Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Billion Dollars For Wildlife (By Ryan Connor)

But enough about me!  Here's the 500 word story Ryan entered in a competition today.  She had to write about inheriting a billion dollars.

“Steffy, you've got mail.”

Steffy's mother, Rosalina, called from the kitchen.

Steffy scrambled to get dressed. She had just graduated from university.

“Probably a congratulations from somebody,” she thought.

As Steffy reached the kitchen, she saw that her family was at the table; her brother Mike, sister Sally, mother Rosalina, Peter her dad and Buster the dog.

Steffy opened the envelope. She held her breath as she read it. It was from the government. It read:

Dear Steffy Mcdarf,
Congratulations on passing your college assessments.
We would like to inform you that you have inherited a billion dollars from your Great-Great-Great Grandparents.
Rudolph Mcbarf

Steffy handed the letter to Mike to read out loud.

The whole family gasped in surprise.

Five days later Steffy saw a big property for sale.

5 Million Acres-2 Million Dollars

Mike agreed that Steffy should buy it and save the wildlife.

Sally, Mike and Steffy started drawing up signs while Rosalina and Peter put down some pebbles and gravel for paths and put up wooden fences.

Soon it was time to create a website. They took pictures of the wildlife and posted it on the site. They also put up the sign that said:

“Welcome To Wildlife Reserve and Rescue.”

A week later people were lined up at the gate ready to come in and enjoy the wildlife. Sally handed out maps, Mike answered questions while Steffy, Rosalina and Peter directed parking.

“We have koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, kookaburras, cockatoos, echidnas, cassowaries and even snakes, “ Mike told the visitors.

“Where is the restaurant on this map?” asked a lady.

“We don't have a restaurant here and no littering either. This is nature,” Sally answered.

“Why do people even put restaurants in the bush when there are animals that could eat the litter?” Sally thought.

The park became a famous reserve and some people even went jogging in the reserve. Nature runners were soon counting on the reserve to open at 4 AM. People loved racing in nature.

Occasionally a wallaby would be sighted and koalas heard.

The park improved a lot over two years so Steffy thought of carriages for tours. Steffy bought a big glass carriage that could hold up to twenty people. She bought four Clydesdale horses and two Shires to pull it.

The park went on and on and soon trail rides were going through the park and people coming to line up at 6 AM to be the first ones in. Everyone loved to see the baby koalas, joeys and birds. They even respected being quiet.

Two years later there were over 200,000,000 koalas, 100,00,000 kangaroos, 200,000,000 wallabies and 200,000,000 birds. The reserve was a huge success. The only thing the Mcdarf family had to worry about was food for themselves and the mighty horses, taking care of the carriage of glass and of course running the reserve.

What a success saving the wildlife!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Not a Tall Poppy, Just a Failed Lotus!


I got my first negative review last week.

That it was better written than the blog it was criticising probably says it all.

That the author was apologising for it before I had even read it reminds me I'm in Australia.  Really, you don't hear about New Yorkers apologising.  Germans?  Ah, ja right.

I am hanging the critique on my wall to remind me of the power and responsibility of words. 

She was dead on in her rather scathing picture of the true me.  Scary, really, how much she sees through me.

She missed the whole point of the blog - the self-condemnation and sarcastic bitterness, the anger turned inward but projected outward at the wrong target - but showed me that I need to put the power of my words to better use.

I CAN get people talking.  It'd just be nice if they kept talking to me too!

Then she told me about tall poppy syndrome, a social phenomenon attributed especially to Australia and New Zealand but apparently also to Canada and the UK, in  which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers.  (Thanks Wikipedia.)

This has been a huge cultural distinction for me, coming from the highly motivated and ambitious upper middle class suburbs of NYC where achievement and success are admired to the point of idolatry. 

(Bear with me here Nicole, the following is NOT pretentious, it is really just me undertstanding some very real differences between Oz and the U.S.)

I grew up not only knowing that I would go to college, but that I would finish graduate school and become a doctor.  (Okay, a veterinarian, but give me something to work with here!)  Not everyone in my highschool went to college, far from it, but certainly everyone in my social circle did.  I had never had a friend who hadn't attended university until after veterinary school when I went to Alaska and met the fish hippies.  Many of who probably HAD gone to college, now that I come to think of it.

You didn't let on how smart you were in American schools either.  Until later on when everyone knew anyway and there were people way smarter than you in your class anyway.  I went to school with people who now work for NASA.  Wall Street.  (For better or worse!).  Doctors and lawyers and museum curators.  Oh, and obviously lots of veterinarians.  And more architects than I would have thought.  Its not (just) about the money; its about the education and a broader world view.

In the USA everyone is either trying to go to college or embarrassed that they didn't.  Unless they are Bill Gates.

College (called university just about everywhere else) is part of the American dream.  Life, liberty and the pursuit happiness automatically includes success.

The first shock came in Germany when it was seen as uncool and overambitious if you had aspirations of your child attending university.  You weren't supposed to presume.


I haven't heard very many people talking about university here in southeast Queensland at all.  This is partly a result of a good social phenomenon;  working class people in Australia have a really high standard of living.  They are comfortable, happy and financially secure.  Only Australians are going to laugh at this; they are having tougher times now than five years ago apparently.  But in comparison to what I saw in Europe and especially in the USA,  Australians are very well off.  Without going to uni.

What they are missing is the learning for learning's sake in itself and this HAS been attributed in part to tall poppy syndrome and not wanting to appear snobby or pretentious or better than your neighbour.

My friends telling me to shove it up my rear end was not tall poppy syndrome though. 

I've only been using arrogance as a self-defence mechanism recently.  Mostly I'm still just dazed and confused and honestly trying to figure out what everyone else seems to think I should already know and keep quiet about.

This is also an anglosphere thing a German-American like me wouldn't understand.  Give me a break, willya, I've just learned how to pronounce 'scones' and make a decent cup of tea!  (This is tough actually; it is easy for an American to fit in here but most Aussies, like most Americans, have not been abroad much, so the subtleties in culture are attributed - by myself as well - as character flaws and not cultural misunderstandings.)

There are subtleties to what is accepted and what is silently understood and what is not said out loud that I am just getting the hang of.  Americans have been accused of a lot of character flaws, but subtlety has never been one of them!

A (British) friend in Germany tried to explain it to me once.  "I guess there are just some social conventions and rules that have to be followed in a group."

Yeah.  I just wish they weren't unspoken ones.  Could someone just write them down for the barbarious non-anglosphere people in the room?! 

Plus, Australians want to be fair.  Americans like to be right.  This is a bigger difference than it first apears.  Germans just want to be sure everyone is following the same rules, also a subtle distinction from fair AND right.  Having been raised in Germany and the USA, I want everyone to do things the same way, the right way.  And am just learning that that's not fair!!! 

I'm making it sound a lot tougher than it is.  I love it here. 

People approve of my "100% Aussie" T-shirt and welcome me into the poppy field.

Everyone at the gym and at school has done nothing but encourage me in the pursuit of my weight loss and fitness goals.  When I tell people I want to be a writer they applaud and never doubt that I can do it.  (Try walking into a writers' workshop in NYC with a baby on your hip and see what happens; you wanna see pretention and arrogance, mate I got nothing!)   I have never felt so supported.

I honestly think Aussies have less of a problem with others reaching their goals than most people.

This takes a lot more self-assurance than they give themselves credit for.

Although I might have (unintentionally) shown the arrogance, I have not showed the merit to be a tall poppy.

I have certainly not elevated myself above my peers.  My peers are running faster, writing better, achieving inner peace and personal growth.  My peers are growing as fast as I am.

I'm not a poppy though, as much as I'd like to be.  And every now and then I am going to do or say something that makes the other poppies remember that.

Right now I'm probably still just a dandelion, a pretty weed that tends to take over if you let it, that scatters her seeds aimlessly if the wind blows too strongly, that you can still uproot fairly easily if you just give a strong tug.

I'd like to be a lotus.

Transplant that I am,  I'm very happy and grateful to be growing in a field of poppies. 

Who knows what the other flowers see in me.  Maybe they feel sorry for me, poor crass bold and brash dandelion, loosely rooted and spewing all over the place.  Maybe they like the fertilizer I dish out every now and then.

Maybe they see in me the lotus I am trying to become.

In any case, tall poppy syndrome poppycock.  I haven't earned the distinction.  Thanks for still letting me play in your field though!


Sunday, October 28, 2012

So, You Think You Might Wanna Homeschool?

I am not saying that everyone should homeschool their children.

Up until a few years ago I thought the only people who homeschooled were hippy dippy people with way too many kids and an itch against the government.


Never mind.

It is not for every person.  It is not for every child.  (I use it as a threat for Andrew; he would wither and die without school.  Wish I could say it was the academic challenge.  Nah, it's the sports.)

It IS for me and for my daughter though and I am done judging whether or not other people should do it. 

It's funny that when other people tell me they are considering homeschooling based on what I have talked to them about, I cringe and feel guilty. 

But wait, wait, don't let ME tell you what to do.  My goodness, this is such a HUGE step. 

I mean, if I jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge (or the Sydney Harbour Bridge, take your pick), would you follow me?!

But, since you asked.......

I homeschool because my daughter was miserable at school.  She was on par academically according to the National standards.  But I think - from what I've seen of children who supposedly scoring the National average - that the National average is too low.  Even in Australia, where it ranks among the highest in the world.

I also have very high standards academically.  I want more than the National average.  I want her to understand what she is being taught, be able to apply it later in life and also apply it to higher level thinking.  I want her to go to university.

Most people homeschool because they also want to instill Christian values into their curriculum.  Not me, but I have no problem with that.  (I DID have a problem finding non-Christian based science books, however!  I AM speaking to God now, but I still didn't want His version of evolution, thanks.)

In any case, I saw no reason to keep my daugher in a traditional schooling environment when she was miserable.  The people I know now who were miserable at school don't remember what they learned there anyway.  What a waste of time.

And I really have spent the last twenty-five years unlearning what I learned in highschool socially.

I am also a big academic geek.  I love books.  I love learning.  I love learning new things.  I love projects. 

I love picking out our books on the internet.  I love going to the library.  I love getting a curriculum together.

I am also extremely able to get things done.  I don't know that I would call it organised.  I have too many children and way too many projects in my head and way too many thing to do and things to clean and groceries to buy and novels to write and places to be to be truly organised.

I look like I am flying in twenty different directions.  And I generally am.

But I am able to prioritise and get done what needs to be done. 

This means I can set a curriculum for my daughter and generally stick to at least a loose time table.  We do maths and some form of English every day, science and or history 2 -3 times a week.  The English lately has been way more writing than anything else.  But that's the point of English, right?! 

We are spending more time on big projects at a time rather than 20 minutes helter skelter here and there on little ones bit by bit.

I don't know if this is right or not but it seems to be making us happy for now.

We are super busy.

And super happy.

There are a few ways to go with homeschooling and I am already beginning to realise that homeschooling is as individualised as the way students perform within a traditional school.  I mean, did all of us really learn the same things even sitting in the same classroom?  We all had our own unique experiences no matter how cookie cutter they tried to make us be.

I chose to homeschool with my own curriculum rather than a long distance school of learning for several reasons.  One was price.  The other was that I didn't want to go Christian-based.  (And the more economical ones tended to be Christian-based in our area.)

The other was that my daughter is older and the online long distance learning was already beginning to sound like a traditional school to me.  I wanted more freedom and flexibility than the online curriculums seemed to offer.  And then again, there was price.

I am also very capable in picking out a curriculum.  This is because I enjoy being informed about the National Curriculum and I like knowing that I am staying on target nationally.  I did well academically as a student and I can remember enough from my time at school to know what I expect my daughter to be capable of as well.

I'm a pretty demanding teacher.

But then we get to paint chairs and do artwork and look at horse books and call it science.

We also get to read "Black Beauty" and call it an autobiography.


Fun stuff like that.

I love being home with my daughter.  I really do wake up at 5 AM psyched to start the day. 

I've found the job that's right for me.

How nice that it's the right one for my daughter - and the rest of my family - as well!!!

It might be for you.  Only you know yourself and your children well enough to decide.  And you DON'T have to be a hippy, have an itch against the government or be Christian to do it. 

It's a huge step, but not half as scary as jumping off a bridge!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

I Love My New Job!!! (Homeschooling Ryan)

I honestly never thought I'd become a homeschooling advocate, let alone someone who gives advice about it.  I had always firmly intended to use the state school system of whatever country I was in.  My children would adapt and thrive and I would show everyone how it was done.  (Kinda like how I knew how to deal with that two-year old having a melt-down in the candy aisle - BEFORE I had kids!)

Ryan went to a French kindergarten.  She spoke fluent French without an accent after three months. 

And then we moved to Germany.

'Nuf said.  I am giving up the anger.  Germany's education system is not my problem to solve.  (Although if anyone there wants help in working to legalise homeschooling there, I'll do what I can from this end if you ask me to.)

The fact that I was legally barred from homeschooling my child even after the state had shown no aptitide or interest in helping her themselves was only one of many reasons we left Germany.

It was the initial impetus though and the final push as well.  I was not sending my daughter back into that school environment there and my American passport was only going to protect me for so long.  (Note to American homeschoolers in Germay:  you are not legally allowed to homeschool there either.  They do turn a blind eye to American military personnel and to most Americans there since most will only be there for a few years and it is not worth the international legal battle.  If someone wanted to bring it to international attention, they COULD try to homeschool in the open there as an American and let the battle begin.  But I wouldn't try it.  They can and they have forcibly removed children from homeschooling homes and put the kids into foster care and the parents into prison.  Since this is obviously so much better than having children homeschooled by parents who love them.)

We Germans do love our state control.

In any case, all four of my kids were enrolled in our local state school within a week of touching ground in Brisbane. 

It was like a carnival.

Andrew wrote his first essay on how much better school was in Australia than in Germany.  (And he hasn't even read the international PISA scores the Germans are always so worried about!)

The education system here had everything we found the education system to be lacking in Germany.

That we changed schools two years later is a fantastic part of the system that allows choice.  Andrew needed the academic challenges he is now getting at our new school.  He needed to be stimulated by his peers as well as by his teachers.  And he is.  The twins were quite happy where they were but I wasn't happy with the behaviour of their peers anymore either.  And I wanted more resources, more organisation and communication and more discipline.  (I loved the staff at our old school - still do - and miss them dearly - an amazing part of the Aussie character is that they too knew we needed to leave and they encouraged us to do what was best for us with no hard feelings.  Wouldn't happen in Germany.  Wouldn't happen in America.  I truly have so much to learn from Oz.)

How lucky are we to have found this only a five minute drive from our old school?  I really have nothing to be angry about.  Sorry about that.  (It's an American thing and maybe a German thing and entirely a Christine thing.  But I am working on it!)

I don't think Ryan was going to be happy in any school we chose, state or private.  She was passed over and miserable in Germany.  She was happier here - she had the help she needed with academics and the support of the teachers which was totally lacking in Germany - but she still absolutely detested the social aspects of school.  Quite frankly, she wanted nothing to do with any of the girls around her.

And I couldn't blame her.

Ryan is such a gentle spirit.  It was breaking her to send her into the battle zone of school every morning.  (I mean any school; do people REALLY think the skills we need socially as adults are learned at SCHOOL?!  It's like herding cattle into pens.  Except you also make them sit at desks and learn stuff they aren't remotely interested in all day long.  And then force them to get along with the cow that just shat on them two minutes before.)

We've been homeschooling for three weeks now and my face light ups when I describe my new job. 

I love having Ryan home.

She enjoys being here.

We have done all the testing the first two weeks - she seems to be on par academically thanks for asking - and just received our books yesterday.

We are able to do extra work, more repetition, because I can sit with her, give her an assignment and get on with it.  And she is able to concentrate without the distractions of twenty plus kids.  (Really, Ian on my knee playing with the pencil sharpener is NOTHING compared to the behaviours she was putting up with in both her German and her Australian school.)  No spitballs being thrown.  Noone else walking around the classroom.  Or asking to go to the bathroom.  Or asking to see her answers or insisting on her joining their gang during recess.

Just us.

We are able to repeat and redo maths until she has it down.  And are moving on to multiplying fractions on Monday.

Her writing at home isn't as confused and incoherent as what she used to bring home from school.  It's not great literature - she doesn't have much of an interest - but it is clear, it is following the rules, point A follows from point B, and she wraps it up tightly if a bit quickly once she reaches her word limit!

Her basic grasp of grammar is atrocious considering she has had it in two languages for six years now.  Which shows that no amount of handouts is going to help - she had it in Germany and was working at quite a high level this year actually - but she isn't going to get it if she can't take her own time to work under her own initiative. 

I see where her reading comprehension needs to advance from facts to inference to abstract reasoning.

Although she is reading.

My daughter IS READING!

My daughter, who had never in her life finished a chapter book on her own before a month ago, who used to flip through the chapters and look at the index, is reading for pleasure.
She devoured three of the Twilight novels over break and finished the fourth the first week back at school.

She is now reading three to four Pony Club and Saddle Club books a day, books we've had 5 years or more that she'd never done more than catalog and organise on her shelves.

My daughter is reading.

And happy.

I feel mission accomplished already.

We have this great Australian history book which leads us through ten units of history, geography, art, science, literature and social studies.  It directs us to supplementary books from the library and I have already discovered several more Australian authours to admire and emulate.

I am going to be learning so much. 

Then there are all the great homeschooling resources I have discovered.  We have had to limit ourselves for a bit since we've decided lunch is important too.  (We are both eating better and more regularly too!)

We are repainting the kitchen chairs.

And working on a piece based on the cover of the second book in the Twilight series.

She started flute lessons last week. 

The greatest opportunity I have through homeschooling is the ability to introduce my daughter to other artistic, creative beings like herself.   She was fast friends with her flute teacher in minutes and talking about joining a youth orchestra and going to hear concerts and borrowing flute CDS from the library (which we have already done) and playing duets together.

Her playing has jumped a level from just one private lessson.  (Although I DO have to thank the school music instructor for getting her to the level she is at already.  Without the school program we would not have been able to have Ryan play a musical instrument until this year.)

A new world is opening up for all of us through homeschooling; Ryan is happier, I am happier.  Having the girls happy naturally makes Damon happier.  And the boys are happier. 

We are also bringing learning into the home the way we used to before we became overwhelmed with the day-to-day demands of so many children.  There are books on the kitchen table.  They are read.  It is now normal to see all five children with their noses in a book instead of helping with dinner. 

The twins want to learn American history.  And insects.  Oh and rocks.  We are identifying them this weekend.  Yay me.   (Andrew still just wants to play sports but I am forcing him to enter a writing competition.  Don't feel bad for him - he needed the push - and he has improved too since he is now being held to higher academic standards both at home and at school.  Oh and he still has plenty of time to throw his precious ball around.  Whichever ball.  It doesn't really matter.)

The happiest part of my day is still when I drop those twins off at school.  And come back to a quiet home where I can work and play with my daughter.  Ian toddles around happily, we do some laundry or cleaning or playing in the sandbox or pool.  While Ryan schools. 

If and when he naps, Ryan and I can change the world with all we are able to accomplish!

I wake up at 5 AM thinking of what I have to do for the next fifteen plus hours and I love my job.  I am getting groceries in between the school run, scheduling appointments into odd moments, cleaning the house in a rush in between other errands, like any other working mother.  But I get to work from home.  And I get to do what I love.  With the people I love.

There is no better job in the world for me than that of educating my children.

So if I've been a little angry lately - or for the last five years - forgive me.

Educating my children is my life.

I have nothing better to do.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Where Is The Love?

(I wrote this last week, before all the Oms and the Desiderata.  Would like to post it as a reminder to myself; first that I DO care about it even if I am able to be at peace about it, and secondly, that if I am ever going to be able to do something about it I should concentrate on my writing, on writing something that makes people think about it, maybe even sing about it, rather than making them sad and angry and alienating them.  Working on it, really I am!)

I'm still worried about that child abuse stuff.  I'm still bothered that it's all around me, that it is people I sat next to and spoke to and acted as if nothing was wrong.  I'm still bothered that the government seems to be able to do nothing about it.  But I'm more bothered that I sat next to these people and treated them as people.

When do I draw the line at treating someone as deserving of happiness?  When they rob it from their children.

I'm still disturbed.  It seems I can do nothing about it.  I can't change the world; I certainly can't save it. 

But I also can't ever sit next to these people again.  I can't do it.  I just can't. 

But I will stop trying to hit you over the head with it.

Because the Black-Eyed Peas say it so much better than I ever can.

"Where Is The Love?"

What's wrong with the world, mama
People livin' like they ain't got no mamas
I think the whole world addicted to the drama
Only attracted to things that'll bring you trauma

Overseas, yeah, we try to stop terrorism
But we still got terrorists here livin'
In the USA, the big CIA
The Bloods and The Crips and the KKK

But if you only have love for your own race
Then you only leave space to discriminate
And to discriminate only generates hate
And when you hate then you're bound to get irate, yeah

Madness is what you demonstrate
And that's exactly how anger works and operates
Man, you gotta have love just to set it straight
Take control of your mind and meditate
Let your soul gravitate to the love, y'all, y'all

People killin', people dyin'
Children hurt and you hear them cryin'
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek

Father, Father, Father help us
Send some guidance from above
'Cause people got me, got me questionin'
Where is the love (Love)

Where is the love (The love)
Where is the love (The love)
Where is the love, the love, the love

It just ain't the same, always unchanged
New days are strange, is the world insane
If love and peace are so strong
Why are there pieces of love that don't belong

Nations droppin' bombs
Chemical gasses fillin' lungs of little ones
With ongoin' sufferin' as the youth die young
So ask yourself is the lovin' really gone

So I could ask myself really what is goin' wrong
In this world that we livin' in people keep on givin' in
Makin' wrong decisions, only visions of them dividends
Not respectin' each other, deny thy brother
A war is goin' on but the reason's undercover

The truth is kept secret, it's swept under the rug
If you never know truth then you never know love
Where's the love, y'all, come on (I don't know)
Where's the truth, y'all, come on (I don't know)
Where's the love, y'all

People killin', people dyin'
Children hurt and you hear them cryin'
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek

Father, Father, Father help us
Send some guidance from above
'Cause people got me, got me questionin'
Where is the love (Love)

Where is the love (The love)?
Where is the love (The love)?
Where is the love, the love, the love?

I feel the weight of the world on my shoulder
As I'm gettin' older, y'all, people gets colder
Most of us only care about money makin'
Selfishness got us followin' our wrong direction

Wrong information always shown by the media
Negative images is the main criteria
Infecting the young minds faster than bacteria
Kids wanna act like what they see in the cinema

Yo', whatever happened to the values of humanity
Whatever happened to the fairness in equality
Instead of spreading love we're spreading animosity
Lack of understanding, leading us away from unity

That's the reason why sometimes I'm feelin' under
That's the reason why sometimes I'm feelin' down
There's no wonder why sometimes I'm feelin' under
Gotta keep my faith alive till love is found
Now ask yourself

Where is the love?
Where is the love?
Where is the love?
Where is the love?

Father, Father, Father, help us
Send some guidance from above
'Cause people got me, got me questionin'
Where is the love?

Sing with me y'all:
One world, one world (We only got)
One world, one world (That's all we got)
One world, one world
And something's wrong with it (Yeah)
Something's wrong with it (Yeah)
Something's wrong with the wo-wo-world, yeah
We only got
(One world, one world)
That's all we got
(One world, one world)

Thursday, October 25, 2012


The Desiderata
flower line

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble,
it's a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
Max Ehrmann was an attorney turned philosopher-poet who live in Terre Haute, Ind. He spent his life wrestling with the realities of making a living and following his personal calling to a life of poetry, literature, and thought. He wrote A Prayer, which became a message of hope for thousands, but he is best known for Desiderata, which he wrote for himself, "because it counsels those virtues I felt myself most in need of." Max included this work as part of a personal Christmas greeting in 1933, and Desiderata's power and appeal have continued to reach out to and significantly affect readers ever since. He died in 1945.
Desiderata is copyrighted and is displayed here ( with permission from Bell & Son Publishing, LLC ,
1301 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY 10019-6076.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Open Your Heart?!

Every now and then I get a very private yoga class.

Twice a month Ian and I have been going down to the State Library of Queensland in Brisbane and attending Mother and Baby Yoga classes in the Childrens' Corner there.  (Brisbane ROCKS!)

Sometimes none of the babies are interested and we end up focusing on the mommies while the babies safely toddle around the play area.

This leads to some very long poses.

Eyes closed.

Muscles slowly relax.

The body - and mind - move to where they are meant to as they follow (subconsciously sometimes) the instructor's spoken suggestions.

"Now bring all that tension deep inside yourself."

What?  Wait a minute.  Aren't we releasing and untensing?  Aren't we letting it all GO?

"Bring all the negative feelings, the bitterness, the frustration, the anger, the unhappines, discomfort, whatever is bothering you, into your core."

Uh lady.  Aren't we supposed to get GETTING RID OF those things?

"Bring them into your core, into your inner heart, into yourself, so that you can deal with them and then let them go."


I'd never heard that before.

It comes back to me now, months later, because I am going to try to do just that with my anger over the next few weeks.  I am going to accept it and let it in instead of exposing it and spewing it all over the place.  (You're welcome!) 

Releasing it into the universe isn't making it go away.  I'm not a "forget about it" kinda gal.  (As if that wasn't patently obvious!)  Let go?  Who am I kidding?

Maybe bringing it into my heart and accepting it will help.

Funny thing is, that when I told my instructor how much her words had meant to me, and how different I found them from what I usually hear at yoga, she told me that she didn't remember saying them.

"Sometimes I just go into this place and the words come from their own, almost as if they are meant to be heard by a specific person in the class."

Open my heart.

Oh God, I really am sixteen again.  Now I'm singing Madonna songs!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Long-Winded Apology (All about ME!!!)

Over a month ago, when the shit hit the fan with Aidan back at our old school, I sat up nights listening to 10,000 Maniacs (oh, oh, oh, what's the matter here, I'm tired of the excuses everybody, uses, he's your kid, do as you see fit) and Suzanne Vega (my name is Luca, I live on the second floor) and writing really bad poetry.

I don't post ALL the crap I write up here.  My poetry is really bad.

I was also reading the Wicked series by Gregory MaGuire which discusses, among other things, the nature of good and evil and the role of individuals in resisting the state.

This was unintentionally bad timing.

Then the Julian Assange story came out on TV here.

That one still has me feeling a bit ambiguous.  Has he done some good?  Sure.  Is he brilliant?  Undeniably.  But is he also working from a broken inner core of bitterness?  Uh, even the documentary seemed to think so.

Would he have been able to do more good - say, Bill Gates good, funding a global research and relief organization that is bringing some positive change to the world - if he had been able to work from an inner core of peace?  Who knows. 

I do know that part of what has been bugging me the last two weeks - and I do apologize for this - is not doing anything about some of the terrible things I see happening to children around me. 

I turned that guilt into anger.  Like Julian Assange.  He was angry that the Australian government did nothing to stop his Aryan supremacist ex-step-dad from abusing children.

So that even as I was getting messages from God (via Neil) telling me that He had it all under control, I was still feeling guilty.  Julian would be so mad at me for not making MORE waves.

Someone even whipped out the old classic for me.  Have the courage to change what you can, the serenity to accept what you can't and the wisdom to know the difference.

I don't think anyone has ever called me either serene.  Or wise.  Let's friggin' change things then.  I'm gonna save the world,!

And I'm Catholic.  And German.  And American.  I mean, where will the guilt stop if I don't speak up and do something about the evils around me? 

Oh yeah,  I've just stopped breastfeeding the baby too.  Now I'm listening to Pet Shop school they taught me how to be so pure in thought and word and deed, it didn't quite succeed....and Black-Eyed Peas...people dying and children crying.  Oh yeah.  I got a whole post on that one.  I'm telling ya, you haven't even seen the really angry stuff!

All of a sudden I feel like a teenager again, full of self-righteous anger and energy and ready to take on the world.

I'm telling you man, not a tattoo on me, but I'm a bad mother-fucker.  (Look, I even typed a really bad word!!!  More on WHY I have to do that every now and then in another blog...I learned why at a writers' conference...really)

It took a text from a friend telling me I had hurt her feelings with what I had written to make me think about all this again.

Did I want to offend someone?  Yeah, I'll be honest, a bit.  But not my friend.  I want to piss off the establishment, rage against the machine, you know dye my hair pink and go punk.

Do tell me it's not all just the hormones. 

But then I thought, well, if I offend the very people I want on my side, then I'm not really doing any good. 

Well, first I thought, if I offended my friend my writing couldn't have been very good, because she missed the point (the intended sarcasm and self-belittlement) I was aiming at the establishment.

Which establishment?  Not quite sure.  Take your pick.  Who is it that allows social inequities in general and abuses to children in particular to exist?

THAT establishment.

Which is really very much bigger than my old school, this state government, any state government at all.

Funny, I've been doing a lot of running lately too.  Really running.  I thought if I tired myself out enough I would get away from the thoughts of injustice and inequity and the pictures in my head  and the ways that I could change it all and......I'm pretty fit now.  I think I'm going for 10 kms next weekend.

By Friday I thought, this is ridiculous, I am so wound up and so angry, and really, is it all just the hormones coming back because I feel like I did when I was sixteen, let me try yoga.  (What I tried as a sixteen year old wouldn't work, too many kids, not enough time to recover!!!)


Although I did run 5 kms first.


Stretch and bend.


Stop thinking about THAT and focus on the twist.

Lengthen the spine.

And then I felt it, just for a teensy moment, the barest millisecond, a glowing warmth (that was not a torn muscle!), a presence, a message from the universe.

"Don't worry Christine,"  it said.  "I got this one."

And somehow it came to me  - midpose - that all the injustices in the world aren't my problem to fix.  That I don't have to feel guilty about not doing anything about them.  (Give up GUILT?!  But what would I replace it with?!)  That all I have to do is worry about my life and my children and take it from there.  Give up the control over anything but MY OWN circumstances.

This all sounds so familiar.  Maybe if I repeat it enough I will finally get it right.

The feeling I had - for a barest of a flicker - is that the universe is just fine the way it is.


You mean, I don't have to do a damn thing about any of it?  Give up the guilt and the anger and the need to do something about it?  And it's not quitting or selling out?  What a relief. 

Thanks, friends, for the texts and emails and the messages.

Max Ehrmann said it best in his poem, Desiderata.

"With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world."

I wanna be able to write like that.

And it won't come from a core of anger.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New Boyfriend

It's like finally breaking up with that bad boy who really wasn't doing you any good and going out with that nice boy from Harvard. 

This week I've gotten the passwords for Aidan and Matthew to get online access to classroom work from home.  Andrew's homework is also to be done online.  Today, when I went in to get his password because he is home sick, his teacher already had it ready for me on her desk.  She had meant to give it to him today.  All three boys have free access to online learning programs as well as assignments from their teachers.
I've got the swim schedule for later this month,  an invitation to school skating night on Saturday, an invitation to the drama and glee club's production of The Jungle Book next week, and the biweekly newsletter telling us about a writing competition I'd like Andrew to enter.

Andrew also received a note confirming that a child in his class has been found to have lice.  While this is no shocker, at our old school we just assumed at least a handful of kids from each class had lice at any given time and checked daily, what is surprising is that the school IS allowed to inform parents when another child in their class has an infectious disease and that they ARE allowed to ask parents to check their child, clean their home, and not have their child return to school unless their child has been treated. 

Oh.  Turns out just the poor kids are held to lower health and hygiene standards. 

Why this should surprise me is a mystery.  I've lived all over the world.  I've seen worse disparities between rich and poor - way worse, in Africa, in India, and daily in the USA - than in southeast Queensland.  Way worse.  Which is maybe why it took this long for me to figure it out here.

I guess I just still thought this was wrong.  I was still all gung-ho bent on fighting for equity for everyone. 

Proof maybe that I belong in the little rich white girl caste.

The truth is - and I see this now -  that most people from our old school wouldn't even want to go to our new school.  It would blow them away. 

The truth is that they are happy where they are.

And my job is to learn to let that be. 

What still annoys me a bit is that it took me this long to figure out where I fit in.

Honestly, we would have ALL saved ourselves a lot of trouble if someone had just said, really early on, listen Christine, you are so not meant to be here, take a left onto Gympie and head over the AJ Wylie bridge.

You'll find YOUR tribe there.  (Tribe is a much more acceptable word that caste or socioeconomic class, isn't it?!)

To be fair, someone WAS saying it last year already.  I just couldn't figure out why he kept telling me where he sent HIS kids to school.  (And I really couldn't figure out that everyone was saying "Kurwongbah" last year either!!!  Maybe if they'd written it on a slip of paper!)

So, the boys are up at 6 AM, dressed and fed, beds made, teeth brushed, lunch made and bags packed, waiting downstairs to head to school.

They liked the old boyfriend all right, but they are super psyched about this new guy!

And oh.  I've figured out the parking!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

But The Parking Sucks!!!

It's been a tough week, not so much for me but for the people who have had to hear about how fantastic the changes in our lives are going.

Like Claire said after our move from Germany,  "oh oh oh, the weather is nice all the time and the beach is great and....."

Lori added.  "uh, some of us still have to live in Europe you know, so please tone it down a little."

So that, out of respect, I am going to tell you all how much the parking sucks at our new school.

Never mind that the staff is so organized that they were telling ME about report cards at the end of term, ten weeks away, on the first day of school.  Both teachers. 

The boys were on the weekly "Show and Tell" roster within three days of showing up.  They had homework the first day back.

I have their school books ordered for January.

I've had the author visit permission slip for Andrew, the swim forms for the twins, receipts from camp and a back-ordered pair of shorts from the uniform shop all delivered to the classrooms and taken care of immediately. 

Although I do have to park a block away to pick them up in the afternoons.

Mornings, there are over a hundred children sitting quietly on benches in front of the Tuck Shop until the bell rings at 8:30.  Then they are allowed to play handball quietly.

There is a woman with a bull horn enforcing this.

If I get there early enough, I can sometimes park close enough to the school so that I don't have to walk up the hill.

Kurwongbah DOES appear to have students from a higher socioeconomic group than our old school.   (Hiding behind the big words, always hiding behind the big words!)  Some.  There are plenty of us from Lawnton there too!

But I don't think that's why the school has such a great reputation. 

They have higher expectations.

And they enforce them.

It helps that they have over 900 students.  They have more resources, more teachers, more money, more programs.  They even have a school song!!

The uniform code is more stringent.  (I meant, honestly, if you are going to have a uniform policy, enforce it.)

Discipline, organization and communication.  I am happy.

I dropped into our old school this week too, to drop off some things we had managed to take home with us.   ( I was able to park right at the school entrance.)

It was hard to walk in, the way it sometimes is when you return home after a long time away.

But once there, I felt among friends.  I do miss the staff from our old school.  It is like going from a Thanksgiving dinner with family (with all the dysfunction that accompanies it but also all the love) to being part of a well-oiled corporation.

Leaving was so hard just because our old school was family.

But just think of all the friends I am going to make circling that two block radius around Kurwongbah, marching up that hill and down, twice a day, five days a week.

Rest assured folks, the parking sucks!!!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Milestones: Two Years

We're reaching milestones faster than I can record them. 

Perhaps I can be forgiven for missing the date of the first anniversary of our arrival here; I'd just had a baby barely six weeks before.

(Insert inappropriate comment about immigrants!)

But now we're going on year two and the merry-go-round isn't slowing down. 

We left Altdorf, in a hasty scramble of madness that involved a crooked landlord and unexpectedly euthanizing the dog in the middle of packing the car, on September 30, 2010.  Need I mention it was raining?

I've tried to blot out the pain, remembering only Andrew's comment, after hearing my anger at Damon for the umpteenth time. ( I swear, the man was scanning paperwork in the computer while I was simultaneously cleaning the kitchen, painting the bedroom wall, packing and hauling suitcases down the stairs to the driveway; I can't remember it too closely or I will divorce him even now.)

"He's doing his best Mom,"

Which is why I wanted to kill him.

(Only a few days later, on the backroads of Bayern, we had the "I'm thinking out the other end" comment and the tension lessened.)

I remember Tracey in the rain with all the kids, Lori and Dominique running up and down the stairs with half-packed bags, and feeding Wolfy Lynn-Anne's fabulous South African stew as his last supper.

Lynne- Anne's phone call at the right moment also saved my marriage.

"Just get out," she told me.  (She meant the apartment, and Altdorf and Germany and the situation we were in and not the marriage, I presume.)

The woman is brilliant.

We spent the month of October, 2010, homeschooling and vacationing in Bayern. 

Left Germany on November 3 and landed in Brisbane on November 5.

The staff at A-Mart still remember us coming directly from the airport to buy mattresses for our apartment.

Which is all the furniture we had until after The Floods when people around us realized we really WERE living on mattresses only and started donating chairs and tables and sofas. 

Two years.

Since then we've moved house, found a better job, bought a car,  had a baby, and now recently changed schools and started homeschooling.

The boys play soccer and baseball, during rugby and cricket seasons respectively.  Ryan rides.  Andrew has a motorbike.  I work out, do yoga, have run in a few fun runs, joined a writers' group and spent all night at a literary event in Brisbane recently.  (or should I be saving the drivel for my American Christmas letter this year?!)

The baby is walking. 

We have friends that are family.

And, in the constant cycle that is change, we have started all over again with a new school, and new routines, and meeting new people, all within two years of starting out with barely enough to live on.

I wasn't in the market for new friends.  I fought with everything I had to not switch schools.  I hoped Ryan would change her mind about homeschooling.

Honestly, I'm still exhausted from the move here.

It's the first time in my life I have made such major changes without an accompanying physical move across state lines, countries, continents, oceans or even hemispheres.

Everything is new again.    Everything out of kilter,   a bit out of whack,    full-on as the Aussies say.

I'd say I'm too old for this, but I have a funny feeling this is just the beginning.