completely awry. Once upon a time it was all Chinese people had to treat a variety of ailments before they came in contact with the west. As long as "true believers" don't get all new agey and mystical on me, I don't generally find alternative medicine objectionable. Herbs, are plants afterall, and a significant part of God's creation for our benefit.

Anyway, I'm convinced that God must have wanted me to be there because I felt much better soon after application of the ointment and managed to get to Homework Club with Pat driving us there. Feeling the grace of God on me the entire time I was there interacting with the children, my stomach felt quite normal.

As soon as we left the place, I sank into the car seat completely worn out by an hour of talking and teaching. I was very, very thankful for a little reprieve. By the time we got home, it was about ten past 5. I collapsed into bed as soon as I could. The 9 year old came and sat with me while we watched on old A-Team clip.
At half-past 5, the husband came home, having picked up the 3 year old, who had spent the day at kindy.

I did fall asleep after having a bite to eat around 6:30 and then woke up with a throbbing headache at around 8 when the 9 year old came in to say good night.

My stomach woes seem to have passed, for now... the headache seems to have dissipated. But... do I feel sleepy or what...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Now Showing: The A-Team (2010)

Ahhh... the 80s... that was when television, IMO, was at its height of creativity... a kind of raw joy pervaded the idiot box... a golden period when television was still largely untouched by the bleakness that has
cast a shadow over contemporary storytelling.

My husband tells me that he never watched the 80s television show, "The A-Team" -- a case of parental prerogative. Chalk it to my naivete, but I thought everyone watched "The A-Team". Growing up in the 80s, it seemed like everyone I knew watched it. It was the one show that every single member of my family sat to. My father hated sitcoms and my mother didn't care for scifi but we all sat down to watch The "A-Team".

As a rule, I am not a fan of the television to film "remakes". Apart from a few notable exceptions (Charlie's Angels, Star Trek, The Fugitive), most of them (excuse my French) have the stench of month old leftovers. It's obvious from the trailers that most of them are played solely for laughs and almost zero effort is put into constructing a half-decent story. As much as possible, I avoid them like the plague.
So when I heard that they were remaking "The A-Team"... I sighed and gave my usual rant about how Hollywood can't leave a good tv show alone and always manages to make a dog's breakfast of most things they touch. So I was pretty skeptical...
Until I saw the trailer.
And then I thought... this remake could be decent... good almost...
And... lo, and behold, I was right.

"The A-Team" was an utterly nutty piece of 80s television about 4 brilliant military misfits who were fugitives in a Robin Hood and his Merry Men sort of vein. There was always plenty of gunfire but nobody seemed to be killed and the leader (Hannibal Smith) of this particular band of outlaws was expected to come up with the most insane schemes week after week to elude the law and come to the aid of helpless victims of injustice. And at the end of each successful endeavour, Hannibal would oblige with his trademark smirk and declare for the nth time, "I love it when a plan comes together."
Realism was scarcely a feature of the show.

Unlike previous remakes the movie does the smart thing and captures the over-the-top zaniness of the original. It understands that the popularity of the original was rooted in a weekly dose of crazy schemes in highly improbable situations... and mostly because it was bucketloads of fun. In this reboot, the old magic is revived because the casting is right on the money. Liam Neeson was an interesting choice to play Col Hannibal Smith, a role made famous by the late George Peppard. While his cigar chomping colonel has a different feel from the earlier incarnation, it loses none of the appeal. Neeson oozes a certain air of authority/charisma, and I'm not that bothered by accent lapses.. Perhaps it's his physique but for me, he epitomizes the fearless leader that command the loyalty of those who would gladly follow him into battle.

Neeson aside, the other actors were unfamiliar to me but they managed to capture the spirit of the characters they portrayed. Sharlto Copley plays the mentally unstable pilot, Murdock, with whimsical humour. Bradley Cooper was terrific as "Face", confidence man and ladies man extraordinaire. Quinton Jackson, although not the strongest performer here, did a decent job with the role made famous by Mr T, B.A. Baracus.

I suppose I could nitpick about this plothole and that but really it would be pointless because this is The A-Team. This is not to say that there isn't a story of sorts because somewhere in between the mad stunts and chaotic gunplay, there lurks a good natured revenge narrative. The dialogue sparkles and there's lots to laugh at. Absurdity is the name of the game. It's rowdy, rambunctious and endearingly cheesy. Like Alice, I like to believe in six impossible things before breakfast and the A-Team throws out impossible things more quickly than a plane in combat.  As one character says in the film, "they are the best and they specialize in the ridiculous." That statement says it all really.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Angry? Who Says I'm Angry?!!!!

Which of us don't know what it's like to blow our top... hit the roof... spit the dummy... see red or go ballistic? But when you do it in front of the kids, well it's another matter. Because you know it's going to come back and bite you. Sooner rather than later... and it ain't pretty.

Because children are mirrors... and mirrors do one thing really well... They are a reflection of reality and throw light on what is going on in the home.
I don't know how this sits with you but it troubles me. It troubles me when I see the 9 year old yell at the 3 year old and then it hits me... that she's only doing what I'm doing.

I've been doing the grumpy old woman thing a lot lately... yeah, I'm tired... not sleeping very well on alternate days but really it's no excuse to mouth off at the slightest thing. Still I do it because... too often I forget that the children are just children and they do childish things. Unfortunately the 3 year old has a strong propensity to push all the boundaries repeatedly and it's exhausting.

I talk a lot about MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) on my blog because it is one of the truly great things about my life. I joined MOPS years ago because I wanted to help out... see women like me have a relationship with God. The truth is, no matter what little I've accomplished at my local MOPS group, the lessons I've learnt from being part of MOPS far, far outweighs my feeble efforts to do some good.

Last Wed, while I was at MOPS I heard myself being talked about by our mentor. And she was right. I have been an angry person... in a self-centred fashion. Yeah, I feel I deserve better than stubborn, disobedient children who seem to have a slippery cum elastic understanding what "no" means when you reiterate it with extreme forcefulness 10 times over.

But... much as I hate to admit it... my children deserve better too. Not this kind of reactionary parenting that they've been getting but real life training on how to deal with emotions in a constructive manner. As Helen was saying the other day, I need to get back to creating pathways of expectations and have a plan.

I'm glad to say that things have been a bit better the last few days. Not great... but better... I can tell you that the 3 year old hates sitting in the bathroom for timeout... and I use a timer... it helps to keep her calm, knowing that there's a time limit to the punishment. And I'm not throwing fits of rage out of sheer desperation, for a change.
Now, if only I can find a way to keep the 3 year old's hot fingers off my gadgets. Then life will return to normal.

There's a song I remember from Barbara Streisand's Back to Broadway album... "Children will Listen". The chorus is simple and insightful:
Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say "Listen to me"
Children will listen

Thursday, June 10, 2010

On Video: Anne of Green Gables -- A New Beginning

I feel duped. Led up the garden path by the blurb on the DVD cover. Frankly speaking, I don't know why I even bothered with this. The last time Kevin Sullivan dabbled with L M Montgomery's beloved series, he "updated" it with far more changes than I was comfortable with but at least it featured most of the original cast that made the first two immensely watchable. His fourth attempt is pure sacrilege and almost a complete waste of time. It's disgraceful and more than a tad arrogant for the director to think he can "improve" on a popular series adored by generations of girls for over a hundred years. Why tamper with a winning formula?

Well, if that were the only problem here. If one feels compelled to make drastic changes to canon at least make it half decent. Nope, it's dull as a rusted nail and there's no resemblance at all to L M Montgomery's Anne Shirley. The entire premise is laughable and poorly executed.
According to this version, Anne is now in her late forties or early fifties and has turned her hand to writing plays. But she's suffering from a bit writer's block and has returned to the old house, Green Gables, to try and sell it. Her adopted son, Dominic (remember him as Cameron Daddo's son from the third installment?) is on the battlefield in France and so she angsts over his lack of communication. Gilbert, a casualty of the second world war, is no longer around to console her. Oddly enough, Diana's children, not her own come and help her clean up, when they stumble upon some of Marilla's old letters under some floor boards. One of which is a letter from a certain Mr Walter Shirley, Anne's father. Anne's father written to Marilla while Anne was living at Green Gables.
But... but... but... you say... erm... wasn't Anne an orphan, didn't her parents die of illness when she was a baby? Well-spotted... but Mr Sullivan obviously believes that the story wasn't bleak and heartbreaking enough so in his alternate version, Anne has been charmingly creative about her past. Apparently her father is still alive, on death's door and an awkwardly melodramatic story unfolds in flashbacks about how daughter and father were actually separated.
LM Montgomery turns into Charles Dickens as a homeless Anne Shirley finds herself in a decrepit workhouse for adults. The avaricious, uncharitable matron and her husband are religious caricatures of the worst kind damning her red hair as the source of all her original sin. Oh yeah... I could really feel the love. If I wasn't so determined to see it through, I would have stopped watching then and there.

Later on and for a little while there, Anne finds comfort and friendship with a business owner, Mrs Thomas (Shirley Maclaine) and her daughter-in-law. Louisa Thomas. But in a baffling turn of events, Anne becomes embroiled in a political cat and mouse kabuki between banks, unions and Mrs Thomas with different factions trying to manipulate her into using her influence with the elderly Mrs Thomas, who is stubbornly holding on to her late husband's mill. When the mill burns down, Anne is left once again to her own devices and abandoned by her friends and father again.

It's depressing... really... how it is easy for someone to indulge in revisionism. A bit of misdirected audacity... and a lot of spare change.

The only really decent thing about this piece of travesty is the girl who plays young Anne, Hannah Endicott-Douglas . While she's no Megan Follows. she has just enough spunk to turn in a good performance, occasionally overdoing the Annerisms. Everything else about the show is utterly forgettable.

I'll say something here that I don't often say... don't watch it. It's a poor excuse for an adaptation. I've seen many Jane Austen/period adaptations... and I mean "many" but none of them (even Mansfield Park 1999) are as bad as this. On second thoughts, this is no adaptation... just some pathetic attempt at reimaging in order to suck whatever's left of the milch cow dry.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Banning Plastic Bags?

So the state of California  is thinking about banning plastic bags. I understand that there was some talk from the environment minister about banning plastic bags around here a couple of years ago. Maybe I'm a knuckle-dragging shallow suburban housewife who has no grasp of environmental issues but I don't see the sense in this. Certainly there are irresponsible airheads who discard plastic bags indiscriminately but they're in the minority. But these irresponsible airheads, who think that all the world is theirs to dump on dispose of lots of other things in an inconsiderate manner too such as drink cans, food wrappers, chip bags (which to my mind is much more of problem), cigarette butts, chewing gum, fastfood containers.
I live on a very busy road with bus stops lined up all the way through and I can tell you that I seldom notice plastic bags littering our road but from time to time I see McDonald's cartons, paper bags, potato chips bags, glass bottles and soft drink cans (and dead animals) discarded along the pavement and even in our driveway . But last time I looked, no one is talking about banning those.

The great majority of consumers reuse their plastic bags for all kinds of things anyway. Barring a spill or food spoilage, no one with an ounce of common sense uses a plastic bag in working condition just the one time. Except for those handy nappy bags which are supposedly biodegradeble. Lately, I discovered from watching Castle (tv show) that people with dogs carry plastic bags around with them to collect droppings from roadsides. I don't own pets but I have a preschooler who's still in the process of being toilet trained and has been quite accident prone lately so I take plastic bags everywhere and I reuse those too wherever possible.

I sat down and thought about how often I use plastic bags which is quite regularly but I seldom throw any out  after one use. I have a whole stash in a drawstring bag and we use a lot of it to line our benchtop bin.  I have a number of greenbags which are great for all kinds of things but they aren't waterproof against wetness of varying descriptions.

If we have a problem with litter, let's deal with it in that vein. I've noticed that even the better parks in my local area are a magnet for litter despite the large rubbish bins provided for public use. I'm not convinced that plastic bags are the environmental disaster people say it is. The cynical side of me thinks that governments embroil themselves in these sorts of things for a bit political point scoring.

A story from 2006:
The Productivity Commission has urged the Federal Government to do away with its plans to eliminate plastic shopping bags by the end of 2008.
The commission's draft report, which is titled Waste Generation and Resource Efficiency, also says 'no waste' policies are unattainable and lack credibility.
The report says the Government's commitment to end plastic bag use should not proceed unless it is supported by a transparent cost-benefit analysis.
It says less than 1 per cent of plastic bags become litter, and the extent to which the bags harm wildlife is uncertain.
It also says plastic bags have an important food safety role, and as many as 75 per cent of households reuse them rather than throw them away.
The report says the analysis should clarify the scope of the problems plastic bags cause.
"The foreshadowed use of regulation to ban plastic shopping bags by the end of 2008 should only occur if the benefits outweigh the costs, and a greater net benefit cannot be achieved through policies that directly target plastic bags that become litter," the report said.

Op-ed from The Courier Mail in 2008

New Environment Minister Peter Garrett, who his friends would say had a lack-lustre election campaign, hasn't helped the debate by rushing in and demanding all sorts of things.
Especially since he is still to receive the report that reviews options to reduce plastic bag litter from a working group set up last year by environment ministers.
But until that report brings down a stronger case, those looking down their noses at their neighbours using the bags should read the Productivity Commission's report on the issue.
It, in short, suggests policy makers should examine whether other options – such as tougher anti-litter laws – would be more effective than banning plastic bags.
It does this in a weighty report that looks at all sides of the argument. It says that while plastic-bag litter could injure marine wildlife, claims at least 100,000 animals are killed each year are not supported by evidence.
It says research commissioned by the Australian Government shows only 0.8 per cent of plastic bags become litter, that plastic bags account for only 2 per cent of all litter items, and about 2 per cent of annual expenditure on cleaning up litter is attributable to plastic bags.
Given that, it is fair to ask why asking for a plastic bag at a supermarket now appears a more heinous crime than throwing a cigarette butt out the window of a moving car or dumping picnic wrappers at the beach.
And if plastic bags represent only 2 per cent of all litter items, why are they getting all the attention over the other 98 per cent?
Back to the Productivity Commission report, which finds that smaller retailers have signalled they would switch to paper bags if a ban was imposed on plastic bags.
But this is what the commission says: "Again, this could lead to unintended environmental costs. For example, the greenhouse gases emitted in producing a paper bag have been estimated to be around five times greater than those from producing a plastic bag."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

So I Blow It... and Learn What it Means To Die to Self

Yesterday I blew it as a mother. I could blame the 3 year old but I know better. On the positive side, it led to me thinking of a biblical injunction that I know quite well but understand very little about. My application of it leaves much to be desired.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23 ESV)
It's one of those verses I've memorized but not hidden in my heart. I've been guilty of muttering it glibly without comprehending the gravity of its words. I don't think I've really understood its practical implications until now. It is a difficult verse because at its heart, it defines in no uncertain terms what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
To follow Jesus is to deny self and to die to self. The idea of the carrying a cross daily suggests a commitment to hardship and even death. So what is the death that we are to die every day?

For me, being a mother is undoubtedly the hardest thing I've ever done.  Reasons abound I'm sure. But the one thing underlying it all is that every single moment that I'm with my children I have to renact the death to self. It is a battle between my needs and their needs, my wants and their wants. At the back of my mind I know I could be somewhere else doing something else but instead I have to put their interests ahead of my desires.

The 3 year old with all her endearing qualities is a much less adaptable child than the 9 year old. She is extremely active and wears me out (and down) with her insatiable need to explore and lay her bullet-like fingers (fast and destructive) on anything and everything edible and inedible. The worse thing (for me) is that at age 3, she's decided that she only needs to nap 2 or 3 times (if I'm lucky) a week.

Yesterday, I became cantankerous with a child who didn't want to finish lunch and didn't want to have a sleep. I don't know why. I suppose I was tired myself and wanted a bit of peace and quiet before picking up big sister from school.
I dozed off in front of my computer and then woke up when I heard a "clang" in the distance. *Sigh* No rest for the wicked.
Later on in the afternoon, I pottered around in the bedroom, leaving the 3 year old under the supervision of the 9 year old (not my brightest moment). I emerged some minutes later to see afternoon tea on the floor... juice and yoghurt smothered all over the pearly white tiles.
More cleaning. Not my idea of paradise.

I was irrationally resentful and then later as I was getting dinner ready, those words of Jesus came to as an icy cold splash of  a reminder that mothering was part of my walk with Jesus. I am the adult in the relationship although at times I wonder about that too. But with more years behind me, I should know better. A 3 year old is self-centred, led by childish impulses and needs to be trained in the art of self-control.

But this adult needs to be realistic... to set aside self so that the child can one day become the adult that learns the meaning of denying self.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Now Showing But Not for Long: Letters to Juliet

Letters to Juliet exemplifies more clearly than most the core problem underlying romantic comedies. Despite (or rather because of) the formulaic nature of the genre, it is the elephant in the room for every single film made for its market. Some films do a better of job of overcoming that difficulty through good casting or good storytelling but it is still the nagging issue. Audiences through silent assent negotiate with the implausible narrative and allow themselves to be manipulated and then be expected to forgive the unreality of the entire situation.
So what is the elephant in the room?
It is this: To spin a vaguely convincing yarn about two people coming together, falling in love and come to the conclusion that they have found their soulmate all in a matter of 90 minutes.

Romantic comedies are so loved because it is largely escapist fare. Audiences are not driven to romantic comedies for realism. Yet, as they embark on this journey, it is vital for them to receive the payoff, to see two people fall in love in a convincing manner no matter how absurd the setup might be.

Letters to Juliet begins with an endearing premise. A pretty, aspiring writer, Sophie, engaged to an Italian chef heads off to Verona, Italy on a pre-wedding honeymoon. While wandering the streets of Verona, she discovers a wall where women post Dear Abby letters to the mythical Juliet Capulet about their romantic woes. At the end of the day, a local, carrying a basket comes to collect them and takes them to a group of ladies known as the Secretaries of Juliet who respond to each letter personally. Sophie, bored with being relegated to the sidelines while her fiance, Victor, is enthusiastically conducting business for his New York restaurant, becomes taken up with the Secretaries of Juliet to while away her time. While working with the Secretaries, she stumbles upon a 50 year old letter from a lovelorn English school girl and feels drawn to respond. This becomes the catalyst for a train of events which leads to Sophie to find her own true love, although as one might expect with such things, it is not in the man she's engaged to.

Except that it's hard to be sure that Sophie is in love with anything but the idea of love itself. Her greatest passion is reserved for the story of the 50 year old letter and her part in reuniting old lovers. Clearly the actress is pretty... she smiles prettily on cue but one is never sure if the new love is an improvement over the old one. I like him (he's a likeable Aussie boy doing a credible turn as an educated British lawyer) and I'm sure he likes her but I continue to harbour doubts about where her affections truly lie even when she goes all weepy at the end. Romantic comedies to a large extent, rely a great deal on the ability and personality of the lead actress but I don't think Amanda Seyfried has enough spunk to take the role where it needed to go. Fortunately we have the great Vanessa Redgrave on hand to lend a bit of  weight to the enterprise.

Looking at the film as a whole, I scratch my head and wonder why it isn't better than it is. The story is good, the acting is mostly reliable, the Siena countryside is sumptous and there's nothing objectionably silly about the tone of the film. The conclusion I come to (after a third of my hair has fallen out) is the ordinariness of  the dialogue... Limp and cliched,  no real memorable lines... no sparkle or sizzle which is odd considering that two of the characters are supposed to be British. This leads me to my next problem -- The film presents a clumsily constructed caricaturized view of  British reserve with little of the biting humour for which they are famous.

It's likely that no one cares about dialogue except me. Nonetheless, for a film based around the mythology of a character created by the greatest writer in the English language, is it too much to expect quite a bit more in that department?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

So Long... and Thanks for 40 Years?

Former US Vice President, Al Gore and his wife have gone their separate ways after 40 years of marriage.

When I hear something like that, my first thought is "why?" Needless to say I'm a busybody like most people but I was under the impression that when a couple reaches that kind of milestone, surely they would have worked through most of the usual marital kinks. Yes? No? All that effort of housetraining a man for 40 years... only to have to break in another.

Seriously though, it does beg the question... what would caues two people who have been together for so long to decide to call it quits. From all appearances, the marriage was happy and adultery doesn't appear to be an issue. So then having invested so much in the relationship over the years, building a life and then a family together, two people in the most intimate human relationship on earth then decide that it's all over and walk away?
Does 40 years count for nothing? Not that I'm saying that 40 is some kind of magic number but I didn't think marriage was like a career. Still, isn't a relationship of 40 years worth trying to save? Isn't there enough history there to want to make more history?

It is that I find depressing especially in view of my paltry 14 years.

Is there no hope for a couple that grows apart to find their way back to one another? To regroup and rebuild the relationship.
Isn't a lifelong marriage worth salvaging whatever the state of things?

Sometimes I wonder if we've (even those of us who value the marriage relationship highly) bought into the myth that passion is the goal of marriage. So when one no longer feels the passion -- it's over.

I'm sure someone will correct me if this view of marriage is too simplistic.

A few nights ago, while reading from Our Daily Bread, I was reminded of this all-important truth of "pressing on" from Paul's letter to the Philippians. While Paul wasn't referring to marriage in this letter, I think there's a vital truth here about perseverance that's disappearing from public discourse. Perseverance is gradually becoming an obsolete notion, belonging to a distant past. In an age of instant coffee and instant noodles, to persevere... to wait... to work hard over a period of time for success is countercultural.

A word that is synonymous with perseverance is endurance.

From dictionary.com, we note 4 related uses of the word:
1. the fact or power of enduring or bearing pain, hardships, etc.
2. the ability or strength to continue or last, esp. despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions; stamina: He has amazing physical endurance.
3. lasting quality; duration: His friendships have little endurance.
4. something endured, as a hardship; trial. 
Endurance is a word rich in meaning... it's the sort of word that athletes use as they train their bodies into submission. But they do it because they are focused on a particular goal and they are willing to do what it takes to get there.

The Chinese word for endure is the word "ren". Basically, it is composed of two separate characters.

The top character is "dao" is the word for "knife" and the bottom character is "xin" which is the word for "heart".

Combining the two characters conveys the idea of endurance as something akin to cutting one's heart to the point of shedding blood. Observe the little extra splotch on the left hand side of the "dao" character.

I suppose there are no guarantees in life and not even when you are a follower of Christ. But we are exhorted to persevere because our calling is heavenly and our reward is eternal.

12 Not that I have already lobtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.  (Philippians 3:12-16, ESV)

I suppose it's easy to give up when you believe that this world is all there is. But if we believe that our lives have eternal significance then persevering in the face of trials makes a lot more sense. When eternity is the goal then 20, 30, 40 years is a mere drip in an ocean that knows no bounds.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Of 9 Year Olds and Vampires Update

The "happy" sequel to my previous post on this teeny weeny bit of drama in our otherwise humdrum family life.

I thought again about having a chat with the teacher and decided that maybe it was better that the 9 year old  deal with it herself first.
Children are children because they do immature, silly things... and they often don't think about the consequences of their actions. But also for my 9 year old's sake, I thought she needed to assert herself and gain some self-confidence and build some personal boundaries.

I told her that she was to tell the other 9 year old clearly that this was a topic that she didn't want to talk about. And if the other 9 year old were to persist, I advised my 9 year old to stop talking to the other child straight away and say so to that child. "Tell her that you won't talk to her until she stops talking about vampires."

I'm not sure if this was the best advice in the world but she saw it through and was happy with the result.

"I remembered your advice, mum."

Yeah, I hope that continues till adulthood...

At least she went to bed tonight without procrastinating or stalling.

Of 9 Year Olds and Vampires

I am peeved.
Very, very peeved as a matter of fact.
According to my 9 year old, there's a girl in school that's hassling her. It's not the usual kind of bullying apparently because this other 9 year old is adamant that she is a vampire and while we might indulge children certain roleplaying fantasies in an age appropriate manner, she seems insistent that my 9 year old become one too.
As I was not privvy to any of the conversations, I was somewhat inclined to think that my 9 year old was dramatizing a bit. But it's the third time she's brought this up this week and now she's even locking doors (which she's never done before) when the sky turns dark because of this newfound fear. So I'm obliged to take this seriously... and to take it up with the teacher.

This incident is turning my 9 year old into a nervous nelly which isn't hard considering that she's... well... wildly imaginative and temperamentally jumpy most days even without the mention of vampires. She even said to me on our way home from school today that she's thinking about not going to school lest she gets accosted by the aforementioned classmate who seems determined to convert her to the cause.

I've never been a huge fan of the horror genre in print or in film but this whole Twilight "phenomenon" is sanitizing vampirism in a way never before portrayed in fiction, making it available and attractive to children at a much younger age through merchandising. Needless to say, I don't want my children to think of vampirism as something to aspire to -- it's fictional for one thing, but it contains a certain kind of sexual deviancy. It's not the same thing as a child believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy.

Maybe I live in another reality because it doesn't seem to bother other parents. But the whitewashing and onslaught of vampire merchandising appears to be everywhere. It rather worries me that a 9 year old has been permitted to delve into vampire fiction -- not just because of the influence he/she might have on others but to fill her mind with these semi-erotic images at such an impressionable age cannot be healthy.

Doug Wilson, an American pastor, has broken it down in this video clip as to why he objects to the Twilight series. It's definitely worth a look. He also makes some salient points about the origins of horror fiction.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

FGM: A Human Rights Issue

FGM is the acronym for Female Genital Mutilation, a highly controversial procedure practiced in parts of the world to ensure the virginity and sexual fidelity of young women when they reach puberty. In recent days, it has become for me a deeply troubling issue and I feel compelled to devote at least one blog post to discussing it.
If this is something you'd rather not think about... feel free to stop reading...

But as a mother of two girls, it haunts me that this practice has crept into a country with high views of human rights like Australia and not much has been done to prevent it. My sense is that authorities are afraid to trample on cultural sensitivities so an issue like this gets swept under the radar or left in the too-hard basket.
Worst still, medical practitioners here and in the US have been making noises about a modified form of mutilation to prevent parents from going to backyard practitioners here or overseas. Maybe it's just me falling behind the times, but my suspicion is that not too many people know much about FGM and what the procedure entails.

I've been following a series of stories the last two months that began with an ABC piece on the occurrence of FGM in Melbourne. The article calls it female circumcision. The reality is that it isn't circumcision or anything like male circumcision... far from it... and far more brutal. Some have even called it barbaric.

Female circumcision is illegal in Australia, but experts say there is evidence that it is being practised here.
More and more migrant women are also seeking help after having the procedure in their home countries.
Across Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia, female genital mutilation is practised on about three million girls and women each year. The centuries-old custom has been outlawed in Australia since the 1990s.
But that has not stopped it happening here, according to Dr Ted Weaver from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
"There is some evidence to suggest that it does happen in certain parts of Australia," he said.
"It's hard to gauge the actual numbers because it's prohibited by legislation and it's something that is performed in an underground way.
"But certainly there have been reports of children being taken to hospital after having the procedure done with complications from that procedure."
Melbourne's Royal Women's Hospital says it is seeing between 600 and 700 women each year who have experienced it in some form.
Last week I posted a couple of news items regarding the way our culture sexualizes our children and bombards them with sexual messages and images. That is one extreme. The other extreme in certain other societies is to "desex" their daughters in the most painful way possible to prevent sexual intercourse from being pleasurable.

Aayan Hirsi Ali, a refugee from Somalia and Denmark (now residing in the US) has first-hand knowledge of the process:

I won't reproduce it here but here's her article in The Daily Beast. She goes into quite a bit detail. I must warn you, it's not pleasant...