Tag Archives: education

Dipping Our Toe Back into School.

Yesterday, our son returned to school for the first time in over a month. Sure, school holidays were thrown into the mix for two weeks, but they didn’t feel like school holidays, anymore than school from home really feels like school. Moreover, without leaving the house for the usual dance, violin and scout runs, it doesn’t feel like term time either. Indeed, so much of the scaffolding which keeps our lives together and provides this strange reassurance called “routine” is gone. That said, my husband is working from home and I’m still beavering away on my WWI research and writing.

Meanwhile, it’s change of seasons and it’s cooling down here in Australia. Indeed, I’m spending my days snuggled up in my PJs all wrapped up in my dressing gown, which even had a hood. However, I’m far from idle. Well, to be honest, that depends on which part of the day you find me. My hours have gone dramatically out of kilter and I’m getting to bed around 2.00-3.00am and waking up at lunchtime. But, hey. At least, I have a routine. It’s just not a very good one and it is something I’m at least working to change in theory.

As you’re no doubt aware, how to manage school and education during the coronacrisis has become a can of worms. My husband works in IT for Macquarie University in Sydney and on the few occasions he’s gone into the office, he’s said the place is a ghost town with bands of starving, marauding magpies descended on this solitary human in large, hopeful flocks. Uni is largely running online, aside from researchers who might need to go in to work to maintain whatever’s going on in the lab. A friend of ours in first year has mentioned his disappointment that the university life he’s long been looking forward to, has dried up and gone online. I remember what all of that was all about, and it was far more important than anything we learnt inside our lectures. So, I can definitely empathize with his disappointment.

Meanwhile, schools in NSW opened up one day a week for all students this week. We decided to send our 16 year old son who is in his second last year of school yesterday, but kept his 14 year old sister at home. These thought processes recognized the individual needs of our kids, the way things were being structured for the different age groups and also acknowledged the fact that the virus is still around. That while our stats are impressively good, there’s still that potential for the virus  to get out of the box. Moreover, since we’ve largely contained the spread, we haven’t anything approaching herd immunity, if that’s even achievable. So, we still need to be careful and our current status has been described as “precarious”. They’re expecting outbreaks, but they’re hoping to contain them through the tracking app (even if that doesn’t help you once you’ve caught the virus!)

Anyway, I thought teachers and parents in particular would be interested to hear how yesterday went. The first thing which really surprised me, was just how keen he was to get to school. Aside from visiting my parents on Mother’s Day, he hasn’t been outside for at least two weeks and had become some kind of extension of his computer screen. Yet, yesterday morning the night owl was up at 6.00 am bright-eyed and bushy tailed, through the shower and chose to actually WALK to school. It seems Sunday’s trip had woken him up and he was keen to get back out there again and really seemed to miss school and was keen to get back.

The school had put a lot of thought and preparation into making the school environment safe. Students have been divided up alphabetically to return one day a week and there’s a ratio of one teacher to nine students, giving ten in the classroom. There was a space of two desks in between students. There’s hand sanitizer going in and out as well as wiping down your desk along with no moving around between classrooms. They’re being absolutely vigilant and caring for the well-being of students and teachers as you would your own family. I am so grateful for that, particularly given my own vulnerability. I don’t want to be putting my own health needs before the kids’ education. Understandably, that’s become a huge strain. Indeed, I freely admit that I’ve felt the burden of Atlas on my shoulders at times. So, it’s been such a relief to have that burden eased.

Of course, I was full of questions as soon as our son walked in the door yesterday afternoon. He was my eyes and ears out in the real world…our intrepid reporter. Most of his friends were either allocated to different days, or were working from home, but he did see one close friend.

However, what really stood out to him yesterday was the silence…the absolute silence. He said he could even hear the trains going past, when usually all he can hear is the horn.  Somehow, that teeny little fragment of his day felt really precious…a truly unique and precious eyewitness statement, which was completely untarnished by other people’s opinions and observations. That’s what stood out to him, and as his mum who doesn’t often gets the details, I was over the moon.

So, now I’d like to hand the floor over to you and invite you to share how school is going in your neck of the woods. Just like it’s fascinating to try foods from different countries, how we do school is another intriguing point of difference, which is being made more interesting under the strain of the virus. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

I’m also very conscious that our situation here in Australia is exceptionally good here in Australia, and our hearts go out to you who are experiencing the worst and are losing loved ones and living under siege. We carry you in our prayers and in our hearts and send our love!

Best wishes,

Rowena

R- Read…A-Z Challenge.

“Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.”

― Lisa See

Welcome back to my series of Motivational Quotes for Writers for the annual Blogging A-Z April Challenge. These quotes are particularly geared towards writers working on a large project such as writing a book and aim to help you reach the end of the tunnel.

It was a toss up between READ and RESEARCH today. However, they overlap quite a lot and since I’ve covered research elsewhere, read it is.

For me, reading fuels and refuels a writer. After all, if we keep pouring our words onto the page, we need to put something back. Of course, experience is also important but reading helps us to arrange and interpret these experiences in ways which will excite and entice the reader.

“The more that you read, the more things you will

know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll

go.”

― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

 

“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than

the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”
Henry David Thoreau

“The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor. …
“[R]ead a lot, write a lot” is the great commandment.”
(Stephen KingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 2000)

Best wishes,

Rowena

Speech Day 1928: The Life Lessons My Grandfather Heard.

As a woman, it’s already difficult to put myself in my grandfather’s shoes and know what it’s like to be a man. Moreover, not having a contraption like the Tardis to travel back in time, it’s also hard to rewind the clock back to 1928 when my grandfather left school as an 18 year old.My grandfather was also Catholic and attending Waverley College in Sydney, which is run by the Christian Brothers. Back at this point in time, there was a great divide between protestants and Catholics which I find hard to imagine these days, although its still rippling away under the surface.

Papa Curtin with Rowena 1969

My grandfather and I. 

Yet, almost 60 years later, I was also sitting at the back of the school assembly hall not paying much attention to what was being said. So, despite all these glaring differences, we were probably not all that different and had very much in common. The transition from the cloister of school into the next chapter has always been a big step.Yet, generation after generation, has gone before us. We were not alone. We have never been the first generation stepping out there trying to find out way, which I now find largely reassuring.  and I guess you just have to hope that most of them eventually found their way and as George Bernard Shaw said:

Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage: it can be delightful.”

Being a by-product of my own generation, these attempts to walk in my grandfather’s shoes, have taken me back to one of the greatest movies of all time: Dead Poet’s Society, (Indeed, it would be my favourite if Casablanca hadn’t got there first!)  For those of you already replaying the movie in your heads, I’m reminded of that scene where English teacher John Keating played by our very much loved friend and mentor, Robin Williams, is looking at the portraits of ex-students on the wall and says:

“They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see, gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen. You hear it?… Carpe… Hear it?… Carpe. Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

-Dead Poet’s Society

As it turns out, I have been able to read the words my grandfather would have heard courtesy of the old newspapers which are now online. Eerily enough, these words actually have a Dead Poet’s Society feel about them, as most of these end of school speeches do. By the way, my grandfather had attended Waverley College, Sydney run by the Christian Brothers and the Address was given by Archbishop Sheehan:

Archbishop Michael Sheehan.

“Your years of youth, my dear boys, are very precious. It is the time in which you build for the future. The opportunities which are now close to your hands will, if neglected, never come within your reach again. Your greatest enemy is the spirit of ill-will and idleness; your best friend is the spirit of obedience and industry.

Your whole life from childhood to death is a warfare, a struggle against temptation. Every victory you gain over yourselves and over the powers of darkness brings with it a strengthening of your will, a strengthening of your character. 

The process of building therefore of which I spoke a moment ago means more than piecing together the divers kinds of knowledge. Let us put it in this way: your task is not only to build for your-selves the house of knowledge, but also and much more to build firm and strong the fortress of the will.

‘How will you take these few words from me? I know boys too well not be be conscious that they listen to old people like myself with a certain amount of patronage, and with a secret feeling that we are out of date and possibly suffering from a touch of dotage, and that therefore any advice of ours is to be taken with a good grain of salt.

Well, it may shake you a bit to hear that the boys of every generation have had exactly the same thoughts, and that when they grew up they found their mistake. One of the chief temptations of your time of life comes from a kind of pride, from a tendency to underrate the advice of the more experienced.’ His Grace concluded by again congratulating the Brothers and the boys on a most successful year, and wished all present the blessings of the Christmas season.” Catholic Press (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1942), Thursday 5 January 1928, page 25

Whether you agree with the Catholic ethos or not, I found good wisdom in there. The Archbishop, who’d been born on the 17th December, 1870 at Waterford in Ireland, did a pretty good job of crawling into the boys’ shoes, seeing himself through their eyes and hopefully captured their attention. In his roundabout way, he first encouraged the boys to listen to their elders and hopefully thus avoid some of life’s predictable potholes. He also wanted them to have a heart, a love of God and be living breathing humans. He didn’t want them to be walking encyclopaedias, robots or money-making machines.  He wanted each and every one of those boys to have a rich and complex life. Catholic or not, there’s a lot of good advice to hold onto there and you can adjust it to suit your personal creed.

There’s one thing I’d particularly like add.

That is the importance of family, close friends and having meaningful relationships, which you carry with you throughout your life. Having lived overseas and travelled, I know what it’s like to be that random atom drifting through space where no one knows you, your history, or your family. Moreover, as an Australian living in Germany, there was only the odd person who knew what an Australian was either and I got away with a bit under that heading too.

While there can be real freedom and liberation in flying away from all those ties, I felt quite lost without them too. There’s a lot to be said for having shared memories within a close community where you can bump into an old friend down the street and have those shared experiences, insights and memories. We have been living in our home for something like 18 years. That’s really crept up on us and initially, it took a long time to get established. However, I now have a genuine, informed interest in the people around me. This has nothing to do with career, paying off the mortgage or even putting food on the table. However, there’s food we don’t eat and we also have to cater for our souls.

What would your advice be to a young person leaving school at the end of 2018? Any regrets? Anything you did or observed that worked well and you’d like to pass on? We’d love to read your thoughts in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I thought I’d better point out that these young men left school the year before the 1929 Fall of Wall Street. The Wall Street Crash of 1929, also known as the Stock Market Crash of 1929 or the Great Crash, started on October 24 (“Black Thursday”) and continued until October 29, 1929 (“Black Tuesday”), when share prices on the New York Stock Exchange collapsed. The crash, which followed the London Stock Exchange’s crash of September, signalled the beginning of the 12-year Great Depression that affected all Western industrialized countries. Wikipaedia These same men could well have fought or enlisted in WWII having had their own fathers serve in WWI. They didn’t have it easy.

 

Sailing Up the Ranks.

Twenty years from now you will be more disppointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
– Mark Twain

If you’ve been following Beyond the Flow, you’re probably aware that our son sails and is a member of our local sailing club. Mr started out with the Sea Scouts, but my Dad sails and is very encouraging, along with my husband who’s out there in a support role every Saturday. I also love sailing when I get a chance.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t look at our son and pick he was going to become a sailor. He’s always been a very active kid and not the type to sit still and I’m not the type to bother learning knots etc. However, he took to sailing like a duck to water. He really loves it and I’ve even seen him get frustrated when he’s stuck on land and there’s a great sailing wind.

“Life is not meant to be easy, my child but take courage: it can be delightful.”
―George Bernard Shaw

However, sailing became a lot more challenging when he went up the ranks and got his own boat, a Flying Eleven. Indeed, in those early months, there were times where sailing became quite soul destroying. His boat has capsized, been towed in and then there have been the vagueries of the weather. Like just about every junior sailor, he’s also come in and threatened to quit. Indeed, there was one very memorable Saturday, when my husband also threatened to quit. So, you can well imagine the size of that seismic burst! Trust me! I had to pull a rabbit out of my hat that afternoon.

However, as the season’s continued, there’s been progress. Firstly, he didn’t capsize. Then, he won a race. Recently, the juniors also went out and skippered a member’s boat with assistance, and the boat he was on came first. Again, while I’m cautious about getting over-excited, you have to applaud a first!

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”

Louisa May Alcott

When it comes to my kids taking on sports or any activity, while it would be great to have them win, I am also looking for character-building stuff. That they grow and develop into considerate, compassionate human beings. At an Olympic level, we saw this at the Winter Olympics when Australian aerial Skier, David Morris, kept his cool despite the judges making a bad call. These sort of characteristics are important, as is helping to bring others up through the ranks. Encouraging them through the enormous frustrations you’ve worked through yourself. Then, they’ll not only learn the ropes, but also overcome the mental demons which threaten to sink their hopes before they even get started.

“The goal is not to sail the boat, but rather to help the boat sail herself.”
– John Rousmaniere

So, I was pretty stoked when I popped into the sailing club on Saturday and found out that Mr had been out helping another Junior. It was his first day out with his new boat and Mr had gone out with him instead. While Mr was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to see him sailing his boat, I was very proud to see that the club had recognized his progress. That he had reached a point, where he could start passing on his experience, knowledge and his encouragement to someone else.  Personally, I think it’s very helpful to have someone with you who is just a few steps ahead. After all, they still remember the frustrations, the pitfalls and how to get around them. They keenly feel that sense of defeat turning itself round into progress and victory. Victory against yourself, and those demons of self-doubt in your own head. After all, they’re the biggest enemies most of us will ever have to face.

“I can’t control the wind but I can adjust the sail.”
― Ricky Skaggs

It’s these sort of struggles which build perseverance and resilience. Or, as my Dad used to say, “put hair on your chest”.  These are qualities not gained through repeated wins, but through repeated knock backs and defeat combined with the ability to get back on the horse and have another go. This a very different experience to bolting straight to the finish line. From always coming first and wearing the victory crown. It means being the loser many times over but never giving up. Indeed,  it could well involve training or working harder, smarter and pushing yourself beyond the brink, not even to take out the coveted gold, but at the same time you’ve achieved something intangible. Indeed, your gold medal’s on the inside.

Now, I am trying to picture our son reading this in 20 years time when he’s nudging 35 and wondering if he even remembers what it was like to start out. Whether he has forgotten all about the capsizing, muddy sails and paddling out of the mud and only remembers the thrill of the wind…the exhilaration of sailing. Even for me, it is something far beyond words and yet Rod Stewart captured it well:

 

Have you ever been sailing and have you caught the bug?

xx Rowena

 

 

 

 

 

INXS Is “History”!

Today, while Miss 11 and I were out driving in the car, the great INXS classic: Devil Inside came on the radio and almost immediately my mood accelerated. It was 1988 all over again and I was basking in my first year of freedom at Sydney University. Yet, as much as I can be the penultimate in embarrassing mothers, I wasn’t singing, dancing or worst of all throwing my undies out the car window in honour of the late great Michael Hutchence. No. I had both hands on the wheel, both eyes on the road and not a hair out of place to betray the devil inside me.

devon

Devon- a manufactured meat product sold in Australia and NZ.

That’s when my daughter started talking about how this song reminded her of a kid who was dead inside (I think this was her interpretation of being boring), and asked me to clarify the words of the song. Was it “dead inside” or “devon inside”? She also added that they could improve their diction. I had to chuckle at the thought of the late, great Michael Hutchence having devon inside. Although, in the land of young kids and school sangers, of course, devon inside makes perfect sense. Indeed, you might even have devon and a splash of tomato sauce inside two buttered slices of bread.

That’s when I asked Miss 11 if she’d heard of Michael Hutchence? Sadly, that just resulted in a blank stare and then she asked me if I’d heard of Josh Hutcherson who played the leading role of Peeta Mellark in  The Hunger GamesSadly, I had not. So, we were even. Nil all.

After that, my husband and I decided that the kids needed to get an education and we conjured “Devil Inside” up onto our TV, bringing 1988 back to life. While we were very excited and really looking forward to sharing something special to us with them, for the kids, it was a lesson in ancient history in the same way my own grandfather used to talk about his father and grandfather making wheels for carts in the old smithy. Moreover, while to us,  the music sounded contemporary enough, showing the kids the film clips put the nail in the coffin. Indeed, even I found them dated.

We love the Beatles.jpg

 

I guess I can take comfort in the knowledge that I am at least a step ahead of my parents. They each went to see The Beatles on their 1966 Australian tour. My mother also tells a story about how she had tickets to go and see Peter, Paul and Mary but her parents forced her to go on a family holiday to visit her Great Uncle out in Burke in far Western NSW. Mum, Dad and four “adult children” squeezed into the FJ Holden without air-conditioning or a radio. Mum played the piano in some kind of concert while she was out there. A promising pianist at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music visiting the outback was a big deal back then. Not the Queen perhaps, but perhaps an alternative to the pub.

When I was studying history back at school and university, we didn’t really look at the music people listened to as a way of interpreting the times. Of course, there were newspapers, novels and art. Yet, at least as far as I can recall, not much of an emphasis on music. Yet, for those of us who’ve lived through the times, music is such a part of it. It’s always there in the foreground, the background or stuck inside our heads even when we wish it would stop. Couples have their song and when an old song comes on, it’s like jumping straight into a time machine. I’m there.

In addition to sharing these songs with our kids as a part of us, I also want them to know their own culture, and their own cultural history. I want them to read some of our great books. Listen to our songs. Not only see a kookaburra sitting on a gum tree, but also know the song (even if it’s no longer cool to sing along now they’re teens).

Tuckerbox family cropped

The family standing in front of the Dog on the Tuckerbox (back right hand side), Gundagai, NSW, Australia.

Last January, when we were driving down to Melbourne to catch the ferry over to Tasmania, we drove through the famous country town of Gundagai. This town is not only famous for its statue: “The dog sits on the Tuckerbox”, but also the song: Along the Road to Gundagai, where the chorus goes:

There’s a track winding back to an o-old fashioned shack
Along the road to Gundagai
Where the blue gums are growin’ and the Murrumbidgee’s flowin’
Beneath the sunny sky
There my mother and daddy are waitin’ for me
And the pals of my childhood once more I shall see
Then no more will I roam when I’m headin’ straight for home
Along the road to Gundagai 

Well, the kids almost murdered me as I kept singing the song as we approached Gundagai. I just wanted them to know their own culture, but there was no respect. None whatsoever, just a combined cringe.

Crocodile_Dundee

Paul Hogan as Crocodile Dundee.

Sometimes, I feel that bringing my kids up with an Australian culture and influence, is like migrants trying to bring their kids up with a knowledge of the old country. That my own Australian culture feels just as foreign here due to the omnipresent American influence. Moreover, with the Internet now part of our homes, our kids are becoming Americanized in a much more intimate and personal way. One afternoon, I heard my son chatting over the Internet to a young kid from the American deep South. This was interesting and novel in a way and something I could never have done as a child. However, it wasn’t long and our son was speaking American around the house and I wanted it to stop. The same with our daughter. We have tomato sauce, not “ketchup”. We have cupboards/wardrobes not “closets”. We have biscuits, although we also have cookies but they’re an American style biscuit not your standard tea-dunking thing. We are our own people, our own place.

It’s not always easy to know what it means to be Australian. We are a multi-cultural society and any discussion of being Australian also includes Aboriginal Australia. For me, at least, it’s not just about white Australia or male/female Australia but a diverse mix which, despite all it’s diversity, is still it’s own nation with it’s own culture. Moreover, while our population is small, we don’t need to stop being who we are and become someone else to survive or make a go of it. We are beautiful just the way we are. I might not know what that it is, but I sure know what it isn’t!

Perhaps, I need to go and think of a way of rewriting Waltzing Matilda for the modern day and I’d better not ask INXS to perform it.

How are you conquering the cultural divide with your kids? Do you think its important for countries to maintain their own cultures? Or, should be all just merge into a global monoculture? As individuals, do we have a say? 

xx Rowena

Back to the Real World…a new school year.

It was the massive jolt that had to happen. The kids went back to school this week and the dreaded inevitable hit me like a Mac truck, as we switched from Holiday Mode to School Time looking and feeling like the zombie apocalyse.

Waking up at 7.00AM again was brutal. We’ve mastered the sleep-in over the break and while the kids went off on a few camps, I stayed put often staggering out of bed at lunch time, making the most of an empty diary.

While I’m sounding like a human sloth, I’ve actually spent much of the holidays trying to get the kids, house, bedrooms ready for the new school year. In keeping with my belief that we are reborn on January 1st each year, I knew it was entirely possible that we could pull off the seemingly miraculous. That can all be encapsulated in one simple word…ORGANIZED.

Unfortunately, being organized for school isn’t as easy as it seems. It’s not as simple as making sure they have their uniforms, shoes and socks all set out. Of course, they also need the laptop, pen, paper, books, backpack. But that’s not the end of the list either.

“Wait. There’s more!” Since we’re going back to school, I can’t throw in a set of steak knives. That said, school wouldn’t be school without a metaphorical knife in the back, more likely from a friend you’ve loved and trusted, rather than the proverbial bully. Most of us are also pretty good at shooting ourselves in the foot too.

Going back to school is also about a place for everything and everything in it’s place, which means a clean, neat and tidy bedroom…and kitchen table for many of us and some way of making sure the dog doesn’t eat the kids’ homework as well.

That’s just the stuff you need to get sorted before the kids have walked through the gate.

DSC_8220

It’s only been a couple of days and all the gumph hasn’t come home yet. This has given me the chance to do what I fully intended to do two years ago when our son started high school. That is, draw up a grid showing the weeks of term on one side and the subjects on the other side. When I’d finished, I printed it out and suddenly my mind went blank. What was I supposed to do with it now? How were the kids supposed to use it? I had no idea. My mind went blank…an empty whiteboard with all of it’s circuits removed.

It was time to phone a friend.

I don’t know about you but how often to you come up with these wizz bang systems but don’t know how to implement them? How to convert dreams/plans into action?

I’m the master. A frequent visitor to organizing stationery shop Kiki K, I have all the tools to plan my week, menu, set goals, and even fly to the moon. Well, that is, if only I could ever get started.

Anyway, the subject grid is now sorted and we’ll write the big assignments and tests in there so we can trouble shoot and plan ahead instead of falling in a screaming heap, which has been our usual modus operandi. With both the kids in high school now, this planning will also help us identify times when they’re both going to be hitting the panic button and we can hopefully prevent a monumental meltdown x 2. After all, each of the kids isn’t living in isolation, but as part of a family and by getting the family machine well greased and in peak fitness, hopefully it will support them. Bring out their best. I feel it’s been holding them back in the past with four individuals coming and going and all sorts of unexpected hazards side swiping us while absorbed in something else.

Clock Sculpture Paris

This brings me onto what is a bit of a swear word around here…time management. How do you help them complete tasks in a timely manner? This has been a real struggle for me and this is what inevitable takes me into Kiki K.pomodoro timer

 

Recently, I was put onto a time management system called the Pomodoro Technique. This uses a tomato-shaped timer which you set for 22 minutes and then you focus on one task during this time. If you have an idea about soemthing else during this time, you jot it down on a post it note and keep going on the original task. When the time’s up, you can take a 5 minutes break. After four consecutive sessions, you can take a 20 minutes break. I spoke to my son’s teacher and she said that they basically do this and they call these 5 minutes breaks: “Brain breaks”. I also use a device called a Time Timer, which is a visual clock and shows how much time you have left in red and you can immediately see how much time you have left and can plan accordingly.

Yet, along with all this organization and the home study machine, we still need to have fun. We still need chaos, antics, laughter because we’re not machines.

DSC_8233.JPG

For better or worse, our dogs are very good distractors, comedy and stress relief while also adding fuel to the fire. Today, Rosie one of our 6 month of Border Collie x Kelpie pups, helped herself to a fluoro pink highlighter out of the pen jar on the kitchen table and chewed the thing to death. There was literally a pool of pink ink on the kitchen floor and splashes of ink on her paws. She was a very naughty girl, but she looked so funny that I had to laugh and photograph the proof.

I also went for a swim at the beach this week and it was so therapeutic just to feel the stress fall off my shoulders and drift far out to sea. Phew! What a relief.

A relief and a reminder that it’s all too easy to get too wound up and perfectionistic about all of this. Being organized is good, but it needs to serve a purpose and there comes a point where you have done enough and it’s time to let go. Step back. How far back, I guess depends on how the kids respond. However, experience to date, has shown the need to keep checking back in and knowing when those deadlines are coming up, even if it;s only to prevent a serious bout of gastro, asthma or the like leading to extended absences and avoidance.

It could also be helpful to reflect on our own less than perfect school days and give the kids a breather. They’re not 40 or 50 something and tackling their high school days for the second time. Rather, they’re teenagers on their first way through who also need to learn from their mistaks and find their own way through. By doing everything for them, it removes responsibility, and doesn’t allow them to think for themselves, which could well have greater long term consequences than a few late assignments.

So, as you can see navigating your way through the whole parent teen study thing is riddled with contradictions, but defintiely worth thinking about and not simply going with the flow to give your children the best chance of doing their best.

I would love to hear any tips you might have as either a parent, teacher or student which may be beneficial.

xx Rowena

 

Parking Lot Near Bologna, 1992…Flash Fiction.

As part of an inter-agency operation, the Guardia di Finanza was staking out the notorious Bologna car park. It was said to be the change over point, for trucks trafficking young women from Croatia to the UK.

“Ze cargo good. Very good,” said the guy in the green pants, reportedly  Sergei Demodenko. The other man, known as the Kissing Assassin, was Luigi Pepperoni.

“Disgusting!” a female officer spat. “They can roast in hell.”

“But they are just the little fish. Talk is, this goes high up.”

Suddenly, the men peered up, and sped from the scene. Evidently, a tip off.


This afternoon, I intrepidly advanced into my teenage son’s bedroom and took off with his school folder to dig out the art assignment he had due, and evaluate the carnage. As you could perhaps appreciate, I need to be in the right frame of mind to take on his messy folder, but desperation called.

His assignment was on Australian Artist, Jeffery Smart . I’d heard the name, but despite having somewhat studied Australian art in the context of social history at university, I couldn’t place him. So, before I even chased up the questions for the assignment, I did the usual Google search and caught up.

What followed was several hours working through the painting with our son and also for myself. I don’t know whether you’ve seen what homework’s like these days in the post-Google Internet era. However, our son does his homework online and submits it to his teacher via Google classroom. This is very much “Beam me up, Scotty” territory to me. He still has exercise books, yet his learning is so interactive, and light years ahead of what we were doing. I left school in 1987 and I remember studying art history from a black & white text book, which hardly did anything justice. I don’t remember studying Australian art at all and discovering the likes of Australian Women artists like Margaret Preston and Thea Proctor, had to wait until university.

Art appreciation, also meant a trip to the Art Gallery of NSW in the city, not a Google search from your lounge chair.

We really were deprived.

Anyway, as we went through the questions, I found out that he had to write a 100 story about the painting. I was initially a bit baffled about what he should write, but then it suddenly dawned on this bear of little brain, that they were just asking him to write what I write all the time…a 100 word piece of flash fiction.

He hasn’t done something like this before to my knowledge. So, I thought I’d write an example to show him to help him formulate his own ideas.

This was much harder than expected. While Jeffrey Smart is an Australian artist, he lived in Italy most of his life and the painting is set in a car park in Bologna. After spending so much time researching, staring at and pulling this painting apart, I decided there was something like a people smuggling ring involved and these men were dealing in human cargo. So, i found myself needing to pick up a few words of Italian, find out a bit about their Police force and think up some kind of interesting twist for the end.

I do this every week for Friday Fictioneers. However, it’s never easy and there’s a huge part of me, which almost capitulates every week, when seeing the photo prompt produces a nasty case of writer’s block. I really do freeze and the words stop dead in their tracks.

Anyway, there’s a bit of a back story to this. I hope you enjoyed it and might I also encourage you to write something about this intriguing painting prompt and put a link to your effort in the comments below. I’d love to read it.

xx Rowena

PS I just put 1 + 1 together and realized that 1992 was the year I was in Europe and that I actually went to Florence the year this was painted. That wasn’t long after The Wall had come down and Germany had been reunified. The Croatian War of Independence was fought from 1991 to 1995 between Croat forces loyal to the government of Croatia—which had declared independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. I remember that you couldn’t send mail to Croatia at the time…just the tip of a dreadful iceberg.

Weekend Coffee Share 19th March, 2017.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Today, I have a little confession. It’s actually almost Monday afternoon here, but there’s no rule that says you have to stick to local time. So, I’m Coming to you to from Boston where it’s currently 8.42PM Sunday and it’s currently 2ºF. It’s currently 27ºC here in Sydney with 80% humidity. The air is so heavy and sticky and it feels like you could literally wring the water out of it,which is all pretty yuck to be honest. Not that I’m wishing Winter would hurry up. It’s more of a case of “rain, rain go away…”

Woy Woy March 20

After weeks of seriously heavy rain, the sun started to peer through the clouds this morning and I had to seize the moment.

At the moment, I’m wishing I could find some form of cosmic remote control. Mostly, I’d like to press the pause button for awhile to catch up. Or, a bit like the conductor of an orchestra, get some parts to stop of play quietly so I can focus on something else without being interrupted or feeling I’m needing to split my brain so many directions, that it short circuits.

I know I’m far from being the only one who feels like this so when is some young Einstein or Thomas Eddison going to invent the ultimate device. Or, could I be the one to come up with the ultimate invention? Unless it’s made out of a box of spare cuckoo clock parts or the components of the piano I’m thinking of pulling to pieces, I doubt it. I’d better stick to art and my planned deviation into sculpture.

The last couple of weeks have been very stressful. Not because I’ve had a lot on, but I’ve had some big stuff on and I’ve had to be organized and focused, which isn’t my forte.

At the top of the agenda at the moment, our daughter goes to high school next year. Forget any concerns about my baby growing up. At the moment, the preparation side of things is enough to contend with. In a bid to give her plenty of choice and options, she’s sat for the State selective schools test, but she’s also sitting for selective academic and performing arts tests at our local school. We won’t get the results of the selective schools’ test  until after the offers are made for the local school. So, needless to say, the process by itself is an ordeal and my role is never as simple as “taxi driver extraordinaire”. I’m also chief motivator, enforcer and “punching bag”. Golly! I feel like handing in my resignation already and it’s only march. This process goes on at least until October and longer if she’s on the waiting list.

It’s enough to throw yourself under a bus…”Spare me!”That’s metaphorically speaking, of course!

The other big event this week, was my thirty year school reunion. That was a real hoot. reunion.  I really love going to these school reunions, even though I wasn’t one of the cool kids at school. We’ve all moved on and the girls who gave me a hard time, don’t come to the reunions, which intrigues me. Unfortunately, most of the people they really picked on don’t come either and there are also those who walked out the school gate and never looked back. For me, the usual what to wear problem was compounded by weeks and weeks of severely heavy rain, which was saying hibernate to me. I could’ve worn an eskimo suit there if I’d had one. There was also the shoe issue. I can’t stand long at the best of times and as much as I would’ve liked to wear the pretty shoes, I had to go with the sensible shoes. This ended up being quite interesting as I ended up almost feeling short, when I’m usually tall. Some of those heels were like towers. Anyway, I enjoyed catching up on anecdotes from the past and they had scanned in a series of letters to Charles and Di a class had written for the Royal Wedding. They’d got married when I was in 6th class and I clearly remember the insane obsession the world had with Diana, which was such a part of those school years. I clearly remember one of my friends saying her Gran had taken her off for a Lady Di haircut but she had a cowlick in her fridge and it didn’t really come off.  The teenage years are a bit like that though. So much never really comes off.

I should mention, that there was talk about actor Hugh Jackman at the reunion.  Of course, there had to be. He was our local heartthrob. As much as there was talk of Hugh spottings back in the day, there has to be a few stories about the one who broke Hugh’s heart. Of course, it no longer matters whether it’s true or not. You just need a few good myths and legends to rev up a reunion!

Since I missed the coffee share the week before, I still need to wish our son a Happy 13th Birthday. My Dad couldn’t resist writing: “now you’re terrible teenager” in his card and I sure am hoping this isn’t prophetic. I don’t know if you really want a boring kid, but one who did what they were supposed to do without constant reminding would be good.

I guess that’s where that remote control I mentioned earlier would really come in handy. The thing is it would need to be modified to include some kind of homework/study button, which included some kind of “motivational encouragement”.  Of course, this would need to be enabled to override the “play” button. Not that I fancy myself as some kind of dictator, but it would be so much easier to operate the teenager from the couch without having to get up…AND without having to repeat myself!

Anyway, the teenager went very well at sailing over the weekend and is trying to catch up on school work after being sick.

Meanwhile, I’m back off to dancing tonight. I’m not sure how many classes we have left this term   and I love it so much, that I miss it in between. Our adult class is so much fun and caters for beginners through to professional dancers and we each just do our best…AND we have such a laugh.

jennifer-pendergast5

Photo prompt: © Jennifer Pendergast.

BTW, I almost forgot to mention my weekly go at writing flash fiction over at Friday Fictioneers…Local Outrage.

So, how’s your week been? I hope it’s gone well. I know I don’t exactly offer you something to eat or drink but that can do on behind the scenes and doesn’t always need to be spelt out.

Anyway, I hope you have a great week wherever you are!

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share. I encourage you to come over and join us.

Best wishes and I hope you have a great week ahead!

Rowena

Leonardo Di Vinci

Last night, I wasn’t looking for personal inspiration. It was more a case of getting my son to do his history assignment on a medieval/Renaissance leader.If you’re a parent, I’m sure you’ll know all about this. If you’re not, you’ll remember your own parents railroading you unless you were some kind of glowing Marcia Brady.

If you’ve been following my blog at all, you’ll know I’m crazy about history and won’t be surprised that I had more than a passing interest in my son’s assignment and might have some useful resources.

No doubt, that’s why he chose to research Kublai Khan. I had  fantastic, illustrated books on Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo. So, they were too easy. We’ve even been to a superlatively inspirational exhibition in Sydney where they’d built interactive models of Da Vinci’s inventions and you could operate them yourself. Yet, Da Vinci was off his radar and I couldn’t help feeling like he’d plucked Kublai Khan out of a hat!

So, I made a brief but futile attempt to change his mind and retrieved my beautifully illustrated and well-researched book on Leonardo down from the shelf…Ritchie Calder’s: Leonardo & The Age of the Eye. A book, which despite my best intentions, I still haven’t read!

Of course, I know I should’ve read it myself and that it’s been sitting on my shelf for about 3 years making me look smart without actually taking it in…pretty stupid. Yet, aren’t most bookshelves also packed with good intentions????

Anyway, in a serendipitous moment, I opened the book at this paragraph, which really resonated with me:

“Leonardo was the observer with the naked eye and the naked ear. He also had, and never lost, his childlike curiosity which, however much we may specialize in the more-and-more-about-less-and-less, is the essential nature of science. His was not the structured life of the child who having revealed an aptitude for what is scholastically called “science” at some immature age is told that he should be a physicist, chemist or a biologist, and from then on  is academically escorted through the science stream, the science faculty, and the post-graduate course into the learned societies. He learned where he went and where the interests took him.” (pg 261).

While I’m not going to re-write the entire book (especially when I haven’t read it!!), I found this a few paragraphs down, which gives an insight into the breadth of Da Vinci’s “education” and training:

“His science began as a painter. He was lucky to be apprenticed to Verrocchio at a time when perspective had become a preoccupation with artists…among the master’s cronies the subject of perspective was not just a matter of working practice; it was a matter of winebibbing  debate, as well as quasi-mystical dissertations on spatiality. In a way it was putting them, the artists, on speaking terms with the intellectuals around the Medici Garden…

Probably the most powerful, formative influence on Leonardo was Toscanelli, physician, astronomer and natural philosopher. The tracker of the comet, the cartographer and mentor of Columbus kept open house for the likes of Leonardo, whom he encouraged in the systematic study of mathematics, and introduced to astronomy.” pg 261.

Thus, Da Vinci was nurtured in a very rich, yet broad and multi-disciplinary environment, and not simply pushed down one path to become the “performing genius” if you get my drift. While the benefits of a broad educational base bare obvious to some, there’s so much pressure to become that expert. That person who knows that topic in painstakingly intimate detail, even if that means losing site of the bigger picture entirely. Even if it means being unable to tie up your own shoe laces or bake a cake. Indeed, too many experts have travelled so far down their own drainpipe without networking with even slightly-divergent colleagues, and there has to be a price for that. Few of us would even dream of having Da Vinci’s genius. Yet, it was built on curiosity and a broad brush stroke, NOT knowing everything within a very narrow sphere too well.

By diversifying ourselves, we too could reap the benefits…especially as creatives.

I practice what I preach. While writing, photography and research are my mainstays, I also learn the violin and have been doing contemporary/ballet classes for the last six months, which have really intensified my vision.

Not that I’ve become Da Vinci, but at least I’m working on it!

xx Rowena

 

Weekend Coffee Share 26th February, 2017.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Quite frankly, I think the dog’s got the right idea. He’s lying on the floor beside me with his paws twitching in the air, evidently having a wonderful dream. I spoilt his other half yesterday. I spotted a very posh dog leash at the charity shop…a string of pearls with gold bling. Lady would look quite the part if she wasn’t such a scruffian and I hope she doesn’t roll around in dead stench while strutting her stuff.

We’ve had a big week.

Friday, as my daughter’s birthday. While we’ve put off her party until after “the test”, we still had festivities. It’s customary here for kids to take cupcakes in for their birthdays for the class. My daughter had found these uber-colourful rainbow cookies called “Unicorn Poop” on YouTube.  While seriously aghast at the “intense” colours and all that entailed, I was also concerned with her trying to make an American recipe for the first time for a special occasion. My mother hasn’t given me heaps of baking advice that I’ve taken to heart. However, she says you never make something for the first time for something special. I thought this advice went double when the recipe was in “American” and we had to translate the lingo and measurements. We opted instead for an English variation. With the end product looking like very pretty rocks, I not so subtly suggested she also makes cupcakes. Turned out that the biscuits weren’t as hard as they looked. She meticulously and artistically iced and decorated them and had a hit.

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Happy Birthday, Miss!

Last night, my parents came over and we all went out for dinner. It was the first time my Mum’s come over since her back went out last year and it was so good to see them up here. While we went out for dinner, we came back here for rainbow birthday cake and we shared some of our Tasmanian treats with them. That was so much fun and very yum!

Quite aside from my daughter’s birthday, much of my head space and time has been taken up with getting her prepared for the selective schools’ test, which will be held 9th March…only about 10 days away. Our daughter is in a selective primary school class and just from the perspective of staying with her friends, the test is at the very least an issue. I don’t believe in hot-housing kids and yet there’s that pressure, that anxiety, that not knowing. Believe me. It’s tempting to get all caught up in the panic/fear and throw all “distractions” aside and treat my daughter as a widget passing along an assembly line. So what about nurturing and developing the whole child?

I am hoping that we’ve trod the middle ground  and have done enough while staying somewhat sane. She’s been doing a bit of tutoring and some work at home but has still kept up with her dance and violin.

Strangely, the rest of the known world is not revolving around “the test”. Our State MP developed serious cancer and had to resign. This means we have a local by-election. I have to admit that I wasn’t enthralled with all the hoopla that entails, especially as we’re a marginal seat and experience what could best be described as an “Election Blitz”. You can share my shot at humour  here: Oh no! Not Another Election!

You know how hard it can be keeping the blog up with real life. Well, before writing about my frustrations with the political process, I’d actually found out that a friend and much valued role model, Liesl Tesch, is running as the local Labor Party candidate. That was quite a surprise and quite a thrill. Liesl is a Paralympic gold medalist and like me, juggles disability with movement and she showed me how you can use equipment as an enabler. Liesl teaches at our local High School and rides her bicycle to work but uses a wheelchair during the day and then cycles home. I first met her as the guest speaker at the International Women’s Day March and she was wheeling along the main street in her chair. However, when I next met her talking to our scout troop, she was standing and on her feet. That was good for me to see, because there are times when I could use a wheelchair to boost my accessibility and yet I’ve only done it once attending the Sydney Opera House.

I attended Liesl’s campaign launch on Friday morning. That was an eye-opener as it was more of a press conference. It felt quite strange seeing the political juggernaut back in town and I’ll leave it at that.

Meanwhile, I’m still following up from our trip to Tasmania. I don’t know whether I mentioned that I’ve told Geoff that he’s related to all of North Tasmania. He disagreed with me and it’s become a bit of a running joke. However, I’ve worked out that James Newton the convict I’ve been researching, had around 30 grandchildren and I’ve recognized quite a few names from the trip. It seems the degrees of separation get pretty tight down there historically speaking. Yet, many descendants have moved to the Mainland. So, it seems they could be infiltrating our ranks.

Well, on that note, I’ll head off.

I just realized that I’ve been a dreadful host and haven’t offered you anything to eat or drink and haven’t even asked how you’ve been or what you’ve been up to. My sincere apologies and I really didn’t mean to yawn at you then either. It looks like I’ve become so chilled today, that I’ve almost passed out.

So, how was your week? I hope you’ve had a good one.

This has been part of the Weekend Coffee Share and you can click here for the link-up.

xx Rowena